CBB Roundup: 1-10-2018

I wanted to try to start posting weekly at the very least, but sometimes life gets in the way, so I apologize for that. But I am back, and more has changed over the last three weeks in college basketball than anyone could have imagined.

Since the last time I posted (December 20th), the teams I had in my Top-10 are a combined 30-16. Yes, you read that correctly. The teams that I believed were the 10 best teams in the nation have lost 16 games over the last three weeks. That is unheard of.

A staggering number of those losses are to unranked teams as well. Villanova was upended at Butler, Michigan State got dominated by Ohio State, Duke was pretty soundly defeated by NC State, Miami lost games to New Mexico State and Georgia Tech and Texas A&M was dealt with a number of key injuries and suspensions, resulting in losses to Alabama, Florida and LSU.

“Parity” is an overused term in sports, but it may just be the perfect word to describe the Division I college basketball scene in 2018. Villanova and Michigan State are pretty clearly the top two teams, and Duke is definitely the most talented, but we’ve already seen that all of those teams are susceptible to losses on any given night.

With conference play now in full swing, this week I’m going to look at each of the major conferences and choosing who I believe are the current favorites, as well as the early surprises, disappointments and sleepers in each. The conferences will be in order of their ranking on KenPom.com.

 

Big 12:

Preseason Favorite – Kansas
Current Favorite – West Virginia
Biggest Surprise – Oklahoma
Biggest Disappointment – Baylor
Sleeper – Oklahoma State

When a team has won a conference in 13 consecutive seasons, they have to be considered the favorite, especially when they are once again extremely talented. That being said, this year’s Kansas team has a few cracks, and they have shown in multiple home losses, a rarity for a Bill Self-coached Kansas team. The current Big 12 favorites are Bob Huggins’s Mountaineers, who have rattled off 15 consecutive wins after a season-opening loss to Texas A&M in Germany.

It has been very surprising to see Texas Tech win all these games, but they were expected to be a good team, therefore, Oklahoma has to be the biggest surprise thus far. Nobody expected the Sooners to compete for a Big 12 title, but that’s because nobody realized just how good freshman Trae Young was going to be. He leads the nation in points and assists per game, and I can’t wait to watch him perform in March.

It was hard to pick a disappointing team from this conference, but I’ll go with Baylor, who is off to a 1-3 start in conference play. Road losses to Texas Tech and West Virginia are nothing to be upset with, but they should have beaten TCU at home. With a non-conference SOS rank of 317 by KenPom, the Bears will need to play better in conference if they are going to reach the NCAA Tournament.

Oklahoma State is a bit under the radar right now, but that is exactly what makes them a sleeper in my eyes. Their four losses this season are to teams ranked in the Top-25 by KenPom, and they have a nice win over Florida State. They are loaded with upperclassmen, and that experience could lead them to some big wins in conference play.

ACC:

Preseason Favorite – Duke
Current Favorite – Virginia
Biggest Surprise – Clemson
Biggest Disappointment – Duke
Sleeper – Boston College

Duke is the most talented team in the country, but they have struggled at times this season. They do not play a lick of defense, and that has hurt them in losses to Boston College and NC State. Duke is still a title contender, but they haven’t met their potential yet. For this reason, I believe Virginia is the current favorite to win the ACC. They have the best defense in the country, and their lone loss this season is at West Virginia, which is not a bad loss at all. They will need to get better on offense, but they are an extremely talented team.

I’m not sure if Clemson can sustain their red-hot start, but it’s that red-hot start that has them as the biggest surprise in the ACC they are 14-1, with their lone loss coming to Temple in the Charleston Classic. They have 10 straight victories, including wins over Florida and Ohio State, which both came away from home. They are another team loaded with upperclassmen, and that should prove extremely valuable as the season progresses.

Boston College announced their presence this season with the huge win over Duke back in early December. They don’t have any other major wins yet this season, but they will benefit by having one of the easiest schedules in the ACC. They are done with Duke, Virginia (who they lost to by just one point in Charlottesville) and North Carolina. They will have to play Notre Dame, Miami and Florida State on the road, but they are set up to have success in ACC play.

Big East:

Preseason Favorite – Villanova
Current Favorite – Villanova
Biggest Surprise – Seton Hall
Biggest Disappointment – St. John’s
Sleeper – Marquette

Villanova was expected to be among the best teams in the country again this year, and they have lived up to those expectations. Mikal Bridges looks more and more like a lottery pick, and Jalen Brunson has taken the keys to the Porsche and handled it with relative ease, looking like a Naismith Player of the Year candidate. Nobody will be surprised to see the Cats win the Big East yet again.

Many had high expectations for Seton Hall and their seniors Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington, but I’m not sure if those expectations included a run to the Final Four, but they look every bit the part of a Final Four team. They have wins over Indiana, Texas Tech, Louisville and Creighton, and I could easily see them ending the year at the top of the Big East.

The Big East is a gauntlet this year, and St. John’s is the first team to be seriously impacted by it. Not that many people expected a whole lot from Chris Mullin’s squad this year, but they are off to an 0-5 start in Big East play, which includes home losses to perennial bottom-feeders DePaul and Georgetown. Villanova and Xavier are next on the schedule, so it might only get worse for the Johnnies.

It’s hard to call Marquette a sleeper after their 20-point victory over Seton Hall last night, but I don’t think may people realize how good the Golden Eagles really are. Sophomore Markus Howard is on a tear, putting up 52 and 37 points last week against Providence and Villanova. Then senior Andrew Rowley put up 33 last night. With two guards capable of scoring in bunches like Howard and Rowley, this Marquette team could do big things this season.

SEC:

Preseason Favorite – Kentucky
Current Favorite – Kentucky
Biggest Surprise – Auburn
Biggest Disappointment – Texas A&M
Sleeper – Georgia

This is easily the youngest, most inexperienced team John Calipari has had during his tenure in Lexington, so it’s not a surprise to see them struggle a little bit at times early this season. They have losses to UCLA and Tennessee, and they just barely beat a short-handed Texas A&M team. I still consider them the favorites to win the conference.

An FBI probe into college basketball has been tied to Auburn’s head coach Bruce Pearl and a couple of his players who have been held out this season. So nobody would be shocked if the Tigers struggled this season. Instead, they are off to a 15-1 start including a current 13-game winning streak. They already have two huge conference wins, defeating Tennessee in Knoxville and Arkansas at home. They only have to play Kentucky and Florida once, and they’re done with Tennessee, so this could be a big season for Auburn.

What a wild season it’s been for Texas A&M already. They opened the season with a win over West Virginia in Germany, defeated Oklahoma State and Penn State in Brooklyn and picked up a road win over USC. Then came injuries to Admon Gilder and Duane Wilson and DJ Hogg’s suspension, and the Aggies have started SEC play 0-4, including a home loss to LSU. Gilder and Hogg are back, and Wilson is expected back soon, so things could and should turn around, but it’s been a rocky few weeks.

I could very easily see Georgia at the top of the SEC standings come the end of the season. I believe they have the best player in the conference in 6-8 senior Yante Maten, who is looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since his freshman year, where he played just 13 minutes in a 1st Round loss to Michigan State. The Bulldogs have non-conference wins over Saint Mary’s, Marquette and Temple, and they won’t have to play Kentucky again this season. This is a team that should end up on the right side of the bubble.

Big Ten:

Preseason Favorite – Michigan State
Current Favorite – Michigan State
Biggest Surprise – Ohio State
Biggest Disappointment – Northwestern
Sleeper – Wisconsin

There are two teams at the top of the Big Ten, Michigan State and Purdue. Michigan State is probably the more talented team, but Purdue is red hot right now. It’s going to be fun to watch these two teams battle at the top of the conference standings and on the court. Mark your calendars for Saturday February 10th, when the Boilermakers will travel to East Lansing.

Ohio State shocked America over the weekend with an 80-64 victory over Michigan State, announcing that they are here to compete for a Big Ten title. They are off to a 4-0 start in conference play, and while they didn’t pick up a signature non-conference win, they look on their way to a great Big Ten season. Their losses this season are to Gonzaga (neutral court), Butler (in OT), Clemson and North Carolina (neutral court). None of those are bad losses. Avoid bad losses, and the Buckeyes will make the NCAA Tournament.

Oh Northwestern, what happened? The Cinderella story of last season was expected to come right back and do it again this year, but what has actually happened is far from that. The Wildcats are 10-7 with losses to Georgia Tech and Nebraska, and their best win is against DePaul. That is not how you make it back to the Big Dance.

Another team that has limped through the season thus far is Wisconsin, sitting at just 9-9 overall, 2-3 in conference play. I haven’t given up on them yet though. Ethan Happ is a future NBA player, and I think if some of his supporting cast improves a little, this team could make a late-season push and sneak into the Tournament. Keep an eye on the Badgers.

Pac 12:

Preseason Favorite – Arizona
Current Favorite – Arizona
Biggest Surprise – Arizona State
Biggest Disappointment – USC
Sleeper – Colorado

There were a large number of people who expected Arizona to be the best team in the country. They have the coach, they have the experience, they have the talent. Then they went to the Bahamas and went 0-3, including a 25-point loss to Purdue. They bounced back upon returning to the states by winning nine in a row before suffering a setback to Colorado over the weekend. Sean Miller went after his team following the loss, and I think that could light a fire under them rather than alienate them. The Wildcats are still my favorite to win the league.

If you would have asked me a couple weeks ago, though, I would have definitely said Arizona State. Bobby Hurley has done an incredible job with this team, which started the season 12-0 before opening Pac 12 play with losses to Arizona and Colorado. The Sun Devils have a win over Xavier and a road win over Kansas. That tells me that they can beat anybody, which will give them a chance to make a deep run in March.

Experts aren’t sure what to make of USC this season. They were a preseason Top-25 team, but they suffered three straight losses to Texas A&M, SMU and Oklahoma early in the season. Those aren’t bad losses, but they would later add home losses to Princeton and Washington, and they lost to Stanford on Sunday night. The Trojans have a lot of work to do if they want to reach the NCAA Tournament.

I’ve mentioned Colorado twice already here, with their wins over Arizona and Arizona State, arguably the top two teams in the conference, so that is why they are my sleeper team in the Pac 12. The issue is that they have losses to Colorado State, San Diego, Oregon State and Oregon on their resume, so they’re going to have to keep collecting big wins. I think they can.

American:

Preseason Favorite – Wichita State
Current Favorite – Wichita State
Biggest Surprise – Tulane
Biggest Disappointment – Temple
Sleeper – UCF

Wichita State made the jump this season from the Missouri Valley Conference to the American, and it’s been good so far. Their only losses this season are to Notre Dame and Oklahoma, and they are 3-0 in AAC play. They’ve done it for the most part this season without junior Markis McDuffie, who has just recently returned from an injury that kept him out of the team’s first 11 games. Once he rounds into form, this team will look like the Final Four contender that many expect them to be.

After going 6-25 last season, I don’t think anybody expected to even remotely discuss Tulane with regards to the NCAA Tournament. But Mike Dunleavy’s Green Wave are 11-5, and despite a weak non-conference schedule, they have picked up wins over Temple and SMU in conference play, and who knows, maybe they can keep it up and shock the world by reaching the Big Dance.

Speaking of Temple… ugh, this is hard for me to write about. The Owls opened the season by winning the Charleston Classic with wins over Old Dominion (a top CUSA contender), Auburn (1st place in the SEC) and Clemson (1st place in the ACC). Temple is the only team to beat Auburn and Clemson. Owls’ fans were rightfully excited. They also have wins over South Carolina and Wisconsin. Those are five of their seven wins. They are 0-4 in conference play, and they play at SMU tonight. It’s about to be 0-5. I’m so upset.

UCF just dominated Temple to the tune of a 60-39 victory on Sunday, and I think they could be a surprise team to advance to the Tournament out of the American. They are one of the best defensive teams in the nation, anchored by 7-6 junior Tacko Fall. It’s hard to score at the rim with a man that tall in the paint. Pay attention to the Knights, they aren’t just good at football this year.

Jayson’s Top-25

  1. Villanova
  2. Michigan State
  3. Virginia
  4. West Virginia
  5. Purdue
  6. Wichita State
  7. Xavier
  8. Oklahoma
  9. Duke
  10. Cincinnati
  11. Texas Tech
  12. Gonzaga
  13. Clemson
  14. Arizona State
  15. Kansas
  16. Arizona
  17. Seton Hall
  18. Auburn
  19. North Carolina
  20. TCU
  21. Tennessee
  22. Creighton
  23. Kentucky
  24. Florida
  25. Miami FL

Must Watch Games

#10 Xavier at #1 Villanova, Wednesday 1/10 8:00 pm FS1

The top two teams in the Big East do battle for the first time this season at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges will look to lead the Wildcats to a massive victory, but Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura are looking to bounce back from a loss to Providence by handing the #1 team their second loss of the season. It should be a great one.

#19 Clemson at NC State, Thursday 1/11 9:00 pm ESPN

NC State is coming off a massive victory over Duke on Saturday, and they will look for a second consecutive upset win when they take on the 14-1 Clemson Tigers. Clemson is coming off an overtime victory over Louisville, and they will be highly motivated to extend their win streak to 11 games.

#16 TCU at #9 Oklahoma, Saturday 1/13 1:00 pm ESPNU

Trae Young. That’s why you should watch this game. That’s really all you need to hear, but on top of that, TCU is a team that could use a signature win, and beating Oklahoma in Norman would certainly accomplish that.

#2 West Virginia at #8 Texas Tech, Saturday 1/13 2:00 pm ESPN

The Mountaineers just barely hung on to defeat Baylor at home 57-54 on Tuesday, and they’ll have a much tougher test Saturday in Lubbock. The Red Raiders are off to a tremendous start this season, but they are coming off a loss to Oklahoma. A win over West Virginia would be a great way to bounce back.

#20 North Carolina at Notre Dame, Saturday 1/13 6:00 pm ESPN

The Tar Heels snapped a two game losing streak by destroying Boston College on Tuesday night. It’s been an up and down season for UNC, and they’ll have another tough test Saturday when they travel to South Bend. The Irish will be without Bonzie Colson, but they hope to have point guard Matt Farrell back in the lineup after he missed the win at Syracuse.

Advertisements

CBB Round-Up: 12/20/17

Football season is still in full swing, with bowl season kicking off for the college ranks this past weekend, and two weeks of the regular season left in the NFL, but as each day goes by, we inch closer and closer to the start of conference play in college basketball (way to mess things up with those two conference games the other week Big Ten…), and things are starting to heat up!

I, for one, am ready to get fully invested in a sport where simple rules aren’t constantly confused and debated (other than block/charge of course), and pieces of paper aren’t used to determine outcomes (although once the football season ends and Gene Steratore starts officiating basketball games, I am sure he will make an attempt).

We are approximately a month into the college basketball season, and even though I haven’t been fully invested due to football, I have observed a few things thus far.

  1. Villanova is the best team in the nation.

The Wildcats won the title in 2016, and they had a team capable of going back-to-back in 2017 but got a really tough Tourney draw. And now, once again, Jay Wright’s squad is a National Title contender. And not only that, but they are definitely the best team in the country. They have fantastic guard play, led by National Player of the Year candidate Jalen Brunson and surefire NBA lottery pick Mikal Bridges. They have a freshman stud in big man Omari Spellman. They have Phil Booth, the star of the 2016 title game, back after an injury derailed him last season. And they have fantastic role players in Eric Paschall and Donte Divincenzo that will be key to making a deep run in this year’s Tournament. They shoot threes extremely well, they get to the rim with ease and they play suffocating defense. Villanova is the most complete team in the country, and they are built to contend for another championship.

  1. Duke is awesome, but they are not without their flaws.

There isn’t a team this season with more pure talent than Duke. Say what you will about the type of person Grayson Allen is, but there’s no denying that he is an extremely good basketball player. Marvin Bagley should be a senior in high school right now, but instead, he is dominating everyone he faces, and you can easily argue that he’s the best player in the nation. Gary Trent, Trevon Duval and Wendell Carter are all fantastic freshmen, and each would be the best player on a large number of Division I teams. I haven’t even mentioned sophomores Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden, two big men who play significant minutes. Despite all of the talent they have, they have already gained a reputation as a slow-starting team who becomes unstoppable down the stretch of games. Their play in the last five minutes of contests is going to get them a lot of victories, but they’re also going to dig themselves some holes that they won’t be able to get out of. They also struggle on the defensive end, which is apropos for a young team, but if they can’t make shots, they can’t rely on shutting the other team down. They are one of the five best teams in the nation, but they could have their difficulties during ACC play.

  1. Trae Young is the best player in the country.

If you are a casual college basketball fan, you probably haven’t heard this name. But if you are fully invested in college basketball this season, you definitely know about the 6-2 freshman point guard from Norman, Oklahoma that is lighting up the scoreboard for his hometown team. The Sooners, who won 11 games all last season, are off to an 8-1 start that includes wins over Oregon, USC and then #3 Wichita State, and they have Trae Young to thank. He leads the nation in scoring with just under 29 points per game, and he’s not just a scorer, averaging nearly 9 assists per game, which is also among the country’s leaders. He is drawing comparisons to Stephen Curry, which is high praise. I think it’s difficult to compare him to Curry now, but he is definitely reminiscent of Curry at Davidson. Young takes a lot of shots, but he makes a lot of them, and he is good enough to single-handedly carry Oklahoma to a very good season. *UPDATE: This was written on Monday, before Young decided to go for 26 points and 22 assists against Northwestern State on Tuesday night. Yes, TWENTY-TWO assists. Just incredible. Oklahoma games might be must-watch.*

  1. The Big Ten is…

Well, I’m not really sure what to make of the Big Ten. Michigan State is easily one of the top five teams in the land, but after them, the league is mediocre when compared to the other major conferences. Purdue is probably the second best team, and they are a very good team, but they had some struggles at the beginning of the season, losing to Tennessee and Western Kentucky in the Battle 4 Atlantis. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had just five Big Ten teams in his most recent Bracketology, with the aforementioned Spartans and Boilermakers joined by Minnesota, Michigan and Maryland. After a storybook season last year, there were very lofty expectations for Northwestern, but they have stumbled out of the gates, their best win thus far coming over Illinois in overtime. Wisconsin has played in 19 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, tied with Gonzaga for the 4th longest current streak, but that streak appears to be in jeopardy, as the Badgers are just 5-7 thus far. They have played one of the most difficult schedules, but they will need to really ramp it up in Big Ten play if they are going to reach another Tourney. Penn State is off to a 9-3 start, but they lack a signature win. Archie Miller is going through some growing pains at Indiana, as the Hoosiers are just 6-6, the same record as an Iowa team that has been consistently near the top of the Big Ten standings in recent years. Michigan State and Purdue are two National Title contenders, but beyond them, the league just isn’t very good.

  1. Kansas might actually not win the Big 12.

I know this sounds pretty farfetched considering the Jayhawks have won 13 straight Big 12 titles, tying UCLA for the longest streak of conference championships, but Kansas appears to be taking a step or two backwards while much of the league leaps forward. Don’t get me wrong, Kansas is still one of the best teams in the country, led by Devonte’ Graham, Lagerald Vick and Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, but unlike in previous seasons, they lack a true dominant inside presence, something that has hurt them in early season losses to Washington and Arizona State. With the quality of the Big 12 this season, the Jayhawks will not have an easy road in attempting to win a 14th straight title. Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Iowa State, while not as good as they have been in recent years, still have the potential to beat top teams. Texas is led by freshman phenom Mohamed Bomba, and they could be a sleeper pick. Baylor is a Top-25 team yet again, and their size could give Kansas fits. Texas Tech is off to a 9-1 start, and they will be right in the mix. I already discussed Oklahoma and Trae Young, so you know they are a threat. TCU is one of just four undefeated teams remaining in America, and with Jamie Dixon manning the fort, they’ll be right there. And oh yeah, can’t forget about Jevon Carter and the West Virginia Mountaineers. They’ve been tough for Kansas in recent years, and will be yet again. It’s hard to pick against Kansas here, but they will have a tougher trek this season than any that I can remember.

 

In coming weeks, that previous section will be a wrap-up of the previous week in college basketball, and it will be followed by my Top-25 and a look at the week ahead. In keeping with that theme, here is my Top-25 teams (here is a link to the current AP Top-25).

  1. Villanova
  2. Michigan State
  3. Duke
  4. Miami (FL)
  5. Texas A&M
  6. North Carolina
  7. West Virginia
  8. Kentucky
  9. Arizona State
  10. Gonzaga
  11. Wichita State
  12. Purdue
  13. Kansas
  14. TCU
  15. Xavier
  16. Oklahoma
  17. Baylor
  18. Arizona
  19. Virginia
  20. Tennessee
  21. Creighton
  22. Texas Tech
  23. Notre Dame
  24. Cincinnati
  25. Florida State

 

We have one more taste of early March Madness coming up this weekend with the Diamond Head Classic taking place in Honolulu, Hawaii this Friday, Saturday and Christmas Monday (bracket here). The most likely championship game would pit the USC Trojans and the Miami Hurricanes, but those teams could get tripped up. Middle Tennessee faces Princeton in the First Round, and the Blue Raiders are led by Giddy Potts, the man who helped lead them to a massive 15-over-2 upset against Michigan State in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. They would face USC in the semis as long as the Trojans get past Akron. Miami will be playing a road game in the opening round against the host Warriors of Hawaii, but they should easily get past them. They will take on the winner of Davidson facing New Mexico State. The Aggies have been the class of the WAC the last few seasons, and they will be right there again this season. Davidson is off to a 4-4 start this year, but with Bob McKillop still at the helm, they have to be respected. A Davidson-Miami semifinal clash would be a fun game to watch.

Other games to look forward to this weekend include…

Connecticut at #18 Arizona, Thursday 12/21 9:00 pm ESPN2

The Wildcats were expected to be one of the top teams in the country, but after going 0-3 in the Battle 4 Atlantis, everybody wrote them off. Rightfully so I’d say, but they have bounced back with six straight wins, including a win over Texas A&M. UConn doesn’t have the talent they normally do, but Kevin Ollie is a fantastic coach, and they could go into Tucson and give Arizona some trouble, especially if they get caught looking ahead to their Pac-12 opener against rival Arizona State.

#12 Gonzaga at San Diego State, Thursday 12/21 10:00 pm CBS Sports Network

You can count on Gonzaga being one of the top teams in the land year in and year out, and after coming one victory away from a National Championship last season, Mark Few has another team that can get to the Final Four. They have a tough road test here against a San Diego State team looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015 under first year coach Brian Dutcher.

Northwestern at #17 Oklahoma, Friday 12/22 7:00 pm ESPN2

Oklahoma has cracked the Top-25 thanks to a road win over Wichita State, and they’ll look to continue their momentum with a big home game against Northwestern. The Wildcats have had a little hangover this season after reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history last season. I do think they are still a talented team, and could easily come in and knock off the Sooners.

NFL Mock Draft Version 3.0: 4/27/17

It’s here! Months of anticipation, and the 2017 NFL Draft will finally take place from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, made famous in the Rocky movies. The Draft will kickoff in just under three hours, and I am here with your 1st Round primer just in the nick of time!

This is less a mock draft, and more a look at what I believe teams will do tonight. I have it broken into three sections. First, what the team is most likely to do. Second, an alternative option that is probably also very likely. Third and finally, a sleeper option that a lot of people may not expect, but options that make a lot of sense for the teams involved.

Keep this pulled up as you watch the Draft tonight, see how many I hit on and ridicule me when I’m dead wrong! We’ll start with the Cleveland Browns and the #1 overall pick. The Browns are on the clock!

 

1 – Cleveland Browns

Most Likely: I cannot stress this enough Cleveland, please take Myles Garrett with this pick and STOP THINKING ABOUT IT! This is as slam dunk a pick at #1 overall as there has been in recent memory, probably since Andrew Luck to the Colts. This would be the Brownsiest thing the Browns have ever done if they take anyone other than Garrett.

Alternative Option: While I know I said they have to take Garrett or else face the mightiest of ridicule from just about everybody in football, it’s no secret that this league is driven by the quarterback position, so if the Browns convince themselves that Mitchell Trubisky or Deshaun Watson are going to be the QB that can turn this franchise around, then I guess it’s possible that they go quarterback with this pick.

Sleeper: There’s no way this pick is anything other than Garrett or Trubisky, but I think the Browns will stay open to a possible trade up until they make their selection. If some team makes them an offer they can’t refuse, I could see them making that move.

 

2 – San Francisco 49ers

Most Likely: This will be the first pick of the John Lynch era, and being a defensive player himself, I think it’s likely that the Niners will address the defense. Solomon Thomas is the player getting the most buzz for this pick, and Jamal Adams, who a lot of people believe is the second best player in this class behind Garrett, is also a possibility.

Alternative Option: Based on what I’ve read, it is looking like the 49ers will keep this pick, but they have been very much open to trading down, and I still believe that getting out of the #2 spot is their ideal scenario. If a team is in love with somebody not named Myles Garrett, I think the talent-starved Niners would be wise to accumulate some extra picks.

Sleeper: Leonard Fournette has been mocked to the Niners by some people, but I’m not sure if there are many in the know who believe this is a real possibility. Carlos Hyde is a talented back, but he has dealt with a ton of injuries during his time in San Francisco. If Lynch wants to make a splash with his first draft pick, Fournette could be that pick.

 

3 – Chicago Bears

Most Likely: Like the Niners, most expect the Bears to go defense with this pick, and there are a number of ways they could go. Whoever they would take here defensively would be an upgrade over what they have on their roster going into the Draft. I think the secondary is the area they are most likely to address with this pick, with safeties Adams and Malik Hooker or cornerback Marshon Lattimore the guys most likely to go off the board here.

Alternative Option: If they don’t go with a defensive back, improving along the D-Line is the next best option. If Thomas would slip past San Fran, I could see the Bears scooping him up. If he’s not available, Alabama DT Jonathan Allen would probably be next on their board. He’s versatile, and can really get after the quarterback. He’d be a fine pick.

Sleeper: You’re going to see me discuss a lot of trade scenarios here, and while the Bears have not been discussed heavily as a team likely to trade back, there could be a team looking to move up ahead of Jacksonville to grab Fournette or a quarterback.

 

4 – Jacksonville Jaguars

Most Likely: The Jags spent a lot of money this offseason to improve their defense, so the overwhelming belief is that they will go offense with this first pick, but I believe that’s only true if Leonard Fournette is available. If the Niners don’t take Fournette, the Jags will just have to hope a team doesn’t move ahead of them, and they’ll add Fournette to take some pressure off of Blake Bortles.

Alternative Option: Despite a free agency spending spree that focused on defense, they could certainly stand to add some more talent on that side of the ball. Jonathan Allen would be a great addition to the D-Line, while they are also rumored to really like Solomon Thomas if he would be available here.

Sleeper: I mentioned Blake Bortles before, and the jury is still out on whether he can be the QB to lead the next successful Jaguar team. The team has yet to pick up the 5th year option on his contract, meaning that they could be prepared to move on from him after this year. If that’s where they stand, I could see them shocking a lot of people and taking Trubisky or Watson with this pick.

 

5 – Tennessee Titans (from LA Rams)

Most Likely: I truly believe that the most likely option here for the Titans, who acquired this pick for the #1 overall pick last season, is to trade back with a team looking to jump ahead of the Jets to take either Trubisky or Watson (I’m looking at you Cleveland). They have two 1st Round picks, and have made it well known that they’d love to trade down and get back into the 2nd Round, after giving up their 2nd Rounder this year during the 2016 Draft.

Alternative Option: If they stay put at #5, they will probably look to go defense, as it’s possible that at least two of Allen, Lattimore, Adams and Hooker will be available to them. They could really use an upgrade at the cornerback position after cutting Jason McCourty, so I think Lattimore is the guy that would make the most sense.

Sleeper: With Marcus Mariota at the helm, the Titans’ offense is ready to join the ranks of the elite offenses in this league. For that reason, they could look to add another weapon with this pick. Early on in the pre-draft process, it was looking like Mike Williams or Corey Davis would be the ones the Titans could take here, but don’t be surprised if Alabama TE O.J. Howard comes off the board at #5 to Tennessee.

 

6 – New York Jets

Most Likely: The Jets are a team very far away from playoff contention in my opinion, and I think they are actually in a good spot to go with the best player available, regardless of position. In the middle of the Top-10, it’s looking like that’s likely to be a defensive player, with Jamal Adams, Marshon Lattimore, and Malik Hooker the players that have a chance to be available here. That would be fine with the Jets, as their secondary needs a ton of improvement.

Alternative Option: This could be a spot for a team to move up to get the player they covet, and the Jets have made it no secret that they are willing to field offers for this pick. If they aren’t in love with any of the players available, they’d be wise to trade back and accumulate some extra picks.

Sleeper: The Jets obviously think Bryce Petty could be their starting quarterback, and they took Christian Hackenberg in the 2nd Round last year, so they could be looking to give him a shot, but I think there’s a chance they could take a quarterback with this pick. I think Trubisky could be off the board by this point, but they could look at Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes as well.

 

7 – Los Angeles Chargers

Most Likely: The Chargers are another team that should be looking to improve their defense with this pick, and the secondary is the weakest unit on that side of the ball. I think the Chargers would sprint to the podium if Jamal Adams falls this far, but they’d be okay with Malik Hooker as well. They really missed Eric Weddle last year, so the best case scenario would be to get one of the two top safeties in this class.

Alternative Option: The defensive line had its struggles last season as well, outside of last year’s #3 overall pick Joey Bosa. There’s a chance Jonathan Allen could fall here, and I’d expect the Chargers to heavily consider him if that happens. Solomon Thomas is more of a pipe dream, but I’d fully expect him to be the pick if he’s available at #7.

Sleeper: Philip Rivers isn’t getting any younger, so this is another potential landing spot for a QB. If they really love the potential of a Mahomes, Watson or Kizer, they could use this pick to grab them and have them learn the system for a season or two behind Rivers.

 

8 – Carolina Panthers

Most Likely: If you would have asked me about what I thought the Panthers would do here as recent as a couple weeks ago, I would have told you something way different than what I’m about to. Christian McCaffrey to the Panthers is the popular pick as we inch closer and closer to the Draft, and I think it has gotten to the point where I’ll be shocked if anything else happens here.

Alternative Option: Panthers’ GM Dave Gettleman loves his linemen, so making an addition to their depth on the defensive line is certainly another way they could go. If Allen or Thomas would fall to here, I’d expect the Panthers to heavily consider either of those guys. Derek Barnett is another potential D-Lineman that they could go with here.

Sleeper: It is unlikely that Leonard Fournette will be available at #8, but if he is, I believe they would choose him over McCaffrey or a defensive player. I could also see them making the move to go up and get Fournette in the Top-5, because he fits their offense perfectly.

 

9 – Cincinnati Bengals

Most Likely: It’s looking more and more like this is the spot where we’re going to see our first linebacker come off the board. Haason Reddick is gaining a lot of steam in draft circles, and he would fill a need perfectly for the Bengals. Reuben Foster is another option, as long as they are okay with his medicals and his attitude.

Alternative Option: If not a linebacker, defensive end would be the spot I’d expect them to look, with Derek Barnett being the most likely option. I doubt Solomon Thomas gets here, but I believe they’d take him if he did. Taco Charlton could be another option, but they would probably look to trade down if they coveted him.

Sleeper: The Bengals spent a 2nd Round pick on Tyler Boyd last season, but when A.J. Green was hurt, wide receiver became a weak position for them. They are likely to have their pick of the litter if they go receiver here, with Mike Williams and Corey Davis being the probable targets.

 

10 – Buffalo Bills

Most Likely: Speaking of pass catchers, I get the feeling that the Bills are most likely to address that part of their offense with this selection. Williams and Davis are again likely choices, but I think tight end O.J. Howard would bring the most to this Bills offense, and I think he’s the guy they will probably choose if they keep this pick.

Alternative Option: I could see the Bills trading up or down from this pick, but they’ve made it known that they would like to move down and get an extra pick or two later in the draft. I’m not sure what team would move up to here, but the Bills will be motivated to trade this pick if possible.

Sleeper: They brought back Tyrod Taylor, but I could see this as another landing spot for one of the top quarterbacks. Bills’ brass is rumored to love Deshaun Watson, so if that’s true, I could easily see them going that route.

 

11 – New Orleans Saints

Most Likely: With Drew Brees still under center, the Saints are again going to have a terrific offense. That is why they are most likely to go defense with this pick, and I think they will go front seven with this pick. Derek Barnett, Haason Reddick and Reuben Foster are the guys I would expect them to be choosing from if available

Alternative Option: They have needs all over their defense though, so secondary is certainly an option as well, more specifically at cornerback. If Lattimore would fall, the Saints could scoop him up. I believe they’ll also consider guys like Tre’Davious White, Marlon Humphrey and Gareon Conley (as long as they are comfortable with his potential off-field issues) are possibilities.

Sleeper: There are a lot of teams who could take a quarterback in the 1st Round this year either due to struggles or aging. The Saints fall under the latter category. They could very easily draft a developmental quarterback to learn under a sure-fire Hall of Famer like Drew Brees.

 

12 – Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia)

Most Likely: The Browns got this pick as part of the package for the #2 overall pick last year. That pick was Carson Wentz, and I think the Browns will try to use this pick to go back up into the Top-10 and get Mitchell Trubisky. It is rumored that they’ve had discussions with at least four teams in the Top-10 about potentially trading up, and it makes all the sense in the world.

Alternative Option: If they keep this pick, I am to assume that they would have taken Myles Garrett #1 overall, which would lead me to believe they go offense here. Mike Williams, Corey Davis or O.J. Howard would be the most likely choices, with John Ross or a falling Christian McCaffrey also possibilities.

Sleeper: Joe Haden really struggled last season, and opposing offenses had a field day throwing against the Browns’ secondary. They could double down on 1st Round defenders and go with a Lattimore, Adams or Hooker if they fell. I don’t think they’d do it unless one of those three were available though.

 

13 – Arizona Cardinals

Most Likely: The early teens seems like the linebacker sweet spot, as everything I’m seeing leads me to believe the Cardinals are most likely to go linebacker in this spot. Reddick or Foster are the usual suspects, with Jarrad Davis being a reach, but a possibility. They could also look for an edge rusher like Charlton or Takkarist McKinley.

Alternative Option: If they want to make one last run at a title with Carson Palmer at QB, getting him a receiver to play opposite Larry Fitzgerald would be a smart move. Williams, Davis or John Ross would all be solid picks at this spot.

Sleeper: Another team with an aging quarterback, I’ve felt all along that DeShone Kizer and Bruce Arians are a match made in heaven, and if the Cards go quarterback here, I still, despite evidence to the contrary, believe Kizer is the one they’d go for.

 

14 – Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota)

Most Likely: There are a number of ways the Eagles could go with this pick, but I think addressing the cornerback position appears to be the best bet. If they are comfortable with Gareon Conley’s off-field issues, it has been said that they really like him as far as on-field goes, so I could see them taking him. Marlon Humphrey is another likely choice.

Alternative Option: Their pipe dream would be for Christian McCaffrey to fall here, and I could see them entertaining the idea of moving up to get him, but I think they stay put, and getting an offensive playmaker is an option. They are known to like John Ross and Dalvin Cook, while Corey Davis and Mike Williams are also certainly potential picks for the Eagles.

Sleeper: Connor Barwin struggled at times last year, so I could see the Eagles trying to improve their pass rush with this pick. Derek Barnett is the most likely choice, but I could see them taking a guy like Taco Charlton as well if available. I won’t rule out Haason Reddick either if he falls to them.

 

15 – Indianapolis Colts

Most Likely: It’s a very weak offensive line class, but the Colts need to do a better job protecting their franchise quarterback, so being able to potentially grab one of the top offensive linemen in this class should be too good to pass up. Some think it’s Cam Robinson, others Ryan Ramczyk. Some like Garret Bolles, while Forrest Lamp has gotten some buzz as well. Regardless, I think it’s most likely one of those guys ends up in Indianapolis.

Alternative Option: If they don’t go offensive line, I would expect them to move to the other side of the ball and make an addition to their front seven. Haason Reddick is again a possibility, as are pass rushers Derek Barnett and Takkarist McKinley.

Sleeper: There is word today that the Colts are talking to teams in an attempt to move up into the Top-10, and their reported target if they do that would be Christian McCaffrey. Frank Gore won’t play much longer, so it makes sense that they would covet a player like McCaffrey.

 

16 – Baltimore Ravens

Most Likely: I had trouble trying to figure out what this team is most likely to look for with the 16th pick in the 1st Round, but I settled on getting Joe Flacco some help offensively with a playmaker. I think Mike Williams would be their ideal pick, but John Ross would be another good option.

Alternative Option: They have plenty of needs on the defensive side of the ball too, so I could easily see them going that route. Infusing some youth on the edge is where I think they’d go, with Barnett and McKinley, as well as Taco Charlton and Charles Harris being potential targets there.

Sleeper: While I mentioned that it is a weak offensive line class, Ravens’ GM Ozzie Newsome loves to draft linemen, and they lost Ricky Wagner and Jeremy Zuttah this offseason. Cam Robinson to the Ravens has been mocked by a few experts, so don’t be surprised if that happens on Thursday night.

 

17 – Washington Redskins

Most Likely: The Redskins are mostly set on offense, so I expect them to focus on defense early in this draft. Linebacker is their weakest position on defense, so I think that would be their main focus with this pick. I doubt Haason Reddick would get past them here, and Reuben Foster is another option if he is falling. If those two are taken, Jarrad Davis could be the pick. There’s another rumor floating around that they are enamored with the potential that Jabrill Peppers has. That could be an option as well.

Alternative Option: There’s been a lot of talk about the Skins looking to trade back in the 1st Round, and that makes sense for a team very talent starved on the defensive side. If a QB is falling, maybe a team jumps up into this range to grab them.

Sleeper: I said they are mostly set on offense, but they could use an upgrade in the backfield to take some pressure off of Kirk Cousins. If Christian McCaffrey slips to them, I believe they would think long and hard about him. Dalvin Cook is another possibility, and he is likely to be available.

 

18 – Tennessee Titans

Most Likely: The Titans are a good team that could move into great team territory with two 1st Round picks this year. I mentioned that their most likely option at #5 is to trade back into the early teens, so if that happens, it all depends what they do with that pick in order to determine what they do here. I think this ends up being the offensive pick for them, with players like Mike Williams, John Ross, Corey Davis and tight end David Njoku likely being the selection.

Alternative Option: If they would go offense with their first pick, I’d expect them to address the secondary with this pick. Marlon Humphrey and Tre’Davious White are a couple corners that I believe they’d be interested in here, and it wouldn’t shock me to see them take a versatile weapon like Jabrill Peppers.

Sleeper: There’s a good chance the Titans move back from #5, and they moved back from the #1 overall pick last year, so why not move back again? They could go from no 2nd Round picks to two or three 2nd Rounders with another trade back.

 

19 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Most Likely: Dalvin Cook. It’s as simple as that. Some teams are concerned about Cook off the field, specifically the people that he surrounds himself with, but his college coach Jimbo Fisher says that Cook is one of the hardest working players he’s ever coached. The talent is evident as well. The Bucs’ running back situation is very cloudy, so Cook makes a whole lot of sense. It might be concerning to keep him in Florida, but for a team ready to fight for a playoff spot, it’s worth the risk.

Alternative Option: If they don’t go running back, I think their next best option is to get Jameis Winston another talented pass catcher. David Njoku would be who I believe best fits what they need, as he would immediately be an upgrade over Cameron Brate. If Mike Williams is still available though, I could definitely see them taking him to line up on the opposite side of Mike Evans. That would be a heck of a 1-2 punch at wide receiver. Who do you double-team?

Sleeper: Most experts believe the Bucs will go offense in the 1st Round, but they could use some upgrades on the other side of the ball as well. Grabbing a linebacker like Reddick or Foster is a possibility, and Derek Barnett would be a great pick if he fell to #19.

 

20 – Denver Broncos

Most Likely: Denver really needs to upgrade their offensive line, and they are in a good spot to do that here at #20, as they can take an offensive lineman and not be reaching for it. They’ve had a few of the top prospects in for visits, including Garret Bolles and Ryan Ramczyk. Cam Robinson could be enticing as well. I don’t think they take Forrest Lamp, only because he projects as a guard, and they really need the help at left and right tackle.

Alternative Option: With DeMarcus Ware’s retirement, the Broncos need to address the pass rush opposite Von Miller at some point in this draft. There are a number of talented pass rushers, including Charles Harris, Taco Charlton, Derek Barnett and Takkarist McKinley that could be potential choices at #20.

Sleeper: There have been reports today leading up to the start of the Draft that the Broncos are a team looking to trade up. Their likely target is unknown, but the speculation is that they love Christian McCaffrey, and besides the fact that he’s an extremely talented player, the family connection is right there, as his dad Ed won a couple Super Bowls with the Broncos.

 

21 – Detroit Lions

Most Likely: This 1st Round could be one of the most unpredictable in recent memory, but one team that appears to be taking one of a few specific players, rather than a position, is the Lions. I believe they are most likely to take Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis with this pick. The Lions struggled at linebacker last season, and they released their best one, DeAndre Levy, this offseason. Davis makes sense for the Lions for a whole lot of reason.

Alternative Option: Those that don’t have the Lions taking Jarrad Davis have them going offense and taking Miami tight end David Njoku. The Lions drafted Eric Ebron #10 overall a few years back with the idea that he would become one of the top pass catching tight ends in the league. It’s safe to say that Ebron has been a bust thus far, so adding a tight end who plays a similar style to Ebron coming out of college would be the Lions hitting the reset button and trying again. And if you’ve watched Ebron play, you certainly wouldn’t blame them.

Sleeper: It’s not a pressing need, but I could definitely see the Lions adding to their depth at the cornerback position. Their top two played extremely well last season, but if they get hurt, there is next-to-nothing behind them. Quincy Wilson makes a lot of sense, as he has the ability to play inside or outside. This would probably be a slight reach if they took him, but he fits what they’re looking for.

 

22 – Miami Dolphins

Most Likely: I fully expect the Dolphins to upgrade their offensive line with this pick, and Forrest Lamp is the guy that I believe they would target. They’re most pressing need on the line is inside at guard, and that is where Lamp, who many experts believe is the most talented offensive lineman in this class, projects best in the pros. If the Dolphins prefer a tackle prospect, Cam Robinson or Garret Bolles make sense.

Alternative Option: The weakest position on the defensive side of the ball for the Fins last year was linebacker, so it’s certainly possible that they’d look for an upgrade there with this pick. Jarrad Davis makes sense, as does Zach Cunningham from Vanderbilt.

Sleeper: I haven’t seen many mocks with the Dolphins taking a cornerback or safety, but I believe they could stand to improve at both of those positions. Marlon Humphrey is like a better Byron Maxwell, so that appears to be a fit. I think they could consider UConn safety Obi Melifonwu or Jabrill Peppers in this spot as well.

 

23 – New York Giants

Most Likely: This is another team that is likely to address their poor offensive line. The Giants would love to see one of Garret Bolles, Cam Robinson and Ryan Ramczyk available with this pick. I truly believe they would take any of those three guys if available.

Alternative Option: Another popular pick among mock drafts for the Giants is David Njoku. Will Tye is not a starting tight end in this league, and a threat at tight end is exactly what this offense needs to become nearly unstoppable after adding Brandon Marshall in free agency. Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram has been gaining some 1st Round buzz, and I think this is a spot where he could go.

Sleeper: Eli Manning is not only getting older, but he’s dealing with some off-field issues as well right now (alleged to be part of a fake memorabilia scheme). Don’t be surprised if the Giants snatch a QB like Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson if they see a Draft Day slide.

 

24 – Oakland Raiders

Most Likely: The Raiders got their man in Marshawn Lynch, so they can really focus on defense early and often in this draft. Linebacker is the weakest position on the roster, and even though GM Reggie McKenzie has not drafted a linebacker before the 4th Round during his tenure with the Raiders, now is the time to get a potential star at that position. I believe this is the floor for Reuben Foster if he slides, while Jarrad Davis and Zach Cunningham are the other two guys I would expect the Raiders to take if available.

Alternative Option: There are lots of holes in the Raiders’ defense, so if they choose not to go linebacker, getting a cornerback or defensive tackle are options as well. Kevin King or Gareon Conley (if they are okay with his off-field issues) would be good picks at corner, and Malik McDowell, while a risk, could turn out to be a great defensive tackle in this league.

Sleeper: If any of the top quarterbacks fall in the 1st Round, the Raiders could be sitting in the sweet spot for a trade back. The Texans are expected to take a QB early, and they pick next. There are no shortage of teams picking late in the 1st (Kansas City, Pittsburgh, New Orleans) or early in the 2nd (San Francisco, Chicago, NY Jets, Jacksonville) who could look to move ahead of the Texans to grab a Mahomes or Watson.

 

25 – Houston Texans

Most Likely: The most likely scenario for the Texans is to take a quarterback. This team is ready to compete for a Super Bowl, and the only thing they are missing is a QB. They will probably pray that Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson is available here, but I could see them taking DeShone Kizer as well.

Alternative Option: If the top QB’s are all off the board, the Texans could look to improve their offensive line while drafting a developmental quarterback in one of the next couple rounds. Forrest Lamp or Garret Bolles would be great picks here late in the 1st Round.

Sleeper: The Texans lost A.J. Bouye to Jacksonville in free agency, so I could see them using their 1st Round pick to replace him. I think they would target a guy like Quincy Wilson or Kevin King if they go that route.

 

26 – Seattle Seahawks

Most Likely: There’s a common theme among teams picking in the 20’s, and that is their need to upgrade along the offensive line. Unfortunately, there are only four offensive linemen in this class that are worthy of being 1st Round picks. I believe the Seahawks would pounce if Cam Robinson lasts this long, but Garret Bolles and Ryan Ramczyk would be good picks for them as well.

Alternative Option: Seattle would love to trade out of this spot, and there are already rumors that they are planning a swap with the Atlanta Falcons that would give Seattle an additional 4th Round pick. So look for the Seahawks to trade out of this pick.

Sleeper: The Seahawks have been shopping Richard Sherman this offseason, so they could look to add his potential replacement at corner with this pick. Kevin King is a hometown guy, and he fits their defense perfectly.

 

27 – Kansas City Chiefs

Most Likely: Derrick Johnson suffered an achilles injury near the end of last season, and their defense suffered mightily without him. He could never be the same guy, and he’s getting up there in age anyway, so I expect the Chiefs to go linebacker with this pick. I think they’d love if Jarrad Davis fell this far, but Zach Cunningham is the more likely selection.

Alternative Option: Can Alex Smith be a Super Bowl winning quarterback? I don’t think so, and I think there are people within the Chiefs’ organization who feel the same way. If Patrick Mahomes is available here, I think the Chiefs take him.

Sleeper: Marcus Peters is one of the top cornerbacks in the league, but they could use an upgrade on the other side of the field. Kevin King, Marlon Humphrey and Tre’Davious White are all potential picks for KC.

 

28 – Dallas Cowboys

Most Likely: The Cowboys always seem to be tough to predict, and that is even more difficult this year given the uncertainty all across the 1st Round. I think Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett will look to upgrade the secondary, and it might be a reach, but USC corner Adoree’ Jackson just seems like the type of prospect the Cowboys would take here.

Alternative Option: If they don’t address the secondary, I think they’ll look to upgrade the pass rush, and Taco Charlton would be a slam dunk pick if he lasts this long.

Sleeper: I said that Dallas was most likely to upgrade their secondary, and a player that hasn’t been mocked to them by many, but that I believe they would love to have, is Jabrill Peppers. I think Garrett and D-Coordinator Rod Marinelli would figure out exactly how to use him.

 

29 – Green Bay Packers

Most Likely: T.J. Watt. This is another player-team combo that I feel really good about happening. The Packers need to improve on the edge, and Watt played at Wisconsin, just like brother J.J. It almost seems to perfect to actually happen, but I think it does.

Alternative Option: I like the idea of the Packers improving in the secondary, especially after losing Micah Hyde in free agency. Tre’Davious White and Adoree’ Jackson make a lot of sense for Green Bay if they are available.

Sleeper: They can’t really go into the season with Ty Montgomery as their starting running back, can they? If Dalvin Cook slides, I could see the Packers being a nice landing spot for him. Joe Mixon and Alvin Kamara are getting some 1st Round buzz, so they could be options as well.

 

30 – Pittsburgh Steelers

Most Likely: For a second consecutive season, I expect the Steelers to use their 1st Round pick to upgrade their secondary. I think safety makes the most sense, with Jabrill Peppers being a fantastic pick if he’s available. Obi Melifonwu and Budda Baker are options as well.

Alternative Option: The Steelers would like to upgrade their pass rush as well, as James Harrison can’t possibly play very much longer, and Jarvis Jones left in free agency this past offseason. Taco or Takkarist could be options, as could T.J. Watt if he gets past the Packers.

Sleeper: Ben Roethlisberger contemplated retirement this offseason, so it’s definitely possible that they could look to draft his eventual successor. DeShone Kizer has drawn comparisons to Roethlisberger, so I like that pick a lot.

 

31 – Atlanta Falcons

Most Likely: I mentioned that the Falcons have had discussions with the Seahawks already about moving up in the draft, so I think it’s very likely that they make that move. They’ve made it known that they want to improve their pass rush, and it’s believed that Missouri outside linebacker Charles Harris is their target.

Alternative Option: I believe they could stay put and still have a chance to get Harris. Another pick that has been popular in mock drafts is Jordan Willis from Kansas State. Most scouts have him as a 2nd-3rd Round talent, but he has been gaining steam as a potential 1st Rounder.

Sleeper: I could see the Falcons adding an offensive lineman here as well if any of the top four guys (Bolles, Ramczyk, Robinson or Lamp) falls to them here.

 

32 – New Orleans Saints (from New England)

Rather than tell you what the Saints might do with their second pick in the 1st Round in the fashion I have with the other picks, I’ll tell you what I think they’ll do based on what they might do with their first pick.

D-Line at #11: If the Saints go with an edge player at #11, I think they’ll look to upgrade their secondary here, with a number of talented safeties likely to be available here. Tre’Davious White or Quincy Wilson at corner are options as well. They could also go wide receiver here if John Ross or Corey Davis would fall.

Linebacker at #11: Same as above, but throw in edge rushers like Takkarist McKinley, Taco Charlton and Jordan Willis as possibilities.

Secondary at #11: They will likely go edge rusher or wide receiver here if they grab a corner or safety with their first pick.

NFL Mock Draft Version 2.0: 4/25/17

As I type this, we are less than 48 hours away from the start of the 2017 NFL Draft! The schedule for next season was released last week, and now all attention will be focused on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, for this year’s highly anticipated draft!

Last week I revealed the first version of my mock draft, which was a look at who I believe the teams should take in the 1st Round on Thursday. For this, Version 2.0, I have THREE rounds of picks, looking at what I think will transpire come Thursday and Friday. First, some specifics:

  • Picks are listed in a “Round.Overall Pick” fashion. For example, when you see “1.14” that means it is the 1st Round, overall pick #14.
  • I have decided to include trades in this mock. Trying to predict trades is nearly impossible, but trades will happen, they always do, so I gave it a shot to see which teams could look to move up or down, and what they’ll be doing with their new picks if/when the trades occur.
  • This mock was done over the course of a few days, so some picks were made prior to some news being released about some players. I have provided additional insight where those players fell in my mock.

I will have one more version of my mock draft that will be posted Thursday morning in advance of the start of the draft, and that edition will be less like a mock draft, and more like a draft primer, looking at each team in the first round, what they are most likely to do, as well as some alternative options.

Without any further delay, here is Version 2.0 of We Love Sportz’s 2017 NFL Mock Draft!

Round 1 

 

1.1 – Cleveland Browns

Pick: Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

Do the smart thing Cleveland, please, do the smart thing for once and just take Garrett here. Quit messing around with the idea of taking Trubisky here, and don’t be stupid just this one time. You might still have a chance to get your quarterback, so stick to your board and take the top player. That player is Garrett.

 

1.2 – San Francisco 49ers

Pick: Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford

It is well known that the Niners would love to trade back from this spot, but I struggle to see them getting an offer that they feel is worth the #2 overall pick. Because of that, I think they will stay put and draft a defensive lineman in the 1st Round for the third straight season (2015-Arik Armstead 1.17, 2016-DeForest Buckner 1.7). If a team would trade up here, I see Carolina, Arizona or Buffalo as the teams interested.

 

1.3 – Carolina Panthers (from Chicago)

Trade Details: Carolina gets 1.3; Chicago gets 1.8, 2.40, 2.64, Future 6th Rd Pick

Pick: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

There are two players that the Jaguars, picking next, covet most according to rumors, and they are Thomas and Fournette. I believe that these two players are likely at the top of the Panthers’ board as well. This is a big price to pay, as the Panthers will now be without another pick until the end of the 3rd Round, but I think it’s worth it to get the best running back in the class, one that fits what the Panthers want to do perfectly. An alternative trade package would be 1.8, 2.40 and next year’s 2nd Round pick, but the Panthers are already without a 4th next year, so I don’t see them wanting to already be down to five picks in next year’s draft.

 

1.4 – Jacksonville Jaguars

Pick: Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama

The Jags get stuck here, as their top two options go off the board. They’ll listen to trade offers, but won’t get one to their liking, so they’ll stay put and grab another versatile defensive lineman to go with Malik Jackson and Calais Campbell. I feel you can never have too many talented players in the trenches. Allen would give the Jags one of, if not the, best defensive lines in the NFL.

 

1.5 – Cleveland Browns (from Tennessee via LA Rams)

Trade Details: Cleveland gets 1.5, 3.100, 2018 4th Rd Pick; Tennessee gets 1.12, 2.52, 3.65, 2018 6th Rd Pick

Pick: Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

Remember earlier when I said the Browns might be able to still get their quarterback? I’m not convinced that the Jets will go quarterback at 1.6, but I think most teams will operate under that assumption. The Browns have a bevy of picks with which to make the Titans an offer they can’t refuse. Tennessee is able to get back into the 2nd Round and move up to the top of the 3rd Round with this trade, while still having two 1st Round picks. Everybody wins here.

 

1.6 – New York Jets

Pick: Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State

This may come as a surprise to people who have been following the draft process, but word on the street is that Conley’s stock is skyrocketing. A guy who early in the process was expected to be a 2nd or 3rd Round pick now has the potential to be the first defensive back drafted. The injury concerns with his former teammate Marshon Lattimore and a clearer need at corner than safety are the reasons I think the Jets go with Conley.

*Update: Conley has been accused of sexual assault, news that came to light on Tuesday 4/25, just two days before the draft. The alleged crime took place a few weeks ago, but it is still terrible timing. That likely means there’s no way he goes this high, and he will likely slide at least to late in the 1st Round. Conley has yet to talk to police, and likely will not do so until after the draft. That makes him a major risk.

 

1.7 – Los Angeles Chargers

Pick: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State

The Chargers’ war room would be absolutely ecstatic if the board fell this way. They have a huge need at safety, and they’d get their pick of the litter. Most mocks have them landing Hooker because Jamal Adams would be off the board, but I think Hooker is a better fit for what they want to do anyway.

 

1.8 – Chicago Bears (from Carolina)

Pick: Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State

Yes, I do realize this would make three straight members of Ohio State’s secondary going in the Top-10, but these guys are that good. A lot of people believe the Bears would go with Lattimore at 1.3, so to acquire a couple 2nd Round picks and still get their guy, a brilliant move by the Bears.

 

1.9 – Cincinnati Bengals

Pick: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

Is this the biggest need for the Bengals? No, and I’d argue that it’s not a need at all. But the Bengals have made it known that they would like to improve at the running back position, and many experts believe that McCaffrey could go in the Top-10. The likely landing spot would be Carolina if they stay at 1.8, but after going up to get Fournette, McCaffrey drops right into the Bengals’ laps.

 

1.10 – Buffalo Bills

Pick: Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

As far as value goes, this is a clear reach. The O-Line class this year is not very strong, but it is a consensus among scouts that Robinson has the highest ceiling, and there are rumblings that some teams will be comfortable reaching for OL help in the 1st Round. Enter the Bills, who could use an upgrade at tackle. They had Robinson in for a visit, so the interest is there.

 

1.11 – New Orleans Saints

Pick: Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama

The Saints’ linebacking corps was among the weakest in the league last season. They signed Manti Te’o, but he is not the answer. With Foster falling out of the Top-10, I’d expect the Saints to pounce, as he will be a difference-maker in their defense from day one. They are wasting some great seasons from Drew Brees due to a lackluster defense. The improvement of said defense would continue with this pick.

*Update: I was at this point in the mock prior to the news of Foster’s diluted drug test at the Combine. I do believe this could cause him to slide, but I still expect him to go in the 1st Round.

 

1.12 – Tennessee Titans (from Cleveland via Philadelphia)

Pick: Jamal Adams, S, LSU

The Bears moved down and still got their guy, and the Titans do the same thing here. I think they might prefer to get one of the top corners, but almost every mock I’ve seen has Adams going in the Top-10, so for him to be available at 1.12, I think the Titans would sprint to the podium with this pick. ESPN’s Scouts Inc. has Adams rated as the #2 overall prospect in this year’s class. Incredible value for the Titans.

 

1.13 – Arizona Cardinals

Pick: DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame

You can call this a hunch, but I’ve felt all along that Kizer is the quarterback that Bruce Arians wants, and I don’t think he’ll be able to wait until the 2nd Round to get him. It makes the most sense for the Cards to get Carson Palmer’s eventual replacement, and Kizer will benefit greatly from getting to watch from the sidelines for at least one season.

 

1.14 – Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota)

Pick: Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

Do I think the Eagles should go wide receiver with this pick? No, but I get the feeling that if Williams falls to them and Reuben Foster doesn’t, then Williams will be the pick. I would also expect them to shop Jordan Matthews if they take Williams. I think their biggest weakness is in the secondary, but it’s a deep class there, so they can address it later on.

 

1.15 – Indianapolis Colts

Pick: Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin

As with Cam Robinson earlier, this is probably much too early for Ramczyk, but teams are going to reach for help along the offensive line, and the Colts need that more than maybe any team outside of Seattle. They need to do a better job protecting Andrew Luck, and Ramczyk can start at RT from the get-go.

 

1.16 – Baltimore Ravens

Pick: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

After trading Timmy Jernigan to Philadelphia, the Ravens have a gaping hole in their roster on the defensive line. They can choose to go with an edge rusher to eventually replace Terrell Suggs, but Barnett, who is more a power rusher that can play on the edge or inside, is a much better fit. Position versatility is the key here, but in addition, the analytics crowd LOVES Barnett. If he can produce like they believe he will, he’s an absolute steal at 1.16.

 

1.17 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (from Washington)

Trade Details: Tampa Bay gets 1.17; Washington gets 1.19, 4.125, 2018 4th Rd Pick

Pick: O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama

There are rumblings that O.J. Howard could be a Top-5 pick, but I think that’s the media overblowing his stock. I think it’s certainly possible that he goes earlier than this, but if he falls, I think the Bucs would love to add him to their offense. They give up a couple 4th Round picks to jump ahead of Tennessee and give Jameis Winston another huge weapon.

 

1.18 – Tennessee Titans

Pick: Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

Double down on 1st Round defensive backs? Only because the Bucs jumped them to grab Howard. The Titans major weakness last year was their secondary, and they did sign Logan Ryan in free agency, but he is best suited playing in the slot. For that reason, they get Humphrey here, a guy who has the skill set necessary for a #1 cornerback. The secondary is well on its way to becoming a strength for this team.

 

1.19 – Washington Redskins (from Tampa Bay)

Pick: Haason Reddick, LB, Temple

The Redskins are able to move back, acquire a couple 4th Round picks, and still get a player they’d have been happy taking at 1.17. Reddick has been a workout warrior in the pre-draft process, boosting his stock big time at the Senior Bowl and the Combine. He played defensive end at Temple, but he projects as a three-down linebacker in the league. The Redskins certainly could use one of those.

 

1.20 – Denver Broncos

Pick: Garret Bolles, OT, Utah

The Broncos had Bolles in for a visit, and as long as they are comfortable with his attitude, this pick makes too much sense for it not to happen. Regardless who’s playing quarterback, they need to do a better job protecting him. Bolles has the potential to be one of the best left tackles in the league.

 

1.21 – Detroit Lions

Pick: Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida

There are some durability concerns with Davis, but after cutting DeAndre Levy, the Lions need to look to improve their linebacking corps early in this draft. I think Haason Reddick would be a dream scenario for them, but he went two picks earlier, so they go with Davis, who has the ability to play inside or outside, but he is one of the best run stoppers in this linebacker class.

 

1.22 – Miami Dolphins

Pick: Forrest Lamp, OG/OT, Western Kentucky

This is another team that I would think would be all over Reddick if he got to this point, but with both Reddick and Davis now off the board, I think the Dolphins would move to another position and improve their interior offensive line. Some scouts think Lamp is the most talented offensive lineman in this class, but they also think he is best suited at the guard position. Miami got their left tackle last year in Laremy Tunsil, and they might get their left guard this year.

 

1.23 – New York Giants

Pick: Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss

There are no shortage of places for the Giants to go here if the draft would fall this way. Many expect them to go linebacker, but they haven’t taken one in the 1st Round since the mid-80’s. With Davis and Reddick off the board, it’s even less likely than usual. They could also draft their quarterback of the future, but I think they are built to win now, and I think they’ll lean towards getting Eli Manning another weapon. Engram’ stock is gaining a lot of momentum, and many think he’ll go in the 1st Round. Add him to the Giants’ pass catchers and that offense becomes that much scarier.

 

1.24 – New York Jets (from Oakland)

Trade Details: NY Jets get 1.24; Oakland gets 2.39, 3.70

Pick: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

Call this a hunch, but I get the feeling that the Raiders really would love to trade out of this spot to acquire another pick in a deep draft class. With only two quarterbacks off the board so far, the Jets make a move to go get Watson, knowing there’s no way he lasts to 2.39. I think they personally favor Watson to Mahomes, and decide to jump the Texans to get him. Watson isn’t ready to start right away, but he’s a winner, and the Jets haven’t been doing much winning lately.

 

1.25 – Houston Texans

Pick: Patrick Mahomes II, QB, Texas Tech

Even though the Jets jumped them to get Watson, Bill O’Brien happily takes Patrick Mahomes here. Mahomes said that he feels the Texans really like him, and I have a hard time seeing him fall past this pick come Thursday night. Mahomes has the strongest arm in this class, but he’ll have a lot of adjustments coming from an Air Raid offense at Texas Tech. I would think they’ll give him a shot to win the starting job, but he’ll ultimately sit out this year, which will benefit himself and the Texans in the long run.

 

1.26 – Seattle Seahawks

Pick: Kevin King, CB, Washington

This pick just screams Seahawks. They are actively shopping Richard Sherman, so they obviously are looking to switch it up in the secondary. King is tall (6-3), big (200 lbs) and extremely physical. He will fit in perfectly in Seattle.

 

1.27 – Kansas City Chiefs

Pick: Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt

There are lots of varying opinions in the draft community on Cunningham, but he has the potential to become a standout inside linebacker for whichever team takes him. He’s extremely rangy and shows terrific instincts. He’s an inconsistent tackler, but with Derrick Johnson coming off an injury and not getting any younger, the Chiefs would be wise to draft his eventual successor here.

 

1.28 – Dallas Cowboys

Pick: Jabrill Peppers, S/LB, Michigan

Another prospect with a lot of question marks, but also an extremely high upside, I just feel like Jabrill Peppers is meant to be drafted by Jerry Jones. Peppers is too small to play linebacker, but he doesn’t have the coverage or ball skills to be a top safety (or so some scouts believe). He is a true tweener, but the other thing his is, is a football player. Peppers will be a special teams dynamo, and Jason Garrett will find a way to utilize him on defense. I think Peppers will be a difference maker in the mold of Tyrann Mathieu, and what team wouldn’t want that?

*Update: Peppers, like Reuben Foster, had a diluted drug test at the NFL Combine. There are varying opinions as to what “diluted” necessarily means, but it’s certainly possible this could cause him to fall out of the 1st Round, which was a possibility before this news anyway.

 

1.29 – Jacksonville Jaguars (from Green Bay Packers)

Trade Details: Jacksonville gets 1.29; Green Bay gets 2.35, 4.110, 2018 6th Rd Pick

Pick: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

I could easily see Green Bay making this pick, but I see them more likely to shop the pick to a team wanting to come up to grab either Cook, Corey Davis or John Ross, all falling skill players in my projection. The Jaguars are looking to contend right now, and they could use an improvement in the backfield. Cook is not without his concerns (off-field, inconsistent workouts), but his pure talent makes him a steal at the end of the 1st Round.

 

1.30 – Pittsburgh Steelers

Pick: John Ross, WR, Washington

There is belief that John Ross could drop due to concerns over his durability at the next level. He missed the entire 2015 season due to injury, and there’s a rumor that at least six teams have taken him completely off their boards. I’m not sure if Pittsburgh is one of those teams, and wide receiver is not necessarily a need for the Steelers, but I think the idea of having Ross and Antonio Brown on opposite sides of Big Ben might be too great to pass up.

 

1.31 – Atlanta Falcons

Pick: Charles Harris, DE/OLB, Missouri

Vic Beasley is a star on one side of the defense for the Falcons. Here they have their pick of a few edge rushers to pair with him. I think Harris is the perfect blend of size and speed for a rush linebacker. Cam Newton, Drew Brees and Jameis Winston better be ready to see a couple physical freaks coming at them when they play Atlanta next season.

 

1.32 – New Orleans Saints (from New England)

Pick: Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan

This would be a fabulous 1st Round for the Saints. Get a potential All-Pro middle linebacker at 1.11, then jump all over Taco Charlton at the end of the round. This would be one of those inexplicable draft slides that occur just about every season. Charlton might be the best pure pass rusher in this class not named Myles Garrett. Put Charlton opposite Cameron Jordan, and with Reuben Foster at middle linebacker, this defense will be transformed.

 

Round 2

 

2.33 – Cleveland Browns

Pick: Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

I think Davis is the best wideout in this class, but there are concerns about his ability to stay healthy and his level of competition playing in the MAC. Bologna, I say. Is it possible for the Browns to have this good a draft? It’s possible, but they’ll find a way to screw things up like always.

 

2.34 – Los Angeles Rams (from San Francisco)

Trade Details: LA Rams get 2.34; San Francisco gets 2.37, 5.149

Pick: David Njoku, TE, Miami (FL)

Not a great spot for the Niners, so they move back three spots and pick up an extra 5th Round pick. Njoku is a 1st Round talent who falls here, and the Rams take the opportunity to go up and get Jared Goff a potential big time target at tight end.

 

2.35 – Green Bay Packers (from Jacksonville)

Pick: T.J. Watt, OLB, Wisconsin

The brother of J.J. isn’t quite at the level of his older brother, but he’s a talented rusher off the edge in his own right for sure. He’s getting some 1st Round buzz, especially to Green Bay. If the Packers could trade back, pick up a couple more picks and still get Watt, I think they’d be doing pretty good for themselves.

 

2.36 – Chicago Bears

Pick: Jordan Willis, OLB/DE, Kansas State

After trading back and nabbing a shutdown corner in the 1st Round, the Bears grab a talented edge rusher whose stock is rising in a big way as we get closer and closer to the draft. You can never have too many pass rushers. I think I might have said that earlier. Oh well, it’s still true.

 

2.37 – San Francisco 49ers (from LA Rams)

Pick: Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

I hate the fact that this person is going to be drafted at all, especially this high, but he will, and the 49ers make a lot of sense. The Niners are bad, and when you are bad, you need to take some risks in an effort to get better. This would be a huge risk, but the potential rewards are astronomical.

 

2.38 – Los Angeles Chargers

Pick: Takkarist McKinley, DE/OLB, UCLA

The Chargers take a player here that could go as high as the middle of the 1st Round. Joey Bosa needs a partner on the other side of the line, and McKinley is a great pass rusher in a class full of them.

 

2.39 – Oakland Raiders (from NY Jets)

Pick: Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State

This is someone that I see the Raiders taking in the 1st Round, so to drop back into the 2nd Round and still get him would be fantastic on their part. There are motivation concerns with McDowell, but if anybody can get the most out of him, it’s probably Oakland.

 

2.40 – Chicago Bears (from Carolina)

Pick: Obi Melifonwu, S/CB, Connecticut

The Bears picked up this selection by moving back in the 1st Round, and they use this pick to grab another defensive back. Melifonwu boosted his stock with an impressive performance at the Combine. He’s likely a safety to start his career, but could shift to corner if he progresses like some believe he will.

 

2.41 – Cincinnati Bengals

Pick: Josh Jones, S, NC State

Reggie Nelson left last season in free agency, and the Bengals subsequently struggled on the back end last season. Jones is great against the run already, and has the potential to become great in coverage as well. He is an extremely physical player, and that will allow him to fit seamlessly into the Bengals’ defense.

 

2.42 – New Orleans Saints

Pick: Curtis Samuel, WR/RB, Ohio State

One of the best playmakers in this draft, Samuel is flying under the radar a little bit. The Saints had pretty good success with a 2nd Round wideout from Ohio State last season, so they hope lightning strikes twice here. Drew Brees will love having a versatile weapon like Samuel.

 

2.43 – Philadelphia Eagles

Pick: Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida

In Version 1.0 of my Mock Draft, I had the Eagles taking Wilson in the 1st Round. If they can get Mike Williams AND Quincy Wilson in this draft, boy oh boy, what a coup that would be. Wilson is a ball hawk in the mold of former Eagle corner Asante Samuel.

 

2.44 – Buffalo Bills

Pick: Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado

There are some draft experts who believe Awuzie is one of the most underrated players in this entire draft class. After losing Stephon Gilmore to the Patriots in free agency, the Bills need to address the secondary with an early pick.

 

2.45 – Arizona Cardinals

Pick: DeMarcus Walker, DE, Florida State

Calais Campbell signed with the Jaguars in free agency, so the Cardinals look for his replacement here in Walker. Like Campbell, Walker is an end that has the ability to slide inside in certain sub packages.

 

2.46 – Indianapolis Colts

Pick: Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee

Frank Gore’s career will end at any moment, so the Colts need to infuse some youth into that position. Kamara has a similar running style to Gore, but he is a much more talented pass catcher out of the backfield. Andrew Luck’s new best friend!

 

2.47 – Baltimore Ravens

Pick: Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina

Jones is one of my favorite players in this class, and I believe he has the potential to wind up as the best receiver from the 2017 draft class. With Steve Smith’s retirement, the Ravens need to try and replace that production. Jones is a great talent.

 

2.48 – Minnesota Vikings

Pick: Dion Dawkins, OG, Temple

The Vikings finally get a pick, and they immediately address their putrid offensive line. They definitely need help at tackle, but Dawkins is the best O-Lineman on the board here. He played tackle at Temple, but projects as a guard at the next level. Regardless, he’s an improvement over what they have right now.

 

2.49 – Washington Redskins

Pick: Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee

It’s clear that the Skins don’t see Kirk Cousins as their QB for the long haul. This is a slight reach, but Dobbs is probably the smartest quarterback in this class, and he will benefit from sitting behind Cousins for a season.

 

2.50 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Pick: Adoree’ Jackson, CB/WR, USC

As an athlete, there’s nobody better in this class than Jackson. He needs to improve his skills, but the athleticism is there. Jackson will struggle covering the bigger wideouts in the NFC South, but what he lacks in size, he more than makes up for with his instincts and ball skills.

 

2.51 – Denver Broncos

Pick: Adam Shaheen, TE, Ashland

A virtual unknown prior to the draft process, the small school product is drawing comparisons to Gronk. At 6-6, 278 pounds, Shaheen is a physical freak at the tight end position. This is a popular prediction in mock drafts, but it makes total sense for the Broncos.

 

2.52 – Tennessee Titans (from Cleveland via Tennessee)

Pick: JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC

The Titans get this pick back from the Browns in the trade for the 5th overall pick, and after doubling up in the secondary in the 1st Round, the Titans get Marcus Mariota a talented pass catcher with the potential to be a #1 receiver down the line.

 

2.53 – Detroit Lions

Pick: Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida

The Lions double up on Florida defensive players, as they have struggled to replace Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Brantley takes some plays off, but when he decides to turn it on, he is dominating on the inside. The Lions will have to make sure Brantley stays motivated.

*Update: Brantley was arrested a few weeks ago for allegedly knocking a female unconscious outside a bar in Gainesville. I can’t remember a time when this many prospects were getting into trouble with drug tests and the law this close to the draft. I think it is very likely that this event causes Brantley to slide, possibly out of the first three rounds.

 

2.54 – Miami Dolphins

Pick: Chris Wormley, DT, Michigan

Speaking of Ndamukong Suh, he needs some help on the interior of the Dolphins’ defensive line, and Wormley is talented enough to be a very good partner for Suh. Wormley is a little smaller than Brantley, but he is also a little quicker. The Dolphins struggled against the run down the stretch, and this pick would help them improve in that department.

 

2.55 – New York Giants

Pick: Antonio Garcia, OT, Troy

The Giants need a left tackle, and while I’m not sure if Garcia is that guy, at this stage of the draft, he’s the best O-Lineman available. He may be best suited at guard, but I think the Giants would be wise to start him at RT, and if he progresses well, possible move him to LT down the line.

 

2.56 – Oakland Raiders

Pick: Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU

I’ve seen White go as high as 1.11 to New Orleans, but I think teams will be concerned about his size (5-11, 192) and his poor ball skills. I don’t see those things bothering the Raiders, as they need the most help at slot corner, where White can start from the get-go.

 

2.57 – Kansas City Chiefs (from Houston)

Trade Details: Kansas City gets 2.57; Houston gets 2.59, 5.170

Pick: Sidney Jones, CB, Washington

The Chiefs give up a 5th Round pick here to shoot for the moon. Prior to getting hurt during the pre-draft process, Jones was considered one of the top defensive backs in this class. He thinks he’ll be ready for the start of the season, but that’s a huge question mark. If he gets healthy and comes even close to his potential, he’ll be the steal of the draft here late in the 2nd Round.

 

2.58 – Seattle Seahawks

Pick: Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana

The Seahawks’ offensive line is downright awful, and while their biggest need is at tackle, they could use upgrades all across the line. Some scouts believe Feeney is the best pure guard in this class, so the Hawks would be wise to grab him here.

 

2.59 – Houston Texans (from Kansas City)

Pick: Budda Baker, S, Washington

For a playoff team, the Texans have a ton of needs. After getting their quarterback in the 1st, they grab an undersized, but very talented safety here with the potential to become a pro bowler in the future. Baker has drawn Tyrann Mathieu comparisons.

 

2.60 – Dallas Cowboys

Pick: Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama

The Cowboys have never been ones to shy away from taking a troubled prospect, and Williams had his fair share of off-field issues during his time in Tuscaloosa. If he can straighten out his act though, he has the ability to be one of the best edge rushers in this class.

 

2.61 – Green Bay Packers

Pick: D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texas

It’s pretty simple, the Packers just cannot go into the season with Ty Montgomery as the starting running back. He is great as a change-of-pace back or a 3rd down back, but he’s not a bell cow. Foreman has some fumbling concerns, but he is a violent runner, and has the potential to be a stud.

 

2.62 – Pittsburgh Steelers

Pick: Tyus Bowser, OLB, Houston

There’s a real possibility that Bowser could go a lot higher than this, as ESPN has him rated as a Top-30 prospect. The Steelers need an infusion of youth on the edge, as James Harrison can’t possibly play too many more seasons.

 

2.63 – San Francisco 49ers (from Atlanta)

Trade Details: San Francisco gets 2.63; Atlanta gets 3.66, 6.198, 2018 6th Rd Pick

Pick: Davis Webb, QB, California

Matt Barkley is not the long-term answer for the Niners. Neither is Brian Hoyer. Two 6th Round picks is a small price to pay to go up and get the guy that they think can develop into the long-term answer at quarterback. Webb has the prototypical size and arm strength of an NFL quarterback, and Kyle Shanahan is the perfect coach for him to develop under.

 

2.64 – Chicago Bears (from Carolina)

Pick: Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington

After going defense with their first three picks in this projection, the Bears address the hole in their roster left by Alshon Jeffery departure in free agency. Kupp has the size and the production (broke 15 FCS records), but he did not test well in the pre-draft process.

 

Round 3

 

3.65 – Tennessee Titans (from Cleveland)

Pick: Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, Villanova

They addressed their three biggest needs with their first three picks, so with this pick that they acquired from trading down in the 1st, they address another need by grabbing a versatile defensive end.

 

3.66 – Atlanta Falcons (from San Francisco)

Pick: Derek Rivers, OLB/DE, Youngstown State

Deciding that good pass rushers are a premium in this league, the Falcons decide to use a second straight pick on an edge rusher. Picking up an extra 6th Round pick allows them the ability to do this.

 

3.67 – Baltimore Ravens (from Chicago)

Trade Details: Baltimore gets 3.67; Chicago gets 3.78, 4.122

Pick: Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan

Having already made four picks, the Bears are afforded the luxury of moving back 11 spots and grabbing an additional 4th Round pick. Meanwhile, John takes the advice of his brother Jim and moves up to grab a 1st Round talent that Jim coached at Michigan who has slipped here due to some off-field issues (domestic violence accusations).

 

3.68 – Jacksonville Jaguars

Pick: Taylor Moton, OT, Western Michigan

The Jaguars’ offensive line was mediocre at best last year, so any improvement has to be considered a good idea. Some think Moton is better suited at guard, but the Jags can put him anywhere on the line and he’ll make that position better.

 

3.69 – Los Angeles Rams

Pick: Desmond King, S/CB, Iowa

After playing mostly cornerback at Iowa, most believe he is best suited at safety in the pros due to his height. That’s fine for the Rams though, as they need to improve on the back end.

 

3.70 – Oakland Raiders (from NY Jets)

Pick: Jake Butt, TE, Michigan

This pick becomes a luxury for the Raiders, as they are able to add a guy that had a chance to be a 1st Round pick prior to a knee injury and the end of last season. With Jared Cook on the roster, along with a hopefully improved Clive Walford, Oakland can afford to let Butt heal properly (that’s hilarious), and reap the benefits when he gets healthy.

 

3.71 – Los Angeles Chargers

Pick: Dorian Johnson, OG, Pittsburgh

The Chargers signed Russell Okung in free agency to shore up the left tackle position, but they could use an upgrade just about everywhere else on the line. Johnson has the potential to be one of the best guards in the league.

 

3.72 – New England Patriots (from Carolina)

Pick: Tarell Basham, DE, Ohio

The Patriots finally get to make a pick in this draft. They got this pick along with Kony Ealy from the Panthers, and they decide to make it an end-heavy trade by grabbing Basham here. The Pats don’t have many weaknesses, but the pass rush is something that they are likely to address in this draft.

 

3.73 – Cincinnati Bengals

Pick: Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State

When A.J. Green was injured last season, the passing game disappeared for the Bengals. For that reason, they are likely to add a wideout early in the draft, and Godwin has prototypical size for a receiver, and he tested well in the lead-up to the draft.

 

3.74 – Baltimore Ravens (from Philadelphia)

Pick: Pat Elflein, C, Ohio State

After trading away Jeremy Zuttah, the Ravens get the #1 center prospect in this draft in the 3rd Round to replace him. That has to be considered a big victory for Baltimore.

 

3.75 – Buffalo Bills

Pick: Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech

After moving to wide receiver last year for the Hokies, Hodges projects as a freakishly athletic tight end in the pros. He struggles with blocking, but he has the size necessary to develop into a good blocker. He’s a big play waiting to happen, and will be a nice addition to the Bills’ passing attack.

 

3.76 – New Orleans Saints

Pick: Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami (FL)

Coming into last season, Kaaya was right up there with the top prospects in this class, but he had an inconsistent season for the Hurricanes. He’s a project, but he’s got great size and a strong arm, and he’ll benefit greatly learning from a guy like Drew Brees.

 

3.77 – Arizona Cardinals

Pick: Teez Tabor, CB, Florida

Tabor was a likely 1st Round pick entering the draft process, but off-field concerns coupled with alarmingly low 40-yard dash times have caused his stock to plummet. The Cardinals need somebody opposite Patrick Peterson, and Tabor has the skills to be a top corner in this league.

 

3.78 – Chicago Bears (from Baltimore)

Pick: Nathan Peterman, QB, Pittsburgh

The Bears gave Mike Glennon $15 million a year this offseason (mind-blowing, honestly), but that does not mean they should ignore the quarterback position in the draft. Peterman could be the sleeper at QB in this class, and the Bears would have a steal if he reaches his full potential.

 

3.79 – Minnesota Vikings

Pick: Julie’n Davenport, OT, Bucknell

The Vikings double up on offensive lineman with their first two picks in this draft? I know Sam Bradford is on board with that! Their offensive line was putrid last season, it needs to be improved, and they will do so in this draft.

 

3.80 – Indianapolis Colts

Pick: Marcus Maye, S, Florida

It is inevitable with a class this deep that some really good defensive backs are going to fall into the 3rd Round and possibly even further. Maye has a 2nd Round grade from most scouts, and the Colts need a safety after Mike Adams left in free agency.

 

3.81 – Washington Redskins

Pick: Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo

While the Redskins have never been ones to invest heavy in the running back position, I just don’t think Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley will be able to get it done. Kareem Hunt is a thumper, and is an immediate improvement over what they have now.

 

3.82 – Denver Broncos

Pick: Dalvin Tomlinson, DT, Alabama

The Broncos lost Malik Jackson in free agency before last season, and they never really replaced him. It showed, as they became one of the worst defenses against the run. Tomlinson is a massive interior presence, and will certainly help against the run and the pass.

 

3.83 – Tennessee Titans

Pick: Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson

Delanie Walker is on the downswing of his career, so the Titans grab Leggett hoping that he can be Walker’s eventual replacement, but in the meantime, they can run some two TE sets and wreak havoc on opposing defenses.

 

3.84 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Pick: Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma

It’s a very unclear situation at running back for the Bucs. Doug Martin will be suspended for three games, Charles Sims can’t stay healthy, and Jacquizz Rodgers certainly is not a feature back. Perine, though, has the potential to be a very productive back at the next level.

 

3.85 – Detroit Lions

Pick: Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn

Ziggy Ansah is a star on one side of the defensive line for the Lions, but he could use some help coming off the other side. Lawson has a ton of durability concerns, but if he can stay healthy at the next level, the Lions will have a steal at this point in the draft.

 

3.86 – Minnesota Vikings (from Miami)

Pick: Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson

The Vikings address the trenches once again, just on the opposite side of the ball. Shariff Floyd played through injury last season and just wasn’t very effective. Watkins helps give the Vikings depth on the defensive line in case Floyd can’t regain his form again this season.

 

3.87 – New York Giants

Pick: Alex Anzalone, ILB, Florida

The only real weakness left at this point for the Giants is at the inside linebacker position, and there are a fair amount of mid-round prospects in this class that could turn out to be quality starters. Anzalone drops due to durability concerns, but he has the skills to be a three-down middle linebacker for the Giants.

 

3.88 – Oakland Raiders

Pick: Marcus Williams, S, Utah

Safety isn’t a need for the Raiders necessarily, but they could use some depth at the position after losing Nate Allen in free agency. Williams could also potentially replace the aging Reggie Nelson, whose contract is up after this season.

 

3.89 – Houston Texans

Pick: Dawaune Smoot, DE, Illinois

J.J. Watt spent most of last season on the sidelines due to injury, so I think the Texans will address the defensive end position early in this year’s draft just in case Watt’s issues linger this season. Smoot was a top prospect before a mediocre 2016 season.

 

3.90 – Seattle Seahawks

Pick: Zach Banner, OT, USC

The Seahawks have to fix this offensive line eventually, so they use two early round picks on lineman in this year’s draft. Banner is a project, but he is a massive human being, and definitely somebody that O-Line coach Tom Cable can work with.

 

3.91 – Kansas City Chiefs

Pick: Larry Ogunjobi, DT, Charlotte

With Dontari Poe in Atlanta via free agency and the release of Jaye Howard, the Chiefs have a massive hole at the defensive tackle position. They added Bennie Logan, but depth is necessary, and Ogunjobi provides that at the very least.

 

3.92 – Dallas Cowboys

Pick: Jonnu Smith, TE, Florida International

Jason Witten’s career has to be coming to a close sooner rather than later, so it’s time to start seeking out his eventual successor. Smith, at this point, is the blend of blocker and receiver that most closely resembles what Witten gives to this Cowboys’ offense.

 

3.93 – Green Bay Packers

Pick: Fabian Moreau, CB, UCLA

I’m not sure if Moreau will actually fall this far, but a torn pectoral muscle suffered during a pre-draft workout has caused his stock to tumble. If he properly recovers, the Packers will have a steal near the end of the 3rd Round.

 

3.94 – Pittsburgh Steelers

Pick: Damontae Kazee, CB, San Diego State

I think the Steelers would much prefer to go safety here if they don’t address that position with their first two picks, but they settle for an undersized, but very talented corner to add some depth at that position.

 

3.95 – Atlanta Falcons

Pick: Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

The Falcons continue to address their defense, which is no surprise considering they blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl (I’m sure they’re tired of hearing it, but it’s not going to stop). Scouts aren’t sure if McMillan can be a three-down linebacker in the pros, but he is improving in coverage and has that potential.

 

3.96 – New England Patriots

Pick: ArDarius Stewart, WR, Alabama

The Patriots have already addressed the pass rush, so they don’t really have any true needs left. That affords them the luxury of being able to take a versatile offensive weapon like Stewart at this point in the draft. The rich get richer.

 

Round 3 Compensatory Picks

 

3.97 – Miami Dolphins

Pick: Kendell Beckwith, ILB, LSU

Kiko Alonso played okay last season, but the Fins could really stand to improve the middle of their defense. Beckwith is better suited as an inside linebacker in the pros than his LSU teammate Duke Riley, who is arguably more talented.

 

3.98 – Carolina Panthers

Pick: Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State

The Panthers finally get their second pick after making the move up to get Leonard Fournette, and they use it to continue to try and shore up their protection for Cam Newton.

 

3.99 – Philadelphia Eagles (from Baltimore)

Pick: Ryan Anderson, OLB, Alabama

Connor Barwin really struggled at times last year, so the Eagles should look to improve on the edge. Anderson is much more talented than players typically chosen at the end of the 3rd Round.

 

3.100 – Cleveland Browns (from Tennessee via LA Rams)

Pick: Gerald Everett, TE, South Alabama

The Browns attempt to add another weapon to help out Mitchell Trubisky down the line, and Everett is one of the best pure pass catchers in this tight end class. He falls due to his mediocre blocking ability.

 

3.101 – Denver Broncos

Pick: Marlon Mack, RB, South Florida

C.J. Anderson has been a very good back for Denver, but he’s been banged up at times, and they could stand to add some depth at the position.

 

3.102 – Seattle Seahawks

Pick: Daeshon Hall, DE, Texas A&M

Myles Garrett got all the attention at Texas A&M, but Hall did a lot of good things on the opposite side. Some are concerned that Garrett made Hall better, but the Seahawks’ defensive scheme should make Hall better too.

 

3.103 – New Orleans Saints (from New England via Cleveland)

Pick: Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Colorado

Another very talented cornerback has slid down the board, and the Saints pounce, potentially adding a Day 1 starter at the end of the 3rd Round. The Saints are having a great draft here.

 

3.104 – Kansas City Chiefs

Pick: Anthony Walker, ILB, Northwestern

There’s a chance 1st Round pick Zach Cunningham will be better suited at outside linebacker, so the Chiefs grab Walker here just in case that happens. Walker is a little undersized for an inside backer, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in talent.

 

3.105 – Pittsburgh Steelers

Pick: Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise State

Le’Veon Bell is arguably the best running back in the league, but the Steelers do not have a whole lot of depth at the position, so they would be well inclined to add a back fairly early in this draft, just in case anything would happen to Bell.

 

3.106 – Seattle Seahawks

Pick: John Johnson, S, Boston College

There’s a chance that Earl Thomas will leave in free agency after this season, so the Seahawks use an early pick on his potential replacement.

 

3.107 – New York Jets

Pick: Montravius Adams, DT, Auburn

Sheldon Richardson’s time in New York is coming to an end, so the Jets get his potential replacement with the last pick in the 3rd Round. Adams is not as versatile as Richardson, but he’s a disruptor in the middle, just like Richardson.

NFL Mock Draft 1.0: 4/18/17

You may not realize it, given that the NBA and NHL Playoffs are currently in full swing, but the 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia is just over one week away! With that in mind, now seems like a good time for the first of two NFL Mock Drafts you will see here on We Love Sportz!

For the first edition, I will go through the 1st Round of the upcoming Draft and tell you who I think the teams should take, as if I were their general manager. With that being said, a fair amount of this will include my personal opinion, so you have been warned.

I will not be projecting any trades in this mock, but I will note some places where I could see some trades happening. Version 2.0 will come at some point prior to the Draft, and there I will mock some trades and give you a better idea what I think actually will happen. Read this mock as what I think should happen, not what will happen.

Let’s not waste any more time, here is Version 1.0 of We Love Sportz’s NFL Mock Draft!

1 – Cleveland Browns

garrett

Pick: Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

There is no quarterback in this class worthy of the #1 overall pick, so despite Cleveland’s gaping hole at that position, they need to get the best player available, considering they have needs just about all over the field. Garrett has been compared to some of the best defensive ends in the league, and ESPN’s Todd McShay has him graded one point below where he had Khalil Mack graded coming out of college in 2014. You know, Khalil Mack, who in three seasons has been an All-Pro three times (at two different positions) and is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Garrett is a game-changer on the defensive side of the ball, and he is the slam dunk #1 pick in this year’s draft. There are rumors that Leonard Fournette is still in play for the Browns at this pick, but if they are smart, they’ll take Garrett. Hang on, the Browns rarely do the smart thing. Seriously, I can’t stress enough how hard this will be to mess up. But if anyone can do it, it’s the Browns! *Update: They are trying to screw it up…*

2 – San Francisco 49ers

thomas

Pick: Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford

The 49ers are in a very similar situation to the Browns, in they have a big need at quarterback, but can take the best player available given all of the other holes on their roster. I could very easily see the Niners trade out of this spot to acquire more picks, but if they stay put, Thomas should be the pick. He put on a show in the Sun Bowl against Mitchell Trubisky and North Carolina, sending his draft stock toward the moon. He is a very good pass rusher, something the 49ers sorely lacked last season. He is also scheme-versatile, with the size to slide inside in a 4-3 alignment. There are a number of players that would make sense for San Francisco here, but Thomas fits the bill best.

3 – Chicago Bears

adams

Pick: Jamal Adams, S, LSU The Bears addressed their quarterback issue by moving on from Jay Cutler and signing former Buccaneer Mike Glennon to a contract that will pay him $15 million a season. Yeah, you read that correctly. I don’t believe that Glennon is even close to the answer under center for this team, but you don’t spend that kind of money on a quarterback if you don’t think you can win with him. With that in mind, I believe that Jamal Adams is the best defensive back in this class, and he could end up being the centerpiece of the next great Chicago defense. He is the smartest, most versatile safety in this class. He can play centerfield, or he can play in the box. He even has skills that allow him to slide into the nickel if absolutely necessary. Scouts also say that his team leadership skills are second-to-none. The Bears addressed the cornerback position in free agency by adding Prince Amukamara, B.W. Webb and Marcus Cooper for depth, so I think they can wait there given the deep class at corner. Jamal Adams would be a great pick for the Bears.

4 – Jacksonville Jaguars

fournette

Pick: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

I think Blake Bortles is an extremely mediocre NFL quarterback, but the Jaguars are giving him yet another season to prove that he can lead them to the promised land. With that in mind, they need to give him some help. The Jags spent a boatload of money on the defensive side of the ball in free agency, signing DL Calais Campbell, CB A.J. Bouye and S Barry Church. That leads me to believe that they will lean offense early in the draft, and if you want to take some pressure off of a struggling quarterback, give him a really good running back. The top back in this class is Leonard Fournette. He was considered a slam dunk Top-5 pick at one point, but now there are weight and durability concerns. That being said, he has Adrian Peterson-level talent, and if he reaches his ceiling, he’ll be one of the best backs in the league in no time.

 

5 – Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams)

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 31 CFP Semifinal - Fiesta Bowl - Ohio State v Clemson Pick: Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State The Titans traded the 1st overall pick last season to the Rams, and it was a brilliant move. They have already begun to reap the benefits, and that will continue in this year’s draft, as a team on the brink AFC title contention gets a Top-5 pick in a great draft. They have a few needs on offense, but having the top corner in this class fall to them at 5 is something that I would expect them to jump all over. Lattimore is extremely athletic, and has great coverage and ball skills. The weakness of this defense was the secondary last season, and after adding Johnathan Cyprien and Logan Ryan in free agency, getting a #1 corner in Lattimore has them on the way towards turning it from a weakness to a strength.

 

6 – New York Jets

allen

Pick: Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama

I had a tough time with this one, as the Jets have a whole lot of needs, number one on that list of needs being quarterback. If they fall in love with one of the top quarterbacks in this class (Trubisky, Kizer, Watson, even Mahomes), I could easily see them going that route, and I wouldn’t see an issue with it. I do not particularly like any of the top QB prospects this year for a variety of reasons, and I do not think the Jets would be best served going that route with this pick. Therefore, they go with the best player on the board, which I believe is Allen. He is versatile and he is great against the run and rushing the passer. Sheldon Richardson’s days in New York are numbered, and Allen is a great talent to add to this front seven. There are concerns about his shoulder, and his workout results weren’t fantastic, but watch the game film, and you could argue that he’s the most talented player in this class.

 

7 – Los Angeles Chargers

hooker Pick: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State This would be best case scenario for the Chargers. A very talented team that was riddled with injuries and bad luck, they have a chance to compete in the best division in football if things swing back their way in their first season in Los Angeles. They lost Eric Weddle to free agency last season, and it was clear that he was missed. Hooker has some of the same qualities as Weddle, as he has better ball skills and instincts than any defensive back in this class. The Chargers have a very good run defense, so they can live with Hooker’s limitations against the run. Hooker is a ball hawk, and he will completely change the Chargers’ defense. This pick would be a home run.

 

8 – Carolina Panthers

robinson

Pick: Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

I really struggled making a pick here for Carolina. I think if Fournette were available, he’d be the pick no question, but I don’t see them going with McCaffery or Cook here. Cornerback is a huge need, but they have shown in past years that they do not value that position enough to take one in the Top-10. They are also very old at the defensive end position, and could use an infusion of youth, but I don’t think any of the pass rushers available at this point are deserving of a Top-10 pick. That leaves one true need position, and that’s the offensive line. I also do not believe there is an offensive lineman in this class that should go in the Top-10, but the Panthers need to do something about Cam Newton’s protection, and Robinson has the highest ceiling of any O-lineman in the class. He will go through some growing pains, and the Panthers will need to be patient, but he has the size and the potential to be their left tackle of the future. There have been rumors that teams could reach for offensive line help this season. There might not be a team that needs the help more than Carolina.

 

9 – Cincinnati Bengals

foster Pick: Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama Linebacker is not an obvious need for the Bengals, but they cut Rey Maualuga, replaced him with Kevin Minter, who is not a long-term solution, and it seems like Vontaze Burfict’s Bengal career could end at any moment, since that guy appears to have rocks in his head. For those reasons, I think Reuben Foster will be very attractive to Cincinnati here at #9. He is not without his issues, as he had an incident at the Combine which resulted in him being sent home, and some scouts have said there are concerns with the company he keeps. Seems like he’ll fit right in with the rest of the Cincinnati defense! All jokes aside, Foster is an every-down linebacker, and if he can keep his head straight and stay healthy, he’ll be a fixture in the middle of this defense for a very long time.

 

10 – Buffalo Bills

howard

Pick: O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama

Word on the street is that there are people in the Bills’ organization who love Deshaun Watson. I think this is too early for him, and after re-signing Tyrod Taylor, the Bills do not necessarily have a need at the quarterback position. If they want to make it work with Taylor, it would be best to give him another weapon, and I believe Howard is the biggest offensive weapon in this draft class. He was criminally underutilized at Alabama, and many scouts are excited for Howard’s potential in the NFL. Charles Clay is a good, not great tight end, so Howard is a clear upgrade. He has the size, athletic ability and skills to be one of the top tight ends in the league, and along with LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins, Howard could help turn the Bills’ offense into one of the best units in the AFC.

 

11 – New Orleans Saints

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Music City Bowl - Nebraska v Tennessee Pick: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee I have to believe that Drew Brees’s days in this league are numbered, but for right now, he is still one of the top QB’s, and as long as he’s under center, the Saints have one of the top offenses in the NFL. They traded Brandin Cooks to New England this offseason, so they may look to add an offensive weapon here, but I think they’d be much better served adding more talent to one of the weakest defenses in the league. Cameron Jordan is fantastic, and the middle of the line is set with Nick Fairley and last year’s 1st Round pick Sheldon Rankins, but they do not get much production on the other side of that line. This is where Derek Barnett fits in. Some scouts believe Barnett is the best pure pass rusher in this draft class, and the best way to take pressure off of a struggling secondary is to get after the quarterback. Drafting Barnett gives the Saints one of the scariest D-line’s in football.

 

12 – Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia Eagles)

NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 01 Western Michigan at Ball State

Pick: Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

After taking Myles Garrett with their first pick (Seriously, Browns, don’t be stupid. Take Myles Garrett), I would expect them to switch over and look to add a weapon on offense, and with Leonard Fournette and O.J. Howard off the board, two players that I would definitely expect them to take here if available, the Browns could have their choice of wide receiver. There have been rumblings that they like Corey Davis a lot, and it just so happens that I too believe he is the top receiver in this class. Level of competition is a concern, as is durability, as he missed the Combine due to injury, but look at the tape, and you can see why this guy is a no-brainer 1st Round pick. He’s a great route-runner, has strong hands, and he can win the jump ball, making him a nice red zone target. Terrelle Pryor is in Washington and nobody knows what the situation will be with Josh Gordon, so getting a #1 target here in Davis makes a whole lot of sense. But then again, when have the Browns ever done the sensible thing?

 

13 – Arizona Cardinals

kizer Pick: DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame Carson Palmer isn’t getting any younger, folks. With that in mind, I really believe it would best serve the Cardinals to draft his eventual successor, and while this is a weak quarterback class, Kizer has loads of upside. His ceiling is higher than any of the quarterbacks in this draft, and he seems like a Bruce Arians-type of quarterback. There is a lot of work that will need to be done for Kizer to reach that ceiling, but the Cards are a team that can afford to be patient with Kizer, given that they’ll have at least one more season of Carson Palmer. There are other positions they could address here that would help keep the team competitive in the short-term, but I think it’s time to start thinking about the future, specifically post-Carson Palmer.

 

14 – Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota Vikings)

wilson

Pick: Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida

If you know me, you know I despise everything Eagles. That makes it very difficult to give them credit where it’s due, but they made a couple fantastic trades before last season’s draft. Moving up to #2 to take Carson Wentz appears to be a great decision, as does getting back into the 1st Round this year by moving Sam Bradford to Minnesota. There are a number of different ways the Eagles could go with this pick, including running back or wide receiver to give Wentz another weapon, but I think they’d be best served addressing the secondary with this pick. Quincy Wilson has terrific ball skills, and if you were to design the perfect cornerback based on size and speed, he’s it, measuring over 6-1 and 211 pounds, running a sub-4.50 40-yard dash. His cover skills are not up to par with some of the other top corners in this class, but he has the tools to become a shutdown corner, and the Eagles could definitely use one of those.

 

15 – Indianapolis Colts

ramczyk Pick: Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin For a team picking in the middle of the 1st Round, the Colts have a crazy amount of needs to address. With 14 players off the board, you could argue that anything other than a quarterback makes at least some kind of sense for this team. The most glaring weakness on defense is at the linebacker position, and that makes Haason Reddick really hard to pass on here, but priority #1 for the Colts has to be protecting their franchise QB Andrew Luck, something that they have not been able to do, despite addressing the O-line early in the last few drafts. They need to keep doing it until they figure it out, and while there are some big concerns with Ramczyk, he is believed to be the best pure pass protector at the tackle position in this draft class. He will slot in immediately at right tackle and hopefully help keep Luck upright and healthy.

 

16 – Baltimore Ravens

NCAA Football: UCLA vs BYU

Pick: Takkarist McKinley, OLB/DE, UCLA

In my opinion, the Ravens have two major needs, one on each side of the ball. With Steve Smith’s retirement, one need is at wide receiver, and specifically, finding Joe Flacco a true #1 target. Mike Williams could turn into a #1 receiver, but when the Ravens have been successful, it has started with defense, and unfortunately, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil aren’t getting any younger. An infusion of youth on the edge is the other big need, and that is where McKinley comes in. The pass rush skills need some work, but there might not be a better guy for him to learn under than Suggs. When Suggs decides to retire, McKinley will seamlessly slide right into that spot in the Ravens’ defense.

 

17 – Washington Redskins

peppers Pick: Jabrill Peppers, OLB/S, Michigan Could the Skins draft the eventual successor to Kirk Cousins here? Sure. Could they improve the offense by adding an every-down running back or another talented receiver? They could. Do I think they should do either of those things here? No, I do not. They need a difference maker on defense, and there might not be a bigger potential difference maker in this draft class than Jabrill Peppers. He doesn’t really have a position, as he’s not good enough in coverage to play safety on every down, but he’s not big or strong enough to be an every-down linebacker. However, we have started to see these tweener prospects have a fair amount of success in the NFL (Deone Bucannon and Mark Barron come to mind), and when it comes to athleticism and football IQ, Peppers tests off the charts. It’s an added bonus that he is a dangerous weapon in the return game, and if he doesn’t become a Pro Bowl defender, he should surely be a Pro Bowl special teamer.

 

18 – Tennessee Titans

williams

Pick: Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

If it hasn’t already happened, I would be fully expecting teams to be calling the Titans to move up to take either Trubisky or Watson (if the Cardinals would truly take Kizer over these two). However, I am not mocking trades here (as that is a futile exercise), so the Titans, having made a huge addition to the secondary with their first pick, get Marcus Mariota another weapon as they look to become a threat to win the AFC. John Ross could be in play here as well, but I believe Williams is the more well-rounded receiver, and he probably has the highest ceiling of any receiver in this draft class. The Titans love Tajae Sharpe, but I have my doubts whether he can become a #1 wideout in the NFL. Williams can, and he will certainly take some pressure off of Mariota entering his third season in the league.

 

19 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

mccaffrey Pick: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford Jameis Winston, to my surprise, looks the part of a quarterback that can lead a championship team. He has a solid offensive line and a huge threat on the outside in Mike Evans. The one thing that Winston could use is an every-down running back, and in this draft class, that guy is McCaffrey. He is an absolute gamer, with a work ethic that is off the charts, and on top of that, he will instantly be one of the best receiving backs in the NFL. The Doug Martin situation is a huge question mark, but take McCaffrey, and the Bucs can just cut ties with Martin and line McCaffrey up behind Winston for many, many years. I am a big believer in McCaffrey, and I think he has the potential to be a Pro Bowl running back. The Bucs are really close, and I think this pick would get them even closer.

 

20 – Denver Broncos

NCAA Football: Washington at Utah

Pick: Garett Bolles, OT, Utah

For a team just one year removed from a Super Bowl victory, the Broncos have a ton of holes to fill. New head man Vance Joseph does not have an easy task ahead of him. I’m sure John Elway and Joseph would love to add another offensive playmaker here, or get some help for the middle of the front seven (which was awful last season), but the biggest issue for this team in quarterback protection, and that is why they should go offensive line here, and Bolles is the best prospect at this juncture. Forrest Lamp may project as the better player, but he is better suited inside at guard. Bolles has the tools to be a future LT, and that is exactly what Denver is looking for. Whether it’s Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch under center, the Broncos need to do a better job protecting them. Bolles has some character concerns, and he only played one season of Division I football, but he has lots of potential, and it’s worth the risk for this team.

 

21 – Detroit Lions

reddick Pick: Haason Reddick, LB, Temple This is a match made in heaven, and I would be very shocked if this did not happen. DeAndre Levy was the only linebacker worth anything for Detroit last season, and they cut him. They also let Josh Bynes walk in free agency. They signed a couple new linebackers, but the guys they signed aren’t really going to improve the unit very much. Reddick will, though. He very much flew under the radar this past season, but put on stellar performances at the Senior Bowl and the Combine, skyrocketing up draft boards in the process. He is a former walk-on defensive back who transitioned to defensive end at Temple, but projects as an every-down linebacker at the next level. He had 22 tackles for loss and 10 ½ sacks last season at Temple playing on the edge, but he played some inside linebacker at the Senior Bowl and excelled. He has the athletic ability to play inside on 1st and 2nd down, and then slide outside to either drop in coverage or rush the passer on 3rd down. That makes him a 1st Round talent, and it makes him a perfect fit in a Lions’ defense that needs to improve.

 

22 – Miami Dolphins

lamp

Pick: Forrest Lamp, OL, Western Kentucky

The Dolphins definitely outperformed expectations last season, especially down the stretch, nearly sneaking into the playoffs. They still have a very glaring weakness, and that is the offensive line. They struggle with health along the front, but even when healthy, the line could use some work. Some scouts believe Forrest Lamp is the top O-Line prospect in this class. He was a four year starter at left tackle for the Hilltoppers, but he projects as a guard at the next level, though one that will start from day one and be productive. Tackle prospects will always go higher, but Lamp is probably the most talented lineman that will be drafted this year, and he makes a ton of sense for the Dolphins. Linebacker is also a distinct possibility with this pick, but they signed Lawrence Timmons in free agency, so I think they can afford to address that spot later on in the draft.

 

23 – New York Giants

njoku Pick: David Njoku, TE, Miami (FL) No contending team needs offensive line help more than the Giants. That is why this scenario might be the worst case for the G-Men, with the clear top four O-Line prospects off the board already. If the Giants want to look towards the future, jumping on a quarterback would be the move. However, I believe that the Giants are built to contend for a title right now, and getting Eli another weapon could give them the most explosive offense in the league. Njoku is a 6-4, 246 pound athletic freak, and we have seen in recent years how much a talented pass catching tight end can transform an offense. Njoku ran a 4.59 40-yard dash, which is absolutely unreal for a man his size. After adding Brandon Marshall in free agency, getting Njoku as well to go with Sterling Shepard and OBJ gives Eli no shortage of options in the passing game. NFC East secondaries should probably be concerned at this scenario.

 

24 – Oakland Raiders

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Vanderbilt

Pick: Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt

The Raiders are ready to be Super Bowl contenders, but outside of making sure Derek Carr stays on the field, the biggest thing keeping them from becoming a legit title team is an extremely poor linebacking corps. Head Coach Jack Del Rio has said that improving the interior pass rush is a must, but there are no defensive tackle prospects worth taking at this point in the draft. A true three-down middle linebacker is what this defense desperately needs, and beyond Reuben Foster, Cunningham is the prospect best served for that role. He misses a fair share of tackles, and that is something that will need to get better in the pros, but he has incredible range, and is probably better in coverage than any inside linebacker in this draft class. The Raiders have been downright awful covering tight ends the last few seasons, and Cunningham can certainly help them in that department.

 

25 – Houston Texans

NCAA FOOTBALL: SEP 17 James Madison at North Carolina Pick: Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina Talk about best case scenario. I have a hard time believing that the Texans won’t take a quarterback in the 1st Round one way or another, whether it’s by trading up or waiting to see who’s available at this pick. I have a hard time thinking that Trubisky will actually still be on the board here come Draft day, but he is in this projection, and the Texans should certainly jump all over him. Most experts believe Trubisky is the best quarterback in this class, and he is certainly the most pro ready. The tools are there for him to succeed, but he didn’t show a whole lot in his time at UNC. The Texans could certainly do worse at this point in the draft. Trubisky would start immediately for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.

 

26 – Seattle Seahawks

NCAA Football: Washington State at Washington

Pick: Kevin King, CB, Washington

I think this is a pick that Seahawks fans could get behind. The cornerback isn’t necessarily a need position for Seattle, but will they trade Richard Sherman before or during the Draft? It certainly seems like both parties are interested in making that happen, and that would give the Seahawks a big hole in their defense. King is similar to Sherman, just more athletic, but probably a little less talented. King might be the most athletic cornerback in this draft class, and his stock has been rising rapidly of late. Many expect him to go in the 1st Round, and I think staying in Seattle would probably be the best possible landing spot for King.

 

27 – Kansas City Chiefs

watson Pick: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson I mostly believe the Chiefs should do this because I have never been a believer in Alex Smith. I think the Chiefs could be so much more with a better QB, and no signal caller in this draft class has a higher ceiling than the National Title winner from Clemson. Watson has his deficiencies, specifically his accuracy, but he has great arm strength, he is extremely mobile in the pocket, and he is a winner. That last thing might be the most important thing. It will benefit Watson immensely to be able to stay on the sidelines for his first season to learn everything that comes with being an NFL quarterback, and when he is ready to step in, he will be doing it for a very talented team in Kansas City. Another best case scenario situation for a prospect and a team.

 

28 – Dallas Cowboys

charlton

Pick: Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan

Dak Prescott was a complete revelation last season as a 4th Round rookie QB, so much so that Tony Romo will be calling games for CBS this season. The emergence of Dak and fellow rookie Zeke Elliott have the Cowboys looking like perennial NFC champs. They still need a lot of work on the defensive side of the ball though, and finding a pass rusher should be the top priority. In this scenario, they have a few edge players that they can choose from, and I see them favoring Taco here. Outside of Myles Garrett, there might not be an edge player with better game film in this class than Taco. He is extremely physical as a rusher, and he uses his size and length to absolutely bully offensive tackles. I think lining him up opposite DeMarcus Lawrence would give NFC East quarterbacks a lot of nightmares.

 

29 – Green Bay Packers

conley Pick: Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State As long as Aaron Rodgers is under center, the Packers will be Super Bowl contenders. That is why they should look to fill the biggest hole on their roster here, and that is in the secondary. I think I might’ve been able to throw for 300-plus yards against the Packers last season. That’s obviously an exaggeration, but it gives you an idea how poor their secondary was last year. I think they would be thrilled to see Conley fall here. There are rumors that some teams have Conley as the top cornerback on their boards, and that is in one of the best cornerback classes we’ve ever seen. The athleticism is there, and he has all the skills in the world, but there is concern with him matching up with the big, physical wideouts that are all the rage in the league right now. That might not be too big an issue in the NFC North now that Calvin Johnson is retired and Alshon Jeffery is in Philadelphia, and he is clearly the most talented corner available at this juncture. I think Green Bay would be thrilled to take Conley here.

 

30 – Pittsburgh Steelers

mahomes

Pick: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech

Hear me out on this one. The Steelers, as they sit right now, have to be considered one of the favorites to take the Super Bowl next year. They have some areas on their roster that they’d love to address with this pick, including at safety, cornerback, edge rusher and wide receiver, but Ben Roethlisberger surprisingly entertained the idea of retiring this offseason, which makes me believe that he may have one foot out the door. He has also dealt with a rash of injuries over the course of his career, and when he’s been out, they have struggled mightily. Landry Jones is one of the worst backups in the league, and he’s most certainly not the guy who should be Big Ben’s eventual successor. For those reasons, I think Patrick Mahomes to the Steelers makes almost too much sense. Mahomes has the best arm strength in this quarterback class, and he is a fearsome competitor. He’s a little smaller and quicker than Roethlisberger, but other than that, they have a lot of similarities. Mahomes will have some growing pains in the league having played in an Air Raid system at Texas Tech, but that is why being able to sit behind and learn from Roethlisberger could be so beneficial. The Steelers have other picks to address their current needs, so with Mahomes falling to this point, they absolutely should take him and start grooming him to become the eventual replacement for Ben Roethlisberger. This makes too much sense for it to actually happen.

 

31 – Atlanta Falcons

harris Pick: Charles Harris, OLB, Missouri We should absolutely be talking about how the Falcons built a 28-3 lead on the Patriots, and were able to withstand an epic comeback attempt to knock off Tom Brady and win Super Bowl 51 in Houston last season. Instead, the Falcons enter this offseason with major question marks after squandering a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl, suffering one of the worst losses in NFL history. There aren’t a whole lot of holes on offense, so I expect the Falcons to address their defense early and often in this draft, and it starts with giving Vic Beasley some help on the edge. Charles Harris is very much built in the mold of Beasley, and putting him on the other side would give opposing quarterbacks a lot to worry about. An ESPN scouting report describes Harris as a “Tasmanian devil type” pass rusher. I think adding a guy like that should be at the top of the Falcons’ wish list.

 

32 – New Orleans Saints (from New England Patriots)

ross

Pick: John Ross, WR, Washington

The Saints acquired this pick when they traded wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the Pats this offseason. After taking a pass rusher in Derek Barnett with their first pick, why not grab a potential Cooks replacement here in John Ross. I believe some teams will have Ross as their top wide receiver, so getting him with the last pick in the 1st Round could be a huge steal. He is just 5-10 and 188 pounds, but he has elite speed and acceleration, with the ability to make defenders miss after the catch or take the top off on a vertical route. Despite his size, he lined up in the slot a fair amount and Washington and was fearless going across the middle. It might be best to limit that in the pros to keep him healthy, as he does have some durability concerns, but he is a gamer and a big play just waiting to happen. Sounds a lot like the guy the Saints gave up to acquire this pick. I love John Ross a lot, and pairing him with Michael Thomas would keep the Saints’ offense among the best in the league.

 

Best Players Available:

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida

Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State

Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

Adoree’ Jackson, CB/WR, USC

TJ Watt, OLB, Wisconsin

Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU

Curtis Samuel, WR/RB, Ohio State

Budda Baker, S, Washington

Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut

Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado

Josh Jones, S, NC State

Dion Dawkins, OL, Temple

Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina

Note – I have 15 players listed there that would go in the 2nd Round in this scenario, and I have seen all of those players on at least one mock draft leading up to the Draft, which goes to show how deep this draft class really is.

NCAA Tournament First Round Preview: South Region

In my fourth and final First Round Preview article for this year’s NCAA Tournament, I’ll now take a look at the South Region, featuring a gauntlet of historic men’s college basketball programs.

The 1-seed in the South is the ACC regular season champion North Carolina Tar Heels, who some believe did not deserve a 1-seed over teams like Duke and Arizona, but here they are. If they can reach the Elite Eight, they could have a really difficult opponent, either 2-seed Kentucky, the SEC regular season and tournament champs, or 3-seed UCLA, who failed to win either Pac-12 titles, but were ranked as high as 3rd in the nation down the stretch.

The popular opinion is that the South Region is the most difficult in this year’s bracket, so the team that gets out of Memphis will have certainly earned their trip to the Final Four. Here is my preview of the First Round in the South Region!

*Any statistics discussed are courtesy of KenPom and ESPN*

2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket

South Region

Greenville, SC
#1 North Carolina (27-7) vs #16 Texas Southern (23-11)
Friday 3/17, approx. 4:00 pm TNT

Overview: Despite seven losses, which ties the most losses ever for a 1-seed, North Carolina has an extremely impressive resume. They dominated Wisconsin and Oklahoma State in non-conference play, and then picked up wins over Florida State, Virginia, Louisville, Duke and Notre Dame in ACC play. For those keeping track at home, those are the teams who finished 2nd through 6th in the league, behind the Tar Heels. Texas Southern, under former Indiana and UAB coach Mike Davis, has been known to play a brutal out-of-conference schedule, earning money for the athletic department, and preparing the team for the postseason. Since conference play started, the Tigers are 19-2. UNC struggled against 16-seed Florida Gulf Coast last year, and Texas Southern will not be intimidated.

Key Players: Marcus Paige led this Tar Heel team on their run to the National Championship game last year, and junior guard Joel Berry has nicely taken over that role for this year’s team. Berry is averaging 14.8 points, 3.7 assists and 1.4 steals per game. Fellow junior Justin Jackson (18.1 PPG) is another very important player for UNC. The Tigers have one of the shortest players in the Tournament in 5-7 freshman Demontrae Jefferson, and he is second on the team in scoring with 14.9 points per game. The leading scorer for Texas Southern is junior guard Zach Lofton, who averages 17.0 points a contest.

Why UNC will Win: I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but a 16 has never beaten a 1, and it’s not going to happen here. North Carolina is a popular pick to go all the way, and I think that’s because they do everything well. This team does not have a weakness. Good guards, size, speed, shooting ability, they are the total package, and when they are clicking, their isn’t a team in the nation that can beat them.

Why TXSO will Win: I’m getting a little lazy at this point, but they won’t win. If the Tar Heels have a weakness, it’s that they are susceptible to being denied at the rim, and they struggle with fouls. If Texas Southern can attack the rim on the offensive end and defend the rim well on defense, maybe they can keep this game close.

 

Greenville, SC
#8 Arkansas (25-9) vs #9 Seton Hall (21-11)
Friday 3/17, 1:30 pm TNT

Overview: I must admit, I did not realize how good a season Arkansas was having until they reached the SEC title game as the 3-seed in the conference. I am still shocked that this team didn’t lose double digit games. Even I, a huge college basketball fan, had to look up their roster because I did not know a single player on their team. That’s about as innocuous a season you can have. Meanwhile, it was another really good season in the Big East for Seton Hall, coming on strong down the stretch winning four in a row to end the regular season before losing by two in the Big East Tournament to Villanova. The Pirates are a dangerous team.

Key Players: One of the biggest reasons Seton Hall is dangerous is their biggest player, 6-10 junior Angel Delgado. He is an absolute load to handle in the paint, averaging 15.3 points and a whopping 13.1 rebounds a game. He is one of the best rebounders in the nation. The Pirates have a couple talented perimeter scorers as well in fellow juniors Khadeen Carrington (16.9 PPG) and Desi Rodriguez (15.9 PPG). I said earlier that I didn’t know any of the Razorback players, but they are talented if the stats are to be believed. It would appear that the key players are a couple seniors, 6-3 guard Dusty Hannahs (14.6 PPG, 90.3 FT%) and 6-10 forward Moses Kingsley (11.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG). A couple juniors, guards Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford, also average double-figures for Arkansas.

Why ARK will Win: Arkansas has a good record, but they have a spotty resume. They only have four wins against teams in the Field, and two of those games are against Vanderbilt, a 9-seed. If they are going to win this game against a hot Seton Hall team, they will need to stick with what they do best, and that is play up-tempo (which Seton Hall is not great at) and get to the free throw line (where they are one of the 25 best teams in the country in free throw percentage). Do that, and the Razorbacks should win.

Why SHU will Win: As you already know if you’ve been reading my preview articles, I am a believer in momentum this time of year. There are a lot of teams in this tournament that are better than Seton Hall, but there aren’t many playing with the momentum that they are. I believe that Seton Hall has better interior players than Arkansas, and they have better guards than Arkansas. If you make that into an equation, that equals a victory here. Run the offense through Angel Delgado and crash the boards, and the Pirates should have no issues moving on.

 

Milwaukee, WI
#5 Minnesota (24-9) vs #12 Middle Tennessee (30-4)
Thursday 3/16, approx. 4:00 pm TNT

Overview: Richard Pitino, son of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, has done a fantastic job with this Golden Gopher team. The Pitino’s are now the first father-son duo to coach in the same NCAA Tournament. It’s been a great season for Minnesota, with wins over Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Purdue, Maryland and Michigan. It’s one of the best seasons in Minneapolis in a very long time. But it could all go for naught considering the draw that they received in the Tournament, facing a Middle Tennessee team that people have been looking forward to seeing back in the Tournament since the season began. If you remember, the Blue Raiders knocked off national title favorite Michigan State last season in the First Round as a 15-seed. The stars from that game are back this year, and this team had an even better season, earning a 12-seed (and I thought they should have been higher). This will be a fun game.

Key Players: The Gophers have a nice blend of upperclassmen and underclassmen, led by junior guard Nate Mason (15.5 PPG, 5.0 APG) and freshman forward Amir Coffey (12.1 PPG). Those are the leading scorers for Minnesota, and they will need to play well for this team to win. I mentioned the stars for Middle Tennessee last year returning. They are senior forward Reggie Upshaw (21 points versus MSU last season) and junior guard Giddy Potts (19 points, 3-5 from 3PT range against MSU). Those guys are happy to be back, but neither of them are the Blue Raiders’ best player. That is senior Arkansas-transfer JaCorey Williams, who averages 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, and had to watch the huge victory over Michigan State last year on the sidelines, sitting out a year due to transfer rules. He will be chomping at the bit for this game.

Why MINN will Win: Middle Tennessee is a great story, and a really good team, but it’s been a wonderful season for Minnesota, and with the Blue Raiders being a trendy upset pick, the Gophers will love to bust a few brackets. Minnesota will be one of the best defensive teams that MTSU will have played this season, so who knows how their talented offense will respond. The Gophers will need to play up-tempo and limit good looks from the perimeter (which Michigan State couldn’t do last year), but if they do those things, they’ll come out on top.

Why MTSU will Win: They beat a really good Michigan State team last year, and if nothing else, that experience will have this team believing that they can beat anybody in this Tournament. Potts and Upshaw know what it’s like to win games in this thing, and the addition of JaCorey Williams only makes them better. Minnesota is an over-seeded team in my estimation, and the Blue Raiders are good on both ends of the floor. As long as they don’t get caught playing the game Minnesota wants them to play, meaning they slow the game down and take good shots (and make them of course), I like the Blue Raiders to win a game for the second straight Tournament.

 

Milwaukee, WI
#4 Butler (23-8) vs #13 Winthrop (26-6)
Thursday 3/16, 1:30 pm TNT

Overview: Another year, another overachieving Butler team. I’m starting to think that Chris Holtmann is just a fantastic coach. This team was expected to be a fringe-Tournament team, possibly winning a few big games in Big East play. Instead, they finished second in the conference, sweeping the season series with the defending National Champion Villanova Wildcats. Their 8-point win in Philly on February 22 is one of the most impressive wins any team has this season. It was a very good season for the Winthrop Eagles as well, returning to the Tournament for the first time since 2010. Two of their six losses this year came in overtime, and they have a win over a major conference team in Illinois, a better win than a lot of 13-seeds or lower have this year.

Key Players: When it comes to short players in this Tournament, none are better than 5-7 senior guard Keon Johnson for the Eagles. Johnson is extremely talented, averaging 22.5 points a game, shooting better than 86 percent from the free throw line and 40.4 percent from 3-point range. He is one of the best scoring guards in this entire Tournament, and he could become a household name when this is all said and done. For Butler, it pretty much comes down to how 6-7 junior guard/forward Kelan Martin plays. He leads the team in scoring at 16.1 points per game, and in rebounding with 5.7 boards a game. If he plays well, they usually win. If he struggles, they struggle.

Why BUT will Win: Winthrop is a fun team to watch (trust me, this will be a game you’ll want to tune in to), but Butler is just too much for them. Butler is great at controlling the tempo of the game, protecting the ball, and they are very efficient on offense, especially inside the arc, where Winthrop just doesn’t have the size to compete with the Bulldogs. Some may pick this to be an upset, but I like Butler to advance fairly easily.

Why WU will Win: Crazy things happen in March, and really good players have been known to thrive in the spotlight that the NCAA Tournament provides. Winthrop will try to speed this game up and make Butler uncomfortable. If they can do that, they have a shot. Keon Johnson could also just go off, and there might not be anything Butler can do about it.

 

Sacramento, CA
#6 Cincinnati (29-5) vs #11 Kansas State (21-13)
Friday 3/17, 7:27 pm TruTV

Overview: Mick Cronin has led Cincinnati to the Tournament for the 7th consecutive season, and I honestly believe that this might be his best team yet. It was the Bearcats and SMU at the top of the American, and then it was everybody else. They did beat SMU once this season, and they also scored victories over Iowa State and Xavier along the way. They are a Top-10 defensive team, which gives them a chance in any game. Kansas State was able to get past Wake Forest in the First Four, winning 95-88. Since the start of the First Four in 2011, a team from those games has advanced to at least the Round of 32 every season. Could it be K-State?

Key Players: I cannot believe Troy Caupain is still at Cincinnati, because it feels like he’s been there forever, but he is still one of the most important players to the Bearcats’ success. He does a little bit of everything for the Cats, averaging 10.1 points, 4.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game, while leading the team in minutes. Junior forward Kyle Washington is another key player for Cincy, averaging 13.1 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. K-State has gotten here thanks to the efforts of senior Wesley Iwundu, who scored 24 points to go along with 7 assists and 6 rebounds in the win over Wake Forest. Sophomore guard Kamau Stokes played well also, tallying 22 points on 5-8 shooting from 3-point range.

Why CIN will Win: I mentioned that this is probably the best team Mick Cronin has had in his tenure at Cincinnati, and they will look to buck the trend of the Bearcats underwhelming in the NCAA Tournament. Cronin is due for a deep run in this thing, and this will be his best chance. They will win here if they can take care of the ball and get hot from 3-point range, as K-State really struggles to force turnovers and defend the arc. Cincinnati can win from inside or outside, so I think they focus on getting open perimeter shots, and shoot their way into the Second Round.

Why KSU will Win: History suggests that a First Four team will go onto the First Round and get a victory, and I really don’t like Providence or USC’s chances against SMU, so that leaves Kansas State to be the First Four’s representative in the Round of 32. They have a game under their belt, so the pressure is off. A team playing with no pressure in the Tournament is a dangerous team. The Wildcats had one of the best shooting performances in school history against Wake. If they can come close to that kind of performance here, they’ll get the victory.

 

Sacramento, CA
#3 UCLA (29-4) vs #14 Kent State (22-13)
Friday 3/17, approx. 9:57 pm TruTV

Overview: This UCLA team is probably the most polarizing team in this entire field, and that may or may not be due to the outspokenness of one named LaVar Ball. I wish I could say he’s a player, but he’s actually the father of star freshman guard Lonzo Ball, and for me, his dad is wrongfully taking the attention away from the magnificence that is Lonzo on a basketball court. This is one of the best offensive teams in the nation, and they’ll look to shoot their way to a National Title. Kent State came from out of nowhere to win the MAC title as the 6-seed in the conference, winning four games total, three in three days, to earn their trip to the Dance. Despite their finish in the MAC regular season, this is one of the best teams in the conference, and they will not be a pushover for UCLA.

Key Players: Lonzo Ball has a chance to be the 1st overall pick in the NBA Draft, and for good reason. He does it all for the Bruins, averaging 14.6 points, 7.7 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. Fellow freshman T.J. Leaf is important for UCLA as well, averaging a team-leading 16.2 points per game. And don’t forget about the coach’s son, senior shooting guard Bryce Alford (15.8 PPG, 43.5% 3PT). Kent State has a star of their own in 6-8 senior forward Jimmy Hall. Hall leads the team 18.9 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, and he’ll need to have a great game if the Golden Flashes have a shot at the upset.

Why UCLA will Win: It’s going to take a really good defensive team to knock off the Bruins, and Kent State is not that team. UCLA likes to play fast, and they are extremely efficient. KenPom has them in the top-6 most efficient offenses inside and outside the arc. A team that plays fast and doesn’t miss is a team that is tough to beat. Way too tough for Kent State at least.

Why KENT will Win: It’s not impossible, believe it or not. 14-seeds have beaten 3-seeds before, and honestly, if UCLA struggles at all on offense, they can lose, because they don’t play a lick of defense. You need to outscore the Bruins to beat them, but Kent State is capable of that. They are a great offensive rebounding team, so if they can attack the offensive boards and get a lot of second chance points, they might be able to pull off the shocker.

 

Indianapolis, IN
#7 Dayton (24-7) vs #10 Wichita State (30-4)
Friday 3/17, 7:10 pm CBS

Overview: I feel so bad for Archie Miller and Dayton. They had a fantastic season, winning the A-10 regular season title while picking up great wins over Alabama, Vanderbilt, Rhode Island (twice) and VCU. They deserved a better draw than this. Wichita State has the resume of a 10-seed. They have just one win over Tournament teams, and that was against South Dakota State, a 16-seed. However, advanced analytics LOVE the Shockers. KenPom has Wichita State as the 8th best team in the nation. This team will fuel the argument for the Committee to use more advanced statistics in choosing the NCAA Tournament Field. Unfortunately, that won’t make Dayton feel any better.

Key Players: Don’t automatically count out the Flyers though. They are a very experienced team, led by a trio of seniors that want to go out on the right foot. Charles Cooke, Scoochie Smith and Kendall Pollard are three fantastic players, and they combine for over 43 points a game. They will not be scared of the Shockers. It’s a little strange to see a Wichita State team without Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker, but Gregg Marshall has reloaded nicely. The Shockers have five players who average better than nine points a game, and they are led by 6-8 sophomore Markis McDuffie, who averages a team-leading 11.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. He is key to Wichita’s success.

Why DAY will Win: I feel like there isn’t much pressure on Dayton in this game. The majority of people don’t expect them to win, and I think that actually will make them play with a little added motivation. Wichita State does not force many turnovers, so if Dayton can control the ball and play the game at their tempo, they can very easily win this game.

Why WSU will Win: There might be some pressure on the Shockers for the same reason that there isn’t much pressure on Dayton, but this team under Gregg Marshall has rarely buckled under any pressure. This team hasn’t beaten anybody of note, but they are extremely efficient on both ends of the floor. They are extremely good on the perimeter, so if they work the ball and don’t settle for bad shots, they will look like the Wichita State team that everybody expects, and they’ll move on to the next round.

 

Indianapolis, IN
#2 Kentucky (29-5) vs #15 Northern Kentucky (24-10)
Friday 3/17, approx. 9:40 pm CBS

Overview: It’s the in-state battle that nobody knew they wanted until now! Okay, I joke a little bit, but maybe a little rivalry can be born from this matchup. John Calipari’s Wildcats went through a lot of growing pains this season, but they are rounding into form at the right time, winning the SEC regular season and tournament titles, and they enter the Dance riding an 11-game winning streak. Northern Kentucky, meanwhile, benefited from some big upsets in the Horizon League Tournament, defeating 5-seed Wright State, 9-seed Youngstown State and 10-seed Milwaukee to earn their spot in the Tournament.

Key Players: Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Edrice “Bam” Adebayo are the stars of this team, all freshmen, and all likely NBA lottery picks. They are the three leading scorers for this team (20.4, 16.1 and 13.3 PPG respectively), and they will be key to Kentucky’s success in this Tournament. For the Norse, it’s sophomore forward Drew McDonald who makes things go. He leads the team with 16.4 points and 7.7 boards a game, and he is talented inside and outside the arc. His floor spacing could open things up for the rest of the team.

Why UK will Win: Malik Monk is arguably the best pure scorer in this Tournament. When he is on, he scores in bunches, and he is extremely difficult to contain. But he is very streaky, and is just getting out of a really bad funk. As long as he doesn’t revert back to that, he will score at will against Northern Kentucky, and the Norse won’t stand a chance.

Why NKU will Win: 15-seeds beating 2-seeds, as I’ve mentioned before, is not unprecedented. Especially when the 15-seed is as good offensively as Northern Kentucky is. Kentucky will look to get out and run, but they won’t be successful with that if the Norse can make shots. Make some shots early, get Kentucky out of their comfort zone, and we could see a massive upset.

 

NCAA Tournament First Round Preview: Midwest Region

The Kansas Jayhawks had a fantastic season led by star guard, and likely National Player of the Year, Frank Mason III, and they have been handsomely rewarded for their success, getting the 1-seed in the Midwest Region, which will see the regional semis and finals take place in Kansas City, Missouri, a virtual home arena for the Jayhawks.

There are a lot of differing views of this region, with most experts giving Kansas the easiest path to the Final Four of any of the 1-seeds, while it is my opinion that the Midwest is the toughest region in this year’s Tournament. Outside of Kansas and the 2-seed Louisville, I believe that every other team has one of the toughest possible First Round games they could have had.

This region is home to three regular season champions of major conferences, and two additional teams who won major conference tournaments (and that doesn’t even include Louisville). Here is my preview of the First Round matchups in the Midwest Region.

*Any statistics discussed are courtesy of ESPN and KenPom*

2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket

Midwest Region

Tulsa, OK
#1 Kansas (28-4) vs #16 NC Central/UC Davis
Friday 3/17, 6:50 pm TNT

Overview: It was an unceremonious exit from the Big 12 Tournament for the Kansas Jayhawks, as they were upset in the quarterfinals by TCU. This came after the Jayhawks won their 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title, calling into question whether the motivation was truly there in that TCU game. Nevertheless, this is one of the best teams Bill Self has ever had at Kansas, and they will be a popular pick to go all the way and win the National Title.

Key Players: You can go back to my First Four preview post to see who the key players for NCCU and UC Davis are, but for the Jayhawks, I already mentioned Frank Mason III at the beginning of this article. Mason is averaging 20.8 points and 5.1 rebounds a game this season, and he is the type of player that can carry a team to a title almost by himself. He has lots of help though, and the most polarizing player on this team is future NBA lottery pick, 6-8 freshman forward Josh Jackson. Jackson is a talented defender and a freakish athlete, and he was suspended for the TCU loss. If he plays, the Jayhawks almost certainly win, so he’s a definite factor.

Why KU will Win: Again, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, because a 16-seed has never beaten a 1-seed. I don’t see it happening here. Kansas is extremely talented, especially on the offensive end of the floor. A lot of times in March, guard play makes the biggest difference. Well, Kansas has one of the best backcourts in the nation. They move on without an issue.

 

Tulsa, OK
#8 Miami FL (21-11) vs #9 Michigan State (19-14)
Friday 3/17, approx. 9:20 pm TNT

Overview: Two teams that are trending in the positive direction will battle for the chance to upset the Kansas Jayhawks in the Second Round of the Tournament. You could argue that things aren’t great for Miami right now, having lost three of four entering the Tourney, but all three losses were to Tournament teams, and it was preceded by wins over Virginia and Duke. The Hurricanes are playing well right now. It has been a wacky season for Tom Izzo’s Spartan team, and they have also lost three of four heading into the Big Dance, but they are finally healthy, and it’s hard to bet against a healthy Michigan State team in March, even after what happened last year.

Key Players: Miami has a collection of very talented players, led by a trio of impressive guards in senior Davon Reed (15.0 PPG), junior Ja’Quan Newton (13.4 PPG) and freshman Bruce Brown (11.9 PPG). Those three will have to play well for Miami to have success. On the other side, the Spartans have one of the most talented freshmen in the country in forward Miles Bridges (16.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG), but another freshman who has come on strong as the season has progressed is center Nick Ward, who is averaging 13.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. He has become the most important player for Michigan State.

Why MIA will Win: It’s been a strange season for Michigan State, and I think if you look at these teams from top to bottom, all things considered, you have to consider Miami the better team. Both squads are better on defense than offense, but I believe the Hurricanes have more options offensively, giving them an advantage in this matchup. They won’t let the Spartans get anything easy because MSU really struggles at the free throw line. Miami ends up making the stops when they need to and they get the win.

Why MSU will Win: Are you going to bet against Izzo in March? Me either. I got burned by them last year, picking them to win it all only for 15-seed Middle Tennessee to play a perfect game and end my bracket pool chances from the get-go. This team is fairly inexperienced, but that could actually be a good thing. They’ll play like they have nothing to lose, and the freshmen Bridges and Ward will have huge games, leading the Spartans into the Second Round.

 

Milwaukee, WI
#5 Iowa State (23-10) vs #12 Nevada (28-6)
Thursday 3/16, approx. 9:57 pm TruTV

Overview: What a finish to the season for the Iowa State Cyclones. I mean, don’t get me wrong, they had a really good season from the start, including ending Kansas’s 50-plus game home winning streak, but they really turned it on at the end, winning six of their last seven in the regular season, and then winning three games in three days to win the Big 12 Tournament. Iowa State is peaking, and they are a dangerous team. But they can’t get too far ahead of themselves, because Nevada is not going to go down easy. The Wolfpack dominated the Mountain West this season, defeating Colorado State 79-71 in the championship game. This is a trendy upset pick.

Key Players: Iowa State, according to KenPom, is the 2nd most experienced team in this Tournament, and they are led by a talented quartet of senior starters, forwards Naz Mitrou-Long and Deonte Burton (combined 30.3 PPG), shooting guard Matt Thomas (44% 3PT) and star point guard Monte Morris (16.3 PPG, 6.1 APG). Morris is capable of taking over any game he is in. Nevada is extremely good as well, led by a couple potential future NBA players in 6-3 senior guard Marcus Marshall (team-leading 19.8 PPG) and 6-8 sophomore forward Cameron Oliver (15.8 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.6 BPG). If these two play well, Nevada could shock a lot of people.

Why ISU will Win: Nevada is an extremely talented 12-seed, but Iowa State is one of the hottest teams in the nation right now, and I simply don’t see them losing this game. The Cyclones do a great job taking care of the basketball, and Nevada really struggles with forcing turnovers. That doesn’t bode well for the Wolfpack. Deonte Burton continues his impressive play (over 18 PPG in the Big 12 Tournament), and the Cyclones get past Nevada and into the Second Round.

Why NEV will Win: It’s no secret that sometimes all it takes in the Tournament is for one player to get hot, and the team just rides the wave of that player. Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier single-handedly led UConn to national titles, for just a couple examples. Marcus Marshall is a game-changer in the same mold. Nevada does a fair amount of damage from the perimeter, and Iowa State tends to struggle playing defense out there. The Wolfpack get hot from distance, and win a shootout.

 

Milwaukee, WI
#4 Purdue (25-7) vs #13 Vermont (29-5)
Thursday 3/16, 7:27 pm TruTV

Overview: It was a down year for the Big Ten, but Purdue was clearly the best team in the league from beginning to end. For the Big Ten regular season champs to only get a 4-seed is all you need to know about how poor a season the league had. But don’t let that discourage you from believing in Purdue. They took Villanova and Louisville to the limit early in the season, and they have wins over Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Maryland and Northwestern (twice) to their credit. They are the more talented team in this matchup, but they don’t have the most momentum, as the Vermont Catamounts enter the Tournament on a 21-game winning streak, the longest active streak in the country.

Key Players: Purdue has a Player of the Year candidate in 6-9 sophomore forward Caleb “Biggie” Swanigan. Swanigan had 26 double-doubles this season (!!!!!!!), averaging over 18 points and 12 boards a game. He is an absolute beast in the paint, and he can step out and hit jumpers too. He’s the ultimate weapon. Vermont will have trouble stopping Swanigan, so they’ll need their star point guard, junior Trae Bell-Haynes (11.1 PPG, 3.8 APG) to play well. Freshman forward Anthony Lamb (team-leading 12.6 PPG) might be tasked with defending Swanigan, and while he is an impressive player, he’ll have his hands full.

Why PUR will Win: I mentioned the strong possibility that Vermont won’t be able to defend Swanigan, and it’s because they simply don’t have the size or talent necessary to limit Biggie. Especially when you consider that the Boilermakers have 7-2 Isaac Hass that they can put in there, causing even more matchup problems for the Catamounts. Purdue shoots it extremely well from the outside, but here, they will take advantage of their huge size/strength advantage and overwhelm Vermont.

Why UVM will Win: If you believe in momentum, then you’re probably picking Vermont here. The Catamounts hardly know how to lose, and that can be an invaluable trait for a basketball team. I think Vermont can let Swanigan get his, and focus on limiting the rest of the Boilermakers. That is the way I would attack this game if I were them. Do that, and I think they have a chance to pull the upset.

 

Sacramento, CA
#6 Creighton (25-9) vs #11 Rhode Island (24-9)
Friday 3/17, approx. 4:30 pm TBS

Overview: There are a lot of teams in this year’s field that have basically had two different seasons in one. That might not be more true for a team than it is for Creighton. Star point guard Maurice Watson suffered a season-ending knee injury in a January 16 game against Xavier. Up to and including that game, the Bluejays were 18-1. Without Watson, they are 7-8. They did build some momentum in the Big East Tournament though, reaching the title game, where they fell to Villanova. For Rhode Island, it was a major question if they were going to get into the Tournament as an at-large team. Their profile was shaky at best. Luckily for their fans, Danny Hurley’s squad took it out of the Committee’s hands, defeating VCU 70-63 to win the A-10 and earn the league’s auto-bid. The Rams are finally healthy and playing their best basketball of the season.

Key Players: E.C. Matthews is a stud basketball player who has been ravaged by knee injuries in his career. When healthy, he’s been spectacular. He played in every game this season, averaging a team-leading 14.9 points per game. Senior Hassan Martin is another outstanding player for the Rams, but he too has been slowed a tad by injuries in his career. With these two guys healthy, Rhody is a dangerous team. Creighton really misses Maurice Watson, but they still have some great players. Kansas State-transfer Marcus Foster (18.3 PPG) is an extremely talented scorer, and freshman big man Justin Patton (13.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG) has been a revelation this year, coming out of nowhere to become a potential NBA lottery pick.

Why CRE will Win: I would feel really good about the Bluejays if they still had Watson, but I also think they’d be a much higher seed had he not gotten hurt. Creighton is still one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country, and they like to play fast. That is a lethal combination if they  are making shots. Rhode Island prefers to slow the game down, so if Creighton can play up-tempo and pour in shots like they normally do when they play well, the Rams don’t stand a chance in this one.

Why URI will Win: As I mentioned before, a healthy Rhode Island team is very dangerous. Don’t forget, they were a Top-25 ranked team coming into the season, so the talent is evident. They showed their potential down the stretch, and they enter this game on an eight-game winning streak. They play really tough defense both inside and outside, and if they can slow the game down and play at their pace, and force Creighton to take tough shots, I like the Rams to get the upset and move on to the Round of 32.

 

Sacramento, CA
#3 Oregon (29-5) vs #14 Iona (22-12)
Friday 3/17, 2:00 pm TBS

Overview: The Ducks have had a fantastic season following their trip to the Elite Eight last season. They won the Pac-12 regular season title, and they reached the Pac-12 title game, barely falling to Arizona. It’s been great, but they will now have to overcome some adversity after senior center Chris Boucher tore his ACL in the Pac-12 semis. He is a terrific rim protector, and they will miss him a lot. The Gaels of Iona are back in the Tournament for the second consecutive season, needing overtime to take down Siena in the MAAC title game. Tim Cluess knows how to coach offense, and believe me, this team can score in bunches. They are fun to watch.

Key Players: The Ducks have a bonafide star in 6-7 junior Dillon Brooks. Brooks just has a knack for this game, and he led the team this season with 16.3 points per game while shooting over 41 percent from distance. I mentioned how this team will miss the interior presence of Chris Boucher, and that means that 6-9 Jordan Bell and 6-11 Kavell Bigby-Williams will need to step up to pick up the slack. I mentioned the Gaels’ great offense, and it is led by senior forward Jordan Washington. He was originally supposed to play at Arizona State, but ended up at Iona, and he has been stellar this season, leading the team with 17.9 points and 7.4 boards a game. Washington will likely benefit from the absence of Boucher protecting the rim.

Why ORE will Win: Many people have Oregon as one of the teams capable of winning a title this year, but some are backtracking off of that with the loss of Boucher. The Ducks should be out to prove that they are still one of the best teams in the country, and in this game, they just have way too much talent for Iona to keep up. The Gaels struggle to defend the perimeter, and Oregon can really shoot it. The Ducks get hot from distance and win this one going away.

Why IONA will Win: Iona is a good enough offensive team that if they can get hot, they will simply outscore teams. If Oregon struggles at all, the Gaels may smell blood in the water and take off en route to a massive upset. Iona will look to speed the game up, something Iowa State kept them from doing for the most part in last year’s 94-81 First Round loss to the Cyclones. If Iona can play their game, they’ll have a shot.

 

Indianapolis, IN
#7 Michigan (24-11) vs #10 Oklahoma State (20-12)
Friday 3/17, 12:15 pm CBS

Overview: What an incredible story this Michigan team is right now. Their plane crashed off the runway last Wednesday, delaying their trip to Washington D.C. for the Big Ten Tournament. They were very close to not make the trip, forfeiting their first round game against Illinois. The team decided they wanted to play, and they went on to win four games in four days, defeating Wisconsin on Sunday to win the Big Ten championship. It’s a little different, but this team is starting to remind me of the UConn team that won five games in five days to win the Big East, and then went on to win the National Title. This is a magical story, but it’s one that Oklahoma State would love to end in the First Round of the Tournament. The Cowboys started 0-6 in Big 12 play before winning 10 of their next 11 games. They limp into this game though, having lost their last three games.

Key Players: Michigan point guard Derrick Walton Jr. played out of his mind in the Big Ten Tournament, going for 29 points and 9 assists in the semis against Minnesota, and tallying 22 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds in the title game. He has put this team on his back, and they’ll need that to continue if they’re going to make a deep run. However, the best player on the floor in this game, and one of the best players that you know nothing about in this entire Tourney, is Oklahoma State sophomore point guard Jawun Evans. Evans is averaging 19.0 points and 6.2 assists per game this season, and he will be looking to become a household name.

Why UM will Win: This team’s story could be featured in a movie one day, it’s that bizarre and that amazing. But if that’s going to be the case, it can’t end with a loss in the First Round. The Wolverines have one of the most efficient offenses in the nation, and that does not bode well for an Oklahoma State team that is downright putrid on defense. They are especially bad on the interior, while Michigan loves to attack the rim. The Wolverines will dominate the paint and move on to another chapter in the story.

Why OSU will Win: For as good as Michigan’s offense is, Oklahoma State’s is better. KenPom says that the Cowboys have the most efficient offense in the nation this year, and they are battle tested having played in the toughest conference in the country. Win or lose, you are going to know the name Jawun Evans after this game. The Cowboys will run Michigan to death, Evans will go off for 30-plus, and Oklahoma State ruins any future movie plans based on this Michigan team.

 

Indianapolis, IN
#2 Louisville (24-8) vs #15 Jacksonville State (20-14)
Friday 3/17, approx. 2:45 pm CBS

Overview: First off, I have a confession to make. It was not until watching the OVC title game that I learned that Jacksonville State is located in Jacksonville, Alabama, not Jacksonville, Florida. And I bet I just taught you all something as well! Anyway, the Gamecocks were able to knock off #1 Belmont and #2 UT Martin to earn their first trip to the Big Dance in school history. They don’t stand much of a chance here against Louisville though. The Cardinals have been a top team all season long, and they will be looking to rebound from a disappointing quarterfinal loss to Duke in the ACC Tournament.

Key Players: A pair of talented guards do the majority of the damage for Louisville. Their leading scorer is 6-3 sophomore Donovan Mitchell, averaging 15.7 points per game. He is also a fantastic defender, notching 2.1 steals a game. His partner in crime is 6-2 junior Quentin Snider, who averages 12.7 points and a team-leading 4.1 assists per contest. Four different players average double-figures for the Gamecocks, led by junior guard Malcolm Drumwright (12.6 PPG). 7-0 junior Norbertas Giga will be tasked with dealing with the deep Louisville frontcourt, and I believe he is capable, averaging a team-leading 8.1 rebounds per game.

Why LOU will Win: Despite earning a 2-seed in the Tournament, I think Rick Pitino is probably a little disappointed with the regular season, and will look for his team to make up for it with a deep run in the Tournament. The Cardinals aren’t very efficient offensively, but they are balanced, and they will quickly be able to figure out where they are having success, and exploit that against an inferior team.

Why JSU will Win: We have seen 15-seeds beat 2-seeds before, and while it usually comes from out of nowhere, it’s almost always impossible to predict. There is no part of this matchup where I would give JSU the advantage, but they call it March Madness for a reason. Maybe Louisville has a cold shooting night, and the Gamecocks are able to take advantage and steal the game. Stranger things have happened, right?