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Safe and risky options for the first 10 picks of the 2015 NFL draft

From the Buccaneers' pick at No. 1 to the Rams' pick at No. 10, let's run through what would be the most prudent and riskiest options for the initial picks of the 2015 NFL draft.

There is often a vast divide between projecting what a team should do in the NFL draft and what it will do. Thus, allow a slight flip of the script as it pertains to the top 10 spots in this year's draft, which kicks off Thursday night. From the Buccaneers' pick at No. 1 to the Rams' pick at No. 10, let's run through what would be the most prudent option for each team ... and how each could go elsewhere with the pick and shake up the first round.

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1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

"Safe" pick: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Gamble: Leonard Williams, DT, USC

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Right away, we get a better idea of why "safe" is in quotation marks. There are no guarantees in the draft, and that's especially true this year, when the number of prospects considered "elite" (more quotation marks!) by NFL teams is on the low side. Winston had issues off the field at Florida State, and he at times produces some head-scratchers on it.

Still, the Buccaneers are in dire need of a quarterback. Winston, by almost all accounts, is the most NFL-ready player at that position, ahead of Marcus Mariota. If Tampa Bay is sold on his personality, it would be shocking to see a different pick here.

But: What if the Buccaneers do not feel comfortable with Winston? And they don't think Mariota is ready to be a franchise quarterback? Then what? Well, enter the best defensive player on the board, who would land with defensive-minded coach Lovie Smith. Williams at No. 1 would set off immediate fireworks over the 2015 draft.

2. Tennessee Titans

"Safe" pick: Leonard Williams, DT, USC
Gamble: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

One pick after being considered the gamble, Williams advances to the safe zone. He is powerful and athletic enough to be a dominant run stuffer early, with the upside to develop as a pass rusher.

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There are two lines of thinking when it comes to the Titans taking an offensive player. The most obvious sends Marcus Mariota to Tennessee as an upgrade to Zach Mettenberger. A Mariota pick falls somewhere between safe and risky on this informal scale. Mariota himself will be a work in progress as a rookie, but the Titans would be better at quarterback by taking him, and he does not carry any of the off-field red flags Winston does.

Behind door No. 2 (at pick No. 2): Cooper, or whichever wide receiver Tennessee has graded the highest. The team's current depth chart at that position is overloaded with underwhelming options: Harry Douglas, Hakeem Nicks, Justin Hunter. The de facto go-to option is Kendall Wright, who probably would be best off as a complementary threat. Adding Cooper would put Mettenberger in the best position to succeed.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars

"Safe" pick: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
Gamble: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

Gus Bradley is a defensive mastermind who still needs someone capable of filling that Leo linebacker role. Perhaps Dante Fowler would be the Jaguars' preference here—though not everyone is totally sold on Beasley this high, including ESPN's Todd McShay—but there are multiple options who could fit the Leo mold.

Taking Gurley at No. 3 would qualify as one of the biggest gambles in NFL draft history. A team might be able to make a case for Gurley's talent level reaching these heights in this draft class, but he is still coming off a devastating knee injury at a position with a short shelf life. He gets a mention as a possibility because he would be Jacksonville's starting back, without question, as soon as he was ready. The Jaguars used early draft picks last year on a quarterback, wide receivers and the offensive line. This is the missing piece.

4. Oakland Raiders

"Safe" pick: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Gamble: Brandon Scherff, G/T, Iowa

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Speaking of missing pieces ... the most glaring hole on Oakland's mid-rebuild roster is at wide receiver. Sure, there's James Jones (73 catches, but for all of 666 yards last year), Michael Crabtree, Andre Holmes, Rod Streater, etc., etc. There is not a true No. 1 option for second-year quarterback David Carr. Until there is, the ceiling for this group will remain limited. Plug in Cooper or White at this selection and it would be hard to find fault.

Scherff would constitute a gamble mainly because the thought of taking an interior O-lineman or a right tackle near the top of round 1 is anathema to NFL front offices, no matter how talented or pro-ready that player may be. Scherff could round out what's on track to be a very solid Oakland line, but how much of a reach would he be in the top five?

5. Washington Redskins

"Safe" pick: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida
Gamble: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

The loss of Brian Orakpo does not set Washington back as far as it seems on paper—Orakpo had a half-sack in just seven games last season and missed 14 games back in 2012. Ryan Kerrigan needs pass-rushing help nonetheless, even if Trent Murphy takes a step forward in his second year. Fowler can attack the backfield from several different spots. He makes complete sense here.

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What will Washington do, though, if Mariota (or Winston) slips to this pick? Perhaps trade down or simply allow that slide to continue. But the alternative is to drive one nail into the coffin of Robert Griffin III's Washington career. Picking up Griffin's fifth-year contract option did nothing to ensure that he will be the starter in 2015 or beyond.

"We’ll see," coach Jay Gruden said about the possibility of drafting a quarterback, via CSN Washington. "If we think it’s worth the risk to hit the reset button, if he’s that good of a football player, if we decide in the building that he’s that good of a football player that we think we should do that, then we should do that."

6. New York Jets

"Safe" pick: Dante Fowler or Vic Beasley
Gamble: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

Both Beasley and Fowler could be off the board by here. If at least one remains, pairing that player with new coach Todd Bowles is pretty close to a no-brainer. Despite adding Jason Babin this offseason, the Jets do not have enough firepower at outside linebacker.

White was the mock draft pick of's Rich Cimini for the Jets this week. Cimini cited the idea of best player available, passing on Beasley and Scherff to take White. The offense would be packed to the gills at wideout, with White, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Jeremy Kerley. That may not necessarily be a bad thing if the Jets can show enough creativity to utilize all those weapons. White has the catch-and-go abilities over the middle to free up Marshall and Decker outside.

7. Chicago Bears

"Safe" pick: Brandon Scherff, G/T, Iowa
Gamble: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington

Three selections after being tabbed a risk, Scherff becomes far less of a roll of the dice at No. 7. A right side of Scherff and Kyle Long, no matter which one plays guard and which one plays tackle, would power the Bears' rushing attack for years to come.

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Defensively, the top value-meets-need match at this spot may lie in a pass rusher. Chicago did add Pernell McPhee and returns Jared Allen, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston, but a change to a 3-4 scheme leaves the door open for another impact performer.

Shelton or Alabama safety Landon Collins would cross back over into the gamble range. Both prospects have been mock drafted to Chicago with regularity throughout the offseason, only to see the perceptions of their overall value dip a bit in recent weeks. Fellow safety Damarious Randall has leapfrogged Collins, according to a few prognosticators, including The MMQB's Peter King. The Bears could use a bulky defensive tackle or help in the secondary, but should they wait until later to find it?

8. Atlanta Falcons

"Safe" pick: Bud Dupree, OLB, Kentucky
Gamble: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

Personal opinion? This is too high for Dupree, who flashed incredible potential at Kentucky but is a long way from being a final product. However, the NFL seems increasingly enthralled with Dupree's mix of size (6'4", 269 pounds) and athleticism (4.56-second 40-yard dash, 42-inch vertical). New Atlanta coach Dan Quinn might be the person most capable of developing Dupree into a superstar, too.

Yet, for the second time in the top 10, we find Gurley's name. It is far more realistic that Gurley is an option for Atlanta at No. 8—if he's still out there—than it is for Jacksonville to use the third overall pick on him. The Falcons' run game was a plodding mess last season (the line had a lot to do with it), and Gurley would offer hope for a quick turnaround.

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9. New York Giants

"Safe" pick: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
Gamble: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville

Expect to hear about Scherff again at this spot, should the first eight teams pass on him. Peat arguably is even more NFL-ready, at least to take over on the right side. His long-term future is at left tackle; Scherff's may be at guard. The Giants would be getting a plug-and-play option, and one who could push Justin Pugh inside.

Would New York double down at wide receiver instead? General manager Jerry Reese unleashed one of the 2014 draft's most aggressive—and ultimately, successful—swings for the fences last year, swiping Odell Beckham Jr. in round 1. Parker or Kevin White would fall under the same umbrella, as the best players available at a spot where the Giants do not have a desperate need. The payoff might be similar.

10. St. Louis Rams

"Safe" pick: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
Gamble: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

No coincidence that Peat has been the safest option on back-to-back picks: This is about the range where he is expected to come off the board, both on account of his current talent level and his upside. The Rams could drop him in as a starter at right tackle or give him a shot on the left, thereby sliding Greg Robinson back to guard.

That said, St. Louis—not the Jets, the Browns or the Eagles—should be considered the main wild card in the round 1 quarterback sweepstakes. While Nick Foles is penciled in as the starter for 2015, either Winston or Mariota would change that outlook in a heartbeat. Foles slumped badly last season and is set to become a free agent prior to 2016. The Rams may have to move up for a shot at Mariota, but they could do just that if he makes it to pick No. 5 or beyond