By Steve Silverman
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The upcoming NFL Draft is going to be dominated by defensive players.
Sprinkled among the defensive studs that will dominate the top 10 picks and much of the first round are a few offensive gems that should emerge as legitimate big-time NFL players.
It may be easier to go along with the pack thought process, but those who are unafraid to follow their own instincts will have a chance to find that big-play maker.
With the draft just over two weeks away, here’s our predictions for the first round, along with a specific look at five key players who have a chance to be impact players during their rookie year.
1. Cleveland Browns, Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
2. San Francisco 49ers, Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama
3. Chicago Bears, Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
4. Jacksonville Jaguars, Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
5. Tennessee Titans (from L.A. Rams), Jamal Adams, SS, LSU
6. New York Jets, Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
7. Los Angeles Chargers, O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
8. Carolina Panthers, Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
9. Cincinnati Bengals, Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
10. Buffalo Bills, Malik Hooker, FS, Ohio State
11. New Orleans Saints, Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama
12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia), Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
13. Arizona Cardinals, Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
14. Philadelphia Eagles (From Minnesota), Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
15. Indianapolis Colts, Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
16. Baltimore Ravens, Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
17. Washington Redskins, T.J. Watt, OLB, Wisconsin
18. Tennessee Titans, David Njoku, TE, Miami (Fla.)
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tyus Bowser, OLB, Houston
20. Denver Broncos, Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
21. Detroit Lions, Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
22. Miami Dolphins, CB Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado
23. New York Giants, Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
24. Oakland Raiders, Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
25. Houston Texans, Garett Bolles, OT, Utah
26. Seattle Seahawks, Kevin King, CB, Washington
27. Kansas City Chiefs, Jabrill Peppers, SS, Michigan
28. Dallas Cowboys, Adoree Jackson, CB, Southern California
29. Green Bay Packers, Takkarist McKinley, OLB, UCLA
30. Pittsburgh Steelers, Jarrad Davis, ILB, Florida
31. Atlanta Falcons, Haason Reddick, OLB, Temple
32. New Orleans Saints (from New England), DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
DE Myles Garrett, Cleveland — The Browns need to make a signature pick and find a player who can become the anchor of their defense for five years or more, and they have a chance to do that with Garrett. Even under the worst of circumstances, this will not be a bad pick because the Cleveland defense struggled so much in 2016. Garrett is exceptional with his hands, and can fight off blockers with his violent and decisive movements. He’s also quick enough to get through the smallest openings and cause chaos. A quick adjustment to the pro game means Garrett will force the double-team on nearly every play, making his teammates that much more dangerous.
QB DeShaun Watson, N.Y. Jets — The Jets will need plenty of courage to make this pick, because many scouts believe that those in this year’s quarterback class have done little to separate themselves from one another. The one thing that stands out about Watson is his leadership ability. You want your quarterback to be your leader, and the Jets are clearly a team that has a leadership void in its locker room. Those who want to criticize Watson for his lack of accuracy — 30 interceptions the last two seasons — must realize that nearly half of those interceptions were passes that could have been caught by his own receivers. He can make every read and throw, and he appears to have a legitimate chance at becoming a high-level and winning quarterback.
DE Taco Charlton, Indianapolis — The Colts need playmakers on defense, and that’s just what Charlton will have a chance to be from the start of his NFL career. He is an excellent combination of size, length, strength, explosion and skill, and he is a much improved player as well. Charlton developed a number of counter moves last year with Michigan and it is basically a nightmare to block him. Charlton is also the kind of player who will practice at full speed because he wants to win, and that attitude is contagious.
OLB T.J. Watt, Washington — The Redskins need speed, athleticism and production from their defense, and Watt has many of the same skills that has made his brother, J.J., such a dynamic and impactful player. Watt has a non-stop motor and he has a relentless drive to make plays when others tend to tire. He has the speed and quickness to cause havoc, but he is at his best when he engages with the blocker and soundly defeats him because of his great hands and fighting ability. Tremendous instincts against the run could make him exceptional right from the start.
RB Dalvin Cook, Oakland — There are a number of fine running backs in this draft, including Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara, but Cook looks like he will be a sure thing who will dominate at the next level. He appears to be made to order for the Raiders, a team that needs a game-changing back. Cook is a compact-yet-powerful back who can win the battle as a result of his quickness, instincts, lateral agility and the ability to deliver a surprising punch. Cook could easily surpass the 1,000-yard mark as a rookie, and he is also an outstanding pass catcher.
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