2015 NFL Mock Draft: Latest Projections for Marquee 1st-Round Prospects

Steven Cook@@stevencookinFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 23, 2015

Dec 6, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Shane Ray (56) tackles Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims (6) during the second quarter of the 2014 SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome. The play caused Ray to be ejected from the game for targeting. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Just because Super Bowl XLIX is right around the corner doesn't mean the wild world of NFL pre-draft season has lost any steam. 

In fact, with the ending of the college football season coming at the same time as most of the NFL clubs put a bow on the 2014 season, draft chatter tends to pick up this time of year. Other than the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, everyone else already has an eye looking forward to 2015 and the first step is figuring out what to do come draft day(s). 

With events like the Senior Bowl coming up, league scouts are getting the most valuable looks at prospects that they have gotten all season. Instead of just catching the big plays from a television set or press box, scouts are getting an up-close look at their prospects of choice starting now and lasting up until the days before the draft.

Let's take a look at the latest Round 1 mock draft to see where each team goes with their initial pick.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon

Jan 12, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) is pressured by Ohio State Buckeyes defensive lineman Joey Bosa (97) in the second half in the 2015 CFP National Championship Game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emm
USA TODAY Sports

Lovie Smith needs something big in Tampa Bay to keep him off the hot seat, and the Bucs need nothing more than a franchise signal-caller. From his in-game moxie to a prototypical arm and innate scrambling ability, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is one of just two blue-chip QBs in the draft and his massive potential makes him an obvious choice at No. 1.

2. Tennessee Titans: DT Leonard Williams, USC

In the type of position where they're better off just getting the best player on the board, the Titans will put together a dream-like defensive line duo upon selecting USC's Leonard Williams. Star tackle Jurrell Casey mans the middle of the 3-4, but Williams' skill set is a perfect match for the outside and he'll help free up space for Tennessee's linebackers, who have been suffocated by run blocking. 

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: OT Brandon Scherff, Iowa

The Jaguars made strides in 2014 by getting to the quarterback at will, but they still struggle as much as anyone in the NFL in protecting their own. Jacksonville has invested high picks in its line in the recent past, but it will take the selection of Brandon Scherff out of Iowa for the line to start coming together and showing signs of life.

4. Oakland Raiders: WR Amari Cooper, Alabama

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

Soon-to-be second-year quarterback Derek Carr made a lot of believers out of his 2014 rookie campaign, but he's destined for a sophomore slump in 2015 unless he gets a few capable playmakers on the outside. The Raiders could do no better in the draft than to give him Amari Cooper, Alabama's speedy wideout who looks to have the complete package. 

5. Washington Redskins: DE Randy Gregory, Nebraska

The Redskins don't have the top pick, but they would get top-pick value if they go with Randy Gregory out of Nebraska. In a draft absolutely loaded with formidable defensive ends, Gregory is undoubtedly the best of them, with innate strength to line up off the edge from Day 1 but also the speed and quickness to play outside linebacker.

There are plenty of versatile defensive players in this draft, but they all pale in comparison to what Gregory can do up front.

6. New York Jets: QB Jameis Winston, FSU

Jameis Winston has New York written all over him.

The Florida State quarterback is known for his confidence and leadership—to suggest both of those traits are at a low for the Jets would be putting things lightly. They need a big arm and a heady leader to go through progressions and make deep throws, which Winston excels at.

What's more, he even strikes some as a higher-potential prospect than Mariota, including ESPN's Joe Schad:

The Seminoles' 59-20 drubbing at the hands of Oregon in the Rose Bowl shouldn't do anything to dispel Winston's stock as an elite quarterback. 

7. Chicago Bears: SS Landon Collins, Alabama

Only two teams in the NFL gave up more passing yards in 2014 than Chicago, and it was largely due to an ineffective stable of safeties. One good apple doesn't fix the bunch, but if one could, it'd be Alabama safety Landon Collins—a downhill, attacking, hard-hitting playmaker who looks the part of a long-term impact player on defense. 

8. Atlanta Falcons: DE Shane Ray, Missouri

If the Falcons don't significantly improve their pass rush, the 6-10 season they were reduced to in 2014 will become a regular occurrence. That shouldn't be the case if Atlanta grabs Shane Ray, Missouri's havoc-wreaking defensive end who has the size to make a far-reaching impact in the trenches as a rookie. 

9. New York Giants: OLB Shaq Thompson, Washington

The Giants need help in a number of areas but none more than in that middle area of the defense where an imposing presence is missed. Shaq Thompson figures to be an outside linebacker once he puts on some weight, but his speed and strength will have the Giants plugging him into a number of schemes early on. 

10. St. Louis Rams: OT Andrus Peat, Stanford

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Your guess is as good as mine as to who will be the Rams' quarterback in 2015. But whoever it is, they will need to be better protected, after St. Louis' quarterbacks were sacked a total of 47 times in 2014. Stanford's Andrus Peat is an absolute behemoth of an offensive tackle who has the force to play guard off the bat if that's where he's needed, but he will project as a long-term tackle opposite Greg Robinson.

11. Minnesota Vikings: CB Trae Waynes, Michigan State

The arrival of head coach Mike Zimmer has brought noticeable improvement to the Minnesota defense, but they're still at least one stud corner away from reaching the next level. It just so happens that the Vikings can be picky, selecting the top cornerback in the class in Michigan State's Trae Waynes—a lanky corner who attacks the ball with physicality. 

12. Cleveland Browns: OT La'el Collins, LSU

La'el Collins out of LSU is shooting up draft boards after a star-studded senior season, and his emergence at the Senior Bowl has taken folks by surprise, as Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated noted:

The Browns have made investments in their line both via the draft and free agency, but they're still one key cog away from truly clicking. By selecting Collins, they get as close to a can't-miss early starter as you can find in this draft. 

13. New Orleans Saints: DE Vic Beasley, Clemson

If the Saints don't rekindle their once-dominant pass rush, it's hard to see defensive coordinator Rob Ryan keeping his job past the 2015 season—much less the Saints making the playoffs. Vic Beasley could help both of those things happen, as the Clemson pass-rusher boasts an athletic frame that allows him to abuse offensive tackles. 

14. Miami Dolphins: ILB Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State

The Dolphins need a new signal-caller but not on the side of the football you usually hear about. What Miami covets is a young stud to lead the defense, which inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney can do. The Mississippi State product boasts great strength and incredible instincts that will allow him to lead the Dolphins in tackles as a rookie.

15. San Francisco 49ers: DT Danny Shelton, Washington

San Francisco needs to make a number of replacements on its defensive line, and there's no better improvement the Niners could make via the draft than to add 343 pounds of beastliness, per Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen:

Along with a massive frame, Shelton also possesses the quick moves and footwork that are so necessary to larger defensive tackles. On top of emerging as the unquestioned best nose tackle in the draft, the former Washington stud is also showing he could be one of the league's more dominant players at his position in the near future.

16. Houston Texans: FS Gerod Holliman, Louisville

The Texans are in desperate need of improvements deep in their secondary in order to make a run at the playoffs, and Gerod Holliman could be the answer. Louisville's safety has the complete package—he's spectacular in coverage, can lay the lumber and knows how to help out in run defense.

17. San Diego Chargers: OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

San Diego isn't much in the position for a developmental pick, but the Chargers won't be able to pass on Cedric Ogbuehi. The Texas A&M product may be a year away from being a reliable starter, but the potential of him becoming one of the top linemen in this class will have the Chargers betting high on Ogbuehi. Plus, San Diego could use him right away as its sixth or seventh lineman.

18. Kansas City Chiefs: WR Kevin White, West Virginia

It was a punch line before when the Chiefs failed to get Alex Smith help on the outside—now, it's just cruel. With no Kansas City wide receivers catching a touchdown in 2014, the Chiefs will quickly nab West Virginia's Kevin White, who can get open deep down the field or in the intermediate passing game (both of which the Chiefs could use help in).

19. Cleveland Browns (via Buffalo): WR DeVante Parker, Louisville

Speaking of teams that need wide receiver help, the Browns have Josh Gordon—who is increasingly unreliable in his own right—and not much else on the outside. Whether it's Johnny Manziel or somebody else, Cleveland's 2015 quarterback will improve drastically with the selection of Louisville's DeVante Parker—who could very well be giving Cooper a run for his money if he didn't miss a big chunk of 2014.

20. Philadelphia Eagles: CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon

The Eagles can't afford to not pick a cornerback again in the first round, which makes Ifo Ekpre-Olomu an easy choice. That's largely because of his connection to Chip Kelly from his Oregon days, but Ekpre-Olomu left little doubt of his place as one of the top corners and should be well recovered from a knee injury by the time 2015 rolls around.

21. Cincinnati Bengals: DE Alvin "Bud" Dupree, Kentucky

A big reason why the Bengals defense regressed so much in 2014 was an increasingly invisible pass rush. Free agency should be where Cincinnati looks to first and foremost to change that, but it would only help the cause to grab a SEC pass-rusher adept at going against top-caliber linemen in Kentucky's Alvin Dupree.

22. Pittsburgh Steelers: DE Dante Fowler, Florida

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Slowly but surely, the Steelers have begun to lose their punch on the defensive side of the ball despite building toward a younger core of players. That has a lot to do with the fact that Pittsburgh hasn't found a stud pass-rusher to carry the torch from James Harrison, which massive Florida defensive end Dante Fowler could certainly help accomplish.

23. Detroit Lions: RB Todd Gurley, Georgia

The 2014 draft put young running backs on notice. Even with a strong crop of prospects, no back was selected until the middle of the second round. 2015 may not turn out any different, although it should. 

Todd Gurley captivated the world of college football throughout a first half of the season that had him pretty much leading the Heisman Trophy race, but an overblown autograph scandal followed by a torn ACL put a damper on his season. If healthy, however, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projected Gurley would be off the board early, per Reid Ferrin of AtlantaFalcons.com:

Serious injuries are nothing to scoff at, but NFL scouts are well aware of the track record for players coming off ACL tears. All too often these days, players come back as good—if not better—as ever.

Add that to a Lions team that is in dire need of an impact running back to take the load off Matthew Stafford as he enters his veteran years, and you have a perfect match with Gurley and Detroit.

24. Arizona Cardinals: DE Nate Orchard, Utah

When they're at full strength, there may not be a scarier defensive front than that of the Arizona Cardinals. But being at full strength has been almost impossible, so Arizona will target a versatile pass-rushing specialist in Nate Orchard to improve the depth.

Struggling to find the right position to thrive in as an undersized defensive end, Orchard will have a tough time landing in Round 1. But in the Cardinals' case, they can use him wherever he's most effective and not worry about Orchard having to fill a specific void.

25. Carolina Panthers: OT T.J. Clemmings, Pittsburgh

Few offensive lines are more successful at executing the read-option and carving open running lanes than the Panthers. With that in mind, there are some noticeable holes in the line whenever Cam Newton drops back to pass. After Newton was beaten and bruised all 2014 season long, the Panthers will target a pass-blocking dynamo in Pittsburgh's T.J. Clemmings to help keep the pocket secured.

26. Baltimore Ravens: OT Cameron Erving, FSU

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Many positions are a revolving door in the NFL, but none more so than the offensive line, where the Ravens once again need reinforcements. Although they may wait until Round 2, a wealth of first-round-potential linemen will force Baltimore's hand in attracting Cameron Erving of Florida State.

27. Dallas Cowboys: CB Marcus Peters, Washington

Although the Cowboys proved their doubters wrong by boasting a defense that didn't keel over and die in Week 1, they found success in 2014 in spite of a porous secondary that has some questions at cornerback. There won't be many questions left to answer once Dallas targets Marcus Peters (formerly of Washington), other than where embattled cornerback Morris Claiborne might land next after a few ineffective injury-riddled years.

28. Denver Broncos: OT Ereck Flowers, Miami

It's hard to see the Broncos not doing everything they possibly can to make Peyton Manning's life as easy as imaginable in 2015, if he in fact returns for another season. Denver's offensive line re-found their moxie late in 2014 but huge struggles from the unit during the season will force the front office's hand at adding a sizable, versatile lineman they can plug in anywhere in Miami's Ereck Flowers.

29. Indianapolis Colts: OT Tyler Sambrailo, Colorado State

While the Colts' offensive line gelled quite nicely down the stretch of the 2014 season, it's still quite obviously the biggest weakness on the roster. With Andrew Luck emerging as one of the top quarterbacks in the league, Indy can't afford to drag its feet in keeping him better protected. 

30. Green Bay Packers: DT Eddie Goldman, FSU

The Packers did just about everything possible for most of their NFC Championship Game appearance against Seattle to win, before a few late blunders and the dominance of Marshawn Lynch led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl. That last part was due to an ineffective Green Bay run defense, which the arrival of Florida State's Eddie Goldman would almost single-handedly alter for the better.

31. New England Patriots: WR Jaelen Strong, Arizona State

You can't really tell it by how Tom Brady is connecting with the likes of Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell in the playoffs, but his Patriots are in need of an impact player on the outside who can take over games. It won't be hard to find that in another loaded wide receiver class, as Arizona State's Jaelen Strong will serve as the deep-ball threat Brady needs in the twilight of his career.

32. Seattle Seahawks: DT/DE Arik Armstead, Oregon

The Seahawks haven't been quite as dominant in the defensive trenches as usual, and to make matters worse, free agency could hit them hard. While it's hard to see the defensive line being a weakness for Seattle in any respect, they will draft Oregon's Arik Armstead to make sure it won't be a problem in 2015.

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