NFL Mock Draft: Projecting top 10
Not all eyes were on the playoff race in Week 17. The 2015 draft order also sorted itself out, at least for those teams whose seasons ended on Sunday.
Our latest look at how the top 10 might shake out (you can find the full draft order for non-playoff teams here), now that we know which teams will be first on the clock ...
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-14): Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
It will take something rather significant here -- the Bucs trading for Jay Cutler, Mariota returning to school, etc. -- for this connection to be bypassed. Tampa Bay has no choice but to attempt a quarterback upgrade this offseason, and Mariota brings very few worries to the table.
A lot can and will change in the next four months. This may not.
2. Tennessee Titans (2-14): Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska
Here's why this pick is Gregory over Leonard Williams: the Titans' pass rush is a nightmare. Williams could help in that regard by creating a push up the middle or drawing attention to free up teammates, but there still would be no one capable of finishing the job outside. Starting with Jurrell Casey, Tennessee has some talent up front. It needs more off the edge.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13): Leonard Williams, DT, USC
A guy of Williams' ability is only going to slip so far, provided he keeps it together over the next few months. Here, he lands in a Gus Bradley defense that could use another game-changing talent in its rotation. Williams can move around in three- and four-man fronts, leaving plenty of options available for Bradley, who already has Sen'Derrick Marks, Roy Miller and Chris Clemons up front.
4. Oakland Raiders (3-13): Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
For Derek Carr to take a Year 2 step from promising QB to legitimate franchise-level option, he needs more help. While James Jones finished 2014 with a career-high in receptions and TE Mychal Rivera emerged, the clear need for a true No. 1 receiver remains present. Cooper has what it takes to fit the bill.
5. Washington Redskins (4-12): Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
Too high? Maybe. There are several offensive linemen with Round 1 potential in this class, though the jury is still out on how high any of them can climb. The mauling Scherff not only is the safest, most NFL-ready bet, but also projects well at either right tackle or guard and might even be able to stay at left tackle in a pinch.
6. New York Jets (4-12): Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson
Another spot where it gets very interesting, for one obvious reason: Jameis Winston. He will generate one of the more divisive long-term discussions the draft process has seen in a long time. The physical tools are there, as are the on-field leadership and ability to excel under pressure. What about the numerous interceptions this season, though? Or, perhaps a more pressing question, how will he adjust to the NFL after a rocky college career? Fair or not, Johnny Manziel's rookie shenanigans could hurt Winston's case.
So where might the Jets turn if they skip on a QB here? Other than perhaps wide receiver, depending on Percy Harvin's status, just about everything's on the table. With or without Rex Ryan, however, they need a pass-rusher to complement Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson inside. Beasley is a dynamo.
7. Chicago Bears (5-11): Landon Collins, S, Alabama
Have avoided this selection for Chicago in the past couple of mocks because A) Collins would be at least a slight reach here; and B) the real value can be found at other positions, like those plentiful DE/OLB types. The flip side of the argument is that Collins definitely warrants high-Round 1 consideration and the Bears are in dire need at this position.
8. Atlanta Falcons (6-10): Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri
Had the Falcons not just spent last year's first-round pick on OT Jake Matthews, I'd say the O-line is where their draft search should start. Even with Matthews in the fold, the Falcons may not mind doubling down. Injuries have hammered that line this season, and Sunday's showing against Carolina was yet another reminder that Matt Ryan is not well-enough protected.
Should the Falcons opt to look elsewhere, they, like the Titans, will do what they can to add some pass-rushing punch. In Ray, they land an extremely quick DE/OLB hybrid, capable of being a three-down player in the NFL.
9. New York Giants (6-10): Shaq Thompson, LB
The Giants showed at least a little bit of life down the stretch, though the real reason for optimism still stands in the form of Odell Beckham Jr. He and Eli Manning were lights-out over the second half of the season, forming a building block for 2015, should Manning return. The most logical choice might be to help Manning with another talented lineman -- La'el Collins, Ronnie Stanley and Cedric Ogbuehi are among the players that might be available.
Instead, at least for now, let's pencil the Giants in for an impact guy on defense. Thompson is an exciting prospect who can sit in coverage, chase down the football, blitz or even handle some carries if he's called upon to do so. New York has had to use a patchwork linebacking corps the past couple of seasons. Thompson would count as a solid step in the right direction.
10. St. Louis Rams (6-10): Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
The Rams have played well at times with Shaun Hill at the helm. They also have youngster Austin Davis and have talked about bringing back Sam Bradford next season. Would any of those options really leave St. Louis fans feeling comfortable heading into 2015?
Maybe the addition of Winston does not cross that bridge, either. Of course, he also could be the missing piece for a promising team that has a ton of talent on both sides of the ball.