2015 NFL Mock Draft 3.0: Mariota stays at No. 1; Winston drops
There are just three football games left this season: the two conference championships and the Super Bowl. College football won't be back until early September.
The silver lining is that the NFL draft is about to step into the spotlight for the next several months. And with that in mind, it's time for our latest 2015 NFL Mock Draft:
A lot of minds are made up already on Mariota, for better or worse, and that may include some NFL front-office folks. Mariota's detractors no doubt noticed him putting the ball on the deck in Monday's title game (something he does too often) or overthrowing Evan Baylis on a third down to cost the Ducks a touchdown.
The pro-Mariota crowd will point to the number of plays that came from him moving the pocket, all while keeping his eyes downfield, as well as the times he made rapid work of his progressions.
The current scouting report lies somewhere in between, though certainly closer to the positive end of the spectrum. He remains the No. 1 pick here because of the near-complete package of pure talent coupled with his advancements as a passer and a leader.
One more note to remember here: Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich spent eight years as quarterbacks coach for the Bucs' new offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter. Tampa Bay will get a very detailed breakdown of Mariota's pros and cons.
If you have read any of our more recent mocks, a lot of the top-10 picks will look familiar. A pass-rusher remains one of Tennessee's glaring needs headed into the offseason, and Gregory's athleticism and versatility would provide just that. Gregory has drawn some mixed reviews himself, with Mel Kiper Jr. noting Gregory could "slide a bit."
Maybe, but the 22-year-old Cornhusker is just scratching the surface on his potential. Once he refines his game, he could be close to unstoppable.
One of the main reasons Ndamukong Suh is on the verge of a massive, perhaps record-setting deal is that dominant interior defensive linemen are rather rare. Williams could join 2014 draft pick Aaron Donald in wasting no time joining the NFL's elite at that position. Better yet, Williams can line up at a number of spots, so Gus Bradley would maintain his desired flexibility up front.
It's tough to narrow down the options Oakland may have, three months away from the draft. Aside from trying to trade back, the two likeliest should be: 1.) Nabbing whichever prospect sits atop their board at receiver; or 2.) Continuing to stockpile young defensive talent by drafting an edge-rusher. Cooper remains the pick at this spot for the time being, thanks to his immediate plug-and-play potential.
In a draft class swimming with pass-rushing talent, Washington could nab one of the better prospects, particularly if Brian Orakpo's D.C. days are done. Scherff is the choice at No. 5 instead due to Washington's dire need along a porous offensive line. The Iowa mauler might be best off at right tackle or guard, but he could provide help anywhere outside of center.
Reaching for need is one of the surest ways to screw up a draft pick, so perhaps the Bears should look elsewhere if they do not feel Collins is worthy of a top-10 pick. It says here, though, that he is. Not only can he cover, Collins flies downhill against the run, which was a real trouble spot for Chicago's 2014 defense.
Another defense-starved team that absolutely must add some playmakers before the 2015 campaign begins. Atlanta's situation is even more problematic because Osi Umenyiora, Kroy Biermann and Sean Weatherspoon are impending free agents. Ray can flip between 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, and he has the potential to be this draft's premier pass-rusher.
NFL offenses continue to diversify, spreading the field to get more athletes involved. The transition has put even more of a premium on defenders who can handle a multitude of roles. Enter Thompson, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound talent with three-down potential, be it as a linebacker or safety. New York needs all the energy it can get on defense.
Winston could be the No. 1 pick, assuming he avoids any further off-field slip-ups between now and late April. He also could slide deeper down Round 1 or even into Round 2 if enough QB-needy teams decide he's not worth the trouble. For as talented as he and Mariota are, there are limited first-round landing spots at quarterback: Tampa Bay, Tennessee, the Jets, Chicago (if it sheds Jay Cutler), St. Louis, Houston and maybe Philadelphia round out the likely possibilities.
Why the Rams? Well, let's start with the draft position at No. 10. This would be a glorious opportunity for them, one year after bulking up along the offensive and defensive lines. They also do not have any tangible answer at quarterback, in spite of their continued backing of Sam Bradford. Sticking with Bradford does not preclude the Rams bringing in a QB to compete for the job now or in 2016.
Winston is a so-called general on the field -- a confident leader capable of taking charge when his team has the ball. He's confident in pre-snap reads, has a strong enough arm to make every throw and offers a valuable size/speed combo.
Matt Kalil's slump was one of the more troublesome storylines for Minnesota in 2014. Rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater was all the Vikings hoped he would be, but they must do a better job protecting him. The high-upside Peat would give them more stability, with either Kalil or Phil Loadholt possibly a candidate to move to guard.
With or without Josh Gordon, the Browns will be searching for a big-play candidate on the outside. Parker fits the bill. A 6-3, 208-pounder who will enter the NFL as an advanced route-runner, Parker also can win battles in the air, a bonus for Johnny Manziel, Brian Hoyer or whomever's throwing him passes.
Cam Jordan and Junior Galette have combined for 42 sacks over the past two seasons. It's time to find them a little help. Fowler will wind up a favorite of many ahead of the draft. He brings non-stop effort along with a full repertoire of moves off the edge.
Admittedly, this might be a tad high for McKinney, but the Dolphins would have a difficult time passing over his thumping presence up the middle. Philip Wheeler's days appear numbered in Miami, and McKinney would pair well with the remaining talent. His weakest spot is in coverage, where Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi actually provide solid support.
Wide receiver will be a popular call for the 49ers mid-Round 1. Cornerback is another position where the 49ers have issues, doubly so with Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox possibly headed toward free agency. Waynes has separated a bit from the CB class. He's extremely aggressive vs. the pass and run, yet has the awareness to make plays on the ball without committing penalties.
The Texans' leading producer at tight end in 2014: Garrett Graham, at 18 catches for 197 yards. Williams could roll past those numbers by Week 3 if he's utilized properly. There is no question Williams is the best tight end available this year -- a steady blocker capable of eating defenses alive with his downfield skill.
Guys who check in at 332 pounds should not be able to move as well as Shelton can. If he plugs in as a nose tackle, as he likely would in San Diego, his coaching staff will work on improving his ability to stand his ground against double teams. But one-on-one, he's not getting pushed back.
Wide receiver stands out as a need for the Chiefs, what with their zero touchdowns from that position in 2014. On the flip side, perhaps the Chiefs wait a bit because their offense is built around the run game. Hence we land on the Collins pick here. Standing 6-5 and 321 pounds, Collins turned in an impressive 2014, and he has experience playing both guard and tackle. The Chiefs have seemed reluctant to play Donald Stephenson, for whatever reason, so Collins could step in and start.
(Pick via Buffalo) The Browns finished dead last against the run this season, putting the need for a sturdier front on their offseason wish list. Goldman will arrive in the NFL capable of upgrading almost any rush defense from Day 1 -- he does his best work in non-passing downs. Ahtyba Rubin, a starter for Cleveland since 2009, is set to become a free agent.
Let's go ahead and assume the Eagles re-sign Jeremy Maclin, one way or another. He and Jordan Matthews form a solid 1-2 punch in the passing game. White could push the WR unit over the top. Standing 6-3 and possessing the talent to win at any level of the field, White would be the outside threat Philadelphia thought it had in Riley Cooper.
The Bengals are fortunate enough to be a team without many glaring holes. Clemmings would solve one of the few issues -- offensive line depth. As a backup to Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith at tackle, and perhaps as a contender to start at guard, Clemmings could pitch in when needed in 2015 before taking over as a starter down the line.
Times are changin' in Pittsburgh, where Dick LeBeau stepped down as defensive coordinator after a decade. Keith Butler, 19 years LeBeau's junior, does not figure to overhaul the entire system. So Johnson fits right in, as a cornerback strong enough to play in man but comfortable sliding into zone looks.
Much of Detroit's offseason hinges on where Ndamukong Suh signs. But we've also seen enough from GM Martin Mayhew in the draft to know that he will not take a player just because his team appears thin at a position (see: cornerback). Flowers is a Round 1 talent who could develop into a long-term starter on the line. Detroit could consider him at left tackle, with Riley Reiff moving to the right or a guard spot; at right tackle, where an injured LaAdrian Waddle left the Lions with colossal problems; or at guard.
Same pick as the last time through for Arizona, which milked a top-five scoring defense in 2014 out of some replaceable pieces. Upgrade target No. 1 should be linebacker, where incumbent Larry Foote is set to become a free agent. Dawson has no issues fighting through blocks, so he would be a perfect fit inside on the Cardinals' 3-4 looks. Beyond that, he's far quicker than Foote and much adept in coverage.
Tough spot for the Panthers should the board fall this way because A) there's not an offensive OT candidate; and B) several of the top WR options are gone. Someone like Jaelen Strong, Devin Funchess or Dorial Green-Beckham could fit the bill for the latter, but the receiver value at this point is in Round 2 or 3. The best left tackle option left? Maybe Oregon's Jake Fisher, a stretch in the top 25.
Plan B (or is it Plan C?) sends a starting cornerback the Panthers' direction, which is a decision they should welcome with open arms. Collins (6-2) brings size and range outside and willingly steps up vs. the run.
A better read on how the NFL views Peters will take some time. He is arguably the most skilled cornerback in the 2015 class; he also was kicked off Washington's team midseason, reportedly on account of multiple dust-ups with his coaching staff. The Ravens might prefer not to deal with an off-field mess given how the Ray Rice situation unfolded.
Or they might be just the franchise to keep Peters in check, then improve because of his obvious football ability.
Jeremy Mincey led Dallas with six sacks during the regular season. The next DE in line was George Selvie, at a mere three. No matter how you slice it, the Cowboys have to become more productive off the edge. Dupree should help. He flies off the line, thereby setting up his moves back inside toward the pocket. The 24 career sacks he recorded were no fluke.
The Broncos used a 2013 first-round pick on Sylvester Williams and could be on the verge of paying impending free agent Terrance Knighton. That duo combined for two sacks this season, both from Knighton. So even in the event both return, Bennett's pass-rushing ability from the inside (seven sacks in both 2013 and '14) would be a boon.
How many more seasons can the Colts count on D'Qwell Jackson, who will turn 32 in September? From a contract standpoint, probably one -- Jackson is more or less locked into a 2015 return by his guaranteed money, but the Colts would be able to get out of that deal rather easily by 2016. Perryman would give them depth next year and a starter beyond (perhaps earlier, if he could unseat Jackson or Jerrell Freeman). He would thrive playing downhill in the Colts' 3-4 scheme.
The Julius Peppers addition was a masterstroke by the Packers but, well, he turns 35 on Sunday, so the production window is limited. I'd recommend another edge presence for the Packers anyway, what with Clay Matthews now seeing some time lined up inside and Nick Perry only producing an occasional lightning burst. Golden might be better -- or, at least, more complete -- than his teammate, Shane Ray. He'll rush the passer, sure, but he also shows ability against the run.
Mentioned a few possible Round 1 receivers as part of the Panthers' blurb above. The choice of Funchess over Strong, Green-Beckham and others is done here in large part because Funchess would offer the best flexibility for Bill Belichick, a coach who adjusts his script game-to-game with greater skill than anyone out there. Funchess and Rob Gronkowski together would allow New England myriad options in the run and pass games.
A bit of a cheat here on Gordon, because I do believe a running back comes off the board somewhere in Round 1 (and he's the best option) ... but it's not entirely easy to see where that might happen.
Of course, this also makes sense should the Seahawks let Marshawn Lynch walk after the season, depending on how high the franchise is on Christine Michael/Robert Turbin, and which offensive linemen might catch their fancy. Gordon is a high-volume back who massacred college defenses with his decisive cuts and speed.