Nothing drives the draft debate and discussion quite like a pair of quarterbacks at or near the top of the pecking order. For drama and intrigue, Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota beats 2013's Eric Fisher versus Luke Joeckel derby handily. (And who can ever forget that riveting Jake Long versus Chris Long showdown in 2008?) And to think, we’ve got two more weeks to devote to the quarterback over-analysis that now annually follows an almost predictable path.
The draft, of course, is all about making your best possible choice, with no do-overs. But, hey, this is a mock. It’s not the real thing. So for this, our fourth version of how things will shake out on the night of April 30 in Chicago, we’re going to give you our up-to-the-minute first-round thinking, and then we’re going to throw in the next best available option for every team’s pick. It’s called hedging my bets. Mercifully, the end is in sight ...
1. Jameis Winston, QB
RS Sophomore, Florida State
With some high-profile NFL talking heads peeling off in recent weeks, it does seem like some of the “late money’’ is headed Marcus Mariota’s way and Winston might no longer hold a vise-like grip on the Bucs’ attention span as mid-April arrives. But that’s the way I’ve always seen this matchup, as a tough, close call to make. I don’t think we’re going to look back three years down the road and realize we were dealing with another Andrew Luck-Robert Griffin III mismatch.Next Best Available Option: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon.
2. Marcus Mariota, QB
RS Junior, Oregon
I still think that when the smoke clears this will be Mariota’s slot, whether it’s the Titans taking him or someone trading up for the Oregon product. For now we’re leaving Philip Rivers in San Diego, but that trade continues to make plenty of sense on several levels. Pay some heed to those rumblings out of Cleveland, because the Browns trading up can never be discounted when a new quarterback savior is the topic. Can you imagine that QB room, with the accounting firm of McCown, Mariota and Manziel at work? The latter two are pretty polar opposites if you can believe what you read in the papers.Next Best Available Option: Leonard Williams, DT, USC.
3. LEONARD WILLIAMS, DT
I’m giving the Jags the former Trojans star rather than Florida’s Dante Fowler or Clemson’s Vic Beasley, even while acknowledging that Jacksonville needs edge pass rush more than it needs to add to a defensive line that was addressed earlier this off-season. But if Williams is as elite as advertised—and no one really knows, even though they like to pretend they do—Gus Bradley will find great use for him.Next Best Available Option: Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson.
4. Kevin White, WR
Senior, West Virginia
White has the size, speed and skill set to be scary good in the NFL. Alabama receiver Amari Cooper may be more highly rated now, but White’s upside seems higher, and his fit with the Raiders young quarterback, Derek Carr, projects well.Next Best Available Option: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama.
5. VIC BEASLEY, DE/OLB
RS Senior, Clemson
It’s almost a toss-up, but I’m going Beasley over Florida’s Fowler, with Jay Gruden’s team in perfect position to take the first pass-rusher off the board. The other scenario I could see is a team, like the receiver-needy Rams, trading up for Cooper. We know St. Louis and Washington love working together come draft time. Well, at least on the Rams side of things.Next Best Available Option: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida.
6. Amari Cooper, WR
Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and the smooth and polished Cooper on the receiving depth chart? Maybe the Jets can win with Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback.Next Best Available Option: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida.
7. DANTE FOWLER, DE/OLB
The Bears miss out on both of the draft’s top two receivers, but they don’t lose out. Jacking up the Chicago pass rush with a disruptive play-maker like Fowler makes new head coach John Fox happy right down to his old defensive coordinator roots. Fowler could be the second coming of fellow ex-Gators linebacker Wilber Marshall, a Bears star in the mid-80s.Next Best Available Option: Bud Dupree, DE/OLB, Kentucky.
8. BUD DUPREE, DE/OLB
Be it Dupree, Missouri’s Shane Ray or Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, the Falcons crave a difference-making pass-rusher. Dupree seems to be gaining momentum the closer we get to April 30, and if he does his thing well enough as a rookie, the Falcons won’t need any more artificial crowd noise.Next Best Available Option: Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska.
9. Trae Waynes, CB
Junior, Michigan State
New York has a bunch of good options here, but I think the choice will boil down to either Waynes or Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff, who I’ve had locked in with the Giants in my previous mocks. I’m going with Waynes because it’s harder to find top-level talent at cornerback than offensive tackle, and as you might have heard, it’s a passing league.Next Best Available Option: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa.