The playoffs are now narrowed down to just four teams, with the Super Bowl less than three weeks away. For the other 28, it's time to start looking ahead to the 2015 NFL draft.
Soon, every team will be pondering which players will help them hoist the Lombardi next year. Until then, the hope is alive that one of the final four teams will be looking to repeat with the incoming crop of talented players.
Those that are already out or never stood a chance by missing the playoffs have a special group to look forward to. Before the divisional round gets underway, here's a look at the latest mock draft.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Could Marcus Mariota have looked slightly better on the big stage? Sure, but then again, he already looked spectacular in the Rose Bowl. The only issue was his team had already knocked off Florida State, so the pressure was squarely on Mariota's shoulders.
Following the national championship, Josh Norris of NBC Sports offered his take on the quarterback:
If fewer throws are dropped and Mariota gets more time in the pocket, he has a much better performance. He'll have to deal with both at the NFL level, but he is far from a system quarterback.
This past season, one of the biggest reasons the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't succeed was a lack of a leader at the quarterback position. If Mariota can come in and learn under Lovie Smith—who nearly won a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman—this will be a match made in heaven.
2. Tennessee Titans: Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska
A versatile defensive end with the athleticism to move to outside linebacker, Randy Gregory will develop into a star at the NFL level. In need of a game-changer on the defensive side, expect the Tennessee Titans to nab Gregory.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Williams, DT, USC
The only thing harder to tame than Leonard Williams' hair is Williams himself. A standout player at USC, Williams has the talent to be the No. 1 pick overall. While the fit isn't perfect at No. 1 or 2, he'll find a home with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the future.
4. Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Even though his team fell short earlier this month, Amari Cooper is still one of the best players in the entire draft. His talent led him to an historic year in the SEC, as ESPN Stats & Info notes:
Comparing to players from last year's class might be overwhelming for Cooper, but he will prove to be a huge playmaker for the Oakland Raiders. Cooper and Derek Carr would be a dynamic tandem for several years to come along with Latavius Murray.
5. Washington Redskins: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
There's no question that the situation under center in Washington is a volatile one, but the quarterback still needs protection to thrive. Bringing in Brandon Scherff, the top offensive lineman in the class, would provide plenty of time in the pocket for any signal-caller.
6. New York Jets: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Some analysts believe Jameis Winston is back as the No. 1 quarterback in this year's class over Mariota. However, his off-the-field issues will come up and cause him to take a tumble behind the Oregon player.
That, along with his struggles on the field this season, will leave him with the New York Jets, a franchise desperate for change under center. It's still early, and Winston still has time to change the perception, but he looked like the polar opposite of a leader at times this year.
7. Chicago Bears: Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
During the 2014 season, no team was more underwhelming than the Chicago Bears. Every team ahead of them in the draft was somewhat expected to be there, but the Bears were hoping to compete for the NFC North crown.
The biggest need, outside of better play from Jay Cutler, is an edge-rusher who can change the game. Luckily, Shane Ray will still be on the board and gives Chicago a true weapon on defense.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson
Just behind Ray in terms of talent, Vic Beasley might project better as a linebacker at the next level. But if he's selected by the Atlanta Falcons, Beasley can fill either spot due to the holes the franchise needs to fill. Given his power and athleticism, the former Clemson player will be a force in the NFC South.
9. New York Giants: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
All of this will happen if the New York Giants take an offensive tackle early in the draft. With Andrus Peat still on the board, expect him to reside in the Big Apple during his pro career.
10. St. Louis Rams: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
The last spot in the coveted top 10 of the draft belongs to the cellar dwellers in the NFC West. Looking for a cornerback to allow the defensive line more time to wreak havoc, the St. Louis Rams will take Trae Waynes at this spot. Having the No. 1 corner in the class, the division might have a different look in the future.
11. Minnesota Vikings: Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami
Easily one of the brightest rookies to watch this season was Teddy Bridgewater, who took over at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings and never let go. Adding a player like Ereck Flowers to keep that valuable possession safe gives the Vikings some added comfort as Bridgewater develops.
12. Cleveland Browns: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
If he's not taken by the Vikings at No. 11, the Cleveland Browns will happily take DeVante Parker. After blossoming into one of the brightest stars at the college level, Matt Miller of Bleacher Report believes Parker is one of the top 10 players in the class:
That doesn't guarantee he'll go in the first 10 selections, but he certainly deserves it. During the NFL Scouting Combine, Parker might be a player to watch, as he might even outshine Cooper. If he does fall to the Browns, he can be paired up with Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon to give whoever is starting under center myriad weapons.
13. New Orleans Saints: Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
Shaq Thompson has a chance to disrupt offenses at the next level purely based on his athleticism. Add on the power and speed, and he'll be an ideal fit for the New Orleans Saints, whose defense took a massive step back in 2014.
14. Miami Dolphins: La'el Collins, OT, LSU
The Miami Dolphins saw potential from Ryan Tannehill finally shine through this season. After adding Ja'Wuan James last season, La'el Collins will be the next big lineman to block for Tannehill. Miami is slowly building an effective offense, and Collins will be the glue that holds it all together.
15. San Francisco 49ers: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
This year's wideout class may not end up being as special as the 2014 crop, but it's not for a lack of talent. Kevin White is the next in line after a huge year with West Virginia. Thanks to a down season, the San Francisco 49ers can continue the rebuild offensively with White in the first round.
16. Houston Texans: Landon Collins, SS, Alabama
Anytime a franchise has a chance to take the top player at a position of need in the middle of the draft, they will grab him immediately. That's where the Houston Texans are after coming up short in the AFC South. Landon Collins is a hard-hitting strong safety, making him a perfect fit for the Texans.
17. San Diego Chargers: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
The San Diego Chargers surrendered 124.1 rushing yards per game, ranking 26th in the NFL in 2014. While the pass protection was great, ranking fourth in passing yards allowed, the Chargers need help in the middle of the defense.
That's where Danny Shelton comes in. The former Washington defensive tackle has earned high praise after a breakout season. One scout shared his thoughts on Shelton's potential, via Adam Jude of The Seattle Times:
He’s a massive dude. And he’s not just a square, can’t-move dude. He can run and he’s physical and he can move. It’s mind-blowing how easy it looks for him. He was just toying with people at times.
He went from, ‘Oh, we should probably take a look at this guy’ in the summer to a first-round lock now.
Giving Shelton time to develop on a defense that needs a difference-maker, San Diego will address a position of need. After missing out on the playoffs this year, the Chargers will have a more complete team to make a run at the AFC West.
18. Kansas City Chiefs: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
You know what the Kansas City Chiefs wide receivers didn't do this season? Of course, everyone does by this point. Without a single touchdown in 2014, the Chiefs became the laughingstock of the NFL.
Getting a steal like Jaelen Strong midway through the first round, KC will have an explosive weapon for Alex Smith that may actually be able to touch paydirt.
19. Cleveland Browns (via Buffalo Bills): Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida
Coming up well short of making the playoffs after a great start, the Browns can take solace in the fact that they made a great trade last season. Even if they didn't end up with Sammy Watkins, Cleveland can build both sides of the ball again with Dante Fowler.
20. Philadelphia Eagles: Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
Finishing with a winning record wasn't enough for Chip Kelly to make the playoffs for a second straight season. However, there is a chance to bring in one of the most talented players in the class at No. 20.
If not for his off-the-field troubles, Marcus Peters would be pushing Waynes as the top corner in the class. Kelly will bring him in and whip the young defensive back into shape. Pairing him up with Cary Williams spell trouble for the Dez Bryant, Beckham and DeSean Jackson in the NFC East.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
For a while now, I've projected Eddie Goldman to the Cincinnati Bengals. Why? Because it's an ideal situation for both sides. Goldman shone for Florida State this season and fills a position of need for the Bengals immediately.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers: P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State
Speaking of that FSU defense, P.J. Williams was another standout player for the Seminoles during his tenure. The cornerback fits with the Pittsburgh Steelers thanks to his physical play and coverage skills.
23. Detroit Lions: Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA
In need of a defensive end if they don't re-sign Ndamukong Suh or Nick Fairley, the Detroit Lions will go with a supremely talented young defensive end. Owamagbe Odighizuwa is an explosive edge-rusher who will shine at the next level.
Just when they mastered spelling "Ndamukong," good luck with this one, Detroit media.
24. Arizona Cardinals: Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State
On a team that slowly rose into the national spotlight, Benardrick McKinney was a star for Mississippi State. Now that he's taking his talents to the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals can immediately fill a position of need with the powerful linebacker.
25. Carolina Panthers: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
Over the last several months, the Carolina Panthers have seen their first-round pick from 2014 become one of the biggest stars on the team. While Cedric Ogbuehi won't earn as much attention, he will give Cam Newton plenty of time to find that dynamic weapon Kelvin Benjamin.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
It may come as a surprise, but there is one running back who has a great shot at being taken in the first round. Melvin Gordon had phenomenal numbers in 2014 with Wisconsin and looks like a franchise-changing running back at the next level.
Not only is he a powerful runner, but Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com notes another facet of his game:
Despite coming up short as a Heisman candidate this season, Gordon will likely join his fellow attendees in the first round. For a team in need of a long-term replacement at the position, the Baltimore Ravens look like an obvious fit.
27. Dallas Cowboys: Alvin "Bud" Dupree, DE, Kentucky
On Tuesday, the Dallas Cowboys reportedly locked up head coach Jason Garrett to a five-year deal and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to a three-year contract, via Todd Archer of ESPN.com. Now that both coaches are locked up, the franchise can continue to build the defense.
With Bud Dupree still on the board at No. 27, the Cowboys will have another defensive end to develop. Having DeMarcus Lawrence on the other side of the line, both will change the face of the defense.
28. Denver Broncos: Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
In last year's draft, Aaron Donald was a player that was undervalued early and eventually rose into the middle of the first round, becoming a breakout rookie with the St. Louis Rams. Malcom Brown is a player that has similar talent and might see his name higher on draft boards in the coming months.
Currently, he is slotted as a late-round prospect and would be a perfect fit for the Denver Broncos. That's only if he remains in that position when the draft rolls around.
29. Indianapolis Colts: Ty Sambrailo, OT, Colorado State
Ronnie Stanley, one of the top-ranked offensive linemen in the class, decided to stay at Notre Dame for another season, per his official Twitter account. One man's loss is another's gain, as Ty Sambrailo now moves back into the first round with the Indianapolis Colts taking him late.
30. Green Bay Packers: Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota
It might be a bit of a luxury pick for the Green Bay Packers, but they have a need for a quality tight end along with Richard Rodgers. Their two current tight ends are quality players, but a true playmaker would give Aaron Rodgers more options.
Williams showed off that ability during the Citrus Bowl, via ESPN College Football:
Already equipped with a plethora of offensive leaders, the Packers might look to add a player to boost the defense. However, if Williams' name is still not called, Green Bay might just take the No. 1 tight end in the class a little earlier than some might expect.
31. Seattle Seahawks: Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan
One of the biggest needs for the Seattle Seahawks is at wide receiver and tight end. The need for a large receiver will lead them to selecting Devin Funchess, a former tight end at Michigan. Equipping Russell Wilson with a bigger target will open up the offense and make Seattle even more potent.
32. New England Patriots: Sammie Coates, WR, Ole Miss
At this point, this is the only position I feel comfortable swapping out one player for another. In the last mock draft, Dorial Green-Beckham was slotted to the New England Patriots, but Sammie Coates has equally impressive talent without the baggage.
The only other drawback here is that Bill Belichick simply doesn't hold on to first-round draft picks. If he decides to move back in the draft, the pick at No. 32 would change drastically. Given the fact that the combine and draft process has barely started, Coates might also overtake in the coming months.
All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise stated.
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