By Zach Walker
If anyone were to look back as far as two weeks ago, the NFL was so different back then. Jimmy Graham was the best thing going for New Orleans, the only player Jay Cutler could consistently hit was still there to bail him out, and LeSean McCoy was a Philadelphia Eagle. It’s unreal how much the NFL has changed in such a short time. Team needs have changed, some teams got more picks, and some teams gave up a lot to get a lot.
A mixed bag feeling about Greg Hardy, on one hand, not a great guy, done bad things, and I’m putting that lightly because I don’t want to re-hash the details. And on the other hand, a supreme talent at a position of need. But, the overall feeling is positive move. The Jones’ didn’t bring this player in to play match-maker, they brought him in to attack the quarterback. In his last three regular season games, he sacked the quarterback eight times. Hardy IS going to be suspended, so his impact is going to have to wait, but once the “Kraken” gets unleashed, the NFC East is going to have to adjust their game plans. The Cowboys gave Hardy a one-year, $11.3 million dollar deal, and could end up being $13 million total. Expensive for a potential rental player, but I consider it like renting an Aston Martin for your high school reunion, it’s kind of a said-unsaid “f#$% you”.
Let’s get drafting.
1st Pick – Tampa Bay – Florida State QB Jameis Winston – When it’s the first pick, it doesn’t really deviate. Winston is the best choice for the Bucs, unless they choose Mariota, but in any case it’s going to be a quarterback. The Bucs have added pieces all over their team, and they’ve been exclusively defensive, so my guess is that they’ll draft with offense on the brain. Winston has the arm, eyes, and mind to get the football to any of the Bucs weapons. If Winston tightens up his footwork, he can be great.
2nd Pick – Tennessee – USC DT Leonard Williams – Sure, the Titans could use Marcus Mariota, but they do have Zach Mettenberger and could let him have the shot at a sophomore season (and if you think that’s crazy, remember, this team gave Jake Locker every chance possible). Why not go after the best player in this draft, Leo Williams. If Tampa Bay’s quarterback situation wasn’t so tragic, Williams would be the number one pick.
3rd Pick – Jacksonville – Florida DE Dante Fowler Jr. – From the second the draft order was official, as week 17 ended, the Jaguars have known, that they have options. They can sit pretty and prepare to catch, at worst, the second best non-quarterback prospect in the draft. Or they can trade with a team, if the Titans don’t draft Mariota, as I’ve predicted, and load up on picks, as the Rams did a few years back. I won’t predict the trade, so I’ll say they draft Fowler. Fowler has the ability to get to the quarterback, attack the runner, and chase the play down from behind. I know that Gus Bradley can take any of the top defensive prospects from this draft and get them to play at their ceiling.
4th Pick – Oakland – Alabama WR Amari Cooper – The Raiders have been busy this offseason, signing players to fit in all over the roster, and some have been wise, others have received much money that they won’t justify on the field. But they need to give Derek Carr a target to throw at, and Amari Cooper is the best and most well-rounded receiver in the Raiders target zone. In the second round, if they can land Minnesota’s Maxx Williams, those Raiders might just creep up on some teams and steal some wins, and we all want that.
5th Pick – Washington – Nebraska DE Randy Gregory – Something I’ve never witnessed has happened with Washington making solid financial moves in an offseason. They picked up Stephen Paea and Terrence Knighton on the cheap, and those are undeniable great moves. They need to continue to improve their defense, and with Gregory, they can turn up the heat. Pairing Gregory with Ryan Kerrigan is bad for opposing quarterback’s health.
6th Pick – New York Jets – Oregon QB Marcus Mariota – It’s only fitting, that the first year the draft changes cities, the Jets would draft a quarterback that they would welcome (but they’d still boo him, it’s a Jets thing). The Jets have their corners back, now it’s time to add a cornerstone piece. Marcus Mariota is an above-average quarterback with great upside. When was the last time the Jets could say that about their quarterback? They acquired Brandon Marshall from the Bears for basically nothing, so now, Mariota won’t be forcing the ball to just Jace Amaro or Eric Decker. The Jets o-line isn’t that great, so rolling with the shotgun would benefit both the protection, but also the growth of Mariota.
7th Pick – Chicago – Washington DT Danny Shelton – What happens when you take away the guy that you brought in to help your quarterback, because he was the only guy that could get through to him? No one knows yet, but I’m sure we all have a good idea. But what was as bad as Jay Cutler, was the entire Chicago defense. Lamarr Houston and Willie Young both over-exerted themselves and got injured, putting someone between them should prolong them during a season. Danny Shelton is a beast, every bit as bad-ass as Aaron Donald was for last year’s draft, and the Rams smiled all the way to the bank. Shelton is a big. He looks as though he could tear the arms off of a Predator. Plays like it, too. If the Bears want to bring some heat, spice, and attitude back to the field, Shelton is one giant step in the right direction.
8th Pick – Atlanta – Missouri DE Shane Ray – The Atlanta Falcons defense was as flat as it could have been, last season. They added a lot of linebacker and rush end help in free agency, the linebackers Brooks Reed and Justin Durant make them better, ends Adrian Clayborn and O’Brien Schofield are depth guys at best. Shane Ray is raw, and talented, and the Falcons would be crazy to let him get past them. Ray played behind Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, and took off when they left. Ray is a bullet, and his first step will help track down Cam Newton, the rook Winston, and Drew Brees.
9th Pick – New York Giants – Iowa OT Brandon Scherff – Another not changed pick from my previous mock. To prolong Eli Manning, the Giants really need to keep him clean and standing, Scherff is the top prospect. From everything I’ve read, I can say that Scherff is this year’s Zack Martin, could develop into a serious left tackle, but could be an absolute monster at guard. I don’t think they’ll move him inside, maybe they’ll put Justin Pugh at left tackle, let Scherff grow on the right side, and once he’s cultivated, switch them, Tyron Smith-style. Scherff is a mean operator in the trenches, on run plays, and has some room to grow as a pass blocker, but for the Giants, he’s a great pick.
10th Pick – St. Louis – West Virginia WR Kevin White – So it’s the Nick Foles era in St. Louis, and I’m glad to see someone wanted him. I liked Bradford, but with his injuries and his lack of spark, glimmer, panache, the Rams were savvy enough to find a dancing partner to swap quarterbacks. The thing is, the Rams still don’t have a number one, and Kevin White changes that. White brings everything to the table that Amari Cooper does, just not as defined, but with better size. It would be quite funny to me if the Rams gave Nick Foles, in one draft, what they didn’t give Sam Bradford in his entire stint in St. Louis, a true number one wide out.
11th Pick – Minnesota – Alabama SS Landon Collins – The safety class in this draft is one man deep, Landon Collins. Past that it’s the right fit and hope for the best. The Vikings have a good young secondary, with Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith, and could look to add some weaponry in the first round to help fight the high-flying, pass-happy opponents of the NFC North. Working next to the rangy Harrison Smith, Collins can work to his advantage, and be the king of what’s in front of him, and that bodes very well for him very early while he adjusts to Stafford, Rodgers, and Cutler. Having Mike Zimmer as your head coach has never hurt a defensive back yet, either.
12th Pick – Cleveland – Louisville WR DeVante Parker – Well, Jordan Cameron’s gone and in all likely-ness Josh Gordon is going to miss significant time for something, so the pass-poor Browns are going to need someone for their quarterbacks to try and get the ball to. Parker is a talented, Mid-western guy, who can really attack the football. His stats at Louisville won’t light anyone’s pants on fire, but his physical tools can make even Cleveland’s quarterbacks look good.
13th Pick – New Orleans – Clemson OLB Vic Beasley – I know that Vic Beasley’s combine might have guaranteed Beasley as a top ten pick, but I’m not drinking that Kool-Aid. Beasley is a three-four, rush linebacker, exactly what the Saints need. He’s got a quick-twitch, and really attacks the quarterback. The reason I don’t believe he’s a top ten pick, but has the top ten talent, is that he’s pretty one dimensional, in that he’s a pass rush guy, not a rounded linebacker. Not saying he can’t become that, he’s just not that yet, but as a linebacker in a three-four, pass rush is the first priority, so good pick.
14th Pick – Miami – Michigan State CB Trae Waynes – Mega-deal done, snagging Ndamukong Suh to harass Tom Brady for his remaining years, and now, to stop LeSean McCoy running wild. But, the secondary still needs work. Trae Waynes is the first corner to come off, and it’s because of how smooth he is. He’s not a panic corner, he shows good rebound from being beaten and rarely seems to get drummed on. In the NFL, especially as a rookie corner, he’s going to have to learn to lose, and with Waynes and his Spartan mental-toughness, he should be the top corner taken in the draft.
15th Pick – San Francisco – Oregon DE Arik Armstead – I’d like to hear someone’s argument against me saying that the 49ers aren’t having the worst off-season in the league. Huge coaching turnover with uninspiring replacements, then the onslaught of retiring players on defense, with Patrick Willis, then Justin Smith, and now Chris Borland, not saying that the expectations should be low for them, but as of right now, the 49ers look like a safe bet for a top ten draft selection next year. Replacing Willis is going to be a process and won’t be an over-night affair, but replacing Justin Smith is made easier with the giant Arik Armstead. Armstead is just a massive human being, and could go a long way towards putting good pieces back on that defense, but it will take a while before he brings that grit that Justin Smith brought to every snap.
16th Pick – Houston – Missouri WR Dorial Green-Beckham – Losing a great, sucks. Losing a great, to a division rival, that’s just plain cruel. Andre Johnson is now a Colt, and though they have DeAndre Hopkins, they need a second threat. Dorial Green-Beckham has arguably the most upside of maybe any receiver in the league, but comparisons to Josh Gordon aren’t just thrown out there, and it could very well keep him out of the first round. Maybe what he needs is some southern hospitality and a strong team around him, and in Houston, I think it will be a win-win. DGB is truly massive, on par with Megatron, and could end up being as big of a game-breaker as J.J. Watt is on defense.
17th Pick – San Diego – Stanford OT Andrus Peat – The Chargers stole Orlando Franklin from the Broncos, in they’re always back-and-forth between those two rivals. As with the Giants needing to keep Eli Manning healthy, the Chargers need to keep their boy clean. Andrus Peat has the pedigree, technique, and movement skills to be a solid blind-sider. As with the last Stanford tackle to enter the league, his mean streak is a question mark, but that’s just splitting straws.
18th Pick – Kansas City – LSU OT La’el Collins – The Chiefs are lucky that the ball doesn’t stay behind the line for very long, with Jamaal Charles running wild most of the time, and Alex Smith’s mobility and awareness to escape the pocket and create his own time. But from within the pocket, he might be able to connect with a wide receiver for a touchdown. They drafted Eric Fisher number one overall a few years back, and he has disappointed, but the Chiefs just picked up Ben Grubbs from the Saints, but they still need more. La’el Collins has the strength and size to play guard, and play it at a pro bowl level for a long while. But, his nasty and his nimble quickness could make him an ideal right tackle for Kansas City’s run game, with Collins framing would-be’s straight out of Charles’ way.
19th Pick – Cleveland (from Buffalo) – Florida State DT Eddie Goldman – The Cleveland team needs a solid “Draft Day” to even help them out. But this isn’t Kevin Costner, this is real life, and in reality, the Browns still suck. And they need help up front on defense. They lost Jabaal Sheard to free agency, but brought in Randy Starks, but that’s not enough. Eddie Goldman has the size and strength to anchor in a three-four defense, and as I’ve mentioned, I’ve seen him ruin games, and keep the ‘Noles heading towards the playoffs.
20th Pick – Philadelphia – Miami WR Phillip Dorsett – Well, now it’s Philly’s turn. I don’t have arm’s reach access to any absinthe, so I can’t get in the Chip Kelly mind-set, so I’ll just assume he’ll try and continue and out-smart the entire league and take a day two pick in the first round like last year. Dorsett is a good receiver, and actually seems to fit in Chip Kelly’s drag-race style of football, since they lost their deep threat in Jeremy Maclin. So it all makes sense, so maybe he won’t draft him. Maybe he’ll take the division-three, Hobart product Ali Marpet, because he can.
21st Pick – Cincinnati – Miami OT Ereck Flowers – Not to say that with better blocking, that the Bengals would have won their playoff game against Indy, but it couldn’t hurt. I love Flowers, lilies and Miami’s Ereck. He helped Duke Johnson become a power, gave time for Brad Kaaya to help make Clive Walford and Phillip Dorsett draft picks too. Flowers has great size and strength to keep Andy Dalton Raven and Steeler free.
22nd Pick – Pittsburgh – Kentucky OLB Alvin Dupree – I understand that ‘Bud’ is trending up, and maybe Cleveland picks him at 19, but I know Pittsburgh wants this guy. Kentucky isn’t a powerhouse, but they put some players in the league, like personal favorite Larry Warford, and Dupree brings that sort solid play to the Steelers. Dupree averaged seven sacks over the past three seasons, and his lowest tackle output was 61 over that same stretch. Pittsburgh’s defense has been biblically old for the past few years, adding more youth is essential to advancing in the playoffs.
23rd Pick – Detroit – Georgia RB Todd Gurley – The Lions had Reggie Bush and Joique Bell running the ball, but Bush is gone and they’ve never seemed sure on handing it to Bell. Enter Todd Gurley, the player in this draft with the strangest season. First, he got pinned for a memorabilia scandal, and at that point he was the Heisman favorite, and once suspended, I thought with his injury history, he should leave school and concentrate on the draft process. But once reinstated, he injured his ACL, and that was his informal exit. I’d never say that his ceiling is close to Herschel Walker, but he’s better than Knowshon Moreno.
24th Pick – Arizona – Michigan WR Devin Funchess – The Cardinals were plagued by injuries, and tanked through it like a well-coached team. I know that the Cards drafted a wide out last year who was very active, and they still have Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, but they lack a player to force a safety down low, to open the door for over-the-top throws. Funchess is a converted tight end, which should give an idea of the size, and looks to be a talent like Kelvin Benjamin, drafted right around this position last draft, and could be the heir-apparent to Larry Fitzgerald.
25th Pick – Carolina – Pittsburgh OT T.J. Clemmings – Carolina was out-matched against the Seahawks, actually, had they had a stronger running attack and fewer drops and if Cam Newton had better footwork throwing the ball, they could have upset the ‘Hawks. But, it leaves room to grow as a team. T.J. Clemmings is a raw talent, right tackle from Pittsburgh, he’s got supreme movement skills, good strength, and lengthy reach. He’s also got over-extension problems, like lunging at defenders, and that’s a technique that needs to be coached out of him. But, in the run game, he’ll be great for the Panthers.
26th Pick – Baltimore – Washington CB Marcus Peters – The Ozzie Newsome in my head, gets a pat on the back for this pick. Marcus Peters got dismissed from Washington and may have scared some teams off, but this is Baltimore, great head coach, great players around him on the field, not far removed from a Super Bowl, and perhaps the best general manager in the game. He’s got the skills needed to shut down some really good receivers, and I like to think that all that drama from school won’t follow him to Baltimore.
27th Pick – Dallas – UCLA ILB Eric Kendricks – Cowboys’ fans hopes were dashed, when DeMarco dashed for the cash in Philly, they then got supplemented with Darren McFadden, an equally 27 year-old quicker Razorback. But, the money hole is low on leftover wishes, so Rolando McClain might want to give the 49ers a call and give them an account routing number. A gap in the linebacking corps is an understatement, with Carter, Durant, and likely McClain leaving. Kendricks has NFL bloodlines, brother of Eagles beast linebacker Mychal Kendricks, and he’s got the same traits. Everywhere the ball is, fast as lightning, instinctive, physical, and most likely noticed off the bat, undersized. Kendricks is a huge talent, and alongside Anthony Hitchens and Sean Lee, things can really perk up for the Cowboys on defense.
28th Pick – Denver – Florida State OT Cameron Erving – Talent takes many forms along an offensive line, but chief among the traits is versatility. He played defensive tackle, then left tackle, then center, then guard, and just smiled and worked over the competition at every position. With Orlando Franklin leaving, and likely Peyton’s swan song, the Broncos must do everything to both keep their current Canton-bound quarterback clean and lay the foundation for his replacement.
29th Pick – Indianapolis – Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon – Filling big time holes with some former Hurricanes is a good idea, because overall the Colts are a young team. But Frank Gore isn’t much more than a rental, though he’s an upgrade over Trent Richardson. Melvin Gordon is a talented back, and working with Andrew Luck, the Colts can groom themselves with one of the most gifted backs in this deep running back class into a true feature back.
30th Pick – Green Bay – Washington LB Shaq Thompson – The Packers were forced to use Clay Matthews at middle linebacker, and he didn’t do half bad, but it takes away from what makes him dynamic, and that’s chasing down quarterbacks. Shaq Thompson is a hybrid player, and a perfect nickel package player, as he has the range of a safety, but can lay the wood like a linebacker. He might be about ten pounds away from being at ideal NFL size, but he’s a difference making defender.
31st Pick – New Orleans (from Seattle) – Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong – That Jimmy Graham trade was a shocker, and it makes Seattle that much better. In return, the Saints get back Max Unger, a stud center and this first round pick. They also ditched Kenny Stills, so the Saints really need to add something to their offense to go along with Brandin Cooks. Jaelen Strong is a tough operator, and a lunch-pail player. Strong is exactly what his name implies, strong. Strong attacking the ball and strong playing the man across from him.
32nd Pick – New England – Oklahoma DT Jordan Phillips – Losing a player, leader, and cornerstone like Vince Wilfork is a serious blow, and can’t be replaced in a single offseason. But at the position, Wilfork CAN be replaced. Phillips has all the physical tools at his disposal, but has yet to put the puzzle together. If Belichick can work his magic on Phillips, he could be a cult following like Wilfork.