2015 NFL Mock Draft 4.0: Projecting the first two rounds
Hitting on every draft prediction made right now would be nice, but the main purposes of this and most subsequent mocks are two-fold. They are meant to A) offer some insight into a team's needs, with the picks hopefully highlighting a current hole; and B) reveal a little bit about how the prospects are stacking up against one another.
So, our latest mock -- a two-rounder -- hopefully will open up some discussion on team-by-team roster-building, prior to the scouting combine (Feb. 17-23) and onset of free agency (March 10).
For the time being I'm not even really considering anyone outside of Mariota or Jameis Winston for this pick. The Buccaneers have myriad issues, including along their offensive line, but they're not turning anything around without a true No. 1 QB in place.
About three months of nitpicking are coming. Can Mariota translate his game from the Oregon offense to the NFL? Is Winston too immature or turnover-prone to step in as a rookie starter? Everyone's trying to answer those questions, though this all boils down to which guy the Buccaneers trust.
Mariota has held this spot in our mock drafts since the Buccaneers moved into the No. 1 spot. The talent is there, and he'll do well at the combine and beyond when it comes time to sit down face-to-face with teams.
Swapped Williams and Randy Gregory this time around for one specific reason: The drop-off from Williams to other DTs is far greater than the gap between Gregory and the rest of the edge-rusher class. If the Titans want to find a pass-rusher later (and they will), there will be players available.
There is not another tackle like Williams, who can take over games from just about any spot on the line. He can be a centerpiece for Tennessee's rebuilding job.
Telvin Smith was a revelation for the Jaguars last season. Add Gregory and Gus Bradley would have the makings of an extremely flexible, athletic defense. Gregory finished his two years at Nebraska with 26 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks. He's an instant-impact prospect.
Truth be told, it's not entirely easy to keep dropping Cooper in as the No. 4 pick. The 2015 receiver class is another impressive one, and guys like Kevin White and DeVante Parker could be dominant early. But Cooper, in my opinion, remains the top WR prospect. Oakland is in dire need of a go-to guy.
Washington could hand left tackle Trent Williams a contract extension in the coming weeks, so that spot on the line is under control. Elsewhere ... not so much. Scherff could join the starting lineup at either right tackle or guard, two positions being viewed with higher esteem of late -- it's not good enough to have just a dominant blindside blocker.
If you thought the Mariota/Winston discussion was overblown during the regular season, just wait. It will go off the rails before all is said and done. Should both guys fare well from now through April 29, the odds of them sliding will drop dramatically. Even if Tennessee passes, the Jets will be waiting and those 3-4-5 spots could be very desirable to teams eyeballing a QB (St. Louis?).
Since we're rolling sans trades here, Winston slots in as the Jets' new franchise QB -- a bump up from where he has been in previous SI.com mocks. Coaching changes, like the one New York endured this offseason, are tough to predict. Can the new regime, though, really roll into another year with Geno Smith?
The next pure safety off the board in this two-round mock is at No. 52. That's a 45-pick gap, which emphasizes how much of a standout Collins is at his position group. This is a bit high for a safety, but the Bears' safeties were flat-out abysmal last season.
You'll see Shane Ray's name in this space a lot, so consider this a matter of preference. Fowler offers positional versatility and keeps it at full throttle for 60 minutes. He's a non-stop headache for blockers because of his array of moves.
Eli Manning threw 601 passes in 2014, the highest number of his career. Some of that was by design; the rest because the Giants were unable to generate a consistent run threat. Peat excels in the ground game and will only get better in pass protection.
An impressive Senior Bowl week all but locked Collins into a Round 1 selection, likely somewhere in the upper half. Jake Long could be out in St. Louis because of a balky salary. Between Collins and 2014 first-rounder Greg Robinson, the Rams would have two maulers capable of playing either guard or tackle.
I might be driving the Thompson bandwagon at this point, which is fine. The undersized LB will have to improve his reads and his ability to take on blocks at the next level, but the athletic upside is through the roof. Minnesota has DEs able to collapse the pocket, plus a LB in Anthony Barr who demands extra attention. Thompson could clean up the rest, offering contributions on defense, special teams and even offense.
Josh Gordon is suspended again and Jordan Cameron's ready to leave town. No matter whether it's Johnny Manziel, Brian Hoyer or another QB throwing passes, the Browns must find a gamebreaker. Enter White, who some will argue is the best WR in this class.
Value meets need, as the Saints find a third disruptive force to add to Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette. While Ray is not as advanced a player as the hype surrounding him or his college numbers might have you believe, he's a bullet off the line and just what the doctor ordered here.
This is the first time Shelton has been mocked here to a team that plays predominantly out of a 4-3 alignment. The better projection for him still may be as a 3-4 nose, but he can be effective elsewhere. Randy Starks or Earl Mitchell could be a cap casualty in Miami. Shelton would slide right into the rotation.
The 49ers already have undergone significant changes this offseason, and there are more to come from a personnel perspective. No matter what happens with free agency or possible retirements (Justin Smith?), Waynes works. He's a physical cornerback and perhaps the safest bet at his position.
This is a double-down after Houston used the No. 1 overall pick on Jadeveon Clowney last year. Unfortunately for the Texans, they have to explore this possibility. Clowney's health is a major issue; Whitney Mercilus is more a rotational guy than a sure-fire starter; and behind J.J. Watt's 20 sacks, no one but Mercilus (five) made much of an impact. Beasley could be the missing piece.
Shelton makes a ton of sense if he's here. So, since he came off the hypothetical board, it's on to the almost ridiculously overlooked Brown. At 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds, Brown can handle varied roles up front and delivers a punch from all of them.
Whether or not 32-year-old Derrick Johnson makes it all the way back from the torn Achilles he suffered last season, the Chiefs are in need of depth between Tamba Hali and Justin Houston (assuming both are back) at ILB in their 3-4. McKinney's a wrecking ball.
(Pick via Buffalo) Gave some thought to another pass-catcher here -- a partner for No. 12 pick Kevin White at WR or TE Maxx Williams to replace Jordan Cameron. Instead, it's Flowers, whose stock continues to climb. The future for RT Mitchell Schwartz (FA after 2015) is murky at best. Flowers, who seeks out the second level aggressively, could be an upgrade.
Conventional wisdom says the Eagles will address their secondary, and we all know how Chip Kelly loves to operate within the realm of conventional wisdom (#sarcasm #eyeroll). Dupree's better than Marcus Smith, the wholly disappointing 2014 first-rounder Kelly selected. There's uncertainty at OLB, too, especially if Brandon Graham departs.
The linebacker position is problematic in Cincinnati on a number of fronts, starting with Rey Maualuga's impending free agency and Vontaze Burfict's constant health concerns. Perryman's a thumper up the middle and would rack up tackles.
A bit off-board with this one, but Heath Miller can't play forever. The Steelers keep phasing out their old guard for new blood, and this would set the next wheels in motion. Williams does it all at tight end. He and Miller together would be a dream for Ben Roethlisberger and a headache for any opposing defenses.
Let's just get this out of the way right now: The Lions might take a wide receiver. Seriously. Calvin Johnson's contract is cumbersome and he's breaking down at a troubling rate, plus there is no legit No. 3 threat behind Megatron and Golden Tate. In lieu of that wild-card move, however, the promising Clemmings lands at 23, despite a rough Senior Bowl. The Lions could start him on Day 1 at right tackle or guard.
This is almost too perfect a fit, hence how we keep landing on it in every mock, so it probably won't happen. That said, Dawson is far better than outgoing -- and critical -- LB Larry Foote in the open field and has just as much or more pop driving forward. NFL.com cited a scout who noted non-specific character concerns for Dawson, so we'll see.
Happy birthday, Cam Newton. The Panthers' QB will turn 26 on May 11, and this pick would hand him a sensational gift: a dynamic 6-3 WR who's more polished than 2014 sensation Kelvin Benjamin.
Was the Torrey Smith-Steve Smith combo a one-and-done proposition in Baltimore? Regardless, the Ravens could use Strong. He fits the mold for what Joe Flacco needs in a receiver -- namely, a physical target who will outmuscle cornerbacks for the ball.
Keep an eye on Harold because he could be one of those "risers" at the combine. The 6-4, 250-pounder is arguably a better 3-4 OLB fit, but he'd be just fine lined up wide for the Cowboys. If nothing else, Harold will make noise on passing downs.
If the Broncos are set on re-signing both Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas, letting DT Terrance Knighton walk could help clear cap space. Bennett (281 pounds) is not a true space-eater like the 330-pound Knighton. But a Bennett-Sylvester Williams pairing could be just as effective as Knighton and Williams together.
Peters' standing heading into the draft will be fascinating to track. The one-time Washington star, kicked off the team midseason, is at least on par with Waynes -- and probably above him -- in terms of pure talent. Is that enough to offset the other issues? The Colts might gamble. Few teams could rival a Vontae Davis-Peters CB duo (with Greg Toler as a steady No. 3).
Sure, sliding Clay Matthews to an inside-linebacker position worked about as well as the Packers could have hoped. Even so, there's room for more talent -- bumping A.J. Hawk would be a start. Kendricks has a nose for the ball and is rather adept dropping in coverage.
Not a lot of franchises in the NFL can justify a "redshirt" season for a Round 1 draft pick. Seattle is one that could, doubly so if Marshawn Lynch re-signs. Gurley's knee injury seems to have made some folks forget what an astounding talent he is. By 2016, he could be Lynch's primary backup -- neither Christine Michael nor Robert Turbin has run with that job. Shortly thereafter, this could be Gurley's team.
Erving struggled at tackle, excelled after moving to center and now may wind up as a guard in the NFL. The ability to jump in at any spot, and potentially start as an interior blocker out of the gate, would solve one of the Patriots' few issues.
33. Tennessee Titans: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
34. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tre Jackson, G, Florida State
35. Oakland Raiders: Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
36. Jacksonville Jaguars: Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest
37. N.Y. Jets: Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE/OLB, UCLA
38. Washington Redskins: Arik Armstead, DT/DE, Oregon
39. Chicago Bears: Jalen Collins, CB, LSU
40. N.Y. Giants: Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan
41. St. Louis Rams: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
42. Atlanta Falcons: Clive Walford, TE, Miami (Fla.)
43. Cleveland Browns: Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma
44. Minnesota Vikings: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
45. New Orleans Saints: P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State
46. San Francisco 49ers: Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri
47. Miami Dolphins: Hayes Pullard, LB, USC
48. San Diego Chargers: A.J. Cann, G, South Carolina
49. Kansas City Chiefs: Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn
50. Buffalo Bills: Laken Tomlinson, G, Duke
51. Houston Texans: Kevin White, CB, TCU
52. Philadelphia Eagles: Jaquiski Tartt, S, Samford
53. Cincinnati Bengals: Nate Orchard, DE, Utah
54. Detroit Lions: Carl Davis, DT, Iowa
55. Arizona Cardinals: Ty Sambrailo, OT, Colorado State
56. Pittsburgh Steelers: Quentin Rollins, CB, Miami (Ohio)
57. Carolina Panthers: Rob Havenstein, OT, Wisconsin
58. Baltimore Ravens: Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana
59. Denver Broncos: Jeff Heuerman, TE, Ohio State
60. Dallas Cowboys: Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State
61. Indianapolis Colts: Duke Johnson, RB, Miami (Fla.)
62. Green Bay Packers: Danielle Hunter, DE, LSU
63. Seattle Seahawks: Markus Golden, DE/OLB, Missouri
64. New England Patriots: Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State