First-round trades have become all the rage in the NFL draft. Looking at the past five years alone (2010-14), there have been a whopping 30 of them executed, for an average of six annually. In the memorable 2012 draft, there were nine deals that impacted the first round, highlighted, of course, by the St. Louis-Washington blockbuster that paved the way for the Robert Griffin III era in D.C. (Yes, I said era, not error. It’s too early for that kind of snark. But just barely.)
So, if you’re a mocker, how can you not forecast a first-round deal or two? Or four? I’m splitting the difference in this case, projecting three new trades, to go along with the Buffalo-Cleveland and Seattle-New Orleans deals that have already been swung (those deals that have already been processed are listed in italics below). Three new trades for my third mock seems about right, and I’m even a buyer when it comes to that intriguingly plausible Philip Rivers-to-Tennessee chatter at No. 2, with those L.A.-bound Chargers moving up to nab Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Sometimes I’ve been known to even get my mock trades right. Hey, kids, did I ever tell you about the time back in ‘08, when my final mock absolutely nailed the Patriots-Saints trade at No. 7 and No. 10, with the No. 7 Saints taking USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis and the No. 10 Patriots selecting Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo? That was fun. It’s not every day you accurately tell the world what the Patriots are about to do.
But don’t hold me to quite that same standard this time around. The draft is still three weeks away. These deals take time to properly sniff out. But there will be some moves come the night of April 30 in Chicago. You can count on that. Maybe even one that I’m closing my eyes and taking a stab at right now ...
1. Jameis Winston, QB
RS Sophomore, Florida State
It’s that time in the long draft season when quarterback prospects start to get their games picked apart in earnest, and it’s even happening to Winston, who has been No. 1 in everybody’s mocks for weeks. The NFL Network’s Mike Mayock dropped him to No. 2 this week in his QB rankings—behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota—citing Winston’s penchant for interceptions and a pattern of poor decision-making off the field. Both fair points to make. The Bucs, however, own the only opinion that truly matters at the moment, and we do not yet detect any movement away from the Florida State star.
RS Junior, Oregon
** Projected trade with Titans ** Sometimes the speculation is right, and the dots do connect. With Philip Rivers making it clear he’s not excited about the prospect of a move to Los Angeles in 2016, and thus playing out the final year of his contract this season, there is some sound reasoning behind the notion that he could wind up in Tennessee playing for Titans’ second-year coach Ken Whisenhunt, his former Chargers offensive coordinator. In this scenario, the Titans get to move down to San Diego’s No. 17 slot and accumulate more building block players in the draft, while landing the veteran passer who can help Whisenhunt win enough games to secure his job. As for the Chargers, they make another bold move to find their QB of the future, 11 years after trading for Rivers in 2004’s first round.I’m sure it’s true that San Diego head coach Mike McCoy and GM Tom Telesco have little enthusiasm for parting with Rivers, but that doesn’t mean you can rule it out. The big unknown for me is whether Rivers, a native of the South, will consider moving his wife and seven kids cross-country to Nashville, after sounding dubious about the idea of relocating a mere 100 miles up I-5 to Los Angeles. Is it the move itself or the L.A. factor that Rivers isn’t high on? Anybody have any definitive word of how Rivers feels about that scenario? Because to swing the deal, the Titans are going to need Rivers happily signed to a long-term contract.
3. Dante Fowler, DE/OLB
Fowler over USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams, whom many consider the most elite prospect in this year’s draft? Yes, for now at least. Fowler and his edge-rush skills make for a superb fit in the LEO role in Gus Bradley’s Jaguars defense. Williams is an undeniable upgrade for any team’s defensive line, but Jacksonville already has some nice pieces in place up front with free-agent addition Jared Odrick and Sen’Derrick Marks.
** Projected trade with Raiders ** With one of the draft’s biggest prizes in Williams still available, the Raiders should have the opportunity to field offers while on the clock. Passing on a receiver like Kevin White or Amari Cooper won’t be easy for Oakland, but I think Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie will survey his board and realize he can still get a quality starter for his defense at No. 15 plus acquire more picks to supplement his rebuilding project. The 49ers are motivated by the chance to add an elite difference-maker to a defensive line that has lost starter Ray McDonald and will probably see Justin Smith follow through on his retirement plans. Even with Darnell Dockett signed, this is a move that makes sense for the future. Dockett will be 34 this spring and is coming off ACL surgery that cost him 2014.
5. Vic Beasley, OLB
RS Senior, Clemson
Washington could easily look to deal out of this slot, perhaps to a receiver-needy team (the No. 10 Rams?) in pursuit of either White or Cooper. But if no one bites, I’m giving them Beasley, a standout edge rusher who helps fills the void created by Brian Orakpo’s departure. With Beasley added to Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy, Washington’s pass rush gets a whole lot better.
6. Kevin White, WR
Senior, West Virginia
If you can’t find a franchise quarterback, the least you can do is add a play-making receiving weapon, one who will make any quarterback—even Geno Smith or Ryan Fitzpatrick—more dangerous.
7. Amari Cooper, WR
Trading Brandon Marshall to the Jets equaled addition by subtraction in Chicago. Drafting the smooth and polished Cooper as his replacement equals straight addition for the Bears.
8. Randy Gregory, DE/OLB
RS Junior, Nebraska
Gregory could fall considerably on draft night, due to a positive test for marijuana at February’s scouting combine. But the Falcons crave pass rush in Dan Quinn’s defense, and Gregory comes with a top-10 grade as a player. Atlanta could play it safer and select a lower-rated edge rusher like Kentucky’s Bud Dupree or Missouri’s Shane Ray, but the prospect of Gregory’s skill set convinces the Falcons to take the risk
9. Brandon Scherff, OT
RS Senior, Iowa
We’re sticking with Scherff, the draft’s best offensive line prospect, because he’s a very Giants-like player, someone who plays with grit and toughness and has the versatility that Tom Coughlin loves. But a cornerback like Michigan State’s Trae Waynes could tempt New York or elicit a trade offer that convinces the Giants to move down.
10. Trae Waynes, CB
Junior, Michigan State
This is around where most mockers have Waynes coming off the board, and the Rams make plenty of sense with cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson both in line for free agency after this season.
11. D.J. Humphries, OT
It may not be the sexiest of picks for the Vikings, but building a better wall of protection for franchise quarterback Teddy Bridgewater might well be the smartest move in Minnesota.
12. DeVante Parker, WR
I’ve had Washington nose tackle Danny Shelton to Cleveland in this slot, but that’s probably too high for the ex-Husky. Parker is seen as the draft’s consensus third-best receiver, and the Browns have to add another pass-catching weapon to help offset the loss of Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron.
13. Bud Dupree, OLB/DE
New Orleans will be open to dealing down in the pursuit of adding to its volume of selections, but the Saints’ defense could also use another pass-rusher. Dupree is the best available at this point, and gives New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan an impact player who can move around and create matchup problems.
14. Breshad Perriman, WR
Junior, Central Florida
With White, Cooper and Parker already off the board at receiver, the Dolphins turn in the card for Perriman, whose blistering sub-4.3 40 time at his pro day has had him on the rise in recent weeks. Perriman doesn’t have an eye-popping collegiate résumé, but speed is the need in Miami with Mike Wallace having moved on to Minnesota.
15. Shane Ray, DE/OLB
RS Junior, Missouri
** Projected trade with 49ers **Even after trading down, the Raiders are still in position to nab one of the draft’s top-five edge-rush prospects. Oakland recorded a mere 22 sacks last season, more than only the Bengals in that department. Ray should help jack up that number and play early as a situational rusher.
16. Marcus Peters, CB
RS Junior, Washington
The Texans could use another receiving threat opposite DeAndre Hopkins, but there’s probably no pass catcher on the board worthy of the No. 16 pick. Missouri’s Dorial Green-Beckham is intriguing, but not likely to go this high. That points us toward Peters, the talented former University of Washington cover man who comes with some character issues. With veteran cornerback Johnathan Joseph due for free agency next year, Peters becomes his eventual replacement.
17. Andrus Peat, OT
** Projected trade with Chargers **So rather than taking a quarterback to build around, or a defensive prospect who could make life tough on opposing quarterbacks, the Titans deal down from No. 2 to the Chargers’ No. 17 pick and then select a guy who will be paid to help protect the newly acquired veteran quarterback in Rivers. Peat is a pro-ready prospect who should fill the starting right tackle slot that opened with the departure of Michael Oher.
18. T.J. Clemmings, OT
RS Senior, Pittsburgh
I suppose the Chiefs could surprise us and go for another receiver even after the Jeremy Maclin signing in free agency, with the boom-bust potential of Missouri’s Dorial Green-Beckham being an option. But Clemmings would be the safer and much more solid pick, and he would help Kansas City upgrade an offensive line that remains a work in progress.
19. Danny Shelton, DT
(Pick from Buffalo) With DeVante Parker filling the need at receiver at No. 12, landing the space-eating, run-stuffing Shelton at No. 19 makes more sense for the Browns’ second first-round pick. Cleveland’s defensive interior won’t get abused again with Shelton holding the point of attack.
20. Landon Collins, S
The Eagles have a crying need for a talent upgrade at safety and just happen to find the draft’s best prospect at that position waiting for them. There won’t be a Marcus Smith-like swing and miss in Philly’s first-round work this year.
21. Melvin Gordon, RB
RS Junior, Wisconsin
** Projected trade with Bengals **Oh, why not? The Cowboys corral their new lead running back (sorry, Darren McFadden) and the Bengals pick up a little extra draft ammo, while still probably landing the same player at No. 27 that they were targeting at No. 21. If I’m Dallas, and in win-now mode, I’m turning Gordon loose behind that superb offensive line, with his proven ability to run north and south and powerfully break tackles. Dallas does the deal because it had to be wary of the No. 24 Cardinals, and their need of a lead running back.
22. Kevin Johnson, CB
RS Senior, Wake Forest
The Steelers need cornerbacks and pass-rush help, and Johnson is a fast-rising prospect who looks ready to contribute in someone’s coverage packages from Day 1 in the NFL.
23. Eddie Goldman, DT
Junior, Florida State
The Lions re-stock at defensive tackle, where Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley once roamed. With Haloti Ngata a potential one-year fix and playing in the final year of his contract, Goldman gives Detroit a 300-pound-plus cornerstone around which to build.
24. Arik Armstead, DE
RS Junior, Oregon
The Cardinals miss out on Melvin Gordon in this scenario, which could prompt them in the direction of Georgia’s rehabbing running back Todd Gurley. But more likely they’ll shift their attention to pass-rush help, and the athletic Armstead has intriguing NFL potential that should earn him a first-round grade.
25. La'el Collins, OT
Carolina needs to keep Cam Newton cleaner in the pocket, and the versatile Collins is the best available tackle prospect at this point. University of Miami’s Ereck Flowers is another name to know at No. 25, but most scouts have Collins rated higher.
26. Todd Gurley, RB
The Ravens rarely pass on highly rated prospects who fall to them and thus represent excellent low-round value. The re-signing of veteran rusher Justin Forsett allows Baltimore to give Gurley time to fully recover from last year’s ACL injury, and if need be, log something of a quasi-redshirt season in 2015.
27. Malcolm Brown, DT
** Projected trade with Cowboys **I had Cincinnati taking Brown at No. 21 in my second mock, so if the Bengals can move down, acquire more picks, and still get their man at No. 27, that’s a win-win draft move for a team that usually likes to stay put and play the hand its dealt. You’re welcome, Mike Brown. Keep in touch.
28. Ereck Flowers, OT
Junior, Miami (Fla.)
Denver’s need for a right offensive tackle makes this an easy pick, but Broncos football czar John Elway usually likes to make a bit of a splash, so be ready for anything in the Mile High City. Still, keeping Peyton Manning well protected and upright seems like the smartest play for what amounts to a now-or-never season in Denver.
29. Cameron Irving, C/G
RS Senior, Florida State
There are those who foresee the versatile Irving being gone long before the Colts’ pick rolls around, so maybe that’ll make Indy proactive and intent on moving up into the early 20s in pursuit of the ex-Seminole.
30. Eric Kendricks, ILB
RS Senior, UCLA
I’m torn between giving the Packers an athletic and play-making linebacker like Kendricks to boost their run defense, or having cornerback-needy Green Bay target a cover man like LSU’s Jalen Collins, who could go anywhere from No. 20 to early in the second round. For now I’m sticking with Kendricks, based on the Packers’ ability to find cornerbacks almost anywhere in the draft.
31. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR
(Pick via Seattle) With no Jimmy Graham or Kenny Stills for Drew Brees to target, I kind of like the idea of the Saints using the pick they got from Seattle in the Graham trade to select another tall, athletic nightmare of a matchup for defenses. Green-Beckham likely doesn’t carry a first-round grade on a lot of teams’ draft boards, but the Saints aren’t afraid to take a chance and having a second first-round pick gives them a little extra latitude with which to work.
32. Byron Jones, CB
RS Senior, Connecticut
The Patriots are rarely conventional with their draft approach, and everyone knows they love to trade down and accumulate picks. But there’s an obvious need at cornerback with the loss of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, and Jones and LSU’s Jalen Collins are two highly rated pass defenders who represent solid bottom-of-the-round value.