The NFL Combine and initial free agent frenzy are both over now, and we’re beginning to get a clearer, yet somehow even muckier, picture of what’s likely to take place on draft night. Yes, I usually prefer to contradict myself right out of the gate.
Here’s what we know: This draft is clearly centered around the two stud QBs (Mariota and Winston), the six (or so) evenly ranked speed edge rushers, and the depth at both the RB and WR positions. We know the names teams covet, but what we don’t know is the order in which they’ll go. Well…I mean duh, right? That’s always the primary question. It just seems a little tricker this year, though. For example, you could have any given team rank the following edge rushers as follows:
1) Dante Fowler
2) Shane Ray
3) Randy Gregory
4) Vic Beasley
But then the next team over could easily rank them in the exact opposite order:
1) Vic Beasley
2) Randy Gregory
3) Shane Ray
4) Dante Fowler
Then you also have wild cards such Arik Armstead, Eli Harold, and Bud Dupree to boot. Any one of those guys could leap frog the normal names we’ve been hearing for the past month or so at the top of the draft. And It’s the exact same for the WR positon. Amari Cooper, DaVante Parker, and Kevin White. Those are all big names, but not one clearly stands out from the other. Then you have a slew of bubble WRs who could go in any which order:
* Dorial Green-Beckham
* Jaelen Strong
* Devin Smith
* Breshad Perriman
* Sammie Coats
* Phillip Dorsett
* Devin Funchess
So while we know who the big names are and what each team’s needs are post free agency frenzy, we have a complete crapshoot when it comes to who goes where. Some say it’s because no one stands as elite, and all we have are a bunch of average guys who don’t stand out from the pack. I, on the other hand, have a slightly more positive spin on that. Yes, a lot of these guys aren’t standing out in terms of being head and shoulders above the rest…but while this may be a draft that doesn’t have many elite players, what you have are about 40 guys who all could legitimately be #15-#20 overall picks in most drafts. That’s not bad. Not bad at all.
Okay…almost time for the actual mock. But first, a primer:
- There will be cake at the end of each mock draft. Why? Because it’s a gimmick. I crave attention.
- Unless stated otherwise, I write my mocks with the intent of not only predicting where prospects will be generally ranked on NFL team draft boards come draft night, but I primarily base my picks on what teams will likely consider doing based on who’s in charge, team need, and past tendencies.
- That said, my own opinion also obviously comes into play given how teams put on poker faces this time of year. I form opinions based on my own NFL knowledge, thorough research from a magnitude of varying sources and insiders, personal game film analysis (which does NOT solely mean highlight mix tapes), local team articles that have keen insight and possibly inside scoops, etc.
- If nothing else, stick for some fake cake at the end.
And awaaaay we go!
Last Mock: #1 Overall to Tampa Bay (+/-0)
– Both Winston and Mariota further established themselves at the combine as top notch QB prospects, but Mariota came out a little ahead in my mind. He not only come out ahead in terms of humbleness and professionalism when contrasted to Winston’s clear arrogance and child like demeanor, but he also proved he is a far superior physical specimen than Winston. Go back and watch Winston run the 40 yard dash and try telling me that’s not the most awkward run you’ve ever seen from an, “athlete.” But despite my continual trepidation against one of the more immature players in this draft, all signs still point to him being the favorite to go number 1 overall. I’m just glad I’m not a Tampa Bay fan.
All of that said…I feel the need to actually regress a bit here. Do I question the kid’s maturity? Absolutely. I know middle schoolers who act more mature than Winston. But he is clearly a very smart, intelligent individual he does extremely well in school, and even more so in the film room. His football intelligence is literally off the chart, folks. And as a final topper, people who have been close to Winston throughout his career rave about him as a leader. Former NFL scout, Daniel Jeremiah, recently had a great podcast zeroing in on Winston. He went into detail about what former players and people around Winston had to say about him as a person and leader. The takeaway? Outstanding. You can find it on this page. It’s titled, “Jameis Winston 360.”
So ultimately, what we have here is a guy who’s maturity has to catch up to his smarts…and that won’t be a given. After all, King Solomon may be the wisest man who ever lived, but he still crashed and burned in the end on account of getting on account of throwing caution into the wind. That’s something Winston will need to overcome if he’s going to become an elite, franchise signal caller.
Last Mock: #5 Overall to Washington (+3)
– There was a brief period everyone believed Tennessee would perhaps let Zach Mettenberger a shot at the full time gig under center, myself included. Lately though? That sentiment seems to be less likely by the day. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt had been very vocal of late regarding his thoughts on drafting a franchise QB at the #2 overall pick. Now granted, we’re in full blown smokescreen season right now; coaches and GMs are going to manipulate the media, and therefore other teams, to their liking. But with Whisenhunt? It seems pretty genuine. But if it’s not? I think we’re looking at a real possibility that Tennessee trades down with the team that wants to move up for Mariota. After all, he’s either genuinely interested in Mariota, or he’s fishing for trades. I’m guessing it’s the former. If it’s the latter though? My money is on the Cleveland Browns making the jump using their two first round draft picks as trade bait.
Last Mock: #2 Overall to Tennessee (-1)
– When it comes to the combine, the primary thing you want to look for is to see if the athletic testings match the production and what you see on game film. If it matches up, great. When it not only matches up, but actually exceeds the fantastic production and what you saw on film…even better. Williams cemented his status as the top rated prospect in this draft at the combine, and Jacksonville is lucky the Buccs and Titans have such a huge need for a QB with the first two picks to let a guy like Williams fall right into their laps.
Last Mock: #9 Overall to the New York Giants (+5)
– Kevin White wasn’t the only WR to have a great combine. In fact, arguably every 1st round graded WR had a great showing (sans Devin Funchess…who I now have solidly cemented in the second round). We already knew Cooper isn’t the type of receiver who’s a burner, but his 4.42 time in the 40 yard dash was very, very respectable. For comparison, he tied with Ohio State WR Devin Smith, a player many consider to be the best deep ball threat in the draft.
When you watch Cooper play, his movements look fluid and effortless. He’s a crisp route runner who excels when he has the ball in his hands after the catch. There’s some concern about dropped passes, but no team is going to knock him down the board for that. It appears to be more of a mental issue rather than an inability to track the ball. (cough*Sammie Coats*cough)
As for him going to Oakland…giving the Raiders a WR is a pretty easy pick to make at this point after not landing any big names in free agency (Randall Cobb, as one example). There’s always a chance they could go for defense with new head coach Jack Del Rio in tow, but the need for a WR for 2nd year QB Derek Carr to throw to in combination with Cooper’s talent makes for a perfect storm here.
Last Mock: #8 Overall to the Atlanta Falcons (+3)
– Trading down could be a great option for anyone who might covet Kevin White or DaVante Parker…but for now, drafting arguably the best pass rusher of the bunch makes the most sense for a team who just lost former edge rusher, Brian Oraokpo, to Tennessee.
This is where things could start getting tricky in terms of projections. There are 4 (arguably up to 7) elite edge rushers in this draft. The order for each of them on team’s draft boards could look entirely different than the team picking next. The race is that close. Dante Fowler “appears” to be the guy who’s the favorite, though. Especially after Randy Gregory’s recent drug issues…
Last Mock: #11 Overall to the Minnesota Vikings (+5)
– In my previous mock, I predicted Vic Beasley would tear up the combine and become a virtual lock for a top 12 draft pick. Well, the combine is over now, and that’s precisely what he did. It’s good to see him get the recognition he deserves as a top prospect who could go as high as pick #3 at this point. He’s widely regarded as the one player who helped his stock the most at the combine.
I like him in New York since that’s all their defense really needs at this point to become elite again; a quality pass rusher or 2. They’ve done an extraordinary job this offseason adding Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie to their secondary, and they’re also as dominant up front as they’ve ever been. Now all they need is an OLB who can get to the QB, and that’s precisely Beasley’s expertise.
Under new head coach Todd Bowles…this defense could easily be the best in the league next season depending on what end up doing in the draft here.
Last Mock: #7 Overall to the Chicago Bears (+/-0)
– The Bears head into a new era with an entirely new coaching staff. After running a 4-3 defense for years, the they’ll transition into a pass rushing centric 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio. They’re on record as stating they’ll be honing in on athletic, fast twitched pass rushers in this draft…and there isn’t a better time to do since since this draft class is loaded with them.
I do have concerns with Shane Ray. He looks very, very quick and plays violently on tape…but his pro day was awful. None of the drills he went through supported the thought of him being the elite, fast twitched player we thought he was. Granted, he had just recovered from an injury, but it’s still a little disheartening. There’s also always been concern with his frame. It simply isn’t ideal for an NFL pass rusher. He’s not long limbed and doesn’t have that coveted smooth, long stride that you’d see in a 3-4 OLB like Randy Gregory. But with Gregory’s issues creating some pause from some NFL teams, Shane Ray gets the nod over him here. At the end of the day, what we see on film is one heck of a football player…and that’s going to be tough to pass on for any team in clear need of an edge rusher like Chicago is. They want a nitty, gritty, smash mouth football player like they used to have in the golden days? Shane Ray is that guy. His relentlessness is off the charts.
Last Mock: #12 Overall to Cleveland (+4)
– Dan Quinn, the former defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks and new head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, was clearly brought in to make this team a defensive powerhouse, something former head coach Mike Smith was never able to even come close to accomplishing. As a result, the Falcons will be the latest team to make the transition to a 3-4 defense. Looking at the Seattle pedigree, the Falcons will need speedy edge rushers and big, ballhawking corners and safeties in the secondary.
Yet I don’t have them taking any of those types of players. I don’t even have them going for defense. Instead, I have them taking WR Kevin White, who absolutely blew it out of the park at the Combine. WR isn’t a pressing need, but when a talent like Kevin White falls, it’s usually a bad idea to pass on it simply to fill a need. Rather, imagine the luxury they’ll have with Kevin White, Julio Jones, and Roddy White all running on the field together with Matt Ryan chucking them that pigskin. Julio Jones in single coverage? Ummm…yes please, says every Atlanta fan in existence.
Last Mock: #13 Overall to New Orleans (+4)
– Safety is an enormous need for the Giants, especially after losing Antre Roll to Chicago…and the offensive line is also in need of some new parts ‘n’ rearranging…but I think the thought of pairing last year’s breakout star, Odell Beckham Jr., with the length and natural ability of DaVante Parker could be too much for them to pass on. There’s still question as to when Victory Cruz will return after the terrible injury that tore his patellar tendon last season, and 4th year WR, Reuben Randle, has never panned out as the consistent, red zone threat they’ve been hoping for. It’s a situation where things could either be really good for the Giants at WR, or severely lacking if the chips fall incorrectly. Drafting Parker tilts the pendulum towards the former…and makes it stay there.
Last Mock: #3 Overall to Jacksonville (-7) … Cake Note: Blame me more for that drop…not him.
– Jeff Fisher has made it abundantly clear that he wants to win football games by having an elite defense with a power run game (Seattle Seahawks much, Fish’? Not that I blame you…). Their defense is certainly look like it will be a top 10 performer this upcoming season with additions like Nick Fairly joining Aaron Donald in the middle of a defensive front that looks to be the best in the entire NFL. If they want to continue with Fisher’s blueprint, now they’ll either need more help defensively in the backfield (Trae Waynes would be a great pick at CB), or get the running game churning by improving an offensive line that looks to be in complete shambles, especially after having to let LT Jake Long exit via free agency.
So my pick for them is Brandon Scherff. The kid is an absolute mauler, and I did my absolute best to gush about him in my previous mock draft. He isn’t the greatest pass protector, and there’s some question as to whether or not he’ll be a RT or G in the NFL…but the facts are the facts; he’s a hard nosed run blocker who will either be a good to possibly great RT, or an upper echelon guard in the NFL.
Last Mock: #6 Overall to New York [Jets] (-5)
– Well here we are…Randy Gregory. Once considered a #1 overall pick candidate, he’s fallen from grace quite a bit in most recent months. The first red flag was showing up at the combine severely underweight, quashing any hopes of him being a hand in the dirt, 4-3 DE in the league. The next red flag, and one that’s far more concerning, is that he just admitted to failing a drug test at the combine for marijuana. Given the recent history of guys like Josh Gordon and Justin Blackmon never being able to stay away from the nectar juice of joy, it’s a big deal.
Last Mock: #4 Overall to Oakland (-8)
– The Browns were awful against the run last season. How awful? Go into the middle of the road and let some cars fly right by you (Cake Note: Don’t do that…). That’s similar to what the DL in Cleveland allowed to RBs last season.
According to Football Outsiders, Cleveland ranked dead last in the league in rushing yards allowed up the middle last season. Adding Shelton would add some size to the middle to help stuff up that run more.
Last Mock: #20 Overall to Philadelphia (+7)
– The Saints are in need of a good corner, and Waynes has a shot of being a great one. He posted an absolutely fantastic 40 yard dash time at the combine, but he did fail to impress with fluid hip/lateral movement. Still, he’s by far the #1 corner in this draft class.
Last Mock: #31 Overall to Seattle (+17)
– The Dolphins are all in on Ryan Tannehill, and the offensive line appears to be one major piece away from it all coming together along the front wall (should Branden Albert actually stay healthy for a nice change from the norm’…). The primary reason I have Collins here over other linemen like T.J. Clemmins and Andrus Peat is becasue Collins is perhaps the most versatile lineman in this draft. He has the quickness and violent hands to play any position along the line, and that’s pretty keen for a team who sports the aforementioned Branden Albert. Should he get injured again, Collins would be a much better option at LT than 2nd year RT, Ja’WUan James, who struggled mightily when he was forced to takeover LT duties while Albert was out.
Last Mock: #15 Overall to San Francisco (+/-0)
– Armstead is a big, tantalizing prospect. His measureables are off the chart, but he failed to dominate athletically at the combine. When you combine that with his production at Oregon not being all that great, and the whispers of him not being a hard worker…it’s a cause for concern. So don’t be surprised if he falls to the mid-late 20s, but more realistically…he’ll go around this range to a team like San Francisco who no longer have Ray McDonald or Justin Smith on the ends.
Last Mock: #38 Overall to Washington (+22)
– The Texans have some glaring needs here, one of which is WR now that they’ve lost its franchise player, Andre Johnson, to Indianapolis. He’s been the face of the team for nearly the entirety of their existence (he was still in college during their inaugural year in 2002). Finding a star wideout to replace him could be something the franchise takes seriously. They do have a young wideout in DeAndre Hopkins…but he’s better off as a 1B option.
The possible solution? Breshad Perriman. He ran a 4.24 and a 4.27 in the 40 yard dash at his UCF pro day. At his size? That’s beyond remarkable. It’s faster than any receiver did at the combine this year. Or even last year, for that matter. His dropped passes are a glaring concern moving forward here…but his talent, size, and athleticism (aka the cliched “big 3″…but true, non the less) far outweigh the negatives.
That said, I’d feel a lot better about him if he had a good QB to work with. In Houston? That’s a Texas sized question mark right now.
Last Mock: #14 Overall to Miami (-3)
– We all know how historically awful the Chiefs’ WRs were last season. How you don’t even accidentally get one WR to snatch a TD is beyond me. Adding DG-B is a step in the right direction. If he stays out of trouble, he’s a top talent in this draft. At 6’6 with natural playmaking ability? That’s a real quality get for a team like KC.
Last Mock: #29 Overall to Indianapolis (+11)
– Much like the Raiders drafting a WR, it seems like a foregone conclusion that the Chargers will draft a RB now that Ryan Mathews bolted to Philly. Not that he was much good to begin with, though…
The primary question is whether they’d take Gurley or Gordon. As of now, Gurley appears to be the darling at RB, but that could change quickly if teams look at his rehabilitating knee and don’t like what they see.
Last Mock: #21 Overall to Cincinnati (+2)
– The Browns got a plug in the middle with their last pick, and this time around I have them going for a speedy, athletic freak out of Kentucky to fill the void at the outside pass rush now that Jabaal Sheard is with New England.
Dupree is pretty raw, but he’s that breed of quintessential freak athlete that could be molded into something special if he’s coached up right.
Last Mock: #16 Overall to Houston (-4)
– What a coup this would be for Chip Kelly. Safety is one of their stronger needs in the draft, and they have far and away the best one of them fall into their laps at pick #20. Eerily reminiscent of when last year’s top safety prospect from Alabama, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (best name of all time) also fell for no apparent reason.
Last Mock: #36 Overall to Jacksonville (+15)
– Geno Atkins is one of the best DTs in the league. But the man next to him, Domata Peko, is starting to take quite a few steps backwards as he gets up there in age. Replacing him with an enormous plug like Brown should help make Atkins an even greater player. After signing Michael Johnson in free agency, and now (potentially) adding Malcom Brown…it would be quite a drastic improvement. After lacking any semblance of a pass rush last season…that should all change in 2015.
Last Mock: #22 Overall to Pittsburgh (+/-0)
– Giving Pittsburgh a talented corner in Marcus Peters will help offset the sting they got from signing Cortez Allen to a large extension back in 2014 that they now regret…in spades. According to advanced metrics, they were 2nd to dead last in pass protection last season. It’s time to bring the Steelers secondary back to prominence; Peters is a great start. He has high end talent with low end character issues (dismissed from the University of Washington for character issues). The character issues will make him fall some, but the talent will be a steal for the team that ends up looking past those issues.
Last Mock: #10 Overall to St. Louis (-13)
– Wait…don’t the Lions need a replacement for both departed DTs Suh and Fairley? Indeed, it’s an enormous need for them. A quality OT is also a significant need, though. If this team is ever going to make it to the promised land…they’ll need QB Matthew Stafford to make that next big leap into becoming an elite QB. He’s at a pivotal point in his career where he’ll either go down as an average, stat stuffing QB and nothing more…or he’ll finally claim the glory many expected of him when he was drafted #1 overall six years ago. As such, protecting him on the edges helps the cause.
They do have the young, formerly un-drafted RT LaAdrian Waddle on roster…but he’ll possibly enter the 2015 season on the PUP list after tearing his ACL back in January. He was never meant to be a franchise OT to begin with, however.
Last Mock: #24 Overall to Arizona (+/-0)
– I fully expect this pick to be traded to the Minnesota Vikings in a deal revolving around Adrian Peterson. If that indeed takes place, there’s a great chance they’d use it on arguably the best RB in this class, Melvin Gordon. If not? The Cardinals would likely take Gordon here anyway. So either way, Gordon’s the man. The only caveat I have is that if the Vikings end up here and Shaq Thompson is still on the board…I could see him being a guy head coach Mike Zimmer would be highly interested in.
Last Mock: #19 Overall to Cleveland (-6)
– The Panthers did a terrible job of replacing offensive linemen Jordan Gross and Travelle Wharton last season. The outcome? They were statistically ranked as the 27th worst pass blocking in the NFL in 2014, and the now departed (not dead…) Byron Bell was rated as one of the absolute worst starting LTs in the entire league (even lower than Matt Kalil….yuck!). So what does this mean? Draft the best OT available. As long as Cam Newton excels, the Panthers excel…and it all begins up front.
Despite being rather raw at the position, I really like Clemmings and how smooth he is with his lateral movement and agility. My jaw literally dropped when I watched him do drills during the combine. This kid could be great if he gets coached up properly.
Last Mock #42 Overall to Atlanta (+16)
– Leading WR Torrey Smith is gone. After him, the cupboard looks pretty bare. For a team that payed QB Joe Flacco 100+ million? That’s not going to fly. The best available is arguably Jaelen Strong here. He has great size and a great vertical leap for a big armed QB like Flacco to throw the ball deep downfield to.
Last Mock: #39 Overall to Chicago (+12)
– A lot of fans will be clamoring for a RB like Tevin Smith, Ameer Abdullah, or Duke Johnson here at pick #28. The smart approach, though? Wait. No one else in this draft class is in the same league as Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon…both of whom are gone by this point. The type of caliber RB you’ll find here at the end of round 1 will also be available in the 3rd round…possibly even 4th (David Cobb, anyone?).
So I’m having Dallas go for the need and talent here in Eddie Goldman. Pick #27 actually might be a little to low for him, and DT is far and away their biggest need after letting 2014 bust signing, Henry Melton, exist via free agency. It’s a perfect match. The only thing fans have to be careful of here is if Jerry Jones starts yearning for Tony Romo’s eventual replacement like he did last year with Johnny Manziel. QB Brett Hundley could realistically go in this range.
Last Mock: #51 Overall to Houston (+23)
– New head coach, Gary Kubiak, builds his running game around a zone blocking scheme that requires athletic, quick moving tackles. D.J. Humphries not only qualifies, but some would even consider him to be a steal at the end of round 1 here. And of course…we all know the importance of protecting Manning during his twilight years. Taking Humphries flat out passes the reasonableness test.
It’s also worth noting that Denver’s current (projected) starting RT is Chris Clark…who scored a -6.7 on Pro Football Focus’ advanced metric system this past season.
Last Mock: #43 Overall to Cleveland (+14)
– The Colts set out to fill in the gaps during free agency, and they did just that. According to Walter Football, they filled 9 out of their top 11 needs heading into 2015. The only positions they haven’t addressed so far? C and RT. So fancy that a guy like Erving, considered to be the top C in this draft and also an excellent OT if need be, falls right into their laps. And I don’t need to tell everyone the importance of Andrew Luck having a center he can trust and rely on moving forward here.
Last Mock: #28 Overall to Denver (-2)
– Aaron Rodgers is at his best when he has a great receiver at TE. Ever since Michael Finely’s departure a couple of years back, they just haven’t been able to fill that void. So while a TE may not be their greatest need, taking a great pass catcher like Double X would certainly make that offense even more potent.
Last Mock: #59 Overall to Denver (+28)
– The Saints have been a mess on defense for years now. Since they filled their need for quality CBs by signing Brandon Browner from the Seahawks and drafting Trae Williams earlier in my mock draft, I like Kendricks here as a guy who could anchor the LB unit that’s been struggling. They recently traded for former Dolphin ILB, Dannell Ellerbe…but at the age of 30, he appears to just be a band-aid and not their long term solution.
Last Mock: #32 Overall to New Englad (+/-0)
– The Patriots won the Super Bowl this past season relying on a much different looking offense than the dominant one they had back when Randy Moss was roaming the field. Tom Brady has some quite excellent slot receivers to work with, but he could use another quality downfield threat again. Devin Smith is widely regarded as the best deep ball threat in this entire draft with his blazing speed and superior in-flight ball tracking ability.