As we get started in the 2015 NFL Draft process, I am struck by how many quality players are available. Like last year, this class is deep at wide receiver and offensive tackle — but the quarterbacks will get all of the attention.
What makes this process so difficult? Rarely do you see a player that is truly independent of needing the right NFL fit.
Every year we see rookies that are drafted late in the draft make rosters and make an impact mostly because they strike the lottery and get with an organization that is a perfect fit for them.
That said, here is my first Big Board, ranking the top 50 players. I am sure this will change a bit during the process, but what I love about this version more than others is that it is purely based on what I see from these players on the field and around their college programs.
These rankings are not inflated because someone runs fast or jumps high in a pair of shorts. So here we go!
The NFL Draft will be held April 30-May 2 in Chicago.
* — Junior who declared for draft early
** — Redshirt sophomore who declared for draft early
Prototypical size at 6-feet-4 and 220 pounds and his arm is much stronger than most think. The system at Oregon will not help him, but he would have flourished in any system that he played in. His best trait is his ability to extend the play and keep his eyes down the field for big plays.
At 300 pounds, he is a rare athlete that will have the ability to play at DE or DT in the NFL. On normal downs I see him as a DE with the ability to both set the edge and get to the QB, but his best role may be as a third-down DT that can press the pocket from the middle.
The game has made a shift towards long, lean athletic players that can be versatile on the defensive side, and that is exactly what Gregory is. Should be a dynamic pass rusher as either a 4-3 DE or a 3-4 OLB.
While he has explosive ability, Cooper’s route running impresses me above anything. Very smooth at the catch point and has solid recognition of both zone and man, giving the QB a defined look. In another deep group of WRs, Amari is the best of the bunch.
Love his aggressiveness and strength at the point of attack. For a big man, he moves easily and his athleticism should help in his development in pass protection. Struggle against a solid speed rush at times at Iowa, but that should be minimized as his technique improves.
For safeties, the game often comes down to how you can perform in space, and that is where Collins excels. Great tackler and has natural instincts for the ball. Better in a downhill mode, so SS would be a better fit, but he has played both FS and SS at Alabama.
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 feet. He can rely on his arm way too much, which led to far too many turnovers. Regardless of any on-field evaluation, the big area of focus will be off the field for Winston. He has to prove himself a changed person from the college version that struggled nightly with judgment.
Undersized for a 4-3 DE but is a perfect fit for a 3-4 OLB with his speed and first step. Rushing the passer is of the utmost importance, and Vic can do just that. Athletic and flexible, he is a nightmare on the speed rush, but can get caught in the wash against a strong OT in tight spaces.
Hasn’t played a ton of football having to sit behind Kony Ealy and Michael Sam at Missouri, but he is the type of player who has an extremely high ceiling. Shane is explosive getting to the QB, and he is rumored to be a testing freak, which will create massive momentum at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Some have speculated that the RB position has been devalued, but I would argue that we haven’t had many great RBs to evaluate in the last couple of years. Melvin is a surefire first-round pick, and his completeness as a back is what NFL teams will like so much. He is a great player that could do for a team what DeMarco Murray did for the Cowboys this season.
Didn’t have a great year, but he has all of the things that you want from an OT in the NFL. Great size and above-average athleticism with length that should translate into being a franchise OT at the next level.
Dante Fowler Jr.*
While he doesn’t have the explosiveness of Shane Ray or Vic Beasley, Fowler is probably the most complete defender of the three. Good in almost any role that Florida put him in, he can get to the passer and is also stout against the run.
Remarkable production for a DT, and he is as active as any DT I can remember. He should have a huge impact for his next team, very similar to what Ndamukong Suh or Star Lotulelei have had early in their career. I see him as a prototype 3-4 NT because of his ability to 2-gap.
Most of the players on this list were expected to be here before the season, but that is not the case for White. His size and strength are difficult to defend, but it’s his ability to win the contested catch that is truly fantastic.
Versatile player that was solid in everything that Kentucky asked him to do, including drop into coverage at times. Was a team captain and a high-energy player. Only concern for me is how high his ceiling is as he may not have much room for improvement.
Likely the most physically gifted player available this year. He could likely succeed in the NFL at any number of positions, but his ability as a hybrid S/OLB is where he would have the most impact. Great open-field tackler with solid knowledge of the game stemming from his numerous roles.
Great in the run game, as he is a mauler and regularly wins at the point of attack. Collins would fit very well at guard as he is still too raw and aggressive on the outside as a pass protector.
Cover ability is there down the field for Waynes, as he moves exceptionally well against deep routes. He’s very aggressive against the run and is quick on the diagnosis, but he lacks in size (6-1, 183 pounds), which needs to be addressed.
Erving is the most versatile OL available this year, as he moved from LT to C for the Seminoles this past season. But he didn’t just move, he dominated at both positions as the best blocker in the ACC each of the last two seasons. Oh, by the way … he was originally a DT at FSU, so he will likely succeed regardless of where his next team puts him.
Has to prove that he can come back from the knee injury that kept him out of the College Football Playoff, but he has solid skills as a cover corner. Fluid mover down the field regardless of coverage.
He looks the part with great size, length, and athleticism to go with solid quickness. He can be powerful at times, but he has to improve on technical ability as he can get himself into some bad positions.
Great player who has the ability to create interceptions with his ball skills, but many will question his character after being kicked off the team by the Washington staff. The week he was removed, however, he was texting other DBs — including his replacement — trying to help with the game plan. Regardless of what you think of his off-field issues, Peters will be a first-round pick.
Great size and strength make him a nightmare matchup, and he also wins the contested catch more often than not. He separates himself after the catch as a physical runner who is hard to bring down.
Love his combination of size — at 6-0, 195 pounds — and speed which shows up in all directions and not just in a straight line. He has to become a more consistent tackler, but he’s willing … which for a corner is half the battle.
Obviously health is a big question mark for Gurley, as he is still only two months removed from tearing an ACL. But when he’s healthy, his combination of size, strength and breakaway ability is as good as any. He has the ability to be his own blocker when needed and can also make people miss in small windows.
Along with Shane Ray, McKinney could steal the show at the combine with his pure athleticism. Has the ability to play all over the field, but is best suited for ILB with sideline-to-sideline pursuit ability.
Brown has great get-off, and with his size at 6-2, 320 pounds, he can overwhelm the offensive lineman before the play has really begun. Like Danny Shelton, he had wonderful production with 15 tackles for loss, and what NFL teams will love is his high ceiling.
Coleman was all Indiana had, and he was still able to produce quality numbers, which tells me he knows how to create for himself. Has big-play ability, and that does not grow on trees.
After a foot injury took the first half of the season away, he was a monster in the back half. Not as physically dominant as other WRs on this board, but he has an exceptional catch range and quality hands.
Played both DE and DT in the last two seasons, and his ceiling is very high. He is a knee-bender — which is rare for a 320-pounder — but that also leads to improved balance on the interior.
Orchard is a playmaker who has a knack for the QB and the ball. He can go missing at times, but when engaged he was a dominant player in the Pac-12.
Incredible productivity and pursuit ability. 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 should have a lengthy NFL career.
Displayed solid coverage ability, but the thing that will stand out about Jalen is his size. At 6-2, 195 pounds, he is the new prototype at CB.
He will be in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl and will have the opportunity to make a big jump with a strong performance. Hasn’t played OL for that long as he was a DE just two years ago.
Hard to project exactly how teams will evaluate Funchess. He has great size and strength as a WR, but at 6-5 and 230 pounds, he could easily be a split tight end and become a nightmare for defenses to match up against.
After a drop in production this year, Mannion is down on most draft boards. But he is exactly what the NFL is looking for and will be very impressive in-person throwing the football. Played in the Mike Riley offense and will be the most pro-ready QB in the draft.
I love his instincts in the middle and although he is short at 5-11, he holds his 240 pounds well and maintains quickness. Only knock is that he can get in bad positions trying to make up for his lack of height.
Came back from a knee injury this year and proved he could play through adversity. Solid size and power, but I don’t see him as a LT in the NFL, as he will likely have to play guard early in his career before a transition to RT.
After a loaded TE class a year ago, this one is going to be less impressive. But that has provided an opportunity for Williams, who has good talent and a solid TE frame. He is not overly athletic, but he can make plays down the field.
Cann is the perfect fit for a downhill, mauling run scheme as a guard. Proved at South Carolina that he is powerful and bends well, transitioning his power into the block in short spaces.
Off-the-field issues will be the constant knock against Green-Beckham, but the physical gifts are endless. He absolutely possesses NFL ability, but the organizational fit will be so important so that he can get some mentors to straighten him out.
Needs to improve his overall strength on the interior, but Bennett is very quick to diagnose what is going on. I love his motor, as he is incredibly hard to block for extended times. Leverage and quickness are his game and he uses them very well.
Great production, but he is hard to evaluate because of so many great players around him. I will give him the benefit of the doubt because of his attacking style and active hands.
While he played his worst game at the most inopportune time against Ohio State, he shined against a very experienced Arizona offensive line. Has prototype DE size, but he is not a great pass rusher, making him a better fit for the 3-4 scheme.
Prewitt displays a quality understanding of the game as he is rarely out of position against complicated route combinations. I was most impressed with his ability to adapt to the new game by avoiding big hits and penalties when he sees exposed receivers.
More of a complete player than a pure pass rusher at the OLB position. He is good in space and has solid ball skills for a player that can attack on the line of scrimmage. His speed is evident on the field and he should acclimate well to the NFL game.
Hunter’s game is all about length and that is exactly what NFL scouts are going to love. He is surprisingly stout against the run for a tall guy, but the sheer space that he takes up makes him a good prospect.
At 6-6, 334 pounds, Phillips has elite size, but he lacks experience and has a history with back injuries. He would be a flyer for an organization that doesn’t have extensive needs.
Needs to get stronger, but I really like his game because of his length. Footwork needs improvement, but he could switch to OG to begin his career and get back to OT at some point in as a pro, which is rare from a college lineman.
In a different offensive system, Montgomery could have had monster numbers, but quarterback Kevin Hogan struggled and Montgomery was the only option, which garnered too much defensive attention. He will be a great addition to any roster.