#1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
Here’s what I think it comes down to. Tampa Bay is taking a quarterback. They’ll meet with both. Study the tape like crazy. And they’ll feel more comfortable and confident building around the safer investment. Mariota it is.
#2 Tennessee Titans — Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State)
I’ve battled with this one because I think Winston has to prove he can be trusted. Ruston Webster is a Tim Ruskell disciple so you know he values character. But this is a team crying out for identity and quality. They have nothing to build around. Winston at least offers some hope.
#3 Jacksonville Jaguars — Andrus Peat (T, Stanford)
Peat is a natural pass protector perfectly suited to the left tackle position. After spending the #3 pick on Blake Bortles, they have to build around him. Drafting two receivers early last year was a start, now it’s about better line play up front.
#4 Oakland Raiders — Dante Fowler Jr (DE, Florida)
He’s just a flat out playmaker. You can line him up anywhere — D-end, inside, linebacker. He just makes plays. Throw in a terrific motor, great attitude and plus-athleticism and you have the makings of a perennial Pro Bowler.
#5 Washington Redskins — Shane Ray (DE, Missouri)
He’ll win at the combine with speed and explosion. Expect a big-time ten yard split. That’ll be enough to convince the Redskins this is their guy — they badly need defensive talent and are likely to lose Brian Orakpo.
#6 New York Jets — Randy Gregory (DE, Nebraska)
He’s a project wherever he goes. Length, athleticism. Some have compared his upside to that of Aldon Smith. But right now he’s at his best as a blitzing linebacker, not a natural edge rusher. Still, he fits the 3-4 and it’s a need for the Jets in Todd Bowles’ scheme.
#7 Chicago Bears — Leonard Williams (DE, USC)
I’m not quite as sold on Williams as a lot of other people but the Bears will likely focus on defense this off-season. They need to repair the whole unit and a pick like this makes a lot of sense.
#8 Atlanta Falcons — Eli Harold (DE, Virginia)
Expect a huge rise for Harold. He’s a former 5-star recruit with insane athletic qualities, length and grit. He knows how to convert speed-to-power. He could go even earlier than this. There’s some Barkevious Mingo to his game, some Brian Orakpo. With the right guidance he could be a top player at the next level.
#9 New York Giants — Danny Shelton (DT, Washington)
I watched the Oregon tape today and came away much more impressed than I expected. I’m not too proud to admit when I make mistakes. On that evidence, he does deserve to go earlier than I initially projected.
#10 St. Louis Rams — Ereck Flowers (T, Miami)
After Peat, he’s the best pass-protector in this class. They’re similar prospects — both combine great length and foot-speed with ample power and hand use. They both need to avoid lunging but it’s workable. Flowers would further bolster the Rams O-line.
#11 Minnesota Vikings — Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
He’s shown he has the deep speed this year to make up for a lack of elite size. He’s the most naturally gifted receiver to enter the draft since A.J. Green. Very focused individual and not a diva. Pairing Cooper with Teddy Bridgewater seems like a smart move.
#12 Cleveland Browns — Jordan Phillips (DT, Oklahoma)
When Phillips rocks up at the combine and runs a 4.8-4.9 he’ll start to fly up the boards. He has better tape than Dontari Poe but has the same kind of rare size and speed. He has an injury history and that’ll need to be checked out. If he’s cleared — watch out for Phillips. He declared for a reason.
#13 New Orleans — T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh)
I thought he had a disappointing Senior Bowl but the fact of the matter is — athletic tackles with length go early. They always do. The Saints back themselves to coach him up knowing the worst case scenario is he moves inside to guard.
#14 Miami Dolphins — Landon Collins (S, Alabama)
He’ll be a SPARQ demon at the combine and could force his way into the top ten. Collins had a big season, proving he can cover and hit. He’s better than Ha Ha Clinton-Dix who went in the first round last year.
#15 San Francisco 49ers — Arik Armstead (DE, Oregon)
Assuming Justin Smith does retire, the 49ers are going to need to fill out that D-line. Armstead has unreal size and upside. There’s every chance he’ll go early purely based on potential. He wasn’t the finished article at Oregon. Far from it.
#16 Houston Texans — Eddie Goldman (DT, Florida State)
There’s no quarterback solution here so they might as well keep padding the defensive line. They need a good run stopper to work the interior. Goldman is superb working against the run and he has untapped potential as a pass rusher. Former 5-star recruit.
#17 San Diego Chargers — Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
Having switched D.J. Fluker to guard, San Diego desperately needs to add a quality tackle. They don’t see a solution here so go with a playmaker at running back instead. Opinions are mixed on Gordon, but I can see a few teams really buying into his skill-set and unreal work ethic.
#18 Kansas City Chiefs — Devante Parker (WR, Louisville)
Receiver is such a big need here. Alex Smith can win you games but he needs weapons. Parker offers the kind of dynamic receiving threat the Chiefs currently lack. You get the feeling they’ll go all-in to find a solution here and might even move up for Amari Cooper.
#19 Cleveland Browns — Bendarick McKinney (LB, Mississippi State)
Big, classic 3-4 inside linebacker who set the tone for Miss. State in 2014. He could be the player everybody expected Rolando McClain to be. The Browns have a defensive Head Coach and need to develop an identity on that side of the ball after wasting two first round picks a year ago. Will they trade up for a quarterback? Maybe.
#20 Philadelphia Eagles — Trae Waynes (CB, Michigan State)
Corner is a need and Waynes will impress at the combine. He’s physical and might need to tone it down at the next level to avoid penalties — but it’s his size and speed that will entice teams to take him early.
#21 Cincinnati Bengals — Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
A lack of size might be a hindrance although he should run a good forty time and ten yard split. Beasley has been ultra-productive at Clemson and the Bengals need someone who can get to the quarterback.
#22 Pittsburgh Steelers — Brandon Scherff (T, Iowa)
The guy just looks like a Steeler — and it’s more than just the Iowa uniforms. Lunch-pail worker who drives people off the ball in the running game. Right tackle is a huge need for Pittsburgh and Scherff would be a day one starter.
#23 Detroit Lions — Cameron Erving (C, Florida State)
He looked good at tackle last season — and looked even better at center in 2014. The Lions would get a player who can start immediately at center and back up every other position on the O-line. He’s a defensive line convert with massive potential.
#24 Arizona Cardinals — Hau’Oli Kikaha (DE, Washington)
This is a hunch. The Cardinals need a pass rusher to work the edge in a big way. Kikaha has great hands and probably needs to work in space. His production is off the charts. It just seems like a fit. And I think the Cards will be prepared to reach a bit to make this happen.
#25 Carolina Panthers — Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
Since Dave Gettleman took over as GM he’s let the draft come to him. He’s looked for value and avoided reaching. They have bigger needs than receiver, but White falls a bit and they capitalize. It’s been suggested he loses confidence quickly and worries. That could provoke a slight drop down the board.
#26 Baltimore Ravens — Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
A top ten pick without the injury, Gurley falls to an ideal spot. The Ravens re-sign Justin Forsett and stash Gurley away for the future. Another brilliant pick by a franchise that just gets it year after year.
#27 Dallas Cowboys — Malcom Brown (DT, Texas)
Terrific defensive tackle prospect who could go much earlier than this. Another former 5-star recruit. Adept at knifing into the backfield to make plays. Classic three-technique with the size to hold up against the run.
#28 Denver Broncos — Carl Davis (DT, Iowa)
If they lose Terrance Knighton they’ll need an interior force on the defensive line. Davis had a tremendous Senior Bowl. The tape is a bit ‘meh’ but he showed what he’s capable of in Mobile. Coaches will love the upside here.
#29 Indianapolis Colts — La’el Collins (G, LSU)
Watching the all-22 against Alabama gave me a new perspective on Collins. He’s not as good as I first thought and will need to move inside to guard. He’s good in the run game and will slot in straight away. But he’s not as good as Joel Bitonio.
#30 Green Bay Packers — Owamagbe Odighizuwa (DE, UCLA)
I really, really like Odighizuwa. He’s not much of an edge rusher but the way he dips inside and uses brute force to decimate the interior is a sight to behold. For that reason he might be best acting as a 3-4 end with some outside rush duties thrown in.
#31 Seattle Seahawks — Marcus Peters (CB, Washington)
I go into more detail below.
#32 New England Patriots — Bud Dupree (DE, Kentucky)
You have to like his attitude, leadership and playmaking. He’s just not that great rushing the edge. I can see him working in New England’s defense by lining up in multiple positions and having an impact. He’d be a great fit here.
Notes on the Seahawks pick at #31
1. Why no receiver?
Yes, it’s a big need. But I just get the sense rounds 2-3 will be the sweet spot at the position this year. There are plenty of guys I think could go in the late first, but it’s more likely we see a host of second and third rounders like Devin Smith, Phillip Dorsett, Justin Hardy, Jaelen Strong, Sammie Coates, Nelson Agholor, Devin Funchess, Tyler Lockett. This is also the area I think Dorial Green-Beckham will fall to.
As much as the Seahawks need to fill this role, I don’t think you fight the board for the sake of it. If you want a tall, rangy wide receiver or tight end the options are limited. You’re probably going to have to be creative in free agency. Goodness knows how given the players you want to re-sign in Seattle. But are you really going to buy into a guy like Jaelen Strong in round one and feel he’s the answer? I wouldn’t want to do that. Ditto Sammie Coates. Ditto Devin Funchess. And as much as I like Devin Smith and Phillip Dorsett, I’m not totally sold on them in round one given their stature. Seattle needs someone who can box off a defender and make the kind of plays Chris Matthews made on Sunday — and I retain that belief even if you think Matthews can be a role-player in 2015.
I would rather take my chances seeing who is there in rounds 2-3 looking at the group available. Don’t ask me how they make it happen, but I just have to hope they have some kind of solution to address this need in a cost-effective way in free agency. Whether it’s Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas or trading for Vincent Jackson. Maybe they make some surprise cuts to free up room? Maybe they pull off a ‘go get a ring’ deal? I don’t know. Jackson is still the one I want.
2. Why a corner?
I’ve said a few times — and this opinion stems from speaking to people who would know — that I don’t think the Seahawks will ever go corner early unless it’s a really special player. I do think they had some interest in Bradley Roby a year ago. This was a guy coming off a down year who was previously regarded as a top-15 pick. He had some length and quicks. An ideal slot receiver at the very least. I think he might’ve been special enough. We’ll never know. I suspect they knew well before the draft he wouldn’t make it to #32.
I’m not sure if Marcus Peters will be considered ‘special’ enough. I do like his tape for the most part. I like his nose for the ball. I think he’s ideally suited for this scheme. I look at the other needs (WR, DL, OL, TE) and think this might be their best opportunity to get a player who stands out. A cornerstone pick who starts quickly and for multiple years. Someone you’d love to coach up and develop but can still feature in week one. I think he will tick a lot of the boxes. I just want to see his long speed at the combine.
Then there’s the character concerns. After all, he was kicked off the team at Washington.
I think putting him in a situation where he almost has to work for the LOB would be a good thing for Peters. He wouldn’t be able to pull any crap around Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman. I don’t think they’d be scared off by his connection to Marshawn Lynch (a close family friend). In fact it might just help keep him in line (a bit like Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson). Maybe it would be a problem? We have no way of knowing. But while a lot of teams might be scared off by the risk-factor with Peters (and that’s why he’d even be available at #31) the Seahawks might feel they have the setup to deal with a player like this. Carroll knows he’ll get a fair and honest assessment of his character from Steve Sarkisian.
Corner became a bigger need than I think we all thought watching the Super Bowl. And while I think we all trust this team to continue to find later round gems, they face the possibility of having to start a mid-to-late round rookie in 2015 or one of Tharold Simon or (health permitting) Jeremy Lane. I think the three key strengths of this team are Russell Wilson, the running game and the secondary. You solidify two of those strengths by paying Wilson and Lynch. You solidify the third by making sure you aren’t caught short when Byron Maxwell inevitably signs elsewhere.
Why would you risk Peters and not Green-Beckham? Simple. If DGB is a problem child it’s another headache for Wilson after the whole Percy Harvin fiasco. Asking Wilson to set him straight might be too much for one man. You have three veterans (Chancellor, Thomas and Sherman) to guide Peters, plus a proven DB coaching setup that will aid his development.
Want an alternative? How about LSU’s Jalen Collins. Tall (6-1), speedy. Far from the finished article but with a ton of upside.
In this scenario you target WR/TE, OL and DL in the next two rounds. Obviously if you were able to acquire someone like Vincent Jackson you can focus on the two lines. Perhaps you go R1-Peters or Collins, R2-Sambrailo, R3-Lockett. I think they’ll be less inclined to go D-line after signing up Cliff Avril. They will get Jordan Hill and Cassius Marsh back.
Like I said, I don’t know if Peters will be considered special enough to warrant Seattle’s first round pick. We’ll probably find out at the combine. But it does make some sense.