This is the fourth in The Star’s series of NFL first-round draft projections. You can find the third here, the second here and the first here. The Star will release a mock draft every Sunday from here until the draft, with a final mock being released on April 30, the day of the draft.
A quick disclaimer: Each mock is based on individual film work, research and recent transactions.
1 Tampa Bay
QB Jameis Winston, 6-4, 231, Florida State
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Winston gives the Bucs a better chance to win now than Marcus Mariota because of his combination of moxie, arm strength and familiarity with pro-style concepts. As I’ve written before, Winston is not a perfect prospect — his 2014 tape is littered with questionable throws — but it seems like concerns about his off-field issues are seemingly fading, which means the Bucs should be tempted to gamble on his ceiling.
DE Leonard Williams, 6-5, 302, Southern California
The Titans’ decision to sign Brian Orakpo and re-sign Derrick Morgan nullifies their need to take an edge rusher. That will allow them to trade down, if someone wants Mariota badly enough, or take Williams, arguably the best player in the draft. The Titans already have a pair of solid 3-4 ends in Ropati Pitoitua and Jurrell Casey, but Williams plays hard and is a disruptive interior presence when allowed to one-gap. An interior tandem of Williams and Casey will trouble offenses in passing situations.
OLB Dante Fowler, Jr., 6-3, 261, Florida
Edge rusher remains a position of concern after the Jaguars failed to address it in free agency. This will work out well for them, though, because they are in position to take Fowler, one of the three best players in the draft. He gets off the ball well, plays hard and has the frame to be an effective “Leo” pass rusher in coach Gus Bradley’s scheme.
WR Amari Cooper, 6-1, 211, Alabama
The Raiders have their pick of the best receivers on the board, West Virginia’s Kevin White and Cooper. White could end up being a better, more complete player, because of his size, but the Raiders need a deep threat, and no one is better at that than the explosive Cooper, who is a polished route runner with excellent burst out of his cuts. He will stretch the field and give young quarterback Derek Carr the promising young target he needs.
OLB Randy Gregory, 6-5, 235, Nebraska
This isn’t a bad position at all for Washington, which is in position to field trade offers from teams looking to acquire either White or Mariota. For the purposes of this mock, however, you have to assume they will be picking here, and the best fit on the board is an edge rusher like Gregory, whose combination of size, athleticism and ceiling could tempt Washington to overlook his past issues with marijuana. Washington already has a good edge rusher in Ryan Kerrigan and drafted another one in the second round last year in Trent Murphy, but that was a different regime, and Murphy needs to improve his pass-rushing ability.
6 New York Jets
OLB Shane Ray, 6-3, 249, Missouri
The Jets would also have to entertain Mariota and White here, but they also need a pass rusher, and Ray can bring the heat off the edge. The Jets have had success with another former Missouri defensive lineman, Sheldon Richardson, and they simply don’t have much juice at the position.
OLB Vic Beasley, Jr., 6-3, 246, Clemson
I could see the Bears going for an edge rusher here, especially with new coach John Fox wanting to run a 3-4 defense. The Bears signed Pernell McPhee to man one spot, but Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young are older players who are probably better fits as 4-3 defensive ends. It’s good they’re in the mix, though — they can handle the early downs while Beasley, a polished-but-underpowered pass-rusher at the college level, handles the passing downs.
WR Kevin White, 6-3, 215, West Virginia
The Falcons would have loved to take a pass rusher here, but with four of them off the board in the first seven picks, they’d be reaching for the next best guy. Don’t put that past the Falcons, given their intense need for edge rushers, but they did sign Brooks Reed in free agency, so they won’t go oh-fer at the position. That makes it a little easier to take White, who is easily the best player on the board, and address edge rusher in the second round.
9 New York Giants
G/T Brandon Scherff, 6-5, 319, Iowa
The best player on the board at this point is Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff, a mauler who I believe best profiles as a guard. He only benched 23 reps at the combine, but I don’t care about that, and neither should NFL teams; turn on the tape and you’ll see a powerful run blocker who can move people. His presence would allow the Giants to shift 2014 second-round pick Weston Richburg back to center and boost the league’s 28th-ranked rushing offense.
10 St. Louis Rams
LT Andrus Peat, 6-7, 313, Stanford
Offensive line is a need position for the rams, who only have four offensive linemen who have started a regular-season game. Scherff should be in the mix if he somehow slips past the Giants, but Peat is a nice consolation prize. He offers prototypical size with good athleticism, and while he needs to get stronger, but he shows some nastiness as a run blocker. Peat played left tackle at Stanford, but has the frame and power to play right tackle.
WR DeVante Parker, 6-3, 209, Louisville
The Vikings have jettisoned Greg Jennings and added Mike Wallace, but the NFL is a passing league, which means there’s always room for another weapon, particularly one with the deep-ball skill set of Parker. An offensive lineman would have to be a consideration here, particularly if Peat or Scherff fall, but Parker’s history with emerging young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater — the two lit up defenses together at Louisville from 2011-13 — is working in his favor.
QB Marcus Mariota, 6-4, 222, Oregon
The Browns need a quarterback, even with the signing of Josh McCown, and the simply cannot rely on Johnny Manziel. Mariota’s character, athleticism and arm strength are pluses, and while he’ll need a chance to adjust to the NFL game, there is some serious upside here. A trade could also be in the works — Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly has the ammo to move up and select Mariota, so while the projection is Mariota will go at this spot, Philly could also be the team taking him. A trade down is good for the Browns, too — they have numerous holes and there isn’t a no-brainer pick remaining on the board at No. 12.
13 New Orleans
CB Trae Waynes, 6-0, 186, Michigan State
Waynes, who blazed a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at the combine, is widely regarded as the draft’s top corner, and the Saints’ cornerback play was terrible last season. Waynes doesn’t always play to that speed, but he has experience in a press scheme and will form a nice trio with free-agent signee Brandon Browner and returnee Keenan Lewis.
RB Todd Gurley, 6-1, 222, Georgia
The Dolphins’ need to get a penetrating three-technique completely evaporated with the signing of Ndamukong Suh in free agency. That frees the Dolphins up to take Gurley, a player who might represent the best value on the board. He was considered a top-10 pick before he tore his ACL in November, and is a special back with excellent burst and vision.
15 San Francisco
DE Arik Armstead, 6-7, 292, Oregon
Defensive end Justin Smith is reportedly considering retirement, and although the 49ers signed Darnell Dockett, they don’t have a ton at one of their most important positions. And with many of the top players off the board at this point, it makes sense for them to consider Armstead, a physical freak who is only 20 years old and is still very raw. Armstead’s motor runs hot and cold — just look at the National Championship Game — but he’s a toolsy football player who has the ideal frame of a five-technique defensive end in the 49ers’ 3-4 system.
DE Alvin “Bud” Dupree, 6-4, 269, Kentucky
Dupree isn’t an eye-popping athlete off the edge, at least on tape, but he has experience playing standing up and in a three-point stance. He also shows flashes of being able to set the edge against the run, rush the passer and play in space. He also provides insurance in case the Texans choose to move on from Whitney Mercilus after the 2015 season and if Jadeveon Clowney — whose injury issues as a rookie are cause for concern — doesn’t pan out
17 San Diego
RB Melvin Gordon III, 6-1, 215, Wisconsin
Gordon is a great fit for the Chargers, who clearly want to be more physical up front. They signed guard Orlando Franklin in free agency to line up next to King Dunlap, and drafting Gordon — a speed back with experience in a zone-running scheme — should help give the Chargers’ pass-heavy offense more balance. Gordon needs to continue to develop his vision as a runner, but the scheme fits his talents, and that’s something that can be taught in a zone-run scheme.
T Ereck Flowers, 6-6, 329, Miami, Fla.
If the draft unfolds this way, the Chiefs need to entertain a trade down. If they can do that, they can feel a bit better about selecting two players I have already identified as potential picks at No. 18: UCLA inside linebacker Eric Kendricks and Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams.
But if they can’t trade down or believe selecting Kendricks or Williams is a reach, offensive line — particularly offensive tackle — is a position the Chiefs could go for. Flowers, who started at left tackle at Miami, fits the bill. He hammered out an impressive 37 reps on the bench press at the combine, and while he needs to continue to work on his technique in pass protection, there’s some real talent to work with there. He’s brawny, strong and athletic and he flashes nastiness.
In the long term, Flowers could move to the left side if Eric Fisher doesn’t progress the way the Chiefs hope. In the short term, he can move to the right side and compete with Donald Stephenson and Jeff Allen.
The Chiefs should also entertain a cornerback or receiver in the first round, though I don’t think the options remaining at the latter position are worth the 18th overall pick. There are some intriguing corners remaining, however, including Connecticut’s Byron Jones.
19 Cleveland (from Buffalo)
DT Malcom Brown, 6-2, 320, Texas
The Browns signed Randy Starks to bolster the interior of the offensive line, and they already have Phil Taylor, but Brown — a talented three-technique who excels at shooting gaps — protects them in case of injury, gives them a good, young player they can work into the rotation and will help a pass rush that needs more juice.
SS Landon Collins, 6-0, 228, Alabama
The ongoing restructuring of Philly’s secondary continues. And while safeties aren’t as valuable as they used to be, Collins shows just enough versatility to warrant consideration. He’s got some ball skills in zone coverage and is comfortable around the box, and while his play speed isn’t great, he interviewed well and figures to be a plug-and-play type.
NT/DT Danny Shelton, 6-2, 339, Washington
Shelton does not project as a disruptive NFL pass rusher, but he’s massive, plays hard and was very productive in 2014. He’s also capable of shooting gaps, which makes him an excellent fit as a one-technique player next to Geno Atkins. The Bengals’ nose guard play left a lot to be desired last year, and the signing of Michael Johnson reduces the need for a pass rusher.
CB Kevin Johnson, 6-0, 188, Wake Forest
The Steelers could use another pass rusher, but all of the top guys are off the board, so this is a good spot for a corner. The Steelers were subpar on the back end last season, and need someone who can come in and help right away. That’s Johnson, whose quick hips, impressive athleticism and experience in off coverage — which the Steelers used a lot last season — should appeal to Pittsburgh.
WR Jaelen Strong, 6-2, 217, Arizona State
The loss of Ndamukong Suh has been negated some by the trade for Haloti Ngata and the signing of Tyrunn Walker. So the Lions, in their ongoing quest to give Matthew Stafford every possible weapon, could swing for the fences with Strong, who answered questions about his long speed with a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at the combine. The Lions already have Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, but Johnson isn’t getting any younger, and there’s room for three-wide sets with last year’s No. 1 pick, tight end Eric Ebron.
C/G Cameron Erving, 6-5, 313, Florida State
Irving offers versatility. He started the 2014 season as a left tackle and ended it at center, where he thrived because of his quickness off the ball and zone-blocking instincts. If he’s too big to play center in the NFL — his length could cause problems there because it takes tall centers longer to shoot their arms into squatty tackles — he could also compete at right tackle.
LT D.J. Humphries, 6-5, 307, Florida
The Panthers really need a left tackle, and Humphries is probably the best bet at this point. He played the 2014 season at under 300 pounds, which was a concern, but bulked up before the combine and displays the feet and ceiling in pass protection to serve as a potential bedrock in the Panthers’ offense for years to come.
TE Maxx Williams, 6-4, 249, Minnesota
Tight end Dennis Pitta may not return after his second hip fracture, and while the Ravens have recently expressed confidence in youngster Crockett Gillmore, a player like Williams — a natural hands catcher with NFL bloodlines — is exactly the kind of good, overlooked player the Ravens always seem to pluck late in the first round. A defensive tackle like Florida State’s Eddie Goldman would be good, too.
CB Jalen Collins, 6-1, 203, LSU
Dallas would love to get its hands on Gurley, but he’s long gone. Cornerback is another significant need, and a player like Collins would fit in Dallas. His ball skills, strength and athleticism stand out, and while he’s very raw — his instincts and technique need to improve — he could potentially be a nice fit in the Cowboys’ 4-3 scheme.
RT T.J. Clemmings, 6-5, 307, Pittsburgh
The Broncos could still use a right tackle, and while Clemmings is very raw — his technique is still all over the place — his physical skills make him an intriguing fit. He’s very athletic and light on his feet, and if he gets good coaching, can be a very good player.
DT Eddie Goldman, 6-4, 336, Florida State
Goldman is one of the best values on the board at this point. The film shows a big, powerful man with surprising burst for his size. There are questions about his lack of statistical productivity, but his sheer size and athleticism give him scheme versatility.
30 Green Bay
ILB Eric Kendricks, 6-0, 232, UCLA
The Packers just cut A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones, so there’s certainly a need here. The Packers’ play at inside linebacker was so bad that they moved star outside linebacker Clay Matthews midseason. That’s a waste of a gifted pass rusher, so Kendricks — a tackling machine with excellent instincts — makes a ton of sense here.
31 New Orleans (from Seattle)
LG La’El Collins, 6-4, 305, LSU
The Saints jettisoned left guard Ben Grubbs to the Chiefs, and while coach Sean Payton recently said the team has confidence in Tim Lelito to replace Grubbs, it’s going to be tough to pass on Collins. He might not have the feet to play tackle, but he’s a homestate mauler who could develop into a very good guard, which is a position the Saints value greatly.
32 New England
DT Jordan Phillips, 6-5, 329, Oklahoma
Phillips possesses good movement skills and power, and has the frame you simply can’t teach. He’s raw and his motor runs a bit hot and could, but he has the potential to anchor the middle of the Patriots’ defense.