So close, yet so far away.
There are now fewer than 50 days until the 2015 NFL draft (April 30-May 2). The six-plus weeks remaining still are a very long haul in league circles, thanks to the continuation of free agency, visits from prospects and the NFL's annual meeting (March 22-25).
• NFL rumors: Latest buzz around free agency, trades, 2015 NFL draft
The start of free agency did start to clear the draft picture some, and it will continue to do so as teams plug holes on their depth charts.
A quick reminder before we launch into the mock that you can find the latest Big Boards from myself and Doug Farrar right here. Now, the latest Round 1 projections:
RS Sophomore, Florida State
Say what you will about Winston's maturity, but he took the initiative to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently and the league noticed. "He went out of his way to make a good impression, and to show that he understood what was going to be expected of him in the NFL," a league executive told The MMQB's Peter King.
Even more noteworthy when discussing this pick is that Winston already has made a lengthy stop in Tampa Bay to meet with the brass there. ESPN's Adam Schefter wrote that the visit "might be an unprecedented visit for how early it occurred."
Add those occurrences to Winston's impressive performance at the combine, and the possibility of Tampa Bay passing on him here—even for Mariota, the No. 1 QB on my post-combine Big Board—is dwindling.
Since Ndamukong Suh stole free-agency headlines
, let's drift back to 2010 when the Lions drafted him. For the next five seasons, Detroit built its defense around Suh, who became increasingly dominant up front. Tennessee could do the same here with Williams. His tape is not in the same class as Suh's—not sure anyone will hit that level again soon—but Williams flashes enough to justify making him a franchise anchor.
RS Junior, Nebraska
Gregory has more or less said that he feels more comfortable at linebacker right now, and his size (238 pounds at pro day) leans that direction. So, fine, here ya go. The Jaguars did hand Dan Skuta $8 million guaranteed to play the hybrid Otto role in Gus Bradley's defense, but that hardly should preclude them from adding Gregory to the mix. Gregory can be effective from a number of spots.
While Kevin White was the belle of the combine ball, Cooper just keeps going about his business. He ripped off a 4.42 40 time of his own—not too shabby considering Cooper also runs sharp routes and has the on-field intelligence to find openings within the defense. Derek Carr would love this pick.
RS Senior, Clemson
Beasley demolished the combine, putting to rest most of the fears associated with his size or speed. Adding him to the starting lineup with Ryan Kerrigan would again give Washington a fearsome 1-2 punch at OLB, while allowing Trent Murphy to remain in a rotational role.
RS Junior, Oregon
So, about the pro day ...
"I thought it went OK," Mariota offered as a self-assessment, on the NFL Network. "There were some misthrows here and there."
Yes, there were, which is problematic when there is no defense on the field. But it also was not as bad as some of the quick reactions, especially since Mariota showed nice footwork from under center. Incompletions just look poor at a pro day. A reminder, though, that we traveled this road with Teddy Bridgewater last year.
As for an explanation for why Mariota still warrants consideration here and at No. 1 overall, Greg Peshek's QB metrics breakdown on Mariota, Winston and Brent Hundley helps. Peshek charted every throw made last season by those three quarterbacks, uncovering a couple things that flow against some Mariota scouting reports. To wit: Mariota threw a higher percentage of his passes from 11-20 yards deep (33.4%) than did Winston (23.0%); he was more accurate from 11-20 yards (70.1%) and deeper (58.1%) than Winston (60.0% and 46.9%, respectively); and hit more passes than his likely Round 1 counterpart when pressured (67.7% to 57.7%).
The Jets will have to refine his game, but all the tools are there.
Their shift to a 3-4 set underway, the Bears scored Pernell McPhee with one of the NFL's better early free-agent moves. Next step: find some beef up front. Here's my colleague, Doug Farrar, on Shelton: "I haven't seen better overall tape from any player in this draft class. ... Shelton can destroy pockets, he'll use his surprisingly quick feet to get past blockers and he works very well from multiple gaps."
Scooping up Brooks Reed was a solid moment for the Falcons, but it does little to remedy their pass-rush woes—Reed had five sacks in 2013–14 combined in Houston. Fowler, on the other hand, would elevate that area of Atlanta's defense. New head coach Dan Quinn will want interchangeable pieces, as he had in Seattle, and Fowler excelled from numerous attack points at Florida.
RS Senior, Iowa
In Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams and now Shane Vereen
, the Giants have a strong enough corps of backs to be able to lean on the run at times. That's perfect for Scherff, who repeatedly puts defensive linemen on skates. The Giants's quick-trigger passing attack under coordinator Ben McAdoo could help nullify Scherff's early learning curve as a pass-blocker, too.
The Rams should enter 2015 planning to lean on RB Tre Mason as the catalyst for their offense. Doing so with a line bookended by Greg Robinson and Collins would set Mason up to succeed. New QB Nick Foles also has to have a clean pocket, so taking care of the O-line is a must.
Pairing a QB with his favorite collegiate receiver probably is more of a fun idea for fans than it is any legitimate consideration for teams. This time, however, everything lines up to connect Parker with Teddy Bridgewater again. Cooper and White have caused Parker to slide a bit under the radar. That's a mistake. Parker will be an immediate impact playmaker.
Senior, West Virginia
Cleveland's sitting on two first-round picks, and it almost has to use one on a weapon in the passing game. This might be White's floor, with a (long-shot) ceiling of Tennessee's No. 2 choice. Outside of being an Ohio native, Brian Hartline hasn’t moved the needle much in Cleveland, but a White-Hartline-Andrew Hawkins receiver group could do some work.
RS Junior, Missouri
One of the toughest teams to predict right now because the whole roster might get traded at any point. Whether or not the Saints keep Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette together into 2015 and beyond, they need more punch off the edge. Ray, and his lightning-quick first step, would round out the rush.
For starters, this is a best-player-available move here—Collins is top-10 worthy, in my mind. On top of that, Collins would fill the hole vacated by Louis Delmas and give Miami flexibility at safety. He and Reshad Jones both fit the in-the-box safety mold better, yet either can fall back into deep coverage and be plenty effective.
Junior, Michigan State
As of the writing of this sentence, Perrish Cox is a free agent, and Chris Culliver is headed to Washington
. The 49ers would be shy on corners should they both leave, and there is no better option to fill a starting role out of the gate than Waynes. Yes, that includes Marcus Peters. Waynes played both the boundary and field sides at Michigan State, so San Francisco could trust him anywhere.
Thompson will have the best chance to succeed early in his NFL career if he can be a defensive wild card. Houston needs help up the middle in its 3–4, so it could use Thompson as an ILB. But it also could swing him into blitz mode inside as J.J. Watt works outside or place him just about anywhere in a nickel. The Texans need someone other than Watt flying to the football. That's the Shaq Thompson M.O.