2015 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Initial Projections
The 2015 NFL draft is months away from being on the minds of most NFL fans—unless you're a fan of the Oakland Raiders, then you're probably honed in on the upcoming draft class—but it's never too early to do a mock draft.
Early-September mock drafts should be looked at as such: entertaining, informative and not predictive of where players will be drafted in the next year's draft. An early mock draft is like a power-rankings article—this is where the players rank right now with a hint of where they're expected to be drafted.
When I sit down to write a mock draft in September, I'm hoping to show readers where teams have needs and which talented players in college football fit those needs based on my preseason rankings. Much can, and will, change between now and the 2015 draft, but this is a first look at which players are trending as future first-rounders.
For this mock draft, and all early mocks, I'm using a draft order based on Odds Shark's futures bets. Take the Super Bowl odds, reverse them and you have the draft order.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Pick: Defensive Tackle Leonard Williams, USC
For what it's worth, I don't think the Jacksonville Jaguars will be picking No. 1 overall in the upcoming draft, but Las Vegas disagrees on their chances at success.
Should the Jaguars be picking early again in 2015, they won't be looking at quarterback or left tackle—not with Blake Bortles and Luke Joeckel holding down those spots. With the 2015 draft class looking top-heavy at quarterback and offensive tackle, the Jaguars would be in position to move down the board a few spots. Or they could pick the most dominant defensive player in the country.
Leonard Williams can move all over the defensive line, and he has scheme versatility in a 3-4 or 4-3 front. For Jacksonville, he would give it the interior pass-rush presence it lacks now while also having the athleticism to move outside to a defensive end position if so desired.
Head coach Gus Bradley had bigger-bodied ends in Seattle and brought guys like Red Bryant in this year through free agency, so clearly he could find a way to use a freak like Williams.
2. Oakland Raiders
The Pick: Offensive Tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
The Oakland Raiders have clearly defined needs along the offensive line and in the secondary heading into the 2014 season. One area they aren't likely to need help is at quarterback, not with second-rounder Derek Carr holding his own throughout his first preseason.
Assuming that Carr continues to develop and play well, the Raiders can grab the blindside protector they lack on the current roster.
Texas A&M's pedigree of turning out blue-chip left tackle prospects continues with Cedric Ogbuehi. He held down the right tackle spot last season and has made a seamless transition to the left side this year. With unreal athleticism and upside, Ogbuehi may be the best A&M tackle we've seen—better than Jake Matthews or Luke Joeckel.
3. Tennessee Titans
The Pick: Quarterback Marcus Mariota, Oregon
If the Tennessee Titans have the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NFL draft, that means quarterback Jake Locker has not developed into a quality starter. And in that scenario, the Titans would quickly draft my No. 1-ranked player in the country, Marcus Mariota.
Mariota, a redshirt junior, is ready for the NFL as a passer and a runner. He throws the ball cleanly with good velocity and placement to all levels of the field. A true dual-threat player, Mariota is a mix between Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger in terms of athletics, pocket style and how well he throws the ball.
Landing the clear-cut No. 1 player in the entire draft would be a welcome addition in Tennessee, especially if the Locker era is over.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo Bills)
The Pick: Offensive Tackle Brandon Scherff, Iowa
The Buffalo Bills traded up in Round 1 to grab wide receiver Sammy Watkins, and the Cleveland Browns net an extra first-round pick this season because of that. With two first-round picks, the Browns are in good shape to make serious additions to a roster that's full of talented, young players.
In Cleveland, the team wouldn't look hard at a quarterback such as Jameis Winston or Brett Hundley here, even though both would be a value pick. In a real-life draft situation like this, the Browns would trade back and allow a quarterback-needy team to move up. But with Johnny Manziel in place, quarterback isn't a need here.
The Browns are in "best player available" mode, and that's Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff. The freak athlete has the goods to play left tackle, either guard spot or right tackle from day one in the NFL. Given the uncertainty on the Browns' right side of the line, Scherff is a value and a need here.
5. New York Jets
The Pick: Outside Linebacker Randy Gregory, Nebraska
The New York Jets are another team unlikely to be picking this high in the 2015 draft, but based on preseason betting odds, here they are.
If the Jets finished with a top-five pick, it could mean a housecleaning at head coach, but no matter who is calling the plays in 2015, the Jets need help at pass-rusher. Enter the country's best edge player, Randy Gregory, and that situation looks automatically better.
Gregory has the quickness and agility to be a player in space, but he's strong enough to take on blockers at the point of attack and show a versatile pass-rush toolbox. With edge-players of his ilk becoming more and more popular in the NFL, Gregory is a steal at No. 5 overall.
Some may think a quarterback is a need here but put me in the "Geno Smith Fan Club." He has the goods to be the long-term starter here.
6. Minnesota Vikings
The Pick: Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
The Minnesota Vikings have drafted very well over the last several years—including five first-round picks in the last two drafts. The team is in great shape to play well if those young players all live up to predraft expectations.
A top-10 pick would be a disappointment given the expectations in Minnesota, but Mike Zimmer's team would be in good shape to add another impact defender. And with quarterbacks Brett Hundley and Jameis Winston still on the board, they would be a trade-back option too.
Making the pick, Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu makes a ton of sense. Ekpre-Olomu and Xavier Rhodes would team up on the boundary and allow Captain Munnerlyn to play in the slot. With nickel packages starting to dominate the landscape in the NFL, having three capable cover corners is more important than ever. This move secures that for Minnesota.
7. Cleveland Browns
The Pick: Wide Receiver Amari Cooper, Alabama
With their own pick in Round 1, the Cleveland Browns can look to address life after Josh Gordon. With the star receiver suspended for all of 2014 and his status moving forward contingent upon staying out of trouble while away from football, it's a safe bet for the Browns to start looking at other options.
Even if Gordon is back in 2015, the need for another outside receiver is real. Miles Austin is not a long-term solution here, and newcomer Andrew Hawkins is best working in the slot. Imagine pairing Gordon, Hawkins and Alabama's sure-handed Amari Cooper together?
Cooper looked impressive in the season opener and seems fully removed from a 2013 season that saw him battle with injury. Cooper, when healthy, is the type of NFL-ready star every scout wants at receiver.
The Pick: Defensive End Michael Bennett, Ohio State
For the first time since drafting Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Washington has a first-rounder at its disposal.
Hitting on their first first-round pick in three years will be huge for the front office and head coach Jay Gruden. And when you look at this roster, there are clearly defined needs on both sides of the ball. One such area is at defensive end in the team's 3-4 defense.
Ohio State's Michael Bennett brings versatility, athleticism and production to the defensive line. In a three-man front, he can play the 5-technique and anchor the edge, but in a passing down with four down linemen, he can play a 3-technique and split the guard and tackle as a pass-rusher. Bennett gives Washington the defensive chess piece it currently lacks.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Pick: Quarterback Jameis Winston, Florida State
The quarterback controversy in Tampa Bay hasn't been settled by great placement, and heading into the season it is the clear need on this roster. If the team finishes in the bottom 10 of the league, as expected by these odds, a quarterback change is coming.
Winston would be a hero in Tampa, and keeping the in-state star in Florida doesn't hurt, either. He has the big arm, mobility, size and NFL-readiness that general managers will fall in love with early on. If he checks all boxes in terms of character on and off the field, he would be a steal at pick No. 9 overall.
Tampa Bay could be in a great situation to benefit from the fact that many teams have invested in young quarterbacks recently. The number of teams heading into the season likely to draft a quarterback early is surprisingly small (Houston, Tennessee, Tampa Bay and St. Louis are the only standouts).
This could be a great spot for head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht to draft their quarterback of the future.
10. St. Louis Rams
The Pick: Quarterback Brett Hundley, UCLA
Another season lost to injury for Sam Bradford points to the St. Louis Rams investigating quarterbacks in the upcoming draft. Factor in that Bradford is a free agent after the 2015 season and it's very likely that the front office spends its first-rounder on the game's most important position.
Hundley is not a sure thing at quarterback coming out of UCLA, but he's playing with the least amount of talent around him compared to the other premier quarterback prospects in the class. His offensive line will never be confused for the one at Florida State, and his receivers lack the track-team speed of Oregon's.
Hundley is your prototypical quarterback, though. He's big, strong-armed, athletic, poised in the pocket and young enough (he's a redshirt junior) to still improve once in the NFL. And for St. Louis, a team in quarterback hell, Hundley represents a fresh start and a bright future.
11. Miami Dolphins
The Pick: Outside Linebacker Vic Beasley, Clemson
The Miami Dolphins invested big money in free agency to bring Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler to town before the 2013 season, but now they're already looking at shuffling people around and making changes to the defense.
With rookie Jordan Tripp likely to be starting in 2015, the Dolphins could go young, athletic and full of potential by adding a rookie starter in Vic Beasley.
At first look, Beasley might not be the ideal 4-3 outside linebacker, but look at what Von Miller and Khalil Mack have done in terms of transitioning from a pass-rushing role to the NFL.
Both players have been schemed to attack quarterbacks, focusing more on ability than a true position. Beasley, like Miller and Mack, can rush from a three-point stance on third downs and stand up to attack the edge when the team is in a base defense.
And for Miami, the real goal is getting as many athletes on the field as possible. Beasley helps them accomplish this.
12. Houston Texans
The Pick: Cornerback Marcus Peters, Washington
The Houston Texans would love to see a quarterback available here, but they just miss out based on this draft order. Their second-biggest need, though, gets filled with a premier talent in Marcus Peters.
The Washington cornerback has the size/speed/strength ratio that scouts fall in love with. He's built well enough to be a help in the run game, but he shines in space with quick feet and loose hips. His vision is also on par with lockdown cornerback prospects of the past.
Peters would step into this lineup immediately, starting opposite Johnathan Joseph and giving Houston a truly awesome starting cornerback duo.
13. New York Giants
The Pick: Offensive Tackle Andrus Peat, Stanford
The New York Giants' problems along the offensive line are well-noted this year. Having the chance to anchor the offensive line with a true stud at left tackle would be a welcome addition in the 2015 first round.
Andrus Peat is a well-coached, athletic and tough left tackle. He finishes blocks, can play in the run game and passing situations and is pro-ready coming out of the Stanford offense. He would be an immediate upgrade over William Beatty on the left side and would allow the team to keep Justin Pugh on the right.
Eli Manning and Co. need help on offense, and Peat gives Manning the blindside protection that has been sorely missed as of late.
14. Kansas City Chiefs
The Pick: Cornerback Trae Waynes, Michigan State
The Kansas City Chiefs have big needs at cornerback and wide receiver, and it won't be a surprise to see them draft the best available player at those two positions when the 2015 draft rolls around.
Trae Waynes can step right out of the aggressive Michigan State defense into the NFL. His tough style of play and long arms will be perfect in Kansas City, where the Chiefs have started to focus on longer-armed, taller cornerbacks under Andy Reid and John Dorsey.
Waynes is pro-ready and could give Kansas City a true No. 1 cornerback.
15. Dallas Cowboys
The Pick: Defensive End Dante Fowler, Florida
There is one area on the Dallas Cowboys' roster that needs immediate attention, and that's along the defensive line.
Jerry Jones let DeMarcus Ware go and then drafted an offensive lineman in Round 1 of the 2014 draft, pushing this need to the front of the team's list for 2015. The good news is that the 2015 class looks to be loaded all along the defensive line.
Florida's Dante Fowler is a freak of nature and would be the threat Dallas needs on the line. He's built like a defensive tackle, but he moves like an edge-rusher. That's the type of player the Cowboys can start building around on defense.
16. Carolina Panthers
The Pick: Safety Landon Collins, Alabama
The Carolina Panthers just miss out on the top-tier offensive tackle prospects at pick No. 16, but they are in good position to land a premier defensive talent in the secondary.
Alabama's Landon Collins is a prospect in the mold of Earl Thomas, Kenny Vaccaro, Jairus Byrd and Eric Weddle. He's physical, but he's athletic enough to give quarterbacks nightmares in coverage. Let him play center fielder and he'll attack the ball, but he's stout enough to come into the box and play the run, too.
Put Collins in the backfield with the Panthers' very impressive front seven and quarterbacks will have nightmares about playing this team.
17. San Diego Chargers
The Pick: Cornerback P.J. Williams, Florida State
The San Diego Chargers picked up Brandon Flowers (free agency) and Jason Verrett (2014 NFL draft) this offseason, but the need at cornerback is still real.
In an ideal world, Verrett will line up in the slot and attack offenses from there. Flowers can play the edge, but the Chargers need another boundary cornerback. That's where P.J. Williams steps in.
The Florida State cornerback is a prototype for what the NFL wants at the position these days. He's long, a smooth runner in space and agile enough to cut and change direction on the fly in man coverage. Williams' skill set allows him to play zone or man coverage equally well, and he should make an easy transition to the NFL.
The Florida State defense is loaded, but it's Williams whom NFL teams are already excited about.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pick: Wide Receiver DeVante Parker, Louisville
The Pittsburgh Steelers have talent at wide receiver, but more help is always welcome in this offense. Antonio Brown is a surefire stud, but No. 2 receiver Markus Wheaton remains unproven and untested. A subpar preseason for Wheaton hasn't helped matters, either. Add in a big, strong, red-zone threat like DeVante Parker to this group, though, and things look a lot different.
Parker is likely to miss up to two months with a broken metatarsal in his foot, but that's not an injury expected to derail his draft stock. Parker, who ranks as my top-rated senior wide receiver, has the size and hands to be an Alshon Jeffery-type wide receiver in the NFL. His jump-ball skills and ability to make impossible leaping grabs will have many comparing him to the Bears star.
Parker, Brown and Wheaton give Ben Roethlisberger the type of trio at receiver to take back the AFC North.
19. Cincinnati Bengals
The Pick: Defensive End Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
The Cincinnati Bengals are like a gambling addict in Las Vegas when it comes to pass-rushers—they can't help themselves.
Head coach Marvin Lewis loves pass-rushers, especially the long-armed type. Michigan State stud Shilique Calhoun will be right up his alley as a dynamic, athletic defensive player. And with few defined needs heading into the season, the Bengals are a "best player available" team for the 2015 draft.
Calhoun has the tools to rise up the board and become a top-10 pick. He has the length, speed and strength to be the top-ranked edge player in this draft if his play matches what he posted in 2014.
20. Baltimore Ravens
The Pick: Cornerback Ronald Darby, Florida State
The ridiculous talent at Florida State was mentioned earlier and here is more proof of that as a second cornerback is drafted in the top 20 picks.
Ronald Darby may be the best pure cover man in the country, and he's a player to watch as a potential mover throughout the season. He has to answer questions about off-field incidents, but Darby's talent is first-class all the way. He has the quickness, vision and instincts to match players such as Desmond Trufant and Justin Gilbert as far as recent top prospects go.
Darby's ability to step in and be a very good man-coverage cornerback right away, plus the priority of the position, makes him a smart pick up for the Baltimore Ravens. With Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Darby in the fold, the team is set for 2015 and beyond.
21. Atlanta Falcons
The Pick: Defensive End Mario Edwards, Florida State
And yet here's another Florida State player in this loaded draft class, making it four in the top 21 picks. For the Atlanta Falcons, Mario Edwards is relief like water in the desert.
Edwards' ability to play as a 3-4 or 4-3 defensive lineman makes him ideal for Mike Nolan's scheme. Edwards was impressive early in the season opener but faded late likely due to being heavier this season than what we saw in 2013. If he can find an ideal playing weight, he could be special early.
The Falcons need pass-rushing help in the worst way, and drafting a multiple-defender like Edwards gives them that up front. An outside linebacker would be good here, too, but Edwards' instant-impact and long-term potential are too good to ignore.
22. Arizona Cardinals
The Pick: Outside Linebacker Shaq Thompson, Washington
The Arizona Cardinals have serious questions on defense heading into the regular season, and while those questions could be answered by young players stepping into key roles this year, an influx of talent is likely to be needed in the offseason.
With pick No. 22 in the draft, the Cardinals can address the need for a versatile defender by adding Washington's Shaq Thompson.
The outside linebacker/safety/running back for the Husky's, Thompson has the skills in coverage to be a strong safety at the next level, but his play attacking the ball makes him a nice prospect as an outside linebacker. The Cardinals can get the best of both worlds and unleash this freak on NFC West quarterbacks from multiple positions in 2015.
Like Thomas Davis or Brian Urlacher before him, Thompson's versatility is the Cardinals' gain.
23. Detroit Lions
The Pick: Defensive Tackle Shawn Oakman, Baylor
The Detroit Lions enter the 2014 season with both starters at defensive tackle—Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley—entering free agency following the season. Neither starter is under contract past this year, and locking both up is unlikely given the salary cap, their respective play and the long-term health of the team's finances.
What the Lions can do is keep one and draft a replacement for the other. Enter the 6'9" Shawn Oakman.
The Baylor defensive lineman is a bit raw, but he has overpowering size and strength at the point of attack. With unlimited athletic potential and unblockable size, Oakman has the goods to be a priority pick in Round 1 of the 2015 draft.
24. Indianapolis Colts
The Pick: Inside Linebacker Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
The Indianapolis Colts have spent big money on fixing the defense, but the best move for the team long-term is to start drafting key players. Inside linebacker is a great place to start the reloading process.
D'Qwell Jackson holds down one starting spot in the 3-4 defense, but Jerrell Freeman hasn't shown himself to be a long-term solution at the other starting spot. What the team needs is a high-level athlete at the position, someone who can work in coverage, blitz through A-gaps and stop the run.
That player is Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney. The big, long inside linebacker has range, athletic blitzing skills and can move around the defense well enough to attack offenses from multiple positions.
25. Philadelphia Eagles
The Pick: Safety/Cornerback Jalen Mills, LSU
The Philadelphia Eagles are a well-built machine on offense, but on defense this team still has needs—especially in the secondary.
Head coach Chip Kelly has put an emphasis on long, athletic defenders, and the team has started to fill out roster spots with that type of player in mind. But the secondary is full of patchwork starters (with the exception of Brandon Boykin) and could see massive upgrades in the next offseason.
Jalen Mills has the skills to play cornerback or safety—much like Kenny Vaccaro and Jimmie Ward from previous drafts. Mills could step into a starting role at either spot in Philadelphia or become a valuable asset in nickel and dime packages, thanks to his versatility.
26. Chicago Bears
The Pick: Wide Receiver Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
Wide receiver for the Chicago Bears in Round 1? No, I am not writing this article from Washington or Colorado; it's actually a pretty serious need.
Head coach Marc Trestman loves three-receiver sets, but the Bears haven't been able to find a third receiver to work with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Instead of rolling out free agents and leftovers, they can address the position once and for all by drafting for need.
Jaelen Strong has the speed to work in the slot and is a versatile enough route-runner to be an impact player in the Chicago offense. He can also line up outside, giving Trestman flexibility with his alignments and personnel while keeping defenses honest against a receiving corps that would quickly be the best in the NFL.
27. New Orleans Saints
The Pick: Outside Linebacker Leonard Floyd, Georgia
With an early-morning deadline approaching, this mock draft was assembled before the Georgia Bulldogs destroyed Clemson in their season opener. That was before the rest of America saw Leonard Floyd dominate the game at outside linebacker.
Floyd was set to be my surprise pick in Round 1 of this mock draft, but he's no longer an unknown after a brilliant game in Week 1. The good news for New Orleans Saints fans is that Floyd, a redshirt sophomore, is still available in this early mock draft.
Floyd's ability as an edge-rusher is ideal for the Saints' defense, and lining him up opposite Junior Galette gives the team the one-two punch it needs for attacking the quarterback.
28. Green Bay Packers
The Pick: Defensive Tackle Carl Davis, Iowa
The Green Bay Packers saw B.J. Raji regress each season, and then an injury cut his 2014 season down before it could even begin. Now they're facing the reality of needing to draft his replacement this offseason.
Iowa's Carl Davis is a big man, but he's also athletic enough to pressure quarterbacks with speed and quickness off the snap. He's the new breed of nose tackle—strong, but fast and explosive. He's more than just a gap-plugging fat man; Davis is able to get after the quarterback and disrupt the pocket.
With speed and athleticism becoming more of a priority on defense in Green Bay, Davis is an ideal pick to replace Raji in the middle of the line.
29. San Francisco 49ers
The Pick: Wide Receiver Nelson Agholor, USC
The San Francisco 49ers enter the 2014 season with Michael Crabtree set to enter free agency, an aging Anquan Bolding and an underperforming Stevie Johnson at wide receiver. If you're surprised by the team picking a wide receiver here, don't be. It's a need.
Nelson Agholor would be a player picked to replace either Crabtree or Boldin, given his ability as a strong possession receiver. He also has enough speed to stretch the field, but he isn't a true burner in space. Agholor is pro-ready, though, and as a route-runner he has the goods to be the best in the entire class.
The 49ers, when healthy, have few identified needs, thanks to strong drafting and development, but the wide receiver corps could be due for a massive rebuild after 2014.
30. New England Patriots
The Pick: Running Back Todd Gurley, Georgia
At face value, the New England Patriots would not seem to need help at running back. But head coach Bill Belichick is great at recognizing future needs and quickly admitting misses in his own draft room. And if Stevan Ridley ends up in the coach's doghouse again due to fumbles, running back becomes a need pretty quickly.
Georgia running back Todd Gurley is the type of talent needed to end the two-year streak of no running backs being picked in the first round.
He's huge (6'1", 231 lbs), fast enough to score touchdowns as a kick returner and has the power and speed combination to put him in the Adrian Peterson category as a prospect. Of course, Trent Richardson was in that class, too, as a prospect, which is why teams are gun-shy about spending first-round picks on running backs.
Belichick, though, knows that he must load up this roster for Tom Brady's final days and for life after Brady. Gurley is a great step for both realities.
31. Seattle Seahawks
The Pick: Defensive End Cedric Reed, Texas
The Seattle Seahawks are ridiculously well-built, thanks to head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider sharing a vision for how the team should be built and ran. That's paid off with a Super Bowl ring, and now the team enters 2014 with few needs.
One area where you have to always look to improve is in the pass rush, and the Seahawks have managed to survive departures in free agency while staying young and competitive here. But the defensive end talent has been weakened and will be hurt again after 2014 when Cliff Avril becomes a free agent.
Drafting for need is something the Seahawks do well, and Texas defensive end Cedric Reed would fit their scheme ideally. He's long, fast, muscular and able to rush with speed or power from either edge. That's perfect for the ever-changing front four in Seattle.
32. Denver Broncos
The Pick: Offensive Tackle Cameron Erving, Florida State
The Denver Broncos are set up as long as Peyton Manning is playing football, but team president John Elway must also look at building a team around Manning and for the day when he's done playing ball. With that in mind, drafting to keep Manning's jersey clean is a safe strategy, since it will carry over to the next quarterback, too.
The offensive line in Denver has seen a change this year as Orlando Franklin moves to guard and Chris Clark enters the starting lineup at right tackle. Clark and Franklin may be great in these new roles, but Franklin is a free agent after the 2014 season. Adding athletic talent here is a key.
Cameron Erving plays left tackle for Florida State, but he has the footwork to move around the offensive line. He could replace Franklin at left guard or move Clark inside and become the team's answer at right tackle long term. Drafting Erving gives the Broncos flexibility to put the five best linemen on the field at positions of strength.