2015 NFL Mock Draft: Post-Senior Bowl Projections
Who ya got?
Though it doesn't have quite the same luster of Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III from a few years ago, this draft is starting to shape up around which quarterback a prognosticator has going first between Florida State's Jameis Winston and Oregon's Marcus Mariota.
Of course, it also matters a lot where one has those two quarterbacks going in the field. The top of the draft has a lot of quarterback-needy teams, and if the two passers hold serve and end up as the top two prospects off the board a few months from now, it could shape the rest of the class and potentially even push other quarterbacks up the board based on need.
Then again, as we saw in what many considered a QB-heavy 2014 draft, it's possible that the actual NFL teams aren't quite as enamored by the passers as those in the media are. If that's the case, we could see one of these guys tumbling and even being leapt by another passer during the process.
It's the most important position on the field, and could end up as the most important position in this class as well, and the entire draft may hinge on scouts' assessments of just two guys and the very top.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers—Marcus Mariota (QB Oregon)
Both Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston had rough ends to the season, and both have really big question marks surrounding their game. I'm giving Mariota the edge at this point because of his off-field character and intangibles on it.
Naturally, though both Winston and Mariota are fantastic athletes and have all the tools that NFL passers need, Mariota is the more polished player. However, he plays in a niche offense that doesn't often ask him to do many of the things pocket passers in the NFL need to do. In that regard, it's possible for some assessors to assign that polish to Winston based on what he has done rather than what both can do...but more on that later.
Here's the reason Mariota is my top player: Though he may not be entirely NFL-ready, he's got all the upside of Winston and is a much safer player around whom to build one's franchise.
2. Tennessee Titans—Jameis Winston (QB Florida State)
OK, let's be entirely honest: If we're only evaluating play and not everything else that has to do with being the first overall pick and a franchise passer, there's a solid chance Winston is not only first on my board, but on just about everyone's.
Look around the NFL. Who is the last passer from a spread-heavy/option attack that really succeeded? The Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton is on the top of that list, and then who? Alex Smith? Winston has achieved in a pro-style offense.
Winston's character concerns and red flags are keeping him from being a rock-solid top prospect, and he could tumble if teams aren't comfortable betting big on him.
That said, it's a little tiring for people to pretend as if Winston is a perfect player on the field and only a problem child off of it. He has issues with mechanics—both footwork and release—that have persisted throughout his entire FSU career and could keep him from being a success in the NFL.
A great prospect? Absolutely, but not as pristine as one might like, both on the field and off.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars—Leonard Williams (DE/DT Southern Cal)
Though this draft may be all about the passers, Leonard Williams has a chance to break up their little hammerlock on the top two picks, because he is talented enough to go No. 2 (and, really, even No. 1 if the Buccaneers want to fill their massive quarterback need via free agency).
Williams is a singular talent as a prospect, but a cross between a poor man's Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is a good start. He's dominant against the run and even better against the pass. He'll be an impact player from day one.
For the Jaguars, who lack impact players on both sides of the ball, this is a perfect pick and could help turn things around for head coach Gus Bradley's defense.
4. Oakland Raiders—Amari Cooper (WR Alabama)
The Raiders found their quarterback last year in Derek Carr; now it's time to get him a weapon.
Many NFL teams find it difficult to draft receivers this highly in the draft, and for good reason. The further a player is from the ball at the snap, the less impact he can have on a game single-handedly and the more dependent he is on the play of those around him.
For example, a quarterback can elevate the play of everyone around him, but even the most talented receiving corps can lack luster if the quarterback, line play and running game aren't doing their jobs (sorry, Matt Millen).
That said, Cooper would be a near-perfect pick for the Raiders, who lack anyone as explosive as him on the offensive side of the ball. Does he single-handedly turn around the franchise? No, probably not. But with a burgeoning defense and the passer already in place, this is a first-round pick where value meets need.
If Cooper falls, it will be because he lacks truly explosive straight-line speed and game-breaking size. Yet the total package and polish to his game should help him in the NFL just as much as a tenth of a second in his forty or a quarter-inch of height.
5. Washington—Randy Gregory (DE/OLB Nebraska)
Washington was a mess on both sides of the ball this season, and though Gregory can't fix that all by himself, he would add a tremendous pass-rusher regardless of what scheme the team ends up using. At 6'6", 240 pounds, he has the size and skill set to play either 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker.
Even better for Washington, there's a good chance that Gregory's best is yet to come, because he can add both weight (as well as functional strength) and polish to his game. If he does that—playing at about 255-260—he could end up being a tremendous asset against an increasingly high-scoring NFC East.
6. New York Jets—Shane Ray (OLB Missouri)
We can hem and haw about Rex Ryan's loss of defensive back talent over the past couple of seasons, and that's part of the reason the Jets have stunk up the place and Ryan is now in Buffalo. However, the lack of an elite pass-rusher on the outside was a far more glaring weakness, and one that new head coach Todd Bowles is certain to want to rectify as soon as possible.
Bowles would be as good for Ray as vice versa, as the speedy rusher is raw and still a little "light in the pants" (scouting term alert) to make good on this selection from day one. However, much like recent selections, such as the Cleveland Browns' Barkevious Mingo and the Seattle Seahawks' Bruce Irvin, there is room in the league for rush-only linebackers if the coaching staff can use them correctly as they develop.
7. Chicago Bears—Landon Collins (S Alabama)
Take a look at the guys currently playing safety for the Bears.
I'm not saying Chris Conte, Ryan Mundy and Brock Vereen are the only issues with a porous Bears defense, but none of them are the kind of enforcer that Collins is, and when they're on the field with one another, it allows quarterbacks to test them deep time and time again.
With Collins, who is one of the better two-way safety prospects we've had in a while, that won't happen.
8. Atlanta Falcons—La'el Collins (OT LSU)
With all the top pass-rushers off the board, this becomes a much more difficult choice between reaching for the next tier of defensive players and a top offensive lineman.
I'm not 100 percent sure La'el Collins ends up playing left tackle, and I'm not sure he's a better prospect than Jake Matthews, who is already manning that spot. However, right tackles have been en vogue toward the top of the draft in recent years, and Matt Ryan needs all the help he can get in front of him.
9. New York Giants—Dante Fowler Jr. (DE/OLB Florida)
In this scenario, Fowler could easily have gone a spot sooner and this could be La'el Collins, as both teams need help along both trenches.
For the Giants, though, it's important to get back to their roots by building a defensive line and pass rush that is physically dominant at every single position. That means drafting, keeping their own free agents and dipping into other teams' free-agency pools as well.
Ideally, Fowler would be an inch or so taller and/or five to 10 pounds heavier and be a true athletic freak, but with his skills rushing from a number of different positions on the line and with his hand up, he'll be a coveted player.
10. St. Louis Rams—DeVante Parker (WR Louisville)
We done with Tavon Austin yet?
The Rams have a lot of questions on offense and a defense that is just a hair below the other elite defenses in their division, so they could go a lot of different ways with this pick. In my mind, though, without answers available at the quarterback position, it's best to help your current signal-callers by drafting someone who will immediately step in as the No. 1 receiver.
Parker has the speed and route-running ability to gain separation in the pros and an awesome set of hands and catch radius to bring in even the most errantly thrown passes.
11. Minnesota Vikings—Andrus Peat (OT Stanford)
This is called hedging your bets.
Both Vikings tackles, Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, had disappointing seasons in 2014, and both are dealing with injuries. Yes, if both of those men are ready and in tip-top shape, this represents an "extra" player, and the Vikings would have some shuffling to do, but there are worse issues to have.
Frankly, with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater as the face of the franchise, the Vikings need to make sure his protection is in tip-top shape. I'm not saying it's time to give up on both Kalil and Loadholt, but the chances of one of them needing to upgrade in 2015 and beyond is pretty good. Peat is a mammoth, athletic freak who would boost both the run game and pass protection.
12. Cleveland Browns—Brandon Scherff (OT/OG Iowa)
There are two methods of team-building. One says patch up your weakest areas, another (more common in NFL circles) is making your strengths stronger and using those to define your team. This is that latter method.
With the Johnny Manziel era starting, it's important to shore up an already-impressive offensive line with a player who can play either tackle or guard as early as next season and help keep Manziel upright even as he's running around extending plays.
Yes, the Browns have bigger needs on both sides of the ball, but an extra first-round pick allows them the freedom to go best player they could use here.
13. New Orleans Saints—Vic Beasley (OLB Clemson)
While coaching was blamed for a lot of the issues in New Orleans this season, and that was certainly part of it, the execution on both sides of the ball is terrible, and the Saints struggled both to protect Drew Brees and rush the opposing passer.
Beasley is going to have the stigma of a Clemson pass-rusher (too small, unpolished, etc.), and much of that is true as well, but he's got the physical talent to succeed at the position—especially in Rob Ryan's scheme.
14. Miami Dolphins—Shaq Thompson (LB/RB Washington)
I'm still not sure where Shaq Thompson plays.
Though he was far better at linebacker than running back while at Washington, he projects as a solid linebacker in this class. However, he could be the No. 2 or No. 3 running back as well, bringing things to the table at that position and being slightly undersized at linebacker.
On either side of the ball, though, he's a playmaker, and the Dolphins need playmakers. This draft assumes he's a pass-rushing specialist linebacker, however, and that's certainly something the Dolphins need as well.
15. San Francisco 49ers—Malcom Brown (DT Texas)
The 49ers are going through a bit of a transition these days, with former head coach Jim Harbaugh patrolling the sidelines up at Michigan and a whole bunch of players (including defensive lineman Justin Smith) potentially leaving via free agency and retirement.
Brown would slide in for the 49ers at 3-4 defensive end and give them a nice impact player on the defensive line, which is important with all of those linebackers hopefully coming back from injury and suspension with a vengeance in 2015.
16. Houston Texans—Trae Waynes (CB Michigan State)
A lot of analysts really liked Darqueze Dennard from Michigan State last year, and though the two are certainly different players, Waynes plays a similarly physical type of game. The thing is, though, that although Dennard was a media darling, he didn't play much in his rookie season because his style of play (while admirable) still lacked the type of athleticism needed at the NFL level.
With Waynes, those problems don't exist. Here, Houston is getting a player who translates well to the league and has the athleticism to match up well with receivers in the AFC South.
17. San Diego Chargers—T.J. Clemmings (OT Pittsburgh)
Protection is still an issue for the Chargers after all these years. Balance has certainly helped the issue, and there were stretches of 2014 when their offense was as good as anyone's. But they aren't making the playoffs on a regular basis because they're losing battles in the trenches.
Clemmings has a shot at a top-10 draft slot if he tests well at the combine, and he has really good tape. That said, it was a rough week in Mobile, and he'll have to continue to prove he can handle NFL-level speed.
18. Kansas City Chiefs—Devin Funchess (WR/TE Michigan)
The Chiefs passing offense was woeful in 2014, even with a slightly above-mediocre quarterback in Alex Smith, a very good running game and a tight end in Travis Kelce who could take over the league in a different setting.
A big part of that is the quarterback and coaching, but a lot of it can be credited (discredited?) to receivers not winning battles on the outside. With Funchess, whose size and athleticism was the lone bright spot for Michigan at times this past season, that shouldn't happen.
19. Cleveland Browns (From BUF)—Kevin White (WR West Virginia)
The Browns need to figure out what's going on at the quarterback position, but they also have to start moving forward under the auspices that Josh Gordon may not be around for very long due to either suspension or simply acting his way out of town.
White is one of the more dynamic playmakers in the whole draft. The game will set up for him differently out of West Virginia's offense, and there are questions if he truly has the straight-line speed and explosiveness to separate at the NFL level.
20. Philadelphia Eagles—Benardrick McKinney (ILB Miss St.)
The Eagles need to get back to doing what they do best: stopping the run and running the football.
That's the Chip Kelly plan for success. This is a running team that wants to get ahead and both crush and demoralize their opponent with quick turnovers, three-and-outs and then scoring from the other side. The problem in 2014 wasn't Mark Sanchez (though he's hardly a solution). No, it was the inability to run the ball for long stretches and a defense that wasn't getting stops and turnovers.
McKinney isn't a huge run-stopping thumper, but his athleticism and versatility will appeal to many teams (and especially the Eagles), while his sideline-to-sideline tackling ability will help shore up some of the run-defense issues.
21. Cincinnati Bengals—Alvin Dupree (DE Kentucky)
The Bengals lost Michael Johnson to free agency last year, and although their defense was fine without him, it didn't have the pass-rushing, fear-invoking swagger of a few years back, and Geno Atkins' poor play because of knee injury left the Bengals without any top-notch matchup winners up front.
Dupree probably isn't an every-down player right away in the NFL and lacks the functional strength to truly dominate, but he's an explosive rusher with incredible length and room on his frame to add plenty of bulk. In fact, he's much the same player Johnson was coming out of Georgia Tech.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers—Ereck Flowers (OT Miami)
Flowers (like many Miami draft prospects these days) had a disappointing college career and may be one of the more inconsistent and unpolished tackles at the top of this class, but he also has long stretches of tape when he was one of the more dominant players in college football.
With his size and athleticism, teams are going to look at those stretches of tape and dream of the day he can play like that more often.
23. Detroit Lions—Danny Shelton (DT Washington)
With the Lions' almost certainly losing Ndamukong Suh, they need an impact defensive lineman.
Shelton isn't a perfect scheme fit, but he might be the perfect fit for what defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is looking to move toward, as he has a background using multiple defensive fronts, and Shelton could play both nose tackle (because of his massive size) and 1-tech in a 4-3 front because of his athleticism.
Shelton's size also makes him a great comparison to another scheme-versatile defensive lineman he loves to watch on film, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press:
"I'd have to say Haloti (Ngata), just 'cause of the size. And then I like watching Ndamukong (Suh) every once in awhile, because he's just a freak athlete."
The other reason Shelton fits the Lions is because he'll need a year or two to get his conditioning up. They've gone through that with Nick Fairley and are already adept at rotating linemen with ease.
24. Arizona Cardinals—Brett Hundley (QB UCLA)
Let's call this pick personal preference.
With Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton coming back in 2015, the Cardinals almost certainly won't have another spate of quarterback injuries like they had last season. However, it's also true that their defense will have them picking in the second half of the first round in just about every year for the foreseeable future, and if they're ever going to get a long-term solution for the quarterback position (it's probably not Logan Thomas; sorry), it'll have to be a pick like Hundley.
He's already adept at the down-the-field offensive mentality that Bruce Arians' offense calls for, and though he might lack a little top-notch size and a true cannon of an arm, he would slide in a year or two down the road as a fantastic fit for this team under center.
25. Carolina Panthers—Ty Sambrailo (OT Colorado State)
I'm not sure Sambrailo is an NFL-caliber left tackle over the long haul, but he's almost certainly a better option than what the Panthers had going on last season. He could eventually shift around to right tackle or one of the guard positions where the Panthers have needs as well.
Basically, this pick is a roll of the dice, where hitting means getting a good athlete at left tackle who fits a run-first scheme with a running quarterback. Worst-case scenario is getting a guy who could be a perennial Pro Bowler at whatever position he switches to.
26. Baltimore Ravens—Marcus Peters (CB Washington)
Like many other corners in this class, I wish Peters were just an inch or two taller and roughly 10 pounds heavier, as NFL coaches and personnel guys have trended toward size at that position in recent years.
Peters fits for the Ravens because they've typically gambled on smaller guys with ball skills, and he could be a solid player in their defense, which needs more playmakers in the backfield.
27. Dallas Cowboys—Eddie Goldman (DT Florida State)
Goldman will be projected by many as a 3-4 defensive end thanks to his size, but I think he could be a perfect fit as a 1-tech in the Tampa 2 defense that Dallas is still running.
Last season, they had trouble (at times) in the middle of that defense, and the return of linebackers like Sean Lee and the addition of a playmaking tackle like Goldman could help this defense take an even bigger step forward in 2015.
28. Denver Broncos—Arik Armstead (DT/DE Oregon)
One of the few things the Broncos did well defensively was pass rush, but they won so few matchups in the trenches that it neutered their impressive linebacking corps, as teams could commit extra blockers to them.
With Armstead's amazing size (a legit 6'7") and impressive athleticism and playmaking ability, the Broncos would find themselves a lot more adept at putting the ball back in their quarterback's hands—whether that's Peyton Manning or someone else.
29. Indianapolis Colts—Melvin Gordon (RB Wisconsin)
The Trent Richardson experiment is finally over, and the Colts need a running back to complement Andrew Luck in Pep Hamilton's usually run-heavy scheme. Maybe this isn't their first-round pick, but I would not be surprised if the Colts trade down, up or whatever just to end up with their top pick at running back in this class.
I picked Gordon here because of Gurley's knee injury and Gordon's ability to completely take over games and handle a heavy amount of reps.
30. Green Bay Packers—Maxx Williams (TE Minnesota)
Though Aaron Rodgers can make just about anyone look good and put up big numbers, the Packers offense struggled to win matchups at the tight end position in 2014 and often settled for going to the position as an offshoot of defenses needing to commit extra help to the receivers on the outside.
The Packers offense is truly at its best, though, when they can do the opposite, and with the addition of Williams (who is certainly an athletic pass-catcher), it's possible the Packers offense could be even better in 2015.
31. New England Patriots—Jaelen Strong (WR Arizona State)
Everybody has a type.
For me, my type at wide receiver is big, strong guys who may not always separate downfield from their defenders but can get off press and win with the ball in the air. Strong does all those things with ease and has the kind of big, strong hands with a fantastic catch radius that Tom Brady will love...maybe as much as I do.
32. Seattle Seahawks—Michael Bennett (DE/DT Ohio State)
Did I make this pick just so Michael Bennett the rookie could play next to the Michael Bennett already on the Seahawks? Maybe...but the world will never know.
The pick actually makes a lot of sense regardless of name familiarity. The Seahawks went through a long stretch this season when their defense was not up to their usual standards due to injuries at every level of the field. Adding the sort of depth that they've lost in recent years (thanks to their defenders being coveted elsewhere) is very important.
On the surface, it's probably more likely to see offensive players like linemen, receivers or even a running back here (if the analyst thinks Marshawn Lynch is likely to leave), but the Seahawks' bread is buttered on defense, and committing to keeping that side of the ball at a top-five level is a lot likelier.
Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter.