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. Wide receiver could be a consideration, but the Jags have used four of the last five first-round picks on offense, including their top four picks last year. It’s time to help the defense.
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. This may be the ideal landing spot for a team looking to trade to get Marcus Mariota.
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 – Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama. The trade of Brandon Marshall surprised some because he still is an imposing wide receiver, despite losing his top spot to Alshon Jeffery. Cooper is simply too talented to pass up because he’s NFL-ready and the Bears haven’t adequately replaced Marshall in free agency. Despite needs on defense from front to back, Cooper gives the Bears the most bang for the buck at No. 7.
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. The announcement that he tested positive for marijuana at the Combine could hurt his stock, especially since it isn’t his first positive test. For now he stays here, but maybe not for long.
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 – DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville. If Marcus Mariota falls to this spot, he will likely go here. But if the plan in St. Louis is to give new QB Nick Foles weapons to have at his disposal, they need to upgrade at receiver. They’ve invested in wide receiver, but it has come with limited success. Parker can give them an immediate upgrade and the Rams need to focus on improving the offense to be a playoff contender.
11. Minnesota – Vic Beasley, OLB/DE, Clemson. There are several directions the Vikings could go in. Wide receiver is a possibility if one of the Big 3 falls to them. Brandon Scherff could be a possibility as well if he remains on the board. In our last mock we had cornerback Trae Waynes in this spot, but it’s clear that the Vikings are looking for impact players. The signing of Terence Newman isn’t a long-term fix. He’s a one-year project, so Waynes might still be in the mix for this pick. Last year coming into the draft, one of the Vikings’ most pressing needs was at linebacker and Anthony Barr exceeded expectations. The hope is that Beasley, an explosive pass rusher and space-eater in the open field, can be groomed to be Chad Greenway’s eventual replacement and give the Vikings a more aggressive defense to attack the quarterbacks of the NFC North.
12. Cleveland – Danny Shelton, DT, Washington. The most obvious need is wide receiver, but with the top WRs in the draft already selected the Browns address their next biggest need. Injuries crippled Cleveland’s interior defense last year and teams ran over them. Shelton is a stout run stopper who is an ideal fit in their 3-4 scheme. He can, at a minimum, provide depth. In the best-case scenario, he pushes for the starting job on Day One.
13. New Orleans – Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State. The Saints have plenty of needs on defense, but injuries destroyed the secondary last year. The free agent signing of Brandon Browner may give the Saints more options, but adding the top cornerback in the draft goes a long way to healing the ills that haunted the Saints last season. They have plenty of needs so this isn’t a slam dunk, but this is the proverbial “best athlete available” pick.
14. Miami – Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma. This isn’t a pick I’m overly high on because, if I was picking players, I would have a big red flag next to DGB’s name. But the Dolphins traded Mike Wallace and, while Kenny Stills is a solid player, neither he nor Jarvis Landry is the type of player that offers an imposing red zone target or a player able to win contested pass battles. At 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, Green-Beckham is a game-changer type. But can he succeed amid the temptations of South Beach? That’s not an easy question to answer.
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.
Houston – Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford. 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 – La'el Collins, OT, LSU. There is a lot of speculation that the Chargers are going to go with a running back because their current crop is admittedly weak, but this is a deep RB class where talent can be had in the second and third rounds. At the end of the day, whether it is protecting Philip Rivers or opening running lanes, the Chargers need to improve up front and Collins could end up being a bookend long after Rivers is gone and Ryan Mathews had faded from memory.
18. Kansas City – T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh. This pick looked like it could be a wide receiver, but the signing of Jeremy Maclin is a huge upgrade over underachieving Dwayne Bowe, so wide receiver gets moved to a back burner. The Chiefs were a mess up front and Clemmings can step in immediately at right tackle and give Alex Smith more protection than the 45 sacks and the numerous additional beatings he took last season.
19. Cleveland (from Buffalo) – Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State. It doesn’t matter if it’s Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel or Joe Montana, without adequate wide receiver help, it doesn’t matter who’s throwing the ball. Josh Gordon isn’t coming back this season (or perhaps ever). Strong gives them a big, physical wide receiver who can fight for balls deep down the field and give the Browns the big-time threat that will be missing with Gordon one again sidelined.
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 – Malcom Brown, DT, Texas. Geno Atkins used to be one of the league’s top defensive tackles, but coming off ACL surgery he looked very pedestrian last season, which is a big reason why the once-ferocious Bengals defense had a league-low 20 sacks last year. Brown is capable of collapsing the pocket and that helps create sack opportunities for others. If Atkins comes back with a vengeance, all the better for Cincy. If not, they have a viable option.
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. Ndamukong Suh is gone to Miami for the biggest free-agent contract of the season. Nick Fairley, who has been up and down in his career, is also out, singing with St. Louis. Defensive tackle is a priority, even with the acquisition of Haloti Ngata to replace Suh, and Goldman could be just the prescription needed.
24. Arizona – Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin. The Cardinals haven’t had an elite running back in their time in Arizona. They’ve got by with aging players like Emmitt Smith, Edgerrin James and Rashard Mendenhall. Andre Ellington brings big-play ability, but Gordon’s production is what Arizona needs if it is going to be the team that knocks Seattle off its perch atop the NFC West.
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 – Jalen Collins, CB, LSU. This one looks to come down to two positions – wide receiver or cornerback. The loss of Torrey Smith will hurt, but the biggest downfall the Ravens had last year was sloppy cornerback play. Injuries took a toll, but the Ravens haven’t been the 23rd-ranked pass defense in a long, long time and that needs to be upgraded. Collins gives them an immediate boost of energy from an SEC battled-tested corner.
27. Dallas – Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia. Allowing DeMarco Murray to leave may turn out to be a mistake because he was well-versed in the Dallas offense and anyone who knows Darren McFadden knows that he’s not a long-term solution. If not for a torn ACL last year, Gurley would have been the first running back off the board and still might be. He’s said to be recovering well, but the Cowboys will likely be patient with him. With the offensive line in front of him, when Gurley gets healthy he could be devastating.
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 – Eli Harold, OLB, Virginia. The Colts have been active in free agency, including addressing linebacker depth. Harold can bring a rush linebacker specialist to the table to fit Greg Manusky’s 3-4 defense. Harold can be the edge rusher the Colts need to improve enough to make a Super Bowl run.
30. Green Bay – Alvin 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 – Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest. The Patriots lost both Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner from last year’s team and, while they added some veteran free agents, they need some young talent to keep the future of the group promising. However, given Bill Belichick’s willingness to trade out of the back end of the first round, don’t be surprised if the Pats are wheeling and dealing … again.
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