NFL mock Draft 2015: Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota to go No1 and No2

American Football - NFL

The 2015 NFL Draft begins this Thursday in Chicago, and you can follow the first round live right here on the Guardian from 8pm ET/1am GMT.

Before that, it’s time to have a little fun with our annual first-round mock. As with past years, I have kept teams in their present positions – even where I think some might prefer to trade up or down – because this exercise is speculative enough without going all Sonny Weaver on the job.

1) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last season: 2-14

Needs: Quarterback, offensive line, defensive end, safety

Pick: Jameis Winston, quarterback, Florida State

The Buccaneers have not rushed this decision. They have not yet even formally made it. But all indications are that, barring an exceptional late trade offer, they will go with the obvious choice and make Winston the first pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Not everyone will like with the pick. Winston has plenty of red flags against his name when it comes to off-field conduct, and whilst the Bucs have been thorough in their due diligence, you can count me among those who still harbour reservations. But the physical tools are all there, and he is used to running a pro-style offense. And hey, if nothing else, at least he isn’t Josh McCown.

2) Tennessee Titans

Last season: 2-14

Needs: Quarterback, safety, offensive tackle, cornerback

Pick: Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Oregon

The closer we get to the draft, the greater the consensus around this pick seems to be. Where once the beat reporters speculated that Ken Whisenhunt was ready to put his faith in second-year quarterback Zach Mettenberger, now they assert that the Titans head coach is sold on Mariota’s potential. Did the aspiring rookie blow everyone away at interview? Or might Tennessee still be engaging in a game of bluff, letting slip positive comments in a bid to improve their trade offers for this pick?

Personally, I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between. If Whisenhunt can find value in the trade market he will take it – and certainly a deal involving Philip Rivers, as has been mooted in recent days – would appeal. But if no suitable offer arrives, he will not pass up this opportunity to add a franchise quarterback. Whisenhunt, unlike some other observers, believes Mariota can start from week one.

3) Jacksonville Jaguars

Last season: 3-13

Needs: Offensive line, defensive end, running back, safety

Pick: Dante Fowler Jr, defensive end/outside linebacker, Florida

Fowler says he will be “stunned” if Jacksonville passed on him at No3. On paper he does indeed look like a nice fit, possessing the right blend of size and explosiveness to rush the passer from end or linebacker in Gus Bradley’s hybrid defensive schemes. Then again, on those same grounds the head coach should also appreciate the versatility of Leonard Williams, who could alternate between end and tackle.

The Jags might ultimately prefer to move down than take either player should the opportunity present itself. They have a strong selling position in this scenario, offering would-be trade partners the opportunity to take the best non-quarterback on their board. But if the Jags stay put, then I agree with Fowler that his pass-rushing talent would be hard to pass up.

4) Oakland Raiders

Last season: 3-13

Needs: Offensive tackle, defensive end, wide receiver, running back

Pick: Leonard Williams, defensive tackle/defensive end, USC

I’m not sure Williams is the best fit for Oakland. The Raiders’ defensive line needs an edge rusher who can line up opposite Khalil Mack more than it does another body inside – which is where the USC alum would wind up playing the majority of his snaps in Ken Norton Jr’s 4-3 defense. But a good many scouts consider Williams to be the outstanding talent at any position in this draft.

On the other side of the ball, Oakland do need a No1 target for Derek Carr to throw to, and and Amari Cooper would also be worthy of such a pick. This draft has good depth at receiver, though, and the Raiders could find useful players at that position in the second round.

5) Washington

Needs: Offensive tackle, cornerback, safety, linebacker

Pick: Amari Cooper, wide receiver, Alabama

If Washington were focused solely on need, then the obvious pick here would be Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff, filling a (very) long-standing void at right tackle. But general manager Scott McCloughlan has made it clear that his priority is to stockpile quality players, regardless of position. Cooper is the best on the board at No5.

6) New York Jets

Last season: 4-12

Needs: Quarterback, outside linebacker, running back, offensive line

Pick: Vic Beasley, outside linebacker, Clemson

The Jets remain a prime candidate to trade up for Mariota, but the price might prove too steep. If they do stay put, they will have plenty of options. New York lack an elite running back, which Todd Gurley could prove to be – but recent history suggests that NFL teams have grown reluctant to spend high picks on that position. The offensive line also needs help, and Scherff is still available in our scenario.

But Beasley offers better value at this spot, whilst still addressing an area of (admittedly less urgent) need. A one-man wrecking ball in college, he racked up 25 sacks, and 44.5 tackles for a loss, over his last two seasons at Clemson.

7) Chicago Bears

Last season: 5-11

Needs: Wide receiver, nose tackle, safety, outside linebacker, quarterback

Pick: Kevin White, wide receiver, West Virginia

Brandon Marshall is gone, and White has both the size (6ft 2in) and vertical speed (4.35sec 40-yard time) to become a more than adequate replacement. The potential to line him up opposite Alshon Jeffery, with Eddie Royal in the slot and Matt Forte in the backfield, is really quite exciting. Or at least it would be, if only the Bears had someone more reliable than Jay Cutler throwing the ball.

8) Atlanta Falcons

Last season: 6-10

Needs: Outside linebacker, offensive line, tight end, safety

Pick: Bud Dupree, outside linebacker, Kentucky

The Falcons did a fair job of overhauling their defense through free agency, but the absence of reliable pass rushers is still apparent. That will surely be the team’s top priority on day one of the draft, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this week that general manager Thomas Dimitroff is interested in moving up to land Dante Fowler Jr.

If not, he would still have talented alternatives to choose from at No8. Dimitroff’s emphasis on “good team-mates” has led many to conclude that he is not so keen on Randy Gregory – who tested positive for marijuana in a drug test at the Scouting Combine. If so, he might prefer Dupree, whose stock has been heading in the opposite direction ever since a monstrous Combine performance.

9) New York Giants

Last season: 6-10

Needs: Safety, guard, defensive end, tight end

Pick: Brandon Scherff, offensive tackle/guard, Iowa

Scherff might not last this long, but if he does then he would make a lot of sense for New York. Whilst some scouts have raised concerns about his short arms – and therefore his capacity to thrive at tackle in the NFL – the issue is moot for the Giants, who would prefer to slot him in at guard this season anyway. They had some of the worst run-blocking in the league last season, and that is where Scherff excels.

10) St Louis Rams

Last season: 6-10

Needs: Offensive line, wide receiver, quarterback

Pick: Andrus Peat, offensive tackle, Stanford

The Rams have been trying to resolve their difficulties along the offensive line for years without any great success. A team that otherwise has lots to recommend it somehow arrives at this draft with holes at guard, center and tackle. Not everyone is sold on Peat – who stands accused of lacking the requisite nasty streak – but his long body and quick feet give him the potential to become very effective indeed.

11) Minnesota Vikings

Last season: 7-9

Needs: Offensive line, cornerback, linebacker, wide receiver, running back

Pick: Trae Waynes, cornerback, Michigan State

The Vikings are adamant that they do not want to trade Adrian Peterson. Every player has their price, but general manager Rick Spielman’s intransigence so far suggests it might be higher than any suitor is prepared to pay. Even with AP on the roster, Minnesota might feel some temptation to select Todd Gurley as his long-term successor. More likely they will go with Waynes, who turned heads by running a 4.31sec 40-yard dash at the Combine.

12) Cleveland Browns

Last season: 7-9

Needs: Wide receiver, quarterback, defensive tackle, linebacker, offensive line

Pick: Danny Shelton, defensive tackle, Washington

Cleveland addressed their biggest offensive needs in free agency. Unfortunately, they did so by bringing in yet more mediocre players. Josh McCown is not the answer at quarterback, any more than Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline are at receiver. But is there any real value to using such a high pick now on another wideout, when they still will not have a passer capable of getting them the ball? The Browns would be better off adding the 343lb Shelton to a defense that ranked dead last against the run in 2014.

13) New Orleans Saints

Last season: 7-9

Needs: Outside linebacker, wide receiver, tight end, cornerback, guard

Pick: DeVante Parker, wide receiver, Louisville

The Saints probably ought to prioritise defense but after trading away both of Drew Brees’s favourite two targets this offseason, general manager Mickey Loomis might want to give at least something back to his quarterback. Parker is hardly capable of filling the offensive abyss that Jimmy Graham leaves behind, but he is a big target with soft hands who could win a few of those jump balls that Brees used to sling in his tight end’s direction.

14) Miami Dolphins

Last season: 8-8

Needs: Guard, cornerback, wide receiver, defensive tackle

Pick: Todd Gurley, running back, Georgia

Unless the Dolphins’ front office are very aggressive bluffers, they would be delighted to have Gurley fall to them with the 14th pick. Staff have been glowing in their reviews of the running back’s workouts and the Miami Herald cite “multiple sources” as informing them that he is coveted by the team. The Fins have bigger needs, and would be showing a lot of faith in the player’s ability to recover from ACL surgery, but Gurley is the stand-out back in this class.

15) San Francisco 49ers

Last season: 8-8

Needs: Inside linebacker, cornerback, defensive line, wide receiver

Pick: Arik Armstead, defensive end/defensive tackle, Oregon

Justin Smith is yet to decide whether he will return for a 15th season, but the 49ers need new bodies on the defensive line regardless. In fact, after an offseason of departures, San Francisco have gaps at just about every position on that side of the ball. But while Marcus Peters would be another option – a player with all the talent required to start right away at cornerback – the 49ers might not want to start a rebuilding project around a player who was kicked off the University of Washington’s team over a string of disciplinary issues.

Armstead is less eye-catching on the field, but he is a rare athlete who brings surprising explosiveness at 6ft 7ins, 292lbs. He is versatile enough to play at tackle or end, and reminds many of Arizona’s Calais Campbell – who went to his first Pro Bowl last year.

16) Houston Texans

Last season: 9-7

Needs: Linebacker, wide receiver, cornerback, quarterback

Pick: Randy Gregory, outside linebacker, Nebraska

How far will Gregory’s indiscretion at the Combine cause him to slide? Might his cause be helped in some measure by the fact that another of this draft’s leading pass rushers, Shane Ray, has been cited this week for possession of marijuana? How much do teams really worry, behind closed doors, about players smoking weed? Many will be more concerned about the fact that he showed up for subsequent workouts at below 230lbs. Houston have other options in this spot if they feel unsure about Gregory, but on talent alone he ought to go higher.

17) San Diego Chargers

Last season: 9-7

Needs: Offensive line, running back, outside linebacker, defensive line

Pick: Ereck Flowers, offensive tackle, Miami

San Diego averaged a mere 3.4 yards per carry in 2014 – only the Arizona Cardinals fared worse – and subsequently allowed Ryan Mathews to depart in free agency. Melvin Gordon, as the next-best back after Gurley – would be a logical choice, but is he good enough to merit this pick? The Chargers have already worked to improve a shoddy offensive line this offseason and I believe they will aim to complete the job by adding Flowers, a natural right tackle who could allow DJ Fluker to move inside to guard.

18) Kansas City Chiefs

Last season: 9-7

Needs: Offensive line, inside linebacker, wide receiver

Pick: Cameron Erving, center/offensive tackle, Florida State

Andy Reid likes to draft defensive linemen. He has used his top pick on one in seven of his last 11 seasons between Philadelphia and Kansas City. But the Chiefs’ greater need this year is on the other side of the ball. So perhaps Reid can scratch his draft day itch in a different way by selecting Erving – who started out playing at defensive tackle for the Seminoles, only to later switch to offensive tackle and then center. The Chiefs have a vacancy at the latter position after Rodney Hudson’s switch to Oakland.

19) Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo)

Last season: 7-9

Needs: Wide receiver, quarterback, defensive tackle, linebacker, offensive line

Pick: Jaelen Strong, wide receiver, Arizona State

After passing on Parker with the 12th pick, Cleveland finally do add a receiver at No19. Strong is a step down from his Louisville counterpart, but he is another big target with soft hands who can make plays in tight spots.

20) Philadelphia Eagles

Last season: 10-6

Needs: Cornerback, safety, wide receiver, guard

Pick: Nelson Agholor, wide receiver, USC

Conventional wisdom has Philadelphia taking a safety here, and they do need one after failing to replace Nate Allen in free agency. Landon Collins is still available in our projection, but so far the Eagles’ brass have appeared lukewarm. Chip Kelly might instead be tempted to seek out a replacement for Jeremy Maclin at receiver, and is thought to be keen on Agholor after working the player out in Tampa Bay.

21) Cincinnati Bengals

Last season: 10-5-1

Needs: Defensive line, linebacker, offensive tackle, wide receiver

Pick: Malcom Brown, defensive tackle, Texas

Domata Peko has been a huge disappointment over the last couple of seasons, pushed around far too easily for a man who is listed at 320lbs. Brown weighed in one pound lighter than that at the Combine, but showed last year at Texas that he has the explosiveness to shoot through gaps in an offensive line, as well as the power and heft to clog them up.

22) Pittsburgh Steelers

Last season: 11-5

Needs: Cornerback, safety, outside linebacker, offensive tackle

Pick: Kevin Johnson, cornerback, Wake Forest

The Steelers ought to spend their first-round pick on a defensive back, something they have done just once in the last 17 years (Troy Polamalu, of course), but which one? Are they the team to take a gamble on Marcus Peters? Probably not while the less controversial – if also slightly less impressive – Johnson is still on the board.

23) Detroit Lions

Last season: 11-5

Needs: Defensive tackle, offensive line, running back, cornerback

Pick: La’el Collins, offensive tackle, LSU

Do the free agent signings of Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker make the offensive line a greater priority for the Lions than the defensive one? There will be plenty of fans calling for the team to pick up Melvin Gordon in this slot, and perhaps that is the route the Lions will take, but my scepticism about teams’ willingness to spend first-round draft picks on running backs holds. Collins is a robust if inconsistent blocker who some scouts have rated much higher than this.

24) Arizona Cardinals

Last season: 11-5

Needs: Cornerback, running back, outside linebacker, offensive line

Pick: Byron Jones, cornerback, Connecticut

Arizona, too, will be sorely tempted by Gordon. With Mike Iupati reinforcing the offensive line, adding an elite back would be the logical next step towards revitalising a lifeless running game. But my hunch is that they still believe in the elusive Andre Ellington, and can therefore afford to wait a little longer to add a less subtle between-the-tackles guy later in the draft. The Cardinals need to replace Antonio Cromartie at corner and, while Marcus Peters is again an option, my hunch is that the pick will be Jones.

25) Carolina Panthers

Last season: 7-8-1

Needs: Offensive tackle, wide receiver, cornerback, safety

Pick: DJ Humphries, offensive tackle, Florida

The Panthers signed Michael Oher, but still need more help at offensive tackle. The high demand for offensive linemen in the first round of this draft, however, means that some of their preferred options might already be off the board. Humphries is raw and has had to add bulk this offseason just to bring his weight up above 300lbs, but he is also a hometown kid who grew up in Charlotte and whose surprisingly nimble feet give him the potential to develop into a quality blindside protector for Cam Newton.

26) Baltimore Ravens

Last season: 10-6

Needs: Wide receiver, cornerback, tight end, outside linebacker

Pick: Shane Ray, defensive end, Missouri

So ends a dramatic slide for Ray, who many others have envisaged as a top-10 pick. His projected tumble here is not all about that marijuana citation, but also to do with perceptions that he is one-dimensional, and that for all his explosive playmaking ability he lacks either the power or the technique to counter when his initial burst does not get him where he wants to go. Even so, nobody should question his capacity to get after a quarterback as a situational pass rusher.

27) Dallas Cowboys

Last season: 12-4

Needs: Running back, defensive tackle, safety, cornerback

Pick: Melvin Gordon, running back, Wisconsin

Could fortune really be this kind to Dallas, offering them an immediate replacement for DeMarco Murray? Gordon might need to content himself with a smaller signing bonus here than he would at the top of the round, but he could console himself with the knowledge that he gets to start his NFL career running behind one of the league’s very best offensive lines.

28) Denver Broncos

Last season: 12-4

Needs: Offensive line, defensive tackle, tight end

Pick: Jake Fisher, offensive tackle, Oregon

If Peyton Manning is going to return for one more year, then the least the Broncos can do is try to keep him upright. Fisher might be a reach in this spot, as he lacks either the raw power or the finesse to be considered a clear first-round talent, but he was one of the top performers in his position group at the Combine when it came to speed and agility drills. The Broncos need help at guard and center most urgently, so he will be given the opportunity to develop inside at first before moving out to tackle somewhere down the line.

29) Indianapolis Colts

Last season: 11-5

Needs: Offensive line, inside linebacker, defensive line, cornerback

Pick: Eddie Goldman, defensive tackle, Florida State

To reach a Super Bowl, the Colts need to learn how to beat New England. To beat New England, the Colts need to get better at slowing down the run. Adding the 336lb Goldman to the defensive line rotation could not hurt.

30) Green Bay Packers

Last season: 12-4

Needs: Linebacker, cornerback, defensive line

Pick: Eric Kendricks, inside linebacker, UCLA

Kendricks will not be a first-round talent in every team’s eyes, his narrow frame making it difficult for him to add the bulk that some would prefer. But he is a natural ball-hawk, who put up extraordinary tackle numbers in his three seasons as a starter at UCLA. Most importantly, his arrival would permit the Packers to move Clay Matthews back outside to operate more frequently as a pass rusher.

31) New Orleans Saints (from Seattle)

Last season: 7-9

Needs: Outside linebacker, wide receiver, guard, tight end

Pick: Eli Harold, outside linebacker, Virginia

The Saints nab the pass rusher that they chose not to pursue earlier in the round. Harold did not have the college production of a Dante Fowler or even a Shane Ray, but he did generate consistent pressure off the edge for the Cavaliers, and should be able to do the same in New Orleans.

32) New England Patriots

Last season: 12-4

Needs: Guard, defensive tackle, cornerback, wide receiver

Pick: Marcus Peters, cornerback, Washington

Bill Belichick has rarely been afraid to take on players with perceived character issues. Peters might turn out to be the best cornerback in this entire draft. For the Pats, who have serious need at the position, the risk-reward ratio looks worthwhile.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Paolo Bandini, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 29th April 2015 10.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010