2017 Draft Flashback: Analyzing picks 1-5

There has been a lot of surprisingly good action from several members of the 2017 NFL Draft class during this year’s regular season and post-season. Football fans generally expect a lot from their teams’ first-rounders and organizations hope they’ve made a selection in that round that will impact their team in a positive way (and usually as soon as possible). In 2017’s class, however, there were some mixed results with just two members of the Top 10 making it into the post-season. Here is a look at how the top five draftees performed in 2017 in order of overall draft selection.

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1. Myles Garrett (DE, Cleveland Browns)

There weren’t many questions about whether Garrett was athletic. His time in the Dallas (TX)-area in high school and then in College Station for Texas A&M were shining examples, especially when Garrett earned All-American and All-SEC honors and was a finalist for the Lombardi and Hendricks Awards. His 2016 season saw him fight through a knee injury but still earning first-team All-American and All-SEC honors. After earning a 7.63 draft grade, the Cleveland Browns grabbed what they hoped would be a formidable edge to their defensive line despite analysts predicting his explosiveness could be hampered by a need to fine-tune his pass-rush and a lack of holding his ground against tough rushers, anticipating he may be better suited at outside linebacker – if he could stay healthy.

“Good for Cleveland. Good for their fans. That’s the right pick. … He’s got get-off end burst. All-pro ability all day long. If he stays healthy and he cares to be the best, he will be the best.” — Mike Mayock

Garrett would miss his first four professional games in Cleveland with a high-ankle sprain and another due to being placed in the concussion protocol. Playing in just 11 games, Garrett finished his rookie campaign with the most sacks on a Browns defense that struggled as much as its offense did. He had flashes of talent, but his future impact may depend on whether Cleveland can create a better team than they’ve fielded for the past two seasons.

2017 Regular Season GP TACK/ASST SACK FF/FR INT PD
 Myles Garrett 11 31 / 12 7.0 1 / 1 0 1

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2. Mitchell Trubisky (QB, Chicago Bears)

Trubisky was considered one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks among the collegiate ranks, but he had to wait patiently behind Marquise Williams at North Carolina. Trubisky has a nice 2016 season but was overshadowed by Deshaun Watson (Clemson) and Lamar Jackson (Lousiville), ranking just fifth in the country with a 60.0 completion percentage. Trubisky averaged 288 passing yards per game and had 30 touchdowns to six interceptions thrown. Using his legs, Trubisky was able to record 308 yards and five touchdowns. A surprise after reported support of Mike Glennon, the Chicago Bears took Trubisky in what Mike Mayock said was “a big risk.”

“Trubisky projects as a good starting quarterback with a high floor and the potential to be great.” — Lance Zierlein

After Glennon struggled early in the season, Chicago fans were calling for Trubisky to take over as their quarterback. With one of the weakest wide receiver groups in the league in 2017, the Bears coaching staff went with a conservative game plan from week-to-week. Regardless of the overall team woes, Trubisky finished his rookie season with 2193 passing yards and seven touchdowns in 12 games. Whether the Bears will hand him the starting position in 2018 remains to be seen, but coaching changes could have an impact. New head coach Matt Nagy brought Mark Helfrich (former head coach at Oregon). That may bode well for Trubisky as Helfrich has worked with several quarterbacks with similar skill-sets, including Marcus Mariota, Vernon Adams, Andrew Walter, Jeremiah Masoli and Darron Thomas.

2017 Regular Season GP CMP/ATT PASS YDS CMP % TD INT FUM
Mitchell Trubisky 12 196 / 330 2193 59.4 7 7 5
41 248 6 2 12 46

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3. Solomon Thomas (DE, San Francisco 49ers)

Thomas came out of Stanford receiving mixed reviews before being selected by San Francisco at third overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. Yes, he was named an honorable mention All-Pac-12 player in 2015 and recorded four tackles and a sack over the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Rose Bowl. In 2016, as a redshirt sophomore, he received several All-American honors and won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. He led the Cardinal with 62 tackles and eight sacks. Many draft scouts saw him as a ‘tweener’ who felt his body type was not suited to play on the line and would be better at inside linebacker. He drew heavy, expletive-riddled analysis from former NFL defensive end Stephen White who said, “Solomon Thomas is the most frustrating prospect I’ve broken down in four years of doing this…Thomas’ effort will irritate some defensive line coaches. There will always be others who see the kind of talent Thomas displayed in college, and fantasize about the kind of pass rushing monster they can turn him into if they just “fix” his effort issues.”

White’s comments were harsh, but his film and analysis proved to be more accurate than the 49ers would have liked in 2017. Solomon’s rookie season was a mixed bag, playing in 14 games (12 starts) and on 655 defensive snaps. He recorded 41 tackles, three sacks, and a fumble recovery. Solomon could stop the run, but struggled in pass-rush and had to be moved around along the line.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh expects Thomas to be moved to the interior next season, which means the ‘Niners didn’t get the outside edge rush from Thomas they anticipated, making that a priority in the 2018 NFL Draft. “There’s the developmental part that we need to go to with regards to consistency in pass rush,” Saleh said about Solomon, “which I think he’ll reach.”

“I definitely have a lot to work on and a lot of things I need to improve on… I’m just trying to go into next year with that feeling of progressing and trying to get ready for next year and be the best player I can for this team.” — Solomon Thomas

2017 Regular Season GP TACK/ASST SACK FF/FR INT PD
 Solomon Thomas 14 34 /7 3.0 0 / 1 0 0

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4. Leonard Fournette (RB, Jacksonville Jaguars)

Fournette was already a star before he entered LSU as the No. 1 overall recruit and USA Today National High School Offensive Player of the Year. As a true freshman, he rushed for 1,034 yards and then added 1,953 his next season while adding 22 touchdowns on the ground. His junior year was hampered by an ankle injury and he prepared to enter the NFL Draft after receiving second-team All-SEC honors with five 100-yard games and a 287-yard, three-touchdown game against Ole Miss.

Draft scouts were all over the board on how they perceived Fournette. Some felt he wasn’t elusive enough to break out. Lance Zierlein said, “Fournette doesn’t have the wiggle to make defenders miss and his vision can be iffy…” An NFC director of scouting was quoted on Fournette’s draft profile as saying, “I can’t wait to see how the draft guys pick at Fournette and tell everyone what he doesn’t do right. He was healthy last year and that is what you are going to get. Big, fast and dominant.”

Fournette did deal with an ankle injury during the entirety of his debut pro season, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who appreciates skilled players saying the rookie was anything but spectacular in 2017. Fournette ranked 3rd in the NFL in touchdowns by a rusher (9), 5th in rushing yards-per-game (80.0) and 8th in rushing yards (1,040). Of all the draft selections, only Fournette made it as far as the Divisional Round of the 2017 NFL playoffs. In the loss to the New England Patriots, Fournette had 24 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown; he added 13 yards on two catches.

Fournette’s work ethic was never questioned as he had 23.4 touches per game during the regular season and 25.7 per game during the playoffs. He also converted 46 first downs for the Jaguars. His yards-per-carry average was just under four yards mainly due to opponents keying in on him as a way to stop Jacksonville’s offense with Blake Bortles at quarterback. The Jaguars weren’t strong in the passing game for the majority of the season, but if they improve that during the offseason, Fournette could have an even bigger 2018 season.

2017 Regular Season GP ATT YDS AVG LNG TD FUM
Leonard Fournette 13 268 1040 3.9 90 9 2
36 / 48 302 8.4 1 15 28

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5. Corey Davis (WR, Tennessee Titans)

Davis was a hot target for the Western Michigan Broncos, earning Mid-American Conference Player of the Year honors in 2016 and sliding into the all-time leader in major college football spot in receiving yards (5,285). Just a two-star recruit out of high school, Davis put a tough childhood behind him to become the MAC Freshman of the Year in 2013 and led the conference in 2016 with 1,408 yards and 15 touchdowns (ranked third in the FBS). In 2016, Davis ranked in the top 10 in three major receiving categories: 8th in catches (97), 7th in receiving yards (1,500) and tied for first in receiving touchdowns (19).

“Corey Davises don’t come along very often. If they have one talent, then they really lack something else. Corey’s really the complete package.” — former Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck

One issue draft scouts were concerned about was the number of drops Davis had in college. Between 2014-16, Davis was credited with 16 drops and an average of one drop to every 16.5 catches he had. There was also concern that he didn’t always sell his routes aggressively enough to get pro cornerbacks to bite and allowed defenders to squeeze him. The biggest issue was that Davis did not do pre-draft or Combine workouts. “He wasn’t even able to work out since his college season,” Mike Mayock said. “Had an ankle injury. So the NFL just pulled the trigger on a receiver from the MAC that they weren’t even able to work out.”

Titans offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie is an admitted “run heavy” guy, and as teams keyed in on DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, quarterback Marcus Mariota was forced to pass more and his interception numbers went up exponentially regardless of Davis and Taywan Taylor‘s performance at receiver. When Tennessee simplified their offense, they started to click a bit more on offense.

Davis, the only other Top 10 draft selection in 2017 to make it to the post-season, was literally the lone bright spot offensively in the Titans’ divisional-round loss to the New England Patriots, catching five passes for 63 yards and two touchdowns. Davis had a beautiful one-handed 15-yard catch while being held by a defender to give the Titans a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.

Davis shows flashes of playmaking ability but dealt with injury and an offense that could not find its identity. Davis also showed he had a larger learning curve than some imagined in his debut season. If he can get himself to 100 percent health-wise, Davis could have a promising 2018 season under new coaching leadership.

2017 Regular Season GP REC/TGTS YDS AVG LNG TD FUM
Corey Davis 11 34 / 65 375 11.0 37 9 1

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