2015 NFL Draft: An Early Look Ahead to Next Year
The NFL draft is over! Long live the NFL draft!
With the 2014 draft in the books, it's insane to start looking forward to 2015, but I am just that crazy. But, hey, you're here too. That means you're just as crazy. So, there!
With those judgments out of the way, let's be crazy together.
No one knows anything about the draft. We didn't know anything about the 2014 draft on the morning it started, and we certainly didn't know anything a year before it.
Few people knew anything about Buffalo defensive end Khalil Mack (Oakland Raiders). Even fewer expected Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles (Jacksonville Jaguars) to be the first signal-caller off the board.
As the saying goes, this is for entertainment purposes only.
There's going to be a lot of information packed into the next 10 slides. There may even be a mock draft at the end that we can all laugh about in a few months. Really, though, this is just a good-faith effort to bring some clarity to an event that is going to look completely different in 12 months.
Who Will Have the 1st Overall Pick?
Time to get angry, sports fans!
I understand, your team got better this offseason. It added so-and-so in free agency and got rid of that jerk who made all the mistakes last season. Its draft was really good, and Prospect X is going to do way better than what the so-called experts think.
Plus, I think the coach finally has it all figured out.
Welcome to the world of every sports fan in almost every city across the league—especially those brimming with the excitement of top draft picks.
Here's the reality, though: Some teams are going to be worse than they were last season.
Someone has to be the worst, and someone has to pick first overall in the draft.
The Tennessee Titans have a new head coach in Ken Whisenhunt, but are sticking with Jake Locker at quarterback. Though they've added Zach Mettenberger this offseason, they could easily fall flat on their faces in 2014 and find themselves looking at one of the top passers next spring.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are convinced they have their quarterback of the future in Blake Bortles, but he's likely to sit behind Chad Henne during his rookie year. Though I like what the Jaguars have done in terms of team building, that could be the recipe for a top pick.
Oakland, too, is doing a good job for the long term, but it isn't as if the Raiders are bulletproof with Matt Schaub under center.
Johnny Manziel is going to bring excitement to the Cleveland Browns, but can he bring wins in his first year? Cleveland could also get the top pick if the Buffalo Bills end up with the worst record!
Washington was bad last year and didn't have a first-round pick to improve itself. Plus, can Robert Griffin III stay healthy?
Of course, anything can happen. A few key injuries can send any team down to the rock bottom of the NFL standings.
Still, it seems like we're seeing some of these usual suspects picking in the top 10 or top five all too often, so it shouldn't surprise anyone if they're there once again.
When and Where Is the Draft Going to Be?
One of my favorite ironies of the 2014 draft was that while my "football friends," colleagues and peers were pulling their hair out about the draft being pushed back a couple of weeks, the general consensus from most people not tapped into ESPN and Twitter was, "Oh, it's draft time already? Crazy."
More people watched this year's draft than ever before. NFL.com reports over 32 million people watched the first round of the draft, up 28 percent from the year before.
Even on the third day, ESPN indicated via press release that the event averaged almost two million viewers—again, a large increase of over 20 percent—and that's only one of the two networks broadcasting the event.
You and I can sit here and debate whether the NFL's new date for the draft actually had anything to do with the ratings or if Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney simply pushed the runaway freight train that is the NFL's popularity just a little bit further than last year's offensive-tackle-heavy crop did.
We can argue that, but the NFL likely won't. It had success, and why turn back now?
According to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the NFL is considering moving the draft back even further in 2015.
In an interview with NFL Network's Jeff Darlington (h/t NFL.com's Chris Wesseling), Roger Goodell even hinted that the draft might be extended further into a four-day format.
Craziest yet, Goodell even told the Rich Eisen Podcast (h/t NFL.com's Chris Wesseling) that the league has discussed allowing cities other than New York to hold the event—potentially even multiple cities in the same year.
Think about it: Round 1 of the draft could be the usual red-carpet rigamarole in New York City or even Los Angeles, where NFL Network is headquartered. Round 2 could move to Dallas to be held in Cowboys Stadium and give everyone from SEC country a chance to get a firsthand look. Round 3 could be in Chicago before the event travels to Rounds 4-7—or beyond?—in Canton, Ohio, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It sounds insane, but the logistics actually work for NFL teams that set up war rooms in their own personal complexes and only send someone to the draft to fill out the cards and escort the first-round pick to the airplane.
For the elite few superfans who sit through the entire draft every year, it's a negative, but it also opens up opportunities for more and more fans in other cities to participate.
Agents and players would have to cope, but the league would likely invite far fewer players to New York and invite others to other cities depending on when they're expected to be drafted.
Honestly, the only segment of the population this hurts is the media, and the NFL rarely sheds tears when making life difficult for them.
Is There an Andrew Luck at Quarterback?
No, moving on...
Not so fast, my friends!
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was a pretty special occurrence at the top of the 2012 NFL draft. Seeing both him and Robert Griffin III go at the top of the order and have the rookie seasons they did doesn't happen all the time.
Since then, we've heard—over and over again—that there wasn't an Andrew Luck in 2013 or 2014.
Yet, it depends on what you mean when you ask the question.
Is there a sure-fire top quarterback prospect at the moment who is sure to go No. 1? No. Is there a pro-style, strong-armed pocket passer who commands an offense and has top-flight passing ability? No to that as well.
Is there a quarterback—or quarterbacks—who has the talent to go very high in the draft, even first overall? Absolutely!
Oregon's Marcus Mariota may have been the top quarterback in 2014 had he elected to enter the draft. His strong arm and amazing athleticism are almost sure to translate to the next level.
With another year under his belt, he could easily generate enough buzz to became an Andrew Luck-type quarterback at the top of next year's draft.
Then there's Florida State's Jameis Winston. Although he's got some red-flag character and legal issues, he's coming off of a Heisman Trophy campaign and may be motivated to leave school early.
He's working with George Whitfield, who is the same quarterback guru that polished Johnny Manziel into more of a passer following his Heisman season.
After them, there are a number of quarterbacks that could find themselves in first-round consideration next season.
Though they don't have the lock-solid buzz that Luck had in his final season at Stanford, it would not be the craziest thing if one of Brett Hundley (UCLA), Bryce Petty (Baylor) and Connor Cook (Michigan State) moved up to the top of the class.
Is 2016 the Year of the Enforcer?
For offensive skill position players, it's usually a little easier to project who is coming out when and at least a general order of where teams might value them.
By "a little easier," of course, I mean that the snowball's chance in you-know-where might last just a few more seconds than trying to predict the defensive stars.
College recruitment means very little, as top recruits rarely follow the Jadeveon Clowney path to the No. 1 overall pick. Tackle numbers don't mean a thing,either, nor do sacks or collegiate honors—just look at the draft profile of newest St. Louis Rams pass-rusher Michael Sam.
The NFL is fickle with defensive talent, and a final college season—and/or some extenuating circumstances—can often vault guys up and down draft boards to the point where longtime studs like Michigan State Max Bullough or Stanford's Shayne Skov go undrafted, while someone like Khalil Mack comes out of relative obscurity.
Heading into into the 2015 draft, it looks like there are plenty of hard-nosed, no-nonsense, talented defensive players that aren't just pass-rushers or long pass-defenders, but the kind of throwback, tone-setting guys who can change a defense as well as the attitude of the team that drafts them.
Ramik Wilson (LB Georgia) is one of my favorite players to watch in the class. He led the SEC in tackles last year, but also flew around the ball and consistently made plays in the opposition's backfield.
He's got a great football IQ and a nonstop motor.
Another big hitter is Landon Collins (S Alabama). He's continued to get bigger, faster and stronger as he's played under Kirby Smart and Nick Saban, and could be the next great SEC defensive back to go in the top 15 in the draft.
Randy Gregory (OLB/DE Nebraska) isn't just a speed-rusher. He's become more polished as a run-stopper to the point that I could see him standing up full-time—maybe even in the middle of the right scheme or in sub-packages—at the next level.
It's no secret that the NFL has become a more offensively minded league, but 2015 could bring us a loaded class full of guys looking to change that.
Will a Running Back Go in the 1st Round?
The last running back to go in the first round was Indianapolis Colts running back Trent Richardson, who was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2012.
Richardson, who has done very little of note in the NFL, has cost two teams their first-round picks.
Before him, Mark Ingram was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 2011. He's been part of a rotation and will have to earn his job in 2014, even though the Saints have continually gotten rid of other backs and left him with former undrafted free agents to contend with.
In 2010, C.J. Spiller was the top back taken by the Buffalo Bills and is still a work in progress—at least in terms of consistency. 2009's Knowshon Moreno was drafted by the Denver Broncos and is now a Miami Dolphin.
Donald Brown, drafted at the end of that first round by the Indianapolis Colts, was actually more electric than Richardson last season, which is saying absolutely nothing flattering at all.
The point is first-round backs aren't really much of a priority these days, as the league has gone to a quantity-over-quality approach and colleges are sending out far more spread-option quarterbacks and receivers than Adrian Peterson-like workhorse backs.
2015 could change that trend—at least, momentarily.
Georgia's Todd Gurley is the top back in the class. At the moment, he's the consensus top back in the class and only an injury could really change that. At times in 2013, he showed elite-level burst and physicality. A former track star, Gurley has a between-the-tackles mentality and home run ability.
Wisconsin running backs have a checkered history with the NFL, but Melvin Gordon is a former 247Sports.com 4-star prospect who might also be one of the highest-character guys in the entire draft—he coaches youth football and volunteers at homeless shelters.
On the field, he's just as impressive with a natural, fluid and balanced running style that translates to any level.
In addition to those two, Alabama's T.J. Yeldon, South Carolina's Mike Davis or even Florida State's hybrid RB/S/LB Karlos Williams could potentially threaten as the top back in the class.
We won't see all of those names in the first round, but there's a good chance we could see one—maybe two—called on the draft's first night.
Top Receiving Talent Available
2015 could be another great year for pass-catchers. Here are the top guys available.
1. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR: No longer playing football at Missouri, DGB could have a fantastic season if he transfers to a small school. 247Sports reported in late April that Eastern Illinois was a likely destination. This could be a Randy Moss-like situation, but he may never live up to his talent.
2. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: Smaller than NFL teams would like out of a No. 1 wideout these days, Cooper is a burner who could run a 4.3 40-yard dash at the combine. If that happens, he'd be a lock for the top five.
3. Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State: I'm a sucker for big guys with great body control, and so is the NFL.
4. Devante Parker, WR, Louisville: He would've been lost in a great class had he come out this year, but Parker gambled that he will maintain his production without Teddy Bridgewater. Parker brings a huge frame and great big-play ability.
5. Nelson Agholor, WR, USC: Smaller, burner-type prospect with return ability. He'll need to hope the Steve Sarkisian era means a lot more offense than Lane Kiffin's time there.
1. Devin Funchess, TE, Michigan: A basketball-player-style pass-catcher that has fantastic ability, but hasn't been able to find consistency with Michigan's lackluster offense or subpar quarterbacks.
2. Ben Koyack, TE, Notre Dame: Another year, another top Golden Domer at tight end—Koyack should be a better receiver and more consistent downfield target than 2014 pick Troy Niklas.
3. Nick O'Leary, TE, Florida State: Your granddaddy's kind of tight end, O'Leary can do it all, but his biggest pluses are mentality and toughness. He'll almost certainly be on an NFL roster, but might not project as much in a starring receiving role as teams are looking for from the position these days.
Note: These are very preliminary rankings done off of minor notes taken while scouting their teammates in 2014.
Is It Another "Fatty Draft?"
2013 brought us the term "fatty draft," with linemen drafted all over the place—starting early and often in the first round and then hardly letting up from there.
It wasn't just left tackles, either. It was right tackles and guards taking the kind of premium spots usually reserved for quarterbacks and pass-rushers.
This year was a little more reserved, with only five offensive tackles going in the first round. The second round added four more, along with a guard and a center.
Next season, interior line prospects are pretty spotty, though I like the games of Florida State guard Tre Jackson and Oregon center Hroniss Grasu enough to consider them potential first rounders at the stage of the game.
The tackle class, however, is enough for line-play addicts to swoon over.
Cedric Ogbuehi should be the next Texas A&M tackle taken high in the first round and might not even be the first tackle taken, as Stanford's Andrus Peat may give him a run for his money.
Though I haven't given out grades yet—and won't even start that process for months—I could see as many as six or seven guys fighting for first-round honors, including those two above alongside Iowa's Brandon Scherff, Florida State's Cameron Erving, LSU's La'el Collins and Penn State's Donovan Smith.
Which Schools Are Set to Lose a Lot of Talent?
Here are some schools that could see not only their senior class turnover, but plenty of early-entry losses as well. For the most part, though, these are the usual suspects.
Knows It's Losing: Austin Shepherd, OT; Arie Kouandjio, OG; Chad Lindsay, C; Christion Jones, WR; Brandon Ivory, DT; Trey DePriest, LB; Xzavier Dickson, LB; Nick Perry, S; Jalston Fowler, FB
Maybe Making the Jump as Well: Jacob Coker, QB; T.J. Yeldon, RB; Kenyan Drake, RB; Amari Cooper, WR; Isaac Luatua, OG; Darren Lake, DT; Reggie Ragland, LB; Landon Collins, S;
2. Florida State
Knows It's Losing: Cameron Erving, OT; Tre Jackson, OG; Josue Matias, OG; Karlos Williams, RB; Rashad Greene, WR; Nick O'Leary, TE; Tyler Hunter, SS; Nick Waisome, CB
Maybe Making the Jump as Well: Jameis Winston, QB; Ruben Carter, OG; Mario Edwards Jr., DE; P.J. Williams, CB; Ronald Darby, CB;
Knows It's Losing: La'el Collins, OT; Elliott Porter, OC; Terrance Magee, RB; Jermauria Rasco, DE; Jordan Allen, DE; Ronald Martin, S
Maybe Making the Jump as Well: Dillon Gordon, TE; Vadal Alexander, OG; Jonah Austin, OG; Quentin Thomas, DT; Corey Thompson, S; Jalen Collins, CB; Jalen Mills, CB;
4. Texas A&M
Knows It's Losing: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT; Gavin Stansbury, DE; Donnie Baggs, LB; Howard Matthews, S; Floyd Raven Jr., S; Deshazor Everett, CB
Maybe Making the Jump as Well: Tra Carson, RB; Joseph Cheek, OT; Mike Matthews, OC; Alonzo Williams, DT; De'Vante Harris, CB
Knows It's Losing: Hutson Mason, QB; Mike Thornton, DT; Ray Drew, DE; Ramik Wilson, LB; Amarlo Herrera, LB; Damian Swann, CB
Maybe Making the Jump as Well: Todd Gurley, RB; Keith Marshall, RB; Sterling Bailey, DE
Top 10 Prospects Big Board
If the draft were tomorrow, these would be my top 10 prospects. This is going to change between now and the beginning of the season as I go back and watch games from last season. It will then change—drastically—over the course of the season.
1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: While his legs get most of the publicity, Mariota has one of the best arms in college football as well. He's already developed NFL-style size, and he's getting bigger and stronger every year.
2. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M: May have gone No. 2 or 3 among tackles had he come out in 2014. He's ridiculously athletic and could hold multiple combine records when all is said and done.
3. Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson: I'm probably higher on Beasley than most and was disappointed when he went back to school for 2014 because I thought he would've ended up as a top-15 pick. He's not only fast, but his first step is ridiculously quick, while he showcases great flexibility and far more strength than his size would let on.
4. Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska: Really productive in the Big Ten with a great first step, Gregory was a transfer last season and could vault himself into the national conversation as he matures as a player.
5. Leonard Williams, DT/DE, USC: Maybe best suited as a 3-4 DE in a Wade Phillips-like scheme where he can still attack, Williams will undoubtedly appeal to plenty of 4-3 teams as an under tackle as well. He's the best interior pass-rusher of the class, and we saw what that did to Aaron Donald's stock.
6. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State: Honestly, as of right now, this is high for Winston, whom I wouldn't draft. His mechanics—both footwork and arm motion—as well as his playing style are simply too far removed from NFL caliber. However, I trust he'll take steps forward as a passer, and the raw tools are obviously amazing.
7. Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford: A mountain of a man and agile to boot. Stanford linemen have lost a bit of their luster as of late, as it was once assumed anyone who put on the jersey would be a stud, but Peat should be the school's best product since David DeCastro and could even surpass that.
8. Landon Collins, S, Alabama: Can cover the deep middle third as well as any top Alabama safety—I personally think he was better in that regard than both Mark Barron and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix—but he's also a dangerous hitter.
9. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: Blazing speed...no, faster than that. If he were in a pass-happier program, he would already be a household name around the country. Lane Kiffin didn't do wonders for Marqise Lee, though.
10. Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State: A basketball player of an athlete, Calhoun has great natural movement and is still developing as a technician. Has as much of a chance as anyone to vault to the top of this list.
Note: Dorial Green-Beckham is off the list for character reasons.
Way-Too-Early 2015 NFL Mock Draft
Look, first off, I know a lot of you are going to complain about the order. Frankly...do what you gotta do.
This is ridiculously early and a bunch is going to change before the regular season. Then, we have to play the games—"any given Sunday" and all that. Players are going to get injured. Teams are going to surprise and disappoint.
If you need to believe that I am a terrible person for putting your team in a specific section of this entire-year-ahead mock draft, just realize that it's a projection that is almost sure to change.
The real reason I put this together is to provide a snapshot—albeit an out-of-focus one—as we get ready for the season. Very little of this will actually happen. Hey, if mock drafts done the morning of the draft only get a few picks right, what chance does this have?
Enjoy it. Have fun. Yell at me in the comments section below.
1. Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota (QB Oregon)
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Cedric Ogbuehi (OT Texas A&M)
3. Cleveland Browns: Amari Cooper (WR Alabama)
4. Washington Redskins: Randy Gregory (DE Nebraska)
5. Oakland Raiders: Andrus Peat (OT Stanford)
6. Cleveland Browns (via BUF): Leonard Williams (DT/DE USC)
7. Miami Dolphins: P.J. Williams (CB Florida State)
8. New York Jets: Brandon Scherff (OT Iowa)
9. Minnesota Vikings: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB Oregon)
10. Pittsburgh Steelers: Vic Beasley (OLB Clemson)
11. Atlanta Falcons: Ben Koyack (TE Notre Dame)
12. Dallas Cowboys: Landon Collins (S Alabama)
13. New York Giants: Ramik Wilson (LB Georgia)
14. Arizona Cardinals: Todd Gurley (RB Georgia)
15. St. Louis Rams: Jameis Winston (QB Florida State)
16. Houston Texans: Jalen Collins (CB LSU)
17. Detroit Lions: Michael Bennett (DT/DE Ohio State)
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Brett Hundley (QB UCLA)
19. San Diego Chargers: Cameron Erving (OT Florida State)
20. Carolina Panthers: Shilique Calhoun (DE Michigan State)
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Bryce Petty (QB Baylor)
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Tre Jackson (OG Florida State)
23. Kansas City Chiefs: La'el Collins (OT LSU)
24. Chicago Bears: Dante Fowler (DE Florida)
25. San Francisco 49ers: Jaelan Strong (WR Arizona State)
26. Baltimore Ravens: Melvin Gordon (RB Wisconsin)
27. Indianapolis Colts: Christian Covington (DT Rice)
28. New Orleans Saints: Dorial Green-Beckham (WR ?)
29. Green Bay Packers: Noah Spence (DE/OLB Ohio State)
30. Denver Broncos: Jordan Jenkins (OLB Georgia)
31. New England Patriots: Ronald Darby (CB Florida State)
32. Seattle Seahawks: Devin Funchess (TE Michigan)