Matt Bowen's 2015 Draft Darlings

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterApril 25, 2015

David J. Phillip/AP Images

Everyone has their favorites heading into the draft.

Beyond the top QBs who get most of the headlines, there are always some players who you just latch onto over time. Whether it's from watching their tape, seeing them live at the Senior Bowl workouts or the numbers they put up in the athletic testing—or some combination of the three—I'm no different. Every year, there are players I'm just a bit more interested in than the rest.

With the draft kicking off Thursday in Chicago, here are my top five "Draft Darlings" from this year:

 

David Cobb, RB, Minnesota

Cobb doesn't have the "flash" of a Todd Gurley or a Melvin Gordon, but as a running back in that late second tier of prospects at the position, he is going to provide value to an NFL team because of his physical, downhill, hit-you-in-the-mouth style.

Nov 29, 2014; Madison, WI, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers running back David Cobb (27) during the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin won 34-24.  Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

At 5'11", 229 pounds, Cobb has a legit NFL frame and the ability to push the ball between the tackles, drop his pad level and run through contact. He isn't a back who will consistently bounce the ball or make defenders miss with his lateral movement. But for a team that wants to run the NFL's core power schemes—Lead, Power O, Wham and Counter OF—he's your man.

One cut and attack the line of scrimmage; that's what I see with Cobb. He is an old-school back who has a place for an NFL offense that wants to control the tempo of the game and wear down opposing defensive fronts by running the football.

 

Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson

Beasley is one of the top pure pass-rushers in this class because of his explosive first step, rare athleticism and ridiculous size/speed measurables, which all mesh with the tape. This a top-15 prospect who should be expected to play an impact role as a rookie in both the base and nickel packages due to his ability to get home to the quarterback off the edge.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Back at the combine, Beasley put on an absolute show, lighting up the turf with a 4.53 40-yard dash at 6'3", 246 pounds. But don't forget about the numbers he posted in the vertical jump (41"), three-cone (6.91 seconds), short shuttle (4.15 seconds) or the 225-pound bench press testing (35 reps). He has freakish ability as an edge defender.

I see a player who can stand up as a 3-4 outside 'backer or drop down and play defensive end in the nickel front. Plus, he is athletic enough to possibly play for a 4-3 team. Beasley isn't the most dominant player versus the run game, but guys who can rush the passer are premium prospects. And that's where he will earn his money as a pro.

 

Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State

This wide receiver class is loaded (again) with top talent. But with all the talk about Amari Cooper, Kevin White, DeVante Parker and the second-tier prospects such as Miami's Phillip Dorsett and Central Florida's Breshad Perriman, it feels like Lockett has been lost in the mix. The projected slot receiver from Kansas State can play—and he will find a role at the next level.

Jan 2, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; Kansas State Wildcats wide receiver Tyler Lockett (16) runs after a catch during the second half of the 2015 Alamo Bowl against the UCLA Bruins at Alamodome. The Bruins won 40-35. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sp
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Lockett has 4.40 speed and the change-of-direction ability to burst out of his cuts as a short-to-intermediate route-runner. Think about the option route on third down from the slot, the intermediate cuts such as the dig or the quick three-step slant with Lockett matched up versus a nickel corner. Plus, he has enough straight-line speed to press a defense up the seam. That's tough for any secondary with a threat in the middle of the field.

Given his limited size (5'10", 182 lbs), Lockett will have to beat press with his lateral movement and quick acceleration at the line of scrimmage versus pro defensive backs, but we aren't talking about a No. 1 wide receiver outside of the numbers. He's a slot guy who has big-play ability and can also contribute as a punt returner on special teams. A Senior Bowl standout, Lockett has value as a midround pick.

 

Jaquiski Tartt, SS, Samford

I didn't have a scouting report on Tartt when I arrived at the Senior Bowl workouts, but that quickly changed after watching him practice versus some of the top talent in the country. The Samford product has pro size at strong safety (6'1", 221 lbs), speed (4.53 40 time) and closes on the ball with a purpose. This guy is a missile at safety and will drive downhill and use his pads to deliver a strike on contact.

Danny Johnston/Associated Press

Tartt should be a standout core player on special teams as a rookie. Put him on all four units and let him cause havoc. Along with the impact he will provide for an NFL team on coverage units, the kicking game can be used as a developmental tool for Tartt while he learns the pro game at safety.

The former FCS star can develop into an NFL starter at strong safety, and I do think there is a spot for him as an underneath defender in the defensive sub-packages. Tartt doesn't project as a deep-middle-of-the-field player, but he will do some damage in the box, where he can use his size and athletic ability to match tight ends or produce versus the run game.

 

Danny Shelton, NT, Washington

The hype from earlier in the draft process on Shelton has slowed a bit over the last month or so, but I still look at the Washington product as an ideal 3-4 nose tackle who can live in the middle of the defense and eat up space at the point of attack.

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

Shelton is a massive man at 6'2", 339 pounds and can toss guys around like a bouncer in a bar fight, take on double-teams and penetrate the line of scrimmage with his quickness and athleticism to make plays versus the run. A key position for any 30 front, finding a nose tackle with the size, strength and ability of Shelton is easier said than done.

As a traditional 2-Gap player in the 3-4 "Okie" front, put Shelton at the top of the list. Plus, he can give you some production as a pass-rusher from an inside alignment. Shelton stood out from my perspective at the Senior Bowl workouts, and he has the frame to be a fixture on an NFL defensive front for a long time.

 

Five more players on my list…

-Brandon Scherff, OT/OG, Iowa

-Quinten Rollins, CB, Miami of Ohio

-Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington

-Nate Orchard, OLB, Utah 

-Damarious Randall, FS, Arizona State 

 

Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.