2015 NFL Mock Draft: Updated 1st Round Outlook After Wild Card Weekend
With the NFL offseason now underway for 24 total teams after four were knocked out of the postseason on Wild Card Weekend, 75 percent of the order for the first round of the 2015 NFL draft has already been set.
The other eight teams will reach their offseasons within the next month. While the season of predraft all-star games is already underway, the draft season is well underway. Simultaneously, mock draft season has begun as prognosticators begin projecting which players fit best and are most likely to end up with which teams.
In the following 32 slides, we’ll take a look at one possible first-round pick for each slot, taking into consideration how highly each prospect should be valued, what needs each team has and what tendencies each organization has in the types of players it might look to add with its first-round pick.
With more than three months to go until the draft begins on April 30, little is known about which players teams will target, and much will change as the offseason progresses.
While prospects’ stocks will rise or fall at all-star games, combines and pro days, NFL teams will begin to fill needs in free agency. Some franchises haven’t even determined yet who their coach and/or general manager will be for the 2015 season.
Additionally, some underclassmen have yet to make their decisions on whether they will enter this year’s draft. For this mock draft, players who have not yet announced draft decisions were considered for inclusion, but players who have explicitly stated they are returning to school were not included.
The order of selections 25 through 32 has not yet been set and will be determined by playoff results. For this mock draft, the teams are listed in order of regular-season record, with lower picks allotted to teams with better postseason seeds.
Given the tentative nature at this point in the process of both the draft order and which players will be in the draft, trades are not projected in the following mock.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
In need of a franchise quarterback, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should look no further than this year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, with the No. 1 overall pick.
Projected to be the top signal-caller in the 2015 draft, Mariota is a tall, athletic dual-threat quarterback who excels at making plays on the run but also throws the ball with velocity from the pocket.
Mariota, who has led the Ducks to Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game, has had an outstanding senior season in which he has thrown for 10.1 yards per passing attempt and 40 passing touchdowns with only three interceptions.
It is reasonable to question how well Mariota’s game will translate to the NFL from Oregon’s offensive system, in which most of his throws have been either short or within large passing windows. There should be no questions, however, about Mariota’s character and maturity.
The same cannot be said for Florida State’s Jameis Winston, the other quarterback the Buccaneers could consider with the top pick. Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith was reportedly “extremely impressed” by Winston in the Rose Bowl last week, according to Gil Arcia of Scout.com, but off-field concerns and an 18-interception season could cause Winston to fall in the draft.
Mariota has not yet announced an official decision on entering the draft.
Update: Jameis Winston announced in a statement Wednesday that he will enter the draft. This slide previously stated that Winston did not plan to make a decision until next week.
2. Tennessee Titans: Leonard Williams, DE, USC
Should Marcus Mariota go No. 1 overall and Jameis Winston enter the draft, the Tennessee Titans will have their own decision to make on the Florida State quarterback.
The Titans have one young quarterback with potential in Zach Mettenberger, but the 2014 sixth-round draft pick is not going to stop Tennessee from drafting another passer if they become sold on Mariota, Winston or another quarterback available in the draft.
If the Titans decide Winston is not worth the risk of the No. 2 overall pick, given his inconsistent play on the field and questionable history off it, their best bet would be to select USC defensive end Leonard Williams, the best player at any position in the 2015 draft class.
A 6’5”, 300-pound defensive lineman who is explosive, powerful and can play both inside and outside, Williams is an ideal fit for Tennessee’s 3-4 defense. By adding Williams, who is both a tenacious pass-rusher and a strong tackler against the run, the Titans could pair him with another USC product, Jurrell Casey, to form one of the league’s best tandems of 3-4 defensive ends.
A pure edge defender who could play outside linebacker, such as Clemson’s Vic Beasley or Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, might address a bigger need for the Titans than a defensive end. That said, Tennessee shouldn’t pass up Williams’ talent unless it wants to draft a quarterback.
Williams, a junior, announced on Dec. 29 that he is entering this year’s draft.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dante Fowler Jr., DE, Florida
The Jacksonville Jaguars have had a top-10 pick in each of the last seven drafts, but have only used two of them on defensive players. Both of those players, Tyson Alualu and Derrick Harvey, are defensive ends who failed to live up to expectations, although Alualu is still a decent player for the team.
Jacksonville should look for another defensive star with the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft, and one player who could fit the bill is Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.
Fowler is a 6’3”, 260-pound edge defender with an explosive burst and good pass-rushing moves. He has lined up all over Florida’s defensive front in his three seasons with the Gators, and would be a good fit for the Jaguars’ "Leo" defensive end spot while also having the versatility to play additional roles.
To this point in the draft process, Fowler has not gotten as much attention as Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, Missouri’s Shane Ray and Clemson’s Vic Beasley, who are each also edge defenders that the Jaguars could consider with the No. 3 overall pick.
That said, Fowler might be the most well-rounded player of that entire group. His athleticism, strength and skill give him the potential to be an NFL standout for years to come.
Fowler, a junior, announced his intention to leave school in November.
4. Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
After adding promising young quarterback Derek Carr in last year’s draft, priority A for the Oakland Raiders in this year’s draft needs to be getting him some weapons to work with. If they have the chance to select Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper with their top pick, they shouldn’t pass it up.
Cooper, a Heisman finalist and the winner of the Biletnikoff Award this year, is coming off a junior season for the Crimson Tide in which he caught 124 passes for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns, all numbers that rank among the top two in the Football Bowl Subdivision for 2014.
The best pass-catching prospect in the 2015 draft class, Cooper is a sharp route-runner who accelerates naturally to extend plays in the open field. He has great hands and routinely makes tough catches look easy.
Some teams might favor bigger receivers than Cooper, who is listed at 6’1” and 210 pounds, but no offensive skill-position player in this year’s draft has a more well-rounded skill set or a more consistent history of production.
Assuming Cooper declares for the draft, which he has not yet, the Raiders should not pass up a chance to select him. He would immediately be the No. 1 receiver on a team that currently has no star offensive playmakers.
5. Washington Redskins: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Set to draft in the first round for the first time since 2012, the Washington Redskins might be ready to replace Robert Griffin III, the quarterback they gave up their 2013 and 2014 first-round picks to move up for and select in the 2012 draft.
Griffin’s fall from grace in Washington has been precipitous since he was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012. He has been benched by the end of the year in each of the last two seasons, and has been openly criticized by Jay Gruden, who has been retained for a second season as Redskins head coach.
Washington is finalizing a deal for a new general manager, Scot McCloughan, and it’s quite possible that he and Gruden could make a move for a new signal-caller if they have the chance to select Jameis Winston with the No. 5 overall pick.
Drafting Winston would be taking a big risk, especially for a team that has limited talent across the board because of the assets it gave up to acquire RG3. But he could also be tough to pass up if the decision-makers in Washington aren’t sold on Griffin as he enters his fourth year with the team.
A 6’4”, 230-pound quarterback with a strong arm and good athleticism, Winston is inconsistent with his decision-making but frequently flashes the ability to make challenging throws between tight windows, from the pocket and even when he is under pressure.
Should the Redskins decide to go forward with Griffin for 2015 or at least decide to address a different position with their first-round pick, other options could include Nebraska edge defender Randy Gregory, Clemson edge defender Vic Beasley or Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff.
Update: Winston announced in a statement Wednesday that he will enter the draft. This slide previously stated that he was considering a return to Florida State.
6. New York Jets: Vic Beasley, OLB/DE, Clemson
Considering the New York Jets are currently without a coach or a general manager, there’s no way of knowing what their strategy will be for the 2015 draft. That said, one area in which they could clearly use another playmaker, regardless of the defensive scheme their new coaching staff employs, is on their edge rush.
Perhaps the most explosive edge defender in this year’s class, Vic Beasley combines a lightning-quick first step with a strong arsenal of pass-rushing moves.
A senior who accumulated 33 sacks and 52.5 tackles for loss in his Clemson career, Beasley would bring a new degree of athleticism and playmaking ability to the Jets defense.
If the Jets decide to switch to a 4-3 defense from the 3-4 they employed under Rex Ryan, they might find a better fit in Nebraska’s Randy Gregory and Missouri’s Shane Ray, as Beasley is undersized for an NFL defensive line at 6’3” and 235 pounds.
That said, while Beasley is best suited to play in a 3-4 defense and would be the best outside linebacker prospect of that trio, all of them face the need to bulk up and add strength if drafted by a 4-3 team. Beasley could have some issues playing the run in the NFL, at least initially, but his ability to beat blockers with speed, quickness and his hands gives him the potential to wreak havoc.
7. Chicago Bears: Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington
After finishing among the NFL’s bottom three in both yards allowed and points allowed this season, the Chicago Bears will be on the market for defensive talent this offseason. There might not be any defensive prospect in the 2015 draft with more playmaking potential than Washington’s Shaq Thompson.
Like the New York Jets, the Chicago Bears are currently without a coach and general manager, so it’s unknown what their draft strategy will be. It’s also unknown what defensive scheme they will employ.
That said, the hyper-versatile Thompson is a fit for any system. An outstanding athlete who played linebacker, defensive back and even some running back at Washington, Thompson is a chess piece who can be moved all over the field.
Undersized for the linebacker position at 6’1” and 228 pounds, Thompson would traditionally be considered a “tweener” and a reach at the No. 7 overall pick, but NFL football is always evolving. Linebackers who can run and cover like safeties are becoming increasingly commonplace, and Thompson will likely make big plays on defense—and potentially also on special teams or even offense—for whatever team selects him.
Thompson, a junior, declared for the draft earlier this week.
Other options for the Bears at No. 7 overall could include Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff, Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley and Alabama safety Landon Collins.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
The Atlanta Falcons, who did not have a single player on their team with more than 4.5 sacks this past season, have a major need to upgrade their pass rush this offseason. Fortunately for them, the 2015 draft’s class of pass-rushers appears to be its most talented position, which should leave at least one premier talent among edge defenders on the board at the No. 8 overall pick.
Nebraska’s Randy Gregory would be awfully tough for the Falcons to pass up if he is still on the board. A physical freak at 6’6” and 240 pounds who has a rare combination of length and athleticism, Gregory’s game remains raw but his upside is elite.
While Gregory will likely need to bulk up to hold up against the run in the NFL, he has a tremendous burst and the versatility to play as either a down lineman or as a stand-up linebacker. Regardless of what defensive scheme Atlanta’s new coaching staff employs, Gregory could be a fit.
Gregory announced his decision to declare for the draft Dec. 30 in a statement released to ESPN’s Josina Anderson.
Missouri’s Shane Ray is not quite as physically gifted as Gregory, but he was arguably the best pass-rusher in college football this past season, and is also an option for the No. 8 overall pick.
9. New York Giants: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese is among the NFL personnel executives known for having a “best player available” draft strategy. In this scenario, that player very well could be Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff.
The Giants already have a solid pair of offensive tackles in William Beatty and Justin Pugh, but both Pugh and Scherff are candidates to make a move inside to guard, a position where some draft evaluators believe Scherff would most excel.
Regardless of where he ultimately plays, Scherff is the most well-rounded offensive line prospect in this year’s draft class. He has great size (6’5”, 320 lbs), clean footwork and is both powerful and explosive.
The Giants offensive line had a good year in pass protection in 2014, but could use a boost in run blocking, which Scherff would provide with his ability to drive defenders off the line of scrimmage.
Other options for the Giants at No. 9 overall could include Alabama safety Landon Collins and Missouri defensive end Shane Ray.
10. St. Louis Rams: Ty Sambrailo, OT, Colorado State
Despite using the No. 2 overall pick on Greg Robinson last year, the St. Louis Rams might be looking at using their first-round selection to upgrade their offensive line once again in 2015.
While Robinson has huge upside as the team’s left tackle of the future, it’s unknown whether Jake Long will be back with the team after tearing his ACL for a second consecutive in 2014. Meanwhile, the Rams should be looking for upgrades over unrestricted free agents Davin Joseph and Joseph Barksdale on the right side of their offensive line.
Ty Sambrailo has not gotten as much attention thus far as some of the offensive tackles from bigger programs, but he’s a player who could rise quickly if he has a strong showing at the Senior Bowl.
A 6’5”, 315-pound lineman with length, agility and nastiness, Sambrailo projects well to the right tackle position, while he could also potentially kick inside to guard.
11. Minnesota Vikings: La’el Collins, OT, LSU
Much like the Washington Redskins, the Minnesota Vikings have to make a decision on whether it’s time to give up on their top pick from the 2012 NFL draft, No. 4 overall selection Matt Kalil, who was expected to be a star left tackle but has looked like a bust so far in his career.
Even if the Vikings aren’t quite ready to throw in the towel on Kalil, they would still be smart to use their first-round pick on upgrading their offensive line, and LSU’s La’el Collins would fit the bill.
A big blocker at 6’5” and 321 pounds, Collins has been one of the best left tackles in college football over the past two seasons. He’s not as agile as the prototypical NFL left tackle, but he has clean footwork, long arms and great strength.
With a technically sound game, Collins could potentially take over for Kalil right away in 2015. That said, he could also be kicked inside to left guard, where he played his sophomore season at LSU, and be an upgrade over Charlie Johnson while being groomed as a potential replacement for Kalil if the USC product fails to play up to his potential in his fourth season.
Another player who the Vikings should strongly consider at No. 11 overall is DeVante Parker, who was Teddy Bridgewater’s top wide receiver at Louisville and is a highly skilled playmaker who would be an upgrade for Minnesota at that position. But while Parker’s history with Bridgewater will make him a very popular mock draft selection for the Vikings, projections based on collegiate connections rarely come to reality, and the offensive line is a greater area of need.
12. Cleveland Browns: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
Even though Josh Gordon is no longer an unrestricted free agent after being suspended by the Cleveland Browns for the team’s season finale after missing a mandatory walkthrough, it would be a big surprise if Gordon is still with the team in 2015. Given the receiver’s pattern of off-field mistakes, the Browns need to look for another wide receiver who can take over his role as the team’s go-to deep threat.
The player in the 2015 draft with the skill set the Browns need is Louisville’s DeVante Parker. A 6’3”, 211-pound wideout known for making big plays and spectacular catches, Parker has the size, athleticism and separation skills to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
Cleveland’s top two receivers in 2014 were Andrew Hawkins, who is 5’7” and 180 pounds, and Taylor Gabriel, who is 5’8” and 167 pounds.
Parker would give the Browns a significantly bigger target who has the body control and physicality to win against coverage at the catch point. He won’t regularly make defenders miss in the open field, but he can run through contact and extend plays with his speed.
13. New Orleans Saints: Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri
One of the reasons Rob Ryan hasn’t run a traditional 3-4 defense in his two years with the New Orleans Saints is that they haven’t had a second player to line up opposite Junior Galette, who is well-suited for the hybrid outside linebacker role. The Saints should look for one in this year’s draft, especially if Shane Ray is still on the board at the No. 13 overall pick.
A 6’3”, 245-pound edge defender who is third in the FBS this year with 14.5 sacks, Ray is an explosive athlete with good pass-rushing skills. Should the Saints wish to use the 3-4 more frequently in 2015, Ray has the movement skills to make the transition to outside linebacker.
Ray does not have great size for a defensive end and might need to get stronger to play the run regularly, but he could provide an immediate spark to a pass rush that scored just 34 sacks this past season. With Ray as a pass-rushing option opposite Galette, the Saints could more consistently utilize defensive end Cameron Jordan as an inside rusher.
Additionally, Galette’s status with the Saints could be in question going forward, as he was arrested on a domestic violence charge earlier this week. That increases the need for the team to look for another edge defender, regardless of what it plans to do schematically in 2015, and Ray is arguably the best player available in this scenario.
Ray will announce his decision on whether he will enter the draft at a press conference Wednesday, according to David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune.
14. Miami Dolphins: Landon Collins, SS, Alabama
Louis Delmas was a solid one-year fix for the Miami Dolphins at strong safety, but the team will be looking for his long-term replacement in 2015 after he tore his ACL in December. If Alabama’s Landon Collins is still on the board at the No. 14 overall pick, he could be tough to pass up.
From around the line of scrimmage to deep in coverage, Collins has made plays all over the field throughout his three-year career with the Crimson Tide. He is a hard hitter at 6’0” and 222 pounds who thrives on making big stops in the box, but he also has impressive athleticism and range.
Collins struggled more than expected at times in coverage in his junior season, but he has very good ball skills. His playmaking ability makes him unlikely to fall outside of what would be considered the lottery picks in an NBA draft.
The junior safety has not yet declared for the NFL draft. If he were to make a surprising decision and stay in school, another option for this pick could be Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown.
15. San Francisco 49ers: Malcom Brown, DT/DE, Texas
With Justin Smith considering retirement and Ray McDonald released in December during a sexual assault investigation, the 49ers are in need of defensive line reinforcements. A versatile interior defensive lineman, Texas’ Malcom Brown would be a good fit regardless of what defensive scheme San Francisco’s new coaching staff plans to deploy.
A 6’2”, 320-pound defender who is strong at the point of attack and a great all-around athlete for his size, Brown can play either defensive tackle spot in a 4-3 scheme or be a 5-technique defensive end if the 49ers stick with the 3-4 scheme.
Brown, who has even played some defensive end on the edge at Texas, is very good at penetrating the backfield and is a skilled interior pass-rusher. He has the potential to keep getting better and be a disruptive force when he makes the jump to the NFL.
A junior, Brown has not yet announced whether he will enter the NFL draft. If he does not, other defensive line options could be Ohio State’s Michael Bennett or UCLA’s Owamagbe Odighizuwa, or the 49ers could opt for a wide receiver such as West Virginia’s Kevin White with this pick.
16. Houston Texans: Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota
The Houston Texans might not be in position to get a franchise quarterback in this year’s draft, but they should at least look to add another weapon for the passers they do have. A potential fit could be Minnesota’s Maxx Williams, who stands out as the top tight end in the 2015 draft.
Houston selected C.J. Fiedorowicz in the third round of the 2014 draft, but he’s more of an in-line blocker than a downfield receiving playmaker. Williams, on the other hand, is a dynamic target who can either be in-line or flexed out as a receiver, and create mismatches all over the field.
A very good athlete at 6’4” and 250 pounds, Williams would give the Texans a go-to target in the middle of the field, and one who can be a reliable short-yardage/red-zone threat while also having the potential to create big plays.
When Texans coach Bill O’Brien was with the New England Patriots, his offense was often predicated around the use of multiple tight ends playing complementary roles.
In Williams, O’Brien could get his own version of Rob Gronkowski. Though Williams is slightly smaller and not as strong of a blocker as Gronkowski, he brings a similar skill set to the field.
Williams, a redshirt sophomore, announced his intention to enter this year’s draft on Jan. 2.
17. San Diego Chargers: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
With left tackle King Dunlap set to be an unrestricted free agent, and right tackle D.J. Fluker potentially being moved to guard, per Bolts From the Blue’s John Gennaro, the San Diego Chargers are in the market for at least one new offensive tackle this offseason.
Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley is a 6’5.5”, 315-pound offensive tackle with great foot skills and length for the position. Having played right tackle in 2013 and left tackle this past season, Stanley is a potential replacement for either side of San Diego’s offensive line.
It’s uncertain if Stanley, who has two more years of eligibility at Notre Dame, will enter the draft. According to Rand Getlin of Yahoo Sports, “Stanley is very much on the fence about his decision to stay in school or turn pro.”
If he does declare, Stanley is likely to be one of the top offensive tackles off the board. He has arguably the most upside of any offensive lineman eligible for the 2015 draft, and his ability to pass block on the edge would be an upgrade for the Chargers in this scenario.
Should Stanley decide to return to the Fighting Irish, other offensive tackle options at this pick could be Stanford’s Andrus Peat and Miami’s Ereck Flowers.
18. Kansas City Chiefs: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
After being the first team in 50 years to not have a single touchdown pass caught by a wide receiver for an entire season, the Kansas City Chiefs need to find a red-zone threat at the position this offseason.
That’s what they could get in West Virginia’s Kevin White, who is fresh off a breakout senior season in which he caught 109 passes for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns.
White is a 6’3”, 210-pound wideout who wins at the catch point with strength and great ball skills. He does not have tremendous downfield speed, but he is athletic enough to extend plays in the open field while he can make contested catches against coverage.
An improved route-runner who brings jump-ball ability to the field that the Chiefs do not currently have at his position, White could be a big upgrade opposite Dwayne Bowe in Kansas City’s starting lineup.
19. Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo Bills): Jordan Phillips, NT, Oklahoma
If the Cleveland Browns add a wide receiver with their first pick in Round 1, they should look to reinforce their defensive line with their second selection. A player with huge upside who could quickly emerge as good value at the No. 19 overall selection is Oklahoma nose tackle Jordan Phillips.
A monster of a man at 6’6” and 334 pounds, Phillips has exceptional athleticism for his size while he is also a load to move at the point of attack. He could be an upgrade for the Browns at nose tackle while also having the quickness and penetrative ability to play some defensive end situationally in Cleveland’s 3-4 defensive front.
Phillips is not as well-known yet as some other possibilities for this pick, such as Washington’s Danny Shelton and Ohio State’s Michael Bennett, but his physical upside could shoot him up boards.
Coming off a breakout redshirt sophomore season, Phillips announced his intention to enter the 2015 draft on Dec. 30.
20. Philadelphia Eagles: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
With Chip Kelly’s rapid rise to being in control of all personnel decisions after just two seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s expected that the head coach will be aggressive in continuing to shape his team this offseason. Specifically, Kelly could look to take a chance on upgrading at the quarterback position.
It’s possible Kelly could try to make a big move up the board to land either Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston, but that would be tough to do from the No. 20 overall pick unless one or both of them falls out of the top six.
That could convince the Eagles to take a chance on UCLA’s Brett Hundley, who is viewed by most draft analysts as a Day 2 talent but has significantly more potential than any other quarterback the 2015 draft class has to offer.
At 6’3”, 226 pounds with great athleticism for his size and a powerful arm, Hundley is a dual-threat quarterback with arguably the most physical upside of any signal-caller in this year’s draft. He is coming off a good redshirt junior year, in which he completed 69.1 percent of his passing attempts for eight yards per attempt and 22 touchdowns, with only five interceptions.
Concerns about Hundley’s pocket presence and ball placement could push him down the board, but it’s not hard to imagine Hundley standing out at the NFL Scouting Combine and UCLA’s pro day, potentially sending his stock flying upward. Hundley’s mobility makes him an intriguing option for the Kelly offense, which just might be the right fit for him to succeed.
The Eagles don’t necessarily need to draft a quarterback this year, but unless they view Nick Foles as their long-term answer, Hundley is a prospect they will consider. They might also be able to land Hundley in Round 2, but with a precipitous drop-off at the quarterback position after Hundley, it’s likely they’d at least have to trade up later if they want him.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
The Cincinnati Bengals look as though they will enter the 2015 draft in the same position they have been in the past couple years. Despite having lost once again in the Wild Card Round of the AFC playoffs, the Bengals come into the offseason with few pressing needs to address, opening them up to draft for value over need.
One position where the Bengals could use an upgrade, or at least improved depth, is at nose tackle. Coming off an excellent senior season, Washington’s Danny Shelton would be good value outside the top 20 and could immediately challenge Domata Peko for his starting spot alongside Geno Atkins.
Despite being 6’2” and 339 pounds, Shelton has the athleticism to make plays all along the line of scrimmage. He was a very active defender on the Washington front, especially in 2014, when he made 93 tackles, including 16.5 tackles for loss.
A strong tackler with the quickness and versatility to line up at multiple spots, Shelton could be a very valuable addition to the Bengals' defensive line rotation.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
After failing to address their need for cornerbacks in the 2014 draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers cannot afford to put off reinforcing the position any longer this year, even though the cornerback position is one of the weakest in the 2015 draft class.
Michigan State’s Trae Waynes projects as a good fit for the Pittsburgh defense and as the potential top cornerback off the board this year.
A 6’1”, 182-pound defensive back, Waynes has good length and athleticism for the position and is skilled in contesting receivers in man coverage. His play has been somewhat inconsistent and he needs to add bulk to his frame, but his ball skills and instincts give him the potential to develop into a very good starting outside cornerback in the NFL.
The junior cornerback’s decision to enter the draft was confirmed by Michigan State earlier this week.
Washington’s Marcus Peters is the most talented cornerback in this year’s class, but character concerns could push him down the board. Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson could be another cornerback option at this pick.
23. Detroit Lions: Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
With Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley all set to be free agents, the Detroit Lions are likely to be in need of at least one replacement at the defensive tackle position.
Florida State’s Eddie Goldman has the size (6’4”, 320 lbs), power and quickness to play either defensive tackle spot on Detroit’s 4-3 defensive front and be a disruptive presence.
Goldman’s game remained inconsistent in his junior season, but he flashes the potential for greatness. At times overwhelming opponents with his physical attributes, Goldman recorded eight tackles for loss in 2014.
It is uncertain whether Goldman will enter the draft, as he has not yet announced his decision one way or the other.
If Goldman was to return to school, another option here could be Ohio State’s Michael Bennett. Bennett is smaller than Goldman, and only projects as a 3-technique penetrator to a 4-3 front, but he would be a good replacement if Fairley departs.
24. Arizona Cardinals: Alvin 'Bud' Dupree, OLB, Kentucky
In a draft class deep with first-round-caliber pass-rushers, the Arizona Cardinals should take advantage and add some athleticism and playmaking ability to the edge of their defense, where they lack a premier player.
Alvin “Bud” Dupree is a terrific all-around athlete who would add a degree of explosiveness at the outside linebacker position that the Cardinals do not currently have.
Having played both defensive end and strong-side linebacker at Kentucky, Dupree is a good fit, at 6’4” and 264 pounds, to make the transition to linebacker in Arizona’s 3-4 defense. He has good length, moves well in space and is a natural bender around the edge.
Dupree is still developing fundamentally as a pass-rusher, but he was a productive player for the Wildcats, who recorded 23.5 career sacks and 37 total tackles for loss.
Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha and Virginia’s Max Valles would also be strong options with this pick, but Dupree’s athleticism gives him the edge.
25. Carolina Panthers: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
The Carolina Panthers need to upgrade over Byron Bell, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent, at left tackle. Even if Bell was to resign with the Panthers, he’s only suited to be a right tackle or a swing tackle backup going forward, as Carolina needs to add a more skilled pass protector on the blind side.
There are a number of options available in this scenario who would be good value selections late in the first round. The best among them might be Andrus Peat, a 6’7”, 316-pound lineman who has been one of the best left tackles in college football the past two seasons.
A very good athlete with ideal length for the position, Peat has high upside as a pass-blocker, which makes him a likely first-round pick. To be a more effective run-blocker, he might need to bulk up, as he does not often exhibit the power to drive defenders off the line of scrimmage.
Peat, a junior, announced his decision to enter this year’s draft on Tuesday.
Miami’s Ereck Flowers and Texas A&M’s Cedric Ogbuehi could also be considerations at this pick as potential offensive tackle upgrades.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
With Torrey Smith set to be an unrestricted free agent and Steve Smith set to turn 36 before the 2015 season, the Baltimore Ravens would be smart to invest in another wide receiver in this year’s draft.
If Jaelen Strong is still available when the Ravens are on the clock, he would be a worthy investment.
Strong, who caught 82 passes for 1,165 yards and 10 touchdowns in his junior season at Arizona State, is a 6’3”, 215-pound receiver with good athleticism and excellent hands. He is a chain-mover in the intermediate passing game who is also skilled in tracking down deep balls.
Strong does not have burner speed and does not make many defenders miss in the open field, but he’s a strong route-runner who should be a highly productive possession receiver and red-zone threat at the next level.
27. Indianapolis Colts: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
After two badly disappointing seasons, it’s time for the Indianapolis Colts to accept failure on their trade for Trent Richardson and upgrade at the running back position.
Running backs are rarely first-round commodities anymore, so the Colts certainly could wait until Day 2 and still get a solid, starting-caliber runner. An upgrade to their offensive line, such as Texas A&M’s Cedric Ogbuehi, or a cornerback, like Washington’s Marcus Peters, would make sense for their first-round choice.
Melvin Gordon, however, is a special talent who is worthy of superseding the trend of first rounds being without running backs. Possessing rare acceleration and the agility to make defenders miss with sharp cuts, Gordon is a threat to make any play a big play.
At 6’1” and 213 pounds, Gordon has enough size to run through contact in the open field. Once he gets through a lane and breaks away from a defense, he can leave his opponents in the dust.
It is uncertain how well Gordon will be able to run between the tackles in the NFL, especially behind an offensive line like that of the Colts if they do not make significant upgrade. He is also not a frequent pass-catcher, but his ability to make things happen in space is truly elite.
As one of the last eight picks in the first round, Gordon—who announced his intention to declare for the draft in December—could be a steal.
28. Dallas Cowboys: Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
Henry Melton proved to be a strong addition to the Dallas Cowboys defensive line this year, but he’s eligible to be an unrestricted free agent unless the Cowboys pick up a three-year, $24 million option this offseason. The Cowboys could be reasonably reluctant to exercise that option as Melton is out for this year’s playoffs with a knee injury and has a history of knee injuries.
Should the Cowboys let Melton hit the open market, Michael Bennett would be a great replacement. A quick, penetrating defensive tackle who excels as an interior pass-rusher, Bennett could fill Melton’s role on Dallas’ 4-3 defensive front.
Bennett is undersized for a defensive tackle, at 6’2” and 288 pounds, but he is active with his hands and generates adequate power as a bull-rusher. He has the versatility to play defensive end situationally.
Other options for this pick could include Washington cornerback Marcus Peters, Louisville free safety Gerod Holliman or, if DeMarco Murray leaves as a free agent, a running back such as Miami’s Duke Johnson or Georgia’s Todd Gurley.
29. Green Bay Packers: Denzel Perryman, ILB, Miami (Florida)
The Green Bay Packers need a thumper in the middle of their defense to help shut down the run at inside linebacker. A good choice as a late first-round pick would be Miami’s Denzel Perryman.
At his best when attacking downhill, Perryman is a hard-hitting tackler who explodes through ball-carriers. He exhibits good instincts, fights through blocks and has a good short-area burst.
He is shorter than ideal for a linebacker at just 6’0”, and he does not project as a sideline-to-sideline player, but his ability to make plays between the hashes is what the Packers are lacking in their linebacker corps.
Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney and UCLA’s Eric Kendricks are also options at this pick for inside linebackers, but Perryman is the best fit for Green Bay.
30. Denver Broncos: Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State
The Denver Broncos’ draft needs will ultimately be determined by how free agency plays out, as the team has many key players set to potentially hit the market, including wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, tight end Julius Thomas, guard Orlando Franklin, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and safety Rahim Moore.
One position where it appears the Broncos should look to add talent, regardless of which free agents they are able to retain, is at linebacker. Brandon Marshall is a restricted free agent, Nate Irving is an unrestricted free agent and Danny Trevathan has had trouble staying healthy, leaving the Broncos with some questions at the position outside of Von Miller.
Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney is a versatile linebacker who could fill the team’s most likely need for a middle linebacker but can also play outside or even on the edge.
A big linebacker at 6’5” and 249 pounds, McKinney is a fluid athlete. He is not remarkable in any capacity but his well-rounded skill set could make him a valuable addition to any defense.
Depending on which players they are able or unable to keep, other options with the Broncos’ late first-round pick could include Pittsburgh offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings, Texas A&M offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi or Louisville safety Gerod Holliman.
31. New England Patriots: A.J. Cann, G, South Carolina
After trading away Logan Mankins prior to the start of this past season, the New England Patriots could use their late first-round pick on a guard this year, like they did on Mankins in 2005, in hopes of emulating their success with that selection.
The best guard prospect in this draft among players who actually played that position collegiately is South Carolina’s A.J. Cann.
Listed at 6’4” and 311 pounds, Cann is an excellent run-blocker who can drive defenders back with power and accelerate to the second level to pick up blocks downfield. He does not have outstanding size or athleticism, but is technically sound and rarely gets pushed backward.
The Patriots should be looking for a long-term upgrade over left guard Dan Connolly, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent, and Cann fits the bill.
If New England loses cornerback Darrelle Revis this offseason, as he is expected to hit the open market, either Washington’s Marcus Peters or Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson could also be an option here as a replacement in the secondary.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Possessing the most complete roster in the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks do not appear to have any major needs looking forward to the 2015 draft, which leaves them in position to take a chance on the most talented player on the board.
Georgia’s Todd Gurley suffered a torn ACL in November, but was previously on track to be the top running back prospect in the 2015 draft, even ahead of Melvin Gordon.
A 6’1”, 226-pound runner with a tremendous blend of size and speed, Gurley can power through contact between the tackles but also make defenders miss in open space. He is a home run threat who is tough to bring down, and he is a good pass-catcher out of the backfield.
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2016, a year in which he will turn 30 years old, so Seattle could groom Gurley to be his replacement. They could bring Gurley along slowly as a rookie, which will likely be necessitated by injury, then potentially have one of the NFL’s best running backs if Gurley can return to full form by 2016.
If the Seahawks do not want to take a risk of Gurley and his injured knee, Miami’s Duke Johnson is another running back they could consider. Considering they can afford to take a chance on Gurley, however, his rare potential makes him worth the risk.
Georgia coach Mark Richt announced in December that Gurley would enter the draft.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.