By Brandon Thorn for TheFootballEducator.com
2015 NFL Mock Draft – Round 1
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: Tampa Bay has weapons on offense (Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Austin Seferian-Jenkins) but is lacking on the offensive line and most importantly, quarterback. The Bucs are heading into 2015 with a returning GM (Jason Licht) and head coach (Lovie Smith) but no quarterback of the future. With no offensive lineman warranting a No. 1 overall selection in this draft, the decision will boil down to either the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner (Mariota) or the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner (Jameis Winston). While there are many on-field questions regarding Mariota the same can be said of Winston’s off-field behavior. Mariota appears to be the easier guy to mold and is talented enough to warrant being drafted here. The key question becomes who the team hires as their offensive coordinator for 2015, a move that is crucial for the development of whichever QB they select.
2. Tennessee Titans
Randy Gregory, Edge, Nebraska: Tennessee has an abysmal 2014 season thanks in large part to their 27th ranked defense. Their sack-leader Derrick Morgan (6.5) has been productive but there is simply no true difference-maker on this team in the pass-rush department. Gregory is a big (6-6/245), supremely athletic player who can line up in any scheme and effect games immediately. He only has two years experience on the division 1 level and showed a lot of improvement from 2013 to 2014. The sky is the limit for this kid and the Titans would be wise to snatch up a day one starter with this pick.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Leonard Williams, DL, USC: Jacksonville is led by the high-energy, defensive specialist Gus Bradley at head coach. Bradley is known for being a master motivator which if big Leonard is pushed hard, he can turn into the next Richard Seymour. Jacksonville’s best interior lineman and 2014 sack leader, Sen’Derrick Marks tore his ACL in the last week of the season so the team can use a guy to help ease the blow of his absence. The Jaguars had the 26th ranked defense but were 6th in the NFL in sacks in 2014. Bradley is quietly building a solid defense and Williams can provide the big boost they need to get to the next level.
4. Oakland Raiders
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: Oakland has a slew of wide receiver free agents in 2015 (5 total) and ranked dead last in total offense in 2014 so its safe to assume the team won’t be in a bind if they decide to let them walk. Cooper won the 2014 Biletnikoff Award for the nation’s most outstanding receiver and was named the SEC’s offensive player of the year. Cooper can come in from day one and make an impact with brilliant route running, excellent hands, and underrated athleticism. Perhaps most impressive about Cooper is his work ethic. Alabama head coach Nick Saban called Cooper “the complete package” in reference to him as a football player. Oakland needs to give their bright young signal-caller Derek Carr a legit weapon; Cooper gives him that.
5. Washington Redskins
La’El Collins, OT, LSU: It isn’t easy predicting what such a dysfunctional organization will do in the draft, but its safe to say they need help in a lot of areas. If offensive guru Jay Gruden is going to mold Robert Griffin III into a starting quarterback again in 2015 the team needs to give him help. Aside from center Kory Lichtensteiger and offensive tackle Trent Williams, they are lacking difference-makers up front. Collins can come in and shore up the right tackle position immediately, giving them a true mauler who can have a similar career as D.J. Fluker has had for the San Diego Chargers. This pick may not be very sexy, but it would make as big of an impact as any other pick here can.
6. New York Jets
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State: The Jets could very well stick with current quarterback Geno Smith for one more year, but with a new coaching staff slated to come in next season, they will want their guy in the most important position on the field. Winston has enormous potential on the field and has shown rare pocket presence, anticipation, and leadership there. Off the field, he is an immature kid that needs to grow up fast. After FSU’s last game of the year vs Alabama Winston stated he is focusing on playing baseball this season for the Seminoles and didn’t seem like a lock to even declare for the draft this year, so stay tuned on his status.
7. Chicago Bears
Landon Collins, S, Alabama: Chicago is one of the few teams with no GM or head coach after firing both at the end of the season. Predicting their pick is even more difficult until these two spots are filled. However, the defense has been a major issue the last few seasons, particularly in the secondary. The team hit on drafting cornerback Kyle Fuller last season, but needs to replace their safeties. They have four safeties hitting free agency in 2015 so the opportunity to rebuild the position is certainly there. Collins is a versatile, physical safety capable of providing run support and making plays in coverage. Having Collins to go along with Fuller heading into the future is a promising tandem will be very difficult to not make happen, particularly if Collins does well in off-season workouts.
8. Atlanta Falcons
Dante Fowler Jr., Edge, Florida: This is a little high for Fowler to go based off of sheer impact, but it would fit a big need and provide the team with something desperately needed; pass-rush help. Atlanta’s defense in 2014 was embarrassing, ranking 32nd in overall defense, pass defense, and 30th in sacks. This is thanks in large part to their inability to get after the quarterback. Fowler plays with a tremendous motor, is very physical, and possesses incredible quickness off the ball. In the mold of Melvin Ingram, Fowler would be a fixture on the Falcons defense for years to come while providing help in their most needed area.
9. New York Giants
DeForest Buckner, DL, Oregon: The Giants are one of the most cap-strapped teams in the league. According to spotrac.com they are one of the two bottom teams in the league in cap space. This means retaining Jason Pierre-Paul will be very difficult, especially because he is coming off a resurgent year (12.5 sacks). Buckner will help soften this blow, all 6-7/286 pounds of him. Buckner has special movement skills for a man his size and would fit in to the team’s history of placing a premium on drafting difference-makers on the defensive line.
10. St. Louis Rams
DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville: The team seems likely to give quarterback Sam Bradford one last chance to stay healthy and be the productive player they envisioned when they drafted him No. 1 overall in 2010. If Bradford is going to be successful, he will need more weapons than are around him now. The team’s leading receiver Kenny Britt is a free agent and while him being retained is possible, Parker is better than him or any receiver currently on the roster. Receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin have shown some promise, but neither will ever be a No. 1 option. Parker gives the team a legit top receiver who is still getting better. Despite missing the first seven games of 2014, Parker finished the year with 43 receptions, 855 yards, and 5 TDs in the just six games. Parker is a smooth route runner who glides on the field. He has top-end speed and a huge catch radius. This is the type of player Bradford needs if he’s going to succeed in 2015.
11. Minnesota Vikings
Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami: Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater showed that he is going to be a productive player for a long time but when he did struggle, it was in large part due to pressure. The team spent an early first-round pick on offensive Matt Kalil in 2012 and despite his inconsistencies he has shown enough to hold down the left tackle spot for a while. Opposite of him is Mike Harris, who is an unrestricted free agent. The team needs to shore up their protection up front as well as their run-blocking, particularly if Adrian Peterson returns next season. Flowers is a guy who will see his stock continue to rise the further into the process we get. At 6-6/322, Flowers is the prototypical tackle with the ability to play on either side. Not only is he a mauler in the run game, he has tremendous feet, enabling him to mirror premier pass-rushers. Flowers fits a need and gives them a huge upgrade in a critical position.
12. Cleveland Browns
Kevin White, WR, West Virginia: Cleveland started the season out surprisingly well, but eventually became what we have become to know Cleveland as; a disaster. Head Coach Mike Pettine did an admirable job all things considered. The team will have major decisions to make on their two most polarizing players: QB Johnny Manziel and WR Josh Gordon. Gordon is embarrassing the organization who has continued to give him chances to shape up. It feels like its time for the team to wipe the slate clean with him and cut him. If this happens the team has WR Mile Austin hitting free agency, leaving them one serviceable WR; Andrew Hawkins. Kevin White has the best ball skills in the draft and is a physically imposing player capable of starting from day one. Cleveland would be wise to add White for whoever the QB is in 2015.
13. New Orleans Saints
Shane Ray, Edge, Missouri: People have been expecting the Saints to add a dynamic pass-rusher via the draft or free agent for years and it hasn’t happened. The team will almost certainly add one of the many talented edge rushers available – Ray, Vic Beasley, Bud Dupree – with this pick, my best guess at this time is the player with arguably the highest ceiling. Ray has an incredible first step off the line of scrimmage and the athleticism to bend the edge. If Rob Ryan is to be successful coordinating this defense, he needs an elite talent on the edge. Ray gives them that.
14. Miami Dolphins
Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State: Some of the people who follow Miami closest tell me that a defensive tackle is a huge need. Based on Jared Odrick hitting free agency in 2015 and their 24th ranked run defense I can see why. Bennett is a guy who has stood out even though he’s playing beside a future top 5 pick in Joey Bosa. Bennett (6-2/288) is a powerful, balanced, and active inside presence who was very productive as a Buckeye, producing 14 sacks and 25.5 TFL the last two seasons.
15. San Francisco 49ers
Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State: Despite San Francisco going through a coaching change there are clear needs that need to be addressed. After spending their 2013 and 2014 first-round draft picks on safeties (Eric Reid & Jimmie Ward), cornerback is the next position in need of an influx of youth. The team has six CB free agents in 2015, including their two starters; Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver. Even if 49ers GM Trent Baalke decides to retain both, the team needs one more corner to give them what so many teams need these days; three starting caliber corners. By drafting Waynes – arguably the most talented DB in the country, not named Marcus Peters – the team will add an athletic, multi-sport athlete with tremendous size and length (6-1/182). *Marcus Peters has been an enigma off the field and was kicked off the Washington football team this year. He is widely viewed as the most talented corner in the country but it would be surprising to see him get drafted where his talent should place him considering his significant character concerns.
16. Houston Texans
Danny Shelton, NT, Washington: Houston will have to address their nose tackle position this off-season with both their starter (35-year old Ryan Pickett) and backup (Jerrell Powe) entering free agency. Whether they do that in the draft or free agency remains to be seen but Shelton is one of the two only true nose tackles in the draft worthy of an early round selection. Shelton is a special athlete considering his enormous body (6-2/339) and just to give you a glimpse of his movement skills check this out. Shelton had a tremendous season from his nose tackle spot, posting an incredible 89 total tackles with 16.5 tackles for loss and 9 sacks. In terms of potential and production from the interior defensive line, it doesn’t get much better than Shelton. When you have the best player at his position in the NFL (J.J. Watt), you need to protect him, particularly in the 3-4 scheme. Adding Shelton gives them a valuable piece to ensuring Watt sees as little double teams as possible in the future.
17. Kansas City Chiefs
Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State: Kansas City managed to manufacture points (16th in the league in total scoring at 22.1 PPG) despite not throwing a single touchdown to a receiver in 2014. The team desperately needs more talent for Alex Smith to throw to considering their top receiver Dwayne Bowe will be 31-years old in 2015 and behind him are journeyman veterans. Strong is a big (6-4/205), strong player with developed ball skills who was extremely productive in his 2-year career at ASU (157 catches, 2287 yards, and 17 touchdowns). Strong (along with Kevin White from West Virginia) are especially intriguing prospects because they have only had two seasons in division 1 football since their JUCO days. Strong has a lot of room to continue to improve once he gets pro coaching which will all but ensure his status as a first-round pick.
18. San Diego Chargers
Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame: San Diego has their starting left tackle (King Dunlap) entering 2015 as an unrestricted free agent and are moving their starting right tackle (D.J. Fluker) to right guard. This leaves obvious questions at both tackle spots, but thankfully for San Diego this draft is deep at tackle. The team will have their pick of Stanley, Peat, Ogbuechi, or Scherff here. Stanley (6-5/315) has really burst onto the scene similarly to how Greg Robinson did last year. Stanley plays with excellent balance vs speed rushers, has prototypical length for the position, and has had good games against top competition (including USC’s Leonard Williams). The Chargers could plug him into either tackle spot, offering them versatility and filling perhaps their biggest need this off-season.
19. Cleveland Browns (via Buffalo)
Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota: Current tight end Jordan Cameron has not lived up to expectations after a promising year in 2013 when he was a pro bowler. Cameron is an unrestricted free agent in 2015, has had three concussions as a pro (this last one kept him out for a month), and will only be retained if he accepts a short-term, incentive based contract. Whoever is the quarterback in Cleveland next season, he will need more weapons than what’s on the current roster even with the team already drafting WR Kevin White in this mock. It may be best for the team to have a complete overhaul on offense in the QB, WR, and TE positions. Enter the 2014 Mackey Award finalist who will be the top tight end drafted this year in a relatively weak class. Williams not only stretches the field, he has reliable hands capable of acrobatic grabs, and is a rare in-line tight end, giving him excellent versatility. It doesn’t hurt that he has bloodlines either (his father, Brian was a first-round pick of the New York Giants in 1989). This may be high for Maxx right now, but if he shines in the off-season workouts, this is the highest I think he can go.
20. Philadelphia Eagles
Marcus Peters, CB, Washington: As previously mentioned, Peters has enormous talent, prototypical size (6-0/198), and top-notch ball skills. The issue is he choked out an assistant coach and was kicked from the football team after multiple incidents. Predicting his draft stock right now is difficult as he could slip to day two of the draft or go somewhere in the end of round one. The Eagles have a starting corner entering free agency in 2015 (Bradley Fletcher) and an underperforming corner opposite of him in Cary Williams. Peters would provide a big-time upgrade to the Eagles’ secondary and has solid leadership around to keep him in line.
21. Cincinnati Bengals
Bud Dupree, Edge, Kentucky: Cincinnati had the fewest sacks in the NFL this season (20) and are in serious need of an edge rusher to compliment Carlos Dunlap. Wallace Gilberry (1.5 sacks in 16 starts in 2014) isn’t reliable in the pass-rush department so if Dupree lasted this long the Bengals would surely jump at drafting the senior from Kentucky. Dupree was a first-team All-Sec performer in 2014, finishing the year with 74 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 12.5 tackles for loss. Dupree is very athletic, fluid in space, and plays with a high motor. A versatile edge-rusher with the ability to stay on the field for three downs is exactly what the Bengals need.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers
Alex Carter, CB, Stanford: There are a handful of cornerbacks available here who are possible for the Steelers including: P.J. Williams, Ronald Darby, and Kevin White. Pittsburgh has been in dire need of a cornerback since the team let Keenan Lewis walk in free agency to New Orleans. Pittsburgh had the No. 2 ranked offense in the league in 2014 but were not very Steeler-like on defense; (No. 15 overall) with just 11 interceptions (25th). Carter (a junior) recently declared for the NFL Draft and is the type of corner Pittsburgh typically covets. Carter has ideal size (6-0/202), is very physical in man coverage and versus the run, plus he has bloodlines. Carter doesn’t appear to have great top-end speed so his 40-yard dash time will be a determining factor in him going in the first-round or not.
23. Detroit Lions
Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State: There are some extremely talented players left on the board here who Detroit could take but none give them as good of a match in terms of value and need as Goldman does. Detroit has four defensive tackles entering free agency in 2015 and while they will have a lot of cap space with so many players coming off contract (24 total), they likely won’t retain all four DTs. Enter Goldman, a very well-rounded interior presence who wins with a nice combination of strength and quickness. Goldman has played both defensive end and tackle in Tallahassee and has the talent to help Detroit keep their 2014 No. 1 ranked run defense in tact for 2015.
24. Arizona Cardinals
Vic Beasley, Edge, Clemson: Arizona has been in need of a dynamic pass rusher for years and Beasley is exactly that. Both John Abraham and Sam Acho are slated to hit free agency in 2015 and the cupboard is bare behind them. Beasley is an electric player off the edge who’s reminiscent of somebody Head Coach Bruce Arians is familiar with; Robert Mathis. Beasley is undersized like Mathis is (6-3/235) but has 33 sacks the last three seasons in Clemson and is an overall terror off the edge, with surprising strength at the point of attack. Arizona’s defense is stout in all aspects but their weakest link is edge rushers. This fills a major need and provides them with a top playmaker in the draft.
25. Carolina Panthers
Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford: Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has gotten hit a ton over the course of his four-year career and is need of a franchise left tackle. The team has seven total offensive lineman hitting free agency in 2015, among them their starter at left tackle Byron Bell. Peat put together an impressive season for the Cardinal as evident by being the recipient of the Pac-12’s Morris Trophy – voted by his peers as the toughest OL they faced in 2014. Peat is a fascinating prospect who could reasonably be the first tackle off the board come draft time. Peat possesses elite size, length, and athleticism but wasn’t as dominant as to be expected given him tremendous talent. This is a very deep draft for tackles, so Carolina will likely make out nicely regardless if Peat is here or not.
26. Baltimore Ravens
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: Current starting running back Justin Forsett has had a tremendous year after being signed as the third-string running back in the off-season. Despite being such a revelation this year, Forsett will be 30-years old next season and a free agent. The team could re-sign him for a reasonable price, but a talent like Gurley doesn’t come around very often. Gurley (6-1/232) is in the mold of Seahawks brushing runner Marshawn Lynch; he has a rare combination of speed/power and dominated college football before tearing his ACL this past season. Reminiscent of when Willis McGahee tore his ACL and still went in the first-round, Gurley would be the perfect fit in the rugged AFC-north conference. To give you an idea of how freaky of an athlete Gurley is: in his first game as a true freshman he ran 100 yards on 8 carries with 2 touchdowns and returned a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, finishing the year with 1,385 yards, a 6.2 yard average, and 17 touchdowns. Gurley also posted the seventh-fastest 60-meter hurdle time in UGA history in 2013. Baltimore General Manager Ozzie Newsome is notorious for taking the best player available regardless of position and Gurley is that player at this spot.
27. Indianapolis Colts
Arik Armstead, DL, Oregon: Indianapolis had a middle of the pack defense this year and will have a hole to fill at a defensive end spot this off-season. Starting end Cory Redding is a free agent and will be 35-years old next season so look for the team to get younger at this position. Armstead is one of the most freakish athletes in the entire draft who can go anywhere from the top ten to the end of round one due to his lack of production at Oregon. Despite his inconsistencies, a team will pull the trigger on him because there just aren’t many 6-7/290 pound human beings who can move as well as he can out there. Paired with Arthur Jones and Josh Chapman on the inside, Armstead would give the Colts a dynamic front in 2015 that would be extremely difficult for opposing offenses to prepare for.
28. Dallas Cowboys
Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington: Dallas’ defense overachieved in 2014 thanks in large part to the patchwork they did on defense to overcome injuries which is a credit to Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and the staff. The team knows they need reinforcements on that side of the ball, especially with so many impending free agents. Among them are both starting outside linebackers (Bruce Carter & Justin Durant). Carter may be retained but if Thompson is here, Owner Jerry Jones shouldn’t hesitate. Most people feel Thompson has a chance to go in the top 15 of the draft but studying him on tape reveals that he is a bit of a freelancer who takes too many chances and hasn’t gotten enough reps at linebacker (due to splitting time at running back). With that said, there isn’t a more athletic, rangy linebacker in the draft and Thompson would fit perfectly as the weak side backer in Dallas’ Tampa-2 defense.
29. Green Bay Packers
Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State: Green Bay had to move outside linebacker Clay Matthews to the inside due to the lack of depth and injuries at the position this past season. General Manager Ted Thompson is as good as it gets at identifying a need before there’s a major hole and inside linebacker is a spot the team is getting thinner at every year. A.J. Hawk will be 31-years old next season and hasn’t been very productive the last few seasons as their starter. McKinney would provide an upgrade over anyone on the roster and would give Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers even more flexibility to run his exotic blitzing scheme. McKinney (6-5/249) is a big, sideline to sideline specialist capable of rushing the passer. He isn’t known for plugging the hole in college but has the tools to develop in this area with time.
30. New England Patriots
Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin: Head Coach Bill Belichick defies the consensus every year and would be doing a little bit of the same with his selection, but hear me out. The Patriots rushing offense in 2014 averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and scored 13 rushing touchdowns; all in the bottom half of the league. The team has their top three runners all entering free agency in 2015 – Shane Vareen, Steven Ridley, Brandon Bolden – so there will be room for a lead back to emerge. Gordon is such a special talent that he could give the Patriots something they have never had in the backfield in the Belichick-era. Gordon simply has every box checked off in terms of traits you look for in a tailback; size (6-1/207), burst/agility, balance, soft hands, work ethic, and production (2,587 yards, 29 touchdowns in ’14). This is an extremely deep class of tailbacks but Gurley/Gordon are two of the most talented at the position to come out in a long time and both have first-round talent. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Belichick does something shocking like this that catapults his team yet again.
31. Denver Broncos
Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami: General Manager John Elway has had almost as successful of a career as he had as a player thus far, putting together solid draft classes every year he has been in charge of the draft. The team has built a very good defense over the last couple of seasons and is lacking depth in just one position: linebacker. The inside linebacker spot has become an issue late in the year for the team when starter Nate Irving went down with an injury. Behind him is Steven Johnson who is nothing more than a backup. Both of these players will be unrestricted free agents in 2015 as well. Enter Perryman, a player built to play inside linebacker. Studying tape of the Miami product and one thing becomes clear: this is the fiercest hitter in the 2015 NFL Draft. Perryman not only is an intimidating presence in the middle, he is a superb tackler, highly productive, and plays with a non-stop motor. He has enough size to be an every down player in the NFL (6-0/242) and would give Denver an instant starter at a position of need.
32. Seattle Seahawks
Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn: Seattle has the top defense in the NFL by a large margin and can afford to make a luxury pick here on the offensive side of the ball. With three pending free agents at the position in 2015 – Ricardo Lockett, Jermaine Kearse, Bryan Walters – the team could clear some cap space and bring in arguably the most physically gifted receiver in the draft here. Coates is big (6-2/210) and reminiscent of Terrell Owens in his body type and sheer physical prowess. While he is still very raw in terms of route running and ball skills, he has an almost endless ceiling. Coates averaged 21 yards a catch the last two seasons at Auburn and is rumored to have some freaky measurables. He has been timed in the 40-yard dash at sub 4.3, he’s posted a 44-inch vertical, and benched 405 pounds. This would be an almost ideal spot for Coates to land in because he wouldn’t be counted on to produce right away and could provide the Seahawks with the spark they have been missing on offense since Percy Harvin was traded.
You can talk to Brandon Thorn about all things NFL DRAFT via Twitter @OneDayGM.