Now that the first wave of NFL free agency has come and gone and left many of the league’s 32 teams looking a lot different than they did at the start of March, it’s a lot easier to start speculating on draft needs.
In addition to free agency, we’ve had trades, several pro days and a series of individual workouts for top draft prospects.
Last week, I did a West Coast swing for FOX Sports 1, reporting free agency signings while attending the UCLA, USC, and Oregon pro days. As much as a pro day is about the players on hand, it’s also extremely valuable from an information standpoint.
A lot can be learned from casual conversations with position coaches, coordinators and front office personnel off to the side. The pro day isn’t going to make or break a prospect’s draft placement. But the amount of people watching who carry weight matters. The conversations do, too.
A lot can change between now and the NFL Draft, but for now, consider this the blueprint. Dig in. Don’t agree? Let me hear about it. Tweet me at @PSchrags or email me at PeterSchrager@gmail.com.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Winston showed up to Indianapolis last month with questions surrounding his draft stock. He answered many of them emphatically. Issues about his shoulder? He addressed them in both his interviews with teams and in his workout on Saturday, throwing the ball better than any other prospect in the field. Questions about how he’d handle media? He took care of those with a confident approach to the many inquiries he was faced with. His 4.91 40-yard dash? One NFL executive said: "It’s just about what we expected. And we’re looking for the best quarterback in this draft, not the best track star." Winston was confident and borderline cocky, and another league executive said he "loved the presence." He’s a fiery competitor, he loves football, and his teammates love him. I’m told Tampa Bay’s two-day meeting with Winston earlier this month went very well, and an NFL front office executive described his team’s meeting with Winston in Indianapolis as "extremely impressive." There may be off-field concerns, but when it comes to an NFL quarterback who’s ready to start Day 1, he could be the most prepared for the challenge since Andrew Luck. This pick could end up being the most important one of Tampa Bay GM Jason Licht’s career.
2. Tennessee Titans: Leonard Williams, DT, USC
Marcus Mariota’s pro day was an NFL convention consisting of a "who’s who" of decision makers involved with clubs holding top-10 picks. No team had more bodies in Eugene than the Tennessee Titans. I counted nine different Titans staffers, and am told that they had a "very good" private session with Mariota immediately after he finished throwing. But I still have Tennessee taking Leonard Williams at No. 2. The Titans addressed a lot of needs on the defensive side of the ball this month, first hiring Dick LeBeau as assistant head coach in charge of defense and then signing Brian Orakpo and Da’Norris Searcy and re-signing Derrick Morgan. Williams is a defensive cog who can be a franchise player. Mariota and the Titans seem like a perfect match, but I don’t get the feeling they’re crazy about him. And I know everyone down there really likes incumbent Zach Mettenberger. A lot. Thus, Mariota slips.
Jacksonville had a good week in free agency, scooping up tight end Julius Thomas and cornerback Davon House. It still needs an ace pass rusher for Gus Bradley’s defense, though. Fowler is that guy. At 260 pounds, he can play any linebacker spot (he did at Florida) and is the perfect personality to match the positive energy that oozes through that Jacksonville facility. Perhaps more than any other defensive player in this year’s class, Fowler was the buzz of the Combine. That buzz will carry over right through April and into the draft. He can get to the quarterback and also perform in coverage. Get him to Jacksonville.
4. Oakland Raiders: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
White was the star of the Combine and wowed many around the league at the West Virginia pro day. After a frustrating junior season in which he caught fewer than 40 passes, White hauled in 107 as a senior and then absolutely tore up Indianapolis. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, he ran a 4.35 40-yard dash and left scouts with their jaws dropped after catching just about everything thrown his way. When asked what makes him so special, White said: "No one can do what I can do. And I can do it all." Amari Cooper is the more polished of the two top wideouts, and there are many who think the Raiders can’t afford to draft anything less than the most polished wideout. Still, White has all the tools to give Derek Carr the receiving threat he needs and deserves.
5. Washington Redskins: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
If things shake out this way, Marcus Mariota could be sitting right there for Washington. You’ve got to think the Redskins would be at least tempted to consider him. But the Washington front office took a new approach to free agency this year, resisting the usual rash of over-the-hill veteran signings and flashy names and instead picking up players in key positions at the right value. Defensive tackles Terrance Knighton and Stephen Paea and cornerback Chris Culliver were signed to smart deals and can all contribute at a high level next year. Beasley fits the base 3-4 defense, filling any void the departed Brian Orakpo left as the outside linebacker opposite Ryan Kerrigan. A coach I spoke with said he expected Beasley to weigh in around 235 pounds at the Combine and that there was a fear he was too light. Beasley not only weighed in at 246 pounds, but he also did an outstanding 35 reps of 225 pounds on the bench the following day. There’s a new feel in D.C., and Beasley would be a wonderful addition.
6. New York Jets: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
I’m told that the Jets could be in the market to trade down here, too. Or, they can just go with the other franchise quarterback in this draft. As it stands now, I think a pass rusher is their first priority, but Mariota could still very well end up as the next signal caller for Gang Green. There was a large Jets contingent at Mariota’s pro day in Eugene, Ore., including the team’s general manager, offensive coordinator, and quarterbacks coach. Taking Mariota would be consistent with bold moves like the Brandon Marshall trade, the Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie signings and even the trade for Ryan Fitzpatrick. Make a big splash, own the back pages and start anew.
7. Chicago Bears: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
Shelton was the star of Senior Bowl week, and in a draft light on big-boy defensive tackles, he could go as high as the top four. He was a man among boys in Mobile, tossing aside centers and guards with ease and penetrating the backfield. He had some injury issues at Washington but looked good during his senior year and interviewed well in Indianapolis. The Bears are going to have to get Jay Cutler some weapons, but I think new GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox will go for the slam dunk in Shelton if he’s available.
The SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year might be the best pure pass rusher in this draft class. The Falcons, of course, struggled immensely on defense last year, with their pass rush among the very worst in the league. Aging veteran Kroy Biermann led the team in sacks with just 4.5. Ray, who is still nursing a foot injury, didn’t run the 40 at the Combine. He should do so at his pro day at Missouri this week, and there’s an expectation he’ll be up from his typical 240-pound weight to 250 for the start of the NFL season. Ray is a solid kid all around and a beast off the edge; this would be a wise selection by Atlanta if the medicals check out.
9. New York Giants: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
The Giants traded up and got Eli Manning in the NFL Draft 11 years ago when a lot of fans were clamoring for an offensive tackle out of Iowa named Robert Gallery. That worked out fairly well for Big Blue. This year I see Scherff, a workout warrior with a bit of a mean streak, as the first offensive lineman taken. He can play inside at guard or move outside and play tackle and can do either right away. He was No. 2 on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List last year and has some real football IQ. Scherff won’t send the Giants’ faithful running to buy jerseys, but that’s not what the Giants need this year.
10. St. Louis Rams: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
St. Louis added stalwart defensive tackle Nick Fairley in free agency, and the offensive line could be an area of interest with the departures of Scott Wells and Jake Long, but coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead can’t pass on a rare talent like Cooper. The Alabama superstar is a 6-1, 210-pound precise route runner with 4.42 speed. He did it at the college level, and he’ll do it at the pro level. Compared often to Reggie Wayne, he could end up being the perfect go-to guy for Nick Foles — or whoever ends up being quarterback, in whatever city the Rams are playing in.
Head coach Mike Zimmer, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and the Minnesota front office decides to get the band back together, and Teddy Bridgewater gets his favorite target from Louisville. Minnesota has already traded for Mike Wallace, who is a burner, and Parker can be the go-to guy. I’m told Parker’s stock is on the rise and he can end up jumping even Amari Cooper by the time the NFL Draft rolls around. He ran a 4.45 40-yard dash and had a 36.5-inch vertical jump at the Combine even though he is still coming back from a devastating foot injury he suffered in 2014.
12. Cleveland Browns: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
The run on wide receivers continues. Arizona State hasn’t had a first-round pick since 2003, when Terrell Suggs went to Baltimore. Strong will end that drought. Cleveland clearly needs help at wideout with Josh Gordon slated to miss the 2015 season since neither Andrew Hawkins nor Brian Hartline is a true No. 1. Strong ran a lightning-fast 4.40 40-yard dash at the Combine and came in at 6-3, 215 pounds. There were some questions about his speed, but his 40 time silenced those. The top 12 is not beyond reason for this JUCO transfer who has a lot of upside.
13. New Orleans Saints: Alvin "Bud" Dupree, OLB, Kentucky
The Kentucky star posted the fastest 40-yard time among all linebackers, clocking in at 4.57 seconds with a 42-inch vertical while battling a groin injury at the Combine. Dupree can get to the quarterback, and with all the big QBs in the NFC South, there are never enough quality pass rushers to go around. He’s a good fit in Rob Ryan’s 3-4 and if he slips to 13, he’ll fit that Saints "Us against the World" ethos just right.
14. Miami Dolphins: Trae Waynes, DB, Michigan State
Waynes could go earlier, depending on team needs in the top 10. He is a 6-foot, 186-pound corner who starred in a man-to-man defense at Michigan State. He played on an island against some of the best players in the country, and according to sources worked his tail off with Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi and MSU secondary coach Harlon Barnett to polish his game. He does it all and runs a 4.32 40-yard dash. Miami beefed up the front seven in signing Ndamukong Suh. Now it needs to address the back end.
15. San Francisco 49ers: Ereck Flowers, OT/OG, Miami
The loss of guard Mike Iupati hurts but has been overshadowed by the stunning retirements of linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland and the departures of several other key veterans. Though the 49ers can go a variety of ways, I think they look to address a once-dominant offensive line that took a step back in 2014. Flowers benched 225 pounds 37 times in Indianapolis, the best of any offensive lineman invited to the Combine. He played tackle in college and could move to guard in the pros and play on either side. An interesting note: Flowers was the only player at the Combine who doesn’t have an agent. He works out at Miami, says he uses the University of Miami family for counsel and will simply consult with a family lawyer to sign his rookie contract. He just wants to play football. I think new head coach Jim Tomsula will like this kid a lot.
16. Houston Texans: Malcolm Brown, DT, Texas
It’ll be Ryan Mallett against Brian Hoyer for the starting quarterback gig in Houston. One guy who won’t be back? Andre Johnson. Conventional wisdom says the Texans address the wide receiver position here, but I think they go defensive tackle, beefing up the front seven and taking the local guy. He’s a 6-2, 320-pound run stuffer who made most of his big plays behind the line of scrimmage. Coach Bill O’Brien will like his maturity, too. Brown is married with two children and was one of Charlie Strong’s most reliable leaders at Texas.
17. San Diego Chargers: Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska
Speaking to a lot of front office executives in Indianapolis at the Combine, there are some differing opinions on Gregory. One thing is for certain: The guy can fly off the edge. I know a lot of mock drafts have him going top five, but from what I’m hearing, he may slip out of the top 15. He weighed in at just 235 pounds, but there’s hope he can get bigger at the next level. The Chargers run a 3-4 scheme that suits his skill set. Let Gregory rush the blind side, with Melvin Ingram coming from the other end, and John Pagano’s defense could be significantly improved in 2015.
18. Kansas City Chiefs: Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon
Often compared to Cardinals star Calais Campbell, Armstead could play either the three-gap technique or the five-technique and performed at a high level for a great Oregon team. At 6-foot-8, 290 pounds, the sky is the limit for Armstead with good coaching. Kansas City’s 3-4 scheme will fit him well, as he can slide into one of the two defensive end spots and make an impact. He’s still a relatively raw product, and when I spoke to Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich about him, he said the young pass rusher is just starting to scratch the surface. Kansas City could go a lot of ways, but it could do a lot worse than snagging Armstead.
Collins didn’t blow anyone away at the Senior Bowl, but he performed much better at the Combine, solidifying a first-round grade. He weighed in at 305 pounds and has a good physical frame. He did it all at LSU, can play tackle or guard and could be a nice addition to an offensive line that is already pretty strong (when healthy). Cleveland has the luxury of two first-round picks and could be in the market for some trading activity. If Collins is still on the board at 19 and the Browns have already snagged Jaelen Strong, that’s a good first round.
20. Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Collins, CB, LSU
The Eagles’ roster looks drastically different than it did when we posted our last mock draft, but I still have Philadelphia going with a cornerback here. Collins was impressive in Indianapolis, coming in at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds and running a 4.43 40-yard dash. He started just 10 games at LSU but had three interceptions and 25 pass breakups. He has all the natural ability in the world and just needs to put it together. Collins has a good build, a bit of an edge and some real play-making skills; this is a good fit for Chip Kelly’s new-look squad.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
Thompson will be a first-round pick. The question is where he’ll go. He could be a top-10 selection or a bottom-third guy. A good landing spot is Cincinnati, where the 6-2, 230-pound defensive playmaker could join one of the best defenses in the league. Thompson says he’s a linebacker, but he could be used as a Swiss Army knife. Need him at nickel? Fine. Need him at safety? Sure. Special teams? Go. Running back? Sure. I liked what he did in Indianapolis and think this is a great fit.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers: Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
Peters had multiple confrontations with a new coaching staff in Washington last year, escalating to the point where he was ultimately removed from the team. He was upfront, honest and regretful during interviews with the media at the Combine. I’m told he was the same — and actually quite impressive — in interviews with teams during the week. He’s 6-foot, 198 pounds and looks longer than you’d expect. He didn’t run a lights-out 40-yard dash, but he’s a top press corner. Right now, Pittsburgh’s starting corners are set to be William Gay and Cortez Allen. They’re solid but not scary. If Peters’ head is on straight, he could be a starter by September. I like the thought of Mike Tomlin working with him and Peters making a splash as the next great Steelers defensive back.
23. Detroit Lions: Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
Goodbye, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Hello, Haloti Ngata. I don’t think Detroit is done adding big bodies up front. Goldman is a 6-foot-2, 334-pound physical specimen who loves to stop the run. Goldman could be a defensive tackle in the Lions’ 4-3. At the Combine, he rattled off names like Lee Roy Selmon, Merlin Olsen and Tony Brackens when describing players he modeled himself after. He’s a football historian and a big run stuffer. I like this one for coach Jim Caldwell.
24. Arizona Cardinals: Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest
The Cardinals would be delighted to see Johnson slip to 24. Potentially the first or second cornerback on some teams’ boards, this is a good fit for Arizona if he’s there. A talented 6-foot, 190-pound cover corner, Johnson went through position drills at his Pro Day and got rave reviews. He never missed a game at Wake and handled some of the nation’s best wide receivers. GM Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians went defensive backfield last year in the first round. I think they go there again.
25. Carolina Panthers: Breshad Perriman, WR, UCF
Carolina went with a wide receiver in the first round a year ago, and I expect a repeat. Though offensive line remains a glaring issue, Perriman is the type of selection who can further elevate quarterback Cam Newton’s game. A 6-2, 215-pound specimen, he’s a wild-card prospect who has some scouts’ mouths watering and others calling him a project. He didn’t compete at the Combine, even further making his first-round grade a difficult one to cement. Perriman isn’t a household name, but I like the fit for Carolina.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh was once a star defensive back at Miami of Ohio. Here’s another one. Rollins’ story is unique: He was a star on the Miami hoops team for four years before ever stepping on the football field. At the urging of some at the school, he suited up for the football team and somehow was named MAC Defensive Player of the Year after a seven-interception debut campaign. Rollins is truly just scratching the surface. He has the size and smarts teams crave at cornerback, and he’s still learning the game. This is a big area of need in Baltimore, and this is the right type of player for its system. If the Ravens are a little patient with Rollins, a quick study, there could be a great payoff.
27. Dallas Cowboys: Landon Collins, S, Alabama
Collins is the best safety in the draft. He wore No. 26 at Alabama to honor his idol, former Miami Hurricanes great Sean Taylor. He also has some of Taylor’s game — the explosiveness, the versatility and the leadership — in his repertoire. A 6-foot, 228-pound thumper, he ran a 4.53 40, topping the time of a former teammate, Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who ran a 4.58 in Indianapolis a year ago. Not a flashy pick — yes, the temptation is to go with a running back here — but a wise one. In recent years, the Cowboys have (surprisingly or not) fought off such temptation and made the right picks.
28. Denver Broncos: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
Tight end Julius Thomas and defensive tackle Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton weren’t Denver’s only offseason losses. Offensive tackle Orlando Franklin was a big departure, too. Peat’s father, Todd, was a starting offensive lineman for the Cardinals in the 1990s, and this younger version, though not quite a finished product, has started for more than two seasons at Stanford. He’s 6-foot-7, 314 pounds, and could compete for the starting right tackle job in Denver next season.
29. Indianapolis Colts: Cam Erving, OT/OG/C, Florida State
The offensive line class in this year’s draft is solid but not particularly top-heavy in the first round. This could be a sweet spot for Indianapolis, as a top-five talent could slip to 29th. I loved chatting with Erving, a guy willing to play any place along the line. He’s 6-5, 313 pounds and could step in wherever the Colts need a capable starter next season.
30. Green Bay Packers: Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
The 2014 Butkus Award winner had a great Pro Day at UCLA last week. Though outside pass rushers are always going to be the hotter prospects these days, Kendricks is an elite inside linebacker. He ran a 4.66-second 40-yard dash, interviewed well and showed that he likely can play right away. The all-time leading tackler at UCLA would be a solid pickup for the Packers, who let go of A.J. Hawk.
31. New Orleans Saints (from Seattle): Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma
Green-Beckham did not play in 2014 after catching 59 passes the previous season at Missouri. There are off -field issues and questions as to whether he has his act together after a year away from the game. There are no questions as to whether he can play the game. He had a tremendous week at the Combine and at 6-5 has the size to be a red zone threat right from the start for the Saints. Jimmy Graham is in Seattle in exchange for this pick, and Kenny Stills is in Miami. Green-Beckham in black and gold would be an awfully intriguing match.
The last pick in the first round is usually a "best player available" spot, as opposed to a need pick. With their top three wideouts from the Super Bowl squad returning, wide receiver certainly isn’t the primary need in New England. But to come away with a polished, smooth wideout like Agholor — a guy Tom Brady and eventually Jimmy Garoppolo, can work with — at 32nd overall would be quite a haul. Agholor can be the deep threat or be a precise route-running underneath guy. His versatility and his production at the college level make him a very tempting prospect.