Early Favorites for the No. 1 Overall Pick in the 2015 NFL Draft
Although the 2015 NFL draft is more than 10 months away, scouting and speculation for who will be the No. 1 overall pick has already begun.
If recent drafts have been any indication, some of the draft’s top picks will be players who haven’t emerged as top prospects yet. Nonetheless, there are already a number of players who are identifiable, assuming they declare for the 2015 draft, as prospects who should be off the board quickly.
Most rankings like this last summer correctly identified South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who went on to be the Houston Texans’ No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, as one of the favorites to be the top choice.
Some other preseason favorites, like Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, fell farther than expected. The No. 2 and 3 overall picks—Auburn offensive lineman Greg Robinson and Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles—were completely off the radar to most draft analysts before the 2013 college football season.
There are defensive prospects with enough talent to emerge as the top pick in this year’s draft, but there’s no one like Clowney. The odds are in favor of a quarterback, the position played by 10 of the 14 players picked No. 1 overall since 2001, being the first player off the board again in 2015.
Leonard Williams, DT, USC (Jr.)
An athletic, disruptive player up front who plays both inside and outside for the USC defensive line, Leonard Williams projects well to the NFL as a penetrating interior defensive lineman, either as a 4-3 defensive tackle or 3-4 defensive end.
It’s not out of the question for Williams to be the No. 1 overall pick, but at this point, he’s not a distinguishably better prospect than either Sheldon Richardson or Aaron Donald, the first defensive tackles selected in the past two NFL drafts, and both of them ended up as No. 13 overall selections.
Vic Beasley, OLB/DE, Clemson
Arguably the best pure pass-rusher in college football this past season, Vic Beasley should only continue to grow and improve after returning to Clemson for his senior season.
Beasley is an explosive athlete who can turn the corner in a hurry and has a dangerous array of pass-rushing moves. Limited size and strength, however, might ruin Beasley’s chances to be the top pick in the draft. Listed at only 6’2” and 235 pounds by Clemson’s official athletics website, Beasley has less-than-ideal length and needs to bulk up.
Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
Like many highly selected offensive tackle prospects from the Big Ten before him, Brandon Scherff is a massive blocker who wins with power and sound technique.
He probably won’t test well enough in pre-draft workouts to garner top pick consideration, but he’s a good athlete for his size (listed at 6’5”, 320 pounds by Iowa’s official athletics website) with the skill set to be a longtime starter as either a left or right tackle.
5. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
For the third year in a row, Texas A&M’s left tackle will have a chance to emerge as a No. 1 overall draft pick.
Having played with Luke Joeckel before he was the No. 2 overall pick in 2013 and with Jake Matthews before he was the No. 6 overall pick in this year’s draft, Cedric Ogbuehi started his career with the Aggies at right guard as a freshman and sophomore, then moved to right tackle this past season.
Ogbuehi likely would have been a top-20 draft pick had he turned pro this past season, but by opting to return for his senior year, he’ll have a chance to elevate his stock with a year at left tackle. If he can continue to excel at his new position the way he has inside and on the right side, he could go as high as No. 1 overall.
Listed at 6’5” and 300 pounds by Texas A&M’s official athletics website, Ogbuehi has adequate size that he supplements with agility and strength. He is very good at mirroring his opponents and can shut a defender down as soon as he gets his hands engaged.
Ogbuehi has natural footwork as a pass protector. His proven excellence at playing multiple positions will also bolster his draft stock. He still has a long way to go in his development to be as good as Joeckel and Matthews, who both ultimately ended up being the second offensive tackles chosen in their respective drafts, but he could shoot up boards with a strong senior season.
4. Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford (Jr.)
Early indications are that the 2015 draft class could suffer from a lack of elite non-quarterback talent, but Stanford left tackle Andrus Peat is one player who has the potential to establish himself as a superstar prospect.
Stanford offensive linemen have tended to be overrated by media draft analysts (guilty as charged) in recent seasons, and only time will tell if the same holds true for Peat, but the junior left tackle looks to be the real deal.
A terrific athlete for his position who is listed at 6’7” and 312 pounds by Stanford’s official athletics website, Peat fits the physical prototype for a modern NFL left tackle.
Peat has natural footwork as a pass protector, can explode to the second level as a run blocker and consistently has his hands and feet in sync. For a player in his first year as a collegiate starter last season, Peat displayed excellent blocking technique.
The junior left tackle hasn’t shown much ability to win with power, which could cause his draft stock to fall, but the young offensive tackle should be continuing to bulk up. If he displays greater strength in his junior season while continuing to excel athletically, Peat will be in the running for the No. 1 overall pick if he declares early for the 2015 draft.
3. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA (RS Jr.)
To end up as a top-five draft choice if he declares for the 2015 draft, Brett Hundley needs to make improvements in his accuracy, footwork and decision-making in his junior season at UCLA. That said, if Hundley can progress in all of those areas, he has as much potential as anyone to be the NFL’s next No. 1 overall pick.
There seems to be at least one quarterback in every draft class who has a breakthrough final season of college football and challenges the preseason favorites to be the top signal-caller selected. In 2015, that could be Hundley, who has already shown that he has all the physical tools NFL scouts look for in a quarterback.
Hundley is a strong-armed quarterback who can beat defenses over the top with his deep ball. His downfield touch on long throws is inconsistent, but any throw on the field can be within his reach as a passer.
A big, thickly-built quarterback, Hundley is a good athlete who can make plays with his feet and run through contact. He can scramble and throw on the run but has also shown the pocket presence to stand tall under pressure and complete passes even when he is hit.
Hundley’s physical tools are arguably the most intriguing among the projected top quarterbacks for the 2015 class, and that could entice a team to draft him as high as the first selection.
2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (RS Jr.)
Had Marcus Mariota declared for this year’s NFL draft as a redshirt sophomore, he might have made the Houston Texans reconsider selecting Jadeveon Clowney. At the very least, he likely would have challenged Blake Bortles, who the Jacksonville Jaguars selected with the No. 3 overall pick, to be the first quarterback off the board.
While the Texans didn’t believe any of the quarterbacks in the 2014 draft class were worth selecting with the top choice this year, Mariota might have changed that equation. The Oregon quarterback’s combination of athleticism and downfield passing ability makes him a potential star and a serious challenger to go No. 1 in 2015.
A true dual-threat, Mariota is a very good runner who has terrific acceleration and change-of-direction skills for a quarterback, but he’s also a skilled passer within the pocket.
The speed of Mariota’s release and the velocity at which he throws the football both stand out. He can fit passes between tight windows on downfield throws and rarely makes mistakes, having thrown just 10 interceptions in his first two collegiate seasons.
As a consensus top prospect who will inevitably face overanalysis throughout the upcoming season, Mariota’s flaws will be covered in great detail, but there are no major problems with Mariota’s game that should keep him from being successful. His footwork needs to improve, especially when he is faced with pressure, but another year of collegiate play will allow him to develop in that capacity.
Mariota still has two remaining years of eligibility at Oregon, but it would come as a surprise if the fourth-year junior doesn’t take the opportunity to go pro after his upcoming season.
1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State (RS So.)
As both his on-field play and off-field behavior will be heavily scrutinized through the next 10-plus months, 2013 Heisman Trophy winner and national championship-winning quarterback Jameis Winston could end up experiencing a fall in the 2015 draft similar to the slides of Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater this year.
Nonetheless, Winston still has the potential to run away from the pack as the No. 1 overall prospect if he continues to grow and excel on the field in his sophomore season.
It became immediately clear in Winston’s college football debut, a game against Pittsburgh in which he completed 27 of 29 passing attempts for 377 yards and four touchdowns, that the Florida State quarterback has a special skill set. In completing his redshirt freshman year by leading the Seminoles to a national title and finishing the season with the best quarterback rating in the Football Bowl Subdivision, Winston proved that he has rare talent.
A strong-armed, athletic quarterback who is listed at 6’4” and 235 pounds by Florida State’s official athletics website, Winston has exceptional physical tools. He has an excellent deep ball, throws the ball with accuracy at all levels, has terrific pocket footwork and has a level of composure under pressure that is rarely seen in young quarterbacks.
All of these traits make Winston the odds-on favorite to go No. 1 overall, but he’s far from a lock for the top spot. Winston needs to display improvement in his decision-making both on the field, where he has a tendency to attempt to force throws between tight or nonexistent coverage windows, but especially off the field.
Although he was not charged following an investigation into a sexual assault accusation by a female FSU student, he will have to answer tough questions about that alleged incident throughout the draft process. A May citation for shoplifting crab legs won’t help him dispel the character concerns teams might have.
Despite those reasons for concern, any NFL team in need of a quarterback will be hard-pressed to pass upon Winston if it feels confident that he will keep his nose clean off the field. He might not necessarily enter the 2015 draft, as he still has three years of eligibility remaining for the Seminoles, but his special talent gives him the ability to go pro as soon as he wants to.
All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.