If the Bucs truly are "comfortable" with Florida St. QB Jameis Winston as they proclaim then this is a very easy decision. There are legitimate 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, at the end of the day Jameis Winston is the rarest of commodities - a potential franchise quarterback - so teams will be willing to overlook a lot. It's ironic the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner can't seem to stay out of trouble in his personal life because on the gridiron Winston displays the leadership ability, intelligence, mental and physical toughness and overall moxy of a true field general. An incredible natural athlete with prototypical size and a strong arm, Winston is well versed in a pro style system and just seems to have an innate feel for the game.
As a redshirt sophomore there are still some rough edges to round off, which is to be expected, but Winston is a transcendent talent capable of quickly turning around the fortunes of a franchise. If Tampa is unable to get past Winston's prior transgressions they could audible to Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, who offers impeccable intangibles but is much more of a question mark on the field. One way or another this choice has to be a signal caller and all of the signs seem to be pointing toward Winston.
One way or another I expect Oregon QB Marcus Mariota to be the #2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. It's just a matter of whether the Titans pull the trigger for themselves or if someone such as the Browns, Eagles or Chargers trade up. It seems like Tennessee might be asking for a King's Ransom though and if that's the case there may not be anyone willing to pay a ridiculous price. That wouldn't be so bad though because, as I always say, the "Golden Rule of the NFL Draft" is unless you already have a franchise quarterback you shouldn't pass on one. Mariota may not be a perfect fit for what head coach Ken Whisenhunt looks for at the position but in the end coaches come and go but potential franchise signal callers are arguably the most valuable commodity in all of sports. 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 prototypical physical tools Mariota also garners extremely high praise for his intangibles such as leadership, intelligence, toughness and work ethic. The only major concern with Mariota is his ability to adjust to a more conventional, pro style system at the next level. Tennessee should also consider USC DL Leonard Williams, who would be a bit of a luxury in terms of need but is also the best player in this class. If they were to move down the Titans could target a wide receiver, offensive lineman, pass rusher or perhaps even a cornerback.
This would be a true test for the Jaguars organization. Do they go with the best player available in USC DL Leonard Williams or opt to address a need? One way or another the front seven on defense must be addressed because while they have a number of solid veterans they 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. Dante Fowler, Jr. of Florida is a versatile pass rusher capable of lining up at either defensive end or outside linebacker and would be an ideal fit at the hybrid LEO position in the Bradley's scheme. Fowler looks every bit the part physically and offers top-notch intangibles but wasn't consistently the type of difference maker that you would expect from someone with so much talent. With that said Fowler is probably the safest bet among the
top tier of pass rushers in this class and should come off the board somewhere in the Top 5 overall. Clemson OLB Vic Beasley would also make sense and is a possible alternative, perhaps in a trade down scenario. Jacksonville has also been linked to Alabama WR Amari Cooper, which would be a bit of a head-scratcher since they just used two premium picks on pass catchers a year ago. That could be a smokescreen to elicit trade offers from teams wanting to leap ahead of the Raiders for Cooper but it's a possible curveball to keep an eye out for.
This would be a match made in NFL Draft Heaven! There is no question the Raiders desperately need a top pass catcher for their young quarterback Derek Carr to throw to. However, there will undoubtedly be a very good wideout available early in the second round. Probably a guy many expect to come off the board in Round 1. If USC DL Leonard Williams, the best player in this class, falls into their laps it should be a no-brainer similar to what happened with Kahlil Mack a year ago. 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. Those comparisons to Richard Seymour are not unrealistic. Regardless of whether Williams lines up inside or outside or in an even or odd front he is a legitimate blue-chip talent and the type of long-term franchise cornerstone that is in short supply in Oakland these days.
Plus Williams is a local kid who actually wants to play for the Raiders, whose new head coach Jack Del Rio is defensive minded and also happens to be a Southern Cal alum. How is that for connecting some dots? If Williams is available they should run, not walk, to the podium. Oakland could easily opt for a wide receiver too though, whether it's Amari Cooper of Alabama or Kevin White of West Virginia. Don't dismiss the possibility of a trade down either because the Raiders still have a lot of needs to address.
If there is going to be a trade at the top of the draft this might be the most likely spot. Washington hasn't had many premium picks in recent years as a result of the Robert Griffin III trade and probably wouldn't mind collecting some extra choices. Plus their areas of need don't necessarily mesh all that well with the value on the board at this point. Regardless of whether they stand pat or someone trades up I expect a pass rusher to go in this slot, whether it's Dante Fowler, Jr. of Florida, Vic Beasley of Clemson or Bud Dupree of Kentucky. The best fit might be Beasley, who would bring a dynamic element of elite speed that Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy are lacking. Beasley is an outstanding athlete with a truly rare burst off the edge. A productive 'tweener who could project to either defensive end or outside linebacker in the pros,
Beasley's performance at the Scouting Combine went a long way toward alleviating concerns about his size and strength and likely secured a spot in the Top 10 overall. Washington could also look at Iowa OT / OG Brandon Scherff to upgrade the offensive line, whether it be here or perhaps a little later. If Oregon QB Marcus Mariota somehow slides this far the pick would become an extremely valuable commodity. In fact, Washington could even opt to grab the potential franchise signal caller all for themselves.
This would be a bit of a surprise but word is the Jets are enamored with Stanford OT Andrus Peat. It's not that they couldn't use an upgrade along the offensive line but a stud pass rusher would seem to be a bigger priority. There are always curveballs in the draft though and this could be one of the first. Peat looks every bit the part and has all the physical tools to be an elite blindside protector but he doesn't always play up to his immense talent level. Even though there is a considerable degree of risk associated with Peat the potential payoff is equally
tantalizing which is why he probably won't escape the Top 10 overall despite inconsistent tape. New York could very easily go for a pass rusher like Dante Fowler, Jr. of Florida, Vic Beasley of Clemson or Bud Dupree of Kentucky as well. If one of those top edge prospects is still on the board there could also be some trade offers for this choice, in which case the Jets could get Peat or the dynamic runner they've been searching for in Georgia's Todd Gurley a little later. One way or another this is one of the key early turning points in the '15 NFL Draft.
At one point it appeared as though the Bears would target a defender with this pick. That is still a possibility but far from a foregone conclusion. After all Chicago has already made a concerted effort to upgrade that side of the ball by adding defenders at all three levels in free agency. In fact, after trading away Brandon Marshall a case can be made that wideout is actually the most glaring need in the Windy City. Alabama WR Amari Cooper may not be a freakish physical specimen but is more than adequate from a size and speed perspective and compensates for any minor physical shortcomings by doing all of the little things. 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 make big plays and would be a perfect compliment to Alshon Jeffery. Plus there are some notable connections between the Crimson Tide program and the Chicago coaching staff. West Virginia WR Kevin White and Louisville WR DeVante Parker are potential alternatives. If Chicago does want to go defense an edge pass rusher like
Vic Beasley of Clemson or Bud Dupree of Kentucky or a cover guy like Trae Waynes of Michigan St. would make the most sense from a value and need standpoint. Even though new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio got by without making a significant investment at the nose tackle position during his tenure in San Francisco keep an eye on Danny Shelton of Washington too. Or perhaps the host team of the 2015 NFL Draft will really make a splash and excite their fans by trading up for Oregon QB Marcus Mariota! Psyche! Sorry Bears fans, that was mean.
ATLANTA FALCONS: ALVIN "BUD" DUPREE, OLB, KENTUCKY
The Falcons have ranked near the very bottom of the league in sack production for years now but for some inexplicable reason they ignored that glaring need for a pass rusher last offseason. As a result Atlanta once again struggled mightily to apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks. Needless to say it's time to address the situation. The Falcons are obviously at the mercy of the teams selecting ahead of them and there is no guarantee one of the Big 3 - Florida's Dante Fowler, Jr., Clemson's Vic Beasley or Kentucky's Alvin "Bud" Dupree - will be available. In fact, they may have to explore trading up to ensure they get the edge guy they so desperately need. Dupree isn't a household name but he is going to come off the board earlier than most expect. Quite possibly in the Top 10 overall. An explosive athlete with a freakish blend of size and speed, Dupree lacks polish after being moved around a lot during his college career but could really take off once he is afforded the
opportunity to settle in and master a single position. Missouri DE Shane Ray has also been prominently linked to the Falcons but that would be quite a stretch in the Top 10 considering all of the question marks surrounding him. Usually at this point I would go on to list some other possible alternatives but in this case it's probably unnecessary as it would be a major upset if the Falcons didn't use this choice on a sack artist. With that said Iowa OT / OG Brandon Scherff and Georgia RB Todd Gurley could be in the conversation too.
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. It seems like a blocker would be the logical fit for the G-Men at this point, but which one? Iowa OT / OG Brandon Scherff gets the edge over Miami (FL) OT Ereck Flowers due to his versatility. Scherff is 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 and is also more athletic than most give him credit for. New York could conceivably play Scherff at left tackle, right tackle or guard but regardless of where he lines up it would represent a big step toward resolving those issues up front once and for all. There has also been speculation the Giants could opt for one of the top wide receivers at this point so that is something to watch out for as well.
Michigan St. CB Trae Waynes might also be in the mix since Prince Amukamara is entering the final season of his contract. The Giants are always looking for defensive linemen as well so do not rule out Kentucky DE Bud Dupree, Washington DT Danny Shelton or Texas DT Malcom Brown. If you are looking for a potential, albeit unlikely, shocker that could shake up the draft keep an eye on Arizona St. S Damarious Randall, who would address what is quite possibly their most glaring need.
What do you give a team that has almost everything? The Rams have had an absolute embarrassment of riches when it comes to premium draft picks in recent years courtesy of their blockbuster trade with Washington for Robert Griffin III and as a result they don't have many glaring needs. One notable exception is the offensive line, where repeated attempts to address the problem in both the draft and free agency have failed. Miami (FL) OT Ereck Flowers, who is equal parts big and aggressive, was a three-year starter for the Hurricanes including the last two on the blindside. Flowers isn't particularly flashy but he gets the job done in both pass protection and the run game and also held up well against elite competition. Do not be surprised when Flowers, who is arguably the top true offensive tackle prospect in this class, comes off the board earlier than expected. Other alternatives at the position would be Stanford OT Andrus Peat and Iowa OT / OG Brandon Scherff.
Despite making a number of rather significant investments in the wide receiver position the Rams still don't have a true go-to option in the passing attack so they could also consider Amari Cooper of Alabama, Kevin White of West Virginia and DeVante Parker of Louisville. There are some questions in the secondary too so don't completely rule out Michigan St. CB Trae Waynes, the top cover guy in this class. Never rule out a defensive lineman when it comes to the Rams either as that is obviously an organizational emphasis.
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