The Bucs were 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 Buccaneers 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 Josh McCown and immediately name the 35-year-old journeyman the starter. What this pick may ultimately come down to is whether Tampa Bay feels more comfortable with Florida St. QB Jameis Winston, who appears to be the total package on the field but has character issues, or Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, who offers impeccable intangibles but could struggle to adapt to the pro game. 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 excellent athlete with prototypical size and a strong arm, Winston has a natural feel for the game and the redshirt sophomore only needs additional experience to round out the rough edges. There are obviously serious concerns about Winston’s maturity 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, at the end of the day Winston is the rarest of commodities – a potential franchise quarterback - so teams will be willing to overlook a lot. In fact, if not for his questionable behavior outside the lines Winston would be the slam-dunk #1 overall pick. One way or another this will be a very interesting decision for the Bucs and the choice will say a lot about whether the NFL prioritizes makeup or performance.
The big 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 dead following another season riddled by both 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 showed some flashes as a rookie. However, did the former sixth round pick play well enough to justify passing 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. It’s a bit of a quandary for Tennessee. Shying away from Winston would be understandable considering their experience with Young but it would be difficult to pass on Mariota with their situation under center still so unsettled. 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 extremely high praise for his intangibles such as leadership, intelligence, toughness and work ethic. If the Titans don’t opt for a quarterback they would most likely target an impact performer to bolster their defensive front seven in the form of either Leonard Williams of USC, Randy Gregory of Nebraska or Shane Ray of Missouri.
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 and one area that must be addressed is the front seven on defense, where they have a number of solid veterans but lack a true impact presence. That has to be disconcerting for head coach Gus Bradley, who basically built his reputation by pressuring the quarterback in Seattle. Leonard Williams of USC has drawn favorable comparisons to Richard Seymour and Gerald McCoy and is arguably the premier prospect in this class.
Some might 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. The Jaguars could also consider Randy Gregory of Nebraska and Shane Ray of Missouri if they prefer an edge rusher but if Williams is still on the board this should be a relatively easy decision for a franchise in search of a defensive cornerstone.
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 that 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 a finger or two to spare. Of course the most important piece of the puzzle is quarterback and while it’s still 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 the young signal caller with a dynamic weapon to throw to. Alabama WR Amari Cooper is a polished route runner with a well-rounded skill set who consistently demonstrates the ability to get open, separate, come away with contested balls and make big plays.
Cooper isn’t an elite talent or freakish physical specimen like Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green but very few are and that is an unfair standard to hold anyone to. While Cooper is almost universally considered to be the top wideout in this class the gap between him and DeVante Parker of Louisville and Kevin White of West Virginia may not be quite as wide as some might think. 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 in their eventual decision.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS: DANNY SHELTON, DT, WASHINGTON
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 the quarterback position is still a question mark so if Jameis Winston of Florida St. or Marcus Mariota of Oregon fell this far the Redskins would have a very interesting decision to make. With the top signal callers already off the board the Redskins can turn their attention elsewhere and they might look to the trenches. Washington DT Danny Shelton checks in at 6-2 and 339 pounds and excels at occupying space and stuffing the run. Shelton isn’t a typical nose tackle though because he’s much more of a playmaker than you would expect from the position. In fact, Shelton’s uncommon athleticism, quickness and motor helped him register an impressive 16.5 tackles for a loss and 9.0 sacks as a senior. Shelton would be a perfect fit as the anchor of the Redskins new defensive scheme,
which head coach Jay Gruden described as a “shoot-the-gap-type of 3-4, a get-up-the-field-and-rush-them 3-4”. The long-term future of the safety position is very much up in the air as well but Landon Collins of Alabama would probably be a reach in the Top 5. Another pass rusher may be needed too since the oft-injured Brian Orakpo is a free agent and Ryan Kerrigan only has one more season left on his contract so keep an eye out for Randy Gregory of Nebraska or Shane Ray of Missouri.
This choice may wind up being one of the wild cards of the Top 10 since the Jets could conceivably go in a number of different directions. There is a lingering question mark at quarterback but Geno Smith actually finished the season strong and it’s unlikely either Jameis Winston of Florida St. or Marcus Mariota of Oregon will slide this far anyway. The best fit when it comes to both value and need might be a pass rusher, especially since new head coach Todd Bowles is a defensive specialist. New York has one of the premier defensive lines in the league but they lack a true difference maker off the edge. Especially since Calvin Pace is now in his mid-30’s and only registered 0.5 sack in 2014.
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. Shane Ray of Missouri could be an alternative. The Jets are also suffering from a severe shortage of playmakers on offense so Alabama WR Amari Cooper would make a lot of sense as well. Cornerback is a problem area too but this is a bit early for Trae Waynes of Michigan St.
Even though Chicago just invested a first round pick on Kyle Fuller additional reinforcements are still needed in the secondary. Especially at safety, which has been a major problem area for going on a decade. To the Bears credit they have attempted to address the situation through both the draft and free agency but to little or no avail. Alabama S Landon Collins might be a bit of a reach in the Top 10 overall but could be the solution they have been desperately searching for. Collins 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. 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 valuable commodity on Draft Day. Chicago could also be in the market for a defensive end such as Randy Gregory of Nebraska or Shane Ray of Missouri depending upon how much they think 33-year-old Jared Allen has left in the tank. There are more questions than answers at linebacker too so Vic Beasley of Clemson could be darkhorse.
Two seasons ago the Falcons ranked near the very bottom of the league in sack production but for some inexplicable reason they ignored that glaring need for a pass rusher last offseason. Well lo and behold Atlanta was once again among the worst in the league when it comes to pressuring opposing quarterbacks. Needless to say it’s time to address the situation. Missouri has an impressive track record when it comes to sending 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 and Kony Ealy. One of the nations premier sack artists, Ray offers terrific speed and quickness, an explosive first step, a variety of moves and counters and a non-stop motor. Ray doesn’t have the ideal length that you prefer and may be a bit of a ‘tweener but he would be an ideal fit for the hybrid LEO position in the scheme of new head coach Dan Quinn.
Other alternatives could include Randy Gregory of Nebraska, Dante Fowler, Jr. of Florida, Vic Beasley of Clemson and Alvin Dupree of Kentucky. There is still some uncertainty along the offensive line beyond Jake Matthews too but Ryan Schraeder played well when forced into action and may be the long-term solution at right tackle. Upgrades are also probably needed at running back and tight end but from a value standpoint it would not make sense to address either in the Top 10 overall.
The Giants have been actively rebuilding their offensive line through both the draft and free agency in recent years but the results have been somewhat mixed. Perhaps Iowa’s Brandon Scherff, who could play tackle or guard, is the missing piece of the puzzle. After all the G-Men must have noticed what a dramatic impact the addition of Zack Martin had on their division rival Dallas Cowboys. Scherff is the next in an impressive string of top offensive 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. New York is also known for prioritizing the defensive line in the early rounds so Nebraska DE Randy Gregory and Washington DT Danny Shelton could be in the discussion as well.
Don’t rule out Landon Collins of Alabama either since Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown are both free agents and the safety position is unsettled. As usual there is plenty of room to upgrade at linebacker too but for one reason or another they just don’t seem to value the position enough to make a significant investment and solve the problem once and for all. Regardless of which direction they ultimately opt to go look for the Giants to remain true to their renewed emphasis on character and intangibles, which paid off quite handsomely last time around.
That Rams have had an absolute embarrassment of riches when it comes to premium draft picks in recent years courtesy of their trade with Washington for Robert Griffin III. However, instead of using one of those choices on a quarterback they steadfastly stuck by Sam Bradford even though he has been plagued by injuries and not particularly effective even when healthy. What exactly Bradford did to earn that type of unwavering loyalty is unclear but St. Louis is now essentially in quarterback purgatory. They won’t be a true contender until they find a legitimate stud signal caller but they have so much talent elsewhere, including four first rounders on the defensive line alone, it’s unlikely they will bottom out and be in position to land a franchise quarterback at the top of the draft again anytime soon. Talk about a missed opportunity. With that being the case the best course of action might be to continue shoring up the offensive line in an attempt to keep
Bradford upright since they've put all their eggs in his basket. Stanford OT Andrus Peat isn’t a finished product and will require patience but he possesses the size, athleticism and intangibles to eventually be a stud blindside protector at the next level. Unfortunately Jake Long is recovering from yet another major injury but the long-term future of the offensive tackle position would be secure with a set of bookends like Peat and Greg Robinson. Brandon Scherff of Iowa, who could project to either tackle or guard, is also a potential alternative.
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