Around this same time last season, it appeared as if we were headed toward three or four quarterbacks being selected in the top 10 ... and Blake Bortles, the only QB who actually wound up reaching that height in the 2014 draft, was not even really among that group yet.
In other words, the picture is a long way from coming into focus. As of early November, what we do have is a better idea for how NFL teams may need to improve this offseason and which 2015 draft hopefuls are starting to emerge as legitimate impact prospects.
The draft order for Mock 1.0 comes from NFL.com, based on records entering Week 10 and overall strength of schedule (the latter used as a tiebreaker).
The Oakland Raiders are on the clock ...
NFL offenses continue to operate at a faster and faster clip, featuring increasingly versatile players. So why shouldn't defenses counter in kind?
Gregory may be similar to current Raiders rookie standout Khalil Mack, but ... well, check out this film of Gregory vs. Miami, for example. (Hat tip to the always useful Draft Breakdown.) Nebraska lines him up at RE in a 4-3, then flips him to the left side. He uses a two-point stance, a three-point stance, drops back essentially as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 configurations -- he can blitz or play coverage from there.
If I'm a head coach or defensive coordinator, just hand me Gregory and Mack and I'll worry about how to align them later. As far as disruptive talents for the front seven, there is not a more all-encompassing option than Gregory in this class.
Heading into this week's game at Utah, Mariota is completing 76.5 percent of his passes when blitzed, according to ESPN's Ted Miller. That's a remarkable success rate, one which speaks to Mariota's ability to readjust his feet when pressured while keeping his eyes downfield. Oh, and he'll burn a defense on the ground when the opportunities are there, too (85 yards and two TDs rushing vs. Stanford last week).
The knocks on Mariota will include his accuracy and his ability to transition from Oregon's spread attack to the NFL. Only the former criticism holds water, in my opinion. Mariota's decision-making is outstanding -- that won't change if pressed into more of a pro-style system (and the team that drafts him ought to be capable of opening its playbook up anyway). He does, on occasion, miss some throws he should make.
But not often. Even when he does, the results usually are incompletions rather than interceptions. Time to move away from the Geno Smith era in New York.
The Jaguars' defensive line has been one of their more pleasant stories this season. May as well keep adding there, especially with so many young pieces in place on offense. Gus Bradley definitely would not mind dropping in Williams up front. The imposing 6-foot-5, 300-pound lineman has shown he can thrive while moving around up front, meaning Bradley could mix and match fronts and still draw production from Williams.
Winston is an incredible talent at quarterback. Can he be trusted with all that's expected of a "franchise quarterback"? Teams eyeing the former Heisman winner have about six months to figure out the answer.
Should Lovie Smith and GM Jason Licht decide that Winston has matured (and assuming Mariota is off the board), passing on him here would be extremely difficult. Off the field, Winston's behavior may be troublesome; on it, he has proven time and again to be an unwavering leader.
The Falcons have all of seven sacks this season, so finding some players capable of getting into the backfield is a must. With Gregory off the hypothetical board already, Beasley is the next best option. Beasley has eight sacks this season and 29 for his college career. His size (listed at 6-3, 235, probably smaller) is not exactly what the NFL wants in a DE/OLB hybrid, but he can play.
Oakman sits at the opposite end of the size spectrum, standing a monstrous 6-9 and 280. And he moves like a tight end. Again, a defense would be covered regardless of whether it rolls with a 3-4, 4-3 or a combo. Oakman can handle the edge in a four-man front or slide to a five-tech in a three-man look. There is a world of potential here.
Hands down the best prospect at the safety position lands with a team in desperate need of help there. Eric Berry was the lone top-10 safety selection in the past six drafts; before that, Washington nabbed LaRon Landry at No. 7 overall. Collins is worthy of the honor because of how well he plays both the run and the pass. Swapping out Ryan Clark for Collins would count as a massive upgrade.
We're not going to keep having the size argument, are we? No, 6-1, 228 does not fit the prototype for a linebacker. Of course, Lavonte David checked in at 6-1, 233 back at his combine -- pretty sure he would go before the No. 58 pick if teams had another shot. The Bears need playmakers in their linebacking corps. Be it at safety, linebacker or even running back, Thompson has established a reputation as a gifted athlete.
In Greg Robinson, the Rams landed a potentially dominant run blocker who can slot in at guard or tackle. And in Scherff, they would get ... a potentially dominant run blocker who can slot in at guard or tackle. St. Louis still has a bunch of viable backs. Time to start building from the inside out.
There are several talented edge-rushers on the board, should the Giants either lose Jason Pierre-Paul to free agency or simply want more depth. There's also a boatload of WR talent -- remember, Victor Cruz will be coming back from his major knee injury. The pick, though, is Ogbuehi, No. 1 on our Big Board headed into the year and a nimble-footed tackle with experience on either side. Current starting LT Will Beatty is a potential cap casualty as he's set to cost more than $8 million next year.
At the risk of opening the door to Matt Millen jokes, the Panthers double down at WR, after using their 2014 first-rounder on Kelvin Benjamin. Plain and simple, they need much more help for Benjamin out wide. True, they also need multiple upgrades along the O-line, but this is a best-player-available case -- Cooper can be an NFL No. 1 and would give Carolina a reliable top option to pair with Benjamin's boom-or-bust game.
Dan Skuta and particularly Aaron Lynch have provided a nice pass-rushing boost for San Francisco in Aldon Smith's absence. Another threat wouldn't hurt, with Smith's 49ers future murky at best -- the team did pick up his 2015 option, but how much can they trust him at this point? Oh, and Ray recently broke Smith's Missouri record (shared with Michael Sam) for single-season sacks. Ray flies off the line.
Easily could flip-flop this pick with the Cooper one, given the needs in Carolina and Minnesota. (Here, Cordarrelle Patterson seems far less a No. 1 receiver than an electrifying complement, while Greg Jennings will be 32 years old in September and is making $9 million per season.) Saving that, the Vikings have to fix their offensive line. Collins a full-effort grinder who excels in the run game.
Assuming Ryan Mallett does not light the world afire, the Texans have to find Bill O'Brien a quarterback. Cook comes with some rough spots, mainly of the "gunslinger" variety -- i.e. he trusts his arm over making good reads at times. He also stands 6-4, carries a strong arm and frequently attacks defenses downfield. Cook has said he plans to return for his senior season. We'll see if he still feels that way in a couple months.
The prospect of Gordon on one side, Funchess on the other and Andrew Hawkins slicing through the slot should excite Browns fans. Funchess' background as a tight end-turned-receiver also would aid Cleveland's options should Jordan Cameron's concussion issues linger. Funchess (6-5, 230) keeps progressing as a WR and has produced despite Michigan's miserable QB situation.
There could be a few moving parts in Miami's linebacking corps this offseason: Dannell Ellerbe's probably headed out the door and Philip Wheeler could be, too. Steady MLB Koa Misi and promising youngsters Jelani Jenkins and Jordan Tripp should be back. A three-man group with Misi in the middle, Jenkins showing his range on the weakside and McKinney bringing the strongside hammer would be potent behind Miami's dominant front.
This isn’t the sexiest pick, but Shelton is one of my favorite prospects in this class. Guys who stand 6-1, 320-plus and still can dance around along the interior do not come along often. With B.J. Raji's Green Bay career very much in doubt, the Packers could use another big body up front.
(Pick via Buffalo) Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz remains the weak link on Cleveland's line -- at least when C Alex Mack is healthy. The 2014 selection of Joel Bitonio was an absolute gem for Cleveland. Bringing in the tantalizing talents of an athletic 6-7 tackle like Peat would help erase any lingering headaches.
Peters was dismissed from the Huskies' program this week, so obviously we'll have to keep an eye on how he handles that setback. The interview process before the draft will be key for him. If he can pull himself together, there might not be a better cornerback prospect in this draft. San Diego could lose Brandon Flowers in free agency and it already has seen how much a lack of CB depth can hurt.
This is on pace to be a loaded draft class at running back. A lot of teams still will have trouble talking themselves into a Round 1 pick at the position. Their loss is Baltimore's gain in this Round 1 scenario. Gurley was No. 4 on the October Big Board and that is not overstating his skill. His power/vision/speed combo would make him an instant 1,000-yard threat in Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme.
Just Keenan Lewis and a bunch of guys at cornerback this season -- Patrick Robinson has been off-and-on horrendous and 2014 second-rounder Stanley Jean-Baptiste has played eight snaps. Ekpre-Olomu is undersized (5-10), which receivers have taken advantage of some in 2014. He's also really effective in finding and making plays on the football.
No two ways about it right now: Seattle's passing attack is in a rut. The Seahawks lost Golden Tate in the offseason, then traded away Percy Harvin, and they're struggling to find any aerial consistency as a result. Enter White, a wholly impressive 6-3 dynamo in the midst of a huge season. White uses that size in traffic and can pull away after the catch.
Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton is a huge proponent of man-to-man coverage. Few cornerbacks will reach the NFL as well-versed in that area as Waynes, the lead CB in Michigan State's aggressive, press scheme. Kansas City's secondary needs an influx of talent in the coming offseason.
The Bengals should draft a developmental quarterback at some point in the 2015 draft. Not here. Instead, they dip back into their philosophy of always having someone waiting in the wings. Bringing in someone like Calhoun, a dangerous threat off the edge, would give Cincinnati more flexibility with the likes of Wallace Gilberry and Robert Geathers -- both aging linemen set to be free agents after 2015.
"The Steelers need to draft a cornerback" is more or less an annual argument at this point. Perhaps 2015 will be the year. Williams would be a fine choice. He moves his feet well and will mix it up physically. Dick LeBeau’s zone-blitzing and off-man coverage looks would be an ideal fit for Williams' talents.
Opinions are mixed on the 6-0 linebacker, the anti-Perryman crowd wondering how well he can get off blocks or flip into coverage. Here's what I can say: Put Perryman downhill, flowing to the football and he will make plays. The Hurricanes' standout could be an ILB or OLB, depending on who else is around and the scheme. Either way, he makes his presence felt. The Cowboys need someone like this.
Tackle might not be an overwhelming need right now for the Colts -- they picked up Anthony Castonzo's 2015 option at $7.4 million and Gosder Cherilus is signed through 2017. Depth is another issue. Clemmings (6-6, 315) has bolstered his stock immensely this season, but still may need a year or two before he's ready for a starting gig at tackle. That's a perfect setup for the Colts, doubly so because Clemmings could provide help at guard if needed.
The Lions always seem to zig when you think they're going to zag at the draft. With at least one of the Ndamukong Suh-Nick Fairley tandem likely headed out this offseason, DT would be a natural fit ... so, we look elsewhere. Honestly, though, the Fowler pick checks off two boxes: 1) Martin Mayhew is a firm best-player-available drafter, and Fowler's pop off the edge gives him that nod here; 2) Detroit could use another sure-fire option at DE, where Ziggy Ansah is a budding star flanked by role players.
Landon Collins is about the only safety generating any substantial buzz thus far in the 2015 class. That won't last. Smith, who flirted with entering the 2014 draft, makes a few more mistakes than does Collins but is just as adept at shuffling between coverage and in-the-box play. Pairing him with Malcolm Jenkins would give the Eagles a pair of interchangeable, talented safeties.
Terrance Knighton may not be long for Denver -- his cheap two-year, $4.5 million deal expires after this season and the Broncos have guys like Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas waiting to be paid. Moving in Goldman for a departing Knighton would keep the Broncos defense right on track. The Seminoles' star could wind up in the top 20 before all is said and done, thanks to his powerful punch and quick reactions off the snap.
Would Bill Belichick gamble on a running back this early? Maybe not. If Gordon (or Ameer Abdullah) catches his fancy, though, this would be tough value to pass up. Not only is Gordon's decisive running style bound to make him an NFL playmaker, the Patriots could be even thinner at RB headed into next season than they are now -- both Shane Vereen and Steven Ridley are impending free agents. Oh, and the Patriots already have Gordon's former partner in crime, James White. Together they rushed for a ridiculous 3,363 yards in 2013.
The energy with which Kendricks tracks the football would make him a hit in Arizona, where Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles have crafted an aggressive defense built on blitzing. Kendricks can sit in coverage or run sideline to sideline; he's much more impactful when turned loose downhill.