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 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. There is growing sentiment that Mariota may go here, either by trade or the Titans taking him, but we’re holding our ground … for now.
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 – Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama. There has been a lot of talk that the Raiders will go with the more explosive wide receiver Kevin White of West Virginia. But, when it comes down it, if Derek Carr is going to improve, he needs more well-rounded wide receivers. The signing of Michael Crabtree gives him a deep threat, but he’s only on a one-year deal. That will give Cooper time to adjust and prepare to be the main man in 2016.
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. If the Redskins go this route, the biggest question will be who do they like best in this role – Ray, Clemson’s Vic Beasley or Nebraska’s Randy Gregory?
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 – Kevin White, WR, West Virginia. The Bears made a big move by getting rid of Brandon Marshall, but he was starting to out-earn his production. In White, they get a blazing speedster who can start out as the No. 2 guy to Alshon Jeffery and eventually be another go-to guy with a more explosive skill set. We still see a risk on a one-year phenom with speed, but a lot of people are sold on White. There is also speculation that the Bears may look to drop back a half-dozen spots and take RB Todd Gurley, a player who fits more in the style of offense John Fox prefers than Matt Forte in a contract year.
8. Atlanta – Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson. The Falcons need a lot of help on defense and getting pressure on the quarterback has been sorely lacking in recent years. If the Falcons are going to return to the top, they have the core weapons on offense. What they need now is to shore up a defense that struggled to pressure opposing QBs, something you can’t have in a division that will have two No. 1 overall picks and Drew Brees as the other three quarterbacks in the NFC South.
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 – Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State. The intel is that the Vikings are targeting in on two players – DeVante Parker and Waynes. In this scenario, one of them is gone, so the decision becomes easier. Terence Newman isn’t a long-term solution and both Josh Robinson and Captain Munnerlyn will be playing for their NFL futures, whether it’s with the Vikings or not. Waynes would give Mike Zimmer the potential for two elite corners, which, given the amount of receiver talent in the NFC North, will be a must.
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 – Randy Gregory, OLB/DE, Nebraska. The Saints have struggled the last couple of the seasons and the primary reason has been the lack of defensive pressure and depth issues at all three levels. Gregory is a legitimate top-10 talent who falls to this spot because he tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Scouting Combine. The Saints can’t afford to draft choirboys because their stock is falling and the need to add impact players to get back into contention for a division title. Gregory could be a big step in that direction.
14. Miami – Breshad Perriman, WR, Central Florida. A fast-rising prospect who wowed scouts at his Pro Day, Perriman has an intriguing combination of size, speed and explosiveness off the line. With the changing of the guard being almost complete at the position with the team parting ways with three of its top wide receivers from last year and replacing them, having a big man who can stretch a defense is a must if Ryan Tannehill is going to continue to improve as a quarterback.
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 – Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin. There is still considerable debate as to who is going to be the running back to break the drought of first-rounders in the draft – Gordon or Todd Gurley. If not for Gurley’s injury, he would likely be that guy, but Gordon has the kind of burst and quick acceleration the Chargers need in their backfield now that Ryan Mathews has finally limped out of town. In the end, they may opt for Gurley, but it’s looking more apparent that the Chargers are going to target a running back in the draft and why not take one when all of them remain on the board?
18. Kansas City – La'el Collins, OT, LSU. 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 Collins 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 – Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut. 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. Jones is one of the fastest rising prospects after running an absurd 40 times to go along with an incredible showing at the Combine. His ascent has been quick because he played in only seven games last year, but he has spent the last two months with his stock rising as fast as anyone in the draft. 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. 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 – Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia. The Cardinals have a history of having running backs at the end of their careers – from Emmitt Smith to Edgerrin James to Rashard Mendenhall. Gurley is coming off a significant knee injury, so he will likely be brought along slowly, but the Cardinals have waited a long time to have a young franchise running back and you can’t be one-dimensional in a division with as strong as the defenses are in the NFC West. Gurley has the ability to be a Pro Bowl back for years to come and is just what the Arizona offense needs as it continues to ascend.
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 – Marcus Peters, CB, Washington. This looks like it will come down to one of two positions – cornerback or wide receiver. What killed the Ravens last year was the abysmal play of their cornerbacks. They were routinely lit up. Baltimore may be the perfect landing spot for Peters, who has a huge red flag associated with him because he was thrown off the Huskies squad in November after consistently clashing with coaches and earning the tag of a guy who is extremely resistant to authority. The Ravens have a veteran core and a strong alumni group, including Ray Lewis, to set him straight. Based purely on talent, he’s a steal at this spot, but he does come with the risk/reward tag.
27. Dallas – Jalen Collins, CB, LSU. If one of the top two running backs is still on the board, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if that’s the direction they go. But, with both Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon gone, they address their most glaring weakness. The Cowboys have one stud corner in Orlando Scandrick, but it goes downhill quickly from there. Collins would compete immediately for a starting spot and could give the Cowboys a pair of corners that could be dominant in the coming years.
28. Denver – T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh. The Peyton Manning era is likely entering its final season and the top priority has to be protecting him, especially on the right side of the offensive line. Clemmings can step in immediately and be a starter on the right side. A lot of things are going to change in the next 12-24 months as the Broncos move on without Manning, but until then it’s a Super Bowl-or-bust mentality and the Broncos need to do everything they can to improve at key spots and right tackle is at the top of that short list.
29. Indianapolis – Alvin Dupree, OLB/DE Kentucky. A lot of analysts see Dupree going higher than this, but the needs and the talents of the Class of 2015 have a couple of players sliding. He would be a glove fit for a Colts team that is gearing up for a Super Bowl run and the biggest detriment to that is a defense that is viewed as soft and a finesse defense rather than a pack of angry dogs. Dupree can bring the heat from the outside and that is one of the things that has been missing from the Colts in recent years. He could be the missing piece to the Super Bowl puzzle.
30. Green Bay – Eli Harold, OLB, Virginia. The Packers had so much trouble at linebacker last year that they had to move Clay Matthews inside for much of the season. He played so well as an inside linebacker that the Packers might consider keeping him there. If they don’t, the combination of Matthews and Harold could be a couple of edge terrorists that could keep the Packers atop the NFC North yet again.
31. New Orleans (from Seattle) – Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma. The Saints had a lot of issues on defense last year, but their calling card has always been offense. With Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills both traded away and Marques Colston not getting any younger, Drew Brees needs more weapons to keep the offense clicking. DGB might be a tough call here, especially seeing as we gave the Saints Randy Gregory, another problem child, with their first pick of the round. But when you look strictly at the potential production Green-Beckham can bring to the table, his upside is so high that, if harnessed by Sean Payton and his staff, he could be a star at the NFL level. He’s the biggest boom/bust prospect of the draft and, given the help the Saints need on both sides of the ball, they need to swing for the fences on their two first-round picks.
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.
SCOUT.COM MOCK DRAFT
SCOUT.COM DRAFT RANKINGS
Position: QB RB FB WR TE OT OG C DT DE OLB MLB S CB K P LS