2015 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Early 1st-Round Predictions
The ink on the 2014 NFL draft is still drying, but that won't keep us from looking ahead to the 2015 draft with a fresh mock.
An early first-round mock draft has to be taken with some context, so here are a few ground rules.
1. Jameis Winston says he's not entering the draft this year, so I'm not putting him in any mock drafts at this time.
2. The draft order is based on the 2014 draft order (updated for trades). This is the only fair way I know to list draft order so early in the process. Once updated Super Bowl odds come out, I'll begin using those for my draft order.
3. This is based on current team needs immediately after the 2014 draft, taking into account upcoming free agents and areas of need that weren't addressed in this offseason.
A lot will change between now and then, but the 2015 class is anchored by rock-solid quarterback Marcus Mariota, a freak pass-rusher in Randy Gregory and another (!) stud offensive tackle from Texas A&M in Cedric Ogbuehi.
Let this be your hype tape for the summer season, as these players are driving draft coverage right now.
1. Houston Texans
The Pick: QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon
The Houston Texans passed on quarterbacks in 2014 until they selected Tom Savage in the fourth round. While he may turn into the franchise passer that Bill O'Brien needs, it's unlikely that someone drafted so late will turn into a star. The odds are simply against it.
With Marcus Mariota bulking up for the upcoming season and bringing back his talent that would have made him my No. 1 overall quarterback in this year's draft, he's a great bet for the Texans in this too-early mock draft.
The Pick: DT Leonard Williams, USC
It's been a long time since Washington has had a first-round draft pick (thanks, RGIII), but boy, do they need one.
The offense looks stout after adding DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts at wideout and anchoring the line with Morgan Moses and Spencer Long, but there are major questions on defense about the ability and long-term prospects of the defensive line.
Head coach Jay Gruden may be all about offense, but he won't win games if the defense can't stop anyone. That leads us to USC's Leonard Williams. He is an athletic marvel who can step right into a 3-4 defense and hold down the edge as a 5-technique while also bringing some heat as a pass-rusher when needed.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Pick: DE Randy Gregory, Nebraska
The Jacksonville Jaguars added their quarterback of the future in Blake Bortles and then brought in two stud wide receivers (Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee) to give him something to work with. Now they must let Gus Bradley get back to building his version of the Seattle Seahawks' defense in Florida.
Randy Gregory has the potential to be even better than anything they have in the Pacific Northwest. His speed off the edge is top-notch and would give Bradley the burst off the edge needed to keep his big, physical cornerbacks in coverage for a minimal amount of time.
Gregory has top overall potential and is one of the most exciting players in the 2015 draft class.
4. Cleveland Browns
The Pick: OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
The Cleveland Browns added Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel and Joel Bitonio with their first three picks in the draft, filling some of the biggest holes on the roster. Now they need to keep adding high-caliber talent.
Bitonio could easily play tackle in the NFL but projects best as a guard. If Cedric Ogbuehi is on the board with pick No. 4, moving Bitonio—and Mitchell Schwartz—to guard would give the Browns one heck of an offensive line.
Joe Thomas—Bitonio—Alex Mack—Schwartz—Ogbuehi. Manziel would be smiling with that type of protection in front of him. So would Ben Tate and Terrance West.
This may not seem like the team's biggest need, but the value and possibilities are too good to pass up.
5. Oakland Raiders
The Pick: DT Michael Bennett, Ohio State
The Oakland Raiders had a phenomenal 2014 draft, and if the returns are as good as expected, they won't be drafting at No. 5 overall come next year.
What holes are left to fill? Defensive tackle remains a big one. Even after adding a massive nose tackle in Justin Ellis, a young, fast pass-rusher from the interior of the defensive line is a big need. That's where my top-ranked defensive tackle comes in.
Michael Bennett is incredibly fast off the snap and has the type of disruption skills that made Aaron Donald and Dominique Easley first-rounders in this year's class. He's in that same mold and should be regarded even higher next year if teams see Donald and Easley having success.
6. Atlanta Falcons
The Pick: OLB Vic Beasley, Clemson
The Atlanta Falcons checked a lot of boxes in the 2014 NFL draft, but one remains left unchecked at outside linebacker.
With Mike Nolan loading up on big bodies to play in his hybrid front, it seems the Falcons will look to be more multiple on defense. But what they lack is a speed-rusher with the tools to pressure quarterbacks off the edge. Vic Beasley has what they need.
The twitchy Clemson defensive end has 3-4 outside linebacker written all over his game. He's flexible and explosive and loves to get into the quarterback's face. And if he can duplicate his 2013 play, he'll be a sure thing as a top-10 prospect.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Pick: QB Brett Hundley, UCLA
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers passed on adding a quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft, with Lovie Smith later saying in a press conference that, "Mike Glennon is our quarterback of the future," per Will Brinson of CBS Sports. That may be so, but with their serious courting of quarterbacks in the predraft process, it's tough to take that at face value.
The Buccaneers may ultimately love Glennon, but at this stage it's tough to buy into his long-term future with the team. If their infatuation with working out quarterbacks carries over to 2015, UCLA's Brett Hundley is a very good fit for Smith and the targets that general manager Jason Licht has assembled.
Hundley is big, throws the deep ball well and is mobile enough to pick up yards when the pocket breaks down. He may have been the 2014 draft's first quarterback off the board too, as many teams have told me they loved his upside. Much like Blake Bortles in this year's class, Hundley has a chance to be drafted very high once he does declare.
8. Minnesota Vikings
The Pick: DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor
Head coach Mike Zimmer loves big, long, strong defensive linemen. We saw that when he was with the Cincinnati Bengals, as the team added Michael Johnson and Margus Hunt and set the mold for a 2014 draftee, Will Clarke. Now in Minnesota, Zimmer can get his version of that player with a higher athletic upside.
Shawn Oakman takes over games for the Bears. While attempting to watch Ahmad Dixon, I saw Oakman steal the show with his strength, length and burst at defensive end. At 6'9" and 275 pounds, he could block out the sun at defensive tackle or slide inside and be a 3-technique pass-rusher. Either way, he will be a load for NFL offensive linemen to handle and is tailor-made for Zimmer's defense.
9. Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo)
The Pick: WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri*
The Cleveland Browns have been widely criticized for their decision to pass on a wide receiver in the 2014 draft following ESPN's Outside the Lines report of a suspension coming for Josh Gordon. That news broke before Round 2 of the draft started, and yet the Cleveland brass passed on wide receiver in every round. In 2015, the team must address it.
Dorial Green-Beckham is among the most talented wide receivers in college football—except he might not play college football in 2014 after being dismissed from the University of Missouri. His talent is incredible, but he's also incredibly raw as a wide receiver and must improve in terms of route running before he can be thought of as a legitimate top-tier talent.
That said, if he does play football somewhere in 2015 and can stay out of trouble, the big (6'6", 225 lbs) wide receiver has top-10 talent.
10. Detroit Lions
The Pick: OT Brandon Scherff, Iowa
The Detroit Lions swung for the fences by adding dynamic tight end Eric Ebron in the first round of the draft, but they still have holes to fill.
One such hole is at offensive tackle. The team was linked to players like Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan before the 2014 draft, and it sounds like they were interested in upgrading at the position. Whether that means drafting a right tackle or moving Riley Reiff to that spot, there is a strong belief that the team will look to get better at tackle soon.
Brandon Scherff is a blue-chip technician at left tackle for Iowa but has the size to play on either side of the line in the NFL. His length, strength, footwork and upside will remind you of Jake Matthews when you see his film for the first time.
11. Tennessee Titans
The Pick: DE/LB Dante Fowler Jr., Florida
The Ray Horton defense is starting to come together in Tennessee, but the team still doesn't have all the pieces to the puzzle up front. The Titans have a good start with Jurrell Casey and DaQuan Jones, but more athletes are needed.
Dante Fowler Jr. is a beast off the edge of the Florida defensive line, but at 277 pounds he has the size to slide down and play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme or even play the 9-technique position in a hybrid front. With his size, speed and instincts, he would be the ideal defender for Horton's scheme. And the Titans look like a team in need of more pass-rushing help.
12. New York Giants
The Pick: DE Cedric Reed, Texas
The New York Giants addressed many needs in the 2014 draft but still have the look of a roster that is desperate for pass-rush help. Expect that to be the theme of the draft season next year for Tom Coughlin's team.
After grabbing wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., center Weston Richburg and defensive tackle Jay Bromley, the Giants do have a new look at key spots, but they didn't (or weren't able to) address defensive end with any of their picks. That leaves a banged-up Jason Pierre-Paul and sophomore Damontre Moore at the spot.
The University of Texas may not have had any players selected in the '14 draft, but Cedric Reed will end that streak in 2015. He's a big, strong, long pass-rusher with the skills to play left or right defensive end in the pros. That's something Coughlin and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will fall in love with.
13. St. Louis Rams
The Pick: CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
The St. Louis Rams have Janoris Jenkins on one boundary and incoming rookie Lamarcus Joyner in the slot, but they need another outside cornerback on this roster. That's where Ifo Ekpre-Olomu comes into play.
The Oregon cornerback has NFL-ready foot speed and instincts and could have made a run to be a first-round pick if he had entered the 2014 NFL draft class. With his speed and lateral quickness, he is pro-ready as a coverage cornerback. He may need to bulk up some in the NFL to become a better tackler, but his coverage skills are rock-solid.
14. Chicago Bears
The Pick: S Landon Collins, Alabama
The Chicago Bears made a major investment on defense by selecting Kyle Fuller (CB), Ego Ferguson (NT), Will Sutton (DT) and Brock Vereen (FS) but must continue rebuilding a unit that got old, slow and injured very fast.
Landon Collins can play anywhere at the safety position. He lined up at strong safety when Vinnie Sunseri was injured but could easily slide into the free safety position vacated by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. And here's a little preseason secret for you—Collins has the tools to be better than his former teammates.
His speed, range, cover skills and instincts are all high-level, and he enters the 2014 college season as the hands-down best safety in the class.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pick: OT Andrus Peat, Stanford
The Pittsburgh Steelers opted to go defense for much of the 2014 draft, adding Ryan Shazier (LB), Stephon Tuitt (DE), Daniel McCullers (DT), Jordan Zumwalt (LB) and Shaq Richardson (CB). With that many resources focused on one side of the ball in one draft, look for the 2015 class to be more balanced.
One need that is left on the roster is at left tackle. Kelvin Beachum played well in 2013 but hasn't yet proved his long-term value is on the blindside corner. He may develop into a star there, but he looks more like a guard (where he could be exceptionally good). That opens the door for big Andrus Peat to walk through it.
He is a mean, nasty run-blocker in the Stanford system who was good enough there to keep Cameron Fleming (a fourth-round pick of the Patriots) on the right side throughout his career. Peat has all the makings of a longtime anchor at left tackle and is what the Steelers are currently missing.
16. Dallas Cowboys
The Pick: DE Trey Flowers, Arkansas
The Dallas Cowboys made a big move by letting DeMarcus Ware go this past offseason. They've attempted to replace him by re-signing Anthony Spencer and drafting Demarcus Lawrence, but make no mistake, defensive end is still a need in Dallas.
Trey Flowers was close to entering the 2014 draft, and he has the potential to be a terror coming off the edge. He's long enough at 6'4" to lock out offensive tackles and then crash the edge with his flexibility and speed.
While he may not be Ware, Flowers and Lawrence combined coming off the edge could be a dynamic pass-rushing duo.
17. Baltimore Ravens
The Pick: CB Quandre Diggs, Texas
The Baltimore Ravens invested heavily in the defense in the 2014 draft—adding C.J. Mosley, Timmy Jernigan and Terrence Brooks to the unit—but still need help on the boundary.
Lardarius Webb is rock-solid, but Jimmy Smith is still on the verge of proving himself. That process started at the end of 2013, but he's not yet a guaranteed starter. And at any rate, every NFL team needs three good cornerbacks in this day and age. Especially one who can handle the slot.
Quandre Diggs has experience playing both in the slot and on the boundary, and he's good at both. He's feisty and at 200 pounds has the body to take on the run and make an impact as a tackler. In coverage he's been asked to handle man and zone schemes, and he will likely see an even bigger role under Charlie Strong in 2014.
18. New York Jets
The Pick: WR Amari Cooper, Alabama
The New York Jets picked up a lot of wide receivers in the 2014 offseason, but none of them looks like the star who can open up this offense.
Consider Eric Decker locked in as one of the team's starters, but it's unlikely that tiny Jalen Saunders (Round 4) or Shaq Evans (Round 4) emerges as the go-to outside receiver that the team hoped Stephen Hill would become. And make no mistake, Hill is in a big prove-it year.
Amari Cooper is very polished as a wide receiver coming out of Alabama. He has the size, speed and hands to be a true No. 1 wide receiver and play at a level like Jordy Nelson or Michael Crabtree early in his career.
19. Miami Dolphins
The Pick: Todd Gurley, Georgia
The Miami Dolphins may, on the surface, seem like an odd team to end the two-year streak of no running backs being drafted in the first round. But look closer and you see why they're a perfect fit.
They added Knowshon Moreno in the 2014 offseason, but he's a short-term fix. That leaves them with Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas, Mike Gillislee and Marcus Thigpen in the backfield right now, which doesn't inspire much hope for the future.
Todd Gurley is the right kind of back to break the NFL's devaluation of the position. At 6'1" and 232 pounds he's built like a cross between Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch but still has the speed to pull away from defenders and beat down a defense. He's special, and as long as he can stay healthy, he should be a first-round talent in 2015.
20. Arizona Cardinals
The Pick: OT Cameron Erving, Florida State
The Arizona Cardinals went through the draft without plugging their hole at right tackle—which may mean veteran Eric Winston will be back on the team next year. But regardless of their short-term goals, a long-term fix is needed.
Florida State's Cameron Erving would give the Cardinals the flexibility and athleticism that they need on the offensive line. He has the quickness, flexibility and length to handle left or right tackle in the NFL, and he's the type of player the Cardinals can use to anchor the line opposite from Jared Veldheer to give them an elite pass-protecting unit.
21. Green Bay Packers
The Pick: TE Nick O'Leary, Florida State
With newly drafted Richard Rodgers in the fold, tight end might not be the biggest need for the Green Bay Packers, but it is still a priority.
Rodgers, who was drafted in the third round, is an athletic tight end in the mold of a flexed-out pass-catcher. Think of him as more of a Charles Clay and less of a Heath Miller. Green Bay could use a Heath Miller, and Nick O'Leary is more in that line of player. He's linear, tough, a good blocker and well-versed in a pro-style passing tree.
Doubling up at tight end might seem like overkill, but on a roster with few immediate needs, this is the type of pick that could open the offense up to new levels.
22. Philadelphia Eagles
The Pick: OG Tre' Jackson, Florida State
When looking at team needs one year in advance, it's tough to find a big hole on the Philadelphia Eagles' offense. One area where there could be a need in one season is at offensive guard.
Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans are good players, with Mathis being one of the best, but their long-term fit in the offense and cap structure are questionable. Even in a scenario where Mathis retires as an Eagle, the right guard position could stand to be upgraded.
Tre' Jackson is a mauler in the run game and nimble enough to hold his own in space as a pass-protector. He did a great job of working on combination blocks too and has the agility to be a big-time player in Chip Kelly's offense.
23. Kansas City Chiefs
The Pick: WR Nelson Agholor, USC
Short on picks, the Kansas City Chiefs bypassed the wide receiver position in the 2014 draft class. They won't be able to ignore the position again in 2015.
Nelson Agholor is the pro-style wide receiver that the team lacks opposite Dwayne Bowe. The USC product is a smart route-runner, has shown sure hands and has enough speed to threaten defenses deep. That's a nice mixture of wide receiver skills that this team has gone without in the No. 2 slot for quite some time.
With many needs in Kansas City being filled through the draft and free agency, only the hole at wide receiver remains wide open.
24. Cincinnati Bengals
The Pick: LB Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
The Cincinnati Bengals have a dynamic group of defenders on the roster who are ready to take this team back to the top of the AFC North. But they must continue to churn the roster and add youth, as well as talent, to stay on top.
Linebacker Benardrick McKinney is a true threat on defense. He can play inside linebacker and outside linebacker and probably even put his hand in the dirt and rush the quarterback off the edge. He's a weapon, and the Bengals love that type of defender.
He would give the team the flexibility to also move Vontaze Burfict to middle linebacker or simply upgrade from Rey Maualuga or Jayson DiManche at the other two linebacker spots.
25. San Diego Chargers
The Pick: OT La'el Collins, LSU
The San Diego Chargers enjoyed another strong draft and have filled many of the holes inherited when Tom Telesco took the general manager job before the 2013 draft. Now they can look to begin upgrading key positions and looking toward the long-term future of the club.
One such area where an upgrade will be needed is at left tackle. King Dunlap filled in much better than expected in 2013, but he does not have the long-term look of a key left tackle. Enter La'el Collins, a star on the LSU offensive line and a player made to lock down the blind side opposite D.J. Fluker.
Collins was often talked about as a potential 2014 draft second-rounder, but with another year of experience and coaching, he could easily enter Round 1.
26. Indianapolis Colts
The Pick: OLB Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
With Robert Mathis locking down one side of the defense at linebacker, the Colts are in good hands. The other side, with Erik Walden and Bjoern Werner, is much less defined. As Mathis ages and the defense hits a turning point, adding a big-play pass-rusher is huge for this defense.
Shilique Calhoun plays defensive end at Michigan State, but look for him to get plenty of attention as a stand-up pass-rusher in a 3-4 scheme like the one in Indianapolis. His length, first-step speed and pass-rushing moves set him up well to be a Day 1 contributor on a playoff defense.
27. New Orleans Saints
The Pick: CB Josh Shaw, USC
The signing of Champ Bailey holds down one starting cornerback spot in New Orleans in 2014, but where does the position go in the future?
Keenan Lewis played well at one spot, and the team added big Stanley Jean-Baptiste in the second round, but there is still a need for more cover men in this defense. And look for the long, athletic trend to continue as long as Rob Ryan is running this unit.
Josh Shaw has the length, speed and instincts to be a true No. 1 cornerback in the NFL. He's alert and shows very good route recognition and closing speed for an underclassman. If he continues to develop in 2014, he could be a top-10 pick.
28. Carolina Panthers
The Pick: OT Spencer Drango, Baylor
The Carolina Panthers had a tough decision to make at the end of the first round in the 2014 draft—left tackle or wide receiver. They went for the playmaker and added Kelvin Benjamin to run go routes for Cam Newton. Unless Byron Bell or Nate Chandler have been hiding something, general manager Dave Gettleman will be looking back at tackle in 2015.
Spencer Drango is one heck of a mover on the edge of the Baylor offensive line. Look at his play against Buffalo linebacker—and top-five pick—Khalil Mack, and you'll see Drango setting the edge in the run and playing very well against Mack in the passing game. In fact, Baylor's line shut Mack down—in a way Ohio State definitely did not. That was all Drango, and it's what NFL scouts see when looking at his upside.
29. New England Patriots
The Pick: WR Ty Montgomery, Stanford
The biggest complaint when looking back at the New England Patriots' 2014 draft was the lack of wide receivers or tight ends added. Tom Brady may have four good years left, but they'll be wasted if his best target is the oft-injured Rob Gronkowski and a handful of slot receivers.
Sure, that recipe got them to the AFC Championship Game last year, but to win that game Brady needs more talent. Ty Montgomery would be a welcome addition in a New England offense that needs a threat on the boundary.
He is pro-ready coming from the Stanford scheme, and unlike the other wide receivers the Patriots have missed on in Round 1 previously, he's not just a speed receiver. He has strong hands, very good body control and the tools to be the true threat that Brady deserves.
30. San Francisco 49ers
The Pick: CB Ronald Darby, FSU
The San Francisco 49ers were linked to almost every cornerback in the 2014 class at one point or another, but they missed out on the top-flight talent as a run on the position happened right in front of their pick at No. 30 overall.
Now the team will look toward 2015 for a big add at the position. And Ronald Darby would be a huge add for them—if he checks out off the field.
He didn't make my initial 2015 watch list due to some off-field questions stemming from an Orlando Sentinel report from Brendan Sonnone that he was brought up on five different student conduct charges related to the Jameis Winston rape accusations. Darby is undoubtedly talented—and is one of the fastest players in the ACC—but he has to answer these off-field questions before he can be thought of as a truly elite player. If all is cleared off the field, he could be a top-15 pick.
31. Denver Broncos
The Pick: DT Arik Armstead, Oregon
The Denver Broncos made two big splashes in the 2014 draft when they added cornerback Bradley Roby and wide receiver Cody Latimer. What they weren't able to add was a pass-rushing defensive tackle to rotate in with Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams.
Arik Armstead is a huge (6'8", 298 lbs) man with the length, power and agility to cause major problems along the defensive line. Some teams may view his height as a problem on the inside, but on tape he moves incredibly well for a big man. Sure, his pad height can be too high at times, but his raw ability and potential are too good to go unnoticed in this early mock draft.
32. Seattle Seahawks
The Pick: CB Everett Deshazor, Texas A&M
The Seattle Seahawks made a ton of trades back in the 2014 draft before settling on offensive tackle Justin Britt (Round 2, Missouri) and wide receivers Paul Richardson (Colorado, Round 2) and Kevin Norwood (Alabama, Round 4) and then gobbling up developmental prospects later in the draft.
What they weren't able to address was the departure of Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond at cornerback. Now they must.
Everett Deshazor has the size (6'0", 188 lbs) to match what the Seahawks want at cornerback, and he's physical enough to stand up on the outside of the defense. With his length, quick feet and instincts, he could be the SEC's best cornerback this year.