We’re through the Senior Bowl, the Super Bowl, and a few days of agent signings and training facility selections. To cite Bill Belichick, "We’re on to Indianapolis." The NFL Draft Scouting Combine awaits us and between now and then, I’ll have a beefy, detailed preview to read and use during the weeklong "Underwear Olympics" bonanza.
The Senior Bowl was more than a few practices and a game. It’s a four-day cocktail party and a schmooze, a chance for journalists to mingle with scouts, coaches, general managers, and player agents. In Mobile, you can find Chip Kelly at a Mellow Mushroom, NFL general managers at a Starbucks, and a sea of agents peddling business cards and a quick sales pitch on their guys. It’s not always pretty, but it is informative.
With several more to come between now and draft weekend, here’s my second NFL Mock Draft. Obviously, free agency, additional coaching hires, and offensive and defensive scheme decisions will help shape and mold this as we move towards April. 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.
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1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, Quarterback, Florida State: This pick comes, of course, comes with a giant asterisk. That asterisk being that the Buccaneers — who I assure you have already begun their work on this — believe Winston jumps hurdles over any character red flags and checks out off the field. Why Winston over Mariota? Few factors here. Winston’s game translates directly to the NFL, as he excelled in Jimbo Fisher’s pro-style offense, while Mariota’s is still a relative unknown. Sources from multiple NFL organizations have expressed concerns about the offense Mariota starred in at Oregon, and view him as more of a question mark than Winston when it comes to running an NFL offense. Furthermore, Winston is a star in the state of Florida and specifically Tampa Bay, where there’s a large contingent of Florida State fans who cheered him on in college. If there’s any coach in the NFL who can serve as a guiding figure, it’s Lovie Smith, who’s coached and seen it all. Winston’s got the ideal NFL build, an NFL arm, and a competitive nature that just about everyone I’ve spoken to loves. From all indications I’m getting, Winston’s the guy. This is a Lovie Smith/Jason Licht call. Licht is a lifetime scout who’s often credited for late-round steals like Trent Cole and Brent Celek in Philadelphia. He’ll do the work here. And in the end, I think it’s Winston.
2. Tennessee Titans: Leonard Williams, DT, USC: I’ve got Tennessee passing on Mariota at No. 2 at the moment. That could change following the Combine. An interesting little subplot in Mobile was the fact that Ken Whisenhunt and the Tennessee coaches were the staff in charge of the North squad at the Senior Bowl. Mariota had an open invite to compete all week and he declined. Whisenhunt personally reached out to the Mariota family, but was told "No, thanks." I don’t think declining the offer to play in the Senior Bowl will necessarily hurt Mariota, but the opportunity to spend a week with the team that owns the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft certainly couldn’t have been a bad thing. I don’t see Ken Whisenhunt rebuilding his entire offense around Mariota, who’d be coming from a college offense that doesn’t easily translate. Tennessee likes what they’ve got in Zach Mettenberger, so I have them taking my top-rated player in the entire draft, and build from the inside out. Williams is a 6-foot-5, 300-pound defensive lineman who can both rush the passer and stuff the run. There’s a minor red flag because of an offseason shoulder surgery, but that shouldn’t be too worrisome. Williams played through a torn labrun last season and battled an ankle injury this year, and still was the most dominant player on the field. A hot shot high school recruit out of Florida, Williams has drawn comparisons to Gerald McCoy for his inside play and Muhammad Wilkerson at the end spot.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska: The Jaguars loaded up on offense in last year’s NFL Draft, getting a franchise quarterback in Blake Bortles and picking up wide receivers Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee in the first two days. This year? I’d expect Jacksonville to use some of their free agent money on a receiver (Dez Bryant, Jeremy Maclin, Randall Cobb, Demaryius Thomas, Torrey Smith, and Michael Crabtree could be available), and get a defensive stud in the draft. Gus Bradley is a defensive coach at heart, and the allure of grabbing Gregory — a 6-6, 250 pound pass rusher — may have Jacksonville sprinting their card in on draft day. Gregory can get to the quarterback but is also able to play a bit in coverage. Solid selection at third overall.
4. Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: Jack Del Rio’s a defensive-minded coach and the Raiders have gone defense in the first round the past two years, but Oakland should snag Cooper as Derek Carr’s long-term battery mate if he’s on the board at fourth overall. Compared favorably to Jermey Maclin and Roddy White, Cooper’s not a skyscraper like Calvin Johnson or a burner like TY Hilton. He’s a 6-1, 215 pound No. 1 receiver, with hands, strength, and speed. At this stage in the game, scouts liked Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans both a bit more last year, but Cooper could go as high as second or third in this draft. Oakland’s a good fit. This is another wide receiver-deep draft, though, and I could see a trade down scenario here, too.
5. Washington Redskins: Landon Collins, S, Alabama: The Redskins need to go defensive backfield or offensive line. Though others have them going with a tackle or guard here, I don’t believe there’s an offensive lineman worthy of a top-five selection this year, and Collins is far and away the top safety in the draft. My top rated defensive back — corner or safety — in this year’s class, he can play either the free or strong safety spots in the pros. A 6-foot, 220 pound force in the middle, he’s that centerfielder the Redskins defense has so sorely missed in the back end. Alabama defensive backs have been a mixed bag in recent years, but Collins is a Year 1 starter who I’d like to think can be the stabilizing force in Washington’s defensive backfield for years to come.
6. New York Jets: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: The waiting game ends for Mariota at No. 6. The theory that defensive-minded first-year head coaches don’t tend to like quarterbacks in the first round is just wrong. John Harbaugh (defense/special teams) took Joe Flacco with his first pick, Rex Ryan (defense) traded up for Mark Sanchez, and Mike Smith (defense) grabbed Matt Ryan. Todd Bowles may be an expert on D, but the Jets go for the big splash with Mariota. This is a polite and mild-mannered kid, and there will be questions as to whether he’ll be devoured by the New York media, but I think he’ll be fine on that end. Chan Gailey will work towards Mariota’s strengths as a new era of Jets football begins. The most important man in the equation might just be Jets quarterbacks coach Kevin Patullo. Patullo, who was with Tennessee for the past two seasons under Ken Whisenhunt, was with Chan Gailey in Buffalo. Is he up to the challenge of turning Mariota from college superstar to NFL starter?
7. Chicago Bears: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington: Shelton was the star of Senior Bowl week, and in a draft light on big defensive tackles, he could go as high as top five this April. Shelton was a man amongst boys in certain practices, tossing centers and guards with ease, and penetrating the backfield. He’s a rare talent that can work in a variety of schemes, and after tipping the scales at 343 pounds — several scouts were actually impressed that he got under 350. He had some injury issues at Washington but looked good during his senior year and throughout his time in Mobile. John Fox is always going to lean on defense first, and in this case, it’ll start up front with Shelton.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson: In Dan Quinn, Atlanta gets a tough-minded defensive head coach who’ll likely bring the same type of high energy, positive vibe that Pete Carroll has in Seattle and Gus Bradley employs in Jacksonville. It’s all about competing. Every day. And it’s a positivity that’s contagious across the organization. All the positive vibes in the world won’t do you a lick of good if you can’t stop anyone, though. I see the Falcons going pass rush with their first round pick — Kroy Biermann led the team in sacks with a whopping 4.5 — and I think Beasley, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year out of Clemson, is the guy.
9. New York Giants: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville: I’ve still got the Giants going with Parker, here. And yes, I received hundreds of emails from Giants fans telling me I’m crazy for doing so. I just think Jerry Reese doesn’t plan on being in the top 10 too often, and when you are, you go with a gamebreaker. A freak physical talent like Parker isn’t someone you grab later on in the second or third round. Parker’s electric, has better size than Amari Cooper, and could have been a Day 2 pick in 2014. Adding Parker to a wide receiver crop that includes Odell Beckham, Jr., Reuben Randle and a seemingly healthy Victor Cruz could put Eli Manning in position for another playoff run in 2015. He’s coming back from a foot injury that’ll have to check out medically in Indianapolis. Let’s see what the Giants do with Jason Pierre-Paul this offseason, but for now, I’ve got the playmaker going to New York.
10. St. Louis Rams: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa: Nothing flashy from the Rams; just another offensive lineman who could help protect a (hopefully) rehabilitated Sam Bradford. Greg Robinson was forced into the tackle spot a season ago and played admirably. Scherff is my first tackle off the board at the moment, but that could be subject to change after the Combine. He actually may be better suited at guard. If St. Louis grabs the top offensive linemen in the last two drafts, they’ve got a nice line set up for the future … regardless of who’s at QB.
11. Minnesota Vikings: Dante Fowler, Jr., OLB, Florida: The future is bright in Minnesota, as Teddy Bridgewater and Anthony Barr both appeared to be home run selections in the first round a year ago. Mike Zimmer knows Chad Greenway can’t play forever and defense will always be the top priority in the high-powered NFC North. Fowler’s arguably the most versatile defensive player in this year’s draft. He can line up either on the line with his hand in the ground or play middle or outside linebacker. He was on a horrid Florida squad, but still stood out. Consistent player who can join an already solid defense and make a difference.
12. Cleveland Browns: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia: The Browns swung and appear to have missed on two first-round picks a year ago. They get two more this year and Ray Farmer has two more chances to make good. It’s too early to make a clear determination just yet, but Justin Gilbert was a major letdown in his first year, and Johnny Manziel’s rookie campaign couldn’t have been much worse. So, what’s Cleveland do? I think they go with 2014’s one-year wonder, Kevin White out of West Virginia. Josh Gordon’s not walking through that locker room anytime soon, Andrew Hawkins isn’t a true No. 1 and White can be that guy. A JuCo transfer with 6-3 height and good NFL speed, he ended the season with 109 catches for 1,457 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014. I don’t know who’s throwing him the ball, but White’s a nice pickup if he drops to 12.
13. New Orleans Saints: Shane Ray, OLB, Missouri: The Saints roster will change dramatically this offseason due to the highest salary cap number in the league and a host of veterans set to make north of $10 million next year. All things being equal, they could use another pass rusher off the edge. The pass rush wasn’t what it was in 2013, and after Cam Jordan and Junior Gallette, the cupboard was awfully bare last season. Ray is a pure pass rusher, and though a bit of a tweener linebacker (245 pounds), is considered a freak athlete. Mizzou has a good history of pass rushers in recent years. Good fit in Rob Ryan’s 3-4.
14. Miami Dolphins: Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington: Thompson will be a first-round pick. The question is just where he’ll go in that first round. He could be a top-10 selection or a bottom-third guy. I think Miami’s a good landing spot, where the 6-foot-2, 230-pound defensive playmaker could join a promising young defense already on the upswing. Thompson looks like a safety at times, with his playmaking ability and size, but so does Lavante David and he’s a perennial All-Pro consideration in Tampa.
15. San Francisco 49ers: Alvin "Bud" Dupree, DE/OLB, Kentucky: I’m pretty high on Dupree, and looking around at others’ mock drafts, it’s clear I have him rated significantly higher than others. Dupree is 6-4, 270-pound athlete who has put on 15 pounds over the last few years. He could be a 3-4 defensive end or outside linebacker in a 4-3 defensive end, depending on what Jim Tomsula wants to do with his defense. Tomsula’s a defensive line guy at heart and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him go with that position group in the first round of his first draft with the team, even if Trent Baalke’s calling the shots.
16. Houston Texans: Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma: I haven’t seen Phillips listed as a first-round pick anywhere else, but I think the physical attributes will be too tempting for him to slip out of the top 20 come April. The Texans got next to nothing from their first- and third-round picks — Jadeveon Clowney and Louis Nix III — a season ago and still won nine games. Adding another big boy like Phillips could be the move. A 6-6, 335-pound run stuffer, Phillips is leaving Oklahoma after his sophomore season with little production on the field, but tremendous potential. He’s famous around Norman for being a 335-pound freak athlete who can do backflips. Phillips didn’t always dominate at Oklahoma, but NFL talent evaluators will salivate over what he does in Indianapolis this month. He’s your Mike Mamula at this year’s Combine. Watt, Clowney, and Phillips? If the latter two work out, watch out, Andrew Luck.
17. San Diego Chargers: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford: I’ve seen Peat listed as a top-five pick, but I don’t see it. He’s a big, athletic left tackle, standing at 6-foot-7 with a giant wingspan. But he’s by no means a mauler. If I’m taking a tackle in the top five, I want Jon Ogden or Orlando Pace. Peat’s not that type of guy. Is he a first-round pick? Yes. Is he a good pickup for the Chargers here? Of course. But I don’t have him top five.
18. Kansas City Chiefs: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State: Alex Smith didn’t complete a touchdown pass to a receiver in 2014. Part of that was the way the offense operated; part of it was on the wideouts. So, Andy Reid and John Dorsey go out and get themselves one. At 6-foot-3, 220, Strong’s got the physical build and the hands. I’m told that he’s still a little raw, but that the potential is limitless. I’ve got him as the fourth wideout in this year’s class, but the book is still very open.
19. Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo): Mario Edwards, Jr., DE, Florida State: A 6-3, 300-pound defensive end, Edwards is just scraping the surface on his potential. He was a stud at Florida State and he left a year early to pursue his NFL dreams. He had 11 tackles for loss in 2014, and though the sack totals weren’t double-digits, he was in the backfield a bunch. Mike Pettine gets another young pass-rush talent, here and Cleveland continues to build that D-line. Gilbert and Manziel may have been 0 for 2, but White and Edwards could be two hits.
20. Philadelphia Eagles: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State: With his first pick as the man running the draft for Philadelphia, you might expect Chip Kelly to do something eccentric or outside the box. I think he does what’s best for his team and gets a starting cornerback. Waynes was a favorite of NFL scouts all year and should be a no-brainer top 20 selection.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Devin Funchess, WR/TE, Michigan: It’s been a few months of "what ifs?" in Cincinnati since the playoff loss to the Colts. When the injury bug stung, Cincinnati lacked the depth at receiver late in the season to compete in a game with Andrew Luck. Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert should be back and healthy next season, but jermaine Gresham is a free agent. Funchess might be a wide receiver or he might be a tight end. In this day and age, does it really matter? A big receiving target who did it for years at Michigan, Funchess is either the top tight end or a top-five in this class. I like him going to Cincinnati.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers: Marcus Peters, CB, Washington: Ike Taylor’s a free agent who’s not getting any younger and though the Steelers’ defensive backfield held its own down the stretch in 2014, a first-round talent like Peters could be the right pick at 22. Skill-wise, Peters could be the top corner in this draft. But there are some red flags, as he was dismissed from the team after arguing with assistant coaches in November. Rumors have ranged from minor to very major in what exactly what down there. Some teams may shy away from that; others will like the edge. He’s a first-round pick either way. If Mike Tomlin’s going to select a defensive back in the first round, he better be worth it. I think Peters is.
23. Detroit Lions: Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State: Both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are set to hit free agency this offseason in Detroit. Goldman is a 6-3, 320 pound physical specimen who looks a lot quicker on his feet than a typical 320-pound man. Whether or not Suh and/or Fairley are back, Goldman’s a good fit for Teryl Austin’s 4-3 defense. One NFL assistant coach told me if he had to pick a player who’d skyrocket up draft boards after the Combine, it’s going to be Goldman. He could be this year’s Combine superstar with his great athleticism and build.
24. Arizona Cardinals: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin: The Cardinals finished 31st in the league in rushing yards in 2014. Bruce Arians is well aware that the offense hit the skids down the stretch and needed a few more playmakers. No running back was taken in the first round in either of the last two NFL Drafts, but I can’t see Gordon — a potential Jamaal Charles clone — slipping past Arizona at 24. Multiple scouts have told me they have Gordon listed as a first-rounder — the ultimate compliment for a player at his position.
25. Carolina Panthers: La’el Collins, OT, LSU: A four-year starter at LSU, Collins can play right away and he will in Carolina. His build and surprisingly quick foot speed will get him drafted in the first round. He could go top 10 or he could go around here. One scout I spoke to was down on Collins after the Senior Bowl, but let’s see how he performs in Indianapolis. He certainly didn’t own Mobile.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Arik Armsted, DE, Oregon: I’ve got to think Pernell McPhee will sign a big dollar deal elsewhere this offseason, meaning Baltimore’s going to want to scoop up another pass rusher, if they can find one here at No. 26 overall. Often compared to Cardinals star Calais Campbell, Armstead could play either the 3-technique or the 5-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. He’ll find that in Baltimore. Another Oregon legend, one Haloti Ngata, has worked out in the Charm City. Time to draft another Duck.
27. Dallas Cowboys: Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State: With the impact we’ve seen in recent years from C.J. Mosley and Luke Kuechly, any stigma around selecting an inside linebacker in the first round should be erased. The Dallas defense could need defensive back help more than linebacker, but if McKinney slips to 27, I’d be shocked if the Cowboys let him pass on by. Sean Lee will be back next season and Dallas got solid production from his replacements this year, but McKinney’s a potential 10-year starter in the league, too. At 6-5, 250, this tackle machine could be a good fit.
28. Denver Broncos: Jalen Collins, CB, LSU: The Broncos went with a cornerback in last year’s first round in Bradley Roby, and I’ve got them going that direction this year, too. Collins is a big Richard Sherman-build corner, who’ll measure in around 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds. He’s only started 10 games at LSU, but was a stud in 2014, shutting down many of the SEC’s top receivers. Bit of a project, but in this day and age, there’s a need for the tall corner — and Collins is that guy.
29. Indianapolis Colts: T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh: Clemmings didn’t stand out in Mobile as some expected he would, but he’s still a top-five tackle in this NFL Draft class. A converted basketball player who’s still learning the position, Clemmings comes from Paterson Catholic High School — the same place Victor Cruz and Mike Adams cut their teeth. A big boy, who at 6-foot-6, 315 pounds can play either side, he’d be a nice fit in Indianapolis where the Colts got great production out of a unit that was undermanned in 2014.
30. Green Bay Packers: Quentin Rollins, CB, Miami (Ohio): The Packers have three corners — Tramon Williams, Jarrett Bush, and Davon House — who’ll hit free agency this March. Rollins is one of my favorite players in this draft, a star point guard on Miami’s college hoops team, who made a splash in Mobile at the Senior Bowl. A 6-foot-1, 205 pound cornerback who’s still learning the position, Rollins is really just still developing. A good Combine performance and a decent pro day, and he can work himself into the first round of April’s draft. Teams will love his point guard leadership skills.
31. Seattle Seahawks: Malcolm Brown, DT, Texas: Kevin Williams played like a 25-year-old version of himself in 2014, filling in for Brandon Mebane and Jordan Hill, and keeping the Seattle interior defensive line stabilized. There’s no guarantee he’ll be back next year, and even if he is, scooping up Brown — a big, run-stuffing DT at 31st overall — could be the move if he’s still on the board. He can play multiple spots along the 4-3 scheme that’ll likely be employed in Seattle next season. A big 6-2, 316 pound run stuffer, he’s got some pass rush skills, too.
32. New England Patriots: Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest: When it comes to free agency, there are several names to watch. Right up there with the DT in Detroit and the wideout in Dallas, will be the decision New England has to make on Darrelle Revis. They paid him big bucks for a one-year deal in which he was an All-Pro in a Super Bowl season. Worth every penny, right? Is he worth even more, moving forward? Regardless of whether he’s back or not (I think they find a way to make it work), New England could use some more depth at the cornerback position. Malcolm Butler (Malcolm Butler!) was the Super Bowl hero and there’s a nice crew of young talent in the defensive backfield, but adding a big corner like Johnson would be wise. A 6-foot-1, 175 pound three-year starter, he’s got a slim frame, but good height and ball skills. Smart kid, too. Can do it all on special teams, as well.