Amari Cooper is projected to be one of the first players picked in the 2015 NFL draft. (Photo: John David Mercer — USA Today Sports)
BBD Editor: Dan Hope
The full order for the 2015 NFL Draft was set last week when the league announced the distribution of its 32 compensatory picks, based upon free agency net losses from the 2014 offseason. The Buffalo Bills were not awarded any additional picks, because they signed more free agents than they lost last offseason, but 14 other teams were given additional assets for the draft, which begins one month from Monday (April 30-May 2).
The New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs and Carolina Panthers each received third-round compensatory selections for next year’s draft. The end of Round 4 will feature compensatory picks for the San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens.
Those eight picks, along with the 128 standard picks in the first four rounds, have been included in our first mock draft of the season that extends into Day 3.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Nothing has changed in projections for the top pick in the draft. Although Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota remains an option, it appears that Winston is the clear-cut favorite for the Buccaneers’ No. 1 overall pick. Just last week, Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith said at the NFL Owners Meetings that he and the Buccaneers are “very comfortable with Jameis being the face of our franchise and the quarterback on our football team,” according to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com.
2. Tennessee Titans: Leonard Williams, DE, USC
Having indicated regularly that they like incumbent starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger but are also intrigued by Mariota, the Tennessee Titans are doing a nice job playing their first-round intentions close to the vest. Ultimately, their decision must come down to whether the Titans believe Mettenberger can be their franchise quarterback, and also whether they believe Mariota would be a significant upgrade. If they are confident in the former, or are not fully sold on the latter, they should go with the best player available strategy and select Williams.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida
This draft selection should be a decision made between Fowler and Clemson edge defender Vic Beasley, either who could assume the role of a premier pass-rusher and LEO defensive end in the Jaguars defense. Beasley is arguably the better fit, but Fowler has a complete skill set; truthfully, either one would be a great choice for Jacksonville.
4. Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
The Raiders have yet to make any moves of significance this offseason to add more weapons for their young quarterback, Derek Carr. That should lead them to a decision between Cooper, the most complete wide receiver in the draft class, and West Virginia’s Kevin White, who has a terrific combination of size, speed and ball skills. Either wideout would fill Oakland’s need for a No. 1, go-to receiver with big-play potential.
5. Washington Redskins: Vic Beasley, OLB/DE, Clemson
Washington is reportedly interested in trading down from the No. 5 overall pick. If the Redskins can get a big return from a team looking to trade up for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, they should absolutely make the move, as they have many needs and can use all the picks they can get. If they cannot trade down, however, and decide not to take Mariota for themselves, they should take whichever edge defender between Fowler and Beasley the Jaguars leave behind.
6. New York Jets: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
It’s probably not smart to read into the comments made by Jets owner Woody Johnson last week when he said that Geno Smith is “probably way ahead of [Mariota] at this point,” according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. Johnson’s not lying—Smith has been in the NFL for two years, unlike Mariota—but Smith also has not made enough progress in those seasons to be confidently viewed as a franchise quarterback. Johnson’s not going to tip the team’s hand a month before the draft, and if Mariota falls out of the top five, the Jets really should not pass upon him unless they received a huge offer to trade down.
7. Chicago Bears: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
Having already made a number of upgrades to their defense through free agency, the Bears appear to be setting themselves to draft a wide receiver—as predicted by NFL sources polled by Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson earlier this month—with the No. 7 overall pick to replace Brandon Marshall. White can be considered the best player available in this scenario, and would give the Bears a dynamite duo of big, strong and young wideouts in tandem with Alshon Jeffery.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Alvin Dupree, OLB/DE, Kentucky
With a strong consensus among draft analysts that the Falcons will draft a pass-rusher at the No. 8 overall pick, the most popular projections for Atlanta, with Fowler and Beasley expected to be off the board, have been Nebraska’s Randy Gregory and Missouri’s Shane Ray. Their draft stocks both appear to be falling, however—Gregory told NFL Media’s Kimberly Jones last week that he tested positive for marijuana at the combine, while Ray had a disappointing pro day one week earlier. Dupree is bigger and stronger than both of them, while even more explosive, and could be utilized as both an edge defender and outside linebacker in new coach Dan Quinn’s hybrid scheme.
9. New York Giants: Brandon Scherff, OT/G, Iowa
With Weston Richburg moving to center, the Giants are likely to be in the market for another guard this year. That is ultimately where Scherff, the best offensive lineman in this year’s draft class, is expected to play in the NFL. A left tackle at Iowa, Scherff’s combination of strength and forward explosiveness but limited length makes him best suited to play inside.
10. St. Louis Rams: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
This projection could change if the Rams re-sign Joseph Barksdale, but if they do not, they are going to need a new starter at the right tackle position. Should that be the case, don’t be surprised if they end up targeting Peat, a long offensive tackle with NFL bloodlines who is not a favorite of Internet draft analysts but is purported to be high on the boards of at least some NFL teams. The Rams showed no hesitancy in using a high draft pick on an offensive tackle project in Greg Robinson last year, and could do the same with Peat to have two young bookends on their line.
11. Minnesota Vikings: La’el Collins, OT/G, LSU
Collins projects as an ideal pick for the Vikings, who need a new left guard and could potentially need a replacement for Matt Kalil at left tackle. With experience playing both positions, Collins could be an immediate upgrade inside, then slide outside if Kalil fails to bounce back from a dismal 2014 season.
12. Cleveland Browns: Danny Shelton, NT, Washington
After finishing dead last in the NFL in rushing defense last season, one of the Browns’ biggest needs this offseason is to find a true gap-plugging nose tackle for the middle of their 3-4 defense. They could get that from Shelton, a 339-pound defensive lineman who was highly productive in his senior season at Washington.
13. New Orleans Saints: Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska
The Saints are going to have to weigh risk versus reward with this potential selection. Gregory is a spectacular athlete with huge upside as a pass-rushing edge defender for New Orleans’ hybrid defensive scheme, but he is a raw talent who must develop on the field and avoid further issues off the field. The safer pick here would be UCLA inside linebacker Eric Kendricks, but Gregory’s potential could still be tough to pass up.
14. Miami Dolphins: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
A scenario in which Parker falls to the No. 14 overall pick would be ideal for the Dolphins. The Dolphins have a need for size and playmaking ability at the wide receiver position after trading Mike Wallace and releasing Brian Hartline this offseason. Parker is a gifted athlete and physical player with a flair for making spectacular catches, and could form a strong trio of young talent at the position along with Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry.
15. San Francisco 49ers: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
Drafting UCLA inside linebacker Eric Kendricks has become a serious possibility for this pick after the retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, but the 49ers also need to reinforce at cornerback after losing Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox via free agency. Waynes, expected to be the first cornerback off the board after running a 4.31-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, would be considered good value at the No. 15 pick.
16. Houston Texans: Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
With Johnathan Joseph entering the final year of his contract and limited depth at the position, the Texans would be smart to invest in another cornerback early in this year’s draft. Peters has off-field baggage after being dismissed from Washington this past season, but is the most talented cornerback in the draft.
17. San Diego Chargers: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
After a spectacular redshirt junior season in which he ran for 2,587 yards and was a Heisman Trophy finalist, Gordon is a safe bet to break the drought on first-round running backs in this year’s draft. The Chargers “showed a ton of interest” in Gordon at his pro day, according to CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler, and signing him would give them a true feature back who is likely to become one of the NFL’s elite runners.
18. Kansas City Chiefs: Eric Kendricks, ILB, UCLA
Kendricks was not widely considered to be a top-20 pick a month or two ago, but with many teams in the middle of the draft still needing an inside linebacker, it now looks as though the Chiefs would be lucky to land him here. The most complete player at his position in this year’s draft, Kendricks is a rangy tackling machine who can make plays all over the field and adeptly drop back into coverage.
19. Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo Bills): Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Given the report by NFL Media’s Charley Casserly earlier this month that Cleveland offered the No. 19 overall pick in a trade proposal for Sam Bradford, it’s clear that the Browns is not content to go into the 2015 season with Johnny Manziel and Josh McCown as their quarterbacks. Given that, it’s very possible could end up using that No. 19 pick to draft a quarterback instead. Hundley is a project who might not be widely viewed as a first-round talent, but he has the physical tools to potentially develop into a franchise signal-caller.
20. Philadelphia Eagles: Landon Collins, SS, Alabama
Collins is the best safety in this year’s draft class, and a good fit to be the strong safety upgrade that the Eagles need in their secondary. Even with some additions at the cornerback position through free agency, the defensive backfield should remain a priority for Philadelphia in the draft, and Collins would be a solid choice at the 20th pick.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
The Bengals should be in the market for an upgrade over Domata Peko at the nose tackle position. Brown, one of the best players available in this scenario, can be that upgrade and also help bolster the interior pass-rush of a Cincinnati team that finished last in the NFL in sacks in 2014.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers: Shane Ray, OLB, Missouri
The Steelers appear to have significant interest in Ray—they dined with him prior to Missouri’s pro day, according to DraftInsider.net’s Tony Pauline—and although he was widely projected as a top-10 pick early, the late first round is really the range in which his draft stock belongs. He would be a very sensible choice for Pittsburgh, who needs a pass-rushing outside linebacker after the surprise retirement of Jason Worilds.
23. Detroit Lions: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
The Lions could go in a number of different directions with this pick, but the talent of Gurley could be tough to pass up with their lack of a feature running back on their roster. A top-10 talent who is only projected to be available at this point because of a torn ACL, Gurley is a risky pick at a low-value position, but he has a chance to truly be one of the NFL’s best running backs, assuming a full recovery from his injury. He recently met with Lions coach Jim Caldwell, general manager Martin Mayhew, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and running backs coach Curtis Modkins, according to ESPN’s Vaughn McClure and Michael Rothstein.
24. Arizona Cardinals: Eli Harold, OLB, Virginia
Arizona needs to some add some speed to its pass-rush at the outside linebacker position. Harold is an explosive athlete off the edge who would fit the bill.
25. Carolina Panthers: Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami (Florida)
The Panthers do not even have a serviceable starting option at the left tackle position, let alone a franchise player. They should be willing to take a chance on Flowers, a massive and powerful blocker with huge developmental upside.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
Steve Smith, who turns 36 in May, is the only wide receiver on the Baltimore Ravens’ roster with a significant history of production in the NFL. Needing an influx of young talent at the position, the Ravens should not pass up a chance to draft Strong, a big, physical and athletic wideout, if he is available at the No. 26 overall pick.
27. Dallas Cowboys: Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
After losing Bruce Carter and Justin Durant as unrestricted free agents, the Cowboys have a need at the outside linebacker position. Thompson is an athletic, versatile playmaker who is a great fit for the weakside linebacker role in Dallas’ Tampa 2 defense.
28. Denver Broncos: Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon
After moving Orlando Franklin to guard last season, the Broncos’ play at the right tackle position was so subpar that they had to move guard Louis Vasquez out to right tackle. With Franklin now with the San Diego Chargers, the Broncos need to move Vasquez back inside and find a real fixture at the right tackle position; Fisher is an athletic option who is a great fit for Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme.
29. Indianapolis Colts: Eric Rowe, CB/FS, Utah
After addressing many of their positions of need with free-agent acquisitions, one area the Colts still need to add talent is in their secondary. Rowe has a great combination of size and athleticism and has experience playing both cornerback and safety, both positions where the Colts need talent.
30. Green Bay Packers: Stephone Anthony, ILB, Clemson
According to Tony Pauline, the Packers are “very high” on Anthony, which would address a major need for an authoritative run-stopper at the inside linebacker position. As Anthony’s stock has been on the rise throughout the pre-draft season, Green Bay will need to draft him in Round 1 to secure his services.
31. New Orleans Saints (from Seattle Seahawks): Jordan Phillips, NT, Oklahoma
The Saints would probably like to see Shaq Thompson or Stephone Anthony fall to them at this selection, but with those linebackers off the board, the best move for the Saints might be to upgrade the middle of their defensive line by bringing a massive, powerful yet quick nose tackle in Phillips, who has as much upside as just about any prospect still on the board in this scenario.
32. New England Patriots: Eddie Goldman, NT, Florida State
After letting Vince Wilfork walk in free agency, it’s time for the New England Patriots to find a new nose tackle. Goldman has the combination of mass, strength and athleticism to fill that role more than adequately.