By Zach Walker
Now that the Super Bowl is over and it’s time to focus on the NFL Draft. Here’s my 2015 NFL Mock Draft for the first round with predictions.
1st Pick – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – QB Jameis Winston – Baggage isn’t always made of cloth or cow, and in the NFL it’s up to the player to check it at the gate and move past it. Winston has BAGGAGE, so much so it’s going to take the Bucs and Titans running their people like hamsters to make sure their butts aren’t going to get left out to hang on picking Winston. Off the field, Winston won’t have a campus to make all these mistakes, he’ll be the face of a franchise, and I just feel those problems won’t repeat themselves. On the field, I see Donovan McNabb. Movement skills, that he does rely on; an arm to hit any receiver on the field; and good decision-making, that will evolve with each game. Winston is far from the Andrew Luck swish, sure thing, but in this crop of quarterbacks, with most of the field being development guys, Winston is the best thing for the Bucs at number one.
2nd – Tennessee Titans – QB Marcus Mariota – Different story for Marcus Mariota. No baggage, appears to be a very clean young man, highly explosive and supremely productive, but seems to be much more specialized. Not to say he’ll be the first quarterback to come out of college to not quite be a universal fit. But to say that the Titans wouldn’t, or shouldn’t adjust to fit the dangerous switchblade of Mariota, because the Titans haven’t been an aerial threat since the late-GREAT Steve McNair. The Titans don’t have a loaded pantry of weapons, but with a tweak and a handful of offensive adjustments, the Titans could have their quarterback before the Houston Texans do, and they need one.
3rd – Jacksonville Jaguars – DT Leonard Williams – The Jags are a supremely young team, and like young teams, they need help all over the roster. They could use a right tackle, maybe some guard help, a tight end, some secondary help, but none of those positions have players worthy of taking at third overall, so give Gus Bradley a dynamic disruptor and that’s a good start. Williams’ size is intoxicating, six foot five, 300 pounds, that’s starter size for every team in the league. His effectiveness is incredible for a man his size, 71 tackles, six sacks, three passes batted, three forced fumbles, and a big man interception. 35 and a half tackles for a loss in his career at USC, and he’s from about 90 minutes down the street from Jacksonville, from Daytona Beach, and the Jags could really use some help in the middle of their defense.
4th – Oakland Raiders – DE Randy Gregory – It’s now Jack Del Rio’s time helming Raider Nation, and it’s not too bad of a coaching choice. He had a lengthy tenure in Jacksonville, and always fielded a gritty team. The Raiders have holes, like the bed of a truck left in a field for 35 years, but they do have their quarterback. Khalil Mack is a tank, and could use some young front men to aide his side of the ball. Gregory isn’t quite the same as the last big time Nebraska defensive lineman to enter the draft, Ndamukong Suh, but not too far off. Disruption is his game, and often plays so hard, he tires himself out. Getting him NFL conditioned is going to be a tough task, but when he’s fresh he’s deadly.
5th – Washington Redskins – SS Landon Collins – Washington really found something in Bashund Breeland, a fourth round pick, but while his coverage is very good, the lid on the defense isn’t very tight. Washington had Brandon Meriweather starting at safety, and to say that he’s past his expiration date isn’t too far off the mark. Collins is Meriweather, without the sniper reputation. Sniper, as in head-hunter, as in a light-weight linebacker with serious wheels. Collins is coming out of ‘Bama, so he’s aided by those who have come before him. Collins seems to have sloped cleats, because he’s always coming downhill, the guy had 91 tackles, and it’s a solid bet that will translate well to the NFL.
6th – New York Jets – WR Amari Cooper – This draft has very few instant starting quarterbacks, and the Jets missed out on the top two, but just because that’s the case doesn’t mean they shouldn’t stock the pantry for their future starter. Personally, I think drafting a wide receiver this high is a low win situation. I didn’t like Sammy Watkins as much as everyone else, I thought they could have had Mike Evans, or scoot back and grab Kelvin Benjamin and they would still be drafting on this draft’s Thursday. But, Amari Cooper is a beast, his last two college games were insane, 22 catches for 315 yards and five touchdowns, the guy is a full-on game-breaker. He’s a “five-tool” receiver, route runner, speed, yards after catch, uncovers himself, the hands, and the size, now he’s no Kelvin Benjamin, but he’s got a box-out body to out-play jump balls. Whoever is throwing him the ball, might just be looked at in a different light because of Cooper’s skill.
7th – Chicago Bears – LB Dante Fowler Jr. – The Bears have problems. Their quarterback hasn’t shown a single glimpse of giving a flying f*** and that’s truly unfortunate for his teammates who do. But, besides their quarterback, their defense isn’t very good. They lack a forceful player, and Dante Fowler is an impact player. Florida has been pretty much irrelevant since Will Muschamp took over, but Fowler was a bright spot for his defense. Fowler was a big-time disruptor for the Gators, and in his final game, the Birmingham bowl against Shane Carden and East Carolina, Fowler had three sacks and pretty much ruined the Pirates offense in that game. For the Bears, he’s going to be chasing down Rodgers, Stafford, and Bridgewater and Fowler could develop into that gap left behind by Julius Peppers when he left for Green Bay, and the shell of Jared Allen, coming in from Minnesota.
8th – Atlanta Falcons – DE Shane Ray – The Falcons need heat. Their defense is basically where Dallas’ was last season, just awful at pretty much everything. When their coverage in place, the rush couldn’t get home; if the rush was working, the coverage was lax. Getting Sean Weatherspoon back healthy is a plus without doing anything in the draft. But the Falcons need to improve their pass rush, because it’s pretty dreadful. Shane Ray is the latest model from Missouri’s pass rush production line, and Ray is a twitch athlete with a first step burst like a light turning on. Ray was in the rotation with Kony Ealy, Michael Sam, and Markus Golden the season before last, but with Ealy and Sam leaving, it was Ray and Golden taking up the slack. Ray had 14 sacks, 20 and a half tackles for a loss, and 61 tackles. One of the better things about his game is his track down ability, when he gets caught rushing, then the ball goes past him, he has the ability to catch the ball-carrier in the field. Ray is an instant impact player.
9th – New York Giants – OT Brandon Scherff – Odell Beckham is a home run pick, but it still leaves a void on the offense, and it’s leaving Eli Manning to take hits and the team is in desperate need for a pass protector. Justin Pugh could likely make the transition to left tackle or maybe left guard. Whichever position Pugh doesn’t take, Scherff can fill right in. Big Ten players on the offensive line are usually an easy lay-up. What Scherff does for the Giants, is the same thing that Zack Martin did for the Cowboys, and that’s a team effort at stabilizing the offense, protect your quarterback, and add muscle in the run game. If they must Scherff at guard for a season, then tackle the next after getting head-on experience of NFL speed, it’s a great plan for the Giants.
10th – St. Louis Rams – OT Andrus Peat – If the Rams could draft offensive linemen, like they draft defensive linemen, they could really put heat on the NFC West. They brought in Jake Long, and he’s been a frequent of the trainer’s room. Rodger Saffold has been a season to season player, and they likely will shift Greg Robinson to left tackle for next season on. Peat played against some heavy hitters in the PAC-12 this season, and though they got some on him, Peat wasn’t a leak by any stretch. The hidden trick in Peat’s arsenal, is his blood line. His father, Todd Peat played six seasons as an offensive lineman. Peat has epic size, six foot seven and just 310 pounds, and has the moves to be a left tackle, should Greg Robinson take a step back.
11th – Minnesota Vikings – WR DeVante Parker – I’m a believer in drafting teammates, and the sort of timing that made Teddy Bridgewater a first round talent, was made with the help of Devante Parker. He missed quite a lot of games this season, the first seven, but had a monster performance against Florida State, catching eight passes for 214 yards, and finished the season (six games) 43 catches for 855 yards and five scores. With Bridgewater, he totaled 1487 yards and 21 touchdowns. Parker has big time size at six foot three, and is the same sort of “five-tool” as Amari Cooper, but just not the same speed as Cooper. The Vikings don’t have much on offense, just Kyle Rudolph, Greg Jennings, and the under-achieving Cordarrelle Patterson, so Parker’s arrival will be very welcomed.
12th – Cleveland Browns – WR Kevin White – “It’s better to have loved and lost, than not loved at all.” I’ve always hated that saying, but it works for Cleveland and Josh Gordon. The reason I hate it, is because I’d rather not buy a jersey of some guy who cannot get out of his own way, and is seemingly wasting his career. The Browns did nothing last draft to fill the cupboard with more pass catchers. Jordan Cameron is a free agent, and the committee of receivers shouldn’t scare anyone. White had an epic battle with Kevin White, against TCU, and after that game, he was muzzled as best as two guys could on basically every play. White still managed just 109 catches for 1447 yards and ten touchdowns. The Browns really need a threat for their quarterback.
13th – New Orleans Saints – LB Vic Beasley – Just like their division rivals, the Falcons, the Saints need to add some spice on defense. Parys Haralson wasn’t very effective as a pass rusher, on the other side of Junior Galette, who had ten sacks. Beasley could have come out last season, but stayed and racked up the stats. 11 sacks added to his now, 32 sack total; and 44 and a half tackles for a loss in two seasons. The Saints defense seemed to fade down the stretch of games, and really let teams come and take wins away from them, Beasley’s talent should help close out games for the Saints.
14th – Miami Dolphins – OT Ereck Flowers – The Dolphins must protect Ryan Tannehill, for him to continue to improve and inching towards the playoffs. They spent money on Branden Albert last season, then spent their first rounder last season on Ja’Wuan James, who I thought was a reach, but played better than I could have thought. Ereck Flowers is a left tackle that could keep Mario Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Chandler Jones off of Tannehill’s jersey. I saw him against Duke and South Carolina, and the way that the offense moved around, Flowers gave Brad Kaaya time and opened doors for Duke Johnson to blow through. Flowers can replace Albert, and free up James to move to right tackle.
15th – San Francisco 49ers – OT La’el Collins – There is a surprising number of holes on the 49ers, seeing as the Niners were in last year’s NFC Championship game. La’el Collins is a solid replacement for Mike Iupati, because on the inside, there isn’t much of anything that would move him at six foot five, 320 pounds. Playing against some of the strongest draft-able talent in the SEC, Collins played very well at left tackle, playing well against Florida and Kentucky, despite his worst trait getting him in some penalty trouble. He’s the mold of a lineman that anyone would want, but just needs some sanding of the rough edges. He’s handsy, and that’s not good, but he has the brute strength to get holes open.
16th – Houston Texans – QB Brett Hundley – If you happened to catch parts of any Houston game, I can probably guess what you saw. JJ Watt doing his MVP thing, some running of the football, then tragic quarterback play. Andre Johnson was angry about the direction of the team before last season’s training camp, and he should have been, because the Texans foolishly went into the season expecting Ryan Fitzpatrick to be something better than Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is terrible, and torpedoed the Texans chances of being legitimate playoff contenders when he started the season. Brett Hundley has been playing under Jim Mora Jr. at UCLA, so he’s got NFL-caliber talent, and he has all the traits of an above-average starter. His movement skills aren’t Mariota, but he’s far from a statue in the pocket, and he’s got the wheels to pick up first downs if things get cluttered down-field. Most Texans (I mean state citizens, not the team) probably got to see Hundley for the first time when Texas took on UCLA inside AT&T Stadium, and saw him leave that game with an injury. Following that game, Hundley seemed more focused and more conscious of the upcoming draft and appeared to be more accurate. If Bill O’Brien wants to make the playoffs in season two, drafting Hundley and playing him in at least ten games will greatly increase his chances.
17th – San Diego Chargers – DT Danny Shelton – The Chargers need more plug in the middle of their defense, Sean Lissemore is a good rotational defensive tackle in their three-four defense, but a dynamic player could be the edge in the AFC West. Danny Shelton is this draft’s Aaron Donald, it’s in the moves, motor, and the production. 88 tackles, that’s run stuffing; 16 and a half tackles for a loss, he’s always blowing plays up; and nine sacks, speaks for themselves. The best part of his pressure is that it’s still developing, he’s notched up his backfield disruption every season, while maintaining his base as a run stopper. Shelton is a major gem in this draft and the Chargers would greatly benefit from his intensity.
18th – Kansas City Chiefs – WR Dorial Green-Beckham – So, what does it mean if a quarterback doesn’t throw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver, during an entire season? Is it the quarterback, too scared to throw outside? Is it the wide receivers, who don’t evoke any confidence in their game for Alex Smith to trust them? Or maybe they just can’t get open or break tackles? Dorial Green-Beckham is a serious risk-reward player, and maybe shouldn’t be a first round pick. He didn’t play in 2014 after being dismissed from the Missouri Tigers football team for various reasons. Andy Reid could be the coach that can get through to this guy, and they could use each other, because the Chiefs receivers are lacking. Green-Beckham is a giant target, six foot six and 220 pounds, not even Alex Smith can avoid throwing a ball his way in the redzone.
19th – Cleveland Browns (From Buffalo) – DT Eddie Goldman – The Browns need to potentially replace Phil Taylor, and they are likely to drop Jabaal Sheard and Ahtyba Rubin into the free agent pool for a swim. Eddie Goldman is a game-changer. I saw him ruin Clemson’s chance at upsetting Florida State, by forcing a fumble when all Clemson had to do was run down some clock and kick the field goal. In overtime, Goldman ruined Clemson’s second, third, and fourth down plays to seal the victory for the ‘Noles. Goldman is a danger to opposing linemen, because he’s a constant mover, he’s as large as he is strong, and quicker than a first glance would suggest. Goldman is along the same cut as Timmy Jernigan, but maybe more impactful from day one.
20th – Philadelphia Eagles – CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu – Bradley Fletcher got roasted harder by critics than he did on the field, and he got burned quite a few times, an improvement would go a long way for the Eagles defense. Ifo got injured in practice leading into the Florida State Rose Bowl playoff game, so he missed out on the highest stakes game that he could have played in. Ifo is the best pure-cover corner in this draft, and Chip Kelly, having missed out on his quarterback, will take a cornerback from his old stomping ground.
21st – Cincinnati Bengals – DE Alvin Dupree – The Bengals need some rush on defense, they got after Andrew Luck in their playoff game, but they didn’t get to him nearly enough to affect the outcome. But a lack of pass rush isn’t a surface bruise, this pain goes to the bone. The Bengals lead the league, backwards, in sacks. Alvin Dupree had only seven and a half sacks, but his affect was profound. He played much stronger than his stats, and was a menace on most plays that he was on the field. After his freshman season, he’s pretty much averaged seven sacks the next three seasons, what’s to say, the guy gets after the passer and the Bengals need that badly.
22nd – Pittsburgh Steelers – CB Trae Waynes – Le’Veon Bell’s Spartan success should encourage a youthful injection into the secondary via the East Lansing pipeline. Waynes is the type of corner that the Steelers will covet; a physical, man-on-man, press corner. Waynes has very good size, enough to match-up well with most wide receivers in the league without giving a huge size difference, and if he gets a good jam on them, he can have the upper hand. His downside is, being such a physical corner, he can get some penalties for his aggressive play.
23rd – Detroit Lions – DT Malcom Brown – The Lions have three defensive tackles hitting free agency, Suh, Nick Fairley, and C.J. Mosley, and there’s no way they keep both Suh and Fairley, and they’re likely losing Suh. No one can replace what Suh is, he’s a tyrant, but supplementing the team following Suh’s departure should help the Lions. Brown was a bright spot for Texas, especially in the BYU game, and he was the bull in the china shop against UCLA. Brown doesn’t have the nasty streak of Suh, but that’s probably for the best.
24th – Arizona Cardinals – DE Arik Armstead – Suspensions and injuries killed the Cardinals this season. Daryl Washington, suspended; Darnell Dockett, IR; John Abraham, IR; and that’s just the defense. Losing Carson Palmer and Andre Ellington was the reason they couldn’t do diddily against the Panthers. Both Dockett and Abraham are relics, but there is a man to pick up their aging mantle. Arik Armstead. Six foot eight, 290 pounds of towering intimidation. Production isn’t what to look at with Armstead, it’s all potential. He’s a scheme fit for Arizona’s three-four defense, and they could really use him in the power struggle in the NFC West.
25th – Carolina Panthers – OT T.J. Clemmings – Though Cam Newton’s major injury was sort of his doing, a car crash in his modest Dodge Ram, in the field of play he still takes quite a battering. An ankle and rib injury, from repeat business and the fact that he runs the ball so much. When he’s in the pocket, he really never looks comfortable and throws off his back foot a lot, just watch the Seattle playoff game. T.J. Clemmings is extremely raw, just two seasons as an offensive lineman after switching from defensive lineman. I saw him in person at the Armed Forces Bowl, and I wasn’t blown out of the water, but he wasn’t bad, I just didn’t see first round stuff. Watched him during the Senior Bowl week, he was good, nothing spectacular, and he was going against guys he should have beaten. Clemmings has a ways to go, and if you take where he’s at right now and factor in he’s only played two years, in another two years, he could be among the top in the league.
26th – Baltimore Ravens – CB Jalen Collins – This pick is sort of pointless. I mean that because whoever Ozzie Newsome selects is going to be very good, and necessary to the team. It really popped the balloon when Jimmy Smith went down for the season in November, and LarDarius Webb is approaching thirty, but he isn’t going away quietly. Collins is like Trae Waynes, very physical, but that’s just how LSU does it. The way that I’ll gauge a dangerous cornerback is by how few tackles he has, because they’re not having to make tackles, if they throw to the other side of the field. LSU knows how to crank out NFL ready corners for physical defenses. Collins stands at six foot two and right at 200 pounds depending on lunch that day, so he’s got the mass to stay balanced and hanging on the pocket of the receiver.
27th – Dallas Cowboys – LB Benardrick McKinney – The Cowboys have a crazy offseason ahead of them, they’ve got players to sign all over, and one position which could get very thin, linebackers. Rolando McClain showed that he’s got his game back, and maybe could go get paid. Bruce Carter and Justin Durant are also free to choose, not that might be up and snatched, but the salary cap situation is pretty tight. So, replace McClain with a bigger, younger version. Benardrick McKinney was at the heart of the Bulldogs during their awesome run towards the college playoffs. Unlike many other top middle linebacker at the top end of this draft, McKinney is massive, six foot five, 250 pounds. It’s amazing that he isn’t more of a liability in coverage due to his size, but really he can handle tight ends pretty well. McKinney was also at times, asked to rush the passer, and again, not bad at all. McKinney is just a very well rounded, instinctual linebacker, and it frees up Sean Lee to move outside and be more playmaker than the entire burden on his, to this point, frail frame. And if he does end up here, I promise, we’ll name an area city after him.
28th – Denver Broncos – WR Devin Funchess – Not to say that the Broncos are worse off than the Cowboys, but the Broncos have two of their top receivers potentially floating away. The Thomas’, Julius and DeMaryius are both dynamic, and with the Broncos mortgaging the future with huge free agent spending for Peyton’s last ride, I don’t understand how they could sign both of them. Devin Funchess could fill in for the one that leaves. He’s six foot five, 230 pounds, and played both tight end and wide receiver and really showed great position flex. He bodies out defenders well, and has solid speed, but won’t rip up the turf with straight line speed. He is one of a few players whose combine 40 time will seriously make or break him.
29th – Indianapolis Colts – OT Cameron Erving – The Colts have the best young leader/playmaker/cornerstone quarterback in the league, but they really don’t do much to protect their asset. Anthony Castonzo is really not good, and most of their offensive line was a rotation because of injury. Cam Erving has some of the best position flex of any player in this draft. Time served at tackle and moved to play at center. Though he’s pretty tall for the average center, six foot six, 300 pounds, he’s like a shape-shifter, and can fit one of many holes along the Colts turn-style offensive line.
30th – Green Bay Packers – LB Eric Kendricks – The Packers moved Clay Matthews to inside linebacker, and he actually fared very well, but that’s because A.J. Hawk is way past his expiration date. Eric Kendricks has the instincts to be truly great. A tackle short of 150, and hit that number twice in his career at UCLA. He’s a true sideline-to-sideline linebacker, with supreme range. He had three interceptions this season, and had ten tackles in almost half of the games he played this season. It’s his size that he needs to out-perform, and I say he plays a ton bigger than his six foot, 230 pound, and it’s in the blood, his brother is the Eagles excellent linebacker Mychal Kendricks.
31st – Seattle Seahawks – TE Maxx Williams – Marshawn Lynch is dominant, destructive, and eccentric, but most importantly he’s been extended a contract offer. The Seahawks aren’t a team that will likely spend big money in getting some sort of big time weapon, but using a draft pick on improving their offense, on the outside would be huge step going forward in trying to get back to the Super Bowl. Maxx Williams is a redshirt sophomore, and he’s got the skills to back up his decision to enter the draft way early. He’s got solid size, not great, but more importantly, he’s got more impressive talent to work on linebackers and safeties on the inside. If not for the Golden Gophers run first system, Maxx could have gotten massive numbers than his modest 36 catches for 570 yards and eight touchdowns. With Wilson’s play-extending ability and Williams’ play-making, we could all witness a new tight end dominator.
32nd – New England Patriots – WR Jaelen Strong – The Patriots can’t just go into battle with a slot receiver, a tight end, and quirky formations. Tom Brady needs a threat on the outside to push the ball downfield, and threaten the corners of the AFC East. Jaelen Strong is just that, strong, at 215 pounds and six foot three, he’s got the Dez-style boxer frame, and has the quickness to get off the line then separate with his strength. Strong is a clutch performer, crushing USC for ten catches, 202 yards and three touchdowns, including the last second Hail-Mary pass to upset the Trojans. He’s a two-year producer, 17 touchdowns, 2287 yards, and 157 catches. Strong is a number one receiver for the final seasons of Tom Brady, and he could really use it, because threats on the outside, makes the inside even more open. It could be the push towards being the only quarterback with five Super Bowls.