The 2017 draft has come and gone, and now the majority of 1st-rounders are settling in at Rookie mini-camps with their teams, and while teams will get to know their players better during this period, no decisions will be made on who starts or not until the rookies have gone through an entire preseason. From hyped-up speedsters to disappointing QB selections, the draft was an up-and-down rollercoaster, with different teams and their fans having conflicting emotions regarding their teams' picks. We’ve seen that not much goes the way you think it will when it comes to the draft and a rookie's performance, so it may be too early to tell.
Nonetheless, we are going to take a chance and look at 8 rookies selected in the 1st round that will start from day one of the 2017 season, and 7 who will struggle to win a starting job early on.
15 Start: Jabrill Peppers
This is a very interesting case here, as Peppers has the talent to be a game changer on this Browns team (especially paired with #1 overall pick, Myles Garrett), but that’s the interesting part, as no one, probably not even the Browns know where he will play the majority of his snaps. After showing off his amazing talent and diversity at the University of Michigan, it looks like he will play the majority of his time at safety, but with an explosiveness that’s unmatched at his size, Cleveland will definitely be smart enough to give him some major snaps on offense, as well as special teams. Expect not only Garrett and their new TE David Njoku to start, but expect Peppers to complete the trifecta. With two 1st-rounders ready to go in the 2017 draft, it looks like the Cleveland Browns are finally on the upswing.
14 Bench: T.J. Watt
T.J. Watt is no doubt going to have a hard time early on in his NFL career, as fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers and NFL as a whole will no doubt put a lot of pressure on him because of his relationship to brother J.J., Houston's superstar defensive end. But the Steelers have backed him and it looks like he could become a talented starter in this league. With an already talented defense backing an unbelievable offense, the team has the option to slowly ease Watt into the lineup, and while he may end up playing a majority of snaps by season's end, he will start the season by playing off the bench. Sure, T.J. might not turn out as incredible and dominant as his older brother J.J., but for such a talented all-around defensive player, he will no doubt find his starting niche within the NFL.
13 Start: Christian McCaffrey
After reaching Super Bowl 50 and coming up short against the Broncos, the Carolina Panthers took a step back during the 2016 season, struggling on both sides of the ball. Cam Newton wasn’t the same talent, despite having Kelvin Benjamin back on the outside, so the team went into the draft looking to get some explosive talent to surround their QB, and one pick that just made too much sense to pass on was former Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey.
In McCaffrey, the Panthers have a dynamic young player,who brings amazing talent both running the ball and catching it out of the backfield, and with Benjamin and Ted Ginn on the outside, and Newton under center with him, they have unparalleled big play talent on offense. Pairing him with power back Jonathan Stewart is a great idea, as they will compliment each other well, but it will be the young rookie from Stanford who takes the majority of playing time by the mid way point of the 2017 season.
12 Bench: Taco Charlton
The Dallas Cowboys were the biggest surprise of the 2016 season, and behind rookies Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, they dominated the NFC. But with struggles on the defensive side of the ball, they came into the draft looking for a playmaker on the defensive line. Late in the 1st round, they managed to snag Taco Charlton. Of course Charlton will add another body to the D-line of the Cowboys, and he will go a long way to solidifying the Cowboys defense for a long time to come. But in 2017, the team will look to ease him into the lineup by rotating him out with the other big bodies they have in the trenches. Eventually, Charlton will be a star in the NFL, but like most players, he will have to be patient until his game can develop and he can adapt at the NFL level, which will take two to three years at most.
11 Start: Jamal Adams
The New York Jets had plenty of holes to fill coming into the 2017 draft, but like we have seen in the past few drafts, they opted to take an elite defensive star, this time LSU’s defensive back Jamal Adams, who has been considered the most all-around pro-ready player heading into this years draft. Pairing the playmaking rookie with hard hitting Calvin Pryor will give the Jets a very dynamic secondary, and if this pick can pan out, the team will definitely have a deep defense that they can lean on to keep them competitive in the coming years. Obviously the team needs a franchise QB and a better O-line before they can truly compete in the AFC, but with Adams starting in year one, this defense will remain one of the best in the entire NFL.
10 Bench: Leonard Fournette
Leonard Fournette was one of the biggest names in recent college football memory, and even after a few injury riddled seasons at LSU, he came into the draft as one of the most pro-ready players of the year. It was unknown just how high that Fournette would go in the draft, but Jacksonville, which looks like they are ready to break out as a playoff threat, took a chance on him with the #4 overall pick, and he will no doubt be relied upon to carry the offense alongside Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Unlike Ezekiel Elliott from a year ago, Fournette won’t be able to carry the load that the Jaguars will put on his back, and with T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory also in the backfield, he will not be taking the majority of carries in the upcoming season, Due to Ivory's advanced age, he will no doubt become the lead back in the near future, but that won’t occur in 2017.
9 Start: Reuben Foster
We will talk more about San Francisco’s #3 overall pick Solomon Thomas later in this piece, but somehow, the team not only added a good defensive linemen to their team, but they managed to snag one of the most talented and sought after linebackers in the draft, Alabama’s Reuben Foster. Much like all defensive players coming out of Alabama, Foster is very disciplined and will no doubt adapt to the pro game very well and very quickly, so pairing him with Navarro Bowman will provide the backbone of the 49ers defense for years to come. Foster is a diverse player with the ability to do everything in the game of football at a very great level, and with the ‘9ers unlikely to compete at a playoff level anytime soon, taking the risk on a first year linebacker like Foster is all but a certainty in 2017.
8 Bench: John Ross
Much was made about the talent in the QB class coming into this draft, and the fairly deep WR group went fairly unnoticed, but one of those that gained steam ever since the combine was that of Washington’s John Ross, who flew up everyone’s draft board after he broke Chris Johnson’s 40-yard dash time record. As we all know, the most recent example of a 1st-round receiver picked purely on speed was Nelson Agholor by the Philadelphia Eagles, and while he still has potential to grow, it looks like he may be a bust. With the pressure put on Ross, he could very well do the same for the Bengals. Fans are already salivating at the thought of Ross alongside A.J. Green in the upcoming season, but he hasn’t even stepped foot on an NFL field yet, so we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves thinking he will automatically be a star.
7 Start: O.J. Howard
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have looked like breaking out for quite some time, even in the very deep and tough NFC South, but after picking up star tight end O.J. Howard to add to a great offense, it seems like the 2017 season will be the time they finally do break out. In an off-season which saw the team also pick up deep threat DeSean Jackson, to add to existing players Mike Evans, Jameis Winston and Doug Martin, it seems inevitable that this team finally takes that next step, despite heavy competition up against the Panthers, Falcons and Saints. Regardless of their team success, O.J Howard will replace Austin Sefarian-Jenkins as the Bucs main TE (yes, I know he left during last season, and they struggled at that position after losing him), and if he can continue to build on his impressive skill set, he could become a transcendent TE in the NFL.
6 Bench: Solomon Thomas
From Reuben Foster to Jamal Adams to Jonathan Allen, the draft class from the defensive side of the ball looked fairly strong, but one player we never expected to go in the top 10 was Solomon Thomas, who was surprisingly taken at #2 overall by the 49ers after they robbed the Bears and traded back from the #2 pick. The 49ers obviously saw something in Thomas that screamed "star player," but I just can’t see it, especially with the pressure of the #3 overall selection, yet that often means the team will want to start him straight away. Combining with Reuben Foster, I can see Thomas becoming the backbone of a good defense for years to come, but that’s not going to start in 2017, at least for Thomas anyway, who will need some adjustments and development before he can star at the pro level.
5 Start: Mike Williams
The Los Angeles Chargers (formerly San Diego) have been struggling to live up to expectations for the past several seasons, but with the move to LA, and since they've added superstar like Mike Williams to pair with Keenan Allen, it looks like they could finally begin to challenge the elite in the AFC West. The WR from Tennessee looks to be one of the most physically impressive skill position players we’ve seen in quite some time, and if he can develop some chemistry with Philip Rivers quickly, his first year could be as explosive as any rookie we’ve seen in quite some time. Being taken with the #5 overall pick, there is definitely some pressure on the young star, but with veterans like Rivers and Antonio Gates on the team to learn from, he will no doubt become one of the biggest stars from this entire draft.
4 Bench: Patrick Mahomes
This one is quite obvious, as the Chiefs moved up to the #10 overall pick to take the talented Mahomes, but with Alex Smith still on the roster, there’s no doubting that they will look to develop him, as Smith still has a lot to offer the playoff aspirations of this talented Kansas City team. Coming out of Texas Tech, Mahomes flew up the draft board despite a very overlooked college career, and with the talent around the Chiefs team, he will no doubt be the starter long term, but that doesn’t include the 2017 season. He needs to develop his poise in the pocket and accuracy, but with great athleticism and arm talent, there is no doubting that the second QB taken in the 2017 draft may be one of the most successful of the entire draft if the Chiefs can stay patient with his development.
3 Start: Myles Garrett
The Cleveland Browns have famously been struggling for quite some time, and with the amount of 1st-round picks they have over the next two years, NFL analysts and Browns fans alike saw this year as an opportunity to finally become a force to be reckoned with, and by all accounts, they nailed the 1st round of the 2017 draft. Thankfully the team avoided the rumored temptation to take Mitchell Trubisky with the #1 overall pick, and instead went with the guy who has perhaps the most superstar potential in the entire draft, defensive stud Myles Garrett. There’s no doubting that the Browns drafted Garrett to be a difference maker on defense, so there will be no surprise that he plays the majority of games from Week 1, and if he can develop into a more consistent threat, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take the leap to star within year number one.
2 Bench: Mitch Trubisky
The majority of Chicago Bears fans have already done this pick justice with their reactions, but to reiterate, what the hell were the Bears thinking when they traded up a pick to get an unproven, overrated QB like Mitch Trubisky, when they just signed Mike Glennon during the offseason? For a team looking to develop a backup, e.g. New England, New Orleans or even Pittsburgh, he would have been a great pick in the 2nd round, but after he was hyped up during the pre-draft period, he shockingly went with the #2 overall pick.
As we stated, the Bears took Mike Glennon in free agency during this offseason, and for someone with the experience, size and arm talent of Glennon, there is no way he will be beat out for the starting job by Trubisky, and the team should look to red-shirt Mitch while they develop him, if they really believe he is the future of the franchise.
1 Start: DeShaun Watson
The Houston Texans have struggled to find a QB to pair with their talented WRs and amazing defense over the past few years, but in 2017, it looks like they may have picked up the big game QB they were looking for, in the ultra successful former Clemson QB, DeShaun Watson. Sure, Watson has a lot to learn coming into the NFL, and he may not be an elite QB in the game straight from the beginning, but if the team can develop him, and with talent like DeAndre Hopkins to throw to, he could take them to where they desire to go, and that’s a deep playoff run into February. With little competition around him (Tom Savage is a decent QB but not the future of the Texans organization), it’s clear that Houston drafted Watson to be their Week 1 starter, and I don’t expect that to change.