The Future of the NFL: 2015 Mock Draft
After a star-studded free agency period, which included a number of blockbuster trades, 2015 can be considered the most exciting rendition in recent memory. The 2015 offseason, however, is far from over, with the NFL Draft underway shortly. This class has plenty of talent across the board, especially along the offensive line and when it comes to pass rushers. Here is my second annual take on the first round, with my 2015 NFL Mock Draft.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston, Quarterback, Florida State, 6'4", 230
In 2014, the Buccaneers were horrible, plain and simple. Finishing at 2-14. They "won" their option of selecting anyone they want in the entire draft. If Tampa were to acquire a quarterback another way, or elect to draft a passer in a later round, this pick could be traded for a king's ransom (much like the Rams-Redskins deal in 2012). However, I believe they will use the number one overall pick to select their franchise passer in 2015.
Josh McCown was the team's starter last season, and left for Cleveland this offseason, He was 35 years old, and mediocre at best anyway. Mike Glennon still has potential, but Lovie Smith will want to hand-pick his quarterback of the future.
Jameis Winston is the most pro-ready passer in this class. At 6'4" 230 pounds, he is no small man. Winston is well capable of moving around and scrambling for yards, should the play break down, and has a cannon for an arm. His power is matched by his accuracy, as Winston is fully capable of making all of the throws needed in this league (65.3% completion percentage in 2014, 66.9% in 2013). He does have few character issues, and a tendency to stare down his targets, but his potential and clutch ability more than make up for it.
2. Tennessee Titans
Dante Fowler Jr., Outside Linebacker, Florida, 6'3", 275
Transitioning to a 3-4 defense did not go so well for the Titans in 2014, as they finished 29th in overall defense, and 26th and 22nd against the the run and the pass, respectively. Converted outside linebacker Derrick Morgan is moving on in free agency, which leaves a void at pass rusher for the defense. He led the team with 6.5 sacks, and none of the backups can be relied on to replace his production.
Morgan was a solid contributor, but will need to be replaced (due to his expired contract). Zach Brown is an option (and a solid one at that), but he is more of an inside linebacker, and was lost for the season in the season opener, so he isn't exactly the most reliable player on the team, health-wise. They didn't sign anyone in free agency who can fill the open spot, so they will need to look to the draft.
Dante Fowler Jr. is the pick here. He is undersized, but is very quick, and has great initial burst for a speed rusher. He racked up eight sacks in 2014, and is a great leader - exactly what this defense needs. With Fowler opposite Kamerion Wimbley, Tennessee's linebacking core may improve dramatically in 2015.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Leonard Williams, Defensive Tackle, USC, 6'5" 300
After many seasons of searching, Jacksonville may have finally found their franchise quarterback in the 2014 draft, in Blake Bortles. With him on the roster, there is no need to take a chance on Marcus Mariota, although like Tampa Bay (or Tennessee), this pick can be traded to a team who really wants the former Oregon Duck (hint hint, Chip Kelly). If not, the Jaguars are in perfect position to take the best player available with the third overall pick.
In 2014, the Jaguars had a solid defensive line. Red Bryant, Roy Miller and Chris Clemons are just a few players involved in that rotation. However, head coach Gus Bradley is a defensive-minded coach, and a dominate defense begins with the front four. Both Miller and Sen'Derrick Marks went down to knee injuries toward the end of the season. It would be smart to grab a beast of a man in the first round of the draft.
Leonard Williams is that beast. He is arguably the best prospect in the entire 2015 draft. Williams is a fierce competitor, who does not lack strength. He can get through double teams and wreak havoc on opposing offenses consistently. The former USC Trojan is a freak, as he has great agility, despite weighing 300 pounds. He can come in and improve this defense even more, as quarterbacks won't have as much time to throw the ball, nor will running backs have as many holes up the middle.
4. Oakland Raiders
Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver, Alabama, 6'1" 190
The Oakland Raiders have finally found their franchise quarterback as well. Derek Carr looked impressive as he had a mediocre cast of receivers. With needs at the offensive and defensive line positions as well, the Raiders elect to get Carr some help on offense.
Former Green Bay Packer James Jones is a reliable wideout (73 catches and six touchdowns), and Andre Holmes was a spark at times (693 receiving yards with 14.7 yards per catch), but they need a true number one guy who can attract the attention of the defense and be a threat to the opposing secondary.
Alabama's Amari Cooper may not be considered the best receiver in this class anymore (Kevin White and DeVante Parker have stepped in that conversation as well) but he is arguably the safest pick - not only at receiver, but in the entire draft. Cooper can get off of press coverage consistently, and has very good route running ability. He is an excellent reader of zone coverages and has a great pair of hands. With his blocking ability, he can be considered the best-rounded receiver in this class.
5. Washington Redskins
Randy Gregory, Defensive End, Nebraska, 6'6" 240
With the departure of Brian Orakpo in free agency, along with the general disappointing year the defense had, the Redskins should go on that side of the ball early to find a potential game-changer. There are rumors saying that Washington will draft Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota if he falls to this pick, but I don't believe it. I can't see them drafting a quarterback of the same mold in the top five twice in four years. Defense is the pick here.
The aforementioned Orakpo only picked up half a sack before going down to a torn pectoral in week 7, ending his time in Washington. Defensive end Jason Hatcher from the Cowboys came in and did not impress very well. He only collected 5.5 sacks (he had 11 in 2013), before getting injured for the final three games. Nobody else on this roster is threatening to an opposing quarterback, and they need that ferocious pass rusher, whether it be at defensive end, or as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
From Nebraska, Randy Gregory makes sense here. Despite missing a few games due to injury, he was still able to get seven sacks in 2014. He is a very quick and natural pass rusher who isn't the strongest player, but he knows how to get to the passer. With all that said, he compares most to someone like San Francisco's Aldan Smith. Both have the quickness and aggressiveness to get through blocks and make plays in the 4-3 or the 3-4 - which is exactly what Washington needs.
6. New York Jets
Marcus Mariota, Quarterback, Oregon, 6'4", 220
The 2014 New York Jets were not a good team - at all. They couldn't score points offensively, and were unable to stop the opposing offenses from scoring, either. Rex Ryan was fired, and Todd Bowles was hired to replace him. This gives Jets fans a feeling of a "fresh start" with their franchise, and one thing this new regime will be connected to will be their very first draft pick together.
Geno Smith played poorly overall last season. He did have a solid showing in December however, I personally like Smith and think he can turn his career around if he can get out of New York. With the coaching changes, it’s likely they will hand pick their own "face of the franchise" early on in this draft, so Geno will likely become his backup (if not traded away for a late round pick). Michael Vick and Matt Simms are not threats to take anybody's job in the league. They'll be lucky to make it onto a roster in 2015.
In the two horse battle of quarterbacks (the other being Jameis Winston, of course), Marcus Mariota will find himself in the center of media attention, so the pressure of being a first round pick (and a quarterback, nonetheless), will be tripled. Mariota has what it takes to become a solid option under center, but I don't think he will become a star. He has more than enough mobility to become another "new breed" quarterback and could be a force with the read option. He has a good arm and solid accuracy, so he can make all the throws. However, Mariota needs to adjust to taking snaps from under center, as he hasn't worked in a traditional offense before. The former Oregon Duck also locks on to his main receiver, and is too quick to run when under pressure. Even with all of these negative aspects in his game, Marcus Mariota should be able to win the job outright, should the Jets draft him.
Which quarterback will have more success at the NFL level?
7. Chicago Bears
Shane Ray, Defensive End, Missouri, 6'3", 250
The Chicago Bears were a major disappointment last season, going 5-11. A pass rushing defensive end is a position of need for this team, as there is a possibility Jared Allen could be the only healthy rusher on the roster by the time training camp starts.
Jared Allen and the rest of the defensive line assisted in totaling 39 sacks for the team in 2014. Allen is a veteran, but he still has some gas in the tank. Opposite him, Lamar Houston came in from Oakland and was solid against the run, but he went down to an ACL injury which ended his season. Ironically enough, the injury occurred while celebrating his first (and only) sack of the season - on a backup rookie quarterback.
Shane Ray could easily come in and hold down the fort while Houston gets back to full strength. When the latter returns, he could be used in a pass rushing role, specifically (on passing downs). Ray is a physical freak, as he can bench press over 400 pounds, and has claimed to have ran a 4.44 in the 40. He has an excellent motor, not giving up on the play. He is also good against the run (shouldn't see too big of a drop-off from Houston).
8. Atlanta Falcons
Vic Beasley, Outside Linebacker, Clemson, 6'3", 235
The Falcons have a couple of needs, but the linebacker position is arguably the greatest one, as they have a need at both the outside and inside positions. Finishing at 6-10, Atlanta finished dead last in yards allowed per game (398.3) and in passing yards allowed per game (279.9). Totaling 22 sacks for the year, they finished 31st in that category.
After signing Brooks Reed and Justin Durant, it would seem as though they realize how much more help they need here. Kroy Biermann made 4.5 sacks in 2014 (which led the team), and Osi Umenyiora struggled. Jonathon Massoquoi is gone in free agency (Tennessee), so they need a force on the outside.
Vic Beasley could be their answer in the draft. He isn't the biggest man, but he has a great first step, and can shed blocks well to get to the ball carrier. He is a natural pass rusher who some could say compares to Von Miller of the Broncos. While he isn't as capable with playing the run, Beasley is a great pass rusher, who has the potential to eclipse double digit sacks in his rookie year.
9. New York Giants
Brandon Scherff, Offensive Tackle, Iowa, 6'5", 325
With a promising offense for the 2015 season, Eli Manning and company will need good protection in order to flourish. They did a solid job in pass protection (left tackle Will Beatty only allowed three sacks), but need help in the run game. If Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams are to improve the ground game, the line must help.
Left tackle Will Beatty improved in 2014, allowing just three sacks, and looking more consistent by the week. Justin Pugh struggled, and may even be moved inside to guard. A solid right tackle would be what this New York Giants team needs.
Brandon Scherff is arguably the best offensive lineman in this class. He is a force in the run game (just what they need), and he is strong enough to consistently hold up his blocks. He may need to improve his footwork in pass blocking, but that is something he can be coached on. Scherff would be a great pick here, as it provides value and fills a great need. Eli Manning (and whoever else takes over after him) would have a great presence on the right side for years to come.
10. St. Louis Rams
DeVante Parker, Wide Receiver, Louisville, 6'3", 210
After swapping quarterbacks with the Eagles and acquiring Nick Foles, the Rams seem to have a lot of potential heading into the 2015 season. With an already stout defense, the Rams could stand to improve on the offensive side of the ball - and assist in the development of Foles. A good way to do that would be to surround the quarterback with weapons.
In 2014, free agent acquisition Kenny Britt became St. Louis' top target in the passing game. Britt is a solid target, but not an ideal number one option (he was their second leading receiver). Tavon Austin has the potential to be a game-changing playmaker, but is currently as an NFL receiver. With Brian Quick going to injured reserve, there's always a question mark about how he can return.
DeVante Parker is arguably the best receiver in this class. He has great size and strength for a wideout, and is a great route runner. He can accelerate and get off of press coverage quickly, and has reliable hands (although he is known to drop a few passes now and again). With a nose for the endzone and tough, competitive mindset, Parker would make for a great number one target for Nick Foles.
11. Minnesota Vikings
Kevin White, Wide Receiver, West Virginia, 6'3", 210
Teddy Bridgewater (DeVante Parker's quarterback in Louisville prior to 2014), shows great promise and potential as an NFL starting quarterback. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards with a 14-12 touchdown-interception ratio. This is even more impressive considering the group of receivers the rookie passer had to throw to.
Charles Johnson exploded onto the scene to give Bridgewater a solid starting receiver, He isn't quite a number one at the moment, but should be a fine number two. Veteran Greg Jennings was a good veteran presence... until he was cut. Cordarrelle Patterson has struggled thus far in his career, and is rumored to be on the trade block. Jarius Wright is a good third or fourth option in the passing game, and is severely underrated. Although the Vikings traded for Miami's Mike Wallace (a solid speed threat), they still need a guy with the potential to become a true top target for Bridgewater.
Including Amari Cooper and DeVante Parker, Kevin White completes the trio of receivers most worthy of the title of "best receiver in the 2015 draft class". Like Parker, White has great size (basically identical size) and good speed. Everything previously said about DeVante Parker can be used here to describe Kevin White. He can beat press coverage with his strength, runs solid routes, and has great hands - with a few drops. He has no problem blocking for the rushing attack, but he has to improve upon it in order to make an impact there. He would be a great fit in Minnesota, forcing defenses to choose to focus on him or Johnson. Even after them, Teddy Bridgewater still has Mike Wallace, Jarius Wright and tight end Kyle Rudolph to throw to.
Who is the best wide receiver in this 2015 class?
12. Cleveland Browns
Danny Shelton, Defensive Tackle, Washington, 6'2" 345
The Browns are a decent team. Their offense could use a quarterback, but that's neither here nor there. With the 12th pick overall, they need to focus on defense. The Browns finished dead last against the run, and that is just not acceptable - especially in the smash mouth AFC North division.
Cleveland runs a 3-4 defense, and the nose tackle position is one that can be improved upon. With injuries occurring to Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, Jerry Hughes, and Billy Winn, this entire defensive line is a big question mark, health-wise. Hughes is a solid run topper, but no one knows if he'll be healthy in 2015. The same goes for Phil Taylor, who can be a force on the defensive side when he’s on the field.
After Leonard Williams, Danny Shelton I the next best option at defensive tackle. He has great size and is very difficult to push around. He can consistently take on (and defeat) double teams often. Shelton's bull rush is so powerful, he can knock linemen back to get to the ball carrier. This pick could be the first step in bringing Cleveland a top 10 defense in 2015 and beyond.
13. New Orleans Saints
Trae Waynes, Cornerback, Michigan, 6'1" 185
The Saints have been a rather disappointing team in recent years. Going from Super Bowl contender to barely being in the playoff hunt, this team has not lived up to those expectations since their championship win following the 2009 season. Much of this can be blamed on the defense. In 2014, the secondary was not a strong point of this team. In order to go anywhere in this league, you have to be able to stop the pass - especially in today's NFL.
Keenan Lewis is a solid starting cornerback, and it should stay that way. However, after him on the depth chart is not quite as impressive. Neither Patrick Robinson nor Corey White looked good enough to warrant a starting job next season. White has since been released from the team anyway. The Saints signed Brandon Browner from the Patriots, but I would still like to see a cornerback here.
Trae Waynes is the best cornerback in this draft. He has good size and plays with great confidence. Waynes has the potential to intercept quite a few passes during his rookie season, with his ball skills. Although he needs more discipline and isn't he strongest corner, Waynes can work against top target in a one-on-one situation and win consistently. He could start in the slot during his rookie year for the Saints (unless they decide to move Allen down there instead).
14. Miami Dolphins
PJ Williams, Cornerback, Florida State, 6'0" 195
The Dolphins are another team with a lot of potential. Their offense looks solid with Ryan Tannehill leading the way (although they could use another receiver or two), but the secondary of this team could use a boost, cornerback-wise. The defense as a whole was solid, but they could use a bit more help on the back end.
Brent Grimes is a great cornerback, who even earned a berth in the Pro Bowl. He is a great number one cornerback, as he is fully capable of shutting down the opponent's top receiver. Veteran Cortland Finnegan was released, and young guys Will Davis and Jamar Taylor aren't ready to see the field as often as a starter does. The Dolphins signed former Pittsburgh Steeler Brice McCain, but he doesn't figure to start, either.
After Trae Waynes, there are a few players who can be argued as the next best cornerback in the 2015 class. PJ Williams is one of those guys, as he has a great combination of size, speed, and aggressiveness as a defender. He is a big hitter who can make a difference in run support. That aggressiveness can also be his weakness, as he is prone to miss-timing his jump on a route, leading to big plays for the offense, and even missing tackles. Miami is in the same position as New Orleans, in that they need cornerback help, but also have a guy who is more than capable of being a shutdown corner on the team.
15. San Francisco 49ers
La'El Collins, Offensive Tackle/Guard, LSU, 6'5" 310
San Francisco has seen more change to their team this offseason than arguably any other in the league. They have lost offensive linemen, linebackers, receivers, and running backs, among others. This will indeed be a new-look team in 2015, as many of their starters (or role players) have moved to different teams or retired. The offensive line needed an overhaul even before the offseason began, and even more so now.
With injury risks among the starters, such as Daniel Kilgore and Alex Boone to go along with hot and cold players like Joe Staley and Anthony Davis, the 49ers need a young presence to step in and take control of a starting position. The decision not to resign Mike Iupati makes the line an even bigger position of need, as San Francisco needs some level of stability on the team.
La'El Collins seems like he is exactly what the 49ers need, as he is strong and quick off the snap, and an aggressive run blocker. He could start at any number of positions for this team, as he can play both tackle and guard. Collins is not quite "elite" yet, but he is still young, so he could become great in time. The most likely scenario is that La'El starts immediately at the left guard position - the spot that was filled by Iupati.
16. Houston Texans
Eric Kendricks, Middle Linebacker, UCLA, 6'0" 230
Houston employs a 3-4 defense, which showcased a group of linebackers who were solid all around, except when rushing the passer. When you have a guy like JJ Watt (possibly the best defensive player in football, and arguably the best player in the entire league altogether) in front of you, that takes a lot of pressure away from this group. However, they still need to do their part and get to the quarterback themselves as well.
With Whitney Mercilus and first overall pick Jadaveon Clowney lining up on the edges, Houston has great potential there (even though Clowney missed significant time with injury)and Brooks Reed left through free agency to Atlanta, On the inside, Brian Cushing paired with for Falcon (ironically) Akeem Dent to make a solid duo there. With Reed gone, and Clowney a question mark due to injury, another middle linebacker to pair with Cushing makes sense - moving Akeem Dent to fill in on the outside.
Eric Kendricks is the best inside linebacker in this draft class - who is also a great pass defender, especially useful in today's NFL. He is a big hitter who has great agility and awareness for the football. Another thing Kendricks does really well is rush the passer, which is just what the doctor ordered for this group of linebackers. The little brother of Eagles middle linebacker Mychal Kendricks has great potential, if he can get a quick feel for the defense and what his job in it is. He is a bit undersized, but has all the instincts, agility, and tenacity necessary to start in the NFL, and do one heck of a job.
17. San Diego Chargers
Eddie Goldman, Nose Tackle, Florida State, 6'4" 320
San Diego has a 3-4 defense as well, but instead of needs at linebacker, the Chargers will be searching for a nose tackle to anchor the middle of their line. The rest of their defense is decent enough, but without a big guy in the middle to control traffic, opponents will be able to run the ball at will - which isn't a good way to win games if you're the victim of that scenario.
Corey Liuget (defensive end) is the best player on that line, and Kendall Reyes (the other end) isn't exactly a stellar player. The current nose tackle is Sean Lissemore, who is decent, but not a game-changer by any stretch of the imagination. 5th round pick, Ryan Carrethers was supposed to be their next great nose tackle, but he still has a lot to learn.
In Eddie Goldman, The Chargers could get the present and the future at the nose tackle position. Goldman is strong enough to start in the middle and control the flow of the line, or move outside to end and bull rush his way to the ball carrier. This versatility could become very useful if he is needed to replace Reyes due to poor play or injury. He isn't a threat to be in the quarterbacks' face constantly, but his 320 pound frame (along with experience all around the defensive line) play too much of a factor for him to fall too far down.
18. Kansas City Chiefs
Andrus Peat, Offensive Tackle, Stanford, 6'7" 310
The Chiefs have the potential to be a very good team, with their stout defense, but with an offense that did not have a single touchdown pass to a wide receiver all season, Kansas City will not have a chance in this league. While this statement may give the impression that they will draft a receiver with the 18th overall pick, the signing of Jeremy Maclin from Philadelphia gives them their number one receiver. Coupled with the fact that this is a very deep class at that position, this team can afford to take another weapon for quarterback Alex Smith in the 2nd or 3rd round.
The Chiefs should, in fact, look for help along the offensive line in the draft's opening round. Smith was sacked 49 times (good for 29th in the league). Eric Fisher held his own and showed potential at left tackle, center Rodney Hudson performed as well, and Ryan Harris stepped in when he needed to and did a solid job. Hudson is now in Oakland, and Harris is a free agent. While having a top wide receiver may be the "sexy" pick, sometimes the best ones are the safe ones that do not draw many headlines.
Andrus Peat is one of the best offensive linemen available, and could immediately fill the void left by Ryan Harris (and Donald Stephenson before him), and provide stability on the edge. He is surprisingly agile for a big man, and is very patient as a blocker. With his struggles as a run blocker (coupled with his great ability in pass protection), we could possibly see Peat move over to left tackle. If not, look for Peat to be coached up on run blocking - which if he improves in that category, we could see him and Fisher pair to be one of the best offensive tackle duos in the league in a few years.
19. Cleveland Browns
Jalen Strong, Wide Receiver, Arizona State, 6'3" 215
The Cleveland Browns are a good team who can definitely win games, yet still have a ton of issues (an odd situation, I know). Like I said earlier, they need a quarterback, but at the same time, they also need weapons for whoever takes the snaps next season. There isn't a quarterback available worthy of this pick, and there are plenty of excellent receivers here.
Josh Gordon had a ton of potential and could have become a top three receiver in the league, but unfortunately drugs and suspensions may have ended his career before it even began. Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin and Travis Benjamin are solid receivers, but they fit the mold of role players more than superstars. The Browns also recently signed former Chief Dwayne Bowe, but he resembles a number two receiver instead.
At this point, the top player available at this position comes down to Jalen Strong and Dorial Green-Beckham. While the latter may have the higher ceiling, I predict the former to go with this pick based on their experience with Gordon. Jalen Strong has the potential to become a solid number one in the future. He has very good height and strength, with the ability to hold onto balls in traffic consistently. While Strong doesn't have burner speed, but his hands are great (even though he has occasional drops). The 6'3" receiver also needs to improve on his route running, but overall he can make an impact early and often in his career.
20. Philadelphia Eagles
Landon Collins, Safety, Alabama, 6'2" 210
This offseason has been a very busy one for the Philadelphia Eagles. Chip Kelly has been dealing players left and right, and acquiring "his guys" at nearly any cost. The area that needs the most improvement by far, has been the secondary. They allowed far too many big pass plays in 2014, and that must change in order to become a playoff team next season. While the Eagles made moves at cornerback (releasing Cary Williams, and signing both Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond), the safety position hasn't seen as much turnover. Some may argue a receiver to be selected here, but I can't see them leaving the safety position how it is.
Cary Williams teamed up with Bradley Fletcher, with Brandon Boykin in the nickel in 2014. All three players had bad years, and only one of them is still with the team (Boykin). At safety, free agent acquisition Malcolm Jenkins was a good starter, while Nate Allen (now an Oakland Raider) was a liability on the back end. Earl Wolff is a relative unknown who cannot seem to stay healthy.
Coming out of Alabama, Landon Collins is the absolute best safety in this class. He is a good, consistent open field tackler, who can lower the boom and play the role of the intimidator. He will be a force against the run, as he's not afraid to come down and collide with anyone in his way. Collins is not quite as polished in coverage, however, as he is prone to being faked out by quarterbacks, who will definitely use this to their advantage. Luckily for him, he would be lining up with Malcolm Jenkins at safety, so Collins should be able to stay close to the line of scrimmage, and use his big hitting ability, as that is his best trait.
21. Cincinnati Bengals
Malcolm Brown, Defensive Tackle, Texas, 6'2" 320
The Cincinnati Bengals have had a top defense in recent years, but 2014 was a different story altogether. Only racking up 20 total sacks, this unit greatly disappointed last season. The defensive line was not the same as it was, and that is alarming. With this unit beginning to show its age, it may be time to draft a young building block for the future.
Geno Atkins and Domata Peko have been the cornerstones of this line for years now. However, in 2013, an ACL injury to the former may have begun the moment that changes the direction of this line. Atkins struggled, and this allowed offensive lines to focus on double teaming defensive end Carlos Dunlap more often. Peko has not been on his best game recently either, as his age is beginning to show as well.
With great size, Brown surprises by being quick off the snap. He is able to shed blocks and take down the ball carrier in the backfield, even though double teams. His technique could use some work, and does not have a large arsenal of pass rushing moves to use, but his ability far outweighs those negatives. Brown would be a good pick here, and both Atkins and Peko could serve as his mentors, which would only aid his development.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers
Alvin "Bud" Dupree, Defensive End, Kentucky, 6'4" 260
For a long time now, Pittsburgh has been known to have an ageing defense, and for years we would hear that "this is the year they get young" at those positions. The 2015 offseason is another one of those years. Pittsburgh has a few young guys, and brought back a veteran who is on his last legs in the league, but more than youth, this team needs bodies.
Since the 2014 season ended, Jason Worilds retired, James Harrison was brought back on a short deal (he only has a year or two left in his career anyway), and Brett Keisel was released, among other moves. The Steelers need more pass rushers to add onto their roster including Jarvis Jones and 2014 first round pick Ryan Shazier. Jones hasn't done anything in his career at this point, suffering an injury in 2014 as well. Shazier has potential, but struggled at times, when his number was called to start.
Alvin Dupree immediately adds a pass rushing terror to this defense. He has the ability to get after the quarterback, and do so quickly, with his quick burst and multiple pass rushing moves. His tackling is also great, as Dupree is able to track the ball carrier, and use his speed to track him down and lay a big hit. In coverage, Alvin "Bud" Dupree is agile, can run with most tight ends, and has instincts when the ball is thrown. While he is listed as a 4-3 defensive end, his ability as a 3-4 outside linebacker only helps him even more, because of that versatility.
23. Detroit Lions
Michael Bennett, Defensive Tackle, Ohio State, 6'2" 290
Detroit had a great defense in 2014, and most of the credit for that goes to the strong front four they had. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley paired to be a destructive force in the run game and rushing the passer. The only problem is neither of the two are on the roster anymore, as Suh took his talents to South Beach, and Fairley went to St. Louis. If the Lions want to have anywhere close to the level of defense they had last season, they must fill the void there as much as they can.
Like I said, Suh and Fairley aren't in Detroit any longer, and there isn't quite as much talent here at the moment. CJ Mosley looked good when filling in for Fairley, but that was only for the final eight games. While Mosley can definitely play, it is unknown whether he can consistently perform at that level for an entire season.
Michael Bennett could be the pass rusher Detroit will need from the interior line, after this free agent period. He is not incredibly strong, nor will he defeat double teams, but Bennett is quick off the snap, and plays with a high motor. His ability to have good backfield vision while engaged with a blocker make him capable of playing on the outside at defensive end if needed. Should Bennett be paired with Mosley, the interior defensive line in 2015, should be a solid one, and Detroit should be able to maintain a good defense.
24. Arizona Cardinals
Shaq Thompson, Outside Linebacker, Washington, 6'1" 225
The Arizona Cardinals have a good defense, but it can be improved at the linebacking position. Their 3-4 defensive scheme requires solid linebackers with at least some pass rush ability. With players ageing and underperforming, it may be time to hit the reset button at some spots. A few signings occurred, but that doesn't keep linebacker from being a strong need for this team.
With Larry Foote turning 34, and the newly signed Lamar Woodley coming off a torn triceps injury, there are risks at this position. Kevin Minter came out of LSU with potential, but he has had issues staying healthy. Alex Okafor and Sam Acho haven't made much of an impact, with the former showing signs of improvement, but not enough to start quite yet. The latter is a solid player, but is a role player, and is currently a free agent. Former Atlanta Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was signed, He finished 2014 of injured reserve.
Thompson is a quick and agile linebacker, who can make tackles from anywhere on the field. He isn't going to make too many bone-jarring hits, but he is a reliable tackler, who can be counted on to wrap up the ball carrier consistently. He has excellent closing speed to finish off the play, and is a good blitzer. Thompson has a small frame, and struggles with shedding blocks at times, however. Shaq has far more positives than negatives, and could even find himself with a starting job in 2015.
Will there be a running back taken in the first round this year?
25. Carolina Panthers
Ereck Flowers, Offensive Tackle, Miami (Fl.), 6'6" 325
Carolina benefitted greatly from having weak division rivals in 2014. They won the division with a record of 7-8-1, and hosted (and won) a playoff game. With how the offseason has been shaping up, that will not win anything next season. The Panthers need a franchise left tackle and a good starter at right tackle for the future.
Byron Bell started at left tackle, and played very poorly. He showed no signs of being a quality starter, and needs to ride the bench for a while. On the other side, Mike Remmers played pretty well at first (his first start was week 13), but struggled as the season winded down. A right tackle isn't their top priority, but it'd be nice to find one.
Ereck Flowers is a left tackle, who is very quick when getting off the ball to block. He has a very large frame to keep defenders from getting by, and is a very good run blocker. While his size benefits him in the run game, it can do quite the opposite on passing plays. Flowers is a very big man, so he is a bit slower and can be beat by elite speed rushers who maneuver around him. He has the potential to be a very good blindside protector of Cam Newton, however. Flowers may not become a top five tackle, but he can be a solid starter for years to come.
26. Baltimore Ravens
Marcus Peters, Cornerback, Washington, 6'0" 200
The Ravens have a solid secondary at first glance, but could use some depth (mostly at cornerback). The defensive line and receiver positions could be bolstered, but the defensive backfield seems to need the most help. Baltimore has very good linebackers, so generating an outside pass rush shouldn't be an issue, which would help out whoever plays in the secondary in 2015.
Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb make for a solid duo of starting cornerbacks, but their problems are staying healthy. The latter suffered through a back injury for the majority of last season, while the latter is a top ten corner when he is on the field. Rashaan Melvin played some solid football when given the opportunity, until he faced elite quarterback competition.
After Trae Waynes, it's a toss-up as to whom the second best corner in the draft is. Marcus Peters is definitely in this discussion, as he has good size and speed to play in this league. Peters is very physical at the line of scrimmage, and he plays the run aggressively as well. His abilities in run support and ball skills make him a future starter in the NFL.
27. Dallas Cowboys
Arik Armstead, Defensive End, Oregon, 6'7" 296
The Dallas Cowboys absolutely need defensive line help. In 2014, we saw their top four defensive ends combine for a total of 9.5 sacks (former Cowboy DeMarcus Ware had ten for the Denver Broncos, while not getting any in December). In order to improve their defense in 2015, more beef must be added up front, and much more pressure needs to be added to opposing quarterbacks.
Right defensive end Jeremy Mincey is decent last year. As a somewhat consistent force, he picked up six sacks (which led the team). Opposite him was George Selvie, who disappointed and only had three sacks, himself. Second round pick DeMarcus Lawrence suffered through a foot injury, which kept him out for the first eight games. While he didn't have a single regular season sack, Lawrence had two in the playoffs - showing some ability to step up his game in the big moments. This position was not good in 2014, although they did enough to assist the team to a 12-4 record, but more talent needs to be acquired in the draft.
Arik Armstead is a very big man, who knows how to use his height and general frame to his advantage. He is solid in coverage, and quite agile for a man his size. Armstead can use his height to bat down potentially double digit passes, if the ball is thrown his way. While the only pass rush move he really knows is the bull rush, and he isn't the fastest, Armstead could become a very solid defensive end in the Dallas defense in 2015 and beyond.
28. Denver Broncos
Ty Sambrialo, Offensive Tackle, Colorado State, 6'6" 310
The Denver Broncos have had one of the more disappointing seasons in recent memory. Finishing at 12-4 (with the AFC's number two seed), they get bounced in their first playoff game to the Indianapolis Colts. A major reason for Denver not playing as well as they should is the reshuffled offensive line. Peyton Manning needs protection, and they did not give that to him on a consistent basis. The Broncos have multiple holes to fill along the offensive line.
Last season, Denver had a front line that looked like: Ryan Clady (left tackle - still starting), Orlando Franklin (left guard - Jacksonville), Will Montgomery (center - free agent), Manny Ramirez (right guard - possible move to center), and Louis Vasquez (right tackle - possible move to right guard). Of these positions, only Clady appears to retain his starting job. With Franklin and Montgomery gone, they signed left guard Shelly Smith (formerly of the Miami Dolphins) to compete for the left guard position. Right tackle is definitely the biggest need on the line, as it would allow Vasquez to successfully move to right guard.
A Colorado native would be a solid pick here. Many have a 2nd round grade on Sambrialo, but I don't think it'd be a reach at the end of the first round. He is a solid pass blocker, who can move with defensive ends and mirror their movements. With his experience at tackle and ability to run block as well, Ty Sambrialo would make for a good starter on this line. While he needs to go to the weight room some more, he has very good technique, which could give Peyton a quality starter on the right side of the line.
29. Indianapolis Colts
Eli Harold, Outside Linebacker, Virginia, 6'4" 250
The Colts have the potential to make a run for the Super Bowl in 2015. With their free agent acquisitions, it would seem as though Indy filled in their holes with veterans who can help them win now. A position they could stand to get a bit younger at is outside linebacker. With Robert Mathis and Shaun Phillips combining to be near 70 years in age, a first round pass rusher could pay dividends.
The Colts signed another veteran rusher in Trent Cole from the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason, and they hope he can make his fair share of plays while mentoring some young guys. Bjoern Werner did not see much playing time as the season wore on (after notching four sacks in 2014). Jonathon Newsome and Erik Walden played well, and 6th round pick Andrew Jackson showed potential.
Eli Harold has a great burst out of his stance, and does a great job in pursuit of the ball carrier, with great speed to make the play. He does a very good job with going all out on every single down. Harold will need to become more consistent and hit the weight room a bit, but he has a lot of potential as a speed rusher on passing downs for his rookie year.
30. Green Bay Packers
Jordan Phillips, Defensive Tackle, Oklahoma, 6'6" 335
The Packers have been one of the most consistent teams for the last five years or so. Green Bay almost always find themselves picking at or near the end of the first round. A big need for them is along their defensive line, in 2014, defensive tackle BJ Raji went down to a season-ending torn biceps injury - in a preseason game of all things. This injury put more emphasis on their backups, which did not turn out to be a disaster, surprisingly.
BJ Raji was injured for the season in a preseason game. This threw Letroy Guion into the starting role, where he was solid. Green Bay was weak against the run because of that injury, The Packers need to add more beef up front to slow down the opposing running game.
Jordan Phillips has the beef this team needs, at 335 pounds. He is a very strong man who can knock offensive linemen backward and take down the ball carrier before he knows what happened. Phillips has the potential to be a disruptive force in the middle, and could be comfortable about going for the big play, with the likes of Clay Matthews at the level behind him.
31. New Orleans Saints
Maxx Williams, Tight End, Minnesota, 6'4" 250
The New Orleans Saints received this pick in a deal that sent tight end Jimmy Graham to Seattle, which netted them this pick, center Max Unger, and a 4th round pick.
The Saints need a weapon at the tight end position for Drew Brees now. Graham was their most reliable target, when healthy (he missed five games last season, but still caught 85 passes for 885 yards and 10 scores). The New Orleans offense needs some more firepower, after dealing away Graham, Kenny Stills, and letting running back Pierre Thomas walk.
As stated above, Jimmy Graham was a big producer in this offense. The fact that he scored double digit touchdowns in only eleven games is proof of the connection he and Brees had. Now, the Saints' top tight end is Benjamin Watson, who is a good blocker, but not a receiving threat. They should consider drafting a receiving tight end, and coming out in two tight end sets occasionally.
Maxx Williams is the best tight end in the draft, and the only one worthy of a first round selection. He is a big guy with solid speed and decent route runner. Williams has great hands, and can make multiple circus catches a year, as he did in 2014 with the Gophers. After the catch, he likes to hurdle over defenders if he can, or just barrel through them. He needs to develop more as a route runner and as a blocker to become more balanced, but Maxx Williams could definitely start for many NFL teams, and could see a large amount of targets in his rookie year, with the absence of Graham.
32. New England Patriots
Quinten Rollins, Cornerback, Miami (Ohio), 5'11" 195
The Super Bowl champions won their title with a really good defense. This group was led by a great secondary, headlined by the top two cornerbacks - who were on one year deals. This group was very good last season, and can be argued to have been just as good as the "Legion of Boom".
Darrelle Revis had a $25 million salary for 2015, which New England refused to pay. This lead to a reunion between Revis and division - rival New York Jets. Brandon Browner was another really good player, who was only signed to a one year deal. He left in free agency to the New Orleans Saints. Behind them are now Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, and Malcolm Butler. Arrington isn't really a bad starter, but it'd be ideal for him to play the slot. Ryan was beaten regularly in coverage.
Quinten Rollins has good length to him, and has good ball skills. Even though he doesn't have much experience (one year at cornerback), Rollins is a solid open field tackler. His recovery speed is good, and his confidence keeps his head held high even if he lets up a big play, not letting his mistakes get to him. He needs to work on press coverage, as he struggles in that area, and gave a cushion to receivers more often than not.