2015 NFL Draft Big Board: Matt Miller's Midseason Rankings
The 2014 college football regular season is down to the final month of play, which means time to evaluate NFL draft prospects is also heating up.
Looking at the 2015 NFL draft class in early November—including expected juniors and redshirt sophomore underclassman declarations—you get the sense that this isn't a great or deep group. Unlike the 2011 and 2014 drafts, both of which had exceptional top-tier talent and great depth, the 2015 class has a handful of very good prospects near the top of the rankings but a big drop-off to the second tier.
The same can be said for many positions, but the 2015 class does look very strong at running back and edge-rushers on defense. And depending on which underclassmen head to the NFL this spring, the group at quarterback could be deep on passers or very thin.
As NFL fans begin to look ahead to the offseason, here is my list of the top draft-eligible college players based on how well they will project to the next level. This is not a list of the best players in college football, but a list of how good the best players in college look to the NFL. Throw out your stat books, because this is more about talent, traits and upside.
It's still early in the draft process, so much can change, but after two months of college football, this is how the NFL prospect landscape looks for my top 50 players and the top 10 players at each position.
Just four weeks after the last top 50 was released, there are many new faces and some surprising moves on the board.
The top of the list stays the same with quarterback Marcus Mariota headlining the class, but the rest of the top five has seen a shake-up. Cedric Ogbuehi was previously ranked No. 2 overall, and Jameis Winston was outside the top 10 last time around.
Other big movers include a healthy DeVante Parker at Louisville (No. 13 overall), Kentucky's Bud Dupree (No. 16) and the continued rise of West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White (No. 19 overall).
|2||Jameis Winston||QB||2||Florida State|
|7||Cedric Ogbuehi||OT||1||Texas A&M|
|19||Kevin White||WR||4||West Virginia|
|20||Connor Cook||QB||4||Michigan State|
|23||P.J. Williams||CB||2||Florida State|
|24||Trae Waynes||CB||3||Michigan State|
|25||Michael Bennett||DT||2||Ohio State|
|26||Ty Sambrailo||OT||4||Colorado State|
|27||Benardrick McKinney||ILB||1||Miss. State|
|29||Eddie Goldman||DT||3||Florida State|
|35||Jaelen Strong||WR||6||Arizona State|
|37||Dante Fowler Jr.||DE||5||Florida|
|41||Mario Edwards||DE||6||Florida State|
|42||Shilique Calhoun||DE||7||Michigan State|
|44||Ronald Darby||CB||7||Florida State|
|47||Everett Golson||QB||6||Notre Dame|
|48||Duke Johnson||RB||4||Miami (Fla.)|
|50||A.J. Cann||G||1||South Carolina|
Top 10 Quarterbacks
The group of quarterbacks ranked heading into the end of the season hasn't changed much, but there is at least news to update you on.
Oregon's Marcus Mariota remains the top prospect over Florida State's Jameis Winston. Mariota as a player has advantages in terms of athleticism and passing mechanics, but he also gets the nod over Winston due to the high number of off-field concerns surrounding the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. It's a close race, though, with the two quarterbacks being ranked No. 1 and No. 2 overall, respectively.
The rest of the quarterback crop requires some faith. UCLA's Brett Hundley has regressed, but the team around him has taken a nosedive. A team drafting in the first half of Round 1 could fall in love with his tools and figure it can give him a better supporting cast and coaching than the Bruins have. It's very similar to the Jaguars drafting Blake Bortles at No. 3 overall in spite of his needing work on mechanics and entering the draft as an underdeveloped quarterback prospect.
Michigan State's Connor Cook told The Dan Patrick Show that he's inclined to return to college for his senior season, which would take him off the rankings. We'll wait until January's deadline for underclassmen to declare before he's removed.
|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|
|9||Shane Carden||East Carolina|
Top 10 Running Backs
The 2015 draft class is loaded at running back. How good is this group? Four players rank inside my top 50, and 10 are inside the top 100 players.
Georgia's Todd Gurley is a legitimate headliner and should be the earliest running back drafted in the last two years. He appears to be a lock to break the trend of running backs not going in the first round and is a top-10 player overall.
Gurley isn't all this class has to offer, though. Ameer Abdullah, Tevin Coleman, Duke Johnson and Melvin Gordon all look like starting NFL running backs with the toolboxes to be quality players over the long haul. Of the 10 players ranked here, each has the skill set to be a starter in his first two seasons.
|4||Duke Johnson||Miami (Fla.)|
|6||Mike Davis||South Carolina|
|8||Jay Ajayi||Boise State|
Top 10 Wide Receivers
The 2014 wide receiver class was legendary for its talent and depth. While the 2015 class probably won't compare once all underclassmen make their decisions, this is still a very talented group with a good amount of depth.
Including underclassmen, there are 14 wide receivers currently in my top 100 players—which compares to 17 in the 2014 class. The top of this class compares well if you match up Amari Cooper to Sammy Watkins, Kevin White to Mike Evans and DeVante Parker to Odell Beckham, but it would be a surprise to see the 2015 wide receivers drafted as early.
The big movers after one month of play are all due to injury. A healthy DeVante Parker is my No. 2 wide receiver, while a still-slowed Kasen Williams at Washington falls out of the top 10 completely.
|4||Kevin White||West Virginia|
|6||Jaelen Strong||Arizona State|
|7||Rashad Greene||Florida State|
Top 10 Tight Ends
The 2015 draft is likely to come and go without a tight end being selected in the first round, but there are still talented players here capable of making an early impact as picks outside of Round 1.
Ohio State's Jeff Heuerman and Florida State's Nick O'Leary are two fun football players to watch. Both are a bit of a throwback to the days of tough, gritty tight ends (see O'Leary suplexing defenders) while still offering versatility and athleticism. Heuerman can play in-line (next to an offensive tackle) or in space and has improved as a blocker in 2014. O'Leary, like a young Chris Cooley, is a player you can use at fullback or tight end and get production.
|1||Jeff Heuerman||Ohio State|
|2||Nick O'Leary||Florida State|
|3||Ben Koyack||Notre Dame|
|4||E.J. Bibbs||Iowa State|
|5||Jesse James||Penn State|
|7||Clive Walford||Miami (Fla.)|
|9||Connor Hamlett||Oregon State|
|10||MyCole Pruitt||Southern Illinois|
Top 10 Offensive Tackles
The offensive tackle rankings have changed little since the Week 4 update, but the overall rankings of the players are trending down.
Seniors Cedric Ogbuehi and Brandon Scherff have struggled this year—Ogbuehi with technique, Scherff with an injury—which pushes them down the board slightly. Ty Sambrailo maintains a first-round grade at this update and looks like a very solid mid-to-late first-round pick.
The biggest riser is LSU's La'el Collins, who has shown improved technique and footwork over the last month. Missing from the last update are underclassmen Germain Ifedi, Ereck Flowers and Spencer Drango, as I'm projecting all will return to school for 2015 at this time.
|1||Cedric Ogbuehi||Texas A&M|
|4||Ty Sambrailo||Colorado State|
|8||Cam Erving||Florida State|
Top 10 Guards
The Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions have all invested heavily in drafting and developing offensive guards in the past three seasons—something the New Orleans Saints did earlier in the decade to protect Drew Brees. As teams begin to copy that format and look to the middle of the line, the 2015 class comes into focus.
There is no Round 1 talent here, but South Carolina's A.J. Cann is a top-50 player. Florida State also boasts two Day 2 talents, and Texas A&M's Jarvis Harrison is a rising talent coming out of that offensive line factory.
|1||A.J. Cann||South Carolina|
|2||Josue Matias||Florida State|
|3||Tre' Jackson||Florida State|
|4||Jarvis Harrison||Texas A&M|
Top 10 Centers
Talk to enough NFL evaluators and you'll find a wide variety of thoughts on how important the center position is in today's NFL. But a look at successful teams over the last five years (Seattle, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Baltimore and New York Giants) shows stability in their winning season at center. Finding a 10-year-starter isn't as easy as it used to be, but finding a long-term solution is still a must at center.
There isn't a first-round player here, and no one is ranked inside the top 50, but Auburn's Reese Dismukes is a solid second-rounder, and Oregon's Hroniss Grasu is a top-tier athlete with the potential to shoot up the board late.
|3||Mike Matthews||Texas A&M|
|4||B.J. Finney||Kansas State|
|6||Andy Gallik||Boston College|
|9||Tom Farniok||Iowa State|
Top 10 4-3 Defensive Ends
The Year of the Pass-Rusher.
That's the label I put on the 2015 draft class after the Week 4 Big Board update, and four weeks later it's even more applicable given the impressive talent on the edge of the defense.
Randy Gregory maintains his top spot on the rankings with USC's Leonard Williams being reclassified as a defensive tackle. We also see big risers like Shane Ray (No. 3 overall last time) and newcomers Bud Dupree, Lorenzo Mauldin and Nate Orchard who were all outside the top 10 last time around.
The NFL has become a very versatile league on defense, so you'll see some players ranked at multiple positions. Where applicable, I've made note of alternate positions in the rankings.
|1||Randy Gregory||Nebraska||3-4 OLB|
|2||Shane Ray||Missouri||3-4 OLB|
|3||Bud Dupree||Kentucky||3-4 OLB|
|4||Shawn Oakman||Baylor||3-4 DE|
|5||Dante Fowler||Florida||3-4 OLB|
|6||Mario Edwards||Florida State||3-4 DE|
|7||Shilique Calhoun||Michigan State||3-4 OLB|
|8||Lorenzo Mauldin||Louisville||3-4 OLB|
|9||Nate Orchard||Utah||3-4 OLB|
|10||Trey Flowers||Arkansas||3-4 OLB|
Top 10 4-3 Defensive Tackles
The 4-3 defensive tackle class didn't look particularly strong when the college football season began. But as time has gone by, players like Danny Shelton and Eddie Goldman have risen in the rankings and brought depth and talent to the position that wasn't obvious when the year began.
Now we see Michael Bennett, Shelton, Goldman and USC's Leonard Williams (previously listed at defensive end) all as first-round talents.
Williams is the key here. A 3-4 defensive end at USC, he has the toolbox to step in as a 3-technique defensive tackle and be a threat all along the defensive line. He has legitimate No. 1 overall pick talent.
|1||Leonard Williams||USC||3-4 DE|
|2||Michael Bennett||Ohio State||None|
|3||Danny Shelton||Washington||3-4 DT|
|4||Eddie Goldman||Florida State||None|
|5||Jordan Phillips||Oklahoma||Nose Tackle|
|6||Carl Davis||Iowa||3-4 DE|
|7||Gabe Wright||Auburn||Nose Tackle|
|8||Tyeler Davison||Fresno State||3-4 DE|
|9||Leon Orr||Florida||3-4 DE|
Top 10 4-3 Outside Linebackers
There aren't many high-ranking outside linebackers drafted into a 4-3 defense in the last handful of seasons, but when you get a good one they can change what you're able to do on defense. Von Miller, Lavonte David, Anthony Barr and DeAndre Levy are just some of the prototypes NFL scouts are looking for at the position.
Size used to be a requirement here, but in today's NFL it's acceptable for an outside linebacker in a 4-3 to be around 235 pounds. The days of 255-pound wrecking crew 'backers are gone, and the NFL wants speed and versatility here.
|1||Vic Beasley||Clemson||3-4 OLB|
|3||Benardrick McKinney||Mississippi State||ILB|
|4||Eric Striker||Oklahoma||3-4 OLB|
|5||Hau'oli Kikaha||Washington||3-4 OLB|
|6||Zach Hodges||Harvard||3-4 OLB|
|7||Jordan Jenkins||Georgia||3-4 OLB|
|8||Geneo Grissom||Oklahoma||3-4 OLB|
Top 10 3-4 Defensive Ends
Everyone in the NFL is looking for the next J.J. Watt, but in the 2015 NFL draft class they may have to settle for the next Sheldon Richardson or Muhammad Wilkerson. That's pretty dang good.
A 3-4 defensive end is traditionally taller than 6'3" and weighs around 300 pounds. You want a player with the strength to occupy blockers and gaps, but the quickness to get after the quarterback. In many defenses a 3-4 defensive end is moving inside to play tackle and shoot gaps to get after the quarterback on passing downs, so a variety of skills is needed.
In looking at the players best suited for the 3-4 defense, USC's Leonard Williams once again shows up atop the list. But Baylor's Shawn Oakman and Florida State's Mario Edwards aren't far behind. All three rank as first-round talents at the 5-technique position.
|1||Leonard Williams||USC||4-3 DT|
|2||Shawn Oakman||Baylor||4-3 DE|
|3||Mario Edwards||Florida State||4-3 DE|
|4||Arik Armstead||Oregon||4-3 DE|
|5||Christian Covington||Rice||4-3 DT|
|6||Grady Jarrett||Clemson||4-3 DT|
|7||Gabe Wright||Auburn||4-3 DT|
|8||Henry Anderson||Stanford||4-3 DT|
|9||Tyeler Davison||Fresno State||4-3 DT|
|10||Carl Davis||Iowa||4-3 DT|
Top 10 3-4 Outside Linebackers
The sheer talent assembled in the 2015 NFL draft class at outside linebacker for the 3-4 defense is fantastic. For example, every player listed below is within range to be a first-round pick, and the top three players are all inside my top 12 overall currently. It's a good year to need a pass-rusher.
A 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL must be able to explode off the line of scrimmage with balance, power, speed and the instincts to read the blocker and the quarterback to set his rush moves and target area. A great outside linebacker can completely change a defense, and that has to be the hope of teams looking at this year's class.
|1||Randy Gregory||Nebraska||4-3 DE|
|2||Vic Beasley||Clemson||4-3 OLB|
|3||Shane Ray||Missouri||4-3 DE|
|4||Bud Dupree||Kentucky||4-3 DE|
|5||Leonard Floyd||Georgia||4-3 DE|
|6||Eric Striker||Oklahoma||4-3 OLB|
|7||Dante Fowler||Florida||4-3 DE|
|8||Shilique Calhoun||Michigan State||4-3 DE|
|9||Hau'oli Kikaha||Washington||4-3 DE|
|10||Lorenzo Mauldin||Louisville||4-3 DE|
Top 10 Inside Linebackers
Four weeks ago I wrote this same article and noted how there wasn't an elite talent at inside linebacker yet on my radar. That's still true, but Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney is getting pretty close to being a lock as a first-round pick.
McKinney headlines a strong group of talent, even if there isn't a Luke Kuechly or Patrick Willis here. Denzel Perryman, Eric Kendricks, Stephone Anthony and A.J. Johnson all look like future NFL starters at inside linebacker and have a great shot at being drafted inside the top two rounds come late April.
|1||Benardrick McKinney||Mississippi State||4-3 OLB|
|2||Denzel Perryman||Miami (Fla.)||4-3 OLB|
|3||Eric Kendricks||UCLA||4-3 OLB|
|4||Stephone Anthony||Clemson||4-3 OLB|
|7||Kris Frost||Auburn||4-3 OLB|
Top 10 Cornerbacks
The 2015 draft order is far from set, but there are enough trends in the standings right now to see which teams may be drafting early in Round 1. The bad news for teams with a top-10 or top-15 pick and a need at cornerback is that the talent isn't there right now for a player to be selected that early.
That's not to say there aren't starting quality cornerbacks here, but there aren't any players you'd want to draft with your first-round pick if you're the New York Jets or Oakland Raiders. Marcus Peters of Washington may be the player with the best chance to get inside that area, but even he has his warts as a prospect due to suspensions at Washington.
The top of Round 1 may not be loaded with cornerbacks, but the end of the round could be, as five cornerbacks are ranked in the range of the first round.
|2||P.J. Williams||Florida State|
|3||Trae Waynes||Michigan State|
|7||Ronald Darby||Florida State|
|9||Kevin Johnson||Wake Forest|
|10||Senquez Golson||Ole Miss|
Top 10 Safeties
Four weeks ago my safety rankings had Alabama's Landon Collins way out in front of the pack. Heading into November, Collins is still ranked No. 1 and is a top-10 player overall, but the gap between he and the next-best safety is narrowing.
In early October I hadn't looked at Louisville safety Gerod Holliman due to his status as a redshirt sophomore, but that's changed given his level of play and potential for entering the upcoming draft. Holliman is a smooth mover in coverage and has next-level instincts to go with very good speed. Collins is more pro-ready and a better tackler, but the race for the top safety spot is no longer the slam dunk it looked to be.
|3||Cody Prewitt||Ole Miss|
|4||Kurtis Drummond||Michigan State|
|6||Derron Smith||Fresno State|
|10||Isaiah Johnson||Georgia Tech|