This is one of the more interesting NFL drafts in recent memory. It neither presents the massive excitement that saturated the American sports media in 2014 nor does it fail to have some discussion points. The biggest talking point that has occurred over the past few months is about where Marcus Mariota will end up—Tennessee? New York? Washington? Cleveland? San Diego? Philadelphia? New Orleans? And where he is drafted will damage the game plans for many franchises. This is where the excitement lies. While Jameis Winston will definitely be drafted number one overall, this draft will surely be remembered as the Mariota draft (especially if he falls outside the top ten.)
Pick #1: Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State)
It is quite clear that everybody thinks the 2013 Heismann Trophy winner Jameis Winston is remaining in Florida to play football. Despite several off the field issues—some of which has a Manziel-esque feeling—his ability to play in a pro-style offense in college means Tampa, who desperately need a quarterback, will be selecting Winston at number one.
#2: Tennessee Titans select Leonard Williams (DE, USC)
It’s the best pick of the draft versus the most marketable pick of the draft; Williams vs Mariota. The Titans are an organisation that desperately needs a star player and Marcus Mariota would fit the billing if it were not for the fact that the coaching staff seem high on Zach Mettenberger. However, Williams is one of the most explosive defensive linemen in the draft and certainly the most promising talent—one which could destroy Andrew Luck and the weak Colts O-line.
#3: Jacksonville Jaguars select Dante Fowler Jr (OLB, Florida)
This is as certain as the first pick of the draft. It seems unlikely that Fowler Jr will go anywhere else as he is perfect for Gus Bradley’s system. He could also be moulded into a defensive end or an inside linebacker. Adaptability is never a bad thing.
#4: Oakland Raiders select Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
Many pundits believe that Kevin White will be the first wide receiver to be picked in the draft. While Oakland love drafting players with massive upside (e.g. Khalil Mack and Derek Carr from 2014), Cooper would definitely be the safer pick of the two receivers. Cooper is a touchdown machine, drawing parallels with Julio Jones, a former Alabama WR and current NFL superstar.
#5: Washington Redskins select Vic Beasley (OLB, Clemson)
Washington are now in desperate need for a playmaker on the defensive side of the field with Brian Orakpo leaving the team.. Beasley was a dominant player for Clemson, ranking first in his school’s history for sacks. He will be very effective on the pass rush, something that is much needed for Washington when facing the good QBs and offensive systems in the NFC East.
#6 New York Jets select Shane Ray (DE, Missouri)
The new General Manager Mike Maccagnan loves to draft pass rushers. He’s drafted the likes of Jadaveon Clowney and Mario Williams during his time as director of scouting at the Houston Texans. New head coach Todd Bowles loves aggressive defensive play and Ray’s selection could mean that the Jets will possess the most valuable defensive line in the NFL. The Jets could go for Mariota here, but they picked up Ryan Fitzpatrick in free agency and the staff seem reluctant to drop Geno Smith despite two years of poor QB play.
#7 Chicago Bears select Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
If Kevin White isn’t available then Amari Cooper is the other option here. Chicago don’t necessarily need to go wide receiver in the first round, but a selection like White or Cooper would not only cater for a “team need” but they would be picking up a quality talent. White is not as NFL ready as Cooper, but a lot of scouts believe that he has a lot of upside and that’s why White will go in the top ten.
#8 Atlanta Falcons select Brandon Scherff (OG, Iowa)
For the second year running Atlanta will be selecting an offensive lineman in the first round. Many pundits believe that Stanfords’ offensive tackle Andrus Peat could go here instead of Scherff, but they would not be selecting the best OL man in the draft if they were to go Peat. Scherff offers something that Peat cannot; versatility—the guard from Iowa can also play anywhere else on that offensive line which is what Atlanta really need.
#9 New York Giants select Danny Shelton (NT, Washington)
Danny Shelton is the most attractive defensive/nose tackle heading into this draft and has the ability to play a dominant part in Steve Spagnuolo’s NASCAR defense. The Giants could trade down here for a safety or they could draft an offensive lineman instead.
#10 St Louis Rams select Andrus Peat (OT, Stanford)
Their latest QB acquisition Nick Foles is not very good under pressure and the St Louis O-line are not very good at protecting their QB. It’s an easy pick for the Rams. They could also do with improving the secondary and they really don’t need to draft a new QB if they already have Foles in place.
#11 Minnesota Vikings select Trae Waynes (CB, Michigan State)
Trae Waynes is what the Vikings need—a starting cornerback. The signing of 36-year-old Terence Newman from Cincinnati should provide no competition for the rookie, who should start from week one across Xavier Rhodes. He is a tough player both physically and mentally and loves a one-on-one challenge with a WR but he will concede a lot of penalties.
#12 Cleveland Browns select Devante Parker (WR, Louisville)
Apart from just having bad quarterbacks, the reason why the Browns have endured bad QB play in 2014 was down to the fact that the receiving corps were poor. And with Josh Gordon being Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron now at Miami, Cleveland need to draft a wide receiver badly to help out McCown or Manziel. They need a receiver more than they need a QB (ergo no Mariota.)
#13 New Orleans Saints select Randy Gregory (OLB, Nebraska)
Gregory should be a top ten pick on talent alone but his failed marijuana test means he drops out of the top ten. Even then, it could be considered overly optimistic to see the Saints draft Gregory here and it would not be surprising to see if they find a different pass rushing talent. However, the Saints will be desperate to draft a great defensive talent that helps replicate their defensive success in 2013.
#14 Miami Dolphins select Jalen Collins (CB, LSU)
Miami have only one good cornerback in Brent Grimes and that is it. The Dolphins need improving in the secondary and it would not be that hard to envisage a lot of corners being selected in the first round. Therefore Miami will select Jalen Collins, a rookie that has had very few starts at college level but has immense physicality which gives coaches something to work with.
#15 San Francisco 49ers select Arik Armstead (DT, Oregon)
NFL.com at this point has him as the best player on the board and considering the amount of talent San Francisco have lost this offseason on defense then it’s a simple case of one plus one equals two. Or in other terms, just take the best defensive player on the board.
#16 Houston Texans select Kevin Johnson (CB, Wake Forest)
Kareem Jackson’s new contract means that cornerback isn’t the most urgent need for Houston but it does mean that Jonathan Joseph might not be re-signed after 2015. Therefore the Texans could build for the future here by selecting Kevin Johnson. However, it would not be surprising to go with what many analysts expect by drafting a wide receiver instead of a CB.
#17 San Diego Chargers select Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
The Chargers do not have a running back. They could draft elsewhere like Marcus Mariota (since Phillip Rivers may not sign a new contract), but to reject Gurley’s talent would be a big mistake from the Chargers front office.
#18 Kansas City Chiefs select Breshad Perriman (WR, Central Florida)
Perriman is the biggest “late climber” of this year’s draft after having an excellent showing at the scouting combine as well as exciting coaches and scouts alike with his game tape. Despite signing Jeremy Maclin from the Eagles, the Chiefs need to draft a receiver.
#19 Cleveland Browns select Malcom Brown (DT, Texas)
Malcom Brown could go as high as number seven in this year’s draft so he could be a steal at number 19. He’s a very physical defensive tackle that has the ability to be a defensive end too. He will be very useful for Cleveland as a run stopper as well as being a decent pass rusher.
#20 Philadelphia Eagles select Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
It is unlikely that Mariota will fall below number 20, but it would be unsurprising if Chip Kelly trades up to acquire Mariota’s services. And then the dream team will be formed; Oregon QB teams up with Oregon head coach in Oregon’s offense. For Mariota it will be homecoming, because the biggest issue many scouts have is whether or not he can adapt to a pro-style system. Philadelphia is easily Mariota’s best fit.
#21 Cincinnati Bengals select T.J. Clemmings (OT, Pittsburgh)
Many analysts have raised issues with current 33-year-old left tackle Andrew Whitworth and are asking how long will he last in the NFL. While Whitworth is playing well, he needs to be moved to the inside of the O-line. The Bengals could draft a number of offensive tackles here so they may not necessarily sign T.J. Clemmings.
#22 Pittsburgh Steelers select Landon Collins (SS, Alabama)
Troy Polamalu’s retirement this past week means that the Steelers definitely need to sign a safety in the first round and thankfully for them they have landed in a decent spot to land Landon Collins—the best safety in the draft. The Steelers could also go OLB at #22 if they wanted to sign someone like Bud Dupree to replace the recently retired Jason Worilds.
#23 Detroit Lions select Eddie Goldman (DT, Florida State)
The Lions absolutely need a defensive tackle and they need to draft one in the first round at all costs. Losing Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley is a crippling blow to their defensive line and the only way to repair that is by getting someone like Goldman in.
#24 Arizona Cardinals select Bud Dupree (OLB, Kentucky)
Aside from Calais Campbell, the pass rush was slightly inconsistent from the Cardinals—which is a shame because they have a good defense. Despite signing LaMarr Woodley from the Raiders, the Cardinals need to inject some fresh blood into their linebacker corps and Dupree fits the bill.
#25 Carolina Panthers select D.J. Humphries (OT, Florida)
No brainer. They need to protect Cam Newton more than anything else. The offensive line was extremely poor in the first half of the 2014 season and while things were starting to improve, Newton was still taking some big hits. Humphries is also a good run blocker.
#26 Baltimore Ravens select Jaleen Strong (WR, Arizona State)
Baltimore will need to pick up two wide receivers in this draft as Torrey Smith has left for San Francisco and Steve Smith Sr has turned 36. Yikes. Signing Jaleen Strong would be a good start as his size and presence means he has the potential to dominate cornerbacks and that would suit Joe Flacco’s vertical style of play.
#27 Dallas Cowboys select Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
It would be a shame for the Cowboys to have the best offensive line in the NFL only for it not to be exploited by a star running back. Enter Melvin Gordon who would definitely start from week one over the nice but not overly brilliant Lance Dunbar and the underwhelming Darren McFadden. Gordon has the potential to be a bigger star than DeMarco Murray.
#28 Denver Broncos select La’el Collins (OT, LSU)
Peyton Manning is old and has neck issues. He needs protecting. Draft an offensive lineman. Simple. Anyway, Collins offers flexibility and he can play as a guard too as well as having an aggressive but positive attitude on the field. Downside: he’s not so good with his hands and feet—something glaringly essential for an OT. Coaches love him though and that’s why he will go in the first.
#29 Indianapolis Colts select Ereck Flowers (OT, Miami)
This is yet another team that really needs to improve the offensive line as superstar QB Andrew Luck took too many hits last season. Flowers may not be the best suited offensive lineman for the Colts as he is a better run blocker than pass protection, but his signing would mean major improvements on the run game—something which the Colts have needed since 2012.
#30 Green Bay Packers select Paul Dawson (ILB, TCU)
The Packers need to address the inside linebacker position and they could either end up signing Paul Dawson or Eric Kendricks to accompany Clay Matthews (who moved to the inside from the outside in 2014). Losing A.J. Hawk to the Bengals has not helped matters for the Packers too. Dawson is projected to go at round two, because he needs work with his tackling and run blocking.
#31 New Orleans Saints select Dorial Green-Beckham (WR, Missouri)
If the Saints do sign Gregory, then it is possible that Green-Beckham (or DGB) may not be picked up by New Orleans due to the fact that he also has off-field issues. Green-Beckham is definitely a first round talent and the Saints need a wide receiver after losing both Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills. DGB may drop to the second round or he could be drafted in a higher position—like Mariota, it will be impossible to tell where he may end up.
#32 New England Patriots select Byron Jones (CB, Connecticut)
A few NFL.com analysts have him going in the first round by squeaking in at number 32. Bill Belichick loves intelligent players and therefore he will like working with a player like Jones who has the right attitude to learn in the NFL.
This OTI piece was written by Brod Sutherland. Brod is from Bath, UK and is a massive New York Giants fan. He has recently started a blog that covers a variety of sports called “Armchair Analyst” and he also writes European football topics for our friends at lastwordonsports.com. He also supports Manchester City and Celtic football clubs. Follow him @BrodSutherland . And visit his armchairanalystblog.wordpress.com .