It’s never too early for an NFL mock draft, right?
OK, so there’s a lot that we don’t know. We don’t know the draft order, because the standings will see major changes over the next five weeks. We don’t know which coaches will be fired, changing the direction and priority of several franchises. And we don’t know which underclassmen will actually declare for the draft.
So, you know... this isn’t actually a prediction. But that doesn’t mean it’s not interesting. Especially if you’re looking for a reason to watch that Bears-49ers game this weekend: The loser might actually become the winner in the long run.
Here goes. Draft order based on current NFL standings (entering Week 13).
1. Cleveland - Myles Garrett, DE/LB, Texas A&M
Hue Jackson isn’t giving up on Cody Kessler after just one season, especially with the new front office committed to a patient rebuild. There is no slam-dunk franchise quarterback in this draft, and the Browns are so far from winning they can wait for one.
2. San Francisco - Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
Chip Kelly is an offensive coach, but the 49ers have needs everywhere. For instance, they rank last in total defense and scoring defense and are tied for 29th in sacks.
3. Chicago - Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Watson hasn’t been as impressive this season as last, but he has far more starting experience than the other quarterbacks being mentioned near the top of the draft. Another impressive postseason could silence any doubters.
4. Jacksonville - Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
This is where we get into guessing mode because the Jags will probably have a new coach. But they have used several high picks of late to rebuild the defense, and it’s working (they rank sixth in total defense). Now they need a running game.
5. N.Y. Jets - Jabrill Peppers, DB/LB, Michigan
If Peppers comes out, someone may actually trade up and grab him before this. Jets coach Todd Bowles made great use of athletes such as Deone Bucannon, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu as defensive coordinator in Arizona. Peppers would be a weapon for the Jets.
6. Cincinnati - Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
The Bengals have struggled against the run, so they could go with Alabama’s Reuben Foster. But you don’t pass on an elite pass rusher to take a middle linebacker, and Barnett can help a pas rush that ranks 24th in the NFL.
7. Tennessee (from Los Angeles) - Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
The Titans got this pick from the Rams, and they may have their choice of the top wide receiver or top corner in the draft. They need both, but we’ll go with the idea of giving Marcus Mariota another weapon for starters.
8. Carolina – Desmond King, CB, Iowa
Letting Josh Norman go hasn’t worked out so well for the Panthers, but they get their pick of corners in the first round. King built like Norman, plays a physical game and has excellent ball skills.
9. Arizona - Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
The Cards have more talent than their record indicates, so they might not be picking this high again soon — and Carson Palmer is 37 years old. Trubisky is a hot name but doesn’t have a ton of starting experience, so a year or two behind Palmer would serve him well.
10. Indianapolis - Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
The Colts addressed Andrew Luck’s offensive line in last year’s draft. Now it’s time to give him an explosive option out of the backfield. Perhaps the greatest back in Florida State history, Cook is also an excellent receiver.
11. Green Bay – Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
The Packers would have loved to have Cook slide to them here, but Foster is no consolation prize. Green Bay has been moving Clay Matthews inside, which hurts their pass rush and gets him nicked up. With Foster in the middle, Matthews will be free to tee off on quarterbacks.
12. San Diego – Jamal Adams, S, LSU
The Chargers have forced a ton of turnovers this season, masking the fact that they give up a ton of yards in the passing game. Adams can fill the hole left when Eric Weddle left in free agency.
13. New Orleans - Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
The Saints need to rush the passer better and cover better. With the elite pass rushers off the board, they go with a big, physical corner in Humphrey.
14. Cleveland (from Philadelphia) - Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
The corners start flying off the board here. Wilson gets overshadowed by teammate Teez Tabor, but he is big at 6’1” and 213 pounds and may have more upside. Again, the Browns don’t need him to be a finished product at this point.
15. Tennessee - Teez Tabor, CB, Florida
The Titans will be happy to take whichever Gators corner is left for them. Tabor isn’t quite as big as Wilson but may have better ball skills and can step in for a Tennessee defense that ranks 25th against the pass.
16. Buffalo – Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
This is a pick that probably turns into a wide receiver if Rex Ryan is fired. But safety is a huge hole on the Bills defense, and they really don’t throw the ball enough under Ryan to warrant another first-round receiver to go with Sammy Watkins.
17. Philadelphia (from Minnesota) - John Ross, WR, Washington
The Eagles could go with Ross’ teammate Sidney Jones to fill a hole at corner. But they also need a speed receiver to go with all the size they have at the position, and Ross reminds some of former Eagle DeSean Jackson.
18. Pittsburgh - Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
The Steelers have plenty of firepower on offense but have struggled to stop the pass. Jones could pair with Artie Burns, last season’s first-rounder, to give Pittsburgh a strong starting pair of corners.
19. Tampa Bay - Carl Lawson, DE/LB, Auburn
With the best of the safeties off the board, the Bucs opt to help their pass rush with Lawson. Other than perhaps an inability to stay healthy, there are no questions about Lawson’s ability in that area.
20. Houston – Pat Elflein, OL, Ohio State
Odd to see a guy who played guard in college off the board before any tackles, but Elflein is a low-risk choice for a team that needs help across the board up front.
21. Baltimore - Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama
Williams hasn’t even been an every-down player at Alabama, but no one doubts his ability to rush the passer. With Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil getting older, Williams could fit in nicely in Baltimore.
22. Washington - Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
McDowell has the size (6’5”, 282 pounds) and athleticism to play anywhere along the defensive line. He should help a run defense that ranks 31st in average yards allowed per rush.
23. Denver – Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
It’s hard to believe there hasn’t been a tackle off the board yet. A couple years ago it would also be hard to believe Robinson would last this long. A starter since his freshman season, Robinson is a solid prospect but not the sure-thing rock of a left tackle many expected him to be.
24. Miami – Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana
The gamble on Laremy Tunsil appears to have paid off for the Dolphins, so don’t be surprised if they part ways with 32-year-old Branden Albert so they can slide Tunsil to tackle. That will open up a spot at guard for Feeney.
25. Atlanta – Lowell Lotulelei, DT, Utah
With Jonathan Babineaux perhaps leaving as a free agent, the Falcons can fill that hole nicely with Lotulelei. He’s more of a run stuffer than Babineaux, so the Falcons could look elsewhere for a pass rusher as well.
26. Detroit – Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
This pick is assuming the Lions will decide that Riley Reiff would be too expensive to retain in free agency. If Detroit does decide to pay Reiff, it could go looking for help on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
27. Seattle – Adam Bisnowaty, OT, Pittsburgh
The Seahawks need offensive line help in a big way, and Bisnowaty is a fast-rising prospect. He’s also experienced and less of a project than some of the tackles in the draft, which makes him attractive a Seattle team that can’t wait.
28. Kansas City – Dorian Johnson, G, Pittsburgh
We’ll go back-to-back with Pitt offensive linemen here, but at some point the Chiefs have to decide that it’s time to start looking for Alex Smith’s eventual replacement.
29. N.Y. Giants – Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
The Giants defense is getting better after a free-agent spending spree last offseason. Cunningham is a big, athletic linebacker who could play inside or outside in the NFL.
30. Oakland – Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State
If McMillan comes out early, he may not even last this long. Not only has he been productive for a top program, but he has the kind of athleticism that will help him test well and perhaps rise up draft boards.
31. New England – Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
Knowing Bill Belichick, he will trade this pick to some bad team sitting at the top of the second round so they can reach for a quarterback project. Then the Patriots will still get Davis or some other player who can help them right away a few picks later.
32. Dallas - DeMarcus Walker, DL, Florida State
Walker is tied for the national lead in sacks with 15, just what the Cowboys need since they have only five more than that as a team. Walker is also good enough against the run that he can be used in all situations.