College football bowl games start on Saturday. The East-West Shrine Game is less than a month away, with the Senior Bowl soon to follow.
In other words, we're bordering on draft season in the NFL.
The final two weeks of the regular season not only will finalize the playoff field, it could shake up the 2015 NFL draft outlook in significant fashion. Tampa Bay's hold on the No. 1 pick is delicate, relying on nothing more than strength of schedule for the moment. A move up to the top spot by Tennessee or Jacksonville or Oakland might alter the entire story.
Should everything hold as is, this is one way the draft could shake out ...
If the Buccaneers are as set on this pick as I was here, they'll have their card in before Roger Goodell finishes putting them on the clock. Mariota may not be the No. 1 overall prospect on everyone's board, but he's clearly the No. 1 quarterback in this class. That's the spot Tampa Bay must address first and foremost this offseason.
The Titans moved to a 3-4 scheme this season despite not having enough players who could, you know, play in a 3-4. Gregory would help continue the transition, while also instantly stepping in as this defense's top pass-rusher.
Gus Bradley and GM David Caldwell have put a lot of pieces in place up front: Chris Clemons and Red Bryant signed four-year deals last offseason; Sen'Derrick Marks and Roy Miller each signed extensions within the past 12 months. So where would Williams fit? Well, just about anywhere. He can start at five-tech, slide down to a three-tech spot or even plug room up front from a one-tech position.
A lot of different ways the Raiders could go here, as one might expect from a team that's struggled for so long. Cooper gets the nod for now because Oakland desperately needs to give Derek Carr a No.1 receiver, which in turn would open up some space for the other offensive weapons.
Detractors arguing against taking Scherff this high might say that he's better off at right tackle than left, or that his long-term home will be at guard. And ... so? Defenses feature more dynamic edge-rushers than ever, meaning more need for a standout RT. There also are several teams leaning on A-gap blitzes, putting pressure on guards. A potential All-Pro lineman, as Scherff is, would upgrade Washington no matter where he lines up.
The other shoe drops. There would be understandable angst among Jets fans with this one, given the apparent misfire on Geno Smith two years ago coupled with Winston's infamous off-field antics. The talent is unmistakable, however, even if Winston will have to become a better decision-maker (an all-compassing critique). He could be the franchise quarterback the Jets have been seeking.
The worst pass rush in the league (16 sacks in 14 games) welcomes in a tremendous playmaker. Beasley landed first-team All-America honors this season thanks to 11 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. Either in a 4-3 or 3-4 look, he can wreak havoc off the edge.
We're still waiting to hear if Peat will jump to the pros. If he does, a team like the Giants happily will nab him in Round 1. Listed at 6-foot-7 and 316 pounds, Peat moves exceptionally well. Dropping him in at either tackle spot would allow the Giants to push Justin Pugh inside, thereby improving the entire O-line.
The Bears would be ecstatic under these hypothetical conditions, what with Ray, Landon Collins and Shaq Thompson all still on the board -- a playmaker for each level of defense. Winning in the NFC North starts up front. Right now, the Bears have an aging Jared Allen, a strong rotational player in Willie Young and LaMarr Houston coming off a knee injury. Ray's incredible first-step would bring a welcome element.
Put Thompson on the weak-side with Anthony Barr on the strong-side, or pair them together in the nickel and few teams would be able to match the athleticism Minnesota would boast at linebacker. Thompson also boasts the added ability to shift to safety, slot corner or, yes, even running back should the situation call for it.
The slow-and-steady approach has Greg Robinson settling in at left tackle for St. Louis. Which leaves the Rams a standout right tackle away from legitimately anchoring their line. Enter Ogbuehi, who has been far more comfortable playing on that side. The upside is enormous here.
A quarterback would be super-duper but there's not a lot Houston can do at No. 13 if Mariota and Winston are gone and Connor Cook returns to school. Plan B may involve Cook's Michigan State teammate, Waynes. The Texans could use another playmaker there as it is, even before considering Kareem Jackson's potential departure via free agency. Waynes is a lanky (6-1), aggressive corner who could, in time, match up with opposing No. 1 receivers.
Josh Gordon, your help is on the way. The Browns need a complement to Gordon (or insurance should another Gordon suspension arrive). Parker is as safe a bet as there is at receiver, counting even Amari Cooper. His knack for attacking the football would be perfect for Johnny Manziel's no-fear approach when it comes to going deep.
Whether or not Justin Smith returns in 2015 -- he's been noncommittal about his future -- the 49ers have to find some more depth up front. The 6-9 Oakman needs quite a bit of seasoning, but guys with his size/athleticism combo don't grow on trees.
Perhaps the best aspect of McKinney's scouting report is that it is very difficult to pigeonhole him. He's big enough (6-5, 245) to project best as a 4-3 SAM linebacker, yet flows to the football effectively enough to handle weak-side or even MLB duties in the NFL.
Several options at receiver are still on the board ... which is why Kansas City waits until Round 2 to address that need. The offensive line is another spot the Chiefs must improve in 2015. The mauling Collins could take on either guard or tackle responsibilities. He might be a dominant player at the former spot.
Quick note: This is about the range I'd start looking at Notre Dame OT Ronnie Stanley, should he opt to turn pro. The redshirt sophomore has given no indication that he's going to do so, hence his absence from this mock.
(Pick via Buffalo) Ah, the joys of having multiple Round 1 picks. After picking up an immediate starter at receiver, the Browns add a bone-crushing thumper to their linebacking corps. Perryman, Christian Kirksey and Karlos Dansby would form a nice ILB group, with two young starters in place whenever the 33-year-old Dansby hits the road.
Anyone who watched Dez Bryant run roughshod on Philadelphia's secondary knows how badly this team needs a lock-down corner. Williams has the look of an effective NFL press-cover CB; he turns and runs as well as or better than anyone currently on the Eagles' depth chart.
New Orleans has Cameron Jordan, Junior Galette and then ... not much of anything else when it comes to intimidating pass-rushers. Fowler would turn that talented duo into a three-headed monster off the edge. He's very active when engaged, showing speed to turn the corner when he can.
Loyalty runs deep in Pittsburgh, but it's time to move on from the William Gay-Ike Taylor-anyone who is available plan at cornerback. Although Johnson has not received the press of other Round 1 options, he makes plays out of multiple coverage sets and drives down against the run.
Considered Devin Funchess here, mainly because of his dual WR/TE designation. Baltimore's offense has lost a ton of vertical explosiveness from the tight end spot with Dennis Pitta out. But at 23, White is almost too good to pass up. He would pair well with Joe Flacco, a QB who loves to wing it deep but needs another red-zone target.
Jerry Jones gets his pick from a plethora of D-line candidates. Goldman is the best of the bunch left, stout against the run and capable of notching a sack here and there. When he has been on this season, the Florida State DT has been dominant.
The Bengals are all about cultivating depth internally for when emerging players price themselves out of the plans. Between Calhoun and Margus Hunt, then, there would be a Plan B ready to go if Wallace Gilberry departs when his contract runs out after 2015. Calhoun can be a three-down end; he may work best initially for a team that can pick and choose pass-rushing spots for him, as Cincinnati could.
Everyone assumed Detroit would go cornerback early in the last few drafts. This year, expect to see a ton of mock drafts dropping a defensive tackle in Motown. The Lions may well go either direction, but the truth is that their O-line is in need of multiple starters. Sambrailo could be one at guard or tackle, a versatility that boosts his stock. Wild card here? Florida State tackle-turned-center Cameron Erving.
A first-round running back, taken here by the Colts to replace the running back for which they traded a first-round pick. With Andrew Luck at QB, it should not be difficult to find a reliable No. 1 back. Gordon could be a 1,200-yard guy out of the blocks.
Mike Daniels has been arguably the Packers' best defender this season. The rest of Green Bay's defensive front leaves something to be desired. Bennett has lined up in multiple spots for Ohio State, saving his best work for the stretch run (five sacks over the final five games).
Thanks to Russell Wilson's presence, the Seahawks' offense often is unlike any other in the NFL. Funchess, despite his unwelcome penchant for dropping catchable passes, would fit right into the diverse attack. Michigan found its most success getting the ball out to Funchess quickly and letting him break tackles. There's plenty of ability to get downfield for deep balls, though, and that 6-5 height screams for red-zone work.
The resurgence from DeMarcus Ware has helped key Denver's defensive success this season. He won't be around forever, and he and Von Miller could use a little help in the meantime. Dupree has eight sacks this season and 24 for his career. Those numbers would be even higher if Kentucky did not need him to do so many other things.
The 121 tackles Dawson has this season are no fluke -- he can find the football, quickly, sideline to sideline. Even if Larry Foote keeps chugging into 2015 (or Daryl Washington returns following a year-long suspension), the Cardinals are shy on meaningful linebacker depth. Dawson could give them that and then some. If Todd Bowles remains Arizona's defensive coordinator, his love of A-gap blitzes screams for a player with Dawson's quickness.
Not entirely convinced Gurley holds onto a Round 1 spot post-knee injury. If he does, bank on him landing with a team like New England -- one with other options at RB and the patience to wait for talent to emerge. The Patriots' 2014 Round 1 pick of Dominique Easley, off a similar knee injury, either offers proof of that statement or throws up a red flag given Easley's difficulty staying on the field. Even as he rehabs, it's extremely difficult to envision Gurley slipping from Round 1.