Just two weeks to go. Hang in there.
The seemingly eternal draft process is nearing its end, with April 30 now visible off in the distance. As such, don't believe everything—or anything—you hear. Much of what circulates now, like a team's sudden interest in a certain player, is for show. Needs have not changed, for the most part, since the first rush of free agency and the prospects have been well investigated by now.
So as everyone tries to sort out the truth from the lies, it's time to take another swing at predicting what will happen in Rounds 1 and 2.
11 Jameis Winston, QBRS Sophomore, Florida StateOver? Done? Not quite, though the scales continue to tip steadily in Winston’s favor over Marcus Mariota. The Tampa Bay tenures of coach Lovie Smith and GM Jason Licht likely depend on the decision made here, so there is no reason to finalize the plan before it’s absolutely necessary.
22Leonard Williams, DTJunior, USCThere are myriad reasons why many believe this pick will be available via trade, but start here: Tennessee is not a player (or two or three) away from being true contenders. The need for a significant talent infusion, plus at least some internal belief in Zach Mettenberger, could allow the Titans to dangle a shot at either Winston or Mariota here. If they stay put, Williams would be their safest play.
33 Vic Beasley, DE/OLBRS Senior, ClemsonBeasley has a chance to be special—like best-player-in-this-draft special—if he lands with a coach that can unleash his athleticism on a consistent basis. Gus Bradley would have as much a chance as anyone to do just that.
44 Amari Cooper, WRJunior, AlabamaThe Raiders will be crossing their fingers that Mariota or Winston lasts until this spot, because … well, they don’t need either guy. Arguably, the best-case scenario for Oakland is that it can strike up a bidding war, slide down to pick six or 10 or 12, and add a couple later selections. Cooper makes for a sensational fallback plan. He’s the best player at a position of need in Oakland.
55 Dante Fowler, DE/OLBJunior, FloridaBrandon Scherff was penciled in at this spot during previous mocks. Moving him down a few spots says nothing about his potential—I’d argue he can start at guard or RT next season. Washington can find O-line help in Round 2 or beyond; it can’t find an edge player with Fowler’s upside.
66Marcus Mariota, QBRS Junior, OregonThe most worrisome sticking point in a Mariota-to-the-Jets discussion (no, it’s not Geno Smith being there) is Mariota’s admitted disdain for being in the spotlight. That, uh, will not work in New York. Beyond that, Mariota would fit well with offensive coordinator Chan Gailey and has a chance to be great before too long.
77 Kevin White, WRSenior, West VirginiaThe additions of Pernell McPhee, Mason Foster and Antrell Rolle bought Chicago a little time at the draft—it does not have to focus exclusively on that side of the football early. White has the look of a star, and would take on WR2 duties with Brandon Marshall gone.
88Brandon Scherff, OTRS Senior, IowaI know, I know: the pass rush. However, this Falcons team remains built around its offense, so in the interest of keeping Matt Ryan upright and grabbing traction on the ground, the pick is Scherff. He’s an instant upgrade, no matter where Atlanta uses him.
99DeVante Parker, WRSenior, LouisvilleGM Jerry Reese was asked at the combine if taking a receiver in last year’s first round made it less likely the Giants would do so in 2015. His response: “Best player available. Best player available. We’ll take the best player on the board.” In this mock, that player is Parker. Nabbing him also helps keep the staff from rushing back Victor Cruz.
1010La'el Collins, OTSenior, LSUThe Rams, not the Chargers or Browns, would be the ones I’d keep an eye on for a potential trade-up for a QB. They’re right on the cusp of legit playoff contention. Do they trust Nick Foles to take them the rest of the way. If so, Collins would help Foles and the run game, adding another mauler to 2014 first-rounder Greg Robinson.
1111Trae Waynes, CBJunior, Michigan StateEven after adding free-agent Terence Newman, the Vikings would love to find a corner to pair with 2013 pick Xavier Rhodes. Rather unscientific explanation for the Waynes pick comin’ at ya: He plays like a Mike Zimmer cornerback—fast, aggressive and with some swagger.
1212Danny Shelton, DTSenior, WashingtonBecause they A.) have two first-round picks, and B.) are the Browns, count Cleveland as a candidate to do just about anything in Round 1. One of the top-three WRs or top-two QBs tumbling could change the plan, but there is no question this team has to put up more resistance in the trenches.
1313Randy Gregory, DE/OLBRS Junior, NebraskaNo real guidelines to go by in determining how an off-field incident might impact a prospect’s draft stock—history has shown it to be a case-by-case basis. The fallout for Gregory is that he’s now far less likely to be a top-10 choice. His talent all but guarantees he will not wait too much longer.
1414Landon Collins, SJunior, AlabamaRight now, the Dolphins are counting on Louis Delmas to be ready in time for the regular season, despite tearing his ACL in Week 14 last year. Even if he stays on that timetable, his injury history—and one-year contract—makes him a short-term investment. Collins would be a long-term answer.
1515Shane Ray, DE/OLBRS Junior, MissouriThe floor on Ray’s draft position sits right around this spot—many folks will have him going top 10. Ray has the athletic ability to make the transition from 4-3 DE to 3-4 OLB. For San Francisco it would be a best-player-available pick that would lessen the urgency to re-sign Aldon Smith or to keep Ahmad Brooks around beyond 2015.
1616Shaq Thompson, LBJunior, WashingtonWith Vince Wilfork occupying blockers and J.J. Watt destroying souls, the Texans would love to add another linebacker capable of flying to the ball alongside Brian Cushing. Thompson fits the criteria, plus brings the added bonuses of being able to cover from the slot, drop to safety or run the ball (Thompson also played running back at Washington).
1717Ereck Flowers, OTJunior, Miami (Fla.)Start the Todd Gurley/Melvin Gordon watch at this spot—San Diego is in need of a dynamic backfield piece. Flowers is picking up top-10 buzz (though, to be fair, it feels like just about every prospect has at one point or another this year), and the Chargers are one starter away from a dominant offensive line.
1818Eric Kendricks, LBRS Senior, UCLAKendricks’s rangy game would fit well in the linebacking corps, especially with 32-year-old Derrick Johnson’s career turning for home. Let other teams worry about Kendricks’s size. Take the talent and potential.
1919 Andrus Peat, OTJunior, Stanford(Pick via Buffalo) Cleveland could bump Mitchell Schwartz for Peat immediately, with Peat ticketed for Joe Thomas's LT job down the line. The question is: Would the Browns be patient enough to pass on playmakers twice in Round 1?
2020 Arik Armstead, DEJunior, OregonHave to give any Oregon product a slight Chip Kelly-related bump, and Armstead’s game would be an intriguing fit. He is one of several prospects generating a massive range of opinions, from top 10 down to Round 2.
2121 Malcom Brown, DTJunior, TexasThere is no guaranteed money left on Domata Peko’s contract, meaning Cincinnati could send him packing if it drafted Brown. A more Bengals-like play would be to hold on to Peko for another year or two, let Brown develop his game, then turn a young Brown-Brandon Thompson combo loose when Peko departs. Either way, Brown could be a force for this team, perhaps even more so in a rotational role.
2222Kevin Johnson, CBRS Senior, Wake ForestThere are weaknesses to nitpick for every early-round cornerback in this year’s draft. Johnson might have the steadiest scouting report across the board. He projects as a Day 1 starter—music to the Steelers’ ears given their situation in the secondary.
2323D.J. Humphries, OTJunior, FloridaGM Martin Mayhew takes a best-player-available approach, almost to a fault, so dare we suggest Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon? It’s possible. Humphries could top Detroit’s list by this point, as well. He would provide some flexibility as the Lions figure out which side of the line is the best fit for Riley Reiff.
2424Bud Dupree, DE/OLBSenior, KentuckyThe beauty of Bruce Arians’s (and Todd Bowles’s) defense is that it creates headaches for quarterbacks in a variety of ways. Last season, the Cardinals’ personnel dictated a heavy dose of linebacker blitzes through the A-gap. Adding a young pass-rusher like Dupree—after signing veteran LaMarr Woodley—would shift the focus back to the edges.
2525T.J. Clemmings, OTRS Senior, PittsburghThe two obvious roads at this spot are offensive tackle and wide receiver. Carolina has options at both positions, and likely would again come Round 2. Clemmings’s ceiling is the deciding factor at No. 25. He may not be able to step in immediately on Cam Newton’s blindside, but the Pitt product should develop into an outstanding NFL OT.
2626Todd Gurley, RBJunior, GeorgiaPeter King wrote in this week’s Monday Morning Quarterback that “Melvin Gordon will not get past Baltimore at No. 26,” so perhaps the Ravens are ready to dock Gurley because of his knee injury. The counter-argument is that this team has very few obvious holes, so it could afford to slow-play a brilliant talent like Gurley.
2727Marcus Peters, CBJunior, WashingtonDallas’s signing of Greg Hardy put to rest any doubts (were there any?) that Jerry Jones would avoid a player due to his off-field history. Peters would be a steal for the Cowboys at a spot where they could use an NFL-ready option. That is, if Jones decides not to look for his next star running back at this spot.
2828Maxx Williams, TERS Sophomore, MinnesotaJulius Thomas signed a deal with Jacksonville worth $46 million total and $24 million guaranteed. Williams’s rookie contract would come in at about a quarter of that larger number, and he has the game to provide Peyton Manning with a similar weapon. Oh, and he’s a better blocker than Thomas.
2929Jordan Phillips, DTRS Junior, OklahomaNot too shabby a setup for the Colts through 28 picks, with multiple Round 1-type linebackers (Denzel Perryman, Benardrick McKinney) still on the board, a healthy dose of DTs from which to choose and guard/center Cam Erving unattached. If the focus is on the defensive line, a nimble big body like Phillips would help erase a lot of issues.
3030Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE/OLBRS Senior, UCLAA little out of the box on this one, but Julius Peppers is 35 and Odighizuwa’s run-stopping skills would mesh well with Peppers’s style. Green Bay is pretty well set most places—ILB making for a notable exception that could alter this pick—so it can afford to roll the dice a bit. Teams can never have too many playmakers in the front seven.
3131Breshad Perriman, WRJunior, UCF(Pick via Seattle) Having already added Gregory at 13, the Saints focus on offense with their second first-round pick. Perriman’s drops are an issue, but his game-breaking ability would make Drew Brees swoon.
3232Cameron Erving, CSenior, Florida StateTightroping the border with Erving by slotting him in at pick 32, but I’m more and more convinced that he does not make it out of Round 1. He simply was too good once he moved inside for Florida State, and that’s after turning in a solid stint at left tackle. Also worth remembering: Erving is just three years removed from being a defensive lineman, so he’ll keep on improving.
33. Tennessee Titans: Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon
34. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi State
35. Oakland Raiders: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
36. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jalen Collins, CB/S, LSU
37. New York Jets: Eli Harold, OLB, Virginia
From about the 20th-overall pick on down, you could shuffle the players around and no one would blink an eye. The headliner among them is Gordon, at No. 35 to Oakland. Coupling that pick with Cooper makes it so the Raiders are focused heavily on offense, but if they believe in Derek Carr, that's exactly the approach they should take. Gordon would leapfrog to the front of the depth chart, allowing Roy Helu and Latavius Murray to settle into complementary roles (and letting Trent Richardson do whatever it is Trent Richardson does).
Fisher is an underrated, NFL-ready starter on the right side. Smith, Collins and Harold could step right in, too—Harold would be a nice fit off the edge in Todd Bowles's Jets attack.
38. Washington Redskins: Laken Tomlinson, G, Duke
39. Chicago Bears: Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
40. New York Giants: Eric Rowe, CB/S, Utah
41. St. Louis Rams: A.J. Cann, G, South Carolina
42. Atlanta Falcons: Danielle Hunter, DE/OLB, LSU
Tomlinson or Cann could sneak into the end of Round 1, especially since both the Saints and Patriots could use a little depth at guard. Goldman is one of several outstanding DTs still on the board—Carl Davis, Michael Bennett, Marcus Hardison and Grady Jarrett are all out there, as well. Realistically, any of them could find a home on the draft's first day.
43. Cleveland Browns: Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State
44. New Orleans Saints: Byron Jones, CB, UConn
45. Minnesota Vikings: Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami (Fla.)
46. San Francisco 49ers: Paul Dawson, LB, TCU
47. Miami Dolphins: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
The Devin Smith bandwagon reached max capacity just prior to the combine. As is typical of the ridiculous draft season, the hype has waxed and waned some since then, but Smith remains the best deep threat among the wide receivers. He's just what the Browns are missing in their passing game. The meter on Jones spiked at the combine, when the UConn product posted eye-popping numbers during drills. If a team falls in love with him as more than just an athletic marvel, he could climb as high as the top-15 overall.
48. San Diego Chargers: Carl Davis, DT, Iowa
49. Kansas City Chiefs: Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri
50. Buffalo Bills: Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State
51. Houston Texans: Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State
52. Philadelphia Eagles: Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami (Fla.)
You should be getting a sense by now of one of the draft's major talking points: the depth. The 2015 class is not all that loaded with elite prospects near the top, but teams will find starters into Rounds 4 and 5. Pretty much every guy taken in Round 2 could make an argument that he belonged in the first round.
Case in point: Green-Beckham, an exceptionally talented player who is still dealing with the consequences from his rocky college career—he was dismissed from Missouri's team after an alleged domestic-violence incident, then sat out all of 2014 on a redshirt at Oklahoma. He could be a 1,000-yard receiver out of the gate. Dorsett might be, too, in the right system. And Philadelphia's scheme falls under that category.
53. Cincinnati Bengals: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
54. Detroit Lions: Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
55. Arizona Cardinals: P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State
56. Pittsburgh Steelers: Clive Walford, TE, Miami (Fla.)
57. Carolina Panthers: Nelson Agholor, WR, USC
Less than a year ago, Ogbuehi projected out as a potential top-five pick. Inconsistent play and injuries drove him down the list a bit, and yet it still would count as a steal for Cincinnati to find him here. Some believe he'll still wind up as a Round 1 pick. Williams also was in the Round 1 discussion until a boneheaded, ill-timed DUI arrest earlier this month. Hard to say exactly how many spots that mistake will cost him.
58. Baltimore Ravens: Alex Carter, CB, Stanford
59. Denver Broncos: Ali Marpet, G, Hobart
60. Dallas Cowboys: Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State
61. Indianapolis Colts: Derron Smith, S, Fresno State
62. Green Bay Packers: Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson
Odds are, the Cowboys will have a shot at one or both of the Todd Gurley/Melvin Gordon combo in Round 1. Should they wait on RB until later, they'd be hard-pressed to find a better fit than Ajayi, whose north-south running style would mesh with their blocking scheme. Green Bay would be similarly thrilled to land Anthony here, should it pass on an ILB in Round 1. Anthony could be a difference-maker immediately next to Clay Matthews inside. Marpet plus Gary Kubiak's offense could equal Pro Bowl-level success.
This is the first pick for Seattle, barring a trade back up. Using it to replace Max Unger with the guy that took over for him at Oregon makes a lot of sense. Not sure the Patriots would pass on Grady Jarrett a second time, though Hardison's mix of pass-rushing skill and size (6'5", 298 pounds) would offer plenty of options for Bill Belichick.