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 – Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon. We haven’t had Mariota in this spot in any of our previous mocks because he is going to be a longer-term project to be NFL-ready in any system other than Chip Kelly’s than most college QBs coming out. But there is such a growing groundswell that teams are looking to move into this spot – the Chargers, Eagles, Jets as solid contenders and rumbles about Cleveland, St. Louis and even Chicago having an interest. With Jake Locker calling it quits, this could easily be a pick the Titans make for themselves, but this is the one rare pick of the draft that we’re assigning to a player, not a team. We’re more convinced Mariota will go No. 2, but who ends up with him is another story.
3. Jacksonville – Leonard Williams, DT/DE, USC. We’ve had edge rusher Dante Fowler locked and loaded in this position (so has he from the sound of things), so this could create a dilemma. If the Jags truly believe Fowler is their guy, they may stick to the program and make him the pick. But Williams is the best defensive player in the draft and Jacksonville has wasted too many first-round picks on offense, so shoring up the defense is a must and Williams is a great starting point for that.
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 Redskins – Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida. The Redskins had an anemic pass rush last year and lost their top pass rusher (Brian Orakpo) in free agency. Fowler is viewed by many as the best edge rusher in the draft and would immediately give the Redskins an upgrade at their most glaring weakness from 2014. Any player who enjoys success against the top offensive linemen the SEC has to offer gets the attention of a lot coaches and scouts, and Washington will have a hard time passing on him.
6. New York Jets – Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson. The Jets have put together a pretty solid defense despite having a revolving door of offensive skill-position players. But the one facet that has been missing for several years is a dominant edge rusher. With a new coaching staff in place and a hybrid 3-4 defense being installed with the existing talent, there is a need for a designated edge rusher that was absent during the Rex Ryan administration. Beasley is an elite athlete who can make plays and, while Marcus Mariota would likely be the pick if he was still on the board, the Jets take the best player available for their new coaching staff.
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 – Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska. Gregory is going to be one of the more controversial picks of the draft because he’s going to be entering the draft with one strike already against him in the league’s substance abuse program after testing positive multiple times for marijuana at both Nebraska and at the Combine. The Falcons have struggled badly on defense the last couple years and need to get someone who can make a difference. He’s long and rangy at 6-5, but weighing in at just 235 might be as big a draft obstacle for him as his propensity for smoking pot. He could easily fall 10 or more spots if teams have a concern about his off-field issues, but his talent is something the Falcons need if they’re going to climb back into respectability in the mediocre 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 Vikings have several needs that, if they stay in this spot, could have elite players available to them. If Brandon Scherff or DeVante Parker are also available, it could cause for some considerable debate in the Vikings war room. Any of the three would likely step in and be a Day 1 starter, but for Mike Zimmer’s defense to run at peak efficiency, one of the predicates is to have two big, physical corners that can stick to receivers in press man coverage. They already have one in Xavier Rhodes and Waynes would give them a dynamic duo to wage battle with Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler twice a year. The Vikings still have the potential of trading down because the No. 11 pick is coveted for its value in having a lesser fifth-year option on rookies, but, if they stay, Waynes would be a solid addition to a Vikings defense that has transformed from one of the worst in the league to one of the most improved in one season.
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 – Alvin Dupree, OLB/DE, Kentucky. The Saints need more edge-rush help and Dupree is a player that has been rising on draft boards following an outstanding Combine performance and a solid pro day. He is a player who could fit right in with a primary need of the Saints defense and give New Orleans more flexibility to address other needs when the draft comes back to them with the 31st pick – obtained in the Jimmy Graham trade.
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.
16. 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 – Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia. If not for a torn ACL suffered last November, Gurley may have been a top-10 pick because he is that talented. But a player with a torn ACL, especially at the diminishing value that running backs seem to have these days, is always a risk/reward type of pick. The Chargers, however, have struggled to consistently get a running game established, and with Ryan Mathews leaving via free agency there is as big a need here as any position on the team. Thanks to the devaluation of running backs, Gurley drops to the Chargers and they hope to have the next LaDainian Tomlinson on their hands.
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 – Landon Collins, S, Alabama. The only thing certain about the Eagles is that nothing is certain. There are convoluted trade scenarios being thrown out that the Eagles will get in a three-way deal to move up to the second pick to draft Marcus Mariota, but it’s hard to project such mad-scientist type of trade. If the Eagles stay put, they’re going to look to improve the secondary, which prevented them from making the playoffs last season. Collins is the best safety in this year’s draft and would be an immediate impact player in a defense in need of shoring up.
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 – Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut. Jones is a fast-rising prospect who missed a lot of last season due to injury, but lit up the Combine and had a ridiculously impressive Pro Day workout. The Steelers have significant need at cornerback because they were routinely burned last year, and Pittsburgh isn’t the kind of organization that spends much money in free agency. They build through the draft, and if they’re going to remedy the problem in the secondary it starts this year with this pick.
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 – Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin. The Cardinals haven’t had an elite young running back since they were in St. Louis. For years they have got by with aging veterans like Emmitt Smith, Edgerrin James and Rashard Mendenhall. It’s been long overdue that they add an elite running back to their offense and Gordon was a production machine at Wisconsin. The Cardinals aren’t far away from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender, but have a relatively glaring weakness at running back. If they don’t trade this pick for Adrian Peterson, they use it on a younger, less expensive alternative to making their offense more balanced.
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 – Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest. If one of the top two running backs remains on the board, the Cowboys will give a long, hard look at either Gurley or Gordon, but their biggest need to take the next step to get to a Super Bowl is improving the cornerback position. Johnson could step in right away and line up opposite Orlando Scandrick. The Cowboys aren’t far away from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender and landing a cornerback may be just as vital to taking that next step as adding a running back.
28. Denver – D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida. 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. Humphries 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. The Broncos may consider center Cameron Erving, but it appears as though the offensive line is the direction they will be heading with this pick.
29. Indianapolis – Shane Ray, DE, Missouri. There have been a lot of questions about Ray that have come together at the same time – being a ’tweener in NFL terms, having a toe injury discovered during medical checks that could require surgery and shorten his season, and being cited for marijuana possession the week of the draft. One of them could drop his stock. Three of them have seen him go from the No. 5 pick in our earlier mocks to No. 13 and now all the way to No. 29. There comes a time in every draft where value evens out with risk and this appears to be that spot, even though some Colts fans may question why they’re the team that finally pulls the trigger and takes him
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 – Nelson Agholor, WR, USC. There wouldn’t be anyone who would blame the Saints if they went defense with this pick (and many picks to come during the next two days of the draft), but the loss of Jimmy Graham is difficult to measure because of what he meant to Drew Brees and the offense. Minnesota TE Maxx Williams may get some consideration here, but with Kenny Stills gone and Marques Colston not getting any younger, the Saints need to bolster the weaponry at Brees’ disposal. Agholor has been a prospect on the rise in recent weeks and he comes from an NFL-ready offense that will allow him to step in immediately and contribute – something the Saints will need if intend to return to the top of the NFC South.
32. New England – Laken Tomlinson, G, Duke. Anyone who knows Bill Belichick can anticipate that he will trade out of this spot. It’s something he does when other teams come calling. There are bigger names remaining on the board and players that could help out the Patriots with an immediate need, but guard is a position that can’t be ignored. Protecting Tom Brady at this stage of his career in paramount and, despite winning the Super Bowl, the guard play wasn’t up to snuff most of the season. This pick could go in several directions or simply be traded away, because it’s hard to figure out what the Patriots view as needs because they so routinely change the cast of characters on the roster.
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