Forget the mock. Four weeks before the NFL draft commences in Chicago, no one can predict anything with certainty. But here’s an—ahem—informed look at how the first 32 selections could go down, plus answers to your PAT questions
Let me tell you something about a “mock draft” a month before the “real draft.” It’s not very accurate. It would be more accurately called a “best guess draft.” That is all it is. Don’t let any of the geniuses, including a faux genius like me, tell you otherwise.
One of the real smart guys in the NFL was on his way home from the Florida State pro day Tuesday, around dinnertime, when I reached him on the phone. “Happy to help," he said, “but I have no idea who anyone is taking. I’ve studied most of the players, but I don’t know which teams are taking them.”
I’m doing this now for a couple of reasons. One: I heard some things last week at the league meetings that I could either file away and let die, use as blind items in Monday Morning Quarterback or put them to use trying to solve the jigsaw puzzle known as the draft four weeks out. Two: Fans love the draft. I could have topped my mailbag column today with an opinion about the Indiana law and what it will mean to the future of the NFL and league events in Indiana—but before we know the final disposition of said law, what good is that? I could have topped the column with other notes from around the league, but would any of those be as interesting as whatever I know or have heard about the draft? No.
So do not take this as anything but an informed opinion. That’s all it is.
This will be my last draft projection until the dominoes start to fall a couple of days before the first round. I’ll do one more the week of the draft (around April 28). On with the show.
1. TAMPA BAY
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State.
Looked good with his 102-pass workout in Tallahassee on Tuesday, with 96 balls on target, but it might have been one of the more meaningless workouts in recent pro day history. If the Bucs—whose private eyes have interviewed more than 75 people from Winston’s past—don’t find any big problems with him, he’ll be the first pick on April 30.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon.
I’m going mostly by the look in coach Ken Whisenhunt’s eyes when he talked about the pick last week at the league meetings. Pretty scientific, huh? Well, that plus his nominal starter is Zach Mettenberger. Plus Whisenhunt's job will be on the line with another fourth-place finish in a bad division.
Dante Fowler, OLB, Florida.
The popular pick here is USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams, who might be the best player in the draft. But the Jags have 2014 star defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, and two other 300-pound linemen, Tyson Alualu and Jared Odrick. The need is for a rusher. Fowler fits.
Leonard Williams, DT, USC.
GM Reggie McKenzie waits for the phone to ring. He’ll trade during his pick, especially with Williams on the board. Interesting trade-up candidate: Cleveland, with the 12th, 19th and 43rd picks, and with a big need for a dominating three-technique pile-mover.
*5. ST. LOUIS
Kevin White, WR, West Virginia.
*Trade: In exchange for giving St. Louis the fifth pick, Washington gets the 10th and 72nd pick.
Washington GM Scot McCloughan badly wants to trade this pick, because his needs don’t match the players on the board. The Rams don’t love anyone on the board here, but a premier player at wideout is a big need. Interesting if it happens: The two big receiver stars in recent Mountaineer history, White and Tavon Austin, would be together in Missouri.
6. NEW YORK JETS
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama.
After quarterback to Tampa Bay, receiver to the Jets is the most logical pick in the draft. Now watch Mike Maccagnan take a corner.
Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson.
Bears would love White or Cooper. New GM Ryan Pace might trade up for one. But John Fox loves rushers, and even after spending $39 million in free agency on Pernell McPhee, Beasley is the best value for the rush-starved Bears.
Alvin "Bud" Dupree, DE/OLB, Kentucky.
Mark my words: Dupree’s getting picked higher than draftniks think. And if there’s one regret Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff has after last season, it’s that he didn’t go out and buy or draft a premier rusher last year. He won’t get fooled again.
9. NEW YORK GIANTS
Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa.
Pretty easy pick, though I have no idea if this is GM Jerry Reese’s man. G-Men need the line to be fortified, and Scherff is the best offensive lineman on everyone’s board. Don’t think too hard here, Jerry.
Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri.
*Trade: In exchange for the No. 5 pick, St. Louis sends Washington the 10th and 72nd.
Good first move for McCloughan, if he can gather another pick while nabbing a pass-rusher in the process to replace Brian Orakpo.
Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State.
Coach Mike Zimmer is not telegraphing his wants too much; he was at UConn cornerback Byron Jones’ workout Tuesday in Storrs, Conn. Jones would be a fallback if Waynes gets taken in the top 10.
D.J. Humphries, OT/OG, Florida.
It’s a meat-and-potatoes pick for GM Ray Farmer, taking the second-best tackle prospect on many boards.
13. NEW ORLEANS
Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska.
Saints will have this sign on their draft table in Chicago on April 30: MAKE US AN OFFER. WE WANT MORE PICKS. LOTS OF THEM. Failing a big offer with some good cornerbacks and rushers on the board, and satisfied that Gregory does not have a case of the munchies, GM Mickey Loomis makes defensive coordinator Rob Ryan a happy man.
DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville.
An obvious need. Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey prays Parker will be on the board at 14.
15. SAN FRANCISCO
Marcus Peters, CB, Washington.
Had his share of off-field problems in Seattle, but the Niners are used to dealing with those. Chris Culliver-for-Peters is a very good off-season deal for new coach Jim Tomsula.
Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest.
Texans spent big on Kareem Jackson last month at corner, and they certainly could go receiver here. Tough call. Johnson is very pro-ready.
17. SAN DIEGO
Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford.
GM Tom Telesco could go lots of ways here. Easy to pick a receiver, a corner, a rusher, or the best back in the draft. But Telesco learned about fortifying lines from Bill Polian. Just a hunch he’ll do that to give Philip Rivers a fighting chance in 2015, grabbing a player ready to play early from a pro-style scheme.
18. KANSAS CITY
Breshad Perriman, WR, Central Florida.
Wouldn’t be shocked to see him go as high as 13 or 14, especially after running two sub-4.3 40s at his pro day. He's getting tons of love in the scouting community. Chiefs will hope he’s not Stephen Hill.
Danny Shelton, NT, Washington.
He’s getting dinged by a few scouts for his inconsistency recently, and he’s likely just a two-down player. But at his peak, he could be a Vince Wilfork, and the Browns need some defensive beef.
Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State.
Jordan Matthews: 6-3, 212. Jaelen Strong: 6-2 ½, 219. Chip Kelly then fills in the receiver slots with some Riley Coopers and Miles Austins.
Landon Collins, SS, Alabama.
Have thought all along Cincinnati would take the best offensive lineman here, and it’s certainly possible. But at the combine, Bengals folk were very high on Collins.
Jalen Collins, CB, LSU.
I guess the Steelers could take something other than a corner in the first round. But it wouldn’t be a good pick.
Cameron Erving, C, Florida State.
“Second-best offensive lineman in the draft, to Scherff," was the word in Phoenix from one GM. He’ll be a steal for someone if he gets past 20. Lions had awful center play last year, then cut Dominic Raiola. Big need position for Detroit.
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia.
Problems with this pick: Gurley is only four months out from knee reconstruction; it’s likely he won’t be at full strength to start the 2015 season … The Cards like Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska, and know they can get him down the line … The Cards might be able to get—might—Adrian Peterson at a discount if the Vikings get desperate. So I wouldn’t write this pick with a pen.
Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami.
The Panthers have a few needs, but the one at tackle cries out for an instant fix.
Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin.
I have never been one for common wisdom when it comes to predicting the Ravens. Nor has Ozzie Newsome, who must be focusing on corners and receivers. But Gordon dropping this far, even with found money Justin Forsett in the fold, cannot be ignored.
Jordan Phillips, NT, Oklahoma.
Cowboys have needs all over the front seven, and Phillips is the best big body available.
La’el Collins, OT, LSU.
Good value for the spot, but I think GM John Elway would have preferred the value and need pick of Cameron Erving here. Could Elway be persuaded to trade ahead of Detroit for Erving?
*29. ST. LOUIS
T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh.
*Trade: In exchange for the 29th pick, Indianapolis gets the 41st and 119th picks.
The Rams have done their share of compiling picks during the Les Snead regime. Now it’s time to spend one to address a very leaky line, especially after Jake Long was released and St. Louis let Joe Barksdale test the market (he hasn’t left yet, but he could). Teams will be sniffing around the end of the first round for the remnants of the tackle and receiver markets.
30. GREEN BAY
Denzel Perryman, MLB/ILB, Miami (Fla.)
Could the Packers get their desperately needed plugger linebacker in the second round? To be sure. They might even be able to get the 5-11, 236-pound Perryman there. But the Pack loves Perryman, and Ted Thompson’s never been afraid to take a shot on a player others don’t value as highly.
Byron Jones, CB, UConn.
*Trade: In exchange for the 31st pick, New Orleans gets the 39th, 106th and 192nd picks.
Shot in the dark. The clues: Bears were 30th in the NFL against the pass last year; Bear corners are ancient; new GM Ryan Pace comes from Mickey Loomis’ classroom in New Orleans. And Pace knows the Patriots love UConn players, and had a contingent Tuesday at Husky Pro Day, where Jones ran 4.38 and 4.44.
32. NEW ENGLAND
Eddie Goldman, NT, Florida State.
So long, Vince. Hello, Eddie.
* * *
Now onto your email...
DO AWAY WITH 18-YARD FIELD GOALS. So under one proposed rule change, you’ll be able to get three points from up to 14 yards closer in than you can get one point? That seems odd, at best. Why not also add a rule that says, ‘On any fourth down inside the 25-yard line, the offensive team will have the option of the ball being moved back to the 25 to kick a field goal or go for a first down/touchdown.’ Eliminating chip-shot FGs that teams settle for—and sometimes seem to aspire to—will do far more to make the game exciting than tinkering with the PAT.
I don't agree. Look, there are going to be parts of this rule that seem uneven. But at the base of this entire discussion is the simple concept of trying to make the PAT a more competitive play. Some people want to make the play more competitive; some people are comfortable with a play that is successful 99.6% of the time. Opinions are what makes the sports world go ’round.
GOAL-LINE ABSURDITY. Please raise the absurdity of not only not implementing goal-line cameras, but also inviting more goal-line plays. I like the idea of the proposed new extra-point rule, but to do that and also not implement the goal-line camera proposal the Patriots so badly want is a bad look for the NFL.
Totally agreed. And I believe that by either 2015 or 2016, goal-line cameras will be put in place to make the close plays at the goal line easier to call. I’ve heard from quite a few people about this, and I’m glad to see so many of you agree that this is long overdue.
PATs IN VARIOUS CONDITIONS. Regarding the PAT rule changes, is there any disagreement/tension among warm weather/dome teams and cold weather franchises with outdoor stadiums? A 34-yard PAT is only mildly dramatic inside, say, Lucas Oil Stadium. But at Heinz Field on a cold and windy December day? Or at Gillette Stadium for a playoff game?
That’s a very good point. In fact, the co-chair of the competition committee, Rams coach Jeff Fisher, doesn’t want to change the rule for exactly that reason. Let’s use your example: The Colts are playing Houston for the division championship in Week 17 next year at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the game is won on that 33-yard extra point that you referred to. In Heinz Field meanwhile, also in Week 17, the final extra point in the Steelers-Ravens game was missed, leading to a loss by that team. So I guess I would ask you, how can you tell which team in Indianapolis is going to line up to make the chip shot and which team in Pittsburgh is going to line up to miss the chip shot? Just because the weather is going to impact the game in one city and not impact the game in the other city, how do you know at the end of a game which team is going to line up for a kick with the game on the line? I have no argument with those who believe that weather may have a big impact on some of these kicks late in the season. That’s football.
I repeat my problem with the extra point in general as it exists right now: In the past two years, 14 extra points have been missed in 512 football games. I continue to stress this in what I write and I know many of you are getting tired of it, but I just don’t understand the desire by so many—I’m not saying you in particular, Stan, because I don’t know how you feel about this—to want to hang on to something they feel is a traditional, cool part of the game and they don’t want to see go away. It’s insane.
TEXTING VS. TALKING. I'm confused. Why is it a punishable rules infraction for the GM of the Cleveland Browns to communicate with the sideline by sending text messages from his advantageous seating position, but when the GM of the Dallas Cowboys leaves his advantageous seating position to chat personally with his coach and quarterback on the sideline, it's just Jerry being Jerry?
It is not against the rules for the owner of a team to have a conversation with a coach or a player on the sidelines. The reason why texting coaches is prohibited is because team officials in the press box can see or hear things from opposing team officials or can talk on the phone with people outside the stadium who have inside information on the game being played. And that information is not something the NFL believes should be shared. In other words, once you begin to allow text communications to and from coaches in the coaching booth or on the sidelines, where would that stop? How would you be able to stop coaches from texting people outside their teams for advice on how to make a play or how to stop a team that they’re playing in this particular game?
I understand your point about the fact that Jerry Jones could be garnering information from the outside world as well that could affect in-game strategy. But as long as it is not done electronically, I don’t see any way you can police or prohibit an owner from talking to his team during a game—the same way that you can’t prohibit a general manager from talking to his team during a game. Texting, however, can lead to more unintended consequences.
GREGORY WILL DROP. You mentioned Nebraska pass-rusher Randy Gregory in your quotes of the week section but didn't elaborate much. Do you believe he will fall in the draft for testing positive for marijuana? I have heard both arguments on various sports-talk shows. What are your thoughts?
I think it is likely that Gregory will be drafted later than if he had not tested positive at the combine. But with four weeks to go before the draft, I believe much of that is in his hands. Reportedly, he tested positive for marijuana twice while in college, as well as the one time in February. I don’t know the off-field testing history of any of the other pass rushers in this draft, but if the other premiere rushers are clean and Gregory has this on his record, it’s logical to think he will drop. Logical, and pretty sensible from a football perspective because it’s just one more thing to worry about if you draft Gregory.
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