So close, yet so far away.
There are now fewer than 50 days until the 2015 NFL draft (April 30-May 2). The six-plus weeks remaining still are a very long haul in league circles, thanks to the continuation of free agency, visits from prospects and the NFL's annual meeting (March 22-25).
The start of free agency did start to clear the draft picture some, and it will continue to do so as teams plug holes on their depth charts.
A quick reminder before we launch into the mock that you can find the latest Big Boards from myself and Doug Farrar right here. Now, the latest Round 1 projections:
1. Jameis Winston, QB
RS Sophomore, Florida State
Say what you will about Winston's maturity, but he took the initiative to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently and the league noticed. "He went out of his way to make a good impression, and to show that he understood what was going to be expected of him in the NFL," a league executive told The MMQB's Peter King.Even more noteworthy when discussing this pick is that Winston already has made a lengthy stop in Tampa Bay to meet with the brass there. ESPN's Adam Schefter wrote that the visit "might be an unprecedented visit for how early it occurred."Add those occurrences to Winston's impressive performance at the combine, and the possibility of Tampa Bay passing on him here—even for Mariota, the No. 1 QB on my post-combine Big Board—is dwindling.
2. Leonard Williams, DT
Since Ndamukong Suh stole free-agency headlines, let's drift back to 2010 when the Lions drafted him. For the next five seasons, Detroit built its defense around Suh, who became increasingly dominant up front. Tennessee could do the same here with Williams. His tape is not in the same class as Suh's—not sure anyone will hit that level again soon—but Williams flashes enough to justify making him a franchise anchor.
3. Randy Gregory, DE/OLB
RS Junior, Nebraska
Gregory has more or less said that he feels more comfortable at linebacker right now, and his size (238 pounds at pro day) leans that direction. So, fine, here ya go. The Jaguars did hand Dan Skuta $8 million guaranteed to play the hybrid Otto role in Gus Bradley's defense, but that hardly should preclude them from adding Gregory to the mix. Gregory can be effective from a number of spots.
4. Amari Cooper, WR
While Kevin White was the belle of the combine ball, Cooper just keeps going about his business. He ripped off a 4.42 40 time of his own—not too shabby considering Cooper also runs sharp routes and has the on-field intelligence to find openings within the defense. Derek Carr would love this pick.
5. VIC BEASLEY, OLB
RS Senior, Clemson
Beasley demolished the combine, putting to rest most of the fears associated with his size or speed. Adding him to the starting lineup with Ryan Kerrigan would again give Washington a fearsome 1-2 punch at OLB, while allowing Trent Murphy to remain in a rotational role.
6. Marcus Mariota, QB
RS Junior, Oregon
So, about the pro day ..."I thought it went OK," Mariota offered as a self-assessment, on the NFL Network. "There were some misthrows here and there."Yes, there were, which is problematic when there is no defense on the field. But it also was not as bad as some of the quick reactions, especially since Mariota showed nice footwork from under center. Incompletions just look poor at a pro day. A reminder, though, that we traveled this road with Teddy Bridgewater last year.As for an explanation for why Mariota still warrants consideration here and at No. 1 overall, Greg Peshek's QB metrics breakdown on Mariota, Winston and Brent Hundley helps. Peshek charted every throw made last season by those three quarterbacks, uncovering a couple things that flow against some Mariota scouting reports. To wit: Mariota threw a higher percentage of his passes from 11-20 yards deep (33.4%) than did Winston (23.0%); he was more accurate from 11-20 yards (70.1%) and deeper (58.1%) than Winston (60.0% and 46.9%, respectively); and hit more passes than his likely Round 1 counterpart when pressured (67.7% to 57.7%).The Jets will have to refine his game, but all the tools are there.
7. Danny Shelton, DT
Their shift to a 3-4 set underway, the Bears scored Pernell McPhee with one of the NFL's better early free-agent moves. Next step: find some beef up front. Here's my colleague, Doug Farrar, on Shelton: "I haven't seen better overall tape from any player in this draft class. ... Shelton can destroy pockets, he'll use his surprisingly quick feet to get past blockers and he works very well from multiple gaps."
8. Dante Fowler, DE/OLB
Scooping up Brooks Reed was a solid moment for the Falcons, but it does little to remedy their pass-rush woes—Reed had five sacks in 2013–14 combined in Houston. Fowler, on the other hand, would elevate that area of Atlanta's defense. New head coach Dan Quinn will want interchangeable pieces, as he had in Seattle, and Fowler excelled from numerous attack points at Florida.
9. Brandon Scherff, OT
RS Senior, Iowa
In Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams and now Shane Vereen, the Giants have a strong enough corps of backs to be able to lean on the run at times. That's perfect for Scherff, who repeatedly puts defensive linemen on skates. The Giants's quick-trigger passing attack under coordinator Ben McAdoo could help nullify Scherff's early learning curve as a pass-blocker, too.
10. La'el Collins, OT
The Rams should enter 2015 planning to lean on RB Tre Mason as the catalyst for their offense. Doing so with a line bookended by Greg Robinson and Collins would set Mason up to succeed. New QB Nick Foles also has to have a clean pocket, so taking care of the O-line is a must.
11. DeVante Parker, WR
Pairing a QB with his favorite collegiate receiver probably is more of a fun idea for fans than it is any legitimate consideration for teams. This time, however, everything lines up to connect Parker with Teddy Bridgewater again. Cooper and White have caused Parker to slide a bit under the radar. That's a mistake. Parker will be an immediate impact playmaker.
12. Kevin White, WR
Senior, West Virginia
Cleveland's sitting on two first-round picks, and it almost has to use one on a weapon in the passing game. This might be White's floor, with a (long-shot) ceiling of Tennessee's No. 2 choice. Outside of being an Ohio native, Brian Hartline hasn’t moved the needle much in Cleveland, but a White-Hartline-Andrew Hawkins receiver group could do some work.
13. Shane Ray, DE/OLB
RS Junior, Missouri
One of the toughest teams to predict right now because the whole roster might get traded at any point. Whether or not the Saints keep Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette together into 2015 and beyond, they need more punch off the edge. Ray, and his lightning-quick first step, would round out the rush.
14. Landon Collins, S
For starters, this is a best-player-available move here—Collins is top-10 worthy, in my mind. On top of that, Collins would fill the hole vacated by Louis Delmas and give Miami flexibility at safety. He and Reshad Jones both fit the in-the-box safety mold better, yet either can fall back into deep coverage and be plenty effective.
15. Trae Waynes, CB
Junior, Michigan State
As of the writing of this sentence, Perrish Cox is a free agent, and Chris Culliver is headed to Washington. The 49ers would be shy on corners should they both leave, and there is no better option to fill a starting role out of the gate than Waynes. Yes, that includes Marcus Peters. Waynes played both the boundary and field sides at Michigan State, so San Francisco could trust him anywhere.
16. Shaq Thompson, LB
Thompson will have the best chance to succeed early in his NFL career if he can be a defensive wild card. Houston needs help up the middle in its 3–4, so it could use Thompson as an ILB. But it also could swing him into blitz mode inside as J.J. Watt works outside or place him just about anywhere in a nickel. The Texans need someone other than Watt flying to the football. That's the Shaq Thompson M.O.
17. Melvin Gordon, RB
RS Junior, Wisconsin
The Chargers' offensive line is looking rather formidable these days, what with the arrival of Orlando Franklin from Denver and all. How about putting a true No. 1 back behind that line? Ryan Mathews heads to Philadelphia, leaving Danny Woodhead, Branden Oliver and Donald Brown in San Diego. Gordon would leapfrog all of them on the depth chart the second his name was announced.
18. Dorial Beckham-Green, WR
The initial pass at this mock had DGB slipping out of Round 1. I had to circle back and find a slot for him, because even with his off-field history it's hard to imagine every team taking an early pass. Green-Beckham is simply too talented. Raw? Yes, and those character questions can’t be ignored. But the 6’5”, 237-pounder has No. 1 receiver written all over him.
19. Malcom Brown, DT
(Pick via Buffalo) This could be a spot for one of the inside linebackers. If not, having already nabbed a WR at 12, Cleveland ought to focus on beefing up its line. Brown (6’2”, 319) has a bit of a Haloti Ngata vibe, even at 20 pounds lighter—size to hold up multiple blockers at the point of attack, versatility to play anywhere in a 3-4 front and either tackle spot in a 4-3.
20. Jalen Collins, CB
RS Junior, LSU
Skipping over Marcus Peters because Chip Kelly's brief NFL history indicates that Peters's Washington dismissal might be a deal-breaker. Collins deserves top-20 consideration either way, and his physical, 6’1” frame meshes with what Kelly (and most coaches) like outside at CB. Nolan Carroll has zero guaranteed money left on his deal, and both Brandon Boykin and recent signee Walter Thurmond are better in the slot.
21. Eric Kendricks, LB
RS Senior, UCLA
Emmanuel Lamur is sitting on a restricted free-agent tender and Vontaze Burfict underwent microfracture knee surgery at the close of 2014, leaving the Bengals in need of depth at linebacker. Kendricks would give them that and then some. He'll be a potential three-down player from Day 1.
22. Bud Dupree, DE/OLB
Eventually, the Steelers will have to address their secondary (in past mocks, I've had them nabbing Kevin Johnson here). Jason Worilds's surprising retirement and James Harrison's uncertain future has them waiting a bit at CB and safety. Most scouting reports on Dupree note that the Kentucky product merely needs a little coaching to turn him into a star. This is as good a fit as any.
23. Andrus Peat, OT
Don't be surprised if a team around the top 10 (like New York or St. Louis, which both took other OTs in this mock) favor Peat. At least in his rookie season, there will be times when Peat turns in some ugly pass-blocking against speed guys off the edge. Overall, though, he's a franchise left tackle waiting to happen. Thanks to Riley Reiff, Detroit could even have the luxury of using Peat at RT, where his run-blocking prowess would be ideal.
24. Marcus Peters, CB
Tyrann Mathieu's Arizona success story eliminates a lot of the "Would they take a risk?" queries here. Granted, Mathieu's college fallout was different than Peters's, but the latter still will need to land somewhere with a steady staff. Arizona certainly has that, plus a need for an aggressive CB with Antonio Cromartie exiting.
25. T.J. Clemmings, OT
RS Senior, Pittsburgh
Still several intriguing OTs on the board, all of whom would not be out of place in Round 1: Jake Fisher, D.J. Humphries, Ereck Flowers. Carolina all but has to nab one of them if it wants Cam Newton to make it through another season. Clemmings can be clunky (see: Senior Bowl practices). He also shows the combination of talent and ferocity to develop into an excellent left tackle.
26. Kevin Johnson, CB
RS Senior, Wake Forest
Based on where he's likely to go come draft weekend (late Round 1-early Round 2), there honestly might not be a safer pick than Johnson. He has decent size at 6’0”, 188, and plays bigger than that, with an obvious comfort level in man or zone. At the least, he's a special-teams contributor and a No. 3 outside cornerback as a rookie.
27. Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE/OLB
RS Senior, UCLA
For the Cowboys to carry their surprising 2014 defensive momentum into next season, they absolutely must find some help off the edge. Jeremy Mincey and Henry Melton were the only players to top three sacks last year in Dallas, and Melton's gone. Odighizuwa has a nice burst off the line that he can use to push through OTs. The Cowboys might have to be a little patient with him, but it'll be worth it.
28. Maxx Williams, TE
RS Sophomore, Minnesota
Williams will not create the same level of mismatch problems for defenses that Julius Thomas did/does. He's a better blocker than Thomas, however, and fully capable of making plays downfield in the passing game. As the clear top tight end in this class, Williams deserves Round 1 consideration. In a proven offensive system, like Denver’s, he can be a 50- or 60-catch guy.
29. Jordan Phillips, DT
RS Junior, Oklahoma
Leaned heavily toward an inside linebacker at this pick, then shifted gears because the LB talent remaining means Indianapolis would have a shot there in Round 2. That's not necessarily the case up front, particularly if the Colts want a big body to compete at the nose. Phillips moves about as well as a 330-pound man can, adding to his value as a gap-stuffing force.
30. Eddie Goldman, DT
Junior, Florida State
Kendricks is probably the dream choice, if he makes it this far. Would Green Bay pull the trigger on Benardrick McKinney, Paul Dawson or Denzel Perryman instead? It's quite possible. But for the moment, the Packers are slotted to nab the 336-pound Goldman. Assuming either Letroy Guion or B.J. Raji (both unrestricted free agents) leaves, Goldman can slot in as a rotational player for 2015 and the future NT beyond.
31. Benardrick McKinney, LB
Junior, Mississippi State
(Pick via Seattle) Ray, at pick No. 13, adds speed to the Saints' front seven. McKinney follows up 18 picks later with a little run-stuffing thunder. His college play was a little inconsistent, but McKinney is a rock (6’4”, 246) and still manages to chase down ball-carriers. With a hypothetical Ray-Cam Jordan-Junior Galette trio causing havoc in the backfield, the Saints would need someone inside to clean up what's left.
32. Michael Bennett, DT
Senior, Ohio State
The most prudent way right now for New England to enter life minus Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner is by getting better along the D-line. Create more havoc up front and the secondary doesn't need to be as dominant. Enter Bennett, a disruptive player on Ohio State's title team. He wins with technique, and Bill Belichick would love him because of his ability to be effective all over the line.