2015 NFL Mock Draft: Predictions for 1st-Round Prospects Ahead of Free Agency

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 4, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 22: Defensive lineman Danny Shelton of Washington competes during the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 22, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

LeSean McCoy and NFL free agency is but an appetizer.

As exciting as things are—such as the Philadelphia Eagles shipping Shady to Buffalo, per ESPN's Adam Schefter—it's all just a buildup to the main course, the 2015 NFL draft.

So it goes every year. Trades, while perhaps not as noteworthy, change the complexion of the league. Then the market opens, when teams decide whether a veteran stopgap is a better decision than an impressionable rookie.

It all leads up to what is arguably the most popular event in the sporting world, one this year that is strong in key areas such as defenders who can rush the passer and wideouts who can change games on their own. 

The next few weeks and change will provide an interesting case study as to how free agency affects the first round of the draft. For now, things stand like so.

2015 NFL Mock Draft

1Tampa Bay BuccaneersJameis Winston, QB, Florida State
2Tennessee TitansMarcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
3Jacksonville JaguarsRandy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
4Oakland RaidersLeonard Williams, DL, USC
5Washington RedskinsAlvin Dupree, DE/OLB, Kentucky
6New York JetsAmari Cooper, WR, Alabama
7Chicago BearsDante Fowler Jr., DE, Florida
8Atlanta FalconsShane Ray, DE, Missouri
9New York GiantsLa'el Collins, OL, LSU
10St. Louis RamsMarcus Peters, CB, Washington
11Minnesota VikingsKevin White, WR, West Virginia
12Cleveland BrownsDeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
13New Orleans SaintsVic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
14Miami DolphinsDanny Shelton, DT, Washington
15San Francisco 49ersTrae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
16Houston TexansBrandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
17San Diego ChargersA.J. Cann, OG, South Carolina
18Kansas City ChiefsDorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma
19Cleveland Browns (via Buffalo)Arik Armstead, DE/OLB, Oregon
20Philadelphia EaglesLandon Collins, SS, Alabama
21Cincinnati BengalsMalcom Brown, DT, Texas
22Pittsburgh SteelersOwamagbe Odighizuwa, OLB, UCLA
23Detroit LionsEddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
24Arizona CardinalsEli Harold, OLB, Virginia
25Carolina PanthersAndrus Peat, OT, Stanford
26Baltimore RavensJaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
27Dallas CowboysJalen Collins, CB, LSU
28Denver BroncosEreck Flowers, OT, Miami
29Indianapolis ColtsShaq Thompson, OLB, Washington
30Green Bay PackersCarl Davis, DL, Iowa
31Seattle SeahawksJordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma
32New England PatriotsMaxx Williams, TE, Minnesota
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Where Free Agency Most Impacts 1st Round

Washington's Need for Defense

Were it not for a strong season by Ryan Kerrigan (13.5 sacks), Washington would have been one of the worst teams in the league in terms of rushing the passer.

To make matters worse, even he could not prevent the defense as a whole from ranking 24th against the pass, something that will only get worse in a pass-happy division that includes many elite offensive weapons. 

Now it sounds as if Jay Gruden's team will also lose veteran pass-rusher Brian Orakpo to free agency, too, as Dianna Marie Russini of NBC4 details:

Orakpo registered just half a sack over the course of seven games this past season, but the fact Washington is still in negotiations for the veteran speaks volumes as to how the front office views the situation.

In short, Washington wants to keep a complement to Kerrigan on board.

If it's not Orakpo, it may need to be a rookie such as Alvin Dupree at No. 5 overall. Now, there's nothing wrong with grabbing a freak athlete who measured in at 6'4" and 269 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine before running a 4.56 40-yard dash and recording a 42-inch vertical and 138-inch broad jump.

But being forced into selecting a defender in that area means Washington will miss out on a potential top offensive target or perhaps an elite interior defender, not to mention Dupree's high selection would have a serious ripple effect on the rest of the round.

Plugging Holes in Miami 

Pop quiz time—name the defenders on the interior of the Miami Dolphins' line. 

Exactly. The Dolphins have one of the more obvious free agency and draft needs this year, especially with Jared Odrick on the way to free agency.

Know who else is on the way to free agency? Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, after the team elected not to slap him with the franchise tag before Monday's deadline.

Wildly enough, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network suggests Miami as a potential suitor for Suh:

The proverbial shoe certainly fits. Miami is not afraid to blow cash on the market (Mike Wallace, anyone?) and not only does adding Suh improve the rest of the defense, it might give the front office more wiggle room at No. 14 overall.

The thing is Miami will be far from alone in its potential pursuit of Suh, not to mention other big names such as Denver's Terrance Knighton.

If the Dolphins learned anything from the Wallace debacle, it's that winning free agency does not necessarily produce wins elsewhere. Instead, the team could use a relatively high pick on a prospect such as Washington's Danny Shelton, who proved his size (6'2", 339 pounds) and athleticism recently at the combine.

Keep a close eye on the Dolphins. A 24th-ranked rush defense that loses players to free agency needs addressed, and if it's not free agency, it'll be at No. 14 overall.

Weapons in Baltimore 

Dec 28, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith (82) warms up prior to the game against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

While a 23rd-ranked pass defense demands action this offseason, the Baltimore Ravens will need to keep focus on a leakage of talent on the opposite side of the football, too. 

Wide receiver Torrey Smith is on the way to free agency, and while he wasn't the No. 1 receiver in town last year, his 49 catches for 767 yards and 11 scores, as well as his ability to stretch defenses deep and open up things for others, will be missed.

Smith is not gone just yet, but owner Steve Bisciotti sure makes it sound like he will be, while bringing up the aforementioned Wallace contract, as captured by ESPN's Jamison Hensley:

The difference between what we can pay Torrey and what he gets on the open market ... Mike Wallace got $10 million [actually, $11 million signing bonus from the Miami Dolphins] and I don't think anybody thinks that was a good deal. There's always a team that has lots of money that wants to bring in playmakers. Those guys are going to get those deals. I think we're going to have to take it on the chin and move on.

It's a great point, and the Ravens cannot exactly throw all of their weight for the future behind 35-year-old Steve Smith.

With that in mind, it is important to point out that the Ravens will be in range for a quality wideout in what is a very deep class.

Arizona State's Jaelen Strong is the first name that comes to mind in that range. Strong is a great deep threat at 6'2" and 217 pounds who can go up and high-point passes (a 42-inch vertical at the combine says as much) and just last year caught 82 for 1,165 yards and 10 scores.

Should Baltimore fail to compete for Smith on the open market and not make another significant add, look for the front office to build for the future with a name such as Strong.

Note: Stats courtesy of NFL.com as of March 4. All advanced metrics via Pro Football Focus.

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