The 2017 NFL Draft is shaping up to be one of the most influential in recent history as all 32 teams finalize their strategies and tactics for the upcoming season.

League personnel are trying to figure out how to extract the most value out of their picks and building contingency plans in case the player they envisioned is off the board.

In what’s shaping up to be a terrific cohort, here are the three deepest positions in this year’s class.

Safeties


Safeties are an increasingly valuable commodity, with many base defenses operating five-defensive back sets in the modern NFL, and this year’s class sports a host of players that will angle for numerous Pro Bowl selections.

At the top of the list are LSU’s Jamal Adams and Ohio State’s Malik Hooker, who are projected to be selected within the top 10 picks. Both possess imminent star potential, with scouts raving about their athleticism and football intelligence.

Adams and Hooker may highlight a loaded group, but Washington’s Budda Baker, Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, UConn’s Obi Melifonwu, and NC State’s Josh Jones all could be rushed to the podium during the first day of the draft. Baker, Melifonwu, and Jones drew rave reviews at the NFL Scouting Combine for their excellent straight-line speed, while Peppers has been billed as a future star since he was a high school junior. It’s not inconceivable that six safeties get selected in the first round.

Utah’s Marcus Williams, Florida’s Marcus Maye, and Alabama’s Eddie Jackson all represent great second-day value, so teams looking to solidify their secondary are in luck this year.

Edge rushers


Being able to attack the quarterback relentlessly is an essential component of a modern-day defense as the NFL evolves into a pass-dominant league. The quarterback fraternity likely won’t be thrilled by the prospect of a host of young, talented edge rushers entering the league with immediate starting potential.

Myles Garrett is widely believed to be the first overall pick and the Texas A&M star is expected to follow the trajectory of another former Aggies great, Von Miller. Stanford’s Solomon Thomas could be the next pick off the board, while Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley, and Michigan’s Taco Charlton are relatively safe bets to be taken in the first round.

Alabama’s Tim Williams may be the most explosive athlete at his position, save for Garrett, and could be the steal of the draft if teams overlook his multiple failed drug tests at the collegiate level. Missouri’s Charles Harris, Auburn’s Carl Lawson, and Houston’s Tyus Bowser all could sneak into the first round, the latter of whom is ascending through numerous mock drafts. If Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt proves to be half as good as his older brother, J.J., some team may end up with the bargain of the summer.

Running backs


Debating whether running backs represent inherent value in the first round or not has become a tired trope, like watching the overtly eager student in your philosophy class incorrectly cite Jacques Derrida. While the free-agent market has dried up, there are numerous options this year that can make an immediate impact come September.

LSU’s Leonard Fournette was the No. 1 recruit in the country three years ago and lived up to the tremendous hype. He’s built like a prototypical power back with surprising acceleration and the ability to separate in the open field, while Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey took the nation by storm during their prodigious careers. All three backs likely will shake Roger Goodell’s hand April 27.

Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon would be a certain first-round pick were it not for a horrific incident in which he punched a woman in the face. Mixon is reportedly off a number of team’s draft boards, but if taken, he may emerge as the best running back in the class. However, his collegiate teammate, Samaje Perine could quietly overtake him at the professional level.

Toledo’s Kareem Hunt may be the biggest sleeper in the draft, irrespective of position, and could emerge as a breakout star, in the vein of Jordan Howard last year. San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey rushed for over 2,000 yards during his senior year, while Texas’ D’Onta Foreman is pro ready.

The NFL will be welcoming a number of new faces who should make a notable impact in 2017.

(Photos courtesy: Action Images)

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