With the college football bowl season in the books , the only questions surrounding the best players were about who 's headed toward Sundays and who was staying put . A majority of the major questions were answered early via information coming via anonymous leaks or official statements from the schools .
Underclassmen had until Jan . 15 to make their intentions known , which created an intense environment in college coaches ' offices and NFL suites in the coming days . For now , evaluating the top of the draft is merely a guessing game based on assumptions and gut feelings .
With the early declarations set , we have a better idea of how to go forth . So take a whirl at assessing the first round with the prospect list crystallized .
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
There isn't much to say here that you haven't already heard. Mariota is going to be the No. 1 pick in April. He's one of the greatest quarterbacks in college football history and boasts a near-perfect modern quarterback skill set that many hope can translate to the next level.
Though not a perfect comparison, it's not hard to see a taller Russell Wilson when watching Mariota play. He runs with a combination of quickness and intelligence on the outside and does the same when in the pocket, rarely making costly mistakes.
Questions will abound about Mariota's pro-readiness, about whether he can fit balls into smaller pro windows after his wide-open spaces at Oregon. We won't know that until he steps on the field. But perhaps only Andrew Luck has been a bigger no-brainer pick in the past decade.
2. Tennessee Titans: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
If they select Winston, the Titans will bank on an untrustworthy quarterback evaluator to bank his career on the enigmatic Winston. Ken Whisenhunt did little to assuage concerns about his late Arizona tenure this season, shuffling through the bad quarterbacks on his roster with a near-maniacal impatience.
That the Titans need a franchise signal-caller is obvious. So is Winston's status as a career-making or career-breaking player. No player in this class comes with more inherent red flags, some deeply concerning and some kind of hilarious. Winston coupled his on-field antics with significantly worse numbers across the board, throwing 15 fewer touchdowns and eight more interceptions than he did as a freshman.
From a ceiling standpoint, it's hard for any team with a need to pass on Winston here. Everyone in the organization just needs to be on-board with the risk they're taking.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Williams, DL, USC
The Jaguars appear committed to keeping Gus Bradley for at least one more season, so look for him to push hard to shore up the defensive line. Williams is a Richard Seymour clone who could excel on the inside of a 4-3 defense or the outside in a 3-4.
Bradley's defenses in Seattle thrived when they could throw multiple looks at opposing quarterbacks up front, shuffling in new linemen based on down and distance. Williams is the rare type of talent who can fit in nearly any situation.
Jacksonville's defense was already closer to a strength than weakness in 2014. Bradley may see Williams as the guy who can push them over the hump.
4. Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
The Raiders feel Derek Carr is their long-term answer at quarterback. I don't. But whatever the differences in our opinions, Oakland needs to get Carr immediate help if he hopes to develop beyond Captain Checkdown.
Cooper was the best receiver in college football this season by a significant margin, blasting the SEC and Alabama record books with 117 receptions for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns. The best comparison I've seen so far is to Marvin Harrison, given their similarities in size and big-play ability. Cooper is going to be a star, or at the very least a productive NFL player.
That's more than you can say about anyone Oakland currently employs at that position.
5. Washington: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
Scherff is probably a right tackle as a pro, which makes drafting him at No. 5 a bit of a reach. That said, adding Scherff to left tackle Trent Williams may give Washington the two anchors on each side it hasn't had at all during the Robert Griffin III era.
Division rival Dallas has built a winner by concentrating on the offensive line, creating by far the league's most talented (and young) unit. Washington selecting Scherff doesn't necessarily mean it's following the blueprint. Perhaps it's merely an attempt to give the quarterback position some modicum of respect after the way it's been pummeled the last couple seasons (regardless of who is under center).
Scherff is a safe, surefire starter at a need position.
6. New York Jets: Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
The Jets will likely move away from Rex Ryan's aggressive 3-4 scheme under Todd Bowles, meaning an entire revamping of their defensive front could be in order. Gregory, a 4-3 beast built to beat tackles off the edge, would be a fine start. The Nebraska star compiled 16.5 sacks over the last two seasons, moving all over the field under Bo Pelini.
Bowles could choose to utilize that versatility within a more hybrid scheme or choose to merely morph the 6'6", 240-pounder into a full-time down lineman. The Jets would prefer to continue their offensive rebuild here with a quarterback. With Winston and Mariota gone, though, we'll bank on them having learned their lesson on major reaches at that position.
7. Chicago Bears: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida
The Bears may consider Alabama safety Landon Collins here. Safety is their biggest need on either side of the ball, and while Collins isn't an elite pass defender, he's a dominant presence against the run deserving of a high selection.
I'm just not sure I can get over Collins' pass-defense deficiencies enough to allow a potentially dominant pass-rusher slip by. Chicago tried to rectify its lack of pass rush last offseason by signing LaMarr Houston and Jared Allen, only to watch both acquisitions blow up in its face. Fowler is a young, athletically gifted end who can play as a down lineman or stand up depending on the situation.
With Allen likely coming back next season, the veteran could help groom the next face of the Bears pass rush.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson
Stop when you've heard this before: The Falcons need a pass-rusher. The Falcons should draft a pass-rusher. Vic Beasley is the best available in this scenario. Beasley can shift between 3-4 and 4-3 alignments, though his length and size concerns may make him better long term as a stand-up linebacker.
You didn't even get past the first sentence, did you?
9. New York Giants: Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri
Jason Pierre-Paul had a renaissance campaign this season, finishing with 12.5 sacks. The Giants organization knows it can't count on that production level next season. Pierre-Paul has recorded double-digit sacks once in his five seasons and is due to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
It's possible the Giants are better served letting Pierre-Paul walk and adding Ray to replace him. Ray has the athletic profile of a hybrid but is far more comfortable as an edge-rusher off the line. He finished his junior campaign with 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss. It'll be interesting to see if he can keep his draft stock this high or begins falling by the wayside like Kony Ealy, who was viewed as a first-round lock before falling to No. 60 last year.
10. St. Louis Rams: La'El Collins, OT, LSU
The Rams haven't had much success drafting offensive linemen. Greg Robinson, the No. 2 overall pick a year ago, just turned in a miserable rookie campaign. We're 12 months away from seeing Robinson as worthy of the trash heap that's already engulfed Jason Smith and Alex Barron over the past decade.
So why draft Collins? Because if you're terrible at selecting a position, it tends to remain a weakness. Collins is physically gifted enough to slot anywhere on the offensive line, though right tackle and guard appear to be his biggest strengths. He is a fierce run-blocker, using his 6'5", 322-pound frame to bully opposing linemen out of the way.
The Rams need help at receiver and quarterback. It wouldn't be a surprise to see them go in the former direction and hope Robinson can develop. We'll have a better idea as free agency progresses.
11. Minnesota Vikings: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
The Vikings would love to shift their left tackle spot away from Matt Kalil, who has regressed heavily after being a Pro Bowler in 2012. It's really hard to tell what's happened, but over the last 24 months Kalil's gone from looking like a building block to a bust.
Peat developing into a building block is far from a sure thing. He, like most of his teammates, was a far superior player in 2013 than 2014. The 6'7" mauler is more of a prototype beast than instant superstar. Whether he winds closer to rookie Kalil or third-year Kalil will be highly dependent on the job his coaching staff does in development.
Considering Cedric Ogbuehi's struggles moving to left tackle, though, Peat's the best option available.
12. Cleveland Browns: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
Armed with the belief they could salvage Josh Gordon's career, the Browns traded down last year rather than selecting Sammy Watkins. That deal netted them an extra pick in the 2015 draft, one that could afford them to rectify that by grabbing Parker.
The Louisville standout made up for lost time after missing the first seven games of his senior season, compiling 43 receptions for 855 yards and five touchdowns. He went over the 100-yard mark in five of the six games in which he appeared. Had Parker not gotten injured, it's possible that he's challenging Cooper for the top wide receiver spot.
Instead he lands in Cleveland, where he'll either come to accentuate or replace the troubled Gordon.
13. New Orleans Saints: Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington
The Saints are in cap hell, meaning we'll need to see where they cut costs before knowing their biggest need areas. Developing a pass rush from players not named Junior Galette or Cameron Jordan would be a nice start, yet in this scenario seems unrealistic.
Grabbing Thompson, instantly translatable and a strong, versatile run-stopper, may be the answer the Saints are looking for. The All-American makes up for his lack of size by combining a never-ending motor with elite range that allows him to cover a ton of ground. He'll fit in the Thomas Davis mold as one of the best cover linebackers in the NFL someday.
14. Miami Dolphins: T .J . Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh
The Dolphins began addressing their offensive line needs last season by taking Ja'wuan James . Clemmings would represent much less of a reach . The Pittsburgh star proved capable as a future NFL right tackle , able to make things easier on a mediocre Panthers offense .
Clemmings ' skill set is almost exclusively that of a right tackle . He 's an insatiable run blocker who will at the very least become an above -average guard if things don 't work out outside .
His raw tools along make him an interesting draft candidate . A defensive lineman converted over to the offensive side , it 's possible Clemmings finds his way vaulting up draft boards as the process continues .
15. San Francisco 49ers: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
The 49ers need help across their defensive line with Justin Smith mulling retirement, Ray McDonald being released and Quinton Dial grading closer to average than outstanding. Shelton is a more traditional nose tackle than they've used in recent years, but he may be the answer to keeping this run defense among the league's best.
The Washington star is a first-round lock who can start moving up draft boards by showing nimble feet for his size. At 6'2" and 339 pounds, no one will expect him to run a 4.6 in the 40, but initial burst speed will be key to keeping him in the top half. The 49ers may also be tempted to go wide receiver here with Jaelen Strong, Dorial Green-Beckham and Kevin White still available.
16. Houston Texans : Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota
The Texans need to go about rebuilding their moribund offense . Williams , the draft 's best tight end , gets things underway . Houston will most likely be going with a young player under center in 2015 , and the Minnesota product should make things easier by offering a ready -made underneath option .
17. San Diego Chargers: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
Waynes is almost the top cornerback here by default. Michigan State's pass defense struggled against elite competition all season, and Waynes wasn't some fearsome superstar playing with a pack of duds. He had his head-scratching moments as well.
But with Brandon Flowers hitting free agency, the Chargers cannot afford a backslide on defense. Waynes lacks superstar potential, yet is polished enough to step in right away and provide competency—something San Diego's sorely needed from the cornerback spot in recent years. If Flowers comes back, the Chargers might wind up with a potent tandem.
18. Kansas City Chiefs: Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma
The Chiefs' receiving corps is abysmal. I don't much care what else is on the board here. The rest of their roster is filled with a mix of a few star-level players and sound, usable talents. Wide receiver is an eyesore whose best player (Dwayne Bowe) has averaged 15 yards per reception once and hasn't touched 1,000 yards since 2011.
Green-Beckham is as gifted as he is troubled. He'd instantly be the top offensive skill-position player on the roster not named Jamaal Charles. Andy Reid, for all his clock-management shortcomings, has long had a way of reaching troubled players and coaxing maximum possible effort.
This might be a perfect fit for both sides.
19. Cleveland Browns (via Buffalo): Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State
Karlos Dansby landed $12 million in guarantees last offseason to come in and help Cleveland improve its run defense. Whoops. The Browns finished dead last in rushing yards allowed and were 31st in DVOA, obscuring an excellent season from their secondary.
McKinney should start as a rookie and can be the long-term answer the 33-year-old Dansby cannot. Pairing the two might even help Cleveland reach competency against the run in 2015.
20. Philadelphia Eagles: Landon Collins, S, Alabama
I'm putting Collins here because there is, like, literally zero reasons not to. Good fit. Great value.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
Cincinnati's offense has long been dreck without A.J. Green, an unfortunate scenario it had to live out four times this past season. It's not too often we get to feel bad for Andy Dalton in the playoffs, but Joe Montana would've had trouble coaxing a competent offense out of the surrounding talent Dalton had in the wild-card loss to Indianapolis.
Strong is a good value at No. 21 and should develop into a more consistent second banana than Mohamed Sanu. He can go up in traffic at 6'3" and bring down balls over defenders, and while he lacks true downfield speed, he's a smart route-runner who uses his body well. Sanu has typically done better in a boom-or-bust role, so grabbing someone like Strong here might create more offensive consistency.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers: Gerod Holliman, S, Louisville
Troy Polamalu's eventual departure needs to be taken seriously in Pittsburgh. He's not going to be around forever. And, given the way he played in 2014, that's probably a good thing for this secondary. Polamalu is so beloved in Pittsburgh that he's been grandfathered into a starter emeritus role, where he can pick up right where he left off in between injury stints.
Selecting Holliman is a move with an eye toward the future. Still raw in some technical areas and overly aggressive breaking on routes, it's not hard to find some Polamalu inklings. It's impossible to intercept 14 passes without some "go for it" instincts.
Should Polamalu return, Holliman would have the perfect mentor to help harness his talent. Should he not, it may be trial by fire.
23. Detroit Lions: Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
The Lions won't have Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley back next season. It's fiscally impossible. With Goldman on the board, they can come to terms with losing one of their defensive line anchors by grabbing a long-term replacement.
Goldman is much closer to Fairley than Suh in the sense that he's still a work in progress. Expecting him to adapt right away and become a perennial Pro Bowl candidate isn't realistic. That said, he's an immense talent with a multitude of physical skills—more than good enough to eventually become a good NFL starter.
24. Arizona Cardinals: Alvin Dupree, DE, Kentucky
After fielding the worst playoff offense in the NFL's modern history, one would assume the Cardinals target offense here. Larry Fitzgerald's onerous cap hold is probably leaving town, Michael Floyd hasn't developed as desired and their otherwise decent depth tops out at a bunch of secondary options. Kevin White should get a ton of consideration.
We're going with Dupree for no other reason than he fills another massive need. The Fitzgerald situation may play itself out with him taking a pay cut. When fully healthy, the Cardinals have an offense that was pretty competent. Bolstering their defensive strengths while addressing a weak spot might be their best way to ensure a second straight playoff berth.
25. Carolina Panthers: Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami (Florida)
Cam Newton got his long-term top target last May with Kelvin Benjamin. The Panthers will hope to land him his next long-term tackle a year later. Jordan Gross' retirement left a gaping hole on Carolina's left side, and Flowers is interesting given his general rawness.
Much like Benjamin, Flowers would land in Carolina on speculation. The front office would more so be rolling the dice on his immense physical talent and potential than the flashes he shows on tape. It worked (for the most part) with Benjamin. We'll see on Flowers.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
Steve Smith won't be around forever despite his protestations otherwise. Torrey Smith isn't a No. 1 receiver despite the three times a year he looks like God in shoulder pads. The Ravens have other, more glaring needs, but White falling to No. 26 feels too good to be true.
Slotting him in next to the Smiths would give Joe Flacco by far the best receiving corps of his career, where The Elite One can work on improving on a career-best 2014. White having only one full season of top-level collegiate production might work in the Ravens' favor if he drops here.
27. Dallas Cowboys: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
I'm of the opinion it would be fundamentally insane for the Cowboys to bring back DeMarco Murray. Murray is going to want to be paid like one of the two or three best running backs in football. As he should. Because he's in that conversation. The Cowboys remain in a cap hell of their own doing and need to save every penny for a Dez Bryant contract.
Letting Murray walk and then drafting Gordon is a far more sensible outlook. Gordon is the talented outlier against whom other backs are judged. He's an explosive runner with ideal size, able to blow past defenders and push them forward in short-yardage situations. Guys with his production level used to be top-five picks, and Gordon very well could ascend into the top 20 by draft night.
If he's available and the Cowboys pass, though, it'll mean they've made a grave decision to give a long-term contract to a running back.
28. Denver Broncos: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
I saw Brock Osweiler throw a football this season. Not something I'd prefer to see again, nor do I believe the Broncos want happening long term. For all Peyton Manning's discussion about wanting to play as long as the team has him, he's at the very end of his career—one or two years remaining at the very maximum.
Hundley would be a fun rolling of the dice. The UCLA star has all the tools teams look for in modern-day quarterbacks. He's big, strong, has a live arm and can make plays with his feet. Colin Kaepernick isn't a bad comparison, though Kaepernick's arm strength is mostly unrivaled. Throwing Hundley behind Manning for a year or two is a better long-term answer than sticking with Osweiler, who's actually nearing the end of his rookie deal.
29. Indianapolis Colts: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A &M
You will be super surprised to know that Indianapolis ' right tackle situation remains a dumpster fire . The Gosder Cherilus signing was dead on arrival and is beginning to stink up the whole joint . Ogbuehi looks like a potential top -five pick when watching him on the right side . Shift him over to left tackle , though , and you begin to wonder if he 's going to pan out whatsoever .
Texas A &M has become an offensive line hotbed in recent years . Even with his knee injury , Ogbuehi has enough talent to still stick in the back half of the first round .
30. Green Bay Packers: Devin Funchess, WR/TE, Michigan
For funsies: Imagine Funchess playing a Jimmy Graham role within the Packers offense. Now you tell me why I wouldn't have him landing here.
31. Seattle Seahawks: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Beast Mode 2.0. ACLs be damned. That's all.
32. New England Patriots: Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
Darrelle Revis is no guarantee to return, which leaves a Hall of Fame-worthy hole in need of filling. Peters won't do that. His talent level isn't nearly as high. But he's a projectable talent whose dismissal from Washington may obscure a ton of great game tape.
The Pats would be lucky to land him at the end of Round 1.
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