NFL Draft 2015: Ranking the Depth at Every Position
One year after a draft class that was considered one of the deepest in recent memory, the 2015 draft pool suffered because so much talent left school early in 2014. The lack of numerous elite talents at the head of the class is reminiscent of the 2013 class, which lacked a bona fide star who was a can’t-miss prospect.
There are some very good players in the 2015 class, even if the overall class is weaker than 2014’s group. Where this class shines is with so many Day 2-type talents; guys who need some refinement or a specific role to excel can be a great value for the right team. For adept scouting departments, this is a good draft to add immediate and future contributors.
Some positions are deeper than others, and we’re going to rank the quality of each positional group in the 2015 draft. The most important factors in determining which positions are strongest include the number of potential stars and how many contributors are expected out of the group. Let’s start with the weakest positions and move toward the strongest.
11. Tight End: Extremely Weak
The weakest position in the 2015 NFL draft is tight end. Led by Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams, the group has only two players who are projected to go in the first two rounds by CBS Sports. The lack of quality depth behind Williams and Miami’s Clive Walford is strikingly poor, and Ohio State’s Jeff Heuerman is the only other potential major contributor as a rookie.
There are some intriguing receiving tight ends such as Ben Koyack (Notre Dame), Tyler Kroft (Rutgers) and Nick Boyle (Delaware). Look for teams that want slot receiving tight ends to be investing in those three, as they’re more of the new-breed tight ends that are just bigger, slower receivers.
For a team that is looking for an immediate starter, Williams and Walford are the two best candidates, but each has concerns. Williams was only a third-year sophomore at Minnesota and was not targeted often in their run-first offense. He’ll need time to add bulk to improve his blocking.
Walford is an athletic mismatch down the seam and a good blocker in a zone-blocking scheme. He has limited upside, though, and his ability to be an impact red-zone threat is limited due to in experience and a lack of elite size (6'4", 251 pounds). Still, he’s a solid receiving threat who fits best as a second tight end in an offense that uses a lot of motion.
10. Safety: Extremely Weak
Right behind tight end for the second-weakest position in the 2015 draft class has to be safety. Other than Alabama strong safety Landon Collins, there are few first-year starting-caliber players at either safety spot. There is much greater value with potential Day 3 picks than anything at this position, but the developmental talents aren’t likely to help in 2015.
Penn State’s Adrian Amos and Arizona State’s Damarious Randall are the standout free safety prospects who could go off the board in the third or fourth round. Each has great physical traits and had big combine performances. Both need to improve their ball skills and make more impact plays, but they have the physical talent that is worth developing.
Notable strong safeties include Samford’s Jaquiski Tartt and Northwestern’s Ibraheim Campbell. Tartt has elite size (6'1", 221 pounds) and hitting ability, but he has struggled with injuries and is limited to Cover 2 schemes. Campbell is highly instinctive and a solid tackler, but his physical traits suggest limited upside.
9. Quarterback: Weak
Despite being led by two standouts in Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the quarterback class is so average that both former Heisman Trophy winners can’t raise the rank of this position. Both Winston and Mariota have the talent and makeup of quality NFL quarterbacks physically and mentally.
After them, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is the clear third quarterback. He has the athleticism to become a dynamic playmaker, and his arm talent is also promising. What he must do next is slow the game down and keep his composure under pressure. Too often he drops his eyes when the pressure comes, and he’ll miss wide receivers coming open downfield.
The rest of the class is filled with developmental options. Colorado State-Pueblo quarterback Chris Bonner is deserving of more hype, as he has ideal size (6'7"), arm strength and upside. Baylor’s Bryce Petty has an extensive injury history, is coming out of a simple offense and is nearly 25 already, but he is a smart player with backup potential.
8. Interior Offensive Line: Average
One of the more devalued positions in the draft is interior offensive line. Every year, teams find quality starters on Day 3 because the position depends on scheme fit. Expect the 2015 class to bear solid fruit for every team that is looking for a quality center or guard.
There are two potential first-round picks at guard or center, with Iowa’s Brandon Scherff and Florida State’s Cameron Erving the most impactful players at each position. Scherff brings great physicality to either guard or tackle, but his ability to move downhill and pull as a lead blocker is what makes him the perfect guard.
The rest of the class is fairly deep with good players. Hobart’s Ali Marpet and Duke’s Laken Tomlinson are standout Day 2 guards who can fit any offense as impact blockers. The best of Day 3 options include Arizona State’s Jamil Douglas and Florida’s Max Garcia. While Douglas brings athleticism to a zone-blocking scheme, Garcia is more powerful and jolts defenders backward.
7. Offensive Tackle: Average
A true boom-or-bust group is offensive tackle. Although CBS Sports lists five projected first-rounders, including Brandon Scherff, it’s hard to feel overly good about any of the tackles being bona fide studs. Each has notable flaws that could cause his career to go the way of Eric Fisher or Matt Kalil.
Stanford’s Andrus Peat looks like Tarzan but plays like Jane. La’el Collins has great strength and length, but his balance and hand placement are erratic, and his ability to handle speed is a concern. The rawest prospect in the class may well be T.J. Clemmings of Pittsburgh. Ereck Flowers of Miami also has inconsistent technique and struggles as a tackle.
Now, each one of those players has great potential but must overcome major hurdles to get there. We could see Flowers, Collins and Clemmings move to guard while they develop their technique. The best values are projected to go later.
The two most pro-ready tackles are Oregon’s Jake Fisher and Florida’s D.J. Humphries. Each has great athleticism for the position. Fisher also has exceptional technique, while Humphries has heavy hands that are reminiscent of Tyron Smith. Those two guys could help elevate this class despite their projected draft positions.
6. Linebacker: Above Average
The NFL hasn’t prioritized off-ball linebackers except for elite talent. Similar to offensive guard, teams can generally find starters on Day 2 or even Day 3. Expect that to continue into the 2015 draft, which features a solid but unspectacular group of linebackers.
The biggest standout player is UCLA’s Eric Kendricks. He has the athleticism to make any play in coverage or against the run. He’s smart and instinctive enough to create turnovers or impact tackles for loss. He isn’t very big at 6’0" tall and 232 pounds, but he is big enough to start Day 1 as a middle linebacker.
After Kendricks is Clemson’s Stephone Anthony, who separated himself at the NFL combine with a stellar performance. He has ideal size (6'3", 243 pounds), speed and toughness for the position. His instincts are good but not great, and he is likely a second-round talent for that reason. Still, he can start for numerous teams in the NFL.
The rest of the position is filled with quality backups and potential two-down players. TCU’s Paul Dawson, Miami’s Denzel Perryman and USC’s Hayes Pullard are all capable of filling roles in a defense. Benardrick McKinney (Mississippi State) and Ben Heeney (Kansas) are intriguing options for teams that are willing to gamble on their instincts in the run game.
5. Cornerback: Above Average
Now that we’re into some of the positions with some meat, this is where it gets tough to differentiate positional depth. Cornerback is a position that is not quite as deep as 2014, but the first few rounds feature a potential star and several solid starters. That’s good enough to be considered the fifth-deepest group in 2015.
The cream of the class is cornerback Marcus Peters. Washington dismissed him from the football team in 2014 after his immaturity led to multiple run-ins with the coaching staff. He’s gotten out in front of the issues and taken responsibility since then, and his character concerns aren’t about domestic violence.
It’s important to differentiate a young player who got too fired up during a game and an individual who commits crimes off the field. Peters is not the latter, and he’s an elite on-field prospect.
Behind Peters is Michigan State’s Trae Waynes and Utah’s Eric Rowe. Waynes drew massive praise after his 4.31 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, but that speed was evident on film. Speed isn’t his weakness, but his adding weight to his slight frame and ability to change directions smoothly are. He struggles with physicality downfield and has stiffness in his hips. He’s a good but not elite cornerback prospect.
The middle rounds should be filled with a variety of good developmental cornerbacks. Florida State’s P.J. Williams, Connecticut’s Byron Jones and LSU’s Jalen Collins all have great potential but have to clean up technique issues and increase their ball skills. After that group are myriad talented prospects who need the right scheme to excel, but there are plenty of good players.
4. Wide Receiver: Relatively Strong
With 15 receivers ranked in CBS Sports’ top 100 overall players, it’s safe to say that the position is deep with talent. There is talent for whatever role your team needs. But the absence of a true star wide receiver is what knocks this class down just a notch below the rest.
West Virginia’s Kevin White has the best chance to be that star. He’s big (6’3”, 215 pounds), fast (4.35 40-yard dash) and dominant on the field. His playing style is versatile too, despite having only two seasons in FBS competition. He’s not an elite athlete, though, and his route running needs serious development.
Alabama’s Amari Cooper and Louisville's DeVante Parker each are technicians and solid athletes. Their ability to impact an offense right away is a major plus, and they’ll be first-rounders because of it. But each plays more like a secondary option on a good offense. Neither has an elite trait, so it’s hard to envision that the next Antonio Brown is among this group.
The wild card in the group is Dorial Green-Beckham. The last time he played, he was dominant for stretches but also invisible for longer periods of time. His combine performance was very poor, so he’s an upside pick who cannot be counted on to contribute much right away. If he pans out, then he could be the star that this class seeks.
3. Defensive Tackle: Strong
The defensive tackle position might not be 15 deep like the wide receiver group, but it has a star prospect and some very good players. Potentially, the best player in the entire draft is USC’s Leonard Williams, and he is the trump card in this list.
Williams is the ideal 5-technique in a 3-4 defense, but he can also play in a 4-3 scheme and be effective. He’s powerful and has excellent awareness of where the play is heading and how he can finish. His strong hands allow him to disengage from blocks with ease. He isn’t a quick-twitch athlete, so he may not become a sack artist, but he is still an impact defensive lineman.
Behind Williams are numerous 3-technique and other 5-techniques with starting talent. The best 3-techs include Ohio State’s Michael Bennett, Florida State’s Eddie Goldman, Washington State’s Xavier Cooper and Clemson’s Grady Jarrett. Each has the speed, hands and power to become a starter in the next two seasons.
Teams that play a 3-4 front defense will be happy with this class as well. Stanford’s Henry Anderson, Iowa’s Carl Davis, Texas’ Malcom Brown and Northern Iowa's Xavier Williams all have great two-gapping ability and pass-rusher talent. They just need some time to refine their technique or add some weight to be most effective.
2. Running Backs: Extremely Strong
The 2015 running back group has the depth and stars to vault it to the top overall spot in this list. Considering that the position has a short shelf life and Todd Gurley is coming off a torn ACL, the group slips to the second-deepest group. But that shouldn’t take anything away from the talented ball-carriers.
Behind potential stars like Gurley and Melvin Gordon are eight talented players who can find success early in their careers. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah tested phenomenally at the NFL combine, and he’s reminiscent of Warrick Dunn. Miami’s Duke Johnson is a home run hitter with great speed and vision. Boise State back Jay Ajayi might become the next Marshawn Lynch in a zone-blocking scheme.
The next crop of guys is pretty impressive, too. Texas’ Malcolm Brown is a smooth and underrated talent. Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman and Northern Iowa's David Johnson all have traits of productive running backs. We also cannot forget Mike Davis of South Carolina and T.J. Yeldon of Alabama.
With so much talent coming into the NFL this year, veteran free agents may have a tough time finding guaranteed money. The fresh legs are supplying a lot of talent and cheap labor for the next four seasons.
1. Edge-Rushers: Extremely Strong
One of the most valuable positions in the NFL, the edge-rusher group has star power and depth throughout the class. For teams that want a high-upside pass-rusher at either outside linebacker or defensive end, this is the draft to address any needs in that area.
This group is so talented that finding a consensus top rusher is nearly impossible. Clemson’s Vic Beasley, Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, Kentucky’s Alvin Dupree, Missouri’s Shane Ray and Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr. are all in the conversation as high first-round picks. Add in UCLA’s Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Virginia’s Eli Harold as other possible first-rounders, and this is an incredible class of talent at the league’s premier defensive position.
Outside of the first- and second-round talents, even more potential steals are available. Miami’s Anthony Chickillo, Utah’s Nate Orchard and Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha are worthy developmental picks after they displayed their skill sets in college and postseason all-star games.
Ian Wharton is an NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, contributor for Optimum Scouting and analyst for eDraft.