Will Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston be taken with the first overall pick? Will either player live up to expectations? Which player will end up being the surprise pick of the draft? The list goes on.
That all being said, with the final countdown approaching, let’s go through the first round and try to anticipate just which players will head to each team in the latest NFL mock draft.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State, Sophomore
It’s no secret that Tampa Bay needs a quarterback, having missed the playoffs every year since 2007. Last year’s experiment with Josh McCown and Mike Glennon failed under then-new head coach Lovie Smith, so chances are the team will hit the reset button at the position.
That’s where Winston comes in, with good size for the position at 6’4″, 231 pounds. His character issues away from the field are well-documented, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he left school with 7,964 career pass yards with a completion rate of 66.1 percent, plus a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 65-28. On top of that, he’ll already have a built-in fan base in Florida, so it’d also be a good business decision for the Bucs.
So long as he learns to not be a complete statue in the pocket, play a more conservative game and take advantage of and trust the great receiving corps he’d already have in second-year man Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, the sky’s the limit for Winston in Tampa Bay.
2. Tennessee Titans- Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon, Junior
Several times over the past few months, there has been grand speculation that the Titans will not draft a quarterback with the second overall pick and stick with 2014 sixth-round pick Zach Mettenberger. If you ask this writer, that’s just a smokescreen to drive up the price for potentially trading down.
However, assuming that the team keeps the selection and does not trade down, I’m going to stick with my believe that GM Ruston Webster will realize that though Mettenberger has his strengths, Mariota’s ceiling is higher. The 6’4″, 222 pound junior is not as strong an athlete as his fellow QB Winston, but he uses his legs well and can sometimes escape an oncoming pass rush as a result.
Mariota will need time to learn how to read defenses and not immediately go into run mode when the going gets tough, but he still has a great head on his shoulders and will have a great coach in Ken Whisenhunt to help develop him.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars- Dante Fowler, Jr., DE/OLB, Florida, Junior
After spending most of his college career at defensive end, the 6’3″, 261 pound Fowler will switch to outside linebacker in the NFL. That said, the Jaguars could very well set the record for fastest pick turn-in at the draft if he’s still available on the board when their turn comes around.
Fowler only registered 5.5 sacks over the course of the Gators’ regular season, but then turned in a strong performance in the Birmingham Bowl against East Carolina, registering three sacks in Florida’s 28-20 win. His overall pass rushing game is raw and will need time to develop, but having a defense-focused coach in Gus Bradley will help and his overall athleticism should have him make an immediate impact on the strong side. So long as he accepts coaching and is willing to make adjustments, he will ultimately become an elite linebacker with double-digit sack potential.
4. Oakland Raiders- Kevin White, WR, West Virginia, Senior
The Raiders desperately need a wide receiver that can become a reliable go-to guy for second-year quarterback Derek Carr, and White is the perfect candidate. He has size at 6’3″, 215 pounds, and has breakneck speed to go with strong hands. In his final season with the Mountaineers, White caught 109 passes for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns.
He’d have a stronger quarterback throwing to him in Oakland, a team that is desperate to get off the schneid and become a perennial playoff contender again, and his ability to break away from defenders and become a true vertical threat in the passing game regardless of who is throwing to him will only help the Raiders’ offense.
Simply put, this would not only be a great pick for Oakland, but the perfect one.
5. Washington Redskins- Leonard Williams, DL, USC, Junior
At 6’5″, 300 pounds, Williams is the guy on the field that opposing players see and immediately start shaking in their boots. He can play both defensive tackle and defensive end and while he only registered seven sacks for the Trojans last season, he has the makings of a pass rusher that can absolutely cripple an offensive attack.
By slotting him at defensive end, the Redskins’ defense would immediately become stronger and the void left by Brian Orakpo would be filled. After finishing 24th in passing defense last year, having Williams on board could easily see that number rise.
Granted, Williams’ overall pass rushing game still needs a lot of work. His greatest asset right now is his strength and athleticism, and he’ll need to improve his reaction time and do a better job of using his hands to break through coverage rather than just burst forward and hope that the offensive linemen drop like dominoes. So long as he’s willing to learn and make adjustments, he’ll have a high ceiling.
6. New York Jets- Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama, Junior
The Jets already have two solid wide receivers in veterans Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall, but the latter is 31 years old and won’t be a big vertical threat much longer. By bringing aboard the 6’1″, 211 pound Cooper aboard as a No. 3 wide out who can work out of the slot, New York’s passing game will immediately improve even if it is Geno Smith or Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing the ball.
Cooper played in a pro-style offense at Alabama and reeled in 124 catches for 1,727 yards and 14 touchdowns, but the NFL will be a different game as he’ll have elite defenders to worry about. He’ll also need to work on breaking away from corners and safeties and not hesitating after the catch. By initially playing the slot in New York, he’ll be able to address those issues in practice and ultimately become a fine No. 1 receiver.
7. Chicago Bears- Breshad Perriman, WR, Central Florida, Junior
New head coach John Fox no longer has Peyton Manning as his quarterback and while he could very well rely on a strong running attack to put the Bears over the hump, quarterback Jay Cutler will still need someone to throw to besides deep threat Alshon Jeffrey.
That’s where Perriman comes in. At 6’2″, 212 pounds, he has blazing speed and will use it to drive defensive backs to distraction. The only real mark against him is that his speed is his best asset as of now, and he’ll need to do more than just run fast to make an impact in the NFL. Once he learns to be a good all-around receiver and not just a guy who can go deep and outrun everybody, the Bears will rise again.
8. Atlanta Falcons- Shane Ray, DE/LB, Missouri, Junior
The Falcons need a complete overhaul on defense, and reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year Shane Ray could very well be the guy they build around. After posting 13.5 sacks in his junior year, this young man definitely has the explosiveness needed to be an elite NFL pass rusher.
But it’s going to be an uphill battle for Ray. He is undersized for defensive end at just 6’3″, 245 pounds, and odds are greater than none that he’ll end up playing linebacker in the pros. In spite of his athleticism, he needs to learn to do more than just use his big hands to rip past coverage.
Fortunately, if Atlanta selects him, he’ll have former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as his head coach, aka someone who will develop him properly and be patient with him. Let those chips fall into place, and Ray’s NFL future is bright.
9. New York Giants- Brandon Scherff, OL, Iowa, Senior
If there’s one thing that the Giants need, it’s protection for quarterback Eli Manning. Sure, the team ranked seventh in passing offense last year, but still finished 6-10 as Manning threw 14 picks and fumbled the ball seven times on top of being sacked 28 times. This is where Scherff comes in.
The former Hawkeye’s leg game isn’t very strong and makes him a better fit at guard and as a run blocker, but that could end up being ideal for the G-men. The team’s injury-ravaged running game ranked just 23rd in the NFL last season, and having Scherff plugged into the o-line would help take some of the pressure of of Manning and help reestablish the run under the potential three-headed monster of Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen and Andre Williams.
He has the size to play that role at 6’5″, 319 pounds, so GM Jerry Reese shouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger if Scherff is available at No. 9.
10. St. Louis Rams- Devante Parker, WR, Louisville, Senior
Now that the Rams have a solid pocket quarterback in Nick Foles, the team would be wise to get him a No. 1 receiver. Should the 6’3″ 209 pound Parker still be on the board, he would be a perfect option in head coach Jeff Fisher’s system.
Parker has a knack for getting himself open and owns a phenomenal catching eye, having pulled in 43 catches for 855 yards and five touchdowns after missing the first half of Louisville’s season due to injury. He’ll need to get stronger and not get so easily beaten by physical press coverage, but that’s what adjusting to the NFL is all about. Give him some time, and he can be great as a Ram.
11. Minnesota Vikings- Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State, Junior
Captain Munnerlyn is being moved to the slot, and Terence Newman is about to turn 37. This means that Minnesota is in the market for a cornerback despite finishing seventh in passing defense last year. Fortunately for them, the speedy and athletic Waynes should be available for them to pick at No. 11.
Small, scrappy and speedy at just 6’0″, 186 pounds, Waynes is a phenomenal bump and run corner who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and thrives on being a pest in man-to-man coverage. Combined with Xavier Rhodes, the two could prove to be a deadly tandem in the Vikings’ secondary.
All Waynes has to do is be less handsy and trust his athleticism so as not to draw careless penalties, and he easily has the makings of a Pro Bowl corner.
12. Cleveland Browns- Danny Shelton, DT, Washington, Senior
Every defensive line needs its anchor in the middle, and that is exactly what the 6’2″, 339 pound Shelton can be for a Browns team desperately in need of a pick-me-up. In his senior season with the Huskies, Shelton had 8.5 sacks to go with an eye-popping 92 tackles. While the latter number is impressive, that can be attributed to playing in the Pac-12 and thus chasing people from side to side rather than in the downhill game.
Fortunately for Shelton, the downhill game is his bread and butter. His size and girth allows him to be a raging bull at his position and so long as he asserts himself and doesn’t get intimidated by offensive lineman who will push him right back to take his bullying game out of the equation, he has all of the tools to become a great interior lineman. In Cleveland, that kind of player would be ideal.
13. New Orleans Saints- Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson, Senior
Look up explosive in the dictionary, and you’ll see a picture of Vic Beasley. This young man was an absolute beast in four years with the Tigers, registering 33 sacks and forcing seven fumbles while continually making life difficult for opposing players. The Saints are in desperate need of an outside edge rusher, and Beasley could very well be their guy.
Just the same, Beasley is a project player. Though 6’3″, 246 pounds, all of his strength comes from his upper body and he’ll need to bulk up and build strength below the waist in order to become a more complete player. He’ll make an immediate impact in New Orleans’ 3-4 system and will help stop opposing offenses, but to say that he’ll immediately be racking up sacks left and right is unrealistic. Give him a few months to get stronger, and the results will speak for themselves.
14. Miami Dolphins- Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State, Junior
Now that locker room nuisance Mike Wallace is off the team, the Dolphins can look to get their franchise receiver the old-fashioned way. With so much depth at the position in this year’s draft class, Strong is the pick that makes the most sense for them.
Strong doesn’t have much in the speed department, nor does he have Calvin Johnson-like athleticism, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he reeled in 82 catches for 1,165 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Sun Devils last season. So long as head coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor are patient with him and accept the fact that his best strengths are his determination and ability to climb the ladder (42 inch vertical at the combine), Strong will definitely help up the Dolphins’ attack in the passing game.
15. San Francisco 49ers- Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon, Junior
With the future of veteran Justin Smith still undecided, the Niners have a hole to fill on the defensive line. Enter Armstead, who has freakish size at 6’7″, 292 pounds. Though not a strong edge rusher, having someone that big among the front seven will immediately strike fear into the hearts of opposing offenses.
But that doesn’t mean Armstead will merely be a big guy who plays tall and is best in stopping the run. New head coach Jim Tomsula is a defense-oriented coach, and new defensive coordinator Eric Mangini is one of the best in the game. It may take a couple of years but if San Francisco selects Armstead and is patient with him as he develops his downhill game off the edge, fans and front office executives alike will be very pleased with their return on investment.
16. Houston Texans- Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska, Junior
At 6’5″, 235 pounds, Gregory has everything at his disposal to become an elite NFL pass rusher. He only registered 6.5 sacks for the Huskers last year, but impressed enough at the combine to be considered worthy of the first round. However, there are some red flags that need addressing.
Like the aforementioned Vic Beasley, all of Gregory’s power comes from his upper body. Before he makes any sort of impact, he needs to bulk up his legs and get stronger below the waist. On top of that, he tested positive for marijuana at the combine and twice while playing at Nebraska. Given the long, unfortunate history of former Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon, it’s easy to see why teams would be hesitant to draft Gregory and why he has fallen this far in the draft.
But that doesn’t take away from the fact that when this kid’s head is screwed on straight, he plays incredibly well. Should Jadeveon Clowney get healthy and be able to play a full season, having him and Gregory as two strong outside linebackers along with defensive end J.J. Watt will not only make Houston’s defense incredibly strong, but also dangerous.
17. San Diego Chargers- Malcom Brown, DT, Texas, Junior
San Diego needs a more physical presence up front, and Brown can provide just that. He registered 6.5 sacks for the Longhorns last season, and uses strong hands to give himself a decent push against offensive lineman.
But that’s the college game, and now we’re talking about the pros. Though Brown’s hands have helped him excel up to this point, he’s going to have to do more to make an impact in the NFL. This means strengthening his legs and using them more to gain momentum rather than just push both hands out at offensive linemen and hope for the best.
Once he improves that part of his game and learns to take that extra step, San Diego’s defense will instantly become better.
18. Kansas City Chiefs- Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma, Junior
Green-Beckham will be drafted out of Oklahoma, even though never played a single down for them. He transferred to the Sooners program after being dismissed from Missouri in 2014 following an arrest for assault, thus explaining why his stock has dropped after catching 59 passes for 883 yards and 12 scores in 2013.
But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the man known as DGB still has phenomenal size at 6’5″, 237 pounds. He isn’t as strong or fast as Calvin Johnson, but could still thrive in a system that doesn’t rely heavily on receivers and thus allows him to develop his game in practice
Given how the Chiefs have a great running back in Jamaal Charles and could use a big and buff wideout to help complement the newly acquired 6’0″ Jeremy Maclin, this could end up being something of a value pick if Green-Beckham stays out of trouble and Kansas City is patient with him.
19. Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo)- La’El Collins, OT, LSU, Senior
After using their earlier pick to improve the defense, Cleveland will use their second pick in the first round to shore up protection for the offense. By selecting Collins to handle either the strong side or either guard position and protect whomever is playing quarterback, not to mention running back, the Browns’ offensive line will be that much stronger.
Granted, Collins is a bit small for his position at just 6’4″, 305 pounds, but he plays with a chip on his shoulder and will dare oncoming rushers to tangle with him. He does not scare easy or back down in the face pressure, something that all coaches dream of in a player.
Just get him to the weight room for multiple leg days to improve his strength down there, and the results will speak for themselves.
20. Philadelphia Eagles- Landon Collins, S, Alabama, Junior
He’s only 6’0″, 228 pounds, but Landon Collins might as well be a Mack truck. If Walter Thurmond and Byron Maxwell are the sheriff and deputy of the new Philadelphia secondary, that would make Collins the hired gun if the Eagles stay at No. 20 and draft him.
His downhill game is excellent and he is probably the hardest hitter in this year’s draft class, and his aggressive style of play is just what Philly needs to excel going forward. He’ll need to improve his game in coverage and not be afraid to go toe-to-toe with receivers when called upon, but the rest of his skillset makes him worth the selection at this position.
21. Cincinnati Bengals- Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford, Junior
Peat has it all at 6’7″, 313 pounds and after a down season from right tackle Andre Smith in 2014, Cincy could use an insurance plan for his expiring contract.
Well built from top to bottom, Peat is a perfect fit for the right tackle position, using his upper and lower body to be a wall of protection for his teammates. Just how much playing time he’d get as a rookie on the Bengals remains to be seen, assuming the team does take him, but having him should give quarterback Andy Dalton more confidence and running backs Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard enough protection to own the game on the ground.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers- Bud Dupree, LB, Kentucky, Senior
The Steelers are desperate for an outside linebacker, what with Jarvis Jones looking more and more like a bust and James Harrison being 37 years old despite still having some gas left in the tank. Were the team to draft an explosive athlete like Dupree, the entire defense as a whole would have some life injected into it.
Dupree has size at 6’4″, 269 pounds, and moves with remarkable grace for someone with that build. The only mark against him is that at this point, he’s more of a great tape player than he is a strong edge rusher, and he’ll need to improve in that department in order to make an impact in the NFL. Just the same, his type of athleticism is rare and if Pittsburgh wants its defense to improve upon being ranked 18th overall last year, they’ll roll the dice on Dupree.
23. Detroit Lions- T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh, Senior
Quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked 45 times last year, so the Lions’ front office should make drafting him some protection a priority. Clemmings is a little small at 6’4″, 309 pounds, but has experience playing tackle as well as a high ceiling, not to mention incredible footwork for someone his size.
Clemmings’ only real issue is that he’s still learning the position, and he makes some mental mistakes when pressured. So long as he learns not to be intimidated and gets some confidence, this could be a pick that pays great dividends for the Lions’ offense.
24. Arizona Cardinals- Melvin Gordon III, RB, Wisconsin, Junior
Under normal circumstances, I would say that running backs are a dime-a-dozen and shouldn’t ever be picked in the first round. MG3 is not one of those running backs.
Blessed with unique size for the position at 6’1″, 215 pounds, Gordon ran for 2,587 yards on 343 carries his junior season, scoring 29 touchdowns. He also caught 19 passes for 153 yards and three scores, adding to his strong all-around game. Given how Arizona could use an upgrade at running back over Andre Ellington, Gordon would be a great fit in the offensive scheme of head coach Bruce Arians.
Gordon will need to improve his running attack and not be so quick to swing wide on the NFL level, but there is nothing to suggest that he can’t overcome that and become a strong dual threat halfback, a la Jamaal Charles.
25. Carolina Panthers- Nelson Agholor, WR, USC, Junior
The Panthers already have a large behemoth of a receiver in second-year man Kelvin Benjamin, so this year’s draft pick should counter that with a smaller guy to handle the other side. Sure enough, USC’s Nelson Agholor fits that profile at 6’0″, 198 pounds.
Though he’s on the smaller side, Agholor is not one to be doubted. His breakaway game is getting better and better and his quick feet are only going to help him elude defenders. So long as he carries a good attitude with him wherever he goes and doesn’t get intimidated by stronger and faster defenders, he can definitely enjoy a successful NFL career as a No. 2 receiver.
26. Baltimore Ravens- Marcus Peters, CB, Washington, Junior
No matter where his final stock ends up before draft day, Marcus Peters is going to have a red flag attached to his name solely because he was kicked off the Huskies last year after repeatedly clashing with coaches. Though that is a cause for concern, that doesn’t take away from his overall talent.
By having a no-nonsense team like the Ravens draft him and putting him with a coach in John Harbaugh who can keep him under control and help him get his head screwed on straight, Peters’ aggressive would be an instant fit on a team known for hard-hitting defense and strong man-to-man play.
Put him in a secondary that was weak enough to have Baltimore finish 23rd in passing defense last year, and that number is going to improve vastly if he succeeds.
27. Dallas Cowboys- Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut, Senior
Dallas desperately needs help at the corners after finishing 26th in passing defense last season, and Jones is just the man they need to hit the reset button at the position. He has a good head on his shoulders to go with phenomenal speed and play-reading ability, so having him come aboard would be a tremendous boon for the defense.
Still, Jones plays above his midsection and has questionable balance as a result. Get him into the gym for some core training to help him center himself, and his game should improve tremendously.
28. Denver Broncos- Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon, Senior
After another early playoff exit, the Denver Broncos have one priority this draft season: get both Peyton Manning and the running game some more protection. With a hole at right tackle, Jake Fisher is a perfect fit at 6’6″, 300 pounds.
Fisher is not without flaws, as he tends to absorb contact rather than try to fight it off, and he has a knack for getting flagged with stupid penalties. In the NFL, that’s not going to fly if he wants to be an impact starter. Just the same, his ability in zone blocking will only help him in new coach Gary Kubiak’s system and so long as he keeps his head in the game, he has the tools to succeed.
29. Indianapolis Colts- D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida, Junior
The Colts could use some more protection for Andrew Luck and aging running back Frank Gore, so drafting Humphries makes sense here. A left tackle by trade, he is a strong enough athlete to be moved to the right while Anthony Costanzo handles the blind side.
Though that’s a big change for some players, Humphries has the mental toughness to succeed at it. He plays angry and with incredible determination, which will only help him as a professional. The only real problem with Humphries is that he relies too much on his upper body and uses it to try and practically spear oncoming defenders away, and improving his footwork plus learning to absorb contact down below is an absolute necessity if he’s going to take his game to the next level.
Once he does that, the sky’s the limit.
30. Green Bay Packers- Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA, Senior
I look at Eric Kendricks, and I immediately think of Jonathan Vilma. He isn’t someone that has a lot to offer in the size department, but he plays his heart out and hits HARD.
It just so happens that the Packers are looking for help at inside linebacker and given Kendricks’s strong downhill game, he is a phenomenal man for the job. He’s going to have to work on getting behind the line of scrimmage to get to the ballcarrier more quickly, but better that the man get hit hard and know it rather than try and change Kendricks’s game.
Simply put, at 6’0″, 232 pounds, Kendricks gives the Packers someone who will play with the tenacity of someone much bigger, and thus make the team’s defense all the more intense.
31. New Orleans Saints (from Seattle)- Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami (FL), Senior
The Saints are a team that prides itself on strong offense and with big tight end Jimmy Graham shipped to the Seahawks, the team could use some help in the receiving game. Dorsett isn’t nearly as big as Graham, standing just 5’10”, 185 pounds, but his speed is off the charts and he has excellent hands. In four seasons with the Hurricanes, he reeled in 121 catches for 2,131 yards and 17 touchdowns. For those doing the math, that’s an average of 17.6 yards per catch.
By providing veteran quarterback Drew Brees with a reliable slot receiver who can turn on the afterburners in the blink of an eye, the Saints’ offense would easily be back in overdrive. At that point, the team would once again be a perennial Super Bowl contender.
32. New England Patriots- Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State, Junior
Let’s call a spade a spade. The Patriots could draft a chimpanzee, a golden retriever or even a tree, and head coach Bill Belichick would find a way to turn any of the three into a Pro Bowler. But seriously, drafting Goldman is the best move for this team, and here’s why.
First off, Goldman is enormous at 6’4″, 335 pounds and could be a great anchor in the middle for them. He isn’t much of a pass rusher, but that’s not what he’d need to make his bread and butter in New England. He would need to be the man up front who just bursts forward and lets the blockers fall, perfectly filling the void left by veteran Vince Wilfork, who departed in free agency.
Should Goldman end up playing in Foxboro, the Patriots would be in a fine position to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to Adam Hunger-USA Today Sports