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2. Tennessee – 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 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 from 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 – Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska. The Jags have gone offense-heavy in the early rounds of the last two drafts and need to make a move defensively. Some may view Gregory as a ’tweener type, but one thing can’t be denied. He’s an animal coming off the edge and can give Jacksonville something it has been missing for some time – a pass rush that can cause some damage.
4. Oakland – 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-type 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 – Shane Ray, DE, Missouri. The best pass rusher for the Redskins the last few years has been Brian Orakpo and he has both an injury history and is a free agent. Ray was a relentless pass rusher for the Tigers against the top left tackles the SEC could provide and he has the relentless engine Washington’s iffy pass rush needs to get consistently.
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 – Danny Shelton, DT, Washington. The Bears have a ton of holes on defense that need to be addressed. While players like safety Landon Collins and OLBs Dante Fowler and Vic Beasley will be on the radar, with the head coaching reins being handed to defensive-minded John Fox, the defense will be formed in his image – which always includes a strong defensive front, especially with the interior defenders. Shelton is the best tackle in the draft and would provide an immediate upgrade
8. Atlanta – Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida. Dan Quinn is going to try to 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 – Brandon Scherff, OT/G, Iowa. The Giants have invested a lot in recent years to build up the O-line, but they haven’t gotten the job done completely. Scherff is a standout athlete, but the question is that some scouts feel he could be a very good left tackle but could be a perennial Pro Bowl left guard because of his mauling style. With Eli Manning not getting any more mobile and a resurgent pass game with Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz coming back, Manning needs protection and Scherff is probably the safest pick to accomplish that.
10. St. Louis – Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford. The Rams have invested in the offensive line, including Greg Robinson high in the draft last year, but still need help. Peat has the attributes to be a bookend 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 and a dominating O-line could help get them over the hump and help them win games with their offense, not just their defense.
12. Cleveland – Kevin White, WR, West Virginia. With the news that Josh Gordon is gone for the 2015 season 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. 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 could 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 – 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 – Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma. This will likely be the most debated pick 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 – Vic Beasley, OLB/DE, Clemson. New coach Bill O’Brien brings a fresh set of eyes to the table, but the biggest question here is whether the Texans look to trade up to get Mariota or stay here and look to address defense or the offensive line. They have MVP J.J. Watt as the centerpiece of the defense and Beasley could give them a threat on the other side that could make things dicey for guys like Andrew Luck. With 44.5 tackles-for-loss the last two years, there’s no questioning how disruptive he is behind the line.
17. San Diego – T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh. 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 – La'el Collins, OT, LSU. Wide receiver is clearly the top need, but unless the Chiefs 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 are 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 (from Buffalo) – Malcom Brown, DT, Texas. 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 Brown would be a big help. When Phil Taylor went down last year, teams ran at will on them. Depth is needed to avoid a 2015 repeat. Cleveland finds a way to address both sides of the ball in the first round.
20. Philadelphia – 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. Peters 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 – Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon. 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 6-8, 290, Armstrong has a unique skill set and has both the speed and strength to make a difference. He remains a little raw, but he has all the tools to be a dominating player.
22. Pittsburgh – Landon Collins, S, Alabama. If Collins makes it this far down the draft, he won’t get to No. 23. When the Steelers invested the 16th pick of the 2003 draft on Troy Polamalu, there were a lot of critics who said he was taken too high. Twelve years later, if they can land Collins, they will land a potential replacement for the next 12 years. We’ll see you back for the 2027 draft to see who replaces him for the Steelers.
23. Detroit – Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State. Even if Ndamukong Suh returns in 2015 – franchised or signed long-term – there is still the need for a backup if Suh is back or a starter if he is gone. Nick Fairley has been up and down in his career and is also a free agent, so at a minimum they could use an athlete like Goldman for immediate depth and a part of their D-line rotation. If Suh doesn’t re-sign, defensive tackle becomes the top draft priority.
24. Arizona – 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 run 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 – 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 – Devin Funchess, 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 Funchess 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 – 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 – 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 on the nose on first and second downs. At 6-6, 330, Phillips gives 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’s last ride.
29. Indianapolis – 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; Gordon is a workhorse that can accomplish that.
30. Green Bay – Alvin "Bud" Dupree, OLB/DE, Kentucky. Last year, the Packers were forced by injuries and ineffectiveness to move Clay Matthews to inside linebacker. Not only did he play well there, he thrived, giving Green Bay’s sometimes suspect defense a lot more punch. With a versatile player like Dupree, the Packers could alternate coverages with Dupree on the outside and Matthews in the middle, both of them on opposite sides at linebacker or Dupree in a three-point stance with Matthews at his usual edge rusher spot. Injuries may have helped the Packers defense in the long run.
31. Seattle – 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 – 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.
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