The Star will release its final mock draft April 30, the first day of the draft. 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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No change here. From a football standpoint, 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.
DE Leonard Williams, 6-5, 302, Southern California
I’m still not ready to bank on the much-banded about Philip Rivers trade. If that trade doesn’t come to pass, I still believe the Titans will take Williams, a disruptive interior presence when he puts an emphasis on getting upfield.
OLB Dante Fowler, Jr., 6-3, 261, Florida
This is the perfect marriage of need and fit. The best player on the board is Fowler, who gets off the ball well, plays hard and has the frame to be an effective “Leo” pass rusher in coach Gus Bradley’s scheme. The Jaguars do not have one pass rusher on their roster with the upside of Fowler.
WR Kevin White, 6-3, 215, West Virginia
The Raiders have their pick of the best receivers on the board, White and Alabama’s Amari Cooper. General manager Reggie McKenzie reportedly liked Mike Evans over Sammy Watkins a year ago, and White fits Evans’ mold better than Cooper. White could end up being a more complete player because of his size and competitiveness. And while he is not as polished as Cooper, White is an emotional player with great ball skills who can be a receiving target for young quarterback Derek Carr.
OLB Vic Beasley, Jr., 6-3, 246, Clemson
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. So the pick again remains Beasley, who is not a better player than Mizzou’s Shane Ray or Nebraska’s Randy Gregory but has tested better than Ray and has a cleaner background than Gregory.
6 New York Jets
WR Amari Cooper, 6-1, 211, Alabama
Cooper, a polished route runner with excellent burst out of his cuts, is a good value at No. 6. He’s the best player on the board and could form a solid tandem with Eric Decker to at least give Geno Smith a chance. The Jets will entertain Mariota and should pick him if they believe in his talent, even though Chan Gailey’s history of getting the most out of marginal quarterbacks should play in Smith’s favor.
QB Marcus Mariota, 6-4, 222, Oregon
I could see the Bears going for an edge rusher here, especially with new coach John Fox wanting to run a 3-4 defense. But the buzz surrounding Marcus Mariota has grown in recent weeks — Chicago recently had a predraft visit with him — and the Bears’ new regime has been less than committed to incumbent quarterback Jay Cutler. Mariota’s character, athleticism and arm strength are pluses, and while he’ll need a while to adjust to the NFL game, there is some serious upside here. Best of all, they won’t have to move up to get their man.
OLB Shane Ray, 6-3, 249, Missouri
The Falcons are dying for a pass rusher, even though they signed Brooks Reed in free agency, and Ray can unquestionably bring it off the edge. His overall bulk and lingering toe injury are concerns, but he possesses an elite first step and will be an immediate contributor on passing downs for a front office that desperately needs to make the playoffs to stick around. If Ray is 100 percent, he will help the Falcons’ abysmal pass rush immediately.
9 New York Giants
G/T Brandon Scherff, 6-5, 319, Iowa
Drafting Scherff, a mauler who best profiles as a guard, will allow the Giants to shift 2014 second-round pick Weston Richburg back to center and boost the league’s 28th-ranked rushing offense. Scherff can even serve as insurance for left tackle Will Beatty, who turns 30 this year and bounced back after an injury-ravaged 2013 campaign, or allow them to shift right tackle Justin Pugh inside to guard.
10 St. Louis Rams
LT Andrus Peat, 6-7, 313, Stanford
Scherff should be in the mix if he somehow slips past the Giants, but Peat is an OK consolation prize. He’s built like a house — his legs are the size of tree trunks — and he possesses good athleticism. He needs to get stronger and needs to play nasty more consistently, but he does flash the latter. Peat played left tackle at Stanford, but has the frame and power to play right tackle. Offensive line is a major position of need for the Rams, and Peat will give Jeff Fisher another talented lineman to build his physical team around.
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. A cornerback like Trae Waynes or 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 to 2013 — is working in his favor.
NT/DT Danny Shelton, 6-2, 339, Washington
If the Browns don’t make a run at Marcus Mariota, Shelton could easily be the pick. Even though he does not project as a disruptive NFL pass rusher, 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 Browns signed Randy Starks to bolster the interior of the offensive line, and they already have Phil Taylor, but Shelton 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. Texas’ Malcom Brown could potentially go this high, too, if the Browns want more of a pass-rush threat. His upside is real.
13 New Orleans
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 standing up and in a three-point stance and shows flashes of being able to set the edge against the run, rush the passer and play in space. The NFL is a passing league now, and you can never have too many pass rushers. Dupree is the last player who is considered to be a “premium” pass rusher by most on the board.
RB Todd Gurley, 6-1, 222, Georgia
The Dolphins’ need to get a penetrating three-technique player 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. He might start the season on the physically unable to perform list, but ACL injuries are no longer considered a death knell, and Gurley has the qualities to be a Marshawn Lynch-type back.
15 San Francisco
ILB Eric Kendricks, 6-0, 232, UCLA
The 49ers have suffered some major losses at inside linebacker this offseason, as studs Patrick Willis and Chris Borland have opted for retirement. They still have one stud remaining at the position in NaVorro Bowman, who is returning after missing all of 2014 because of a serious knee injury, but for a team built from the outside, it might be smart to take a do-it-all linebacker like Kendricks, a tackling machine with excellent instincts who has a chance to become an impact contributor immediately.
OLB Randy Gregory, 6-5, 235, Nebraska
Gregory’s combination of size, athleticism and ceiling could tempt the Texans to overlook his past issues with marijuana. If he pans out, he would would beef up a front seven that would become dominant if Jadeveon Clowney lives up to his immense potential.
17 San Diego
RB Melvin Gordon, 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.
C/G Cameron Erving, 6-5, 313, Florida State
The Chiefs have invested two years in developing backup center Eric Kush, and while general manager John Dorsey has said he believes Kush is ready to play, it’s not absurd to think they could be wooed by the ceiling of Erving, who thrived in 2014 after a midseason move to center because of his quickness off the ball and zone-blocking instincts. No. 18 is high to take a center, especially one with some flaws, but if the Chiefs believe he has Pro Bowl potential — and he will need to play a little nastier on a consistent basis to reach that level — this could be the pick.
Also keep an eye on Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown, UCLA inside linebacker Eric Kendricks, Miami, Fla., offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, UConn cornerback Byron Jones and Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes here. The Chiefs, by the way, have also done their due diligence on Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham at this spot.
19 Cleveland (from Buffalo)
DT Malcom Brown, 6-2, 320, Texas
With Erving off the board — he could provide a long-term answer at center with Alex Mack set to be an unrestricted free agent in a year — the Browns should look to take the best player available. Cornerback is a need following the loss of Buster Skrine to free agency, so a corner might be a good option here. However, the Browns could also take the best player available, which happens to be Brown, a talented three-technique interior lineman who excels at shooting gaps and being disruptive. He has the potential to be a three-down lineman, which is important in today’s pass-happy NFL. Though they’d like share reps with Phil Taylor, Billy Wynn and Randy Starks early on, Brown and Shelton would actually complement each other and give Cleveland a nice young duo to anchor the middle of their defense for years to come.
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, but my hunch is the draft community might like him a little more than teams do. He has good size and athleticism for the position, but doesn’t always play to his timed speed, is very handsy and needs to improve his technique to be a consistent cover man.
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. The Bengals’ nose guard play left a lot to be desired last year, and the signing of Michael Johnson reduces the need for an edge rusher.
SS Landon Collins, 6-0, 228, Alabama
Box safeties aren’t as valuable as they used to be, but Collins shows just enough versatility to warrant consideration for the Steelers — especially with the recent retirement of Troy Polamalu. Collins has 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 for a secondary that struggled last season.
CB Kevin Johnson, 6-0, 188, Wake Forest
The ongoing restructuring of Philly’s secondary continues. The Eagles have already signed Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond to boost a sagging group of corners, but Thurmond missed most of last year because of an injury, and you really can’t have too many corners. Plus, Johnson is easily one of the best players on the board at this point. His quick hips and impressive athleticism will allow him to compete immediately.
OLB Nate Orchard, 6-4, 250, Utah
The Cardinals could really use more juice in their pass rush from the outside, and Orchard is the next-best guy on the board. He’s explosive out of his three-point stance, particularly as a wide-nine technique, and he’s crafty with his pass-rush moves. He also plays hard. He gets moved vs. the run but often does a good job of finding the football anyway.
LT D.J. Humphries, 6-5, 307, Florida
Somebody has to protect Cam Newton’s blindside, and Humphries’ feet and athleticism screams NFL left tackle. His weight is a concern — he played all of 2014 in the 280s — but he bulked up before the combine. If he can keep that weight on while maintaining his natural athleticism, he’s got a chance to be a very good football player at the professional level.
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, 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 Byron Jones, 6-1, 199, Connecticut
The Cowboys are committed to running the football, even though star runner DeMarco Murray bolted for Philly during free agency, but Gurley and Gordon are off the board, and everyone else is probably a reach. Dallas also needs help at corner, and Jones — a workout warrior who blew everyone away during the testing portion of the combine — would appear to be right up Jerry Jones’ alley.
T Ereck Flowers, 6-6, 329, Miami, Fla.
The Broncos could still use a right tackle, and with Humphries sliding past Flowers at No. 25 for Carolina, that leaves the Broncos with a chance to take a very intriguing player in Flowers, the best player on the board at the position. 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 moves people, plus he flashes nastiness.
WR Jaelen Strong, 6-2, 217, Arizona State
The Colts need to be committed to getting Andrew Luck as many weapons as possible. Andre Johnson was a good start; now give him someone he can mentor in Strong, who answered questions about his long speed with a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He’s a raw route runner who does not create much separation, but his impressive physicality and ability to track the deep ball are difficult to dispute. The news of the lingering fracture in his hand, however, could hurt his draft stock.
30 Green Bay
ILB Benardrick McKinney, 6-4, 246, Mississippi State
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 McKinney is an OK pick here. He looks the part of a strong-side inside linebacker in the Packers’ scheme, and has should help shore up a leaky run defense.
31 New Orleans (from Seattle)
DE Arik Armstead, 6-7, 292, Oregon
Starting defensive end Akiem Hicks is entering the last year of his deal, which means the Saints might be wise to add another young talent at the position. Armstead is a physical freak who is only 20 years old and is still very raw. And while motor runs hot and cold — just look at the National Championship Game — he’s a toolsy football player who could grown into a disruptive interior force with the right coaching.
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.