Now that the official deadline day to declare for the draft has passed I thought I'd take a crack at my first (but certainly not last) 2015 NFL mock draft. Raptor and Invictus have offered up their takes already, which are well-thought out and quality work as they always are, and now I'm going to give you one where I'm sure you'll debate and mock me because that's what always happens when I offer up mock drafts.
I'm a firm believer in the "expect" the unexpected when it comes to mock drafts because it is always that way. If you read any comment section of any mock draft on the Internet you'll see how often fans "yell (bold face?)" at the author of pieces with "you're an idiot" ... "that'll never happen" ... "I stopped reading when X was mocked to Y", but the truth is why we actually love the draft is because it provides drama, suspense, and lots of questionable decisions that don't make sense. With that primer in mind, here's a too early mock draft.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
When 'Invictus', 'Rap' and I gave out our big boards mine was quite a bit different than the others. And there are two reasons for that, especially early on in the process -- I try very hard not to take into account a players a) character b) their injury history. And that's because I feel it's unfair to. I don't have access to much of the pertinent information that would be required for me to form an educated opinion on that so I'll just stick to what they do on the field, though I know the other things make a difference. Here's what I know about Jameis Winston (my No. 1 overall ranked player). He has the size, the tools, and the overall football acumen to succeed in the NFL. He very well may be an immature idiot who will turn teams off, but on the field he throws the ball with a lot of anticipation and on numerous occasions has thrown guys open -- that's not something a lot of young guys do and that's also something not even a lot of NFL quarterbacks do consistently. I think he'll be as good as he wants to be and he should be the number one pick provided a team can interview him, do their background checks, and still trust him.
2. Tennessee Titans - Leonard Williams, DL, USC
This pick comes down to this. I don't love the top of this class and think there aren't any sure things. If I had to bet my life savings (well not mine someone who has money) on a player that will be an All-Pro in their career it's Williams. He's a terrific player and this breakdown by Matt Waldman is great (and if you're not familiar with Waldman bookmark him. He's my favorite "Draft guy" out there -- does great work on technique for players). Basically, Waldman highlights how he thought Aaron Donald was the safest bet to be successful of any player in the draft last year, and that he likes Williams even more). Rumblings out there (or at least being reported to the media) is the Titans do really like Zach Mettenberger, so Mariota is not someone they will feel they HAVE to draft.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Brandon Scherff, OL, Iowa
This is dependent on Scherff having a great combine and showing that he does in fact have the athleticism to play left tackle in the NFL, otherwise the Jaguars will have to go with a better value pick because if teams think Scherff is a guard only he's not a lock for top 10. In that scenario they could take a pass rusher like Randy Gregory or Shane Ray even though they are stronger in those areas.
4. Oakland Raiders - Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
The Raiders don't have anyone you would consider a top-flight receiver and they already have a young developmental quarterback in Derek Carr. If Cooper can show well in the pre-draft process specifically that he has enough straight line speed teams will feel comfortable taking him this early.
5. Washington Redskins - Randy Gregory, Edge Rusher, Nebraska
Brian Orakpo was a good pick for the Redskins originally being selected with the 13th pick in the first round, but he has struggled with some injuries and his time looks like it might be coming to an end in Washington. Gregory has a ton of potential and should fit the Redskins defensive system regardless of who ends up being the new defensive coordinator.
6. New York Jets - Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
I was not huge on Mariota before his final two games in college, which I think would be fair to call uneven. He does have talent, though. He has pretty good touch, he has a quick release and he can run. I don't think he's as physically talented as Colin Kaepernick, but I do think he's a better quarterback prospect. Will he even be a top 10 quarterback? I don't think so, but he could be a quality starter and in this draft class and the fact that he plays quarterback will get him drafted in the top half of the first round.
7. Chicago Bears - Dante Fowler Jr, Florida
Defense was likely to be the pick before they hired John Fox as the coach and probably even more likely now. Fowler is a guy who is more scheme versatile than some of the other pass rushers because he's a little bigger and the Bears will likely run more 4-3 sets so I think Fowler fits better than Ray, though I think Ray is the superior player.
8. Atlanta Falcons - Shane Ray, Edge Rusher, Missouri
Ray might not be an ideal schematic fit, but the Falcons really, really need a pass rusher. If Dan Quinn gets this job (which is rumored) and he brings the Seattle style defense with him Ray would be a good fit for their LEO player -- similar to how they use Bruce Irvin, who has become a good player for the Seahawks even though he was a similar prospect to Ray. Daniel Jeremiah mocked them Amari Cooper here which was an interesting idea to maximize their strength, but I don't see them going WR here.
9. New York Giants - Danny Shelton, NT, Washington
At first glance this is a bit of an odd-ball pick. Shelton is a guy who isn't yet a consensus first-round pick everywhere and he's usually listed more in the 20-32 range, but I think people are sleeping on him and I can't figure out why. He's not Aaron Donald productive, but he did have 16.5 tackles for loss this year and nine sacks. Oh, and he's 6-foot-2, 340 pounds!
I think this guy is going to test out similarly to Dontari Poe, but he will have had much more production from a better football school. He's reminiscent of Green Bay Packers NT B.J. Raji in many ways and guys who are this big and can move as well as he can don't last long in the draft (Raji went ninth, Poe went 11th). On our big board he was my No. 11 overall ranked player, but if you remove quarterbacks and running backs (which the Giants aren't likely to be taking in the top 10 and Shawn Oakman, who returned to school) he'd be the seventh-best player in the draft ... that makes sense for the Giants at No. 9..
Tom Coughlin has been preaching "stop the run" his whole career, but the Giants weren't good at that this year, even with Johnathan Hankins. Shelton and Hankins inside would do wonders for this team in its ability to help stop the run and if they can return JPP they will have a lot of run-stopping beef on the line which is important in the NFC East like it always has been as you could argue that three of the five best running backs in the league reside in Dallas, Philadelphia, and Washington.
For the Giants it also makes sense for their needs. They just drafted Jay Bromley, but he's more of a pass rusher, and other than Hankins the cupboard isn't great. Mike Patterson and Markus Kuhn aren't guys who are helping you win games, but the Giants had to keep playing them this year. With Shelton in, over-achiever Kuhn is on his way out.
I know offensive line is all everyone preaches, but I think the offensive line is one player away from being a collection of good players. If the Giants can find ONE good right tackle in free agency they can theoretically upgrade four positions in one off-season. Will Beatty stays at left tackle, Justin Pugh moves to left guard (where he is an upgrade to Richburg at guard), Richburg upgrades center, Schwartz moves to his more natural right guard position, and Pugh is upgraded at right tackle. They could also accomplish this by adding a left guard and hoping Pugh bounces back (Beatty, new guard, Richburg, Schwartz, improved Pugh) And if you listened to Reese this off-season it doesn't sound like he's thrilled with the idea of adding a guard or right tackle with a top 10 draft pick, and I would agree.
10. St. Louis Rams - Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
White is a "draft-riser". He is big, fast, and competitive. I think this class, like last year, is stronger at wide receiver than other positions and it wouldn't surprise me if three guys went top 12 again this year. The Rams were rumored to be very interested in Beckham Jr. if he would have been available and they haven't been able to find a true No. 1 wide receiver there yet. I think the Rams are also a candidate to move up if Mariota slips out of the top four, which I think he will. That's really the one position the Rams are missing is quarterback.
11. Minnesota Vikings - Davante Parker, WR, Lousiville
The Vikings have quietly become one of the league's most talented teams, and that has a lot to do with the success they have had drafting. The really only weak unit for the Vikings is the offensive line, but again I'm not in love with their offensive line prospects here, though I think taking one is a definite possibility for the Vikings. The other two spots they could use are at defensive line and wide receiver where Cordarrelle Patterson has underperformed and Greg Jennings is past his prime. Charles Johnson stepped up towards the end of the year, but reuniting Parker with Bridgewater could help speed up his growth process which is why they go this direction.
12. Cleveland Browns - Eddie Goldman, DL, Florida State
Goldman is also another option for the Giants who fits a more traditional 4-3 alignment, but he goes to Cleveland here. Another guy who isn't necessarily viewed as a top 15 prospect, but like I've been writing the top of this class is nothing special to me.
13. New Orleans Saints - Andrus Peat, OL, Stanford
The Saints offensive line has gone down in quality the past few years after being one of the best in the league for a solid stretch. Peat is a guy who can come and play left tackle for the Saints, moving Terron Armstead to right tackle, or he can come play right tackle and bookend Armstead. Either way the Saints will improve a big area of weakness for them which will theoretically provide them with more consistent line play and thus a more consistent offensive output.
14. Miami Dolphins - Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
I think Marcus Peters is more talented, but he'll earn the character concern label and he won't be high on everyone's board. The Dolphins pick their favorite cornerback in the draft with a mid-first round pick which provides excellent positional value.
15. San Fran 49ers - Malcolm Brown, DL, Texas
Justin Smith can't play forever. Wide receiver is a bigger need because they lack young play-makers at the position, but with three of them already going off the board and Green-Beckham being a big question mark they go a different route.
16. Houston Texans - Ereck Flowers, OL, Miami
The Texans take an offensive linemen because the position they need most (quarterback) doesn't offer value here. Texans are a surprise team to move up and take a quarterback if Mariota or Winston slips (though the Texans tend to avoid character concerns like the plague, so probably just Mariota).
17. San Diego Chargers - T.J. Clemmings, OL, Pittsburgh
Even though the Chargers offense was solid this year that had more to do with the play of Rivers than anything else. The line struggled for much of the year. Clemmings is fine value here and fills a position of need.
18. Kansas City Chiefs - Dorial Green Beckham, WR, Oklahoma
The Chiefs didn't throw a touchdown to a wide receiver this year. In this day and age in the NFL that's unbelievable.
19. Cleveland Browns (via Buffalo) - Landon Collins, S, Alabama
This is just taking the best player available approach. Collins offers good positional value and is a player who should do well in the NFL. I think he's better than HaHa Clinton-Dix, who has had a nice season for the Packers.
20. Philadelphia Eagles - Bernard McKinney, LB, Mississippi State
Case Matthews saw a lot of action this year, which is not a good thing. McKinney is a thumper linebacker prospect who can run a bit. If he can prove he can run faster than people think (Luke Kuechly did this) he could be a top 15 lock because he has everything else people look for -- size, length, decent production.
21. Cincinnati Bengals - Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
The Bengals need another outside linebacker and Thompson is one of the few remaining true play-makers left, though there are questions if Thompson is a linebacker or running back in the NFL. With the Bengals he'd obviously be a linebacker because they are loaded at running back.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers - Arik Armstead, DL, Oregon
The Steelers age is starting to show on their defense so they will continue to look to add talent up front. Under Dick LeBeau it took time for players to integrate fully into their defensive system and though Cameron Hayward finally started to show his potential this year they are still lacking play-makers on that side of the ball. Armstead is reminiscent of a young Calais Campbell.
23. Detroit Lions - La'el Collins, OL, LSU
Cornerback is another position that makes sense, but the Lions played well on defense this year and the value is not great. I also think Melvin Gordon could be a surprise pick here if they think he is a feature back. Collins helps shore up their offensive line.
24. Arizona Cardinals - Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
The Cardinals are a very talented team, but they lack depth. Andre Ellington isn't built to handle the ball as much as they need him to so Gordon will take some pressure off him and hopefully with a healthy Carson Palmer they can make a deep post-season run. Also at this point Gordon is clearly the best player available (unless Gurley checks out well).
25. Carolina Panthers - Deforest Buckner, DE, Oregon
What will happen with Greg Hardy? That's a big question for the Panthers. They paid him a lot of money to do nothing this year, so if he's not back they need to replace his production. Buckner, to me, is a guy who could be THE draft riser during this process. Like Odell Beckham Jr./Donatri Poe/Tyson Alualu he might be a guy who goes from second round to top 12-ish area and if he gets in that range he starts to make sense for the Giants.
26. Baltimore Ravens - Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Will they pay Justin Forsett? I'm not sure, but when they found their running game this year it made a huge difference for their offense. If they don't pay Forsett, Gurley would make a lot of sense.
27. Dallas Cowboys - Mario Edwards, DL, Florida State
The Cowboys defense performed well this year, but it is still devoid of play-makers and they have some major cap problems coming up this off-season that will greatly influence which direction they end up taking in the draft.
28. Denver Broncos - Bud Dupree, Edge Rusher, Kentucky
Demarcus Ware wore down as the season wore on and they need to give Von Miller some help.
29. Indianapolis Colts - Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
Someone may take a chance on his character. He's very good prospect. Will it happen in the first round? We'll have to wait and see what kind of info leaks out about how put off teams are (Burfict for example ended out of the first round -- but then has become one of the best linebackers in the game ... does that help Peters?)
30. Green Bay Packers - Vic Beasley, Edge Rusher/LB, Clemson
They had to move Clay Matthews inside so they add Beasley, who can add the presence from the outside. If someone thinks Beasley can handle the NFL at his size he could go much, much higher.
31. New England Patriots - Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn
The Patriots are throwing the ball with smoke and mirrors. Brandon La'Fell is nothing special. When Gronkowski was hurt the offense looked pedestrian, and they need an insurance receiving threat.
32. Seattle Seahawks - Markus Golden, DL, Missouri
Adding more talent to that defense that keeps churning out Super Bowl appearances.