The NFL draft is now less than three weeks away, and Pro Football Rumors is dedicated to following all 32 NFL teams and their reported interest in prospects. The biggest names change teams during free agency, but fans know that when it comes to the long-term health of their favorite teams, the draft is the most important aspect of the offseason.
Still, the first round of the draft does feature a certain amount of star power, and a healthy portion of the players selected in the first round will already be household names for even the average fan. Further, fans are smart enough and dedicated enough to do their due diligence on players that are rumored to be targeted by their favorite team at the top of the draft.
In the first installment of Pro Football Rumors’ 2015 mock draft, I’ll go through the first round, giving my best predictions – and suggestions – for what NFL teams might do when they come to the podium. I also include some potential second-round options for the Bills and Seahawks, the two teams that don’t own a first-round pick.
The picks are based on team needs, local media reports, film study, historical preferences, and a couple of gut feelings. They reflect, to the best of my abilities, how I think the first round of the 2015 NFL draft might play out, excluding any trades. The Buccaneers will start us off, with a pick that seems to have been a foregone conclusion for quite some time….
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
All signs point to the Buccaneers taking Winston first overall. He’s not my favorite player in the draft – the off-field issues are a concern, as are the 25 touchdowns to 18 interceptions last year – but Tampa Bay is in desperate need of a quarterback, and the team seems to prefer Winston over Marcus Mariota. The best player available is probably Leonard Williams, but it will likely be too difficult to pass up a potential franchise passer.
- Tennessee Titans – Leonard Williams, DT, USC
Mariota has been a popular choice here, but Ken Whisenhunt‘s predilection for the tall, strong-armed, pocket passer makes it difficult to imagine Mariota in Tennessee’s offense. Williams is the best player on the board, and can anchor a defensive line from the interior or the edge. If someone really wants Mariota, the Titans could trade out of this pick.
- Jacksonville Jaguars – Dante Fowler Jr., OLB, Florida
Williams is the big get as a player who can disrupt offenses from anywhere along the defensive line, but after that there are three or four pass rushers who all wind up being graded nearly equally, depending on who is doing the evaluating. Fowler has the least question marks and probably the highest floor of the group, and fits Gus Bradley’s scheme in a need position.
- Oakland Raiders – Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
After taking Khalil Mack in the first round last year, the Raiders don’t have to take a pass rusher here, and the top two receivers are fits at this spot. I can’t imagine Kevin White going before Cooper, especially after Cooper’s 40-yard dash time was corrected.
- Washington – Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska
Gregory has been the obvious fit as an outside linebacker to rush the passer since Washington lost Brian Orakpo in free agency. Gregory tested positive for marijuana at the combine, which opens the door for another pass rusher to jump up here (or a dark horse like Mariota or White). Still, if Washington thought Gregory was better than Shane Ray and Vic Beasley before the positive test, I think by the time the draft comes around, the club will settle on the player it likes best on the field. Washington could also look to trade back if another team is looking to jump ahead of the Jets for Mariota.
- New York Jets – Shane Ray, OLB, Missouri
There are some obvious size concerns for Ray on the defensive line, and his athleticism might be lacking at linebacker, but Ray is my favorite of the pass rushers. He is mean and relentless, and surprisingly polished with his technique. Todd Bowles likes to send his linebackers after the quarterback, and Ray would fit perfectly. The team could also consider Mariota, but I just have a hunch that New York isn’t that interested in the Oregon passer. White is also an option as a receiver (or Cooper, if he’s available).
- Chicago Bears – Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
The Bears have a number of needs, and with John Fox taking over, it would make sense for the team to target a defensive player. Beasley would be a potential fit, in an effort to recreate Von Miller for Fox’s defense. However, I think White makes it difficult for the team to go with Beasley — with Brandon Marshall now on the Jets, the West Virginia wideout would help Chicago put a reputable offense on the field.
- Atlanta Falcons – Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
The Falcons would be ecstatic if the Bears passed on Beasley in this spot, as the Clemson pass rusher could turn into the star of Dan Quinn’s defense. Beasley has the athleticism to fall into the Leo role in the defense, effectively rushing the passer and stopping the run.
- New York Giants – Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
It’s never a surprise for the Giants to add to their defensive line with their first-round pick, even after they went offense two years in a row, but I think the club will keep trying to repair its offensive line. The Eagles and Cowboys, New York’s division rivals, have both put together elite offensive lines, providing a model for the Giants to build toward. Scherff is the best of the bunch in this draft class, even if he ends up at guard instead of tackle — I see the Giants taking the best player and worrying later about where he plays along the line.
- St. Louis Rams – Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
The Rams may have gotten out from under the shadow of Sam Bradford, but I don’t believe they see Nick Foles as a sure-fire franchise quarterback. The team could add to its secondary, offensive line, or receiving corps, but the value for Mariota fits here. Realistically, the Eagles probably couldn’t move up to No. 2 or No. 6 for Mariota, but No. 10 might be more palatable for Chip Kelly. Most would be surprised if Mariota is still available, but I didn’t see a perfect fit for the Oregon signal-caller without projecting trades.
- Minnesota Vikings – DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
Parker has a chance to rejoin his Louisville teammate Teddy Bridgewater, and the Vikings have a chance to make their starting quarterback happy. Parker’s value fits this selection, and if the team doesn’t have an obvious fit fall here, Parker would make perfect sense. Offensive line would be the other pressing need the Vikes could address.
- Cleveland Browns – Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
The Browns may hope one of the pass rushers falls to No. 12, but I don’t see that happening, given the teams ahead of them. The choice is between Shelton or Arik Armstead to bolster the defensive line. Shelton is slightly ahead on the big board, and the Browns can address receiver later in the first round.
- New Orleans Saints – Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
The Saints are rebuilding the roster on the fly, trying to escape from cap hell. They have needs at receiver, offensive line, and all along the defense. Adding a corner is a priority, even after retaining Keenan Lewis and signing Brandon Browner, and Waynes is at the top of the board. Local prospect La’el Collins would make sense here, being a guard or even a tackle, and his LSU teammate Jalen Collins could be in the mix for the Saints at the end of the first round if the team looks to fill another position at No. 13.
- Miami Dolphins – Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
Receiver is an obvious need for the Dolphins after losing Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline, but trading for Kenny Stills at least gives the team flexibility at this spot. With Ndamukong Suh taking up such a huge portion of the club’s cap space, grabbing a corner here would take some pressure off the back half of a defense that expects to be strong up front. Receiver is a much deeper position this year, and Miami could target a wideout on the second day of the draft.
- San Francisco 49ers – Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon
Getting a cornerback here would be nice, but the Niners should be happy that Armstead is available. He should be able to slide into Justin Smith‘s spot on the defense, assuming Smith decides to retire. Pairing Armstead with Aldon Smith would create a very young, very long pass-rushing duo on that side of the defense. Offensive line could be prioritized here as well, after losing Mike Iupati and with Alex Boone possibly gone after this year — La’el Collins and Cameron Erving are possibilities in the interior.
- Houston Texans – La’el Collins, OG, LSU
The Texans don’t have a ton of pressing needs at this spot, and could choose to go best player available if they want. They would be in range to take Breshad Perriman or Dorial Green-Beckham, but with DeAndre Hopkins and Cecil Shorts in the fold, Houston will be able to target receivers later in the draft. Collins could step right in and start at guard, with the potential to play tackle as well. Tight end Maxx Williams is a dark horse here, but he might be a reach at this spot.
- San Diego Chargers – Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
I gave serious consideration to giving the Chargers Melvin Gordon here, but the idea of using a first-round pick on a running back is a dicey proposition. I would advise against it, so the team gets Peat. After having multiple starters retire this offseason, San Diego needs offensive line help, and Peat has the ability to play either tackle position, or even bump down to guard as a rookie. Running back can wait until day two. Malcolm Brown is also an option for this pick.
- Kansas City Chiefs – Breshad Perriman, WR, UCF
The Chiefs’ biggest need is at center, and Cameron Erving make perfect sense to replace Rodney Hudson. They’d also probably do backflips if Armstead fell to them. However, with Jeremy Maclin in the fold, Perriman could be the deep threat with size that helps Kansas City transform its offense in just one offseason. Green-Beckham is also an option, but Perriman comes with far less baggage.
- Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo) – Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
Pass rusher, receiver, and perhaps tight end are the team’s top needs (after quarterback). Offensive line is an option as well, but I see that as a stronger position group than the others. Pass rusher and tight end would be a bit of a reach here — Eli Harold and Williams would be the guys at those spots. Strong is a very good receiver, and although I prefer Green-Beckham’s upside, the Browns cannot afford to bring in another troubled player when it has safer options like Strong available.
- Philadelphia Eagles – Jalen Collins, CB, LSU
Safety Landon Collins is the more popular choice here, but the more I think about it, the less I see a fit. Collins hasn’t proven he has the ability to play center field, and a one-dimensional safety has limited value in a defense that wants to play man-to-man on the outside. Jalen Collins isn’t the next-best cornerback on everyone’s board, but he has size and speed and should be comfortable in Kelly’s scheme. He would slide in across from Byron Maxwell or develop in a limited role if Walter Thurmond wins a starting job. Kevin Johnson is also a very good option as a corner, though if Kelly feels like rolling the dice, Green-Beckham would be a great fit with extremely high upside and a chance to be an impact player immediately.
- Cincinnati Bengals – Cameron Erving, OC, Florida State
The Bengals have had a strong offensive line for the past few years, but the clearest position to upgrade is center, and if Erving is still available, this is a pretty easy way to improve the team. Brown, Eddie Goldman, and Carl Davis would all be excellent prospects to add talent to the defensive line without pressure of anchoring a talented group. Green-Beckham would be the wild card pick, who could take the pressure off A.J. Green and provide a similar speed/size matchup problem across from the star wide receiver.
- Pittsburgh Steelers – Landon Collins, S, Alabama
Troy Polamalu‘s retirement opens up a need for a heavy in-the-box safety. Collins won’t freelance with Polamalu’s instincts and ball skills, but he should provide strength against the run. The Steelers have a number of needs they could address here, and either a corner or receiver would make sense. They could also add a player on either side of the line, and while they have linebackers ready to start, depth is an issue and the organization has never been hesitant to draft its next pass rusher just because there wasn’t a clear chance for him to get on the field early. Harold could be an interesting pick here for that reason.
- Detroit Lions – Malcolm Brown, DT, Texas
Losing Suh and Nick Fairley puts pressure on the Lions to take an interior lineman. However, the team did trade for Haloti Ngata and still could sign C.J. Mosley. I imagine the Lions will see how the draft breaks. If they like their choices in terms of defensive tackles – between Brown, Davis, and Goldman – they can take their guy. With Mosley in their back pocket, the Lions could also target a cornerback like Johnson or one of the offensive linemen instead.
- Arizona Cardinals – Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Drafting a running back in the first round seems unnecessary, but if any team needs to do it, it is the Cardinals. Andre Ellington performed well as a part-time player, but has been far less productive as a workhorse. Gordon gets the nod over Todd Gurley because he seems to be the surer bet to have immediate impact without the injury concerns. Still, I’m not sure if it is the best way to use a first-round pick. Harold would be a great fit in the Cardinals’ defense as the pass rusher they have sorely needed at outside linebacker, and Hau’oli Kikaha or Bud Depree would also fit that bill. The team could then target another intriguing prospect like Ameer Abdullah or T.J. Yeldon in the later rounds. If the Cards are set on getting Gordon or Gurley with their top pick, I hope they explore trading down a few spots in the first round — the Cowboys are the only team behind Arizona with an obvious need at the position, but even they have other more pressing needs to address.
- Carolina Panthers – Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami
An offensive tackle makes sense here, with real needs all along the offensive line. The way this mock worked out, the Panthers have their choice between Flowers and T.J. Clemmings, and Flowers seems to have a little more upside as a potential left tackle. Although Carolina drafted Kelvin Benjamin in the first round last year, Green-Beckham could be a viable target for a team that still needs weapons around Cam Newton. Johnson is also a possibility as a cornerback, with a patchwork secondary being held together by the front seven these past two years.
- Baltimore Ravens – Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri
Green-Beckham is the 6’5″ receiver with speed and ball skills rarely seen this late in the draft. Green-Beckham isn’t the prospect Dez Bryant was, but the Ravens can get away with drafting a star here at a position of need if they can handle his off-the-field issues. Alternately, Harold, Dupree, or Kikaha could help add depth to the pass rush after losing Pernell McPhee, and drafting a corner is a must in the first couple of rounds.
- Dallas Cowboys – Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
The Cowboys are in an odd place, because they are trying to take the next step to put them in the Super Bowl, but still have holes everywhere on their defense. They could use another corner, and Johnson has been a bridesmaid for nearly every pick since the Steelers at No. 22. If the Cowboys had fewer questions elsewhere, I would love to put Shaq Thompson in this spot and give Rod Marinelli a player with whom he could really get creative. Ultimately, Goldman is the surest thing here and the Cowboys could add elsewhere on the defense later in the draft. Gurley could have some traction here as well, but with that offensive line, Dallas should feel comfortable finding a runner later in the draft.
- Denver Broncos – D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida
The offensive and defensive lines should receive all of Denver’s attention at this spot. Davis would add depth to the defensive line, but Humphries keeping Peyton Manning upright for the season presents the better strategy for a team looking to extend its Super Bowl window in the short term. Humphries edges out fellow ACC tackle Clemmings because he’s the more experienced offensive lineman, even if some see more upside with Clemmings. Jordan Phillips is an option to replace Terrance Knighton as a big run stuffer to take on blocks, but head coach Gary Kubiak and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips have traditionally found players suitable to fill that role later in the draft.
- Indianapolis Colts – Eli Harold, OLB, Virginia
A number of offensive linemen have been linked to the Colts here, but I believe if there is a pass rusher left on the board, the Colts need to take him. Harold could be long gone by now, but if he’s on the board, put him across from Robert Mathis and try to get after the quarterback in 2015. Bjoern Werner would have less pressure to be effective, and could be brought along more slowly as a project with some potential. Kikaha or Dupree could be alternatives to Harold, and Clemmings is a possibility here as well.
- Green Bay Packers – Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington
Drafting Thompson, a linebacker/safety hybrid player, would be a bold move here, but could turn into a home run for the Packers, who have put themselves in a position to be able to think outside the box with this pick. Inside linebacker is a need, but true inside linebackers are not coming off the board in the first round. Thompson allows the Packers to be creative. Clay Matthews needs to play on the edge to be most effective, but if Thompson can come inside and be effective, his athleticism will allow him to switch to the edge as well and along with Matthews and Julius Peppers, really confuse and attack offenses from different angles. This is a luxury pick, and if general manager Ted Thompson wants to just fill a need, Davis could add depth to the defensive line. Without many needs though, the Packers can afford to take a chance on Thompson.
- New Orleans Saints (from Seattle) – Bud Dupree, OLB, Kentucky
Johnson is ready to come off the board, and if the Saints thought they could get him at this spot, they would have targeted a pass rusher at No. 13 and happily taken Johnson here. With Waynes already in the fold, Johnson is out. A.J. Cann, Laken Tomlinson, and Tre’ Jackson are the top guards available, but the way the offseason has gone I wouldn’t think the Saints are saddled with picking strictly for need, especially with one of the three likely to be available for them in round two. The front seven gets the attention instead, with Kikaha, Davis, Dupree, and Phillips among the best players available. While Dupree seems like a fit opposite Junior Galette, the Saints could go a few ways with this pick.
- New England Patriots – Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut
I would have loved to see Green-Beckham land here, if only to hear Jets’ fans complain that Tom Brady catches every break. Davis and Phillips both make sense after the Pats lost Vince Wilfork. P.J. Williams and Johnson are also potential fits, with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner landing elsewhere in free agency. Jones is the placeholder here, because Bill Belichick never values players the same way the rest of the league does, and Jones’ ability to play corner or a safety with size makes him enticing. That being said, I would put my money on a desperate team trading into the back of the first round, and the Patriots happily moving back a few picks and making their first selection early in round two.
Just because your favorite team traded away its first-round pick, that doesn’t mean you should be excluded from the mock draft fun. It’s not easy to project what will happen at Nos. 50 and 63 without guessing how picks 33 through 59 and then 51 through 62 will go first, but there will be some good options for the Bills and Seahawks in round two.
50. Buffalo Bills – T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
Denzel Perryman would be a good fit Rex Ryan would love, but he probably won’t last until No. 50. If the Bills are ready to chase a new quarterback, Brett Hundley has a lot of upside, but the similarities between his inconsistencies and E.J. Manuel‘s would probably scare Buffalo fans. One of the guards could still be available in Cann, Tomlinson, or Jackson, and the Bills need help on the interior of their offensive line. However, it’s hard to say which one would be there at No. 50, if any. The team does need a young running back, and Abdullah could do a lot of things that C.J. Spiller was able to do in the open field and in the passing game, but Yeldon is the rough and tough runner that I imagine Ryan would fall in love with in his ground and pound offense. Fumbling issues might worry the Bills, but his powerful style make him an ideal fit.
63. Seattle Seahawks – Ali Marpet, OG, Hobart
The Seahawks have pressing needs at wide receiver and along the offensive line. Elsewhere, they are always adding depth to their defense as players like Byron Maxwell have found big deals elsewhere the past few offseasons. Getting a player like Philip Dorsett or Devin Smith would be great, but it’s hard to imagine either of them lasting that long. It’s more likely the Seahawks will trust that Jermaine Kearse, Ricardo Lockette, and Doug Baldwin will be able to handle themselves with Paul Richardson returning from injury and Jimmy Graham commanding most of the attention. If a tackle falls to the Seahawks, that would be ideal, but they should be able to find an interior lineman with this pick. Marpet, who has been rising up boards despite coming from little-known Hobard College, could be the exact sort of small-school surprise the Seahawks can develop into a starting guard. Still, if the right front-seven player is on the board, I imagine Seattle will look for an offensive lineman later in the draft.