OVERVIEW: As is the custom with our pre-Combine mock draft, we’re assigning players based upon team needs and player talent as things currently stand. Anyone who has followed the draft process knows how quickly things can change. For example, when we did our first mock draft last year, we had three quarterbacks going with the first four picks, but thanks to the vetting process on Johnny Manziel and a bad pro day performance from Teddy Bridgewater, both of them dropped like stones on draft day. This first incarnation of many tries to match up talent with need – which will be subject to change. Here’s who we like at this point.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. There are some plenty of character issues that will have to be checked into because Winston has a laundry list of offenses from his time in college that will throw up some red flags. However, from the strictly professional aspect of things, Famous Jameis has all the talent and upside to be a very good NFL quarterback and Mike Glennon doesn’t seem to be a long-term answer.
2. Tennessee Titans – Leonard Williams, DT/DE, USC. There may be a push to a QB, whether Winston doesn’t go No. 1 or if the Titans are impressed with Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, but, even if Jake Locker leaves, there may be enough push behind 2014 rookie Zach Mettenberger to give him another shot. You can never have too many disruptive defensive linemen and Williams is the poster boy for that – too quick for offensive tackles and too strong for guards to take on one-on-one. In the pass-happy era we currently live in, getting pass rushers is always at a premium and Williams’ versatility makes him a good fit.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Shane Ray, DE, Missouri. The Jags have gone offense-heavy in the early rounds of the last two drafts and need to make a move defensively. Ray was one of the most productive ends in the country and did so playing against SEC competition. He has great burst, closing speed and a variety of pass-rush moves the Jags will need to quit picking this high in the draft every year.
4. Oakland Raiders – Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama. The Raiders struck gold last year with Khalil Mack in the first round and Derek Carr in the second. While Carr may never be a Pro Bowl QB, he accomplished quite a bit with a slew of pedestrian receivers. Cooper has incredible burst and athleticism and is as close to a can’t-miss receiver as there is in this class and immediately upgrades the offense. Carr needs help to get to the next level and Cooper provides that ammunition.
5. Washington Redskins – Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska. A player who can bring pressure as a 4-3 DE or a 3-4 OLB, he could make an immediate impact for a Redskins defense that not only might lose Brian Orakpo to free agency. The 3-4 defense that the Redskins run requires pass-rushing skills from its outside linebackers and Gregory looks like a glove fit for that scheme.
6. New York Jets – Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon. Barring a trade, if Mariota makes it past the No. 2 pick, his slide could be a long one, especially since there isn’t a team other than the Jets and possibly St. Louis that has an immediate need at QB. The Heisman winner didn’t run an offense that is easily translatable to the NFL, but he can make all the throws and will be an immediate team leader. Geno Smith was forced into action and it would appear that experiment is nearing its end because the coach and G.M. that drafted him are both gone.
7. Chicago Bears – Landon Collins, S, Alabama. The Bears defense has a ton of holes, especially in the secondary, that need to be addressed. While players like Dante Fowler and Vic Beasley will like be on the radar, Collins is a playmaker at safety who is also strong in run support. In terms of the ability to make an immediate impact, he is likely to best player to be a Day 1 starter who holds down the position for years. Given the passing ability in the NFC North, the Bears need to immediately upgrade their secondary.
8. Atlanta Falcons – Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida. Dan Quinn is going to try bring his aggressive style from Seattle to Atlanta and the first thing he needs to remedy is a pedestrian pass rush that didn’t consistently get pressure on the quarterback. They didn’t have a single player with five sacks last year and only two players with more than two. Fowler has the strength and production to make a difference and start the process of building up the front end of the defense, which tends to have a ripple effect to the second and third levels.
9. New York Giants – Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson. Offensive line is a possibility, but the Giants have spent a lot of draft currency on the O-line in recent years and health has been the problem. Beasley is an active pass rusher who goes full throttle on every play. With 44½ tackles-for-loss over the last two season with the Tigers, there’s no questioning his motor and he is what the Giants need if they want to return to the playoff discussion.
10. St. Louis Rams – Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa. The Rams have invested in the offensive line, including Greg Robinson high in the draft last year, but still need help. Scherff is a dominating run blocker with the skill to play left tackle, more likely play right tackle, or potentially even be moved inside where he could be a dominant guard for a decade. It’s a tough call because the Rams could use more skill-position weapons on offense, but they have talent on both sides of the ball, so a dominating O-line could help get them over the hump.
11. Minnesota Vikings – DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville. I preface this pick by saying unless someone falls out of the top 10 that the Vikings absolutely love, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if they trade back into the middle third of the first round and acquire additional draft picks. Parker is a trendy pick because a lot of people have given up (too soon) on Cordarrelle Patterson being a difference-maker and, barring a significant restructuring of his contract, it’s doubtful that Greg Jennings will be back at the price he’s slated to be paid. With good speed and strong route-running ability, Parker consistently gets separation and can do damage after the catch. Combine that with the fact that he was a college teammate of Teddy Bridgewater and the case can be made that he would be a great fit for the new-look Bridgewater-led offense. If a defensive standout that we’re projecting in the top 10 should fall to the Vikings at No. 11, it will make the decision tougher, but the Vikings may go to the well for the second time in three years by taking a wide receiver in the first round if they hold their ground and reel in Parker.
12. Cleveland Browns – Kevin White, WR, West Virginia. With the news that Josh Gordon is gone for the 2015 season (and quite possibly for good) after another failed test in the substance abuse program, the Browns are back where they were last year – lacking a go-to downfield threat. On film, White attacks the ball and times his leaps extremely well to win downfield battles. At 6-3, he can create mismatches and would provide an immediate boost for a struggling Cleveland offense, whether Johnny Manziel or Brian Hoyer is the starter. They need more talent and likely won’t get elite free agents to come, so they have to build through the draft.
13. New Orleans Saints – Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State. This is a good news situation for the Saints because if the draft falls anywhere close to how we project it, they can have their choice of cornerbacks in the draft. The Saints struggled all season because their defense couldn’t stop anybody. This pick could go to any level of the defense – D-line, linebacker or in the secondary, but it seems obvious that New Orleans has to commit the 2015 draft to defense because too much help is needed to ignore it and hope to win games 38-35.
14. Miami Dolphins – Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington. Miami has a need at linebacker and Thompson has incredible range and playmaking ability. He rarely gets himself out of position and chases plays to the sideline and always seems to be around the ball. Miami is still trying to rebuild its offensive line, but Thompson may simply be too good an athlete to pass up at this point of the draft.
15. San Francisco 49ers – Dorial Green-Beckham, WR Oklahoma. This will likely be the most debated pick of the first round because of his numerous off-field red flags. Some teams may not even rate him as a first-round talent because of that, but his skills can’t be denied. Without the baggage, he would be long since gone, and with Anquan Boldin not getting any younger and Michael Crabtree set to hit free agency, there is a need if Colin Kaepernick is to make the next step in his development. He likely won’t go any higher than this, but could go significantly later. He’s a roll of the dice on greatness, but he has all the tools to be a star if he can keep his nose clean and his head right.
16. Houston Texans – Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford. New coach Bill O’Brien brings a fresh set of eyes to the table, but he likely won’t veer too much from the run-heavy offense Houston employs. With Duane Brown a foundation piece on the left side of the offensive line, Peat can be eased in on the right side and give the Texans bookends for years to come. If Brown gets hurt, Peat has more than enough ability to play on the left side. Quarterback is a hot-button issue, but with the 16th pick the value at QB just isn’t there unless Winston or Mariota take an epic slide down draft boards.
17. San Diego Chargers – T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pitt. The Chargers need to protect Philip Rivers and King Dunlap and D.J. Fluker simply don’t get that job done consistently enough. There has been chatter that Fluker might be ideally suited to move inside to guard. A former defensive end, Clemmings has become a dominant right tackle and, given the narrowing window that Rivers has to fulfill his dream of getting to a Super Bowl, keeping him clean must remain a priority – short-term and long-term.
18. Kansas City Chiefs – La’el Collins, OT, LSU. Wide receiver is clearly the top need, but unless they reach for a candidate or somebody like Dorial Green-Beckham slides to them, their spot isn’t overly conducive to taking a wide receiver at this spot. Collins is like a Swiss Army Knife with experience at both tackle and guard positions and can be plugged in at any of them to fill a need. If the Chiefs on bent on drafting a receiver, they may have to trade up or down to make it happen or potentially reach beyond the value of the available receivers.
19. Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo) – Danny Shelton, DT, Washington. Mike Pettine has a player type for his defensive linemen – powerful big men who plug gaps and collapse the pocket from the middle. The Browns need a lot of help on both sides of the ball, but aren’t far away from being a potentially elite defense and Shelton would be a nice component piece. As the only team currently with two first-round picks, the Browns have a lot of flexibility and could move up or down with either of their picks.
20. Philadelphia Eagles – Marcus Peters, CB, Washington. The Eagles were brutal in the secondary, especially later in the season when their playoff hopes went up in smoke. They need help at cornerback, safety and linebacker. He will be a work in progress because he doesn’t have ideal technique and got kicked off the Huskies for run-ins with the coaching staff. He has a ton of upside because of his pure ability, but the vetting process may take a toll on his draft stock.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – Arik Armstrong, DE, Oregon. The loss of Michael Johnson to free agency took a toll on the Bengals because those playing opposite Carlos Dunlap have been inconsistent. Wallace Gilberry can look great one game and awful the next, and Robert Geathers just doesn’t have it. At 6-foot-8 and 290 pounds, Armstrong has a unique skill set and has both the speed and strength to make a difference. He remains a little raw but has all the tools to be a dominating player.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers – Alvin “Bud” Dupree, OLB/DE, Kentucky. A veteran of the SEC wars, Dupree is an excellent pass rusher who has the speed to take backs and tight ends in coverage. He is a player that fits the athletic model of Steelers draftees and his value is likely only going to rise when his athleticism is on display at the NFL Scouting Combine. If he performs like many expect he will, he may jump up several spots on some draft boards, but, if he’s still there at this pick, it’s hard to figure the Steelers passing on him.
23. Detroit Lions – Malcom Brown, DT, Texas. Even if Ndamukong Suh returns in 2015 – franchised or signed long-term – there is still the need because Nick Fairley is a free agent, too. Fairley has been up and down in his career, so at a minimum, they could use an athlete like Brown for depth and a part of their D-line rotation. If Suh doesn’t re-sign, defensive tackle becomes the top draft priority.
24. Arizona Cardinals – Benardrick McKinney, MLB, Mississippi State. Inside linebacker isn’t a particularly strong draft position this year and it is a position of need. McKinney is the only ILB/MLB prospect that currently is viewed as having a first-round grade. He is big, has good coverage skills and the strength to blow up running plays up the middle. The Cardinals aren’t far off from being a respectable team that can compete for a title in the NFL’s toughest division.
25. Carolina Panthers – Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami. Last year, 60 percent of the offensive line announced their retirement and the Panthers never fully recovered. Cam Newton was beaten up throughout the season. Flowers has excellent footwork and burst off the snap and would provide an immediate upgrade, whether he starts at left tackle, right tackle or begins his career on the inside. But given the struggles on the O-line last year, an upgrade may be needed both in free agency and the draft.
26. Baltimore Ravens – Devin Fuchness, WR, Michigan. Steve Smith is nearing the end of the line and Torrey Smith is a free agent. But even if both of them return, the Ravens may still take Fuchness with this pick. At 6-4, 235, he’s almost impossible to jam at the line and is a matchup nightmare in the red zone. Given new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s affinity for big, physical receivers in the passing game, he could be an impact player from Day 1.
27. Dallas Cowboys – Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest. If the Cowboys can keep both DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant happy (and compensated), there won’t be much cap room to address the glaring needs in the secondary in free agency. Johnson gives them a player who can immediately compete for a starting job and help prevent the kind of offensive shootouts the Cowboys were forced to get in too often last year.
28. Denver Broncos – Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma. The Broncos toughened up their defense last season, but one of the missing ingredients was a massive player who could play the nose on first and second downs. At 6-6, 330, Phillips give them the massive wide-body they need to remain dominant while the offense looks to regain the stroke it had until December of last year. He could be the missing piece to getting Denver back to the Super Bowl for what may well be Peyton Manning’s last ride.
29. Indianapolis Colts – Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin. If not for a torn ACL, Todd Gurley would most likely be the pick here, but Gordon is a nice Plan B. It can be argued that the Colts haven’t an elite running back since Edgerrin James was there and things have gone downhill faster in recent years. If Andrew Luck is to compete for a Super Bowl title, he needs more balance in the run game and Gordon is a workhorse that can accomplish that.
30. Green Bay Packers – Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State. Goldman is a run-stuffer and that was Green Bay’s biggest downfall much of 2014. With B.J. Raji coming off of injury and a free agent, and Letroy Guion likely done for good following his felony arrest, the need outweighs the options the Packers have. TE Maxx Williams would be another solid alternative, but given the circumstances, filling the middle of the D-line has become a top priority if not the main priority for the Packers in the draft.
31. Seattle Seahawks – Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota. Williams emerged last year as a go-to tight end who can make things happen downfield – a poor man’s Rob Gronkowski. Tom Brady has taught the NFL that an offense can thrive even without elite wide receivers. Few offenses were more potent than when Brady and Gronk and Aaron Hernandez shredded defenses down the seam. Russell Wilson needs more weapons and Williams can give them an immediate boost at a position that has been hit-and-miss for almost the entire history of the franchise.
32. New England Patriots – Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State. The Patriots are the champs, but have done so largely with undersized wide receivers. Few players can match up with Strong’s combination of size, strength and high-pointing passes. The Pats have enough weapons to get the job done, but adding a playmaker like Strong into the mix will only make Tom Brady better.
Viking Update mock draft: Version 1.0
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