Thank the football gods for the NFL draft, because there is a long football-less offseason ahead of us after two conference championship clashes and the Super Bowl.
With every team in the league focused on the draft except for the four remaining playoff squads, it is officially draft season. Here is an updated mock draft ahead of the conference championship tilts.
Draft order and team needs are courtesy of Gil Brandt of NFL.com.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon
The unfortunate nature of the draft is that a decorated college player with plenty of NFL intangibles like Marcus Mariota could get picked apart before the actual draft. Whether that costs him the first pick or not remains to be seen, but Eddie Brown of U-T San Diego believes Mariota is the right selection for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Imagine Russell Wilson if he were five inches taller, 20 pounds heavier and a Heisman winner. He will need some seasoning at the next level, but two big receivers like Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson will certainly help ease the transition. You have to respect the way he finished the season, missing many of his weapons while still throwing for 333 yards and two scores in the championship game against Ohio State.
That is high praise. No pressure, Mariota.
2. Tennessee Titans: QB Jameis Winston, Florida State
The Tennessee Titans are not going to win a Super Bowl with their current quarterback situation, so it only makes sense that they grab whichever former Heisman Trophy winner the Buccaneers pass on.
In this case, that will be Florida State’s Jameis Winston, who struggled with turnovers this season but has the physical tools to make almost every throw.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: DE Randy Gregory, Nebraska
The Jacksonville Jaguars are young on the offensive side of the ball with Blake Bortles and a handful of promising receivers, so they will look for defense with the No. 3 selection.
Randy Gregory is arguably the top defender in the draft because of his overall athleticism and ability to blow past tackles on the outside. He is also more than capable of funneling outside runs back to the inside, which allows the linebackers to make plays in space.
4. Oakland Raiders: WR Amari Cooper, Alabama
Sure, the Oakland Raiders have missed on wide receiver prospects before, but there is a reason Amari Cooper dominated the SEC this season. He possesses the perfect combination of speed, size and sure hands to make an immediate impact in the NFL, and he will give Derek Carr a top-notch target for years to come.
5. Washington: DT Leonard Williams, USC
Only the Chicago Bears and Oakland Raiders allowed more points per game than Washington this season, which means it will look toward the defensive side with the No. 5 pick. Leonard Williams has the talent and potential to be the No. 1 pick in this draft if the Buccaneers pass on the quarterbacks, so Washington is getting impressive value at No. 5.
6. New York Jets: OT Brandon Scherff, Iowa
There is no quarterback worth taking this high outside of Mariota and Winston, so the New York Jets will look to bolster their suspect offensive line if both are off the board. The best way to do that in this draft is with Iowa’s Brandon Scherff, who is strong enough to clear space in the running game and agile enough to protect the quarterback’s blind side if needed.
7. Chicago Bears: S Landon Collins, Alabama
Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated made it clear why Landon Collins is the pick for the Chicago Bears:
Reaching for need is one of the surest ways to screw up a draft pick, so perhaps the Bears should look elsewhere if they do not feel Collins is worthy of a top-10 pick. It says here, though, that he is. Not only can he cover, Collins flies downhill against the run, which was a real trouble spot for Chicago's 2014 defense.
The days of the Bears defense dominating as the “Monsters of the Midway” have been long gone over the past couple of years. Rebuilding the group with players like Collins would help them finally compete with the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North.
8. Atlanta Falcons: DE Shane Ray, Missouri
The Atlanta Falcons finished 27th in the league in scoring defense and struggled to establish a consistent pass rush all year. They will respond by taking arguably the best pure pass-rusher in the entire draft in Missouri’s Shane Ray. Ray led the SEC in sacks and is fast enough off the edge to contribute right away at the NFL level.
9. New York Giants: DE/OLB Alvin Dupree, Kentucky
Alvin Dupree is a sack machine, and he racked up 24.5 of them throughout his career at Kentucky as proof. What’s more, he is capable of playing defensive end or outside linebacker, so he can fit into a 4-3 or 3-4 defensive set. The New York Giants will use that versatility and nose for the quarterback on the outside.
10. St. Louis Rams: CB Marcus Peters, Washington
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller noted that talent will outweigh off-field concerns for Washington’s Marcus Peters:
The St. Louis Rams need help in the cornerback position and will take a risk on Peters with the No. 10 pick. Between his speed and overall ball skills, Peters has the potential to be a superstar at the next level if he can stay out of trouble.
11. Minnesota Vikings: OT Andrus Peat, Stanford
Stanford’s Andrus Peat is one of the rare offensive linemen who appear just as comfortable on the right side of the line as the left, which means a team like the Minnesota Vikings will not hesitate to scoop him up. Minnesota needs depth in a number of different areas on that offensive front, and Peat can fill in where he is needed.
12. Cleveland Browns: WR DeVante Parker, Louisville
Josh Gordon was suspended at the beginning of the season and the end of the season. It may be time to at least find an insurance policy in case he never quite lives up to his potential as a top-notch receiver who can be counted on for 16 games.
Enter Louisville’s DeVante Parker, who brings elite speed, crisp route running and excellent hands to the table. With Cooper gone, the Cleveland Browns will grab Parker with the No. 12 pick.
13. New Orleans Saints: DE Dante Fowler, Florida
The New Orleans Saints love to blitz, and Dante Fowler made a name for himself attacking quarterbacks in the SEC. This is an ideal match that makes too much sense not to happen. Rob Ryan will have a new defensive toy to unleash on the NFC South in an effort to improve the 26.5 points per game the Saints allowed last year.
14. Miami Dolphins: LB Shaq Thompson, Washington
The Miami Dolphins struggled to consistently stop the run last season, but Washington’s Shaq Thompson could help solve that problem. Considering he's played linebacker, running back and safety, you would be hard-pressed to find a more versatile player in this draft, but Miami will look to use him as a hybrid linebacker who can attack the running back in the open field and drop back to guard tight ends when needed.
15. San Francisco 49ers: OL La’el Collins, LSU
The San Francisco 49ers missed the playoffs in somewhat of a shocking development, and the offensive collapse was a major reason why. Adding more depth on the offensive line will help take care of the lackluster play we saw down the stretch, and running-back-of-the-future Carlos Hyde will certainly appreciate this addition.
16. Houston Texans: WR Kevin White, West Virginia
This pick for the Houston Texans is all about adding another elite playmaker next to DeAndre Hopkins, because Andre Johnson is not that guy anymore. Kevin White was one of the best deep threats in all of college football last season and has the speed to start beating corners on fade routes right away.
Throw in impressive hands that seemingly always pinpoint the ball at its perfect point, and White is an NFL receiver.
17. San Diego Chargers: OT Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
The San Diego Chargers need more depth on the offensive line, especially if they hope to protect Philip Rivers as he ages. Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley helps San Diego fill a need on the offensive front and will ideally be part of a small overhaul that gets the Chargers back into the playoffs after this year’s sabbatical.
18. Kansas City Chiefs: WR Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay believed that Jaelen Strong has star potential in recent quotes, via Martin Rickman of Sports Illustrated:
His ability to get the 50-50 balls and catch the ball in traffic is probably his biggest strength. I was sitting right there when he caught that ball in the corner of the end zone [against Notre Dame]. It was coming in hot. I didn’t think there was much of a chance he’d make that catch. When he put his hands up and plucked that ball away, that was pretty impressive. There aren’t many guys that would’ve made that catch at the college level.
There were plenty of football fans who missed Strong’s games in college because the Pac-12 contests were always on so late, and they didn’t get a chance to see arguably the best hands in the country. Fans will know his name in the NFL.
19. Buffalo Bills (pick owned by Cleveland Browns): DE/OLB Vic Beasley, Clemson
Vic Beasley was the anchor behind Clemson’s strong defense the past couple of seasons, and the Cleveland Browns will get great value if he is still around at No. 19. This pick looks even better considering Cleveland already snagged a wide receiver with its earlier pick and could take care of a couple of needs in the first 20 picks of the draft.
20. Philadelphia Eagles: OT T.J. Clemmings, Pittsburgh
The Philadelphia Eagles need more help on the offensive line, and that is exactly what T.J. Clemmings provides. He is notably athletic for a lineman and will be comfortable in a no-huddle attack because of it. Look for him to clear out running lanes immediately in the NFL.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: CB P.J. Williams, Florida State
Cornerbacks Leon Hall and Terence Newman are both on the wrong side of their 30th birthday, and the Cincinnati Bengals could use more youth at the position. Enter Florida State’s P.J. Williams as a speedy corner who can challenge most wide receivers on jump balls and make plays on underneath routes.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Trae Waynes, Michigan State
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network had some incredible praise for Michigan State’s Trae Waynes:
Those are all the buzzwords NFL scouts are looking for out of a cornerback, and the Pittsburgh Steelers could certainly use the help (and health) in the secondary. This is a no-brainer pick if Waynes is still around at No. 22.
23. Detroit Lions: DT Danny Shelton, Washington
Let’s work under the assumption that Ndamukong Suh will no longer be in Detroit after the season. That means the Lions will pick accordingly in the upcoming draft if Danny Shelton is still on the board as someone who can dominate the middle of an offensive line and open up lanes for blitzing linebackers and defensive ends to get into the backfield.
24. Arizona Cardinals: QB Brett Hundley, UCLA
It feels like piling on the Arizona Cardinals at this point to suggest drafting a quarterback in the first round considering their embarrassing offensive performance in the playoffs. However, Brett Hundley is the type of player teams can build around because he can make plays with both his legs and his arm.
25. Carolina Panthers: DT Malcom Brown, Texas
The Carolina Panthers played some of their best defensive football down the stretch of the season and in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, but they still need depth on the defensive line. Malcom Brown is a top-notch run-stuffer who will occupy multiple blockers at once in the NFL.
26. Baltimore Ravens: G A.J. Cann, South Carolina
The Baltimore Ravens can never get enough protection for quarterback Joe Flacco, and they will use their first-round pick to bolster the offensive line depth with A.J. Cann from South Carolina. Cann is the rare guard who will play his way into a first round loaded with tackles, but his status as the best player at his position will be enough to entice Baltimore.
27. Dallas Cowboys: DT Eddie Goldman, Florida State
The Dallas Cowboys were an abysmal 26th in the league against the pass this season, and they could use some help along the defensive line as a way to bolster the pass rush. Florida State’s Eddie Goldman may not tally a large number of sacks at the next level himself, but he is a powerful defensive tackle who will command double-teams.
That means the Dallas defensive ends will have only one blocker to beat on most plays.
28. Denver Broncos: LB Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
Benardrick McKinney is intriguing as a potential first-round pick because of his ability to defend the pass. He is athletic enough to stick with virtually any tight end (at least at the college level) and is comfortable dropping back into zone when needed. McKinney is also a formidable run defender as well and will give the Denver Broncos some much-needed depth at the linebacker spot.
29. Indianapolis Colts: OT Ereck Flowers, Miami
Andrew Luck needs to be protected if the Indianapolis Colts want to take home a Super Bowl in the next few years. Adding a powerful blindside protector like Miami's Ereck Flowers will certainly help Indianapolis’ cause in that department.
30. Green Bay Packers: DT Michael Bennett, Ohio State
If there was one thing the Green Bay Packers did not do well this season, it was defend the run. The Packers were 23rd in the league against the run, and Ohio State’s Michael Bennett will immediately help that number as a physically dominant defensive tackle who can shed blockers and make plays in the backfield.
He is also fresh off an impressive national championship run and played some of his best football down the stretch.
31. New England Patriots: RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Melvin Gordon dominated the college football landscape at Wisconsin, and he will get taken in the first round, even if the position of running back has been devalued in the NFL draft. The New England Patriots need some more depth at the position, and Gordon could become a legitimate No. 1 option with defenses so worried about Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.
32. Seattle Seahawks: TE/WR Devin Funchess, Michigan
Russell Wilson keeps plenty of plays alive with his legs and ability to scramble out of the pocket for the Seattle Seahawks, and he could use a safety blanket tight end in those situations. That is where Michigan’s Devin Funchess comes in as a versatile and athletic pass-catching option who can play either tight end or wide receiver.
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