Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.
It's a request I get from the NFL.com editorial staff every April. With the 2017 NFL Draft rapidly approaching (April 27-29 in Philadelphia), what are the ideal pairings of player and team? I'm not necessarily projecting that these marriages will happen, but in my dream world, they would happen. And I like to go beyond the obvious ones everyone has been talking about. What's the fun in exploring the slam-dunk unions, like Myles Garrett and the Browns? (Even Cleveland can't mess up this No. 1 pick ... right?)
So below you'll fine nine perfect pairings, courtesy of your faithful draft matchmaker.
REMINDER: THIS IS NOT A MOCK DRAFT! (YES, I'M WRITING THIS IN ALL CAPS, FOR CLARITY'S SAKE.)
(Editor's note: Click on each prospect name for scouting report; click on each team name for 2017 draft needs/pick inventory.)
I love this fit. Philly desperately needs a game-changing, every-down back to dominate and dazzle. The Eagles haven't had a running back gain even 800 yards since trading LeSean McCoy two offseasons ago. And hey, what do ya know? Cook has received comparisons to McCoy, as well as Jamaal Charles. They're legit comps, too. In fact, Cook might end up being a more physical (and frankly, better) back than McCoy. Cook is a natural fit in Doug Pederson's offense -- an attack in which Charles flourished.
In Philadelphia, Cook would take the pressure off Carson Wentz -- and he'd also be a weapon for the second-year QB to target out of the backfield. I think this match is dreamy.
I believe the immensely talented, smart and versatile Peppers could help many good teams, including the Raiders, Steelers and Packers. But I really like the idea of the Cowboys adding this instant-impact playmaker to a suddenly-barren defensive backfield. Dallas' secondary was raided in free agency, with the Cowboys losing safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox, as well as cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr. Thus, addressing this area early in the draft -- Dallas picks 28th -- makes plenty of sense.
Peppers arrived at Michigan with a boatload of hype, as one of the most sought-after recruits in the country. He handled the pressure with aplomb and emerged as one of the most exciting players in college football. Thus, he can deal with the scrutiny of being the Cowboys' first-round pick.
Smarts. Consistency. Leadership. Explosiveness. Versatility. This superb pass-rushing prospect sounds like the ideal first pick of the John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan era in San Francisco. And Lynch would be dipping back into his Stanford roots to snag this first-team All-Pac-12 D-lineman with the No. 2 overall pick. The 49ers could also trade down and still have a chance at Thomas (though he won't last long).
Yes, the Niners have taken defensive linemen in Round 1 during each of the past two drafts (DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead), but no one ever has too many pass rushers. And Thomas brings the versatility to play a lot of roles.
Stephon Gilmore left via free agency, signing a highly lucrative contract with the rival Patriots. Thus, Lattimore would fill a hole in the secondary, and join Ronald Darby to give the Bills a promising young cornerback duo.
Sean McDermott is a brilliant defensive mind, and I don't think he'd mind scooping up a shutdown corner with his first draft pick as a head coach. If he's available when the Bills' turn comes up at No. 10, Lattimore's a steal. But Buffalo might have to trade up to acquire his services.
With that NFL pedigree, Adams seems like one of the safer bets in the draft. The natural born leader just has it all, as an interchangeable safety who can cover and provide thump in the box.
The Jags added some fine defensive pieces in free agency: DL Calais Campbell, CB A.J. Bouye and S Barry Church. On that side of the ball, Jacksonville has enticing talent on all three levels. It's time to add a true difference maker on offense.
I think the Jags need a power run game to take the heat off Blake Bortles. The duo of T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory didn't exactly light the league on fire last season. The physical Fournette would bring a new attitude -- a new feel -- to the offense. And like Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys last year, this offensive addition would have a positive impact on the defense, too.
Tennessee's offense is really close to being excellent. The O-line and power run game are legit, as evidenced by the Titans boasting the third-best ground game in the league last season. I'm a big Marcus Mariota fan, and he has a fine tight end to target in Delanie Walker. But when it comes to the receiving corps ... Where's the beef?
The Titans desperately need a true WR1. They have for years. Williams can solve this problem. The big-bodied Clemson product has fantastic ball skills and ability at the catch point. He overwhelms defenders with his physicality and jump-ball prowess. It's not hard to imagine Williams quickly becoming Mariota's Linus blanket.
But can you imagine Howard in Tampa's offense, joining Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson? Buckle up!
I compare Watson to Alex Smith at the NFL level. And I write that as a compliment, holding both men in high regard. Watson's an athletic signal caller who knows how to lead and just plain wins. I love Smith, but he isn't getting younger. Kansas City needs depth at quarterback and an heir apparent to develop at the position.
I'm a big Watson fan and believer. But a lot of folks think he'd be well-served with some time to marinate in the NFL. Perfect! Watson can back up Smith for a year or two and learn how to play the position in the pros from the great Andy Reid.