NFL Mock Draft 2015: Predictions for Entire 1st Round Heading into Super Bowl

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJanuary 26, 2015

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) looks to throw during the first half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Ohio State Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay/Associated Press

Because I feel it merits mentioning, let's begin with a statement: Your favorite team's roster may not be the same in April as it is now. In fact, I'd be willing to bet none of the 32 rosters in the NFL will be the same in a few months. Crazy notion, I know.

It merits mentioning because mock drafts at this juncture are inherently flawed. We don't know how rosters will change. A weakness can suddenly become a strength with a free-agent signing. A former strength becomes a weakness with a cap casualty. The point here isn't to get things 100 percent correct but to mentally look through the first round and assess what could happen.

Point being: Very little is outside the realm of possibility at this point. Dorial Green-Beckham could wow his way into the top 10 in workouts or find himself waiting until the second day. Jameis Winston could go No. 1 overall or have another off-the-field transgression send his draft stock plummeting. The Colts could release Trent Richardson, watch Richardson sign with another team and then trade Andrew Luck to reacquire him.

(OK, that's a little bit of a stretch.)

Anyway, with that spirit, let's take another look at how the first round breaks down heading into the Super Bowl. I'm sure everyone will be pleased with the results and have nothing negative to say.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

It's Mariota vs. Winston. Everyone has their well-documented opinions on the matter. Nothing other than injuries or an off-the-field incident will make anyone change their minds at this point. The populous has dug in their heels, and I can't say that I am immune.

Mariota's been in this spot regardless of the scenario for months. He was the top overall player coming into 2014, turned in one of the best seasons in college football history and walked away one national championship away from being on the sport's Mount Rushmore.

Concerns about his ability to read NFL defenses and his accuracy in small windows is valid, but pro offenses are shifting more toward Oregon-like sensibilities, not less.

Any team that selects Mariota and tries to pigeonhole him into a role he's not accustomed to shouldn't be running an NFL franchise.

2. Tennessee Titans: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

Big, strong quarterbacks make Ken Whisenhunt weak in the knees. Jameis Winston might be the first Whisenhunt has selected on his own accord to actually have NFL talent. The Titans can move on from the Zach Mettenberger/Charlie Whitehurst purgatory and help Whisenhunt avoid the same mistakes he made in Arizona by selecting Winston.

Of course, we're all well aware of the potential downfalls here. Winston's maturity is an issue. It just is. There's no other way around it. The exasperated look on Jimbo Fisher's face when talking to his quarterback during their semifinal loss to Oregon said it all. It was the face of a man who had one too many of the same conversations with the same person.

There's no limit to what Winston can do physically. We'll see if he's ready to get there mentally.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Williams, DL, USC 

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The Jaguars took a big swing last season selecting Blake Bortles. The jury's still out on whether that move will pay off, but it's probably time to address the need some expected the Jags to a year ago. Williams is a Richard Seymour clone who can shift outside in a 3-4 or move inside in a 4-3. The ceiling here is a Hall of Famer. The basement is probably a useful starter, something Jacksonville could use.

Gus Bradley has done a nice job slowly building a competent defense. Williams is a piece that could solidify that rebuild in what's likely a make-or-break year for the former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator. 

4. Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

The Raiders surrounded Derek Carr in 2014 with broken-down veterans at running back and at times bumbling incompetence at receiver. That he somehow produced a half-decent rookie season is a credit to the young signal-caller, though I'm still not sold on him being a long-term fit. 

Nabbing Cooper here could be the first step to finding out. Cooper plays the game with a Marvin Harrison-like fluidity. He's not going to set the world on fire with his 40 time (it'll be good), but his football speed is excellent and he just has a knack for making plays. The ball went in Cooper's direction an insane amount last season at Alabama and it never felt forced.

That's about the best compliment you can give to a wide receiver. 

5. Washington: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa

Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

This is the top end of Scherff's value, and you're not going to hear many arguments here if you'd rather Washington go defense. But Washington is never going to be able to find out if Robert Griffin III is a viable long-term option under center if it keeps surrounding him with Trent Williams and The Nobodies. 

Bill Callahan did an excellent job of creating the NFL's best offensive line in Dallas, but it took a commitment from management. Washington would be smart to look inside its division and look to do the same—even if it means taking a right tackle at No. 5. (Note: Trading back is a smart option here, but we're not taking that into account.)

6. New York Jets: Randy Gregory, OLB/DE, Nebraska

The Jets would prefer Winston or Mariota fall to this spot. That's looking less likely to happen by the day, leaving general manager Mike Maccagnan in an interesting predicament. There is no one on the offensive side of the ball worth taking at this spot, nor is a top-flight cornerback available—New York's biggest need on the defensive side.

That could allow the Jets to wind up with a semi-luxury in Gregory. The Nebraska product is a special talent who is arguably the best pure pass-rusher in the class. He's an athletic freak at 6'6", a projectable specimen who covers ground at an incredible rate for someone his size. The Jets didn't have anyone with more than eight sacks this season.

Selecting Gregory would go a long way toward changing that.

7. Chicago Bears: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida 

John Raoux/Associated Press

The Bears desperately need to rebuild their defense. Signing Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen didn't move the needle like they hoped last offseason. Houston was largely ineffective before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Allen looked every bit like a future Hall of Famer whose career was entering its twilight.

Fowler can help rectify those mistakes by bringing pass-rushing productivity off the edge, either as a defensive end or stand-up linebacker. His Birmingham Bowl performance against East Carolina was a near-perfect showcase to what he can bring from a skills standpoint. 

8. Atlanta Falcons: Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri

The Falcons need pass-rushing help. Ray is a good pass-rusher. That is all we need to say about why this works as a fit.

9. New York Giants: Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson

John Raoux/Associated Press

Beasley's the most likely to slide among the top-flight hybrid pass-rushers in this class, but we're still at a point where his stock is too high for the Giants to go elsewhere. The Clemson product had 24 sacks over the last past two seasons, emerging as the ACC's most dominant force off the edge.

New York can't sit around relying on Jason Pierre-Paul's renaissance to continue in 2015. Selecting Beasley and moving him into a hybrid role would give them the diversity they've lacked in recent seasons. 

10. St. Louis Rams: La'el Collins, OT, LSU 

It comes down to tackle and wide receiver for me here. Which, for the Rams, is kind of a bummer. They selected Tavon Austin two years ago and Greg Robinson last May in hopes of shoring up those spots. Both have failed miserably so far. 

Going Collins over DeVante Parker here is mostly opportunity cost. The Rams don't have a competent quarterback. Grabbing Parker now is setting him up for a disappointing rookie season. Selecting Collins and allowing him to develop alongside Robinson, Rodger Saffold and Co. could be the beginning of an excellent offensive line unit.

Or it could be another draft failure. Who knows. 

11. Minnesota Vikings: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt are coming off miserable, injury-riddled seasons. Kalil has regressed each of the last two seasons after being a Pro Bowler in 2012 and no longer appears to be an answer at left tackle. The Vikings could save more than $3 million on their 2015 cap by releasing Loadholt, who had a quietly excellent 2013 before falling off a cliff.

Putting Peat here is an acknowledgement that the Vikings will try to move on from at least one of their disappointing tackles. The Stanford product has nearly every physical trait you'd want from a left tackle and no major weaknesses. He checks the "very good" box in each category—good against the run, solid in pass protection, gritty mauler who plays whistle to whistle.

It's all there for Peat, even if he doesn't have that one wow factor skill.

12. Cleveland Browns: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville

Josh Gordon has decided to put the final nail in his NFL coffin and is facing a one-year suspension for failing a drug test, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. If that refrain sounds familiar, it's because we were having the exact same discussion at this point last year. Gordon is a perpetually troubled, incredibly talented young man who cannot get over the former to service the latter.

The Browns should draft a far more stable talent here in Parker. To some, the Louisville product could challenge Cooper for this class' top wideout. He's a smooth, all-around player who in some ways is the Peat of wide receivers. Parker does few things exceptionally. He has good size, good ball skills and separates well. Grade him on individual skills and you'll come away without the one hook.

Watch him play and put it all together, and Parker's a thing of beauty. He'll be a starter for a long time to come in the NFL, assuming health permits.

13. New Orleans Saints: Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Rob Ryan defenses work best when he's free to use deceptive pre-snap looks and send multiple blitzers. Those defenses only work well when the back line of defense does its job well enough to avoid big mistakes. The Saints back line did not do its job in 2014.

Thompson is not a typical Ryan linebacker. He's a shaky pass-rusher and doesn't really have the body type to develop into an elite option at the next level. What Thompson does have, however, is every other skill. He grades out similarly to Carolina's Thomas Davis. Both are built more like safeties than linebackers but cover so much ground and hit with such ferocity that outside linebacker better fits their skill sets.

Adding a Thompson-esque player would allow specialty players more freedom to work without fear.

14. Miami Dolphins: Landon Collins, S, Alabama

Fit is a concern here, but with Louis Delmas almost certainly headed elsewhere in 2015, Collins might be worth a gamble. He's the best safety in this class by a significant margin, and I'm not sure Gerod Holliman—the playmaking free safety Miami really needs—would be available in the second round.

Sometimes it's better to just draft the best player and hope it works out. Other options here: Pittsburgh tackle T.J. Clemmings and basically every wide receiver on the board.

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

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

While more of a luxury pick than need, the 49ers nab one of my favorite players in the entire class here. Shelton is fast moving up draft boards, impressing scouts with his combination of size, quickness and off-the-ball tenacity. I'm expecting his rise to in many ways mirror Aaron Donald.

Plus, Jim Tomsula's surprising hire might influence decisions on draft night. He saw the regression of San Francisco's defensive line every day last season, and matters are only going to get worse with Justin Smith likely walking away for good.

16. Houston Texans: T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh

Houston needs a significant upgrade at the right tackle spot and lands one here with Clemmings. It's unclear whether he'll ultimately be better at tackle or guard, but Clemmings has only played on offense the last two seasons. His rapid development into a first-round selection speaks well to his continued improvement as he better learns the position.

17. San Diego Chargers: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Cornerback is filled with a bunch of B-plus talents, of which Waynes is the best. He was one of a select few bright spots on a leaky Michigan State secondary and was at times the Spartans' only plus defensive player against elite competition.

The Chargers, depending on how they decide to handle the Brandon Flowers situation, may have a gaping hole in need of filling. Waynes isn't a perfect prospect, but he projects as a long-term starter whose transition should go fine.

18. Kansas City Chiefs: Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma

Want Kevin White here? Want Jaelen Strong? Whatever. Both are perfectly fine fits here and you're not going to hear me begrudge playing it safe.

Green-Beckham, though, is the only potential superstar in the mix. Had he been able to keep his act together long enough to play a third collegiate season, we're talking about a no-doubt-about-it top-five selection. He's an incredible talent, built like a mini-Calvin Johnson as an 18-year-old who shocked the world by attending Missouri.

There will be questions about his character, but we're three months out from draft day. Putting him here at Kansas City—a place in desperate need of help at receiver—means betting on Green-Beckham to impress in workouts enough that noted malcontent savior Andy Reid takes a chance.

19. Cleveland Browns (via Buffalo): Devin Funchess, WR/TE, Michigan

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 29:  Devin Funchess #1 of the Michigan Wolverines catches a 45-yard pass in front of Doran Grant #12 of the Ohio State Buckeyes in the first quarter at Ohio Stadium on November 29, 2014 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Get
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Jordan Cameron can't stay healthy and is about to hit free agency. The Browns replace him here with Funchess, a multitalented player who I feel bit off a bit too much moving full-time to wide receiver.

Funchess doesn't have to play a traditional "tight end" role to have success in the NFL. Moving him around in a Jimmy Graham-esque role would be the best way to use his talents, and the Browns currently have no one this dynamic at a skill position.

Selecting pass-catchers with both first-round picks might feel like a stretch, but I watched the Browns attempt to play offense last season. It's a perfectly acceptable allocation of resources.

20. Philadelphia Eagles: Marcus Peters, CB, Washington

The Eagles secondary is a dumpster fire. It has been for a few years running. The City of Brotherly Love has been The Place Where Veteran Cornerbacks Go To Die. We've had Landon Collins slipping here in the past few mocks thanks to some good luck, but he's gone this time so it's time to move on down the line.

Peters is on the same general wavelength as Waynes, a good-but-not-great talent who has a high floor. Given what the Eagles have offered the last couple of seasons, their fans would likely be satisfied if Peters even turns out to be above average. 

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

MEMPHIS, TN - DECEMBER 29:  Kevin White #11 of the West Virginia Mountaineers reacts to a touchdown against the Texas A&M Aggies during the second quarterof the 56th annual Autozone Liberty Bowl at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on December 29, 2014 in Mem
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Mohamed Sanu is a much better fit as a third receiver. His bouts of inconsistency and inability to, you know, catch the ball when thrown in his direction proved as much this season. The Bengals would be doing cartwheels at the thought of pairing A.J. Green with White, who can transition into being Cincy's main downfield threat as enters his late-20s.

White's community college years limits the amount of film we have on him, but he's been impressive the last two years to say the least. It'll be a fun battle between him, Jaelen Strong and Green-Beckham for that second wide receiver spot. 

22. Pittsburgh Steelers: Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota 

Heath Miller is as steady as ever, but he turns 33 in October. As the Steelers saw firsthand with Troy Polamalu, sometimes it's better to have a backup plan in place than allow your beloved veteran to drag a unit down.

Williams is the best pure tight end in this class. He's also the type of player who wouldn't be hurt by sticking around on the second unit for a year and working behind Miller. The Steelers have other more pressing needs, and you couldn't blame them for going cornerback or safety if a guy they like is still on the board. Williams is just a bet for the future.

23. Detroit Lions: Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State

Oct 18, 2014; Tallahassee, FL, USA;  Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Everett Golson (5) tries to avoid the sack from Florida State Seminoles defensive tackle Eddie Goldman (90) during the first quarter at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joh
USA TODAY Sports

Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are hitting the free-agent market, creating a weakness that was once a strength for Detroit. Odds are one of the pair will be back. Which means the other one will be wearing a different uniform in 2015.

Goldman has more projectable skills at this point than actual production, but he's the best possible replacement Detroit can get in this spot. The Lions need to make sure their front seven doesn't miss a beat after a sterling season. Grabbing Goldman now and hoping he can become an adequate starter in Year 1 is the way to go.

24. Arizona Cardinals: Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State

The Cardinals started Larry Foote for 15 games this season—in the year 2014. Like that was a good idea or something. And it kind of worked. Imagine how good this Cardinals defense could be replacing Foote with someone who should be starting in the year of our lord, 2015.

25. Carolina Panthers: Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami (Florida)

Panthers needs: offensive tackle, defens—NO, OFFENSIVE TACKLE IS THE ONLY NEED! YOU SHUT YOUR MOUTH!

Ereck Flowers position: Offensive tackle.

I think we are done here.

26. Baltimore Ravens: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State

Dec 27, 2014; El Paso, TX, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver Jaelen Strong (21) jumps in the air to catch a pass against the Duke Blue Devils in the 2014 Sun Bowl at Sun Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Ozzie Newsome will be thrilled if Strong or White fall here. Torrey Smith is a free agent who could get overpaid by a receiver-needy team after setting a career high with 11 touchdowns in 2014. Steve Smith turns 36 in May and showed real signs of wearing down in the second half.

Strong can help assuage concerns by providing Joe Flacco with a big, sturdy target. The Arizona State product gets by without elite top-end speed by fighting for 50-50 balls and using his 6'3" frame and wide catch radius to get to balls others can't. Developing his route-running skills will be key to making him an effective No. 1 target, but the opportunity is too good to pass up here.

27. Dallas Cowboys: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

I'm going to keep beating this drum until the Cowboys give DeMarco Murray the bad, long-term contract we all know is coming. Dallas hit lightning in a bottle with Murray in 2014. He didn't play in more than eight consecutive games for the first three years of his career. Expecting him to suddenly become a bastion of health after carrying the ball 392 times is...not smart.

Gordon, meanwhile, is a home run hitter who could step into Murray's role immediately at a lower cost and with much less baggage. Neither player is an especially strong pass-catcher, and we have a strong enough data set that proves moving on from a running back a year or two early is always better than overpaying to hang onto them later. 

Just ask the Panthers' cap sheet how paying a premium for running backs can go.

28. Denver Broncos: Alvin Dupree, DE, Kentucky

COLUMBIA, MO - NOVEMBER 01:  Quarterback Maty Mauk #7 of the Missouri Tigers releases the ball as he is hit by Alvin Dupree #2 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the game at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium on November 1, 2014 in Columbia, Missouri.  (Photo by
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

We'll know far more about how the 2015 Broncos will look in a few months. For now, though, we're giving them Dupree as a value play. The Kentucky product is a physical beast. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him vaulting up draft boards with a few impressive workouts.

As it stands, Denver gets a long-term replacement for DeMarcus Ware, whose contract all but screams an impending cut after the 2015 season. Dupree can start at right defensive end as a rookie before switching over to the higher priority side after Ware's departure. 

29. Indianapolis Colts: Cameron Erving, OL, Florida State

The Colts have done a genuinely terrible job of protecting Andrew Luck since his arrival, something that needs to stop for him to truly ascend.

Erving doesn't have a set position on the offensive line, but that's not an issue on an Indy team that needs help everywhere. He excelled when the Seminoles threw him at center toward the end of the season and played tackle for most of his career, so splitting the difference and throwing him at guard may be in order.

Regardless, the Colts are actively trolling their star quarterback if they don't get him some help up front. Oh, acquiring an entire defense wouldn't be a bad idea, either.

 

30. Green Bay Packers: Arik Armstead, DL, Oregon

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Defensive lineman Arik Armstead #9 of the Oregon Ducks pressures quarterback Jameis Winston #5 of the Florida State Seminoles during the first quarter of the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game presented by
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Fixing the run defense is at or near the top of Green Bay's priority list this offseason. Moving Clay Matthews inside isn't a viable solution and takes him away from what he does best. McKinney somehow sliding to No. 30 would be a dream scenario. 

With the draft's best inside linebacker gone, grabbing Armstead and hoping he can shore up the defensive line is a solid backup plan. Armstead is a massive human being who will work well as a 3-4 defensive end, using his 6'8" size and stretch to occupy multiple blockers. Teams are going to become more tantalized by his potential as the process wears on.

31. Seattle Seahawks: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

If Marshawn Lynch is gone, why not replace him with the only back in recent memory who runs with a similar ferocity?

32. New England Patriots: Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State

Will someone give Tom Brady a deep target already? Please? And, I mean, if you're not doing it for Brady, at least do it for poor Jimmy Garoppolo. 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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