2015 NFL Mock Draft: Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota go 1-2
With Round 1 of the 2015 NFL Draft on Thursday, April 30th in Chicago, the countdown is down to days instead of weeks. This update of my 2015 NFL Mock Draft includes all seven rounds and I'll make at least one final update prior to the actual draft.
[Follow @EDSFootball for updates.]
In addition, we've taken a way-too-early look ahead to next year's draft with our 2016 NFL Mock Draft.
With that said, here is my projection for the 2015 NFL Draft:
When the Bucs released Josh McCown earlier this offseason, they gave us clear indication that this pick will be a quarterback. Some may debate whether it should be Winston or Oregon's Marcus Mariota, the two previous Heisman Trophy recipients, but Winston has been the odds-on favorite for months and I still expect him to be the selection here.
[Related: Sportsbook.ag has set the odds for Winston being selected first overall at -700. In other words, you'd have to wager $7 to win $1.]
Although Winston's increase in interceptions were an issue last year, he has the strong arm, accuracy, football intelligence and on-the-field leadership skills to develop into a franchise-changing quarterback. NFL Network's Steve Mariucci referred to Winston "the most astute X's and O's guy that he's ever put on the board."
With Winston, of course, the biggest concern relates to off-the-field issues -- and those concerns are amplified given the nature of the position and this draft slot. Assuming the Bucs feel comfortable with Winston as the face of their franchise, he is the selection here.
Do the Titans believe in Zach Mettenberger enough to bypass Mariota here? The Tennessean's David Climer wrote that Mettenberger will be the team's quarterback in 2015 and that the Titans view Mettenberger as a "poor team’s" Tom Brady. Meanwhile, NFL Films' Greg Cosell recently said that he preferred Mettenberger over both Winston and Mariota.
For now, I will continue to slot Mariota here with Titans keeping this pick, but a number of teams, most notably Cleveland, Philadelphia, San Diego or St. Louis, could be highly interested in trading up with the Titans.
Over the course of his collegiate career, Mariota threw for 10,796 yards, rushed for 2,237 yards and accounted for 136 touchdowns -- 105 passing, 29 rushing and two receiving -- with only 14 interceptions. There will naturally be some questions about how well and quickly Mariota will transition from Oregon's spread offense to a pro-style system, but Mariota possesses good size, a strong arm to stretch the field and difference-making athleticism for the position in addition to impeccable character off the field.
[Related: Winston and Mariota could potentially face each other as the Bucs host the Titans in Week 1. View full 2015 NFL schedule.]
Recently, Florida's Dante Fowler said that he would be "shocked" if the Jags didn't select him. In a scenario where the top-two picks are quarterbacks and Williams is still available, however, I think the Jags go with Williams. The top overall prospect on my 2015 NFL Draft Big Board, Williams is a scheme-diverse defensive lineman that has the ability to win in a variety of ways at multiple spots along the defensive line. As an example, half of his seven sacks this season came from lining up on the edge and the other half came from lining up as a defensive tackle. His ability and versatility has generated some comparisons to J.J. Watt and Richard Seymour and the sky is the limit for this 20-year-old defensive lineman.
The Raiders have found their quarterback of the future with Derek Carr, last year's second-round pick, but one of their focal points in the draft should be to improve the weapons around Carr. As much as the Raiders front office attempted to bolster their group of pass catchers in free agency, it was a big swing and miss for Oakland's front office.
Fortunately for the Raiders, they will have their choice of two elite wide receiver prospects in Cooper and West Virginia's Kevin White based on how the top-three picks in this mock have played out. It's likely a win-win choice as I expect both prospects to have enormously successful careers. As Sean Beazley noted in our collaborative mock draft, the Raiders have had their fair share of misses on high first-round picks and may prioritize the higher level of safety of Cooper over the potential upside of White.
As Alabama's first Biletnikoff winner in school history, Cooper finished with 124 receptions for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns, all of which ranked first or second in the nation this season. Cooper is a great route-runner and the most pro-ready receiver in this draft class.
Given their leaky pass protection -- only the Jags allowed more sacks last season -- offensive line could be a possibility here. Well, it's certainly a need, but it's questionable whether any of the offensive line prospects are worth a top-five selection unlike in my way-too-early 2016 NFL Mock Draft.
Although Ryan Kerrigan had a career-high 13.5 sacks last season, 2015 will be a contract year for him. In addition, outside linebacker Brian Orakpo signed with the Titans this offseason. A versatile player with a non-stop motor, Fowler led Florida in tackles for loss (15.0), sacks (8.5) and QB hurries (17) last season.
The Jets' defensive line was the team's strength last season and their secondary was significantly upgraded in free agency with the return of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie as well as the addition of Buster Skrine. Starting outside linebacker Calvin Pace, who turns 35 this season, will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2015 season.
There were some concerns about Beasley's weight, but he was a rocked-up 6-foot-3 and 246 pounds at the combine without losing a step (4.53 forty) and posting 35 reps at 225 pounds. Not just a workout warrior, Beasley has been one of the nation's most productive pass rushers with a total of 25.0 sacks and 44.5 tackles for loss in 26 games over the past two seasons combined.
In my last update, I had the Bears going with a wide receiver here, but given the depth of the position, there is a great chance to add a first-round talent with their second-round pick (No. 39 overall). As the Bears transition to a 3-4 scheme under Vic Fangio, they get their Day 1 starting nose tackle in Shelton. With surprising quickness for someone his size (6-2, 339), Shelton barely come off the field and posted 9.0 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss and 93 tackles despite facing constant double teams last season for the Huskies.
The Falcons really struggled to get to the quarterback over the past couple of seasons. Only the Bengals (20) generated fewer sacks last season than the Falcons (22), who had the third-fewest in 2013 as well. The Falcons have added some pass-rushers -- Adrian Clayborn, Brooks Reed and O'Brien Schofield -- in free agency, but none of those guys are elite pass-rushers. In other words, their signings this offseason should not rule out adding someone like Dupree.
Especially with the concerns -- Shane Ray's foot injury and Randy Gregory's failed drug test(s) -- of the other top pass-rushers still on the board, Dupree could move ahead of them come next Thursday. A former tight end, Dupree is a freak athlete (4.56 forty, 42-inch vertical, 11-6 broad jump) at his size (6-foot-4, 269). Over the past three seasons, Dupree has a total of 21.0 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss.
In my previous update, I had the G-Men adding Iowa's Brandon Scherff and I think that would be the debate here. That said, Jerry Reese strongly believes in going with the best player available and White could be the BPA on his board as he is on mine.
The Giants hit a home run with Odell Beckham Jr. last season and the addition of White opposite him and Victor Cruz in the slot would give the Giants one of the league's best trios of wide receivers. Rueben Randle is due to become an unrestricted free agent in 2016.
The top-ranked wide receiver in my 2015 prospect rankings, White has the size (6-3, 215), hands and run-after-catch ability to be a difference maker and NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah has compared White to Julio Jones. One concern that some had about White prior to the combine was his long speed, but he has eased all concerns after running a blazing 4.35 forty at the combine.
[Related: 2015 NFL Scouting Combine Results.]
Even after selecting Greg Robinson with the second overall pick last year, offensive line remains one of the team's units in needs of upgrades and reinforcements. The Rams ranked in the bottom 10 in both run blocking (-55.1) and pass blocking (-27.5) grades from PFF last season. As have many others, NFL Network's Mike Mayock compared Scherff to Zack Martin, a college left tackle that moved inside to become an All-Pro guard as a rookie. Mayock said of Scherff: "I see a similar example (to current Dallas Cowboys G Zack Martin...). I see a bigger kid with longer arms. That lends you to believe that he could play outside more easily. Again, I believe he can play outside. However, I think his best position, because of his power, his toughness, his football sense, is inside. I think he's an All-Pro guard. But that doesn't mean he can't play tackle in the NFL."
Perhaps the Vikings consider reuniting Teddy Bridgewater with his collegiate teammate DeVante Parker, but I think the team would be fine with Charles Johnson and Mike Wallace as the team's top-two wideouts going into the season with Cordarrelle Patterson as the wild card. Given the depth of wide receiver in this year's draft class, the Vikings could address the position in a later round, if desired.
Waynes, my top-ranked cornerback in this year's draft class, boosted his stock at the combine by running a 4.31 40-yard dash and putting up 19 reps at 225 pounds and has the length that teams covet at the position. If he's still on the board here, Waynes paired with Xavier Rhodes would give the Vikings one of the better young cornerback duos in the league. With at least six games against Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler (for now) as well as several top-flight wide receivers in the division, a strong secondary is a virtual necessity for the Vikings to climb their way to the top of the division.
Once again, the Browns will go into the season with a looming full-year suspension for Josh Gordon. Although last year's ban was eventually cut to 10 games, that won't happen this year. The Browns have added Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe, but this position group is still a major weakness without Gordon. Plus the team lost tight end Jordan Cameron in free agency as well.
While quarterback remains an unsettled position, Parker would give the Browns -- and whomever is under center -- a true No. 1 wideout. Sidelined for the first seven games of 2014 with a broken foot, the 6-foot-3 Parker finished with a 43/855/5 line in just six games. NFL.com's Jeremiah compared Parker to Keenan Allen saying Parker is "smooth, physical" and "has outstanding instincts/ball skills."
The Saints have made some shocking moves this offseason as they try to revamp their roster and salary cap. Last season, their defense was atrocious -- second-most yards allowed, fifth-most points allowed and bad against both the run (29th) and pass (25th). I'd expect them to use one, if not both, first-round pick(s) on that side of the ball. In addition, New Orleans needs to put more pressure on the quarterback as they ranked in the bottom eight in sacks (34) last season.
Gregory has the athleticism and length to potentially develop into an elite pass-rusher at the next level. Gregory's failed drug test at the combine (and two confirmed failed tests in 2014 at Nebraska), however, means that he is likely to slide a bit (or a lot) on draft day. Not only does it show incredibly poor judgment on Gregory's part, but he already enters the league in phase 1 of the substance-abuse policy.
Lamar Miller had a breakout year as he rushed for a career-high 1,099 yards, 10th-most in the NFL, and eight touchdowns and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. In addition, he added 38 receptions for 275 yards and a score. That said, the Dolphins seemed reluctant to feed Miller the ball as he had just 216 carries all season and exceeded 15 carries in only three games.
Gurley has the potential to be a special player and he may not last until this spot even though he is coming off the injury. Drawing comparisons to Marshawn Lynch, Gurley is a physical and powerful runner with good vision and speed.
What an offseason it has been in San Francisco! The surprising retirement of linebacker Patrick Willis was followed by an even more surprising retirement of his 24-year-old (expected) replacement Chris Borland. Plus, NaVorro Bowman is coming off a significant knee injury that kept him out all of last season. I think they will address the inside linebacker position in the draft, but that's unlikely to be with the 15th overall pick.
The 49ers have added Darnell Dockett via a two-year deal, but he turns 34 in May and Justin Smith may retire this offseason. Described by an NFL general manager as "a 6-foot-8, 290-pound freak," Armstead was a two-sport athlete (football and basketball) at Oregon and possesses excellent footwork and agility.
Thursday morning, there were reports from NFL.com's Lance Zierlein that Ray's foot injury initially sustained during the school's bowl game would require surgery and he'd miss five months. Ray says that a foot specialist told him he won't need surgery. Either way, it's possible that Ray slips to No. 16 (or even further) due to the injury.
The Texans ranked in the bottom half of the league in sacks (38) last season. Of course, last year's top-overall pick, Jadeveon Clowney, missed almost all of last season. With 20.5 sacks for J.J. Watt, however, that means the rest of the team combined for only 17.5 sacks. Perhaps Houston would shy away as Clowney battled injuries last year, but Ray would ultimately form a dynamic trio with Watt and Clowney. Last year's SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Ray had 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss last season.
-> Also, check out our 2015 NBA Mock Draft