The team that secures the top overall pick is usually in need of a quarterback and Marcus Mariota of Oregon is widely considered to be the prize of the 2015 NFL Draft. Even if a rebuilding franchise with a young signal caller already in place such as the Jaguars or Raiders lands the top spot there would most likely be a robust trade market for the choice. The Buccaneers are once again one of the leagues biggest disappointments and while the cupboard isn't bare there are serious issues on both sides of the ball. It all starts with the quarterback position though. The Bucs current regime obviously has little or no confidence in former third round pick Mike Glennon or one of their first moves after taking the helm wouldn’t have been to sign and immediately name 35-year-old journeyman Josh McCown the starter.
Mariota is a true dual-threat who has drawn favorable comparisons to Colin Kaepernick for his ability to make plays with both his arm and legs. In addition to possessing all of the physical tools to be an impact player at the next level Mariota also garners high praise for his intangibles such as leadership, intelligence, toughness and work ethic. Tampa Bay could also use a pass rusher and a blocker but the golden rule of the NFL Draft is unless you already have a franchise signal caller you don't pass on one.
The greatest question facing the Titans is what to do at quarterback. Jake Locker was given one final opportunity to prove that he could be the long-term solution but that dream is probably dead following another season riddled by inconsistent play and injuries. Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt presumably had considerable input when the decision was made to bring Zach Mettenberger into the organization and he played well at times as a rookie. However, did the former sixth round pick play well enough to pass on a potential franchise signal caller? And if Marcus Mariota of Oregon is gone would the Titans be willing to take a chance on Jameis Winston of Florida St.? After all they were burned not that long ago by Vince Young, a talented player whose career was derailed by character issues. If they don’t opt for a quarterback the Titans would likely turn their attention toward upgrading one of the leagues worst defenses. Leonard Williams of USC has drawn favorable comparisons to Richard Seymour and Gerald McCoy and has been one of the countries elite defenders
since the day he stepped on campus. Some may misguidedly label Williams as a positional ‘tweener but he has proven to be a difference maker at both defensive end and defensive tackle. Regardless of whether Williams lines up inside or outside or in an even or odd front he is a legitimate blue-chip talent and arguably the best prospect in this class. Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton could also use a dynamic edge pass rusher so Randy Gregory of Nebraska and Shane Ray of Missouri may be in the mix too.
They aren’t out of the woods yet but after some lean years there is at least reason for optimism in Jacksonville. Not only do the Jags appear to have a competent front office and coaching staff in place but they may have even found a franchise signal caller in Blake Bortles. There is still plenty of work to be done though. One area that must be addressed is the front seven on defense, where they have a number of solid veterans but lack a true difference maker. That has to be extremely disconcerting for Head Coach Gus Bradley, who basically built his reputation by pressuring the quarterback in Seattle. Randy Gregory of Nebraska is a former junior college transfer with a rare blend of length, speed and athleticism. Gregory is rough around the edges and will require some patience and development but all of the tools are there and the potential is seemingly unlimited.
Gregory could line up at defensive end or outside linebacker at the next level and a versatile, dynamic edge pass rusher is exactly what the doctor ordered in Jacksonville. The Jaguars could also opt for Missouri DE Shane Ray as an alternative to Gregory or USC DL Leonard Williams if they prefer a bigger, more physical presence up front. The offensive line is still a major problem as well so do not rule out Stanford OT Andrus Peat, who could combine with Luke Joeckel to give the Jags a nice set of young bookends to protect their young quarterback.
It appears as though the Jets have already lost patience with Geno Smith and Michael Vick certainly isn’t the long-term solution under center. With that being the case it’s difficult to imagine New York passing on the opportunity to add an elite signal caller. Especially one with the type of star power and glamour that Florida St. QB Jameis Winston would bring to the Big Apple. There are obviously serious concerns about Winston’s maturity and character stemming from a litany of off-the-field incidents during his time in Tallahassee. That trepidation is certainly understandable, especially in a post-Ray Rice climate where prospects with checkered pasts are going to come under greater scrutiny. However, there will most likely be teams willing to overlook a lot when it comes to Winston because at the end of the day he is the rarest of commodities – a potential franchise quarterback. In fact, if not for his questionable behavior outside the lines Winston would be the slam-dunk #1 overall pick. It’s ironic the former Heisman Trophy winner Winston can’t seem to stay out of trouble in his personal life because on the gridiron he displays the leadership ability, mental and physical toughness and overall moxy of a true field general.
An incredible athlete with prototypical size and a very strong arm, Winston has a natural feel for the game and the redshirt sophomore only needs additional experience to round out the rough edges. The other logical alternative for the Jets would be Alabama WR Amari Cooper since they are currently suffering from a severe shortage of playmakers. New York could also use another edge pass rusher and an upgrade at cornerback but the ultimately those deficiencies on offense are simply too glaring to ignore.
When General Manager Reggie McKenzie took over a few years ago the Raiders were in about as deep and dark of a hole as you will ever see in the NFL. Not only was the team essentially devoid of young, impact talent but they were hamstrung by a debilitating salary cap situation and a lack of premium draft picks. At that time everyone realized things would probably get worse before they got better in Oakland but it’s now been three seasons and any improvements have been negligible. In fact, one could make an argument that things have actually gotten worse. As impossible as that sounds simply go take a gander at the Raiders roster and count how many true, long-term building blocks they currently have. You will only need one hand and you’ll probably have extra fingers to spare. Of course the most important piece of the puzzle is quarterback and while it’s still very early it appears as though they might have a keeper in Derek Carr. Now all they need is everything else! With so much riding on Carr it only makes sense to provide their young signal caller with some weapons to throw to and Amari Cooper of Alabama is the consensus top wideout in this class. Cooper benefited from the Crimson Tide opening up their passing attack and enjoyed his most productive season, emerging as a likely Top 10 overall pick. Cooper isn’t an elite talent like Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green
but very few are and that is an unfair standard to hold anyone to. While Cooper may qualify as a freakish physical specimen when it comes to size and speed he is more than adequate in both regards. A polished route runner with a well-rounded skill set, Cooper consistently demonstrates the ability to get open, separate, come away with contested balls and most importantly make big plays. Other than quarterback every position should be on the table for Oakland and in this instance talent, not need , should be the key overriding factor.
The tab for the now infamous Robert Griffin III trade is finally paid in full so Washington can get back to the business of building a team. Unfortunately it looks like they still may not have a quarterback. If Florida St. QB Jameis Winston were to fall this far Washington would have a very interesting decision to make but since the enigmatic signal caller is already off the board they have no choice but to turn their attention elsewhere. Washington has done a good job of adding some young talent at cornerback in recent years but the duo of Brandon Meriweather and Ryan Clark leave much to be desired at safety. Plus Washington has already shown a willingness to invest in safeties, using Top 6 overall picks on both Sean Taylor and LaRon Landry in the last decade. Landon Collins of Alabama is not only the clear-cut top draft-eligible safety but arguably the top defensive back in this class. The Crimson Tide know a thing or two when it comes to pass defense, producing a first round pick from their secondary in four of the past five years including the last three in a row. Collins will follow in the footsteps of Kareem Jackson, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dee Milliner and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
It is admittedly lofty praise but Collins has a chance to be the best prospect of the bunch. A true all-around performer, Collins is physical, aggressive and likes to hit but is also athletic enough to make impact plays in coverage. Collins is exactly the type of versatile playmaker that NFL teams are looking for at the safety position these days and he will undoubtedly be a very valuable commodity on Draft Day. Washington may also look to reinforce their leaky offensive line and could probably use another impact presence in their defensive front seven as well.
The Giants have been actively rebuilding their offensive through both the draft and free agency line in recent years but the results have been somewhat mixed. Perhaps the addition of Iowa’s Brandon Scherff, who could play left tackle, right tackle or offensive guard, is the missing piece. After all the G-Men must have noticed what a dramatic impact the addition of Zack Martin had on the Dallas Cowboys. Scherff is the next in an impressive string of top o-linemen produced by the Hawkeyes, including Eric Steinbach, Robert Gallery, Marshal Yanda, Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff. A fantastic all-around blocker who is effective in pass protection and really stands out in the run game, Scherff is tough, powerful, aggressive and plays the game with a nasty demeanor. If the Giants want more of a true left tackle then Andrus Peat of Stanford could be a target.
New York also needs to upgrade their pass rush and Nebraska DE Randy Gregory fits the profile of what they look for at the position perfectly. However, if Gregory is gone would they go against type and opt for Shane Ray of Missouri even though he doesn’t have the prototypical length that they seem to prefer? As usual the Giants have a hole(s) at linebacker too but for some reason they just don’t value the position enough to make a significant investment to solve the problem once and for all.
Heading into the 2014 NFL Draft the Panthers seemed to have two glaring holes at wide receiver and offensive tackle that stood head and shoulders above the rest. Carolina opted for a pass catcher in round one and they couldn’t be happier with that decision because Kelvin Benjamin looks like the real deal. However, it was relatively shocking to see them ignore the offensive tackle position all together in light of the retirement of long-time stalwart Jordan Gross. In hindsight that was an enormous mistake as offensive line issues plagued the team all season long. Look for Carolina to make adding a blocker a top priority this offseason. Stanford OT Andrus Peat is currently the favorite to be the first offensive tackle off the board assuming he opts to come out early. Peat isn’t a finished product and may require some patience but he
possesses the size, athleticism and intangibles to eventually be a stud blindside protector at the next level. Texas A&M OT Cedric Ogbuehi or Iowa OT Brandon Scherff are possible alternatives. The Panthers could also use a legitimate impact presence in their overachieving secondary and Alabama S Landon Collins would certainly qualify. Don’t completely rule out Alabama WR Amari Cooper either because when it comes to offensive playmakers the cupboard is essentially bare beyond Benjamin and Greg Olsen.
The Saints defense was an abomination in 2012, ranking dead-last in the NFL and struggling mightily against both the run and pass. They were much better in 2013 and it appeared as though Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan had turned things around but they reverted to their old ways this season and that side of the ball is once again a major problem. One sure-fire way to upgrade a defense is to add an impact pass rusher and New Orleans could stand to do much better opposite Junior Galette. Missouri has an impressive track record of sending their defensive linemen to the pros and Shane Ray is poised to follow in the footsteps of guys like Justin Smith, Ziggy Hood, Aldon Smith, Sheldon Richardson, Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. One of the nations premier sack artists, Ray is very athletic with excellent speed and quickness to go along with a non-stop motor. Ray doesn’t have the ideal length that you prefer and may be a bit of a positional ‘tweener but it’s hard to argue with the results on the field.
If Ray is gone by this point, which is looking more and more like a distinct possibility, Vic Beasley of Clemson and Dante Fowler, Jr. of Florida could be alternatives. The Saints could also use help at cornerback but at this point there just isn’t a cover guy worthy of a spot in the Top 10. Don’t rule out a wide receiver either and while Amari Cooper of Alabama may already be off the board by this point DeVante Parker of Louisville and Kevin White of West Virginia could both be plausible options.
After devoting significant resources toward upgrading the defensive line and secondary last offseason it may be time to do the same at linebacker. After all Lance Briggs is now in his mid-thirties and beyond him there are far more questions than answers at the position. Clemson OLB Vic Beasley is a true positional ‘tweener but he possesses rare athleticism, speed and quickness with an incredible burst off the edge. Despite all of the uncertainty over whether he will play with his hand down or standing up at the next level everyone agrees Beasley excels at getting after the quarterback and that skill is always in high demand on Draft Day. In a best-case scenario Beasley could conceivably be a poor-man’s Von Miller. Washington OLB Shaq Thompson is a different type of player but could be an alternative as well.
There are still lingering issues in the secondary too and Landon Collins of Alabama could be the impact safety that the organization has been desperately searching for. Missouri DE Shane Ray and Florida DE Dante Fowler, Jr. could be in the mix too as an eventual replacement for Jared Allen, who will soon be 33-years-old. Even though they just used a first round pick on Kyle Fuller don’t rule out a cornerback either since it looks like Charles Tillman’s tenure in the Windy City could be coming to an end.
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