OVERVIEW: With free agency now in full force, team needs have changed considerably for many teams. In the third incarnation of our 2015 mock draft, the theme has remained largely the same – the premium is on the two elite quarterbacks and the pass rushers capable of stopping them. With the recent trade to acquire Mike Wallace, it won’t preclude the Vikings from taking a wide receiver in the first round – a task made much more difficult if, as we expect, Amari Cooper is still available – but we have that acquisition swaying their move. The landscape continues to change and the differences at the top are starting to take shape.
1. Tampa Bay – Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. There are some 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. Seeing as the Bucs released Josh McCown, unless they suddenly love Mike Glennon, it’s either Winston or Marcus Mariota here.
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 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 – Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida. The Jaguars have been busy the last several years in free agency, acquiring veteran defensive linemen that have filled roles but aren’t dominating pass rushers. After a strong Combine performance, Fowler has continued to climb up draft boards – a climb that finally stops here with the Jags.
4. Oakland – Kevin White, WR, West Virginia. While I personally don’t have White as the top WR prospect (that would be Amari Cooper), after blowing up at the Combine, he got the attention of the lot of teams. He almost seems like a glove fit for Oakland, which has a history of drafting Combine workout warriors in the first round. White looked very strong in drills and ran a 4.35 40, which should be enough to get the Raiders to bite.
5. Washington – Shane Ray, DE, Missouri. The best pass rusher for the Redskins the last few years has been Brian Orakpo and he is now in Tennessee. 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 – Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska. 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. In our last mock, we had Gregory at No. 3 going to Jacksonville. He may still go No. 3, but whoever remains of the top pass rushers – Gregory, Dante Fowler or Shane Ray – won’t get by Atlanta in this spot.
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. If Marcus Mariota or Amari Cooper is still on the board, teams will be looking to trade up into this spot, which could potentially provide the Rams with another draft-day embarrassment of riches like the trade for Robert Griffin III gave them.
11. Minnesota – Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State. I’ve maintained all along that I’m not convinced the Vikings are going to stay in this spot. After trading up into the first round each of the last three years, this may be the year that the Vikings trade down. The choice if they stay will likely come down to the best player at a position, which I believe are Waynes at cornerback or Amari Cooper at wide receiver. The acquisition of Mike Wallace likely reduces the need for using a first-round pick on a wide receiver, but doesn’t eliminate it. If Scherff drops, he could be a candidate, as could Vic Beasley, but with potential of lining up Xavier Rhodes on one side of the secondary and Waynes on the other is a frightening thought for a Vikings defense that made great strides last year.
12. Cleveland – Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama. The Browns would be giddy if Cooper falls to this spot after consistently being projected as a top-10 prospect from last September. The Browns are about ready to just give up on Josh Gordon and, whether he comes or not, Cleveland needs a go-to receiver and Cooper is the most NFL-ready wideout in the draft.
13. New Orleans – Vic Beasley, OLB/DE, Clemson. The Saints made a huge splash in trading Jimmy Graham to Seattle and have been making moves on both sides of the ball. While DeVante Parker remains a possibility, the clear path of this offseason has been to finally address a defense that has struggled badly in recent years since winning the Super Bowl. If the Saints are to contend, they need playmakers on defense. If Beasley was a couple inches taller with longer arms, he would be gone by this point, but he has the talent to be an edge rusher from the outside and handle backs and tight ends in coverage.
14. Miami – DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville. The Dolphins got rid of Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson, leaving a significant void at the wide receiver position, despite the acquisition of Kenny Stills. Parker, a college teammate of Teddy Bridgewater, has all the necessary skills to be an immediate impact maker and give Ryan Tannehill a new No. 1 target to complement Stills, Jarvis Landry and TE Jordan Cameron.
15. San Francisco – Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon. If one of the top three wide receiver prospects drops to here, the Niners will likely jump on him. But with the projection being that all three will be gone, San Francisco grabs the most dominating defensive lineman remaining on the board. While still a raw prospect, he has an enormous upside given his size and athleticism and the Niners defense took a step backward last season that got more pronounced when Patrick Willis shocked many with his retirement announcement earlier this month.
16. Houston – La’el Collins, OT, LSU. The immediate thought is that the Texans will replace Andre Johnson with another big, physical receiver, but the bread and butter of Houston’s offense is a strong run game that is predicated by solid play on the offensive line and depth at the line positions. While far from a lock at this pick, the Texans go with what has made them a solid franchise over the years – production from their players in the trenches.
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 – Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma. He is immensely talented but has a laundry list of off-field red flags that got him bounced from both Missouri and Oklahoma. The Chiefs finally got rid of Dwayne Bowe, who had been stealing money from them for years and replaced him with Jeremy Maclin. But that doesn’t mean the job is settled. The Chiefs had the worst wide receivers in the NFL last year and need to upgrade at the position more than simply trading out Maclin for Bowe. Additional upgrades are needed and, at this point, DGB is a risk worthy rolling the dice on.
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. Considering how crazy Chip Kelly has been since taking over – getting rid of DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles in less than 12 months, anything is possible at the Philly insane asylum.
21. Cincinnati – Eli Harold, OLB, Virginia. The Bengals defense took a huge step backward last year after Mike Zimmer left and went from one of the league’s best defenses to a middle-of-the-road unit that needs upgrading. Harold is a rising prospect who remains raw but has such a high upside that, with the right coaching, he could become an impact player almost from Day 1.
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. Running back remains a possibility because they will start coming off the board soon, but the Cardinals are close to being a dominating defense and need to keep building it up.
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 – Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State. The Ravens lost Torrey Smith in free agency and Steve Smith is nearing the end of the line as an elite NFL receiver. If the Ravens are to succeed, they need to increase the production from the wide receiver position and Strong is an excellent combination of size and speed that can create matchup problems. Joe Flacco needs more weapons and Strong is nice start to accomplishing that.
27. Dallas – Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin. The Cowboys refused to spend top dollar to keep DeMarco Murray, but replacing him with another D.M. running back (oft-injured Darren McFadden) clearly isn’t the answer. There is still a lot of speculation that one of the reasons why the Cowboys didn’t make an effort to re-sign Murray was because they have designs on Adrian Peterson. If that doesn’t happen, drafting a workhorse like Gordon could help the Cowboys offense not miss a beat.
28. Denver – Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota. The loss of Julius Thomas to a big payday in Jacksonville has left a void that a veteran nearing the end of the line in Owen Daniels can’t cure. Williams is a downfield threat whose stock is on the rise, moving him from being a second-round prospect into the first round. While not a guarantee to come off the board in Round 1, his arrow is pointing in the right direction.
29. Indianapolis – Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington. The Colts have made a bunch of solid moves in free agency, improving their running game, adding a motivated Andre Johnson and improving the defensive line. Their defense has been labeled as being soft and they need more aggressive hitters. He is smaller than most NFL linebackers, but he has great instincts and will immediately help upgrade the defense.
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. New Orleans (from Seattle) – Breshad Perriman, WR, Central Florida. Perhaps a bit of a reach, he is a big, powerful receiver who can create mismatches in the red zone. Drew Brees is going to need more red zone weapons, given the void that was left by trading Jimmy Graham, and Perriman is an option worth exploring.
32. New England Patriots – Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia. Bill Belichick rarely uses a high draft pick on running backs. But few running backs have the skill set that Gurley can immediately bring to the table. He tore an ACL last year and has a timetable for returning that won’t be until mid-August. Without the injury, he would have broken the streak of running back not going in the top 20 of the draft. Belichick plays the long game and Gurley might not see action until midseason, but when he unleashes him, he will have a star for years to come.
Viking Update mock draft, version 3.0
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