This week’s mock draft is a complete departure from previous editions. As the draft approaches, it’s easy to get set on certain picks. To mix things up this week, I sought the help of Matthew Fairburn, former SB Nation NFL Draft guy and now Syracuse.com Buffalo Bills beat writer.
Update: Check out our NFL Draft 2015 preview.
Each week Fairburn and I host a draft podcast, and the subject of last week’s was a mock draft. We turned that podcast into this week’s mock draft, and as you’ll see several of the picks have been changed around. Among the more notable differences is how high Kentucky pass rusher Bud Dupree goes in this draft.
For this mock draft, Fairburn took the odd picks while I did the evens. Basically, blame him for the ones you don’t like. Want to listen to the show? Scroll to the bottom of the mock draft to hear us talk through it.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Following a three-day visit to Tampa that the Buccaneers openly publicized, Winston remains the pick at No. 1.
2. Tennessee Titans: Leonard Williams, DT/DE, Southern California
If you truly believe in taking the best player available, then this pick should be Williams. He’s the draft’s top talent and a force on the defensive line. Williams gets the billing as the top player this draft because of his power, aggression and athleticism. The only obvious flaw in Williams’ game is he’ll sometimes come out of his stance too high and lose leverage.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dante Fowler, DE, Florida
Whether it’s in the draft or free agency, the Jaguars need to find a presence on the edge. Between now and the draft, the front office and coaching staff will likely be spending a lot of time going through the top pass rushers and figuring out who they like the most. Fowler is Fairburn’s top guy at the position, so that made this pick fairly easy.
4. Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
The need for a top-level wide receiver in Oakland far outweighs the conventional wisdom of not drafting one in the top five. Cooper is a slightly bigger version of Jeremy Maclin. He’s a threat after the catch and that showed in college when he was used in the quick passing game. He showed at Alabama he has good hands and can make the difficult catches.
5. Washington: Bud Dupree, DE/OLB, Kentucky
How draft people rank this draft’s pass rushers isn’t necessarily the same as how NFL teams rank them. Because of that, it can be hard to peg exactly where they will fall in the draft. Fairburn is a bigger fan of Dupree than me, so he pulled the trigger on the athletic pass rusher with the fifth pick.
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6. New York Jets: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
This pick was pretty easy to make considering we weren’t projecting trades for this mock draft. Even if the Jets sign a veteran quarterback, they’ll have a hard time passing on a talent like Mariota. The Jets would have to cater their offense to Mariota’s strengths, but those strengths are special.
7. Chicago Bears: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
This pick can be complicated. Do the Bears go with a big defensive tackle like Danny Shelton or Eddie Goldman or one of the pass rushers remaining? Fairburn doesn’t see Shelton as a huge impact player, but sees Beasley as a splash player. He’s versatile off the edge and his stock is up following the combine.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska
There is going to be a run on pass rushers high in the first round, and the Falcons should feel some anxiety considering the teams in front of them. Atlanta desperately needs to improve its pass rush but could have to settle for the third- or fourth-best option. In this case it’s Gregory, a player with a lot of potential but just as many question marks.
9. New York Giants: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
The Giants could go a variety of routes with the No. 9 pick. They’re another team that could go defensive line in the first round. But with the four best edge players gone, Fairburn went with Scherff to continue bolstering the offensive line.
10. St. Louis Rams: La’el Collins, OT, LSU
Collins’ draft range seems to be all over the board in the first round, and that’s sort of odd. He showed at LSU last season he’s capable of staying at tackle. Obviously for the Rams he’d have to adjust to playing on the right side – and that’s much easier said than done – but his talent and aggression is obvious.
11. Minnesota Vikings: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
There’s no wacky gimmick for the Vikings taking White. He’s not a former college or high school teammate of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He’s just a really, really good player. White had a breakout year in 2014 and backed up his play with excellent numbers at the combine.
12. Cleveland Browns: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
Cleveland’s run defense was abysmal last season and the Browns are expected to lose nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin in free agency. If a healthy Phil Taylor is kept at left end, that leaves a hole in the middle that Shelton is capable of filling. Shelton is a two-gap powerhouse and Cleveland’s linebackers would love him up front.
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13. New Orleans Saints: Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri
Despite being the fifth pass rusher off the board, don’t consider Ray a consolation prize. He is a speedy fast pass rusher who should be able to line up in a variety of roles. Although Ray is still developing his pass rushing moves, players with his first move don’t last long in the draft.
14. Miami Dolphins: Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
Well, this pick seems pointless following the news that Ndamukong Suh will be signing a monster deal with Miami. That’s what happens when you submit mock drafts in advance. With the signing of Suh, inside linebacker and cornerback move to the top of Miami’s biggest needs this offseason. Names to consider include Eric Kendricks at linebacker and Trae Waynes and Marcus Peters at cornerback.
15. San Francisco 49ers: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
If the draft plays out in this fashion and Parker is out there for San Francisco, this would be an easy pick to make. That’s even considering the fact the 49ers are expected to sign wide receiver Torrey Smith in free agency. Parker is just too good of a player to pass up, and he’s not a huge vertical threat like Smith. He can work more of the underneath and middle game, so the pair would actually work really well together.
16. Houston Texans: Eric Kendricks, ILB, UCLA
The Texans smartly re-signed cornerback Kareem Jackson and offensive tackle Derek Newton, eliminating those starting needs. That should let Houston zero in on positions like inside linebacker and wide receiver early in the draft. Do you take the draft’s fourth-best wide receiver or the best inside linebacker? The choice is Kendricks because of his ability to effortlessly move around the field and play in coverage.
17. San Diego Chargers: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
We still don’t fully buy into the Chargers keeping D.J. Fluker at right tackle. There is a lot of first-round talent at offensive tackle in the draft this year, and the Chargers could take advantage of it. A player like Peat could be brought in at tackle and Fluker could move inside and give San Diego an excellent right side of the offensive line.
18. Kansas City Chiefs: Landon Collins, S, Alabama
There is uncertainty at safety with the Chiefs. Eric Berry’s football future, unfortunately, is unknown. Ron Parker is a free agent who is receiving some interest outside of Kansas City. Although Collins is a better player against the run than the pass, it’s not like he’s downright awful in coverage.
19. Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo): Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami
The explanation Fairburn gave on the podcast for this pick is we always see players get overdrafted and he thinks Dorsett could be that player this year. Considering what Dorsett did at the Senior Bowl and then the combine, you have to believe his stock is ascending for NFL teams. In Cleveland he would be somewhat redundant with Andrew Hawkins on the roster, but Dorsett’s deep speed is intriguing. Cleveland also needs help in the return game, and Dorsett could offer a boost there.
20. Philadelphia Eagles: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
Although the Eagles are expected to sign Byron Maxwell to a big contract, they still need another starting cornerback. How early is too early to take that player? If a player like Waynes is on the board at No. 20, it will test that question. He perfectly fits the mold of what the Eagles want in a cornerback. Philadelphia’s biggest weakness would suddenly be fixed.
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21. Cincinnati Bengals: Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
The addition of Thompson would represent another playmaker who can fly around and get stops. Although the Bengals re-signed Rey Maualuga, there should be a way to get Thompson on the field, either on the weak side or inside on pass plays.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers: Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
As long as teams are comfortable with the outbursts Peters had at Washington, they shouldn’t be afraid to use a first-round pick on him. He’s a highly skilled cornerback with length and fared well against the Pac-12’s better wide receivers.
23. Detroit Lions: Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami
The Lions’ situation at right tackle is dire. LaAdrian Wadle -- an undrafted developmental project -- is penciled to start, but there are better options in the draft. Flowers has a game better suited for the right side. He’s a powerful tackle, but speed rushers will sometimes give him trouble.
24. Arizona Cardinals: Arik Armstead, DT/DE, Oregon
The Cardinals probably got used to not having Darnell Dockett in the lineup, but they still need talent up front on defense. Armstead is a picture perfect replacement as a player with experience in a three-man front.
25. Carolina Panthers: D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida
The Panthers may have signed free agent Michael Oher but that shouldn’t stop them from taking an offensive tackle high in the draft. Humphries is a swift-footed and athletic pass protector who projects as a left tackle going forward. He needs to get stronger and work on his technique, but the talent is there. He could eventually become a Tyron Smith-like blocker in the NFL.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
Torrey Smith is leaving Baltimore, so that leave wide receiver as arguably the team’s biggest need. Strong is coming off an impressive combine performance and has the athletic ability to eventually outperform his draft slot.
27. Dallas Cowboys: Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana
Melvin Gordon? No. Todd Gurley? Nope. Fairburn went with Coleman because his playing style is more like DeMarco Murray's than Gordon and Gurley. Coleman is a talented back who somewhat flew under the radar on a bad Indiana team. When Coleman keeps his pads low, he’s shown he can break tackles. When that happens, look out. Coleman can break big runs with ease and hits top gear in a hurry.
28. Denver Broncos: Malcolm Brown, DT, Texas
If you listen through just about all of the podcast, you’ll hear that this pick was actually tight end Maxx Williams at first. But upon realizing Brown was still there, he had to be the pick. Even if Terrance Knighton returns to Denver, Brown’s talent is too great to pass up with the No. 28 pick. He’s big enough to play over the nose and shows good athleticism and pursuit for the position.
29. Indianapolis Colts: Benardrick McKinney, ILB, Mississippi State
D’Qwell Jackson may have impressive tackle numbers, but how many of them are good plays? Jackson also has his issues in coverage situations. A player like McKinney has the talent to become an impactful player in the middle and should be solid in coverage.
30. Green Bay Packers: Paul Dawson, ILB, TCU
The tape doesn’t lie. At least that’s what Dawson has to be hoping after he tested poorly at the combine. What the tape shows, though, is a tenacious player who can avoid blockers to make a play on the ball. He’s solid in coverage and has a lot of range against the run.
31. Seattle Seahawks: Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota
When Williams was available for the Seahawks, Fairburn pounced. How much conviction was there in this choice? It was made even before the Seahawks released Zach Miller. Unlike a lot of college tight ends, Williams knows how to block. Add that to his plus ability as a pass catcher and it’s clear why he’s the top tight end in this year’s draft.
32. New England Patriots: A.J. Cann, G, South Carolina
New England is known for not sticking with a veteran too long, so it’s hard to see them bringing back free agent Dan Connolly. That opens a hole at guard, and Cann is suited to fill it. He’s a powerful blocker, hard to move off his spot and can handle defensive tackles without help. That is more important than ever in the AFC East with the impressive talent the Bills and Jets have up front and the addition of Suh by the Dolphins.