Here is my first foray into mocking the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Here are my pre-Combine selections for which directions the 31 teams picking at the top of the draft might go.
An asterisk (*) denotes an underclassman.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon*
While most agree that Jameis Winston is the superior quarterback prospect, Mariota’s high character is likely what will draw the team towards him. Lovie Smith had little success with Jay Cutler and the Bucs are still recovering from the Josh Freeman failure too. So they’ve been burned too often to go with a guy like Winston, who has clear character question marks. Not to mention that Mariota’s former coach at Oregon, Mark Helfrich was a protege of new Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter while he was coaching in college, means that the Bucs go with the “safe” developmental guy in Mariota.
2. Tennessee Titans – OLB Dante Fowler, Florida*
I’m making this pick partly because I think it will be a bit of a surprise. Not just because the Titans are passing on a quarterback, but because they are taking a defensive player not named Leonard Williams or Randy Gregory, who are widely considered the two best defensive prospects in this year’s draft. The Titans need someone that can provide edge pressure in Dick LeBeau/Ray Horton’s defense, and Fowler is a good fit for a 3-4 scheme.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – DT Leonard Williams, USC*
Most agree that Williams is the best prospect in this draft and when you’re sitting at third, then this pick is a no-brainer. Sen’Derrick Marks, their best defensive linemen, is coming off an ACL tear and the Jaguars haven’t been able to get consistent pressure on the quarterback for several years.
4. Oakland Raiders – WR Kevin White, West Virginia
One of the more potentially interesting aspects of this year’s draft will be the shuffling of the wide receiver class. Amari Cooper is the biggest name, but don’t be surprised if he’s not the first one selected. The tide is beginning to favor White, who has better size, hands and consistency than Cooper. Generally speaking, once you’ve found a quarterback to build around, you start to add weapons for him to throw to. That is exactly what the Raiders will do by taking White.
5. Washington Redskins – OT Brandon Scherff, Iowa
One of the Redskins’ most glaring needs is along the offensive line, although that defense definitely can be considered a work in progress. Scherff isn’t the sort of classic top 10 tackle that is projected as a franchise left tackle. Many feel his best position at the next level will be guard or right tackle. Luckily for the Redskins, they don’t need a left tackle but could certainly use upgrades at right tackle and guard.
6. New York Jets – QB Jameis Winston, Florida State*
Part of me wonders if the marriage between Winston and New York City is a good one considering his off-field issues and the heightened media scrutiny he will have there. But the Jets can’t really afford to pass up on the player that is considered this year’s top quarterback and far better prospect than Geno Smith was coming out two years ago. While Smith might still be salvageable as an NFL starter, it’s unlikely to come in New York.
7. Chicago Bears – DE Randy Gregory, Nebraska*
Many have compared Gregory to Dion Jordan, whose lack of success in Miami, makes that a less than favorable comparison. The Bears potentially have more pressing needs considering they spent a pretty penny for three defensive ends in free agency last year, but with their transition to a 3-4 scheme, getting an edge-rusher like Gregory makes perfect sense.
8. Atlanta Falcons – DE Shane Ray, Missouri*
Rumors are that the Falcons really like Ray, who many consider to have the best first step of any of the edge-rushers in this draft class. The major questions with Ray revolve around his length and athleticism will allow him to translate successfully to the next level. There is little doubt that the Falcons will take the best pass-rusher available at this pick, and if it’s Ray, then I don’t think they’ll lose any sleep over it.
9. New York Giants – OT Andrus Peat, Stanford*
The Giants have invested in their offensive line in recent years, but that won’t stop them from continuing. They are considering moving Justin Pugh inside to guard, a position that many think he’ll be better served to play. William Beatty had a nice rebound year after a disastrous 2013, but that doesn’t mean that they are completely convinced. Peat has the upside to be the premier left tackle prospect in this class, but might start off on the right side to prove himself in New York.
10. St. Louis Rams – CB Trae Waynes, Michigan State*
The Rams could definitely take one of the top wideouts in this class, but considering they’ve already invested in the likes of Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Brian Quick with little success, while Kenny Britt worked out favorably, they may be more inclined to sign a veteran than draft another young developmental prospect. That leaves cornerback as a position of need where Janoris Jenkins is miscast as a No. 1 corner and Trumaine Johnson is better suited to nickel than being a starter. Waynes has the length and physical style that could draw comparisons to those cornerbacks up in Seattle.
11. Minnesota Vikings – OT La’el Collins, LSU
Picking up Teddy Bridgewater’s former teammate in DeVante Parker makes a lot of sense, but the Vikings offensive line was disastrous last year. Collins might be another prospect that is better suited to playing guard than tackle at the next level. But the Vikings have one of the league’s weakest sets of guards, so that’s not a bad thing.
12. Cleveland Browns – WR Amari Cooper, Alabama*
The Browns are happy that the player that many view as the top wide receiver in the class is still here at No. 12. It’s a no-brainer pick for a team that was devoid at that position, especially in light of Josh Gordon’s latest transgression.
13. New Orleans Saints – WR DeVante Parker, Louisville
The Saints have some more pressing needs on the defensive side of the ball, but this is simply a best player available sort of pick. Marques Colston is getting up there in years, and Parker gives them another young weapon alongside Brandin Cooks and Jimmy Graham to highlight the twilight of Brees’ career.
14. Miami Dolphins – DT Danny Shelton, Washington
Many view Shelton as a top 10 pick, so this a great value for the Dolphins. But big nose tackles like him have a tendency to slide a bit on draft day, largely because of fears on whether they can reliably contribute as pass-rushers. Shelton is potentially a dominant force in the middle that some compare to Haloti Ngata.
15. San Francisco 49ers – DE Arik Armstead, Oregon*
Justin Smith may retire and the team already released Ray McDonald, leaving this position virtually empty. Armstead has similar dimensions as Calais Campbell when he entered the pros, and the 49ers are hopeful that Armstead develops into a similar dominator in their 3-4 defense.
16. Houston Texans – DT Malcom Brown, Texas*
Brown has the shorter, squatter frame of a 3-4 nose tackle but has the quickness to play end. Putting him on a front that already features J.J. Watt along with developing talents like Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and Louis Nix could potentially give the Texans one of the more formidable defensive fronts in the NFL.
17. San Diego Chargers – OT Ereck Flowers, Miami (FL)*
The Chargers need help along their offensive line, although their tackle position seems a lot better than the other spots with King Dunlap and D.J. Fluker. But luckily, Dunlap is an experienced guard as well, so they can draft a physical guy like Flowers and potentially move Dunlap inside if need be.
18. Kansas City Chiefs – CB Marcus Peters, Washington*
The Chiefs cornerback situation was disastrous for a chunk of the 2014 season outside of Sean Smith. Peters has several off-field issues, but head coach Andy Reid has historically not shied away from character risks if he believes a guy can play. Peters can do that, and thus will help solidify a weak Chiefs secondary.
19. Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo) – TE Maxx Williams, Minnesota
The Browns could address needs along the offensive line, but why not double-dip with weapons in the passing game? They took a wide out with their earlier pick, and given the likelihood that they’ll lose Jordan Cameron in free agency, they might be looking at adding a tight end. Williams is a complete tight end that can line up inline, which should fit well in Cleveland given their desire to run the ball.
20. Philadelphia Eagles – S Landon Collins, Alabama*
Collins is easily the top safety in this draft class, but many question his coverage abilities which often leads to guys slipping in the draft. The Eagles secondary has been a glaring weakness since Chip Kelly’s arrival, and Nate Allen, who is an impending free agent, just hasn’t gotten the job done at strong safety.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – DE Bud Dupree, Kentucky
The Bengals failed to replace Michael Johnson on the edge and their pass rush suffered accordingly in 2014. They need to find another speed rusher that they can put opposite Carlos Dunlap, and Dupree is exactly that. They’ve been successful with SEC pass-rushers like Dupree in the past, with pickups like Dunlap and Geno Atkins.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers – OLB Eli Harold, Virginia*
Given expectations that they’ll have plenty of suitors for Jason Worilds in free agency and the fact that Jarvis Jones appears to be a bust, the Steelers need to find someone that can bring pressure off the edge. Harold isn’t one of the biggest names in this year’s draft, but has top potential to develop into a quality edge guy in the years to come.
23. Detroit Lions – OT T.J. Clemmings, Pittsburgh
The Lions are going to revamp their offensive line this offseason, and thus will be looking for bodies. Clemmings gives them an immediate option at right tackle, but has the upside to transition into a top left tackle down the road. The athletic and aggressive run-blocker is still raw, but has loads of potential to develop.
24. Arizona Cardinals – OLB Vic Beasley, Clemson
The Cardinals probably need to add some much-needed talent to their offense, but their bread is buttered on the defensive side of the ball. And things started to dip at the end of last year when their inability to dial up pressure was exposed. Beasley is arguably one of the best pass-rushers in this class, but his lack of ideal size may cause him to get overlooked.
25. Carolina Panthers – WR Jaelen Strong, Arizona State*
Adding a big body at wide receiver proved successful last year with the addition of Kelvin Benjamin, why not go back to that wheelhouse in 2015? Like Benjamin, Strong may not be the best at separating from coverage, but his large stature makes that less of a problem due to his ability to consistently win in traffic.
26. Baltimore Ravens – RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Even though the Ravens will probably be successful in retaining Justin Forsett, adding a young running back of the future will be a smart move given that Forsett will turn 30 next season. Gordon is just too good value to pass up at this point in the draft given his ability and potential to slide easily in Ray Rice’s vacated role as a feature back.
27. Dallas Cowboys – OLB Shaq Thompson, Washington*
Should the Cowboys lose Bruce Carter and/or Rolando McClain in free agency, coupled with the injury history of Sean Lee, there is definitely a need for playmakers at this position. Thompson is a fast, rangy linebacker that is tailor-made to play the weakside in a 4-3 scheme.
28. Denver Broncos – TE Devin Funchess, Michigan*
Should the Broncos lose Julius Thomas in free agency, then it will be a nice to give Peyton Manning a weapon over the middle for what may be his final run with the Broncos. Funchess is a wide receiver that should make a relatively easier transition to the flex spot in Denver’s offense than a traditional tight end in other offenses.
29. Indianapolis Colts – DT Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma*
Phillips is an athletic specimen that moves extremely well for a 330-pounder. But he has an injury history in a short time at Oklahoma that prevents his stock from rising too high. The Colts need playmakers in their front seven, particularly at the nose tackle position.
30. Green Bay Packers – DT Eddie Goldman, Florida State*
The Packers were playing with piecemeal parts at nose tackle this past year, and a player like Goldman has the sort of build and strength that should make him a good fit as a nose in a 3-4.
31. Seattle Seahawks – OC Cameron Erving, Florida State
The Seahawks want to continue to upgrade their offensive line despite significant needs at wide receiver. Erving would likely make the move to guard for the Seahawks, but also adds value as a backup to Max Unger, as they had a revolving door at center for much of 2014 when Unger was injured.
32. New England Patriots – RB Todd Gurley, Georgia*
This is just too easy a pick for the Patriots, who don’t have that one glaring need as defending Super Bowl champions that suggests they can’t afford to wait on Gurley’s recovery from injury. He’ll easily slide into Stevan Ridley/LeGarrette Blount’s role as the grinder in their offense.