For the last 12 months, I’ve enjoyed my reign as champion of the Huddle Report’s annual Mock Draft competition. But like all good things, this too must come to an end.
Like any quality champion, I won’t give up my title without a fight. This Mock Draft is my official, title-defense submission, and while it’s hard to have an extreme level of confidence in a project that is inherently based on guessing, I feel pretty good about this one. Remember a key and critical rule when reading this Mock: This is what I think WILL happen, not what I think SHOULD happen. They are two very different things. My more thorough and personal analysis of this year’s class, including 150 evaluations, player rankings and a top-100 Big Board, can be found here.
As always, feel free to tear up this Mock Draft. Let me know your thoughts on Twitter (@FirstRoundGrade). Better yet, if you think you have a better first-round projection, sign up as a registered member and post your Mock Draft for free!
Let’s get it on!
1) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Jameis Winston, QB, Florida St.
The obvious pick here. No need to dive too deep into it. All I’ll say is, “Buyer Beware!” I’m not sold that Winston has enough god-given talent to overcome the character issues that have popped up over the last year or so. He’s a good quarterback and there’s no denying that. I’d just pump the brakes on calling him special; He’s not the kind of player that has “ignore the red flags” talent.
2) Tennessee Titans – Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
While the Titans may not be doing cartwheels with this pick, I’d certainly be ecstatic if I was a fan of the team. Mariota has a chance to be the kind of quarterback for Tennessee that Steve McNair was from a foundational-player standpoint. He has enough of an arm, special athleticism, and the kind of character that you want your fan base to cheer for. It’s no sure thing that the Titans keep the pick, or Mariota, if they take him. Stay tuned.
3) Jacksonville Jaguars – Leonard Williams, DL, USC
The Jaguars sit at the No. 3 pick in this Mock and end up with the best all-around player in the class. Williams is an instant upgrade for 95% of the teams in the NFL, including Jacksonville. He instantly becomes the franchise piece on defense a year after they chose their franchise guy on offense in Blake Bortles.
4) Oakland Raiders – Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
No better way of insuring that your young quarterback has a legitimate chance at succeeding than by addressing either the offensive line or wide receiver positions. Cooper is considered by many to be an elite pass-catching talent who is capable of coming into the NFL and producing like the rookies from the class of 2014. He’ll instantly become the go-to-guy in Oakland’s developing offense.
5) Washington Redskins – Alvin “Bud” Dupree, EDGE, Kentucky
It’s taken a while, but the buzz around Dupree is finally to starting to penetrate the main-stream media. I’ve been a fan of Dupree’s since studying his game film, and his 2015 NFL Combine numbers only solidified his elite-talent status for me. He has taken a back seat to names like Vic Beasley (Clemson), Randy Gregory (Nebraska) and Shane Ray (Missouri) throughout the entire Draft process…until now. Dupree has a chance to be one of the truly dominant EDGE players on the next level who will terrorize opponents’ backfields for a long, long time.
6) New York Jets – Dante Fowler, EDGE, Florida
The Jets have made some very solid additions on offense this off-season, and while they’re probably hoping that one of the quarterbacks tumbles to them here, the reality is that they won’t (or they SHOULDN’T!). Dante Fowler is another extremely talented EDGE defender who will bring some pass rushing excitement to New York.
7) Chicago Bears – Kevin White, WR, WVU
Yes, the Bears need a lot of help on defense. They added some solid veterans who project well to the new 3-4 scheme, but they don’t have a foundational player that they can build around. Danny Shelton will get a long, hard look here, but at the end of the day, the best “talent” on the Board is Kevin White. The Bears do need help at wide receiver, and White has a chance to evolve into a cross between Larry Fitzgerald and Brandon Marshall (ironically).
8) Atlanta Falcons – Vic Beasley, EDGE, Clemson
The Falcons need a pass rusher, and Vic Beasley might be the best in the entire class in terms of pinning his ears back and getting after the quarterback. He’s a pure speed rusher and a dynamic athlete who proved at the Scouting Combine that he can bulk up while maintaining his speed and get-off. He’s a candidate to go in the top-5, so landing him at No. 8 will make the Falcons’ fans very happy indeed.
9) New York Giants – Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
The Giants have to address the offensive tackle position. They just have to. And fortunately for them, they could end up having their pick of the litter at No. 9. There will probably be a long internal debate about who to select, as both Brandon Scherff and Peat are worthy of consideration here. But with Peat projecting as a natural tackle prospect, the nod goes to the Stanford Cardinal.
10) St. Louis Rams – Brandon Scherff, OL, Iowa
If the Draft falls this way, the Rams will have a chance to add a blue-chip offensive lineman for the second consecutive year. I’m in the camp that believes Scherff can play OT in the NFL. But even if he fails there, he’ll be an All-Pro caliber Guard. In fact, it would be quite the sight to see him lined up next to Greg Robinson. Wow.
11) Minnesota Vikings – DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
This pick simply makes too much sense NOT to happen. While Parker has gained some last-minute momentum, I think he’ll still be hanging around when the Vikings are on the clock. You can bet that Teddy Bridgewater will be lobbying for this pick, and why not make your young franchise quarterback happy? Parker will be setup for early success ; He’ll be entering the League already having familiarity with his quarterback. Add in the fact that he’s a supremely gifted prospect, and you have a virtual “no-brainer” pick.
12) Cleveland Browns – Danny Shelton, NT, Washington
Shelton started the process as a potential top-10 pick, and while going No. 12 overall isn’t much of a slide for him, it is potentially the earliest that he’ll come off the Board if he gets past the Bears at No. 7. I’m sure the Browns will be thrilled if the Bears pass on him, as he’s a special combination of massive size (width) and light, nimble feet. He’ll be an instant favorite of the Dawg Pound.
13) New Orleans Saints – La’El Collins, OL, LSU
Collins won’t have to travel far for his NFL home. Much like many of the other talented Offensive Tackle prospects in this class, Collins has been the subject of debate as to where his best fit will be in the NFL. And much like I said about Brandon Scherff, I think he’ll be a very good tackle in the NFL. The Saints need help up front, and Collins is the kind of talent that will give them flexibility. Be it left tackle, right tackle, or inside at guard, Collins will be a plug and play starter from week one on.
14) Miami Dolphins – Todd Gurley, RB, Georiga
Todd Gurley’s knee checked out well at his recent medical evaluation and his Draft stock has enjoyed an uptick as a result. While he was considered a late-first rounder regardless of his late-season knee injury, the fact that he’s ahead of schedule in his rehab is likely to push him up to the Dolphins at No. 14. While I personally have Melvin Gordon (and Duke Johnson) rated higher than Gurley, there’s simply no denying his potential to be a special running back in the NFL. I’ve likened him as a cross between Steven Jackson and Marshawn Lynch; A running back who a team can center their offense around. Gurley is the kind of player that you take regardless of who’s already on the roster, and while Lamar Miller has flashed some ability during his career, the simple fact is that Gurley is too good to pass up.
15) San Francisco 49ers – Owa Odighizuwa, EDGE, UCLA
In one of my curve-balls for the first round, the 49ers roll the dice on Diggy’s hips and bank on the natural and elite talent that he possesses. I have Diggy rated as one of the top players in the class (regardless of position), and with the 49ers defense in a state of flux, they simply have to draft for talent. Diggy has the potential to be an every-down asset who can produce from a variety of spots along the defensive front. While he isn’t getting much first-round praise right now, I have a feeling he’s going to go much earlier than the national narrative has suggested so far.
16) Houston Texans – Breshad Perriman, WR, UCF
The Texans need more talent at wide receiver, and they’ll have plenty of options to choose from with this pick. Other options like Phillip Dorsett and Devin Smith will be considered here, but at the end of the day the Texans will swing for the fences and take the guy with the highest upside. I don’t think Perriman is as ready to play as some of the other receivers still on the Board, but he has the raw physical tools and pedigree to be a bona-fide big-play target in the NFL.
17) San Diego Chargers – Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
The Chargers have a void at running back, despite the flashes of impressive play from Branden Oliver last year. There’s simply no way they can pass on Melvin Gordon, as he is the most talented running back to enter the NFL in the last several years. He is a game-changing player who will immediately become one of the NFL’s top runners from an explosive, play-making standpoint. He will go through a a transition period as he adjusts to the speed of the NFL ( being forced to be a more patient inside runner), but I have no doubt that by mid-season he will be one of the game’s truly exciting offensive weapons. He’ll be an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
18) Kansas City Chiefs – Cameron Erving, OC, Florida St.
One of the more underrated talents in the 2015 NFL Draft class is Cameron Erving. He’s been lost in the discussion of the top linemen available this year, but he’s proven to be a competent tackle and a borderline elite center during his time at FSU. He’ll instantly become the Chiefs starting center. Add in the fact that he can line up at tackle if the need arises, and you have a value that is more than worthy of a mid to late-first round pick.
19) Cleveland Browns – Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami
The Browns need at wide receiver is obvious, and they’ll have plenty of options to choose from with their second first-round pick. Other options like Devin Smith and Jaelen Strong will be considered here, but at the end of the day the Browns will take the guy with the most play-making potential. Dorsett has the natural speed and “juice” to be a dynamic player from the slot.
20) Philadelphia Eagles – Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri / Oklahoma
I simply couldn’t justify DGB slipping out of the first round (based strictly on talent). His off-field concerns are likely to knock him out of the top-32, but if I had to bet on a team that would go against the grain and take him on Day 1, it’s the Eagles. Chip Kelly has proven that he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks, and the Eagles have a big need at receiver. Pairing DGB with Jordan Matthews gives Philly two big-bodied targets that would be a nightmare match-up for opposing defenses.
21) Cincinnati Bengals – Malcom Brown, DL, Texas
Malcom Brown makes a lot of sense for a Bengals team that will be looking to add another beefy interior defensive lineman to the roster. There’s a legitimate chance that Brown will already be off the Board, but if he falls to No. 21, Cincy will get themselves an all-around talent who has the size, power and initial quickness to be a productive and disruptive player in the NFL.
22) Pittsburgh Steelers – Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest
I’d be shocked if the NFL Draft actually fell this way and the Steelers DIDN’T take Johnson, who is my highest-rated corner in the class. While he has come under some fire late in the process because of his lean and somewhat undersized frame, he is a corner who has top-tier foot quickness and sound overall technique. I have little doubt that he’s a plug and play starter as a rookie.
23) Detroit Lions – Arik Armstead, DL, Oregon
The Lions have to restock the talent along the interior of their defensive line, and while I’m not a first-round fan of Armstead’s game, he is the kind of player that a coaching staff is going to want to get their hands on. His freakish size and very good movement skill suggest that he should be a dominant player, but his tape simply lacked any special moment to think he could be a star in the NFL. The Lions roll the dice here, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.
24) Arizona Cardinals – Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan St.
The Cardinals have a chance to build an impressive young secondary with a “hit” here on Trae Waynes. They have a need at corner opposite of Patrick Peterson, and Waynes is entering the NFL as a prospect with a veteran’s savvy that will get him on the field early in his career.
25) Carolina Panthers – Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami
The Panthers are drafting an offensive lineman in round one; It would be shocking if they didn’t. And with Flowers considered by some to be the top tackle in the class, grabbing him at No. 25 overall will be a good get for Cam Newton and company.
26) Baltimore Ravens – Devin Smith, WR, Ohio St.
The Ravens would’ve loved to see Phillip Dorsett here, but they’ll grab a nice consolation prize in Devin Smith, the speedy deep threat from Ohio St. Smith is one of my favorite receivers in the class because of how well he controls his body and his ability to make the spectacular catch. He’s being pigeon-holed as a one-trick pony right now; I have a sneaky suspicion that he is going to evolve into one heck of an all-around receiver in the NFL.
27) Dallas Cowboys – Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
Peters is a hotly debated cornerback prospect who some consider to be a borderline elite talent. I’m cooler on the Washington product than most, but with Dallas having a need at corner, he’ll be tough to pass on at the end of the first round. The Cowboys would’ve loved to see Melvin Gordon here, but the Chargers spoiled that plan. They’ll be more than happy with the potential steal in Peters.
28) Denver Broncos – D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida
Denver has one (maybe two) seasons of Peyton Manning remaining, and they’ll need to do everything they can to keep him upright. Humphries offers a versatile skill set (tackle and guard potential) with the long term upside of becoming one of the better starting tackles in the NFL. He’s been a massive “riser” through the Draft process, but I think he’ll end up somewhere around this area in round one.
29) Indianapolis Colts – Landon Collins, S, Alabama
Collins will be an interesting player to watch in Round One. He’s the best safety in the Draft (by a wide margin) and could see his Draft value pushed WAY up as a result. He’s a very good football player and if drafted into a situation like the Colts, he’ll come in and be a leader in the back-end of the secondary. He’s been knocked a bit (and unfairly in my opinion) as we’ve come down the home stretch. At the end of the day, he’ll be a first-round pick. The Colts will be thrilled to see him staring them in the face this late in round one.
30) Green Bay Packers – Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
This pick screams “match” to me. Kendricks is a fiery, athletic and instinctual linebacker. Put him on the same defense as Clay Matthews….wow. It would be one of the more dangerous linebacker units in all of football. Kendricks isn’t discussed as a consensus first-round player, but I’d be really surprised if he wasn’t one of the top-32 off the Board.
31) New Orleans Saints – Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona St.
The Saints need to replace the size that they lost in the receiving corps following the Jimmy Graham trade. I have a feeling they’d love DGB to be on the Board, but Chip Kelly and company swooped in and stole him away. Look for Jaelen Strong, the next-best big guy, to hear his name called as a result. Strong doesn’t play as big as his size would suggest, but he’s a nice complementary piece to an offense like New Orleans who already has a speedy Brandin Cooks in place.
32) New England Patriots – Byron Jones, CB, UConn
The loss of some secondary pieces in New England will likely result in an investment in a cornerback in the first round, with Byron Jones being a logical choice. He’s a gifted athlete who is a hybrid secondary player; He can line up at corner and safety, with his ultimate spot likely being a result of where his NFL team needs him most. The Patriots will find what he does best and take full advantage of it.