This is our seventh-annual backward mock draft. It's what it sounds like: What would the 2015 NFL Draft look like if the order were reversed? Whom would the Patriots take with the first pick? My annual Backward NFL Mock Draft is listed below.
New England Patriots: Leonard Williams, DE/DT, USC
Leonard Williams is not the consensus top player in the 2015 NFL Draft, as many would have you believe. There are teams that expect Williams to fall to the 4-6 range because of his inconsistency. However, he is still regarded as the No. 1 prospect by some, and perhaps New England would be willing to take him with the top selection.
The Patriots have a big hole at defensive tackle. Vince Wilfork is gone, while several other players at the position will have expiring contracts soon. The team needs to find a player who can generate an interior pass rush.
New Orleans Saints: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida
The Saints would've gotten away with armed robbery had they acquired the No. 2 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft for Jimmy Graham instead of the 31st pick. Fortunately for the Seahawks, this is all make-believe.
Is there any question that New Orleans would pluck the top edge rusher off the board? That would be Dante Fowler, who would be able to bolster a weak pass rush and perhaps help the Saints' defense revert to 2013 form.
Green Bay Packers: Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson
The Packers desperately need help at inside linebacker so that Clay Matthews can move back to the edge. In this scenario, however, I feel as though Green Bay would select Vic Beasley with the plan to keep Matthews in the middle, where he was highly effective last year. It's not ideal to have Matthews there, but the prospect of obtaining an edge rusher as talented as Beasley would alter Ted Thompson's plans.
Indianapolis Colts: Brandon Scherff, OT/G, Iowa
The Colts addressed their defense and found some weapons for Andrew Luck this offseason. One thing they haven't really done is bolster the offensive line. They could do that here with Brandon Scherff, who could play guard right away and perhaps eventually move to tackle. The fourth-overall selection is too early for a guard in normal circumstances, but the offensive line is Indianapolis' greatest weakness right now, and a Pro Bowl guard like Scherff would put the Colts over the top. Besides, we've had multiple teams tell us that they value interior blocking more and more, as most quarterbacks hate inside pressure more than anything.
Denver Broncos: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Peyton Manning looked like his arm was falling off late last year. He struggled mightily, so the Broncos would undoubtedly consider a quarterback in this type of scenario. Jameis Winston could sit behind Manning and learn (or steal crab legs) for a year or two before taking over.
I have to believe John Elway would choose Winston over Marcus Mariota. He hated having Tim Tebow as his starting quarterback, so in his homoclitic mindset, a conventional pocket-passer would be the better option.
Dallas Cowboys: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
The Cowboys managed to improve their defense last season, but they still have some glaring holes. One such void is at the cornerback position, where the disappointing Morris Claiborne and the overpaid Brandon Carr have struggled. I don't think Jerry Jones would hesitate to pull the trigger on the top cornerback in the 2015 class.
Baltimore Ravens: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
I have the Ravens picking a different receiver in my real 2015 NFL Mock Draft, so they would obviously target Kevin White. Baltimore's need at the wideout position has been well-publicized; Torrey Smith is gone, while Steve Smith doesn't have many productive years remaining in the NFL.
Carolina Panthers: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
This is much like the Baltimore selection, as I have the Panthers going with Jaelen Strong in my real mock. As with the Ravens, the Panthers are in desperate need of receiving help; it's just Kelvin Benjamin right now, so Cam Newton needs more options.
Arizona Cardinals: Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri
The Cardinals have maintained a stellar defense in recent years, but one thing they've always lacked has been a dominant edge rusher. Perhaps that would end with the acquisition of Shane Ray. Arizona needs to do everything in its power to make life uncomfortable for Russell Wilson whenever they play him; otherwise, the Seahawks will keep whipping them.
Detroit Lions: Malcom Brown, DE/DT, Texas
This selection doesn't need much of an explanation, as I had the Lions selecting Malcom Brown in my real mock draft before moving him up my big board. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are gone, so even though Detroit traded for Haloti Ngata, the team still needs to find help on the defensive line.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Danny Shelton, NT, Washington
I have the Steelers picking Landon Collins with the 22nd pick in my real 2015 NFL Mock Draft. I considered him here, but I just couldn't resist slotting Danny Shelton at this juncture. Current nose tackle Steve McLendon is a decent player, but he's no Casey Hampton. The Steelers have room for improvement at the nose tackle position.
Cincinnati Bengals: Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska
My first duplicate selection. Here's why I mocked Randy Gregory to the Bengals:
Gregory drops to No. 21, and it's not just because of the positive marijuana test. There are other concerns with Gregory that could potentially cause him to slip out of the first round. I'd have to imagine, however, that the Bengals would consider him at this juncture. Marvin Lewis is all about giving players second chances, and Gregory makes sense in terms of a needs perspective. Cincinnati re-signed Michael Johnson this offseason, but the agreement can be just a short-term deal if Johnson doesn't get his act together. The Bengals have to improve their pass rush, so Gregory will be insurance in case Johnson continues to disappoint.
Philadelphia Eagles: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Well, what do you know? Chip Kelly got his quarterback - and he didn't have to mortgage his future whatsoever. All he has to do is live in a parallel universe where the best teams pick first in the NFL Draft. It's a shame he's into sports science and not real science.
Cleveland Browns: La'el Collins, G/OT, LSU
The Browns reportedly told La'el Collins that they view him as their highest-ranked right tackle in this class. The front office almost upgraded that position last offseason, and they would have had Greg Robinson fallen to them. Here's their chance to bolster the offensive line.
Kansas City Chiefs: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
None of the top three receivers fall to the Chiefs if my real 2015 NFL Mock Draft, but that's happening here. Kansas City signed Jeremy Maclin this offseason, but he's not nearly enough. The Chiefs are still in the market for at least one more receiver, and I'm sure they'd love to have DeVante Parker paired with Maclin.
San Diego Chargers: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
It's going to be difficult for Todd Gurley to make it to the Chargers' pick in the real draft because there are teams with needs at running back in front of them. This includes the Texans, who have to make sure they can pound the ball as well as possible, considering they have no quarterback. However, in this version, the only team beyond the 10th selection that could consider Gurley is Cleveland, and I don't think the front office would go that route.