Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston? Over the next several weeks leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, that question will intensify. More so than any others, those two players will be picked apart from top to bottom. A case can easily be made for and against both.
Update: Check out our NFL Draft 2015 preview.
Mariota, of Oregon, is an ultra athletic modern-day version of Randall Cunningham. A quarterback just as capable of dropping passes on a receiver in stride as he is pulling the ball down and busting a big run. But how much is he a product of the Ducks' system and how tightly can he fit the ball into a small window?
Florida State's Winston has the frame, the arm, the moxie and the immeasurable clutchness that kicks in late in games. He completes more difficult passes from more difficult angles. But is he too much of a gunslinger, throwing the ball into coverage, and will his immaturity issues follow him to the NFL?
As we approach the draft, all of those questions will be pored over countless times. And that's just Tampa Bay and the No. 1 pick in the draft. These players are going to get dissected and moved around big boards. Things are going to fluctuate before settling more as the draft approaches.
Free agency will change things up more than anything else. As you'll see in many of the write-ups below, it's impossible at this stage to gauge which teams will lose the key free agents. In many cases, these picks were made on the assumption those players would leave for lucrative contracts elsewhere.
For now, we don't know what teams will do. Lets have some fun trying to figure it out.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
ESPN’s top two NFL reporters are starting to lean towards Mariota going to the Buccaneers. Adam Schefter said last week there’s a "sense" Tampa has its sights set on the Oregon quarterback. Chris Mortensen has said the "stars are aligned" for Mariota going to Tampa. While neither of those are necessarily declarative statements, they’re much more than anyone has said connecting Florida State’s Jameis Winston to the No. 1 pick.
2. Tennessee Titans: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Should Mariota go first overall, Winston should be the pick for the Titans. From an on-field standpoint, he’s superior in every way to Zach Mettenberger, except maybe pure arm strength. Winston is a better fit for Tennessee's offense than Mariota and has the skill to complete passes all over the field.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
This pick has become the go-to for the Jaguars, but we'll see how the offseason process plays out for Gregory. He looks like a natural fit as a pass rushing DE. The question about him is if he can up physicality to take on blocks better.
4. Oakland Raiders: Leonard Williams, DT, Southern California
Although the Raiders need a good lead wide receiver, Williams is the top player in the draft. He would give Oakland a player up front who can play the run and the pass extremely well.
5. Washington: La'el Collins, OT, LSU
The best comparison for Collins coming out of LSU is actually Trent Williams. He could slot into the right tackle spot for Washington and give them a pair of physical, bookend tackles up front. One of the draft's better outside linebackers would fit here as well.
6. New York Jets: Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson
If the top two quarterbacks are off the board when the Jets pick, a lot of what they do here will depend on what they do with wide receiver Percy Harvin. If he's released, a wide receiver could be the target. If not, going after a pass rusher to upgrade over players like Calvin Pace and Jason Babin is more likely. Beasley is an ultra-quick pass rusher who can be brought in to make an immediate impact.
7. Chicago Bears: Dante Fowler, DE, Florida
The Bears have a good pass rusher in Willie Young, but the addition of Jared Allen last offseason just didn't pay off. Fowler is a relentless defensive lineman who can line up in a variety of ways.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri
Some consider Ray more of a linebacker because he's not the tallest player, but he profiles better as an end. With his hand down, Ray can take advantage of his first step and hand use. In Dan Quinn's defense, Ray would be used the same way the Seahawks use Bruce Irvin.
9. New York Giants: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Even though the Giants just used a high first-round pick on Odell Beckham Jr. last season, Cooper is too good of a player to pass up at No. 9. General manager Jerry Reese always insists on taking the best player on the team's draft board, and Cooper has top-five potential. Taking Cooper would also be an indication of Victor Cruz's future.
10. St. Louis Rams: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
The biggest strengths in Scherff's game are his power and technique. One may lead to the other, but he knows how to play to where he excels. Scherff doesn't have the quickest feet, but that could be masked somewhat playing right tackle for the Rams.
11. Minnesota Vikings: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
This pick is just too perfect and easy to make. Combining Parker with his college quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is the type of thing people write books about. Parker would be Minnesota's No. 1 wide receiver of the future and would also let the Vikings figure out what to do with Cordarrelle Patterson and not worry if his struggles persist.
12. Cleveland Browns: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
The run on wide receivers continues with White, who could rise higher than No. 12 during the offseason process. The Browns won't have Josh Gordon next season, and that could force them to target a wide receiver this high.
13. New Orleans Saints: Bud Dupree, DE/OLB, Kentucky
The future of Junior Galette in New Orleans is questionable, and the pass rush beyond him is questionable. Dupree has enough power to stick at end and the athleticism to play linebacker if needed.
14. Miami Dolphins: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
Shelton would be a perfect fit for the Dolphins. He could plug in at nose tackle as a rookie and give Miami a dependable run stopper up front.
15. San Francisco 49ers: Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri
The potential for Green-Beckham is incredible, but that's also an indictment on his development. Green-Beckham has the sort of skills to be not only the best wide receiver in this year's draft, but among the five best players overall. He enters the NFL with a bevy of off-field issues and hasn't played football in more than a year.
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16. Houston Texans: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
Starting cornerback Kareem Jackson is set to enter free agency. In a mock scenario where free agency isn't projected, this choice is assuming Jackson signs elsewhere. Waynes is a press man specialist coming out of a school that is gaining quite the reputation for developing NFL talent.
17. San Diego Chargers: T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh
Any offensive lineman who can play right tackle would be a successful choice for the Chargers. Clemmings would be an easier fit than trying to convert a left side player to the right. While Clemmings is still developing his hand usage, he showed at Pitt this season that he can knock defensive linemen around and get physical in the run game.
18. Kansas City Chiefs: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
If the Chiefs cut Dwayne Bowe because of his large salary number the next three seasons, wide receiver becomes a big need. Bowe didn't have a touchdown this season, but he still accounted for 96 targets. A player like Strong can do many of the same things as Bowe, and would obviously be much cheaper.
19. Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo): Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
If the Browns take a wide receiver with the No. 12 pick, they could have their pick of some very good defensive tackles at 19. Malcom Brown of Texas has been connected to Cleveland often, but Goldman is an equally good player. He can do a lot of the same things Phil Taylor does for the Browns, when healthy.
20. Philadelphia Eagles: Landon Collins, S, Alabama
Whatever defensive back the Eagles have rated the highest when their pick comes along should be the choice. In this case it's Collins, a disciplined safety who makes few mistakes.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
There has been speculation the Bengals could save some money by releasing starter Domata Peko. If that happens, Brown would be an excellent addition. He's not simply a space-filling defensive tackle, though. He showed at Texas he can move around well and pressure the quarterback.
The NFL Draft
The NFL Draft
22. Pittsburgh Steelers: Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
The Steelers need talent at cornerback, and risking it on a possible character gamble like Peters would be worthwhile. There is no more talented cornerback in the draft this year. If there weren't issues about his dismissal at Washington, he would likely be a top-10 lock.
23. Detroit Lions: P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State
There was a report on ESPN Sunday that there is a good chance the Lions will re-sign Ndamukong Suh, so that would eliminate needing to reach for a defensive tackle here. Rashean Mathis was on just a one-year deal and will be 35 before the start of next season. Williams is a highly talented corner with size. He would pair well with a player like Darius Slay.
24. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Kendricks, ILB, UCLA
Kendricks is an instinctual, playmaking linebacker who could slot in as a starting inside linebacker as a rookie. He's capable of making plays all over the field, and can be used in man coverage. There's little Kendricks can't do. He just might not grade out because of his size.
25. Carolina Panthers: Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami
Byron Bell had his struggles this season as Carolina's starting left tackle. He could be better on the right side and a true left tackle like Flowers could give the Panthers a nice piece up front. Along with Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell at the guard spots, the Panthers would have a solid young nucleus up front.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Justin Forsett is coming off a career season, and could look to get a big contract this offseason. If the Ravens decide not to give it to him, they could be the team that breaks the string on no running backs being taken in the first round. Gordon often gets described as a bigger version of Jamaal Charles, so adding that type of player to Baltimore's offense could help keep them in the playoff picture.
27. Dallas Cowboys: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
This might be overkill considering how many high draft picks the Cowboys have used on the offensive line. But Doug Free and Jeremy Parnell are both free agents. If Free is brought back on a short deal, for instance, Peat could be added as his eventual replacement.
28. Denver Broncos: Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma
Here's another example of a high-priced free agent possibly leaving a team. In this case it's defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. Phillips is one of the more physically imposing players in this year's draft. He's the type of defensive tackle who can plug up the middle by occupying multiple blockers.
29. Indianapolis Colts: A.J. Cann, G, South Carolina
The idea of Indianapolis continuing to build up front is too difficult to pass on. Cann is the draft's best pure guard and could be brought in to start at left guard. That would move second-year player Jack Mewhort back to his more natural position at tackle.
30. Green Bay Packers: Benardrick McKinney, MLB, Mississippi State
Playing Clay Matthews at middle linebacker was a fun experiment, but he still has better value getting after the passer from the outside. McKinney is a gifted athlete who would really benefit from being in the Green Bay system under coordinator Dom Capers. McKinney can make plays sideline-to-sideline, which would free Matthews up to wreak havoc in the backfield.
31. Seattle Seahawks: Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota
In the Super Bowl, no Seahawks tight end saw a single target. While that may be a symptom of the scheme on offense, it could be an indicator of a lack of talent. Williams is the draft's top tight end. He's a player who can stretch the seam and suck in safeties, which can lead to outside receivers getting open.
32. New England Patriots: Carl Davis, DT, Iowa
Vince Wilfork may be under contract the next two seasons, but he could decide to retire on top following New England's Super Bowl win. If that's the case, the Patriots could do with another big body up front. Teams doubled Davis much of the season at Iowa, and he showed he can hold up and still push the pocket.
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A common refrain in the comments on these recent mock drafts -- and yes, the comments get read -- is that Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson is missing. It’s true. He’s missing in the first round above too. It’s just hard to find a spot for a player without a real true position. Thompson is slotted as a weak-side outside linebacker in a 4-3. But how much value does that position really have in the draft? Ryan Shazier was picked highly from that position last year, but he’s a much better player than Thompson. It’s also no guarantee Thompson stays at linebacker. Some teams might see him as a safety. There have even been reports that some teams prefer him at running back. Basically, more work needs to be done on Thompson.
The second round of this mock draft is highlighted by a lot of running backs. That speaks to the need and the talent to match it in this year’s draft. There are also several interior offensive linemen coming off the board and several players who could work their ways into the first round as the process plays out the next couple months.
33. Tennessee Titans: Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon
34. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Paul Dawson, LB, TCU
35. Oakland Raiders: Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn
36. Jacksonville Jaguars: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
37. New York Jets: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
38. Washington: Eli Harold, OLB, Virginia
39. Chicago Bears: Daryl Williams, OT, Oklahoma
40. New York Giants: Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA
41. St. Louis Rams: Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State
42. Atlanta Falcons: Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami
43. Cleveland Browns: Donovan Smith, OT, Penn State
44. New Orleans Saints: Jalen Collins, CB, LSU
45. Minnesota Vikings: Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
46. San Francisco 49ers: Ellis McCarthy, DT, UCLA
47. Miami Dolphins: Laken Tomlinson, G, Duke
48. San Diego Chargers: Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana
49. Kansas City Chiefs: Tre' Jackson, G, Florida State
50. Buffalo Bills: Clive Walford, TE, Miami
51. Houston Texans: Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State
52. Philadelphia Eagles: Quinten Rollins, CB, Miami (OH)
53. Cincinnati Bengals: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
54. Detroit Lions: Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
55. Arizona Cardinals: Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi State
56. Pittsburgh Steelers: Gerod Holliman, S, Louisville
57. Carolina Panthers: Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami
58. Baltimore Ravens: Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan
59. Denver Broncos: Cameron Erving, C/OT, Florida State
60. Dallas Cowboys: Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest
61. Indianapolis Colts: Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
62. Green Bay Packers: Hau’oli Kikaha, DE/OLB, Washington
63. Seattle Seahawks: Mario Edwards, DE, Florida State
64. New England Patriots: Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State