2015 NFL Draft Big Board: Matt Miller's Latest Rankings
It's always NFL draft season around these parts, and with six weeks of college football already in the books, a clear picture of the best talent available for the 2015 draft is starting to take shape.
An early look at this class shows strength at offensive tackle, running back and edge pass-rushers on defense. The top-end talent at quarterback looks impressive midway through the year, but with conference schedules picking up, players like Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Jameis Winston will be under more pressure and more of a spotlight to perform well for scouts.
Here's a look at the current top 100 players on my board, which includes underclassmen (redshirt sophomores and juniors) at this stage. You'll also get a look at the top 10 players at each position, including rankings for 3-4 defensive positions.
Overall Top 50
Rankings for the NFL draft are very fluid during the season. As players improve, decline or get hurt, rankings can change pretty drastically over a short amount of time.
That said, my top 10 has been largely the same since the year started. Marcus Mariota, Cedric Ogbuehi, Leonard Williams, Vic Beasley, Brandon Scherff and Randy Gregory are mainstays inside the top of the rankings, with Landon Collins, Amari Cooper and Todd Gurley earning big moves up the board in the early season.
While those players have moved up, Winston and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu are the players most notably moving down the board thus far. For Jameis Winston, it's more about off-field concerns than any on-field struggles. Ekpre-Olomu, on the other hand, has struggled on the field in man coverage and is moving down because of teams abusing him in the last two weeks.
|2||Cedric Ogbuehi||OT||1||Texas A&M|
|11||Michael Bennett||DT||1||Ohio State|
|12||Jameis Winston||QB||2||Florida State|
|16||Connor Cook||QB||4||Michigan State|
|19||Dante Fowler Jr.||DE||5||Florida|
|21||Shilique Calhoun||DE||6||Michigan State|
|23||Mario Edwards Jr.||DE||7||Florida State|
|24||P.J. Williams||CB||3||Florida State|
|28||Ty Sambrailo||OT||3||Colorado State|
|29||Eddie Goldman||DT||3||Florida State|
|32||Trae Waynes||CB||4||Michigan State|
|33||Ronald Darby||CB||5||Florida State|
|34||Germain Ifedi||OT||5||Texas A&M|
|43||Benardrick McKinney||OLB||5||Miss. State|
|44||Mike Davis||RB||4||South Carolina|
|45||Denzel Perryman||ILB||2||Miami (FL)|
|46||Kurtis Drummond||FS||1||Michigan State|
Underclassmen dominate the quarterback rankings as we break into October. It's important to note that not every player listed here is a guarantee to enter the 2015 draft, either.
Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley are solid locks to enter the draft after both were thought of as top-15 players for last year's draft. Even as redshirt juniors, it would be a shock to see either return to college.
Jameis Winston, Everett Golson and Dak Prescott all have high-end potential, but each needs more work before jumping to the NFL. Winston needs to mature off the field and keep his name out of the headlines, which has been there for all the wrong reasons, while Golson and Prescott need to continue developing as passers and decision-makers.
The best senior of the group, Bryce Petty, plays in a system that produces huge numbers but doesn't ask him to make many progressions in his reads. The athleticism and stats are impressive, but he's no sure thing.
Junior Connor Cook is the riser to watch here, though. The Michigan State offense doesn't allow him to compete with Petty, Mariota or Winston in terms of numbers, but he looks the part of an NFL starter.
|2||Jameis Winston||Florida State|
|4||Connor Cook||Michigan State|
|6||Everett Golson||Notre Dame|
|7||Dak Prescott||Mississippi State|
|8||Brandon Bridge||South Alabama|
|10||Jacoby Brissett||North Carolina St.|
Two years without a running back being drafted in the first round has many wondering when we'll see that happen again. Spoiler alert—it'll happen this year.
Todd Gurley is the best running back prospect since Trent Richardson—and I realize how odd that sounds given Richardson's struggles, but try remembering he was a can't-miss prospect out of Alabama.
Gurley would be on par with Richardson, Adrian Peterson, Cedric Benson and Ronnie Brown in terms of being a player NFL teams "must have" and will use a high draft pick to get. This is a rare, once-in-a-decade type of talent, and Gurley has better speed and vision than Richardson showed at Alabama. In short, Gurley is what everyone thought Richardson could be.
Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah are also first-rounders at this stage, with Gordon offering game-changing speed and Abdullah being the all-around back that's so important in the NFL right now. Even Mike Davis at South Carolina has a good chance to entice teams to spend a late first-round pick on him.
The top-end talent and overall depth at running back is unreal for 2015.
|4||Mike Davis||South Carolina|
|5||Duke Johnson||Miami (FL)|
|8||Jeremy Langford||Michigan State|
Last year brought us Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham and Kelvin Benjamin. An early look at the 2015 class doesn't indicate the strength that we saw in 2014, but this is a good class with a lot of depth.
Alabama's Amari Cooper is a legitimate top-10 player with the speed, hands, route running and vision to be an elite player. You could say that offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin hasn't had great success turning productive wide receivers into NFL stars, but Cooper has more raw talent than Marqise Lee or Robert Woods had coming out of USC.
Cooper is the smooth, athletic wideout, but Michigan's Devin Funchess is the physically overpowering monster on the edge. The former tight end has the size every NFL team wants right now.
DeVante Parker is currently injured, but he's my top-ranked senior wide receiver and has room to move up big once healthy.
|7||Rashad Greene||Florida State|
|8||Kevin White||West Virginia|
One year after Eric Ebron went No. 10 overall in the 2014 draft, there isn't a dominant must-have type of player at the tight end position. At least not yet.
Looking at the landscape of tight end play, the senior class is strong without being super talented, and the junior class is still very raw and underdeveloped. That leaves something to be desired in terms of top-end talent, but teams looking for a versatile tight end can find one outside of Round 1.
Ohio State's Jeff Heuerman won't lead the NCAA in stats or anything, but he's a tough, athletic, versatile player with the skills to stand up in the slot or drop down and block as an extra lineman.
|1||Jeff Heuerman||Ohio State|
|2||Nick O'Leary||Florida State|
|3||Ben Koyack||Notre Dame|
|4||Clive Walford||Miami (FL)|
|5||Rory Anderson||South Carolina|
|7||E.J. Bibbs||Iowa State|
|8||MyCole Pruitt||Southern Illinois|
It should be no surprise that Texas A&M has another offensive tackle ranked in the top spot at his position. What might surprise you is that its right tackle, Germain Ifedi, also looks like a future first-rounder. He'll likely follow in the footsteps of Jake Matthews and Cedric Ogbuehi before him and slide over to left tackle next year with Ogbuehi heading to the NFL this spring.
There is serious first-round talent across the board at the tackle position outside of A&M, too. Brandon Scherff may get stereotyped as an unathletic Iowa tackle, but that couldn't be further from the truth. And little-known Ty Sambrailo from Colorado State will have folks talking very soon about his total-game skill set.
The rankings are dominated by underclassmen like Andrus Peat, Ifedi, Spencer Drango and Ereck Flowers, which potentially sets the stage for another great tackle class in 2016.
|1||Cedric Ogbuehi||Texas A&M|
|3||Ty Sambrailo||Colorado State|
|5||Germain Ifedi||Texas A&M|
|7||Ereck Flowers||Miami (FL)|
|9||Cameron Erving||Florida State|
You won't find many people getting excited about offensive guard play, but when your interior offensive line is bad, it definitely shows up.
Teams like the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers have created dominant running games by investing in guards and centers early in the draft, and any team looking to do so this year will like South Carolina's A.J. Cann.
Cann, Alabama's Arie Kouandjio and the duo at Florida State make up a talented top four at the position. Cann, for his part, looks like a potential late first-rounder at this time and could be the cream of a talented guard crop.
|1||A.J. Cann||South Carolina|
|3||Tre Jackson||Florida State|
|4||Josue Matias||Florida State|
|6||Quinton Spain||West Virginia|
|8||Jarvis Harrison||Texas A&M|
|10||Miles Dieffenbach||Penn State|
With no clear-cut first-round talent currently at center, it's easy to lose sight of the position. And then you remember that young centers like Travis Frederick, Russell Bodine, Bryan Stork and Corey Linsley are all holding down starting jobs for top-tier teams right now.
Auburn's Reese Dismukes looks to be the best of the class, but he'll have to prove himself as a pass-protector coming out of a run-heavy offense. The opposite goes for Oregon's Hroniss Grasu, who is a smooth athlete in space but needs to show he can maul defenders in the run game.
|3||B.J. Finney||Kansas State|
|6||Tom Farniok||Iowa State|
|7||Andy Gallik||Boston College|
|10||Austin Barron||Florida State|
4-3 Defensive Ends
If you want to slap a fancy label on the 2015 NFL draft, you might want to consider calling it the Year of the Pass-Rusher. And for teams running a 4-3 defense, that's incredibly valuable.
With elite athletes like Leonard Williams, Randy Gregory and Shane Ray dominating the board's top 15, it's easy to see this position once again becoming a focal point of a strong class. Depending somewhat on the draft order, it wouldn't be a reach to think three defensive ends/edge-rushers could go in the top 10.
Of the 10 players listed here, seven have a top-32 grade.
|1||Leonard Williams||USC||4-3 DT|
|2||Randy Gregory||Nebraska||3-4 OLB|
|3||Shane Ray||Missouri||3-4 OLB|
|4||Shawn Oakman||Baylor||3-4 DE|
|6||Shilique Calhoun||Michigan State||3-4 OLB|
|7||Mario Edwards||Florida State||3-4 DE|
|8||Hau'oli Kikaha||Washington||3-4 OLB|
|9||Trey Flowers||Arkansas||3-4 OLB|
|10||Cedric Reed||Texas||3-4 OLB|
4-3 Defensive Tackles
A 4-3 defensive tackle is generally asked to be a dual-threat player as a run-stopper and a pass-rusher. When looking at the 2015 draft class, there is plenty to like for both spots.
Ohio State's Michael Bennett is an ideal 3-technique defender with the quickness to be a threat as a pass-rusher and the tenacity to get after it in the run game. He isn't super stout at the point of attack yet, but he's an Aaron Donald-like prospect.
Big Danny Shelton and Carl Davis are able to step in as run defenders and collapse the pocket as pass-rushers, and Florida State's Eddie Goldman does each well enough to be a legitimate first-round prospect.
|1||Michael Bennett||Ohio State||None|
|3||Eddie Goldman||Florida State||None|
|4||Carl Davis||Iowa||3-4 DE|
|6||Christian Covington||Rice||3-4 DE|
|9||Grady Jarrett||Clemson||3-4 DE|
|10||Tyeler Davison||Fresno State||3-4 DE|
4-3 Outside Linebackers
A 4-3 outside linebacker has to be able to play in pass coverage, stop the run on the edge and, in some defenses, pull the trigger and get after the quarterback. When looking for a draft prospect at the position, each team may have different rankings based on what it wants at the position in terms of coverage, pass rush and run defense.
Below is a look at a basic 4-3 outside linebacker ranking, with the understanding that certain teams may value a pass-rusher like Leonard Floyd over an all-around athlete like Shaq Thompson. The good news is that the top four players here all look like first-rounders and are incredibly versatile for today's ever-changing job responsibilities of an outside linebacker.
|1||Vic Beasley||Clemson||3-4 OLB|
|3||Leonard Floyd||Georgia||3-4 OLB|
|4||Eric Striker||Oklahoma||3-4 OLB|
|5||Benardrick McKinney||Mississippi St.||ILB|
|7||Zach Hodges||Harvard||3-4 OLB|
|8||Jordan Jenkins||Georgia||3-4 OLB|
|10||Geneo Grissom||Oklahoma||3-4 OLB|
3-4 Defensive Ends
The spread of the 3-4 defense in the NFL means more and more scouts are tasked with finding big, athletic bodies to play defensive end in a three-man front. The task is not easy, as many colleges are still running four-man fronts.
The ideal 3-4 defensive end is built like a defensive tackle with the strength and athleticism to both stop the run and rush the quarterback. Think of J.J. Watt, Muhammad Wilkerson and Justin Smith as the ideal athlete for the position.
USC's Leonard Williams is a ridiculous athlete, as is big Shawn Oakman at Baylor. Both are tailor-made for the 3-4 and could be top-15 picks.
|1||Leonard Williams||USC||4-3 DT|
|2||Shawn Oakman||Baylor||4-3 DE|
|3||Mario Edwards||Florida State||4-3 DE|
|4||Carl Davis||Iowa||3-4 DE|
|5||Arik Armstead||Oregon||4-3 DE|
|6||Christian Covington||Rice||3-4 DE|
|7||Grady Jarrett||Clemson||3-4 DE|
|8||Tyeler Davison||Fresno State||3-4 DE|
|9||Henry Anderson||Stanford||4-3 DT|
|10||Gabe Wright||Auburn||4-3 DT|
3-4 Outside Linebackers
A 3-4 outside linebacker is equal parts pass-rusher and run defender, so it requires a unique skill set to be athletic enough and versatile enough to play the position.
Clemson's Vic Beasley is a terror coming off the edge, and he makes up for his smaller stature (6'2", 236 lbs) with exceptional quickness and length. Nebraska's Randy Gregory is a monster (6'6", 245 lbs) and has the speed and strength to be an instant starter in the NFL.
The class is dominated by college defensive ends, and players like Leonard Floyd and Gregory are the rare breed that come into the NFL with experience playing in a role similar to a 3-4 outside linebacker.
|1||Vic Beasley||Clemson||4-3 OLB|
|2||Randy Gregory||Nebraska||4-3 DE|
|3||Leonard Floyd||Georgia||4-3 DE|
|4||Shane Ray||Missouri||4-3 DE|
|5||Shilique Calhoun||Michigan State||4-3 DE|
|6||Eric Striker||Oklahoma||4-3 OLB|
|7||Hau'oli Kikaha||Washington||4-3 DE|
|8||Trey Flowers||Arkansas||4-3 DE|
|9||Noah Spence||Ohio State||4-3 DE|
|10||Markus Golden||Missouri||4-3 DE|
The talent at inside linebacker is unique in that the top-tier players are all versatile enough to play outside linebacker, too.
There is no elite talent here, but there are quality starter-level players in the top seven. You also get a ton of potential in Kris Frost, Benardrick McKinney and Trey DePriest, while others like Denzel Perryman and Eric Kendricks are battle-tested and ready to roll in the NFL.
|1||Kris Frost||Auburn||4-3 OLB|
|2||Benardrick McKinney||Mississippi St.||4-3 OLB|
|3||Denzel Perryman||Miami (FL)||4-3 OLB|
|4||Eric Kendricks||UCLA||4-3 OLB|
Look around the NFL right now and it's obvious that the level of play at cornerback is pretty bad for many teams. That will put the pressure on scouts to find starting-quality players at the college level for the upcoming draft.
NFL teams increasingly desire long, fast, agile athletes at cornerback, and in the 2015 class, they'll find that with Marcus Peters, P.J. Williams and Trae Waynes. And while Ifo Ekpre-Olomu isn't the biggest guy (just under 5'10"), he has the quickness to be a starter as a slot cornerback early in his career with the potential to be moved outside.
Of the 10 players here, the top six have first-round potential.
|3||P.J. Williams||Florida State|
|4||Trae Waynes||Michigan State|
|5||Ronald Darby||Florida State|
|8||Doran Grant||Ohio State|
|9||Steven Nelson||Oregon State|
|10||Kevin Johnson||Wake Forest|
If your favorite NFL team needs safety help, this is a good year to need one.
Alabama's Landon Collins is a truly elite-level talent at the position and has shown the ability to play free safety or strong safety at the next level. Collins ranks higher than former Alabama safeties Mark Barron and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Collins isn't the only starting-quality player here, though. Kurtis Drummond, Derron Smith and Cody Prewitt are all players with the talent to start in the pros.
|2||Kurtis Drummond||Michigan State|
|3||Derron Smith||Fresno State|
|4||Cody Prewitt||Ole Miss|
|7||Tyler Hunter||Florida State|
|9||Kyshoen Jarrett||Virginia Tech|
|10||Justin Cox||Mississippi State|