All the hype turns into reality tonight in Chicago. After three months of fact-finding, this is my best shot at predicting an utterly unpredictable first round
CHICAGO — It’s been four months since the college football season ended. In that time, Jameis Winston explained the crab leg heist to a befuddled Jim Harbaugh, Jon Gruden really, really liked just about every prospect available, and Chip Kelly became the evil genius of the 2015 draft before it even started.
The hyperbole of draft week is all around us…
Boom or bust.
high floor, low ceiling.
so-and-so loves Mariota.
what’s-his-name is a sure thing.
In the interest of ditching the clichés, let’s focus on what we know. The Buccaneers will take Jameis Winston. There will probably be at least one trade in the top 10. None of my first-round picks beyond 20 will happen (and that’s being generous). And for my money, there will be a running back taken in the first 17 picks. That running back, of course, is Todd Gurley. Word is, the Georgia junior with the surgically repaired knee is a priority for the Dolphins at 14, provided Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker is no longer available. If he is, Gurley falls no farther than 17, to the Chargers.
That’s the skinny from three league sources with insight into Miami’s draft plans, which would buck a two-year NFL draft trend of running backs being unworthy of prime time.
Beyond that, the other sticking point of my mock draft is the notion that La'el Collins will merely slip out of the top 10 to 18 as a result of his ex-girlfriend’s murder. The crime was horrific, but Collins is not a suspect, and he’s telling teams that the child who survived the pregnancy is not his.
Add Winston and Mariota to the Gurley-Collins stew, and don’t forget the two marijuana bustees—Randy Gregory and Shane Ray—and you have the most unpredictable first round I can remember.
Style note: Projected trades are indicated by an asterisk.
1. Tampa Bay: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
According to one team picking outside the top 10, Winston is the second-best quarterback prospect of the last five years (behind only Andrew Luck). I’m not sure if the teams at the top of the draft feel the same way, but in this league it’s easy to talk yourself into a quarterback when the physical tools are present. An overall impression from talking to teams about Winston: Many evaluators are satisfied with his explanation in regards to the rape accusation from 2012, and that the various lesser missteps are a product of immaturity as opposed to malice. Sad to say, but I think the NFL scouting collective has done a more thorough investigation of Winston than the Tallahassee Police Department ever intended to do.
2. Tennessee: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
In the event that neither Cleveland nor Philadelphia offer up the right package of picks for this spot, the Titans take Mariota and roll the dice with a project at QB. First, the cynical view: Mariota, if he plays early and plays halfway decent football, saves the jobs of general manager Ruston Webster and Ken Whisenhunt. In another vein, if Whisenhunt and Webster are intent on rolling with Zach Mettenberger instead of Mariota, ownership could step in and draft the passer as a pseudo-marketing move. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s ever happened. The non-cynical view: Whisenhunt thinks he can implement a spread and sees Mariota as the best quarterback available for the next two drafts, which is just about as far down the road as he’ll allow himself to look.
3. *Atlanta: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida
Acquired from Jacksonville
Dante Fowler said in April that he would be stunned if Jaguars coach Gus Bradley passed on him at No. 3. But Gus and David Caldwell do just that, understanding there will be a capable edge rusher at 8 and gaining some capital in next year’s draft. Atlanta’s lack of a pass rusher is perhaps the most glaring non-quarterback need for any team in the draft (Kroy Biermann led the team with 4.5 sacks last year). Quinn gets his former Florida pupil, Fowler, who he sees as a defensive cornerstone to build around in his first draft as head coach.
4. Oakland: Leonard Williams, DT, USC
I’d expect defensive-minded new coach Jack Del Rio to get his way here, adding a lineman who will immediately take pressure off Khalil Mack, allowing the run-stuffing OLB an opportunity to get after the quarterback. Williams isn’t a stellar pass rusher, but he’s a big body with great hands and will have an immediate impact on a depleted defense. The Raiders could go wide receiver here, and you couldn’t blame them for wanting to give second-year QB Derek Carr some ammunition. Adding an Amari Cooper or Kevin White would make a lot of sense at 4.
5. Washington: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
New general manager Scot McCloughan is all about speed off the edge—see: Manny Lawson (San Francisco) and Bruce Irvin (Seattle)—and Washington is seriously lacking in both speed and production at the position. Beasley fits the mold and would make the most sense as a replacement for Brian Orakpo. This is not a pick they’ll overthink.
6. *Cleveland: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Acquired from N.Y. Jets
Wait, Amari Cooper is still on the board? The Browns are so excited that Ray Farmer trips over the landline and tears the cord from the wall. Just in time, they execute a trade with the Jets, giving up the 12th pick and their second-rounder for the right to draft Cooper, who had no business falling this far but for a run on defensive linemen. Cleveland is unable to pull off the deal for Mariota at 2, but they get the player many consider the only sure thing in this draft.
7. Chicago: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
This team needs a ton of help on defense, but Kevin White is the best available player and a solution to a problem at wide receiver with the departure of Brandon Marshall. White enters a sink-or-swim environment with Jay Cutler fighting for his football life. I think he’s up for the challenge.
8. *Jacksonville: Bud Dupree, OLB, Kentucky
Trade down with Atlanta
Nice pick-up for Jacksonville. They get the last remaining pass rusher in a 50-mile radius who hasn’t tested positive for marijuana in the last couple months. The gamble of trading back works out for Bradley.
9. N.Y. Giants: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
Can he play every down? That’s still a question mark, but Shelton has a chance to be a difference maker on a once-celebrated defensive line that lacks an interior presence. The Giants have equally desperate needs at offensive tackle and safety, but Shelton is the right amount of talent at this price.
10. St. Louis: Andrus Peat, T, Stanford
A strong run blocker with the potential to develop into a polished left tackle, Peat is a top-10 talent with some questions concerning his passion for the sport. His strong suits mirror coach Jeff Fisher’s run-first game plan as the Rams try to figure out whether they have a QB in Nick Foles.
11. Minnesota: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
As we get closer to zero hour, the chances for the rumored Adrian Peterson trade get slimmer and it becomes less likely the Vikes target Todd Gurley at 11. That leaves Rick Spielman to address the other glaring need in Minnesota.
12. *N.Y. Jets: Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami
Trade down with Cleveland
The Jets consider Todd Gurley here but resolve to shore up the offensive line with a tackle who can stonewall most rushers.
13. New Orleans: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
The desire to replace tight end Jimmy Graham with another receiving option leads New Orleans to Parker, the third receiver off the board. He’s 6-3 with room to add weight, and undervalued after an injury-shortened college season.
14. Miami: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Just imagine how much higher he could’ve gone without the busted knee. To be clear: I don’t recommend this pick for the Dolphins. Miami has tolerated a patchwork offensive line for too long, and Gurley will do nothing to mitigate those failures. But hey, this is what I’m hearing.
15. San Francisco: Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon
A 3-4 defensive end who can even play some outside linebacker is just what coach Jim Tomsula ordered as he rebuilds the 49ers in the NFC West.
16. Houston: Breshad Perriman, WR, Central Florida
I don’t like the pick, but I’m convinced the Texans will go wide receiver.
17. San Diego: Brandon Scherff, G/OT, Iowa
Some think he is a top-10 pick, so Tom Telesco is excited to get a guy who projects best as a guard and can hang clean 443 pounds, which is slightly scary.
18. Kansas City: La'el Collins, OT/G, LSU
This is a wild guess. Collins left Chicago to speak to police about the recent shooting death of his pregnant ex-girlfriend, which the child survived (Collins is not a suspect). We’re hours from the draft and teams are scrambling for information on the LSU mauler’s relationship with the woman. Here’s what Collins is telling teams: He’s not the father. Nevertheless, a top-10 talent falls to the Chiefs, who need a tackle.
19. Cleveland: Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon
After grabbing Amari Cooper, the Browns continue to make things easier on whomever plays quarterback next fall (Josh McCown?) by drafting Fisher. He’s a converted tight end and still raw, so the team that drafts him must be able to accommodate the learning process.
20. Philadelphia: Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami
The guards are gone, and so are the defensive ends. Dorsett’s top-end speed should draw some attention away from what will be a formidable running game.
21. Cincinnati: Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
Geno Atkins wasn’t 100% last year as he worked his way back from a knee injury. Brown would take some pressure of the pressure off the veteran.
22. Pittsburgh: Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest
A four-year starter at Wake, Johnson fits the mold in Mike Tomlin’s culture. With Ike Taylor retiring, Johnson has the potential to be a starter from day one.
23. Detroit: Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
Peters, who was dismissed from the Washington football program for making life hell for an assistant coach, is a top 10-talent and a potential steal at 23. He’s better than starter Darius Slay right now.
24. Arizona: Cameron Erving, C, Florida State
A center in the first round has to be a special player; Erving is special enough as a run blocker to appeal to Steve Kiem and warrant the pick.
25. Carolina: Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri
Pairing Green Beckham with Kelvin Benjamin is a potentially explosive venture. What defensive backfield is prepared for two 6-5 wideouts who can motor?
26. Baltimore: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
I don’t agree with Gordon sneaking into the first round, but I think the Ravens see an improved running game as a key to success in 2015. Gordon can pair with Justin Forsett for now and be the feature back of the future.
27. Dallas: Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Dallas takes a chance on a guy who was a projected top-10 pick before he was busted driving with marijuana earlier this week—the week of the draft.
28. Denver: Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
He’s the kind of road-block the post-Peyton Manning Broncos will look to build around whenever No. 18 calls it quits (or Denver quits him) and the team turns to a defense-first mentality.
29. Indianapolis: Eli Harold, OLB, Virginia
Lean and fast, Harold will thrive in a 3-4 with the right responsibilities.
30. Green Bay: Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut
A character and need fit, Jones winds up a first-rounder only after Waynes, Peters and Johnson are off the board.
31. New Orleans: Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami
Rob Ryan’s 3-4 needs an inside linebacker, and Perryman is the best in the draft. The Saints could also go with TCU’s Paul Dawson here.
32. New England: Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska
This guy’s rumored issues are becoming the stuff of legend, and only a coach like Belichick would take the risk at this point. Of note: Three prospects with major character concerns—La’el Collins, Randy Gregory and PJ Williams (DUI)—are all represented by the same agent, Deryk Gilmore. Busy week for that man.
Better know a prospect
Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams was a potential first-round pick before his pre-draft DUI charge and subsequent dismissal of the charges (he doesn’t deny drinking on the night in question). The defensive MVP of the national championship game as a sophomore boasts a 4.45 40 and a 41-inch vertical.
The MMQB: How did you choose FSU?
Williams: I grew up a Florida State fan, and it was a dream for me to play there. That was my first offer, and I committed the summer before my junior year. Playing time wasn’t a factor. I felt I could come in and compete with anybody.
The MMQB: What has surprised you about the pre-draft process?
Williams: That’s its just a nonstop process. Being busy 24/7. Going through all the meetings and different physicals was definitely a surprise for me.
The MMQB: Will you be disappointed if you slip in the draft as a result of your DUI?
Williams: I wouldn’t be disappointed, Wherever I go I’ll be happy, and I know I’ll live up to my own standards, earn as much money as I can and work to be labeled one of the best defensive backs in the country.
Quote of the Week
“Not all of them are going to make that mark, but they are going to be held accountable for it when they don't, and when they don't, there will be consequences for it. If you continue to make those mistakes, you won't be in the league very long.”
—Roger Goodell, to USA TODAY's Christine Brennan, on the good citizenship expected of rookies.
Stat of the Week
Will the game tape save TCU linebacker Paul Dawson? Despite a weak combine showing, he is considered the second-best linebacker in this draft by the nerds at Pro Football Focus: “His 23.2 Run Stop Percentage was the best in the country… the next being a paltry 14.8%.”
Scorching Hot Take of the Week
My hypocrisy knows no bounds...
The only thing sillier than mock drafts are post-draft team grades.
— Robert Klemko (@RobertKlemko) April 24, 2015
And your Sober Take of the Week...
With 48 hours to go before the start of the draft, the NFL is now a misinformation superhighway.
— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) April 29, 2015
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