Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, now with the Eagles, once said Marcus Mariota is "the most talented kid I coached in college." (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Let the silly season begin! And let me kick it off, right here!
With a nod to the “Fine Fifteen" section of my Monday Morning Quarterback column, this is my post-combine attempt to put the top of the 2015 draft in some order. But keep in mind the draft is 64 days away. As I wrote Monday, the Bucs have a long investigative process on Jameis Winston to complete; the Florida State quarterback will spend approximately 30 hours of time with Tampa Bay coaches, GM Jason Licht and other club officials. The Bucs still have a ways to go before making a determination on what they’re going to do with the first pick in the draft.
Fair warning, too: I’m also going to make a trade in this column. Now, it is preposterous to project trades nine weeks before the draft. But I’m doing it because as I sit here right now, I think a couple of deals are logical. That may change before the draft—no, it will change.
Here we go:
Fine Fifteen, Post-Combine Mock Draft
Stories Behind the Prospects
Get to know some of the fascinating back stories among this year's draft class. Lynden Trail: Linebacker or defensive end? (For that matter, offense or defense?) From Florida to little Norfolk State, how Trail grew into the draft's biggest mystery man.T.J. Clemmings: An ex-hoopster's switch from defense to offensive tackle awakened a monster.Shaq Thompson: Before the linebacker was a first-round prospect, he was pro baseball's worst player.
1. TAMPA BAY
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
The Bucs have nine weeks to poke holes in Winston, and I expect a few minor ones to emerge. As I wrote Monday, if there are big problems with Winston, Tampa Bay won’t take him. Marcus Mariota is absolutely not out of the picture here. But Winston fits the offense more, with one slight asterisk. He threw 18 picks last year for FSU, and Licht told me Saturday: “Usually you find when a guy throws interceptions in college that doesn’t go away in the pros." Something to watch, anyway.
Dante Fowler, OLB, Florida
Has the body type of the Steelers' Jason Worilds, and Fowler could be a good complement opposite Derrick Morgan to rush the passer. In his last two years at Florida, Fowler had 38 sacks/tackles for loss. I’d like to see Fowler in Dick LeBeau’s hands for a couple of years, to see how LeBeau might mold him.
Leonard Williams, DT, USC
Gus Bradley is rubbing his hands in glee this morning in anticipation of Williams somehow falling to him. Imagine, Bradley thinks, creating a starting front, left to right, of Red Bryant, Leonard Williams, Sen’Derrick Marks and Chris Clemons. That would force the AFC South to get very good at guard. Like, right now.
Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
James Jones on one side, White (4.35 speed, with some physicality to him) on the other. Derek Carr would be one happy man. This latter-day version of Larry Fitzgerald (and a faster one) could start to put up Fitzgerald numbers pretty quickly.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
*Trade: Washington gets Philadelphia’s first- and second-round picks this year, and first- and fourth-round picks in 2016. Washington could be moving from five to 20 in the first round by doing this deal, with GM Scot McCloughan scoring points with his new boss for not giving away the store in a trade, but rather acquiring the store. This has so many poetic points to it. The Eagles gave Donovan McNabb to Washington a few Easters ago; now Washington would be giving a longer-term quarterback, theoretically, to Chip Kelly. The Eagles coach would be reunited with the quarterback he recruited out of a Hawaii high school and helped make a star while both were at Oregon. It just feels right, though Howie Roseman will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into giving up so much draft capital for a player with some question marks.
6. NEW YORK JETS
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Bedard's Draft Breakdowns
Greg Bedard broke down some of the draft's top prospects over the past season. Marcus Mariota: Everything but the fireJameis Winston: Is he worth the trouble?Melvin Gordon: Can he break the RB first-round drought?
Dunno. You pick it: best receiver available or best corner available, now that Chip Kelly has killed the Jets' Mariota dream. I can’t fathom Mariota getting past the sixth pick.
Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
I could see the new team of John Fox/Ryan Pace picking from a number of front-seven options. But an interior combo platter of Stephen Paea and Shelton, all 643 pounds of it, would be tantalizing.
Bud Dupree, OLB, Kentucky
I have no idea which pass-rusher it will be right here. But I will just say this: If the Falcons don’t take a rush end or an outside ’backer with insane pass-rush potential in the first round, then my name’s Joe Don Looney.
9. NEW YORK GIANTS
Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
With the Giants having divested themselves of so much pass-rush skill in the recent past, I think they draft into the teeth of a strong group of rushers. Maybe Shane Ray, maybe Beasley. But new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will find the cupboard fairly bare in the pass-rush area when he does a thorough Giants roster review, and he’ll need reinforcements. The all-time sack leader at Clemson is a start.
10. ST. LOUIS
Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
Rams could go receiver here, and they just might be in the Mariota trade-up market; we’ll see. But Scherff would give the team two long-term bookend tackles (with Greg Robinson, who had a suspect rookie year), and that will be tempting for GM Les Snead.
Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
Even if the Adrian Peterson thing blows up and the Vikings lose him and they love Melvin Gordon … Mike Zimmer likes his front’s ability to pressure the quarterback. Now he wants a corner to play with Xavier Rhodes as his two long-term cover guys in a division with very good quarterbacking.
DeVante Parker missed the first seven games with a broken foot in 2014 but finished with five touchdowns in six games. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
What choice do the Browns have, really, with the crushing disappointment that Josh Gordon has become? Wouldn’t be shocked to see Cleveland trade up if Amari Cooper or Kevin White is hanging around a few picks earlier, but I doubt the Browns would sacrifice their second first-rounder, which is 19th overall, with such a good crop of receivers here.
13. NEW ORLEANS
Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is pretty happy with this pick. He wants a pressure player, and there are a few still out here, and the Saints would bypass some promising tackles to make this call. Mickey Loomis could go a lot of different directions here.
Jalen Collins, CB, LSU
Mike Tannenbaum always knew how valuable corners were for the Jets. Now he brings that emphasis south. I’ll remember what a mistake it was to trade Vontae Davis to Indianapolis if the Dolphins end up going corner here.
15. SAN FRANCISCO
Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon
Tough call, because the Niners could stay and have their choice of a few players that fit—or they could trade, and GM Trent Baalke loves accumulating picks. This is a projection, because Armstead is only 20.
* * *
And now for your email...
ON JAMEIS, AND LOSING.I’ve found myself really consumed by the prospects of Jameis Winston in the NFL. In the meetings, would it be possible for teams to not only understand his drive to win but also his ability to accept defeat? Could there be a serious concern about a guy who lost one game in college and how he’ll adapt to losing games in the regular season. Over time I would imagine he’d adapt, but as a rookie expected to play early on, could it be an issue for whichever team takes him? While it’s a concern for any QB from a big-time program, I ask this because I can’t get past the image during the college football playoff where things were going bad and Jimbo Fisher said to Winston that if he didn’t calm down he was getting benched.
—Matt, Newburyport, Mass.
Excellent question. Do you realize that in Jameis Winston’s last four seasons of being a starting quarterback—two in high school in Alabama, two at Florida State—he lost a total of four football games? Think of it this way: He’ll probably play in more losing games by Columbus Day of his rookie NFL season than he played since his sophomore year of high school. It’s a legitimate concern, I believe, and one if I were Tampa Bay GM Jason Licht and coach Lovie Smith I’d look into thoroughly. Thanks for raising the point.
ON JAMEIS, AND THE PRESSURE OF GOING NUMBER ONE.Looking at the past 20 years of first picks in the draft, arguably there are only three or four examples of a true game-changing player, specifically Peyton Manning, Mario Williams, and maybe Andrew Luck (time will tell). Eli had a nice couple years, but he looks pedestrian at best. The other quarterbacks taken No. 1 overall, for the most part, have been good, but hardly true franchise quarterbacks at the level of Rodgers, Brady, Manning, etc. In reading about Winston, I found myself wondering, is the first pick in the draft a blessing, or more of a curse?
Atlanta's New Attitude
New Falcons coach Dan Quinn tells Jenny Vrentas what it was like going from losing the Super Bowl to his dream job in a 24-hour span, explains his coaching style and details what kind of player Atlanta will target with the No. 8 pick in the draft. FULL STORY
Another really good question. I think being the number one overall pick can be an overload of pressure, to be sure. That’s where you have to look at the person, and how he has demonstrated he can handle pressure—in all areas, with the media and the public and with all eyes of a region laser-focused on him in and out of season. Social media makes it so hard for a top-level NFL quarterback to ever truly be “off.” I find myself thinking it would be much better if a low-key, very humble guy like Marcus Mariota landed outside a pressure-packed market like New York or Philadelphia, where a few bad starts would lead to the weight of the world (and quite a few screaming back pages) coming down on him. If I were a quarterback, I’d love to be laying in the weeds, and land late in the first round, with a team built to last but with a quarterback need now. There aren’t many Miamis of 1983, but that’s the ideal—to go to a team that has a good infrastructure of players absent a quarterback.
ON THE FUTURE OF FOOTBALL IN LOS ANGELES.Could the NFL arrange football games in L.A. the way it does with London? It seems like transplanting one franchise would not work as well as hosting 32. I can't believe that L.A. is not home to enough fans of any team in the nation that they couldn't fill half a stadium once a year (or maybe once every other year). If you leave divisional games in town and don't take away anyone's home opener or closer it could be a bright spot on every NFL fan's calendar. Go to L.A. and see the home team play in sunny weather. Maybe it's the sub-zero temperatures talking, but I love it already. Give them some West Coast preseason games and the occasional Super Bowl and the stadium won't even need a home team.
Interesting point. I just wonder how many Detroit Lions season-ticket-holders, or fans in general, will fly to Los Angeles to see Lions-Texans. I can’t believe there’d be a market, without a local team, to sell out a 75,000-seat stadium six or eight times a year in Los Angeles—which is the absolutely minimum number of games it would take for a stadium to be built there.
ON DORIAL GREEN-BECKHAM.I wanted to clarify something you said about Dorial Green-Beckham. You mentioned that: "Green-Beckham’s the receiver who got kicked off Missouri’s team for a marijuana violation." I think it's important to note that he got kicked off the team due to pushing his then-girlfriend down four stairs. Missouri fans were more than happy to see him go, and the domestic violence was just the last straw. The only reason he wasn't charged was because the alleged victim was scared of backlash.
Thanks for the clarification, Andrew.
ON THE CALL FOR MORE REPLAY.I thought one of Jeff Fisher's arguments against allowing additional challenges was a joke. "If I used them to challenge a holding and false start penalty in the first half I could be out of challenges." That's a terrible example, because coaches should be smart enough to not challenge that sort of stuff anyway. This is just basic risk-reward calculus here: How often would five yards in the first half notably affect your chances of winning the game? I'm willing to bet if you checked any form of advanced stats, they'd say, "Virtually never." And the downside risk is significant if there's a serious play to challenge later in the game. I'm anticipating your (or his?) response would be something like, "Well, coaches have lots to think about during the game." But that'd be a total cop-out given that most teams have a dedicated "replay coach."
Interesting question. First, I don’t think many teams, if any, have a replay coach. They might have a guy upstairs in the coaches’ booth who can tell the head coach on the sideline by radio headset whether or not he should challenge a call. And Fisher was not suggesting additional challenges. He was simply making the point that if you used two challenges in the first half and lost them, you’d be out of them. I do think he was misreading reality when he said that, because I (like you) don’t think any team would use its challenges on a holding and false-start call in the first half. In general, the only way an expansion of replay will happen is if the number of coaches’ challenges are not increased.
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