In March, the NFL Draft process goes behind closed doors for private workouts and meetings with prospects at their pro days. For the truly elite prospects, they’ll go on at NFL facilities.
Pro days help NFL teams finalize their evaluations on players that were not invited to Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine. It’s a chance for undrafted free agents to make their impression and land on an NFL roster.
Like with the Combine, talent evaluators tend to put way too much stock into pro-day showings. Yet in some cases, players can prove they have fixed a flaw in their game.
Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion had a mediocre senior season and there was talk about his lack of accuracy and arm strength, but at his pro day he showed an increase in velocity due to better fundamentals, which also led to more accurate passes.
I do not move players based on pro-day performances, but in this case I wanted to move Mannion into the top 50, and what I saw supports that now. Here are the 50 best available players in the 2015 NFL Draft.
* — Junior who declared for draft early
** — Redshirt sophomore who declared for draft early
Note: Players’ previous rankings in parentheses if different from current ranking.
1. *Leonard Williams, DT, USC
Williams is everything that an NFL team would want in a defensive lineman. He is 6-foot-5, just around 300 pounds and can carry it well. He provides quickness, especially from the interior, but transitions to power with ease. He can be a prototype three-technique for a 4-3 defense and he also can set as a five-technique on passing downs. This type of versatility is exactly what the game has turned into on the defensive side. He won’t get taken No. 1, but he is the best overall player available in the draft. Tennessee has a major decision to make at No. 2 with Williams looming and their quarterback position in flux.
2. *Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Knocking Mariota has become the fashionable thing to do, but most of it revolves around the system he ran and the quiet nature with which he carries himself. His talent is only surpassed by the person that he is, and to most NFL franchises, that is a huge positive. However, he has to learn to operate a pro-style system, including calling plays in a huddle for the first time since high school. Mariota, at 6-3 and 220 pounds, is the exact same height as Jameis Winston. He is strong and accurate down the field, yet most will say that he didn’t make NFL throws. Nothing could be further from the truth. He made these throws every week and he showed anticipation, velocity, and accuracy while getting through his entire progression on a regular basis. Tampa Bay needs a quarterback and they should look no further than Mariota.
3. *Dante Fowler Jr., OLB/DE, Florida
While he doesn’t have the explosiveness of Shane Ray or Vic Beasley, he is probably the more complete defender. Good in almost any role that Florida put him in, Fowler can get to the passer and is also stout against the run. He does everything well and has a higher ceiling as an every-down player. He was explosive and moved really well in space at the Combine, and he weighed 260 pounds. He had one of the best weeks of anyone in Indy and nothing has changed since then. Fowler is sure to be drafted in the top 10 and likely in the top five.
4. **Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
His ability to come up with critical plays is uncanny and that should translate to the next level, but he has to clean up his footwork. Winston threw 18 interceptions, which is way too many, but he should be able to clean that up by creating a more stable foundation before the throw. Regardless of any on-field evaluation the big area of focus will be off-the-field for Winston. Has he changed since college? He was universally praised by scouts and GM’s in Indy for his football IQ and interview ability, and that continued in a private meeting with Tampa. He was "flawless" as one put it and handled everything with flying colors.
5. Kevin White, WR, West Virginia (6)
Most of the players on this list were expected to be here before the season, but that is not the case for White. He is 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, making him difficult to defend, but it is his ability to win the contested catch that is truly what sets him apart. For a big player he runs after the catch as well as any WR in this year’s class, and can blend power and elusiveness to do so. White was the star of the Combine as the strongest receiver and clocking the third fastest 40-yard dash. White has almost limitless potential, and most teams that I talked to have put Kevin atop their receiver board — and I am no different. He will face a steeper learning curve than Amari Cooper due to the limited system he played in. He should be the top WR taken in the draft.
6. *Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama (7)
While he has explosive ability, it was his route running that impressed me above anything. Cooper is very smooth at the catch point and has solid recognition of both zone and man coverage. His value grows exponentially when you realize he comes ready to play in a pro-style offense, and can play all over the field. While I have moved White ahead of Cooper, it should be said that the 6-1, 211-pounder was tremendous at the Combine. He is only 20 years old, but he is as refined as anyone. He will contribute from Day 1.
7. Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson (8)
He is undersized as a 4-3 end, but he is a perfect fit for 3-4 outside linebacker with his speed and explosive first step. Beasley lit up the Combine with a blazing 4.53 40 time, the fastest of any linebacker. Rushing the passer is of the utmost importance, and Vic can do just that. He’s athletic and flexible, and a nightmare on the speed rush, but he can get caught in the wash against a strong tackle in tight spaces. Beasley has lots of work to do in run defense, but the upside as a pass rusher is too enticing. It won’t surprise me at all if he is able to get to eight or nine sacks as a rookie playing primarily in passing situations.
8. Danny Shelton, DT, Washington (9)
He had remarkable production for a tackle and is as active as any I can remember. He should have an impact — think Ndamukong Suh or Star Lotulelei — right away. Officially he weighed in at just less than 340 pounds and he was still able to run well, with a 30-inch vertical at the Combine. I see him as a prototypical 3-4 nose tackle because of his ability to play a two-gap technique. Shelton also has value pushing the middle of the pocket with his strength and motor on passing downs. He was the best player at the Senior Bowl and he carried that momentum to Indy with a strong Combine. The spot that seems logical for Shelton is Chicago to solidify what has been a disappointing defense since the retirement of Brian Urlacher.
9. *Shane Ray, OLB/DE, Missouri (10)
Ray hasn’t played a ton of football since he sat behind Kony Ealy and Michael Sam at Missouri, but he is the type of player that has an extremely high ceiling. He was dealing with a foot injury at the Combine so he was unable to compete in drills. Like Beasley, he must get better in run defense or the 4-3 teams will likely pass on him in the draft. Ray will work out on Thursday at the Missouri pro day and has a private meeting scheduled with the Falcons. Ray will test very well when healthy and should be a top-10 pick after being named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year.
10. *Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska (5)
The game has made a shift towards long, lean, athletic players that can be versatile on the defensive side. Gregory is all that and should be a dynamic pass rusher as either a 4-3 end or a 3-4 linebacker. He moves down the board, however, because there are whispers that his interviews didn’t go well and teams are finding some alarming baggage. Also, at 235 pounds he is far too light for a defensive end. His skill is undeniable, but his stock is starting to take a bit of a turn after the Combine, which will make his private workouts that much more important.
11. Alvin Dupree, DE, Kentucky (14)
Versatile player that was solid in everything that Kentucky asked him to do, including drop into coverage at times. He was a team captain and a high-energy player. He was also a star at the Combine, performing as well as any front-seven player on the defensive said while clocking a 4.56 in the 40. The only concern for me is if he’s close to his talent ceiling already.
Some have speculated that the running back position has been devalued, but I would argue that we haven’t had many great players at the position in the last few years. Gordon is a sure-fire first-round pick, but has to show a better ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He had a strong Combine, showing the type of speed that suggests he can be an explosive player at the next level. He can be a home run guy while also getting 25-to-30 carries. It is rare to find a player that can create so many explosive plays, but Gordon makes people miss and wins the edge on a consistent basis. He always gains more yards than the play should have gotten based on how well it was blocked.
13. *Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami
He came back from a knee injury this year and proved he could play through adversity. Flowers has solid size and power, but I don’t see him as a left tackle in the NFL. He’ll likely have to play guard early in his career before a transition to right tackle. Flowers had a strong Combine and was the strongest offensive lineman in the bench press. His frame is perfect and once he works on technique in pass protection he will be a quality right tackle for a long time. He is one of the bets run blockers available.
14. *Landon Collins, S, Alabama (11)
For safeties the game often comes down to how you can perform in space — and that is where Landon excels. He’s a great tackler and has natural instincts for the ball. He’s better in downhill mode against the run and in the alley, so strong safety would be a better fit early in his career. Collins has to show an improvement covering the short-to-intermediate zones between the hash marks and the numbers. Also, there are concerns about the health of his shoulders.
15. *Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State (18)
His coverage ability is there down the field and he moves exceptionally well against down field routes. Waynes is very aggressive against the run, but he lacks in size. He ran well at the Combine and he has started to separate himself from the rest of the corner group due, especially after Ifo Ekpre-Olomu’s injury and the questions surrounding Marcus Peters after his dismissal from the team at Washington.
16. Cameron Erving, OT/C, Florida State
Erving is the most versatile offensive lineman available this year. He didn’t just move from left tackle to center for the Seminoles, he dominated at both positions as the best blocker in the ACC each of the last two seasons. He was originally a defensive tackle at Florida State, so he will likely succeed regardless of where his next team puts him. I doubt he gets selected this high, but any team looking for interior line help will take a long look. He could have a very long career and go to a number of Pro Bowls, but will get overlooked a bit in the draft because nothing jumps off the tape about him.
17. Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
Ilove his aggressiveness and strength at the point of attack in the run game, and his nasty nature is something that every NFL offensive coach would love to have. However, some serious questions have arisen about his ability to play tackle in the NFL. His stock, which was as high as top-five at one point, has dropped fast and he will need great individual workouts to remain in the first round. For a big man he moves easily and his athleticism should help in his development in pass protection.
18. *Shaq Thompson, OLB/S/RB, Washington (15)
Likely the most physically gifted player available this year, Thompson could succeed in the NFL at any number of positions. Yet his ability as a hybrid safety/weakside linebacker is where he would have the most impact. His technique is a mess, but that is expected from any two-way player that doesn’t have time to focus on the technical details of one position. To me, it is more impressive that he can play at such a high level on pure football ability and raw skill. His biggest challenge is narrowing his focus on one position although having back-up plans is a valuable commodity.
He’s great in the run game and regularly wins at the point of attack. Collins would fit very well at guard since he’s still too raw and aggressive to play on the outside as a pass protector. He was average at the Combine and Senior Bowl. I know that’s not a ringing endorsement, but while he didn’t struggle per se, but he didn’t excel anywhere, either. He likely is going to be a fairly-consistent- but-never-great player that could have a long career as a right tackle once he can gain the necessary skills.
20. *Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
When healthy, Gurley’s combination of size, strength, and breakaway ability is as good as any. There were reports flying at the Combine that his knee was worse than expected and he didn’t want teams looking at it. Those proved to be false, and Dr. James Andrews has publicly backed his client’s recovery process, saying that there was no reason to have that many doctors "poke and tug" on his knee. However, if he wants to get drafted in the first round, he is going to have to show substantial improvement for a team to take the chance. Gurley has the ability to be his own blocker when needed and can also make people miss in small windows. He’s got better instincts that Gordon in between the tackles and always seems to fall forward to gain the hidden yardage.
21. *Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
Great size and strength make him a nightmare matchup, but he also wins the contested catch more often than not due to his large frame and unique ability to locate the ball on his back shoulder. It is not as important for him to create separation before the catch. He is a physical runner who is hard to bring down. Accuracy from his quarterback was an issue in college, but he showed a solid catch radius to bail them out more often than not. He was faster than I expected at the Combine, further solidifying his standing as a first rounder. He may not have the overall potential of Kevin White, but the two are very similar in the way that they play and dominate games.
22. *Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
He’s ability to create interceptions with his ball skills, but many will question his character after being kicked off the team. However, the week he was removed from the team he was texting other defensive backs — including his replacement — trying to help them with the game plan. That type of behavior is not consistent with a player that has "red flags" for character. He has first-round skills, but it remains to be seen if a team will take a chance that early. My guess would be that they do because of the value of the corner position.
23. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma
Off-field issues will be the constant question for DGB during this process, but the physical gifts are endless. He measured at 6-5 and 237 pounds, which is comparable to Calvin Johnson — and he ran a staggering 4.49 in Indy. He has answered the character questions very well in interviews, taking responsibility and showing genuine remorse. He is the best deep threat in the draft, and if his Combine workout was any indication, he still possesses the smooth movement and catch ability that allowed him to dominate the SEC in 2013.
24. DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
After missing the first seven games with a foot injury, Parker was a monster. He caught 43 passes for 855 yards and five scores and then ran a sub-4.5 40-yard dash at Indy, too. He’s not as physically dominant as other receivers on this board, but he has an exceptional catch range and quality hands. He and Jaelen Strong are very similar: they don’t need great separation skills because they like to body defenders up for the catch. Parker plays open in tight windows, which is a rare trait for a college receiver and he will make some NFL quarterback very happy early in his career. Watch for Minnesota in the first round to take Parker, reuniting him with college QB Teddy Bridgewater.
25. *P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State
Love his combination of size (6-0, 195 pounds) and speed. Williams has to become a more consistent tackler, but his willingness to be physical is impressive, which for a corner is half the battle. He played primarily in the short side of the field for Florida State, which gives me some concern. Also, the short side of the field in college football is so much smaller than the short side of the field at the NFL level (because of the wide hash marks) that his adjustment to the pro game may take a bit longer than others.
26. Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA (27)
Odighizuwa followed up a good Senior Bowl with a solid Combine, where he ran a 4.62 in the 40. He is natural and fluid, but he also has the strength to hold the point against the run. At UCLA he played three-technique in passing situations which made it hard for him to accumulate sack numbers. He has the skill set to suggest seven-to-10 sacks a year in the NFL. His performance in Indy seems to have cemented him as a first rounder. He missed 2013 with hip injuries, so his biggest hurdle in this process in health.
27. *Malcom Brown, DT, Texas (28)
Brown has great speed at the snap, and with his size (320 pounds), he can overwhelm an offensive guard before the play has even started. Like Danny Shelton, he had wonderful production with 15 tackles for loss. NFL teams will love is his high ceiling due to his natural athleticism. He is versatile and won’t be limited based on system — he can play nose for a 3-4 team or defensive tackle for a 4-3 team. Nothing is too flashy with Brown, but he will be a very good NFL tackle and should play for a long time.
28. Eli Harold, OLB, Virginia (30)
He’s a prototypical 3-4 outside backer and is best a two-point stance and pass rushing. He needs to show improvement when offenses run at him and needs to get much stronger at the point of attack. He showed flashes of dominance and the ability to be disruptive, great traits for a player on the outside that needs to get to the passer.
29. Eric Kendricks, ILB, UCLA (33)
He has incredible production and ability to pursue the ball. His athleticism and balance make him incredibly difficult to block, and he is much more powerful than his frame suggests. This season’s Butkus Award winner has and NFL pedigree and instinctually is the best inside linebacker in the draft. Kendricks surprised many with a quick 40 time (4.61) although he was battling a sore hamstring and felt he could have run faster. Whoever pulls the trigger on this guy is going to be thrilled once camp starts and they see him making plays right away.
30. *Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon (31)
While he saved his worst performance for last in the national title game, he has shown very solid growth since shedding basketball and focusing on football. Once he did that he improved against the run, becoming more physical at the point and stronger in the weight room. He is not a great pass rusher, making him a better fit for the 3-4 scheme. At 6-8 and 290 pounds, he’s hard to pass up, though. If he develops an ability to rush the passer he will be a special pro. Expect him to go somewhere between 15 and 25.
31. *Nelson Agholor, WR, USC (32)
He was having a strong day at the Combine when a dislocated finger ruined things, but he came back strong at his pro day with his trademark soft hands and easy pass-catching style. He is polished and runs clean routes. He’s solid at the catch point and effective after the he hauls it in, making him a fringe first-round pick. That might be determined by who gets selected ahead of him. He is a very good player that has the outside chance to become a No. 1 in the NFL, butis a safe bet as a great No. 2 after putting to rest some concern over his top-end speed.
32. *Benardrick McKinney, ILB, Mississippi State (26)
I thought McKinney was going to be one of the stars of the Combine, but that did not materialize. He ran a disappointing 40-yard dash and gave some pause about his standing as one of the top inside linebackers. He has the ability to play all over the field, but is best suited for the inside with sideline-to-sideline ability. McKinney has to be more consistent identifying and diagnosing the play, which is my only concern on the field since it’s hard to teach.
33. Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State (34)
He played both end and tackle the last two seasons and his ceiling is very high. For a 320-pounder, he is a knee bender, which is rare since it leads to improved balance on the interior. Power is the name of the game here and, while he has a long way to go rushing the passer, he can play against the run in the NFL.
34. *Jalen Collins, CB, LSU (35)
He displayed solid coverage ability, but the thing that stands out is his size (6-2, 195 pounds). He is the prototypical modern corner. His film is not strong, but he has an incredibly high ceiling due to his speed and size. With the right coach and system he could be one of the better corners in the NFL in the near future, but the floor is very low and that will keep many teams away come draft time.
35. *D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida (36)
Humphries has great potential, but he struggled with consistency last season. I wasn’t looking for Humphries while watching tape, but he did such a good job against Mizzou’s Shane Ray I had to mention him. I won’t be surprised if a team at the back end of the first round takes a flyer on Humphries due to his high upside and the value of a future tackle.
36. Devin Funchess, WR/TE, Michigan (37)
It’s hard to project exactly how teams will evaluate Funchess. At 6-5, 230 pounds, he has great size and strength, but he could easily be a tight end and become a matchup nightmare. He must clean up the drops, but is perfect for the red zone in the NFL once he is able to do so. He didn’t have a Combine to write home about and a slower-than-expected 40-time means the tight end conversation is picking up steam. This might be the best thing that ever happened to him since that’s here I see him.
37. Laken Tomlinson, OG, Duke (38)
His momentum started in Mobile at the Senior Bowl and continued to Indy at the Combine. Tomlinson was the only player that could handle Danny Shelton in 1-on-1 drills in Mobile. That had everyone buzzing. He is a strong player that plays with solid leverage and instincts, carving out a spot for himself in the first half of the second round with an outside shot at getting picked up in the first.
38. Nate Orchard, DE, Utah (39)
Orchard is a playmaker that has a knack for getting to the QB and the ball. He can go missing at times on film, leading me to question his motor and conditioning, but when engaged, he is a dominant player. He had a solid week in Mobile and a good performance in the movement drills at the Combine. That has some teams thinking he is more of an outside linebacker than defensive end. In the right system with the right coach, he could be quite a surprise in the early second round.
39. *Danielle Hunter, DE, LSU (40)
He ran an incredible 40-yard dash at the Combine clocking a 4.57. At 6-foot-5 and 252 pounds, he has a great frame and can carry more weight, which will be needed. At that height, it is rare to see a guy dip the inside shoulder around the edge, but he can do it and he plays with solid pursuit from the back side. He replaced Barkevious Mingo at LSU, and while I don’t think he will be as good in the NFL, he has potential. For his talent level and athletic ability, he should have produced more at LSU (he tallied just 1.5 sacks last season).
40. **Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma (41)
For his size (6-5, 329 pounds) he is one of the most agile and athletic players I have seen, but he has a history of back issues that caused him to opt for season-ending surgery in October 2013. Even more concerning is that it was not a singular injury, but rather a nagging "pain" that caused the need for surgery. Things like that tend to linger with big men, which leads me to believe it is the reason he decided to leave two years of eligibility on the table and try to start his NFL clock.
41. Denzel Perryman, ILB, Miami (42)
I love his instincts in the middle, and although he is short at 5-11, he holds his 236-pound frame well and maintains quickness. His only knock is that he can get in bad positions trying to make up for his lack of height. Chris Borland, who is built similarly, had a wonderful rookie season for the 49ers and there is no reason that Perryman can’t follow suit.
42. Tre‘ Jackson, OG, Florida State (43)
FSU was as dominant as any team in college football over the last two years and it wasn’t just because of Jameis Winston. Jackson is strong and has ideal size (6-4, 330) and athleticism to play on the interior. He wasn’t great in Indy, but he was good enough to stay on the this list among an overall group of poor linemen. The lack of depth at his position is a huge plus for Jackson.
43. Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State (44)
He needs to improve his overall strength on the interior, but he is very quick to diagnose what is going on. I love his motor and he is incredibly hard to block for extended times. He is slippery, and uses leverage and quickness.
Smith’s impressive Combine solidified his status as a second-rounder. His best trait is the ability to stretch the field and high-point the ball (he was as a high jumper on the track and field team). However, Smith has to show a better ability to run consistent routes and win at the top of the break in the intermediate zones. His skill set suits a guy like Joe Flacco, who likes to take chances down the field (hint: watch for the Ravens to snag him in the second round)
45. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M (46)
He looks the part with great size, length, and athleticism to go with solid quickness. He can be powerful at times, but has to improve his technical ability because he can get himself into some bad positions. His main issue will be getting cleared medically after injuring his knee in the Aggies’ bowl game.
46. *Mario Edwards Jr., DE, Florida State (47)
Edwards has to show the ability to get to the quarterback on a consistent basis if he wants to stay at end. If he can’t, then he will stay bulky and move down to defensive tackle, which is not a bad projection for him. When I watch him play he reminds me of a lighter Leonard Williams, but he doesn’t disrupt quite enough to garner a higher evaluation. I think another year at FSU would have helped his stock, but he should provide good depth in the NFL.
47. Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami (48)
He had a wonderful week at the Senior Bowl, showing excellent explosiveness and pass-catching ability. He was the wide receiver getting open with the most regularity and he also proved that he can be a valuable player on the special teams. The buzz around the Combine was that he would post the fastest time, but that wasn’t the case. He clocked a 4.33 — the exact same time Brandin Cooks ran last year. The question with Dorsett is about his ability to catch the ball consistently.
48. T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pitt (49)
Clemmings has bounced back a bit from a disastrous week at the Senior Bowl, where he went from the potential top offensive tackle to off of my Big Board all together. He is athletic and intriguing, but I don’t think it is going to be enough for him to get back up to the first round. His basketball background is a plus, but he hasn’t showed a tangible skill set that allows evaluators to project franchise-level play. The offensive-line group is one of the hardest to predict, so don’t be surprised if he gets nabbed in the first round.
49. Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State (NR)
While small in stature, Lockett plays much bigger than his size (5-10, 182) and he shows an uncanny ability to create space in small windows. Another thing I love about Lockett is his ability to create with the ball in his hands as a runner, which will lend itself to special teams early in his career. He is a smart player and one of the best people in the draft. He was a finalist for the William Campbell Trophy, which is known as the academic Heisman.
50. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State (NR)
Mannion struggled last season, but still leaves Oregon State as one of the most prolific passers in Pac 12 history. He lost Brandin Cooks to the NFL, which hurt his production in a major way, but increased his passing percentage and cut down on the interceptions. He is as smart as any young NFL quarterback and his velocity is better than expected. Mannion is the safest QB in the draft and like Derek Carr last season will be a great pick-up early in the