FOX Sports South takes an ambitious, but educated stab at seven long-term predictions involving the 2015 draft class, before any player goes off the board in Round 1. Our rationale for this NFL experiment: Anyone can predict Melvin Gordon for 1,800 rushing yards next fall, knowing he'll be an automatic starter with a tailback-needy club. But it's more fun to walk the plank of potential embarrassment right now -- amid the hypothetical threat of Gordon joining a stacked backfield in Philadelphia. Or something like that. (Photos: Jeff Hanisch/Scott Olmos/Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)
The Browns will trade up to the No. 2 slot ... and draft QB Marcus Mariota
CLARIFICATION: 1) This prediction was brainstormed a full day before reports surfaced of the Browns offering two first-rounders (12th/19th overall) for the No. 2 pick. Nevertheless, this mega-swap will get done -- somehow. SKINNY: 1) Forget about Zach Mettenberger's middling 2014 stats with the Titans (1,412 yards passing, 8 TDs). History is full of eventual superstars who floundered as rookies (see Elway, John). 2) The Titans shouldn't feel pressure to rubber-stamp draft Mariota (middle), with Mettenberger in the mix. Backup Charlie Whitehurst has already hailed Mettenberger as a star-in-waiting. 3) The Browns, however, may be desperate to erase the memory of deifying Johnny Manziel (left) last spring. 4) Jimmy Haslam (right) doesn't have the outward appearance of a patient NFL owner. (Photos: Ken Blaze/Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports)
Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers will post a double-digit-sack season by Year 3
SKINNY: 1) In 2014, Flowers (6-foot-2, 266 pounds) was among the SEC leaders in tackles for loss (13.5) -- one of football's most underrated stats. (Sacks aren't everything.) 2) Flowers (Round 3 projection) has long arms (34 1/4 inches), which should help him flourish in tight spaces. 3) Flowers anchored a stifling Hogs defense that, citing their final six games against ranked opponents last year (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss, Missouri), surrendered per-outing averages of 16.1 points. And that figure was greatly inflated by Georgia hanging 45 on Arkansas. 4) Flowers cuts a similar physical profile to Dwight Freeney and Elvis Dumervil, two undersized warriors who have combined for 201.5 NFL sacks.
The Patriots will do whatever's necessary to draft UConn cornerback Byron Jones
SKINNY: 1) Jones (right -- 6-foot-1, 199 pounds) was a physical marvel at the 2015 NFL Combine, taking categorical honors with the standing broad jump (an insane 12 feet, 3 inches) and 3-Cone Drill/60-Yard Shuttle. Plus, he's built like a tank. 2) Jones has been roundly praised for his high character, supreme intelligence and terrific on-field instincts. 3) Patriots coach Bill Belichick (left) loves versatile players, and Jones had extensive experience at safety and corner in college. 4) Belichick has never shied away from drafting prospects out of UConn and Rutgers -- non-traditional football factories. 5) Jones compares favorably to Titans cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson (one INT, 10 pass deflections in 11 starts last year). (Photos: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)
Iowa's Brandon Scherff will be a regular Pro Bowler ... at right tackle
SKINNY: 1) Citing the majority of pre-draft Web sites/scouting services, Scherff ranks as the best -- and cleanest -- O-line prospect. 2) Everyone has film of Scherff dominating opponents in college, either as a pass protector or road-grating run blocker. But there are some concerns about arm length (33 3/8 inches). It may be semantical, but ideally, prized left tackles belong in the 34-36-inch range. 3) Give ESPN football analyst Matt Millen credit for getting ahead of the speculation game last November, saying Scherff was better suited as a left guard or right tackle. Millen's reasoning: The powerful Scherff would be more consistent working in tight spaces. 4) Scherff may be a 'clean' talent, but he also requires great coaching at the next level. Smart franchises might view him as a plug-and-play right tackle. For Year 1 and beyond.
Stanford's Ty Montgomery will be a 100-catch receiver by 2018
SKINNY: 1) Montgomery (draft range: Rounds 4-6) isn't a lock to be among the first 25 receivers in this weekend's draft ... and that's a shame, given his good size (6-foot, 221 pounds), workable speed (4.55 40) and on-field consistency. Of his first nine outings last year, Montgomery tallied six catches and/or one touchdown eight times. 2) Covering the Senior Bowl back in January, I was floored by Montgomery's top-end quickness when changing directions or stopping on a dime and restarting, full bore. Hall of Famer Jerry Rice had similar characteristics coming out of college in 1985. 3) In this passing-friendly age, where roughly 70 percent of NFL snaps operate from the shotgun, the low-key, but high-ceiling Montgomery may be the prototypical slot receiver.
Oregon State QB Sean Mannion will be the 2015 class's first 4,000-yard passer
SKINNY: 1) In hindsight, Mannion might have been more marketable last year, if he had gone pro after passing for 4,662 yards and 37 TDs as a junior (2013). 2) That aside, Mannion has the size (6-foot-5, 229 pounds) and arm strength of a starter-grade QB at the next level. 3) Mannion has elicited comparisons to Matt Schaub, who won a passing title with the Texans in 2009. 4) Citing four years at Oregon State, Mannion had a minimum completion rate of 62.3 percent. 5) Mannion would be an ideal fit for the Chargers, Jets, Bills or even Broncos -- as a potential successor to Peyton Manning. Perhaps as early as 2016.
Jim Z. Rider-USA TODAY Sports
Melvin Gordon will capture an NFL rushing title within three years
SKINNY: 1) Gordon was the most dominant tailback in college last season, tallying 2,587 rushing yards and 32 total TDs. 2) Gordon has good size (6-foot-1, 215 pounds), great field vision and amazing explosion -- similar to Jamaal Charles entering the pros (circa 2008). 3) For his sophomore and junior campaigns at Wisconsin, Gordon absurdly averaged 7.6 yards per carry. He eclipsed the 200-yard mark six times last year -- highlighted by the 408-yard, four-TD demolition of Nebraska in November. 4) There are no immediate injury concerns for Gordon at the next level. The same, however, cannot be said about Todd Gurley (rehabbing from a torn ACL). 5) Gordon should be a Day 1 starter for his new club. At the very least, he'll be an 1,800-yard rushing threat in Year 2.