It seems almost poetic with the change in venue for the NFL draft from New York City to Chicago comes a change in philosophy that will keep many hot-seated GMs sweating bullets. With more eyeballs on the value of certain positions relative to the salary cap, advanced stats ejaculated all over the walls, and more rumor-mongering than ever, it’s become harder than ever to stick to your guys and even slightly defy convention to get the guy you want. This wouldn’t be the case if we had a draft class deep at unsexy positions lik defensive tackle, offensive line, and defensive back.
My mock draft is a hybrid of what I would do if I were the GM and where I would like to see these players get the best coaching they can get for their skills.
Just about EVERY top talent in this year’s class is a gamble just on position and scheme fit alone. There’s no slam dunk franchise quarterback, there’s no offensive lineman projected to go in the top eight picks, and there’s no defensive backs projected to go top 10. If this is your make or break year as a GM, goooood luck. Let’s help these guys out, eh?
#1 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Jameis Winston QB Florida State
Winston’s done about everything you can do to talk people out of taking him #1, and for some reason it’s not going to matter. He failed miserably in the CFP when the demeanor he sells you should have been calmer and cooler than ever. He has two sexual assault allegations against him, and managed to get suspended from the baseball team between them. He throws a great ball, but he does not appear to have the makeup of a guy who will put it on himself when things don’t go well. Lovie won’t be in love here, but the allure of a hometown boy selling out the place during a rebuild with an added reasonable chance he’s a long-term answer at QB will be too alluring for the powers that be to pass him up. There’s no other sure thing worthy of a #1 pick in his place.
#2 – Tennessee Titans – Marcus Mariota QB Oregon
Despite being more of a boy scout, I’m even less sold on Mariota. Alas, someone’s going to go gaga for him and trade up for him. The most hotly rumored team for this at the moment is San Diego, who after Vegas odds for their drafting him sunk from 15:1 to 5:2 suddenly got quiet about trading Philip Rivers. The Chargers have made no secrets about being interested in Mariota, having worked him out at their facilities despite no chance of his falling to the mid-round. The Chargers’ dance with this trade has almost single handedly sunk the idea of Chip Kelly trading up for his guy. There’s no way Tennessee is passing up Rivers for a draft haul that the GM and Ken Whisenhunt may not be employed long enough to see to fruition. Pairing Rivers with Hakeem Nicks, Kendall Wright and Delanie Walker, presuming Bishop Sankey does something in year 2, will make you competitive pretty quickly in a lukewarm AFC. Pairing Mariota with these guys puts you in a 3 year rebuild you don’t really need in a weak division like this. He can likely run a traditional offense to average production, but the limits of his arm talent were already tested at Oregon, and will likely be tested on a play-by-play basis in the NFL. I’ll let another GM take him first.
#3 – Jacksonville Jaguars – Dante Fowler DE Florida
Oddly enough, if there’s someone who’s done himself a disservice by not advertising himself enough, it’s Fowler, who in my eyes is the best player in this draft class. Fowler isn’t just built to be a double-digit sack guy right away in the NFL if he’s given starts. He’s a well-spoken, natural leader, who may actually change the culture in the Jaguars locker room. You can say Leonard Williams is a sure thing here, but Gus Bradley’s lineage suggests he values edge rushers over plugging up the middle, and Fowler is comprehensively talented enough to warrant passing up an unsexy tackle.
#4 – Oakland Raiders – Leonard Williams DT USC
Your next trade happens here. The idea that Reggie McKenzie has to surround Derek Carr with weapons to find out how good he is is foolish. He has to surround him with protection. With multiple tackles available 8-10 picks from here. Oakland will be thrilled to trade down, look smart, and pick up a tackle AND a receiver from this supposedly deep class rather than put all their eggs in the Amari Cooper basket. Someone will want the security of Leonard Williams and not care that he’ll never develop past being an above-average space eater at defensive tackle.
#5 – Washington Foreskins – Vic Beasley OLB Clemson
The Foreskins get dumb here and stick with the pass rusher idea when they could get a receiver. There are strong rumors that if Williams falls to 5 the Skins are trading out to Cleveland and running away. This makes me think they haven’t given as much thought to actually using the pick, which will likely be used to try to replace Brian Orakpo with a pass rusher. Beasley is woefully undersized for the NFL and will likely not beat people regularly if he can’t buzz around them with his speed. 4-3 defenses need not apply.
#6 – New York Jets – Danny Shelton NT Washington
Amidst all the talk of trading up for a QB and going after a pass rusher, did anyone stop and think about this guy playing between Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson? Does anyone else see this? Make this happen, MacCagnan! It’s begging for a nickname already!
#7 – Chicago Bears – Kevin White WR West Virginia
If you trade away a big time wide receiver in free agency, replacing him in the following draft is always the natural next step. If given the choice between the sheer athleticism of Kevin White and the polish of Amari Cooper, I think Chicago goes for White. All the natural ability in the world doesn’t mean anything if your quarterback is wild enough on his throws. If Chicago isn’t fully bought-in to Cutler, they’re going to take a receiver with a bigger catch radius over a polished route runner
#8 – Atlanta Falcons – Brandon Scherff OL Iowa
Randy Gregory might be undersized, Shane Ray might be suspended, and Thomas Dimitroff doesn’t have the time to find out either. The quickest route for Dimitroff and Pioli to keep their jobs in Atlanta is Matt Ryan lighting up the league again, and an unsexy selection of the best offensive lineman in the draft keeps them both out of trouble and helps protect the franchise. Think of it this way: when was the last time you saw the consensus best offensive lineman in the draft slip out of the top 8? I’ll tell youl. Over the last ten years including this one, only once has the draft gone past the eighth pick without an offensive lineman: 19-year old Tyron Smith being picked 9th in 2011. One of these GMs on the hot seat is going to get scared of sinking all their eggs into a pass rusher or quarterback that they may not be employed long enough to see develop. Scherff starts right away, improves your run game, and at his ceiling is your left tackle for ten years. Scherff is being drafted sooner than projected.
#9 – New York Giants – Amari Cooper WR Alabama
It’s not going to be a popular pick, but the Giants would be foolish to pass up a pro-ready player of Cooper’s caliber. He’s not flashy enough of a playmaker to warrant trading up for, and in today’s NFL, that means you slip. You could make the case that they spend this on an offensive tackle like La’el Collins or Andrus Peat, but Jerry Reese has long valued individual talent like Cooper’s over individual blocking talent. The Giants haven’t spent high picks on offensive linemen for most of Jerry Reese’s tenure because they believe in chemistry along the line over individual talents, and have won championships when they achieved it. If Cruz can start Week 1. You’re throwing Beckham, Cruz, Randle, and Cooper at teams on quick completions and runs after the catch. One shouldn’t need to block too long for that if you make it work.
#10 – St. Louis Rams – Andrus Peat OT LSU
If you’re going with Nick Foles, you’d better block up the edges. Nick Foles has a nice arm and can run your offense. Just don’t expect him to move. Greg Robinson has been an underachiever in year one and drafting a second tackle high offers Jeff Fisher versatility he otherwise doesn’t have. Peat possesses rare physical gifts, including thunder thighs and arms that can match most edge rushers, that will make a team take him over La’el Collins.
#11 – Minnesota Vikings – Trae Waynes CB Michigan St.
Everyone has this team picking an offensive player to help Teddy Bridgewater, but it’s not like he lacks weapons. He has an All-Pro back, a Pro-Bowl tight end, Mike Wallace, Jarius Wright, and Cordarelle Patterson with Norv Turner pushing the buttons. Why not appease your defensive-minded coach and get the best CB in the class. Waynes has Legion of Boom size, and can project immediately as a press corner in the slot complementary to what they already have in Rhodes and Munnerlyn? If you’re playing the Packers, Lions, and Bears twice a year, you need depth at corner.
#12 Cleveland Browns – Alvin Dupree OLB Kentucky
If the Browns haven’t moved up by this point, they’ll find that the other trades that were made have allowed some top-10 caliber guys to fall into their laps. I’m not immediately sold on Cleveland taking a wide-out after signing Dwayne Bowe. Alvin Dupree physically projects to a 4-3 defensive end, but with fewer teams playing 4-3, he is going to be attractive to teams that have several cogs of their front seven in place that will allow his natural ability to flow freely in pursuit without much else in the way of defensive responsibility. That likely means he won’t slip past a disciple of Rex Ryan.
#13 New Orleans Saints – Devante Parker WR Louisville
Heeeeey, lookie here! I don’t see Parker going top 10 because he’s not very physically imposing and missed 7 games last year with injuries. Most of what skyrocketed him up draft boards was a limited sample size, so I don’t think anyone is going all in with a top 10 pick on him. What isn’t up for debate is his 80-inch wingspan, which New Orleans will need if Brees’ arm strength recedes slightly. Even without power, Brees should be able to lay balls out for Parker and have him show off for the highlight reel like he did in collage. There’s no better place for him to end up. Colston, Cooks, and Parker should be fearsome in the waning days of Brees’ career.
#14 Miami Dolphins – La’el Collins OT LSU
The Cooper to Scherff’s White. Another GM/coaching pair on the hot seat is Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin who MUST make the playoffs with the moves they’ve made or kiss their careers goodbye. Thusly, they take an unsexy safe prototypical left tackle who can plug in the line right away and contribute. Collins played both LG and LT in college, stayed a year past his NFL eligibility for polish, and has virtually no weaknesses. He’s the safest 1st round OL pick you can have.
#15 San Francisco 49ers – Arik Armstead DT Oregon
Hey, if everyone says so. Armstead is projected to go here because he can immediately solidify a 3-4 front while developing as a pass rusher, something he didn’t do (and apparently wasn’t asked to do, though I’m sure Oregon would have taken it) in college. Armstead in the top 10 is a reach, as you’re basically only drafting his body. However, right here, where JPP was drafted five years ago, makes more sense. He’s a scheme fit, even if he’s not a complete player.
#16 Houston Texans – Shane Ray OLB Missouri
I have Ray going here because Houston is the first team in the draft that has the front seven solidified with veterans to the point where they can absorb a 4-game suspension and still have him contribute. Bill O’Brien is a disciple of Bill Belichick, which means he thinks he is Bill Belichick, which means he’s going to take a top-10 talent that falls to him for menial reasons like marijuana use. Ray should provide depth at a linebacker corps that has documented proclivity to injury, and at worst takes a nice sabbatical year out of the spotlight to start over.
#17 San Diego Chargers – Melvin Gordon RB Wisconsin
The first shocker. Mark my words. Melvin Gordon is the best offensive player in this draft. In fact, this draft is LOADED with backfield talent, and will be defined by the teams who defied rhetoric and convention to spend a top draft pick to get one. The Chargers, if they don’t trade this pick to move up, will the first team to take one based on sheer need. Gordon is a COMPLETE back, mirroring the catch and run ability of Jamaal Charles with a smoothness of Arian Foster. Barring injury, he should be an animal once he finds his groove.
#18 Kansas City Chiefs – Nelson Agholor WR USC
I don’t think teams are as high on Agholor as the prognosticators say. If you don’t have an offensive minded head coach, his special teams pelts aren’t going to woo you into a first round selection. If your coach is Andy Reid, however, and you realize the multifaceted game he has, and you can’t suddenly can’t stop designing screens for him, you draft him in the same spot you drafted Jeremy Maclin. Hey, they just signed Jeremy Maclin, right? KC gets a perfect understudy.
#19 Cleveland Browns (from Bills) – Malcom Brown DT Texas
I really think Malcolm Brown should go top-12. He’s as pro-ready as any defensive lineman in the draft. If he falls here, it’s Christmas in Cleveland. Brown can play in a 3-4 DE or 4-3 DT role. All Mike Pettine would need to do to seal the deal on this guy being a 10 year starter in the NFL is instill a bigger mean streak in him. The size, technique, and versatility are all there.
#20 Philadelphia Eagles – Randy Gregory OLB Nebraska
Chip Kelly is friends with Bill Belichick, which means he thinks he is Bill Belichick, which means he’s…. ah, you get the picture. The only thing more self-congratulatory than mortgaging a franchise’s future to draft a QB you coached in college is taking the guy who falls on a single failed marijuana test so you can show the whole league you’re smarter than them. It’s a total Chip move, and when Gregory and Kelly are both out of the league 3 years from now (Kelly first.) because Gregory can’t play the run and slows down with the 10-15lbs everyone thinks he should put on, you’ll learn not to fall in love with edge rushers based on sheer measurable traits alone.
#21 Cincinnati Bengals – Byron Jones CB UConn
Of course they don’t have all 32 helmets. Christ. While convention may lead you to think they’re going to add an offensive lineman to protect the statuesque Andy Dalton, and while stereotyping may lead you to believe they’ll take a swing on Green-Beckham, I believe Marvin Lewis is going to look at a defense that was 20th against both the pass and the run, and choose a corner to help against the Steeler receivers in battling for the division. Jones possesses rare speed and verticality that will help him on jump balls, and at 200lbs he’s just thick enough not to get beat up in press coverage. An excellent pro prospect that can be plugged into nickel packages on day 1.
#22 Pittsburgh Steelers – Landon Collins S Alabama
I would advise most teams against drafting someone like Collins in the first round, because on film he’s a strong safety that is projected to have free-safety range based on his measurables. I think Pittsburgh is a nice place for him because they’ll be able to use him backed off in their Cover 2 scheme even if he never converts to free safety. Collins is pro-ready to step in at strong safety day 1, and Pittsburgh’s defensive culture will develop him into a solid SS/FS hybrid at worst. The team that drafts him high and asks him to play centerfield will be disappointed.
#23 Detroit Lions – Todd Gurley RB Georgia
Everyone has this guy going to the Chargers, Cowboys or Ravens. Did we forget Detroit was 28th in rushing last year, and they don’t even have a bad offensive line? Controlling the clock on the ground was basically the one thing the Lions didn’t do well last year. Detroit drafting Gurley with a capable pass-catching back in Joique Bell beside him allows Gurley to learn the offense at his own pace while guarding his injured knee. If they’re down two touchdowns, he’s off the field. If they’re up two touchdowns in December outdoors, he’s the guy that breaks the dome team stereotype and gets them over the hump. If you’re Detroit, you’re likely going to have to win indoors during the season, and outdoors in January. You need portable weapons, and thusly Gurley is worth more to a team like Detroit than to others.
#24 Arizona Cardinals – Marcus Peters CB Washington
Todd Bowles got a head coaching job from being defensive coordinator here off a season in which his defense was 29th against the pass and gave up 368 yards a game. I don’t know how the Arizona brass doesn’t look at Peters and see alot of Patrick Peterson in him. In addition to being one of the best athletes in the draft, Peters has a mean streak in him that will more than fit into the dog fight of the NFC West. I’m surprised this guy is projected down in the 30s given everything I’ve read and watched about him. With the top two backs gone, and all the pass rushers dried up, I don’t think Bruce Arians will pass on someone like this.
#25 Carolina Panthers – Ereck Flowers OT Florida
The Panthers did themselves no favors by winning the division with a losing record. They won’t go a second year without O-line replenishment, and Flowers will have fallen just as far in the draft order as Carolina has by the time they’re on the clock. At 6-6 330, Flowers figures to help immediately at guard, and should help in the run game. Can’t you see Cam Newton diving over this fellow on the goal line?
#26 Baltimore Ravens – Eddie Goldman DT Florida State
When all else fails, Baltimore loads the box. Goldman is versatile, seasoned with big games under his belt, and disruptive regularly on his college tape. He’ll be most attractive to teams that will want to put him across the front of a 3-4 formation. The Ravens basically invented that. If I’m Baltimore, and everyone is clamoring for a receiver, I tell them hold off until the 2nd round and take either a WR that falls or a tight end. If you’re going to continue to run the zone scheme with Forsett and this line post-Kubiak, you need easy options off the play action, not precise route-runners.
#27 Dallas Cowboys – Kevin Johnson CB Wake Forest
If I’m a Cowboys fan, I’m hoping to God Jerry isn’t overly fretting about losing DeMarco Murray, and is more concerned with not playing himself about a defense that remarkably overachieved last season. While not the explosive athlete that Marcus Peters is, Johnson is more polished, and can start on the outside right away. If he has an immediate impact, it will allow Rod Marinelli more permutations in the box to keep offenses guessing, and thusly continue to overcome a lack of raw talent. Dallas needs an infusion of defensive talent this year, and cannot be distracted by playmakers.
#28 Denver Broncos – Cameron Erving C Florida State
Erving, while versatile in college and playing across the line, is not mean or powerful enough to play tackle professionally. He’s athletic enough to get into the second level and do some nice pulling in schemes that will ask it of him, but he’s not bowling anyone over frequently, and the scouting reports on him suggest he never will. When you’re as stacked as Denver is, you can take him as a prospect and figure out what to do with him in a year. He possesses all the skills you need to block in a high-volume passing offense, but running teams should stay away.
#29 Indianapolis Colts – D. J. Humphries OT Florida
With the scheme fits out of the way, the most athletic tackle in the draft falls to Indy. Humphries has the right attitude and athleticism for the position, but has some bad habits with hand placement and balance that might scare a team higher up with asses to cover in need of contribution from day 1. He’s a year away from being on track to his ceiling, and Chuck Pagano should be up to the challenge.
#30 Green Bay Packers – Eric Kendricks LB UCLA
For all the praise given to Kendricks, the Packers are one of a handful of teams that are perennially successful enough to draft an inside linebacker in the first round and not catch much criticism. Fortunately, this fills a need for Green Bay as well as kicks Clay Matthews back to a full time pass rushing role. Kendricks is seasoned from being on a team coached by a former NFL coach and seeing the field in 14 games his freshman year, something most recruits at big programs don’t necessarily get to do. The Packers get essentially a known quantity that fills a need at the right price.
#31 New Orleans Saints (from Seahawks) – Ronald Darby CB Florida State
Under the presumption that Vaccaro and Byrd are still your 1-2 punch at safety, you can NOT go into next season without answers for coverage on the outside. While Keenan Lewis is an above-average man corner, there’s no reason to stretch your safeties both coming off lost years. Get a corner that can at a minimum plug into nickel packages on day 1 and use his speed on the Superdome turf to his advantage. Darby fits the bill.
#32 New England Patriots – Phillip Dorsett WR Miami
This may not seem like a fit right away, but as Tom Brady’s arm strength wanes, there needs to be someone who can take the top off of defenses in the Pats offense or teams other than the Giants are going to start wising up. I believe Dorsett to be a fit here because he won’t be overwhelmed by his inexperience having come out as a senior, and he can always project in the slot if Tom can’t hit him deep. The Pats already get alot out of flexing Edelman and Amendola in and out to keep teams off balance. A third guy in this rotation without the world expected of him on day 1 won’t hurt. Also, I don’t know of any Rutgers players to put here.