2015 NFL Draft Big Board: Matt Miller's Midseason Rankings

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterNovember 4, 2014

2015 NFL Draft Big Board: Matt Miller's Midseason Rankings

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    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.

Top 50

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    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).

    Top 50 Rankings
    RankPlayerPos.Pos. RkSchool
    1Marcus MariotaQB1Oregon
    2Jameis WinstonQB2Florida State
    3Leonard WilliamsDT1USC
    4Amari CooperWR1Alabama
    5Randy GregoryDE1Nebraska
    6Todd GurleyRB1Georgia
    7Cedric OgbuehiOT1Texas A&M
    8Vic BeasleyOLB1Clemson
    9Brandon ScherffOT2Iowa
    10Landon CollinsSS1Alabama
    11Shaq ThompsonOLB2Washington
    12Shane RayDE2Missouri
    13DeVante ParkerWR2Louisville
    14Marcus PetersCB1Washington
    15Brett HundleyQB3UCLA
    16Bud DupreeDE3Kentucky
    17Shawn OakmanDE4Baylor
    18Devin FunchessWR3Michigan
    19Kevin WhiteWR4West Virginia
    20Connor CookQB4Michigan State
    21Gerod HollimanFS1Louisville
    22La'el CollinsOT3LSU
    23P.J. WilliamsCB2Florida State
    24Trae WaynesCB3Michigan State
    25Michael BennettDT2Ohio State
    26Ty SambrailoOT4Colorado State
    27Benardrick McKinneyILB1Miss. State
    28Danny SheltonDT3Washington
    29Eddie GoldmanDT3Florida State
    30Andrus PeatOT4Stanford
    31Ameer AbdullahRB2Nebraska
    32Leonard FloydOLB3Georgia
    33Eric StrikerOLB4Oklahoma
    34Nelson AgholorWR5USC
    35Jaelen StrongWR6Arizona State
    36Alex CarterCB4Stanford
    37Dante Fowler Jr.DE5Florida
    38Ifo Ekpre-OlomuCB5Oregon
    39Bryce PettyQB5Baylor
    40Tevin ColemanRB3Indiana
    41Mario EdwardsDE6Florida State
    42Shilique CalhounDE7Michigan State
    43Jalen CollinsCB6LSU
    44Ronald DarbyCB7Florida State
    45Hau'oli KikahaDE8Washington
    46Lorenzo MauldinDE9Louisville
    47Everett GolsonQB6Notre Dame
    48Duke JohnsonRB4Miami (Fla.)
    49Jordan PhillipsDT5Oklahoma
    50A.J. CannG1South Carolina

Top 10 Quarterbacks

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    Ryan Kang/Associated Press

    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.

    Quarterback Rankings
    RankPlayerSchool
    1Marcus MariotaOregon
    2Jameis WinstonFlorida State
    3Brett HundleyUCLA
    4Connor CookMichigan State
    5Bryce PettyBaylor
    6Everett GolsonNotre Dame
    7Dak PrescottMississippi State
    8Brandon BridgeSouth Alabama
    9Shane CardenEast Carolina
    10Cody KesslerUSC

Top 10 Running Backs

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    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.

    Running Back Rankings
    RankPlayerSchool
    1Todd GurleyGeorgia
    2Ameer AbdullahNebraska
    3Tevin ColemanIndiana
    4Duke JohnsonMiami (Fla.)
    5Melvin GordonWisconsin
    6Mike DavisSouth Carolina
    7T.J. YeldonAlabama
    8Jay AjayiBoise State
    9Buck AllenUSC
    10David CobbMinnesota

Top 10 Wide Receivers

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    Garry Jones/Associated Press

    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. 

    Wide Receiver Rankings
    RankPlayerSchool
    1Amari CooperAlabama
    2DeVante ParkerLouisville
    3Devin FunchessMichigan
    4Kevin WhiteWest Virginia
    5Nelson AgholorUSC
    6Jaelen StrongArizona State
    7Rashad GreeneFlorida State
    8Antwan GoodleyBaylor
    9Sammie CoatesAuburn
    10Ty MontgomeryStanford

Top 10 Tight Ends

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    PAUL VERNON/Associated Press

    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.

    Tight End Rankings
    RankPlayerSchool
    1Jeff HeuermanOhio State
    2Nick O'LearyFlorida State
    3Ben KoyackNotre Dame
    4E.J. BibbsIowa State
    5Jesse JamesPenn State
    6Tyler KroftRutgers
    7Clive WalfordMiami (Fla.)
    8Gerald ChristianLouisville
    9Connor HamlettOregon State
    10MyCole PruittSouthern Illinois

Top 10 Offensive Tackles

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    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.

    Offensive Tackle Rankings
    RankPlayerSchool
    1Cedric OgbuehiTexas A&M
    2Brandon ScherffIowa
    3La'el CollinsLSU
    4Ty SambrailoColorado State
    5Andrus PeatStanford
    6Tyrus ThompsonOklahoma
    7Jake FisherOregon
    8Cam ErvingFlorida State
    9Sean HickeySyracuse
    10Daryl WilliamsOklahoma

Top 10 Guards

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    USA TODAY Sports

    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.

    Offensive Guard Rankings
    RankPlayerSchool
    1A.J. CannSouth Carolina
    2Josue MatiasFlorida State
    3Tre' JacksonFlorida State
    4Jarvis HarrisonTexas A&M
    5Laken TomlinsonDuke
    6Arie KouandjioAlabama
    7Vadal AlexanderLSU
    8Dallas LewallenWisconsin
    9Aundrey WalkerUSC
    10John MillerLouisville

Top 10 Centers

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    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.

    Center Rankings
    RankPlayerSchool
    1Reese DismukesAuburn
    2Hroniss GrasuOregon
    3Mike MatthewsTexas A&M
    4B.J. FinneyKansas State
    5Jake SmithLouisville
    6Andy GallikBoston College
    7Brandon Vitabile Northwestern
    8Greg ManczToledo
    9Tom FarniokIowa State
    10David AndrewsGeorgia

Top 10 4-3 Defensive Ends

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    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.

    4-3 Defensive End Rankings
    RankPlayerSchoolOther Pos.
    1Randy GregoryNebraska3-4 OLB
    2Shane RayMissouri3-4 OLB
    3Bud DupreeKentucky3-4 OLB
    4Shawn OakmanBaylor3-4 DE
    5Dante FowlerFlorida3-4 OLB
    6Mario EdwardsFlorida State3-4 DE
    7Shilique Calhoun Michigan State3-4 OLB
    8Lorenzo MauldinLouisville3-4 OLB
    9Nate OrchardUtah3-4 OLB
    10Trey FlowersArkansas3-4 OLB

Top 10 4-3 Defensive Tackles

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    Dean Hare/Associated Press

    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.

    4-3 Defensive Tackle Rankings
    RankPlayerSchoolOther Pos.
    1Leonard WilliamsUSC3-4 DE
    2Michael BennettOhio StateNone
    3Danny SheltonWashington3-4 DT
    4Eddie GoldmanFlorida StateNone
    5Jordan PhillipsOklahomaNose Tackle 
    6Carl DavisIowa3-4 DE
    7Gabe WrightAuburnNose Tackle
    8Tyeler DavisonFresno State3-4 DE
    9Leon OrrFlorida3-4 DE
    10Malcom BrownTexasNone

Top 10 4-3 Outside Linebackers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    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.

    4-3 Outside Linebacker Rankings
    RankPlayerSchoolOther Pos.
    1Vic BeasleyClemson3-4 OLB
    2Shaq ThompsonWashingtonNone
    3Benardrick McKinneyMississippi State ILB
    4Eric StrikerOklahoma3-4 OLB
    5Hau'oli KikahaWashington3-4 OLB
    6Zach HodgesHarvard3-4 OLB
    7Jordan JenkinsGeorgia3-4 OLB
    8Geneo GrissomOklahoma3-4 OLB
    9Jake RyanMichiganILB
    10Tony WashingtonOregonNone

Top 10 3-4 Defensive Ends

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    Jerry Larson/Associated Press

    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.

    3-4 Defensive End Rankings
    RankPlayerSchoolOther Pos.
    1Leonard WilliamsUSC4-3 DT
    2Shawn OakmanBaylor4-3 DE
    3Mario EdwardsFlorida State4-3 DE
    4Arik ArmsteadOregon4-3 DE
    5Christian CovingtonRice4-3 DT
    6Grady JarrettClemson4-3 DT
    7Gabe WrightAuburn4-3 DT
    8Henry AndersonStanford4-3 DT
    9Tyeler DavisonFresno State 4-3 DT
    10Carl DavisIowa4-3 DT

Top 10 3-4 Outside Linebackers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    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.

    3-4 Outside Linebacker Rankings
    RankPlayerSchoolOther Pos.
    1Randy GregoryNebraska4-3 DE
    2Vic BeasleyClemson4-3 OLB
    3Shane RayMissouri4-3 DE
    4Bud DupreeKentucky4-3 DE
    5Leonard FloydGeorgia4-3 DE
    6Eric StrikerOklahoma4-3 OLB
    7Dante FowlerFlorida4-3 DE
    8Shilique CalhounMichigan State4-3 DE
    9Hau'oli KikahaWashington4-3 DE
    10Lorenzo MauldinLouisville4-3 DE

Top 10 Inside Linebackers

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    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.

    Inside Linebacker Rankings
    RankPlayerSchoolOther Pos.
    1Benardrick McKinneyMississippi State4-3 OLB
    2Denzel PerrymanMiami (Fla.)4-3 OLB
    3Eric KendricksUCLA4-3 OLB
    4Stephone AnthonyClemson4-3 OLB
    5A.J. JohnsonTennesseeNone
    6Ramik WilsonGeorgiaNone
    7Kris FrostAuburn4-3 OLB
    8Bryce HagerBaylorNone
    9Ben HeeneyKansasNone
    10Trey DePriestAlabamaNone

Top 10 Cornerbacks

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    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.

    Cornerback Rankings
    RankPlayerSchool
    1Marcus PetersWashington
    2P.J. WilliamsFlorida State
    3Trae WaynesMichigan State
    4Alex CarterStanford
    5Ifo Ekpre-OlomuOregon
    6Jalen CollinsLSU
    7Ronald DarbyFlorida State
    8Eric MurrayMinnesota
    9Kevin JohnsonWake Forest
    10Senquez GolsonOle Miss

Top 10 Safeties

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    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.

    Safety Rankings
    RankPlayerSchool
    1Landon CollinsAlabama
    2Gerod HollimanLouisville
    3Cody PrewittOle Miss
    4Kurtis DrummondMichigan State
    5Jalen MillsLSU
    6Derron SmithFresno State
    7Durell EskridgeSyracuse
    8Anthony HarrisVirginia
    9Jordan RichardsStanford
    10Isaiah JohnsonGeorgia Tech