Finally, we are just one day away from the NFL’s main offseason event. Fans’ hopes are as high as they get, speculations continue to swirl, and those that are fortunate enough to have tickets are preparing to let their boos be heard when Roger Goodell takes the stage. For this mock draft, we are assuming no trades are made, and each team makes their own pick.
This pick seems pretty set in stone. The Bucs face Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton twice a year, and need a quarterback that can at least hold is own against these proven commodities. Josh McCown and Mike Glennon had quarterback ratings of 70.5 and 83.3 respectively last season, which were the second- and 10th-lowest numbers in the league last season. With a wide receiving core that features Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans – who had a wide receiving rating higher than Demaryius Thomas, Jeremy Maclin and Calvin Johnson – Tampa needs a quarterback that can get these guys the ball. They get that in Jameis.
Many teams will be bidding to take this pick off the Titans’ hands in order to draft Marcus Mariota. It would be wise for Tennessee to move back and stockpile picks considering their number of needs, but moving out of the top three in a draft that might have relatively few true first round prospects is far from wise. The Titans will end up declining trades from the likes of the Philadelphia and San Diego, and take defensive end Leonard Williams out of Southern Cal. Williams will step in and improve a run defense that allowed the second-highest average rushing yards per game at 137.2 yards. On top of that, the Titans allowed six different running backs to rush for 130 or more yards last season. Fixing the run defense is Tennessee’s number one priority.
Of the 45 sacks the Jaguars had last season, sixth-most in the NFL, only three came from their starting outside linebacker. Jacksonville needs an edge rusher that not only can get to the quarterback, but also disrupt the opponent’s rushing attack. With Fowler being the most polished and versatile edge rusher in the draft, this pick makes the most sense. Fowler possesses a great combination of speed and power that will help the Jaguars improve their 26th-ranked total defense.
This is all too familiar territory for the Raiders. With the 7th overall pick in 2009, they surprised the NFL world by taking wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey instead of Michael Crabtree. Fast forward six years, and Crabtree is now Oakland’s number one receiver – and that just is not good enough. Compared to Kevin White, the other top receiving prospect, Cooper is the more NFL-ready wideout and is prepared to have an NFL offense revolve around him just like he had at Alabama. Targeted 142 times, Cooper totaled 1,357 yards and had a yards per route ran of 3.61 against power 5 teams – the 3rd highest mark last season. By taking Cooper, Oakland gets a Pro Bowl-caliber wideout to help second year quarterback Derek Carr.
Sorry, Jets fans – Mariota is not falling past the fifth pick. Whether it’s Washington taking him, or them trading that pick to either Philadelphia or San Diego, or possibly even St. Louis or Cleveland, Mariota will be selected by the fifth pick. Washington has plenty of holes, include the 22nd-ranked pass defense, so trading down to collect more picks makes plenty sense. Or, if they want to address their quarterback carousel, they take Mariota themselves. Washington’s GM Scot McCloughan came out and said their approach to this draft is best player available, and if that’s a quarterback, then that’s who they’ll take. There is no Aaron Rodgers-esque draft day drop in Mariota’s future.
The Jets’ defense is ready to be a top five unit once again. Their wideouts are solid with the duo of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. With the uncertainty at QB, the best thing for the Jets at this point, with the top two QBs off the board, could be a game changer at running back like Todd Gurley. Gurley is looking like the best running back in this draft – his elusive rating against power 5 opponents, provided by ProFootballFocus, was the best in the country at 123.5; the second-highest rating was 86.9. Gurley also had the fourth-highest breakaway percentage against power 5 opponents, which measures a back’s percentage of runs that account for more than 15 yards. Having a running back that could potentially rush for 1000 yards takes a lot of pressure off of either Geno Smith or Ryan Fitzpatrick.
What happened to the days when Chicago was one of the most feared defenses in the league? Last season they gave up an average of 378.2 yards per game, good (in only one sense of the word) for 30th in the league. To recreate their championship-level defense, the Bears have to address the trenches and find a bully to get this unit going again. Shelton finished last season with 93 tackles and led the nation in fumble recoveries with five.
From one awful defense to the next – the Falcons almost allowed 400 yards per game last season. Part of the reason Atlanta gave up so many yards per game was their inability to pressure the quarterback. Atlanta’s mark of 22 sacks last season was the second-smallest in the league. To put that into perspective, last year’s sack leader, Justin Houston, finished with the same mark.
Last season, Eli Manning’s average time to throw was the fifth-shortest at 2.49 seconds. With weapons like Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz at Eli’s disposal, the G-Men must give him more time to work. Scherff has garnered comparisons to Zach Martin of the Dallas Cowboys, and the Giants know first hand just how good Martin turned out to be for Dallas. Keeping Eli upright must be priority number one for New York.
Last season, the Rams gave up the second highest completion percentage at 68.1%. Amongst all NFL starting corners, hometown Janoris Jenkins had the fifth-highest allowed QB rating of 114.3. If that wasn’t bad enough, the percentage of receptions completed while Jenkins was in coverage was 72.7%, fourth-highest in the NFL. His fellow starting corner EJ Gaines wasn’t much better at 67.1%. With their elite front seven, an upgrade at corner could vault this defense to the elite level.
Minnesota gets an absolute steal if White falls this far. Yes, they added Mike Wallace in the offseason, but you can never have too many options for a second-year quarterback, and the vertical speed of this potential duo would be too sweet to pass up. On targets of 20 or more yards against power 5 teams, White had the most touchdowns in the nation with seven, and the second-most yards with 543. In the last five weeks of the NFL season, QB Teddy Bridgewater had the highest completion percentage in the league at 72.1%, and the third-highest QB rating – If White falls into the Vikings’ laps, they may, with time, become one of the most explosive offenses in the league.
If the Browns cannot land a deal to acquire Marcus Mariota, then they will be looking for a wideout. With Josh Gordon suspended for the entire 2015 season, and his future murky after that, the Browns desperately need a receiver. Parker can step in and pick up some of the slack with Gordon gone. No wideout in the nation had a higher yards per route ran against power 5 teams.
Head coach Sean Payton stressed the importance of finding rookies that can step in and have an immediate impact. They get that in Dupree, who will help the 31st-ranked Saints defense in both pass and rush situations. The most important factor with Dupree is that he can be a three-down player with his coverage ability.
Collins gives the Dolphins options for their O-Line, considering he played guard as a sophomore and then left tackle for his junior and senior season. Moving Collins to right tackle would not only be best for him performance-wise, but it would be an upgrade from current starter Ja’Wuan James, who had the fifth-lowest overall grade from ProFootballFocus of all offensive tackles last season.
Gregory’s off the field issues will keep him out of the top ten, but with Patrick Willis and Chris Borland gone, and Justin Smith potentially joining them in retirement, this Niners defense needs to reload. Gregory had the seventh-highest pass rush productivity score in the nation, which measures pressure created on a per snap basis, and the fifth-highest PRP on third down.
It seems without question that Cooper and White are the draft’s top two wideouts. The third spot is up for grabs, but could go to USC’s Agholor. With Andre Johnson gone, DeAndre Hopkins needs a partner in crime to help get this offense rolling. Agholor’s stock is rising real quickly – catching 76.3% of passes thrown your way in college will do that.
If the Chargers are unsuccessful in obtaining Mariota, then they must draft a player to protect Philip Rivers. Last season as a whole, the Chargers’ offensive line had the fourth-lowest pass blocking efficiency grade. Peat has the ability to play both right and left tackle, and although the Chargers invested in DJ Fluker two years ago in the first round, they may already draft his replacement.
The Chiefs may be reaching a bit with this pick, but they have a glaring hole at center, with one of the best in the league in Rodney Hudson leaving the team for Oakland via free agency. Erving is raw, as he came to Florida State as a D-lineman, switched to left tackle, and ultimately found his way to center. Despite his inexperience, though, Erving won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, which is rewarded to the ACC’s best blocker.
Phil Taylor is coming off knee surgery, and both Jabaal Sheard and Ahtyba Rubin were lost in free agency. The Browns gave up the most rushing yards per game last season, and need a big body to fix that problem. Against power 5 teams, Brown had the sixth-highest run stop percentage, and that is exactly what the Browns need.
As hard as it may be for Chip Kelly to not draft an Oregon Duck, the Eagles need a safety, and Collins is by far the best in this draft. Collins is best used when lining up in the box rather than in coverage – with him at strong safety and Malcolm Jenkins playing free, the Eagles could turn a weakness into a strength.
No team had fewer sacks last season than the Bengals. With the top of the crop pass rushers gone, with the exception of Shane Ray, who dramatically affected his draft stock after being cited for marijuana possession, Armstead is the Bengals’ best option. Armstead’s unreal size, standing at 6’7″, has proven more helpful in run defense, but he is still raw and can drastically improve his pass rushing abilities in the NFL.
If it weren’t for his off the field issues, Peters could go ahead of Waynes in the cornerback department. With both Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu retiring, the Steelers’ secondary needs drastic aid. Peters will step in and be a starter from day one if he can stay out of trouble.
The Lions need to add more depth to their front line, and get solid value out of this pick. Humphries tends to lean while blocking, but if Detroit can fix that, they’ll get an incredibly athletic (and mean) offensive lineman that could come in and play from day one.
As of right now, Larry Foote is 50-50 on playing this upcoming season, and may end up an assistant coach for the Cardinals. Even if Foote decides to play, though, Arizona must address their need for an inside linebacker. Paul Dawson had the highest run stop percentage in the nation last year, alongside the second-highest pass rush productivity. He’d be a great fit on what’s an already impressive defense.
Watching Cam Newton get destroyed play in and play out got hard to watch towards the end of the season. It’s hard to believe he survived the nine sacks the Eagles recorded against the Panthers in their 2014 matchup. A healthy Cam is a happy Cam, and Flowers has the size and footwork to be a replacement at left tackle for Byron Bell, who is coming off an awful season.
The Ravens were decimated by injuries at the defensive back position last year, leading to the team giving up the 10th-most passing yards in the league. Collins adds depth to Baltimore’s DBs, and is coming off a season where he had a completion percentage allowed of only 40.9%, fifth-best in the nation.
Out goes DeMarco Murray; in comes Gordon. Darren McFadden is not the long-term answer in Dallas, and letting a triple-threat back like Gordon slip by looks unlikely. Dallas arguably has the best run-blocking offensive line in the NFL – partner that up with Gordon, who had 40 runs of over 15 yards last year, and the Cowboys have certainly found their new running back.
Peyton Manning may have lost one of his favorite targets in tight end Julius Thomas, but do not be surprised if DGB becomes a new favorite. Thomas and Green-Beckham are similar that they were both raw with great size upon entering the league. DGB may not be the most polished receiver, but when you are 6’6″ and have Peyton Manning throwing you the ball, you don’t have to be.
The Colts are not only in need of an upgrade at the inside linebacker position, they need an inside linebacker that can be a leader, and McKinney is just what the doctor ordered. He’s is a smart player, has a nose for the ball, and seems to always be a part of the play.
With Tramon Williams and Davon House gone, the Packers will be looking for a corner. With Waynes, Peters, and Collins all off the board by 30, Green Bay will look to Kevin Johnson, who had a yards per coverage snap of 0.89 last season.
Its all about defense for the Saints in the first round, and taking Goldman at the end of the first provides them with a great fit in Rob Ryan’s 3-4 defense. New Orleans lost Tyrunn Walker to free agency, and Brodrick Bunkley is in need of a replacement.
With both Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner leaving the Super Bowl champs, New England must find replacements via the draft. Williams is a great fit in New England because of how physical he is at the line, as well as his comfort level of being left alone on an island without safety help.
Now on the clock…
by Sean Fener, Saint Joseph’s University