Potential trades keep the draft storylines churning, and there are certainly a number of interesting options this year. Perhaps the most prominent trade rumor involves Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who is said to be opposed to his team's potential move to Los Angeles. Right now, Rivers has one year left on his current deal, and he's reportedly refused to discuss an extension in any serious sense. Former Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson told the NFL Network on Tuesday that he doesn't think Rivers will stay with the Chargers past the 2015 season.
"You never want to trade your franchise quarterback," Tomlinson said. “You know that's never the case. However, in this situation, they might have no choice but to do so. Because I don't know if Philip [Rivers] wants to be there anymore. I think he has lost confidence in the organization. He's seen a lot of changes going on and the L.A. thing is valid. Him not wanting to go to L.A. is very valid."
If that is the case, the smart play for the Chargers would be to get as much as possible for Rivers, who is a perennial MVP candidate, and move along with their next potential franchise quarterback. To that end, in this mock draft, we're projecting a trade between the Chargers and Titans that sends Rivers and San Diego's 17th overall pick in exchange for Tennessee's second overall selection. This move would reunite Rivers with Titans head coach and former San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, whom Rivers credits with resuscitating his career, and would allow the Chargers to move forward with perhaps the most intriguing quarterback prospect in this draft class.
Here's one way that trade-modified first round could turn out ...
1. Jameis Winston, QB
RS Sophomore, Florida State
Yes, there are legitimate concerns about how Winston will do in the NFL on and off the field. He's now facing a civil suit as a result of the alleged sexual assault for which he was ultimately not charged, and Bucs head coach Lovie Smith has said that he'd be comfortable making Winston the face of the franchise—which he will certainly be, for better or worse. On the field, Winston is regarded as a pro-ready quarterback, but there are things that bedeviled him in the NCAA that will mess him up even more in the NFL—he's not always mechanically sound and he often fails to read more complex defenses. That's common among new NFL quarterbacks, to be sure, but the Bucs had better know what they're getting with this pick. As an upside player, Winston has the potential to be a plus-athlete with toughness and the ability to make every conceivable throw. We'll soon discover whether the risk/rewards leads a team to Winston as the first overall pick.
2. MARCUS MARIOTA, QB
RS Junior, Oregon
** Projected trade with Titans ** Mariota's comfort level with multiple reads is often overblown—if you watch enough tape, you'll see him throwing accurately to his second and third receivers. He is not a generic option quarterback propped up by the system, invariably to fail in the NFL. Instead, Mariota should be seen as a player with a need for developmental time at the next level. He'll need to learn to call plays and embrace a far more complicated playbook than he had at Oregon."It starts with the snap count," ESPN's Jon Gruden told me this week, when I asked him about Mariota's inevitable adjustment. "A lot of these quarterbacks don't even have a snap count. They use silent counts in the shotgun, and 'Set, go!' on every single play. They've never used a hard count. They haven't been asked to recognize a problem in the defense and audible. There are a lot of things that are going to be new. That whole process of the snap count, calling plays, recognizing coverages—getting your offense in an optimal display—it will be a process. But some of these coaches are really good, and we have a little bit more time at the NFL level than we do at the college level."One coach that is very good at transitioning potentially overwhelmed young quarterbacks to the NFL is Chargers coach Mike McCoy, who came into national prominence when he created a first-read open offense for Tim Tebow in 2011, back when he was Denver's offensive coordinator. McCoy will make himself entirely familiar with what Mariota can and can't do at this point, and he'll adjust accordingly.
3. DANTE FOWLER, DE/OLB
When he was Seattle's defensive coordinator, Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley learned the value of the LEO hybrid end in Pete Carroll's defense. The Jags are remaking what used to be a barren roster, and they've done well at several positions over the last few seasons, but they're woefully thin at the pass-rusher position. Last season, defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks led the team with 8.5 sacks, and when a defensive tackle leads your team in sacks, you definitely have an edge-rusher problem. Not only can Fowler rush from the edge with speed and power, but he's also proven that he can split gaps and provide pressure from just about anywhere on the defensive front. He'd be a major chip in Jacksonville's rebuilding plans.
4. Amari Cooper, WR
Given the Raiders' history of going for deep speed receivers, West Virginia's Kevin White would certainly seem to be an appealing option with the fourth overall pick. But in 2014, rookie quarterback Derek Carr completed just 15 of the 71 passes he attempted that went 20 or more yards in the air. That said, Carr was the most prolific and efficient first-year quarterback last season, and he did it predominantly with short passes. If that trend continues, Cooper is the better play, because he has a preternatural understanding of route concepts, timing up with passes and getting open in short spaces.
5. KEVIN WHITE, WR
Senior, West Virginia
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden benefited from one player above all when he was Cincinnati's offensive coordinator, and it wasn't quarterback Andy Dalton. No, it was receiver A.J. Green, who combined demon speed, great separation and a freakish catch radius to catch the ball downfield and mitigate Dalton's serial inaccuracies. White isn't quite as developed as Green just yet, but he has the same basic tools. He's a big receiver who will win vertical battles, can beat up cornerbacks in the end zone, and has a serious second gear when he bounds away from defenders. It's not yet clear just what Gruden wants from his quarterback, but White would help, no matter who ends up under center.
6. VIC BEASLEY, OLB
RS Senior, Clemson
Remember what we said in the Jaguars pick explanation about what it means when you have a defensive tackle leading your team in sacks? Well, the Jets have the same problem. Yes, Sheldon Richardson is an amazing player, but you can bet that new coach Todd Bowles will want improvements along the edge. There's already been an enormous upgrade at the cornerback position with Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis coming back into the fold, and the only thing that will make those two guys even better is consistent quarterback pressure along the edge. Beasley is a little light, needs to play with more consistent power and could use a few more hand moves, but he totaled 45.5 tackles for loss and 25 sacks total in the last two seasons, and he did it for the NCAA's best defense.
7. LEONARD WILLIAMS, DT
Some will tell you that Williams is the best player in this draft class, while others don't see it. What the tape shows is a great two-gap end who can play all over the formation, and he'd be a great fit in the system run by new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Fangio prefers linemen who can move all around and disrupt—that's why the Bears signed former Ravens Swiss Army knife Pernell McPhee to a five-year, $39 million contract this offseason—and Williams fits that bill perfectly. He's not quite as big as Justin Smith, who alternated between tackle and end in San Francisco's base and situational fronts, but he's already played everywhere from one-tech to end with impressive consistency.
8. RANDY GREGORY, DE/OLB
RS Junior, Nebraska
This mock presents an unusual run on pass-rushers, but the amount of need for that position in the top 10 could make it a reality. Only the Bengals had fewer sacks in 2014 (20) than Atlanta's 22, which is one of the reasons the Falcons tabbed former Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to be their new coach. In Seattle, Quinn was responsible for creating and planning the team's most creative pass-rush fronts, but his new personnel in Atlanta puts him at a disadvantage. The Falcons acquired Adrian Clayborn and O'Brien Schofield and re-signed Kroy Biermann in the off-season, but none of those moves projects to true pass-rush greatness. Gregory, on the other hand, has the raw speed to be a special edge rusher, and at 6’6” and 235 pounds, he's got the explosiveness and reach to be a real problem for opposing blockers. He'll need to add bulk without losing speed, but Quinn will know just how to use a guy who put up 17.5 sacks in his two major college seasons.