2015 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Latest Projections
Six weeks remain in the 2014 NFL season, and for fans of many teams, the offseason is already more promising than the season finale.
The NFL offseason is about selling hopes and dreams to the fans, and no single event does that better than the NFL draft. With 256 draft picks and hundreds of undrafted free agents flooding the league in late April and early May, every team has a legitimate chance to build a winner if they hit on their picks.
Look at the dynasties built by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s, the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s and the New England Patriots of the 2000s and you'll see clear evidence that building through the draft is the best bet. And in today's salary-cap era, adding cost-effective labor is an even bigger plus.
How will each team attack the offseason? That remains to be seen as coaching changes, retirements and free agency will reshape each roster. What this mock draft attempts to capture is each team's biggest need and which college player best fits that need and draft slot at this time.
Note: Draft order based on current win/loss records and not adjusted for playoff seedings.
1. Oakland Raiders
The Pick: Leonard Williams, DT, USC
The Oakland Raiders remain atop the draft order, and yet again they bypass my top overall player (Marcus Mariota) due to having spent a second-round pick on Derek Carr in the 2014 draft.
Carr has had his moments of poor play, but given the talent around him and the coaching change made early in the season, it's tough to truly evaluate him for the long term. I'm a fan of Carr's game and believe building a team around him is the best move in Oakland.
Adding wide receiver Amari Cooper may be tempting here, but the No. 1 pick hasn't been spent on a receiver since Keyshawn Johnson in 1996. The new coaching staff will be wise to go after the highest-ranked player at a position of need—and right now, that's Leonard Williams.
The USC defensive lineman isn't Ndamukong Suh, but he has that potential to be an athletic disruptor from the 3-technique position. Put him on defense with Khalil Mack and Sio Moore and the Raiders will have a strong front seven supporting Carr's offense.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Pick: Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
The Jacksonville Jaguars spent the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft on Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles—and while he has struggled, the team has invested in him as the future at the position. That means they won't be in on Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston with an early Round 1 pick.
Where the Jaguars can improve with the No. 2 pick in the draft is by adding a defensive player with pass-rushing skills and the athletic ability to impact the game from Day 1.
Nebraska's Randy Gregory has the ability and upside to be worth the early pick, and he fills a need in Gus Bradley's defense. Gregory has shown at Nebraska to have the ability to play defensive end or linebacker and will be a versatile chess piece for Bradley and Co.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Pick: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have talent on paper, but they lack the talent at quarterback to produce on offense. Enter Marcus Mariota.
The Oregon quarterback has the touch, accuracy, athleticism and poise to step into the starting lineup as a rookie. The Oregon offense may not prepare quarterbacks for a diverse NFL system, but Mariota is better than the other quarterbacks that have come out of this system in the past. His accuracy and ability to stand in the pocket and make throws to all parts of the field is where he stands out.
Mariota throwing to Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins may not amount to a winner in 2015, but it would give Lovie Smith the offensive talent he now lacks.
4. New York Jets
The Pick: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Can Jameis Winston handle the New York media? Can anyone?
Winston may have his issues off the field, but we can't evaluate those issues at this time. What we can do is look at Winston as a passer, leader and producer on the field. In those areas, he's unmatched in the college game.
Winston has his weaknesses as a player—his mechanics get a little long and he does tend to hold the ball at times in the pocket—but his touch, anticipation and strength are Ben Roethlisberger-like. Winston comes from an NFL-style offense and has all the goods to fit into any offensive system in the NFL. He's also smart enough and poised enough to compete as a rookie.
5. Tennessee Titans
The Pick: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
The Tennessee Titans finish just outside the draft window if they hope to get a quarterback in Round 1, but they find themselves in a position to get the best wide receiver in the draft in Alabama's Amari Cooper.
Let's assume that Zach Mettenberger can be the guy in Year 2. He has running back Bishop Sankey. He has wide receiver Kendall Wright. The offensive line is young and promising. The No. 2 wide-receiver position, though, hasn't seen the development of Justin Hunter into a premier producer.
Cooper may be the best player in college football. Insert him in head coach Ken Whisenhunt's offense and we'll see an impact similar to what Keenan Allen did in his rookie season in San Diego when Whisenhunt was his offensive coordinator.
6. Washington Redskins
The Pick: Landon Collins, SS, Alabama
There may be a need at quarterback on the horizon in Washington, but for now, it can't entertain the idea of spending a top-10 pick on the position after trading so much for Robert Griffin III. Alternatively, it's time to build a team around RGIII and hope Jay Gruden can develop him into a quality quarterback.
Instead of focusing so much on quarterback, the front office can concentrate on fixing a defense that's become an embarrassment. With youth at cornerback (Bashaud Breeland, David Amerson), the team can look to the safety position in Round 1.
Alabama's Landon Collins is a physical strong safety, but he's athletic enough to be coveted in a league that needs coverage players in the secondary. He'll be an asset against the run and is smooth enough in coverage to make an impact worthy of a top-10 pick.
7. New York Giants
The Pick: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
The New York Giants are a team with many needs, and when that happens, my draft philosophy becomes "best player available at a position of need." The Giants would benefit greatly from trying to add as much talent as possible to the team-building process.
One of the big areas of need is at left tackle. William Beatty hasn't been worth the money the team is paying him and has too often been a liability in pass protection. Now's the time for the Giants to use their top-10 pick on a true left tackle.
Cedric Ogbuehi hasn't enjoyed the elite senior season some expected, but you cannot deny his athleticism and upside. From Day 1, he'll give the Giants the length and agility needed to protect the corner and keep Eli Manning's jersey clean.
8. Carolina Panthers
The Pick: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
Look at the Carolina Panthers depth chart today and you'll see five offensive linemen on the active roster. Zero of them were drafted into the NFL. Five tackles, five undrafted free agents. The men tasked with protecting franchise-face and savior Cam Newton at quarterback were not deemed good enough two and three years ago to be drafted out of 256 picks in each class.
That's a problem.
The Panthers must build a team around Newton on offense, and that starts on the offensive line. Iowa's Brandon Scherff may not have elite left-tackle measurables, but he's athletic, strong and a tough finisher when he gets his hands on a defender. Scherff can produce in the run game and as a pass-protector on the edge, giving the Panthers the boost they need on the line.
9. Atlanta Falcons
The Pick: Shane Ray, OLB, Missouri
The Atlanta Falcons had an early pick in Round 1 of the 2014 NFL draft and used it to protect Matt Ryan with the addition of Jake Matthews at left tackle. What that cost them was the ability to land a premier pass-rusher on the edge.
In 2015, look for the Falcons to fix that issue. Examining the team and the schemes it employed, it's painfully obvious that an edge-rusher must be a high priority in the offseason. That may mean free agency, but the smarter move would be to find one in the draft.
Missouri's Shane Ray has the athleticism, burst and toughness to excel as an edge-rusher either standing up in a 3-4 defense or putting his hand in the dirt on the end of a four-man line. He's versatile and productive, and is exactly what Atlanta needs.
10. Minnesota Vikings
The Pick: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
Young Teddy Bridgewater has shown signs of promise as the quarterback of the future for the Minnesota Vikings. Now the team must build around him—something it seemed to have in place before drafting the Louisville quarterback with pick No. 32.
The Vikings wide-receiver corps is a mess. Too many players don't attack the ball or finish routes (I'm looking at you, Cordarrelle Patterson). The offensive line was expected to be a strength, but left tackle Matt Kalil looks like a backup and guard Brandon Fusco has been injured.
What Bridgewater needs is a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver opposite the speedy and athletic Patterson. Basically, he needs a player like the one they thought Greg Jennings would be. Pairing Bridgewater with former college teammate DeVante Parker would allow for instant chemistry and give the Vikings the red-zone receiver they lack.
11. New Orleans Saints
The Pick: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
The New Orleans Saints have many more needs than most people expected coming into the season. One such need is for an athletic pass-rusher opposite Junior Galette. Adding one more piece to the front seven with Cameron Jordan, Akiem Hicks and John Jenkins already in place with Galette could push the Saints to the top of a clustered NFC South.
Clemson's Vic Beasley hasn't stolen the spotlight in college football this year with eye-popping statistics, but his impact is felt every week. Beasley excels at timing and jumping the snap off the edge and has the football IQ and athleticism to be a factor attacking the quarterback.
Beasley was ready for the NFL last year at this time, and now that he's graduating to the pros, the Saints would be lucky to have him.
12. Chicago Bears
The Pick: Bud Dupree, DE, Kentucky
The Chicago Bears should look at the available players on the draft board, look at their own roster and draft the best defender available. Defensive end, linebacker (inside and outside), cornerback and safety are all needs here. Add the best one you can get.
Kentucky's Alvin "Bud" Dupree is a monster off the edge, and unlike a lot of smaller edge players in the 2015 class, he has the size, length and strength to play the end of the line in a 4-3 defense. Dupree and Willie Young as the bookends will give Chicago the pass rush it needs—and the one it hoped to get when signing Jared Allen in free agency.
Dupree opposite Young might not be a fit for Mel Tucker's defense, but it would be a huge surprise if he's back running the defense in 2015.
13. St. Louis Rams
The Pick: Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook said in an interview that he "intends" to return to college for his senior season. Well, the NFL would really like Cook to come hang out with them instead.
Cook has the arm strength, mobility, vision and upside to really excite NFL teams. And in a quarterback class heavy at the top (Mariota and Winston) but lacking depth, Cook could find himself drafted in the top 15 based on need and his talent. That's tough to say no to.
The Rams have tried Shaun Hill and Austin Davis at quarterback with mixed results, but wins over Seattle, San Francisco and Denver prove this team is close. A fresh young quarterback like Cook might be just what they need.
14. Houston Texans
The Pick: Gerod Holliman, FS, Louisville
Gerod Holliman has 13 interceptions on the season. The Houston Texans have 11 as a team—and team leader Jumal Rolle has just two. The Texans need help at the safety position, and if there isn't a valuable quarterback on the board, that becomes the biggest need for them heading into the offseason.
Holliman may not be Ronnie Lott as a tackler, but his vision, quickness and ball skills are top-notch. The Texans have a big-hitting safety in D.J. Swearinger, but what they lack is a player with the talent to create turnovers. Holliman can do that.
A redshirt sophomore, Holliman has the instant impact and upside to make him worth a top-14 pick.
15. Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo)
The Pick: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
The Buffalo Bills traded their 2015 first-round pick to the Cleveland Browns in order to move up in the 2014 NFL draft to add Sammy Watkins. Cleveland will use the pick it gained in the trade on a wide receiver as well.
The Browns have a nice collection of lesser-known talent at receiver, and they get Josh Gordon back for Week 12, but this is still a team looking to add as much talent as possible while they build a true team around the quarterback position.
Kevin White is a big, physical wide receiver with some speed and vertical ability to his game. With Gordon always a wild card and maybe even a liability given his status with the league's conduct policies, having a wide receiver capable of sliding into a No. 1 role long-term makes a ton of sense for Cleveland.
16. Cleveland Browns
The Pick: Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor
Outside of wide receiver, the biggest need for the Cleveland Browns is along the defensive line. Mike Pettine has done a nice job adjusting his scheme to fit the personnel in place, but the Browns are in need of more talent on the front lines.
Shawn Oakman has the body of a 3-4 defensive end and the athleticism of an outside linebacker. That's a nice combination to have, and will remind folks of the potential Sheldon Richardson flashed at Missouri. Oakman is an insane 6'9" and 280 pounds, but moves like a much smaller man. If he can tap into that potential and athleticism, the Browns will have an anchor at 5-technique.
17. Indianapolis Colts
The Pick: Alex Carter, CB, Stanford
The Indianapolis Colts need help in several spots, but they can fix one area in particular with the No. 17 pick by grabbing a cornerback able to start opposite Vontae Davis.
Alex Carter has the size (6'0") and he's tough at the point of attack. If you want an in-your-face cornerback at the line of scrimmage, he's your guy. Carter also has the hips for smooth transitions through routes and will go up and attack the ball. He's quickly becoming a legitimate candidate for the No. 1 cornerback spot, and the Colts would be lucky to have a player of this caliber to build around on defense.
18. Baltimore Ravens
The Pick: Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan
The Baltimore Ravens do a great job of anticipating future needs and filling those spots before they become a weakness. They'll do it again in 2015 by addressing the wide-receiver corps before Steve Smith Sr. moves on into retirement and while they can still get good value and have time to develop a future starter.
Devin Funchess spent three years listed as a tight end at Michigan, but he was a tight end in the same way Jimmy Graham is. Now he's wearing the famous No. 1 jersey and lining up split out at wide receiver. The results have been good, as Funchess shows the strength and body control to be a box-out target down the field and in the red zone.
Funchess has experienced some drops, but they are concentration-related and not due to a lack of skill. Let him grow and develop with Joe Flacco and he can be the big, athletic target the team is missing.
19. Miami Dolphins
The Pick: Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington
Shaq Thompson ranks inside my top 10 players overall, so why is he still on the board for the Miami Dolphins at No. 19?
There are a limited number of teams with top-20 picks running a 4-3 defense, and of those that are a scheme fit for Thompson, none has a primary need at outside linebacker. The Dolphins won't complain, as they get a top-tier weak-side-linebacker prospect with elite three-tool skills as a pass-rusher, run-stopper and coverage linebacker.
As Lavonte David, Jamie Collins and other smaller outside linebackers become so valuable in the NFL today, Thompson should see his stock soar once he declares for the draft. His experience at linebacker, running back and safety adds another level, as you can safely assume he'll project well to special teams and nickel packages.
20. San Diego Chargers
The Pick: La'el Collins, OT, LSU
In previous mock drafts, I've had the San Diego Chargers addressing their defensive line and secondary, but the team needs a long-term answer at left tackle. King Dunlap is a solid player, but he'll never be a top-10 or top-15 left tackle.
La'el Collins has the potential to be in that range.
The LSU left tackle has developed nicely in 2014, showing a refined skill set and quickness on the edge. He still finds himself on the ground too often, but that's a coachable weakness in his game. Improved hand use and athleticism make Collins one of the better tackles in college football and should earn him playing time early in his rookie season.
21. San Francisco 49ers
The Pick: Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
Marcus Peters was dismissed from Washington midseason. But look at his talent and the reasons for the dismissal and it's pretty easy to imagine him landing in the first round once the dust settles and he's able to have time to rehabilitate his stock at the combine and his pro day.
Peters was my No. 1-ranked cornerback before the dismissal and still may be after the fact once the season ends. His fluid ability in space, hands and toughness on the edge are ideal for man coverage. And if you're worried about him being a little too cocky, please point out any great cornerback in NFL history who wasn't a little cocky. It's a job requirement.
Peters would fill the 49ers' biggest need given their youth at wide receiver and running back. Peters, Chris Culliver and nickel cornerback/safety Jimmie Ward give the 49ers the coverage depth in front of safety Eric Reid to build a strong back end of the defense.
22. Seattle Seahawks
The Pick: Nelson Agholor, WR, USC
The defending Super Bowl champions have holes at a few spots—running back, the offensive line, defensive tackle and wide receiver. Choosing which spot to fill in Round 1 should be based on value on the board, but the Seahawks tend to do things differently when the draft rolls around. No one predicted they'd draft James Carpenter or Bruce Irvin in the first round, but John Schneider and Pete Carroll have their own valuation system. And it works.
The Seahawks should draft a running back, but not in Round 1. Likewise with defensive tackle, as they'll be in better shape with a healthy Brandon Mebane. If the value is there, go for it, but the best value and biggest need resides at wide receiver.
Nelson Agholor doesn't have the open-field speed of Amari Cooper or the size of Kevin White, but he's a consistent pass-catcher and smooth route-runner with NFL readiness. And he's the type of technician Russell Wilson can really appreciate and build with in the Seattle system.
23. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pick: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
The Pittsburgh Steelers need an infusion of youth and talent at cornerback—but I've been saying this for five years. Will this finally be the year the front office gets serious about investing in a cornerback early in the draft?
Trae Waynes has all the NFL wants in a cornerback. He's long, athletic, physical and has the instincts to attack the ball in the air. He's also physical enough against the run to survive in the AFC North. With Ike Taylor aging and seriously regressing, Waynes is both a value and need pick.
24. Cincinnati Bengals
The Pick: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
The Cincinnati Bengals have a potential All-Pro at defensive tackle in Geno Atkins, but they need better play next to him. Domata Peko is a decent player but not an impact on passing downs. That's where big Danny Shelton comes in.
A nose tackle doesn't have to be this oversized, non-mobile player. Dontari Poe, Jurrell Casey and even Vince Wilfork destroyed that stereotype. Danny Shelton can help move past that perception, too.
The Washington defensive tackle has the size (330 lbs) to occupy the middle of the line, but he's quick off the ball and can be a penetrator in the middle of the line. Like Poe and Casey, he'll be a big impact as a pass-rusher once he acclimates to the pros.
25. Dallas Cowboys
The Pick: Dante Fowler Jr., DE, Florida
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has pulled off an amazing job getting the Dallas Cowboys to play respectable defense without many recognizable names on the depth chart. The first order of business for Jerry and Stephen Jones in the 2015 offseason will be adding more pass-rushing talent to the front line.
Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence was added in the 2014 second round to bring pressure off the edge, and defensive tackle Henry Melton has played well, but they need more help up front. Florida's Dante Fowler Jr. can do just that.
At over 265 pounds, Fowler has the body type and strength to take on the run or rush the quarterback, and at Florida he's been a one-man wrecking crew coming off the edge. Stand him up, put him down...just let him loose off the corner.
26. Philadelphia Eagles
The Pick: Jalen Collins, CB, LSU
I polled resident Philadelphia Eagles fan and B/R host Adam Lefkoe about where he'd like to see his Eagles go in the first round. A big, long cornerback was something he was very happy with. Jalen Collins fills that role quite well.
Eagles fans can't be happy watching Bradley Fletcher struggle in coverage, and Chip Kelly will be asking Howie Roseman to get him the long-armed athlete he needs in coverage. That's Collins, who comes in at 6'2" and almost 200 pounds with instincts and ball skills to excel at cornerback or even free safety.
Collins has been impressive in 2014—just look at his work against Alabama's Amari Cooper as evidence of what he can do against top-tier competition. But he also has upside and can easily grow into a No. 1 cornerback role in the pros.
27. Detroit Lions
The Pick: Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
The Detroit Lions appear to be set at defensive tackle, and then you realize that both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are set to have their contracts expire at the end of this season. The franchise tag may be an option for one of them, but the logistics of signing two defensive tackles in one offseason remains a mystery.
What's more likely is that one defensive tackle leaves and the team fills that spot via the draft with a lower-cost option. If the need is for a 3-technique defensive tackle, Ohio State's Michael Bennett is the best of the bunch.
Bennett is a quick mover off the ball and has the natural leverage and quick hands to excel in gaps. Let him loose to attack the pocket—like Suh and Fairley do—and he can make things happen. Just look at his last month at Ohio State as evidence of what Bennett can do when unleashed.
28. Green Bay Packers
The Pick: Benardrick McKinney, ILB, Mississippi State
The Clay Matthews experiment at inside linebacker has been fun, but it's not a long-term option for this defense. Instead of continuing to make excuses for A.J. Hawk and Co., the Packers need to add a new body at inside linebacker.
Benardrick McKinney is the best inside linebacker prospect in the college game. He brings length, speed, toughness, expectational run fits and the footwork to be a factor in coverage—and he's just a redshirt junior with tons of room to improve.
The Packers could still work Matthews at inside linebacker in spots, but McKinney will give them athleticism they haven't seen at inside linebacker since Dom Capers took over as defensive coordinator.
29. Kansas City Chiefs
The Pick: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
The Kansas City Chiefs are 7-3, but their wide receivers have combined for zero touchdown catches. Some of that may be placed on the scheme, but it doesn't take Ron Wolf to know that the Chiefs need upgraded talent at wide receiver.
Dwayne Bowe is solid but far from a game-changer at receiver. What the team lacks is an athlete with speed and size at the position. That's why Jaelen Strong is so appealing.
If NFL teams are in love with long arms and leaping ability from the receiver position, Strong will become a favorite of the scouting staffs. He's not yet a great route-runner, but he makes up for that with size, jumping skills and the ability to catch in traffic.
30. Denver Broncos
The Pick: Ty Sambrailo, OT, Colorado State
The offensive line has been passable for the Denver Broncos, but it's easy to see this as an area where the team can improve in the 2015 offseason. With Peyton Manning hopefully back for another year, finding better pass protection is one thing John Elway can do to extend the Super Bowl window of this team.
Some may want to see a running back here, but it's unlikely the Broncos would reach on the position in a deep draft. Instead, improving the line makes the existing backs better and extends Manning's career by keeping him off the turf.
Colorado State's Ty Sambrailo doesn't get the big national attention—yet—but he's playing as well as any left tackle in football. His length, toughness and strong base make him a nice left tackle prospect, but I see him as a top-tier right tackle project and a player with the skills to make the Broncos better from Week 1.
31. New England Patriots
The Pick: Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma
The New England Patriots aren't a very predictable team when it comes to the NFL draft—even if I was able to correctly predict they would draft Dominique Easley in Round 1 last year. When looking at the 2015 draft, it's not a bad idea for New England to focus again on the defensive line.
Vince Wilfork has been great, but he's also nearing the end of a brilliant career. Drafting to fill that future need is a classic Bill Belichick move, too. And at the end of Round 1, there's a good shot at landing the huge Oklahoma nose tackle Jordan Phillips.
At 6'6" and 334 pounds, Phillips has unmatched size, length and strength at the position. He's also showing quickness and burst off the ball with surprisingly good leverage for his height. And Phillips comes into the NFL with experience in the 3-4 defense, something few defensive tackles get in college football.
32. Arizona Cardinals
The Pick: Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
The Arizona Cardinals have the NFL's best record and not many needs heading into the offseason. That's a great problem to have.
Young outside linebackers Sam Acho and Alex Okafor have been solid, but are they the long-term answers for the Cardinals as edge-rushers and defenders? That remains to be seen and could be heavily influenced by which players are on the board when the team picks at the end of Round 1.
If a talented edge-rusher like Leonard Floyd is available, the Cardinals could pounce. This is similar to their drafting of Deone Bucannon, even with Tony Jefferson having a very good rookie season—and that move is paying off currently.
Floyd hasn't been elite with stats and production, but his first-step explosion and length are ideal. He's also young enough as a redshirt sophomore to grow into a role as an NFL player. If he does declare early, look for the end of Round 1 to be his home and an ideal landing spot in a 3-4 or hybrid defense.