Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
For the record, I put Winston to the Bucs on November 21, 2014 and haven't changed the projection once. Sources with Tampa Bay were on board with Winston and nothing has changed their minds.
Winston is a better on-the-field prospect than Marcus Mariota, and over time, that could push teams to overlook the character discrepancy. Even with the off-the-field concerns, I have Winston ranked first on my big board and did so dating back to the preseason. I've had him as the No. 1 overall pick since early October 2014. He is a rare athlete who has natural poise as a pocket passer. His phenomenal field vision, anticipation and decision-making are extremely impressive for a college quarterback. He is a rare talent. The biggest issue for Winston is off-the-field problems.
One scouting director told us those off-the-field problems "are real and more than advertised." Winston's suspension while Florida State faced off against Clemson almost, and should have, cost his team a win. In speaking with sources, some NFL teams have real doubts about Winston and think he could have Jamarcus Russell-level off-the-field problems. Other sources feel that Winston's off-the-field issues are immaturity that he'll grow out of and they've been overblown. They say that Winston is a leader in the locker room, a good teammate and does everything asked of him by the football and baseball coaches. One general manager told WalterFootball.com that Winston is the real deal, so some team is going to look past the off-the-field issues and take him early in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Winson completed 65 percent of his passes in 2014 for 3,907 yards with 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. He was a sparkling 26-1 as a starting quarterback. Winston took college football by storm in 2013 as the Heisman Trophy winner. The redshirt freshman demonstrated a quality arm with well-developed passing ability. The 6-foot-4, 231-pounder completed 67 percent of his passes for 4,057 yards with 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. On the ground, he ran for 219 yards with four touchdowns.
Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
For the record, I put Mariota to Tennessee on November 21, 2014 and haven't changed it once.
The Titans need a franchise quarterback, and I knew Mariota made a favorable impression on the brass in Tennessee going back to the preseason of 2014. Some of the staff with the Titans rave about Mariota. Throughout the draft process my sources with Tennessee have said to stick with Mariota.
There is no doubt that Mariota has great physical tools. The 6-foot-4, 222-pounder has a strong arm, size and excellent mobility. As a passer, Mariota has the physical ability to do it all, but could use some refinement in his mechanics, footwork and pocket passing. He isn't a developed pocket passer entering the NFL. Pocket passing is teachable with a good student, as the Panthers and 49ers proved with Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick. Mariota will require that kind of time investment.
Mariota completed 68 percent of his passes in 2014 for 4,454 yards with 42 touchdowns and four interceptions. On the ground, he totaled 770 yards (5.7 average) with 15 touchdowns. Mariota has demonstrated a strong arm, athleticism and toughness. He also did a great job of protecting the football from interceptions, but demonstrated a habit of fumbling. Mariota has to develop his field vision, working through his progressions and at working under center. Mariota rarely threw into tight windows because of his college offense, so he needs development as a pocket passer and spending some time as a backup could benefit him.
Mariota completed 64 percent of his passes in 2013 for 3,665 yards with 31 touchdowns and four interceptions. On the ground, the redshirt sophomore ran for 715 yards with nine touchdowns. While Mariota did a great job of avoiding throwing picks, he had some issues with fumbles. In 2012 as a first-year starter, Mariota completed 69 percent of his passes for 2,677 yards with 32 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Dante Fowler Jr., OLB/DE, Florida
The top talents available for Jacksonville are Fowler, Leonard Williams and Amari Cooper. Those are the three players I hear the team is deliberating on.
The Jaguars need an edge rusher more as Jared Odrick was signed, Sen'Derrick Marks was their best player last year, Roy Miller was re-signed, and David Caldwell just brought back Tyson Alualu to go with Ziggy Hood. Thus, Jacksonville is deep on the end/tackle types. Chris Clemons had eight sacks in 2014, but he turns 34 later this year, and Jacksonville could use an edge rusher on the other side from him. Fowler has the high character and leadership the Jaguars are drawn to while being able to fill the LEO linebacker position or defensive end. He makes tons of sense to be the organization's pick.
Fowler finished 2014 with a total of 60 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 15 tackles for a loss, one pass broken up and a forced fumble. He was extremely disruptive and a big presence behind the line of scrimmage. The 6-foot-3, 261-pounder is fast and physical. He has a lot of upside for the NFL. Fowler could play defensive end or stay as a 3-4 outside linebacker. At the Combine, he showed excellent speed and athleticism while also interviewing well with teams.
Fowler was excellent for the Gators in 2013. He racked up 50 tackles with 10.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, one pass batted and three forced fumbles for the season. Fowler was a First-Team All-SEC Freshman-Team selection in 2012 even though he was a backup. Fowler recorded 47 tackles with 10.5 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks that year.
Oakland Raiders: Leonard Williams, DT/DE, USC
The Raiders have a tough decision on whether to go with a disruptor for the defensive line or a wide receiver for Derek Carr. In speaking with sources, it sounds like Oakland is inclined to take Williams and take a receiver in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. General manager Reggie McKenzie comes from the Packers, and Green Bay has had a ton of success landing good receivers after the first round. With a strong receiver class, McKenzie could hope to do the same for the Raiders.
Williams recorded 80 tackles, seven sacks, 8.5 tackles for a loss, one interception, three forced fumbles and three passes batted in 2014. The 6-foot-5, 302-pounder has some natural strength and speed, plus the ability to play all over on the defensive line as a 3-4 defensive end, 4-3 end or tackle. Williams could stand to get stronger for the NFL and gets in trouble when he plays too high, but a shoulder injury that required surgery could have impacted his power in 2014. Still, Williams is very disruptive and capable of taking over games. He may not produce huge sack totals, but he should be a three-down defender who is solid against the run and puts steady pressure on the quarterback.
Williams played well for USC in 2013. He recorded 74 tackles with 13.5 tackles for a loss, a forced fumble and five sacks. The sophomore generated more pass rush than the numbers indicate. Williams was the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2012 after a fabulous debut for the Trojans. He totaled 64 tackles with 13.5 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, four passes batted and an interception that season.
Washington Redskins: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
I believe the Redskins would love to trade down, but if they're stuck at No. 5, they are going to take the best player available. That would be Cooper. Receiver isn't a real need, but DeSean Jackson turns 29 next season. Pierre Garcon also turns 29, and his play slipped last year. Cooper is the best player available and the long-term No. 1 receiver for Washington.
As predicted, Cooper had a huge 2014 season being the feature receiver in Lane Kiffin's West Coast offense. Cooper clearly has the size/speed combination to present a constant mismatch. He recorded 134 receptions for 1,727 yards with 16 touchdowns in 2014. Cooper put together a string of dominating performances that showed off his great route-running, speed, run-after-the-catch ability and skills to fight for 50-50 balls. The junior dropped some passes though, so he has room to improve his hands and concentration.
Cooper collected 45 receptions for 736 yards and four touchdowns in 2013, but was dealing with a toe injury that really slowed him down. He had a great freshman season in 2012 and helped Alabama repeat as the National Champion. The 6-foot-1, 202-pounder carried the Crimson Tide passing attack. He caught 59 passes for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns for the year. No other Alabama receiver notched 30 receptions or 500 yards through the air.
New York Jets: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
The Jets have filled their needs for a No. 1 receiver and a No. 1 cornerback, so that opens up the organization's draft possibilities like some edge rushers. New York is in a great position to add an impact pass-rusher in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. In speaking with sources, they say don't be surprised if the Jets look to trade down. New general manager Mike Maccagnan loves to have a lot of picks at his disposal.
Beasley totaled 12 sacks, 33 tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss, three passes batted and three forced fumbles in 2014. Beasley's run defense is major weakness, and teams tell me that he's not going to be a three-down starter until he improves his run defense. Beasley, who is 6-foot-2, has his weight is up to 246 pounds. He is strong for his weight, and that was illustrated at the Combine. However, there is no doubt that Beasley won't be able to stay at defensive end in the NFL. He could play in a 3-4 defense and be moved around. A good fit may come as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 who plays in a similar style to Broncos linebacker Von Miller.
Beasley was a tremendous pass-rusher for Clemson in 2013 with 13 sacks. He also picked up 23 tackles for a loss, 41 tackles, six passes batted, four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. In 2012, Beasley had 14 tackles with eight sacks and a forced fumble.
Chicago Bears: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
The Bears traded away Brandon Marshall and need a wideout to go with Alshon Jeffery. Chicago addressed its edge rushers and defensive line in free agency. The Bears could get more bang for their buck with a No. 1 receiver instead of a nose tackle or edge rusher.
After posting modest production as a junior, White exploded in 2014. The senior was one of college football's best receivers for the year. White recorded 109 receptions for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. By the end of the third game, he had surpassed his 2013 totals of 35 receptions for 507 yards with five touchdowns.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound White has a unique combination with size and speed. He consistently gets separation and can make contested catches with the strength to outfight defensive backs for the ball. White showed off his great skill set with a huge performance at the Combine.
Atlanta Falcons: Alvin Dupree, DE, Kentucky
Atlanta has strengthened its defensive line with bigger and more physical players, but the team still needs to improve its pass rush. Taking the best edge defender available should help jumpstart Dan Quinn's coaching tenure.
Dupree recorded 74 tackles with 11.5 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, one interception, one pass batted and two forced fumbles in 2014. He was much more disruptive than the numbers illustrate. Dupree (6-4, 269) is fast, strong and physical on the edge. He has the flexibility to play defensive end in a 4-3 defense or 3-4 outside linebacker.
Dupree played well in 2013 and was a nice weapon in Mark Stoops' defense. Dupree recorded 61 tackles with nine tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles, one pass broken up and seven sacks. He was disruptive off the edge. As a sophomore, Dupree totaled 91 tackles with 12.5 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks and a pass batted.
New York Giants: Brandon Scherff, G, Iowa
I'm torn between projecting Scherff and Ereck Flowers. I'm going with Scherff because he is the consensus higher rated of the two. Flowers told us that he was visiting the Giants , so the interest is there, but Scherff could be a first-day starter at guard - or possibly right tackle if Justin Pugh moves to the inside.
Scherff was one of the top tackles in the Big Ten in 2013 and is a road-grading run-blocker. Iowa has produced a lot of good NFL prospects on the offensive line, and Scherff is the latest Hawkeye to be an early-round prospect.
The 6-foot-5, 320-pounder could fit as a power-man or zone blocker. Scherff was a reliable pass-protector at left tackle for Iowa, but handling speed rushers could be an issue as evidenced by his 2014 Maryland game. He has to get better at preventing speed rushers coming around the corner. His biggest asset comes in the ground game. Scherff has tremendous power with the ability to drive-block defenders off the ball and open up big running lanes.
St. Louis Rams: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
The Rams have devoted a lot of picks to their defensive line and now can do it on the other side of the ball. Since there isn't a quarterback worth taking, it makes sense for St. Louis to improve its blocking. Joe Barksdale could be upgraded at right tackle while Davin Joseph also isn't the long-term answer at right guard either. Sources say the Rams really like Peat and also could pull the trigger on DeVante Parker.
Peat was solid at protecting quarterback Kevin Hogan over the past two seasons. Peat also had success in the ground game. He is strong enough to be a downhill run-blocker and also is agile enough to block in a zone scheme. The 6-foot-7, 312-pounder has excellent size and athleticism with upside for the NFL. He needs to improve his bending and not reach after defenders, but his size and length allow him to get away with it.
Peat had a good game against USC in 2014. He did well in his plays against Leonard Williams and was generally rock solid minus a couple of snaps. Peat had a similar outing against Washington with generally a quality outing aside from a few plays. The Cardinal moved David Yankey inside to guard for 2013 because the coaches believed they had a star left tackle in Peat. Judging by Stanford's success over the last two seasons, that looks like it was the right call as Peat played very well.
Minnesota Vikings: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
Mike Zimmer loves collecting cornerbacks, and that habit makes sense in the NFC North with the potent passing attacks the Vikings are up against. Adding Waynes could form a dynamite tandem with Xavier Rhodes.
Waynes (6-0, 186) was very reliable for Michigan State in 2014. He impressed against Oregon and Michigan's Devin Funchess, and didn't turn in an ugly game the entire season. Waynes totaled 10 passes broken up, three interceptions and 50 tackles for the year. He is reliable not to allow separation in coverage and has illustrated the ability to be a man corner. Waynes is quick and physical.
While Darqueze Dennard received all the headlines in 2013, Waynes also had an excellent season for Michigan State as an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick by the coaches and media. He totaled 50 tackles with five deflections and three interceptions. Waynes ended the year on a high note with good games against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship and Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
Cleveland Browns: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
The Browns grab a No. 1 receiver. Last year, they were going to take Sammy Watkins before trading down. I think Cleveland has been blowing some smoke about addressing the lines first. Obviously, the franchise can't rely on Josh Gordon and its veterans are other teams' castoffs. The Browns can't pass on Parker if he gets to their pick.
Parker missed the first seven games of the 2014 season with a broken left foot. He returned to the field against N.C. State (9-132) and had a superb game against Florida State (8-214). The senior only played in six games in 2014, yet he totaled 43 receptions for 855 yards and five scores. Parker needs development as a route-runner, but he is a vertical receiver who is dangerous weapon along the sidelines and in the red zone.
Parker was Teddy Bridgewater's best receiver in 2013. Parker was banged up with injuries, but totaled 46 receptions for 743 yards and 11 touchdowns. He led the Cardinals with 744 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012. The 6-foot-3, 209-pound Parker is an excellent red-zone weapon. Many were surprised when he decided to return to Louisville for his senior year.
New Orleans Saints: Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest
The Saints added some veterans in free agency, but drafting another corner would make sense for New Orleans. Brandon Browner is 31, while Kyle Wilson was a disappointment in New York. I know teams in the teens are giving consideration to Johnson.
Johnson collected 43 tackles with six passes broken up and one interception in 2014. While those numbers aren't huge, teams avoided the senior and threw elsewhere. Johnson was very reliable over the past three years. He totaled 58 tackles with three interceptions and 12 passes broken up in 2013. Johnson had almost identical numbers as a sophomore except for three more passes broken up.
In speaking with sources, Johnson is grading out as a possible late first-round or second-round pick. Some teams have him in Round 2 just because of concerns about his size. The 6-foot, 188-pounder is a good cover corner who needs to add weight for the NFL. He has the length and athleticism to cover big receivers along the sideline. If Johnson can add weight in the leadup to the 2015 NFL Draft, that could help him to be a Thursday night pick.
Miami Dolphins: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
The Dolphins grab their feature back. Dennis Hickey and Joe Philbin are on the hot seat and need to win now. A running back could yield the most immediate impact, plus Gurley could be a superstar. Miami is said to love Gurley, and it's easy to fall in love with the best running back prospect to enter the NFL since Adrian Peterson.
Sources at some teams that they don't see Gurley falling past the middle of the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. They feel he's too good to fall that far. Others say that Gurley is a late first-round or early second-round pick. Even though Gurley was suspended in 2014 for autographing memorabilia, NFL sources from multiple teams have told WalterFootball.com that Gurley won't be downgraded because of it. They say that Gurley is a good kid who loves football. He's receiving quality character grades, and teams say he interviewed well at the Combine.
Gurley (6-1, 232) has surprising speed to go along with size, power, vision, balance, good ball security and picking up a lot of yards after contact. The junior justified the hype in 2014 with a string of dominating performances before tearing an ACL. Gurley averaged 7.4 yards on the year for 911 yards with nine touchdowns. He hauled in 12 passes for 57 yards as well. Gurley even returned kickoffs for scores.
In 2013, Gurley averaged six yards per carry for 989 yards and 10 touchdowns. The sophomore also had 30 receptions for 344 yards and five touchdowns. He also didn't have a whole season as he missed three games. Gurley was one of the freshman running backs who burst onto the scene in the SEC during 2012. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry in 2012 on his way to totaling 1,385 yards with 17 touchdowns. In the SEC Championship, he ran for 122 yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns against Alabama's tough defense that led the Tide to a National Championship.
San Francisco 49ers: Arik Armstead, DE/DT, Oregon
San Francisco lost Ray McDonald, while Justin Smith may not be back with the team. The 49ers have some depth on the defensive line, but they need some difference-makers for the future. Darnell Dockett isn't a long-term solution to make up for those losses, and San Francisco could use more disruptors on its defensive line.
Armstead is similar to former Duck Dion Jordon - minus the off-the-field issues. Both have big athletic skill sets, but had injuries and never put up big production in college. Armstead started the 2014 season in a strong fashion. He had 10 tackles with four for a loss and one sack across the first four games. To open October, Armstead injured his ankle against Arizona, and for some time, he was in and out of the lineup. Armstead played in the final five games of the regular season. He totaled 37 tackles with 5.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks in 2014.
The 6-foot-7, 292-pounder has a rare combination of size and speed. In 2013, he played in all of Oregon's games and had five starts. The sophomore totaled 15 tackles with 2.5 tackles for a loss and a sack for the year. In 2012, he came off the bench to make 26 tackles with two tackles for a loss and .5 sacks.
Houston Texans: Cameron Erving, C/OT/G, Florida State
I think the Texans should trade up for Todd Gurley, or take Phillip Dorsett or Melvin Gordon, but what I think the organization should do is irrelevant. I believe this pick is coming down to two players unless an unknown value starts falling down the board. I think Houston is either going to take Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson or Erving. Johnson is off the board in this scenario, so I think the Texans will settle for Erving. If both players were available, I think the team would take Johnson.
Erving makes sense as a starting center to replace Chris Myers or a guard to push Xavier Su'a-Filo. Erving could play right tackle if Derek Newton struggles or gets injured. In the long run, Erving could be the Texans' starting center for a decade.
Erving struggled at left tackle in the first half of 2014, but part of it could be attributed to Florida State's alignment not allowing him to have depth in his stance. Florida State moved Erving to center for the latter part of the season, and he really played well in the middle of the line. Sources say they view Erving more as a right tackle or guard, but he has a lot of flexibility due to his athleticism. Erving could play possibly any position on the offensive line on game days.
Erving did a good job at protecting Jameis Winston in 2013. Erving also opened up a lot of holes in the ground game. The 6-foot-5, 313-pounder missed the 2010 season with a back injury. Erving then played defensive tackle in 2011 as a redshirt freshman backup. The Seminoles moved Erving to left tackle for 2012, and the sophomore ended up starting 14 games there.