A quick disclaimer: Keep in mind that there are still two months until the draft, so a ton can (and will) change after free agency, which starts March 10.
Regardless, this is a very good exercise to gain an understanding of each team’s positional needs as the offseason builds toward the draft. Each mock draft will change based on additional research, film work and transactions.
1. Tampa Bay: QB Jameis Winston, 6-4, 231, Florida State
After going with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in the first two mocks, I’m going to relent here after watching Winston breeze through the Combine and mesmerize everyone with his confidence and aura. There’s only so much you can take from a 15-minute media interview, but there were plenty of reports that he wowed teams in interviews, as well. That means something, particularly when combined with his undeniable arm strength and proven track record as a quarterback who can lead his team back from significant deficits (multiple come-from-behind wins). If Tampa Bay needs to win immediately, Winston gives them a better chance to do that than Mariota, as Mariota threw into huge windows at Oregon and will need some time to acclimate to the pro game. Winston is not a perfect prospect — his 2014 tape was littered with questionable throws — but the Bucs are going to gamble on his ceiling.
2. Tennessee: OLB Dante Fowler, Jr., 6-3, 261, Florida
Many people have USC’s Leonard Williams going here, and I respect his talents as a versatile three-down, plug-and-play interior defensive linemen, but the Titans already have two solid 3-4 defensive ends in Ropati Pitoitua and Jurrell Casey. The Titans need a quarterback, but it still sounds like coach Ken Whisenhunt likes sixth-round quarterback Zach Mettenberger. So Fowler still gets the nod, here; he’s got a good frame for a 3-4 defensive end, plays hard and gets off the ball well.
3. Jacksonville: DE/OLB Shane Ray, 6-3, 245, Missouri
I’m tempted to give the Jaguars a receiver here, whether it be West Virginia’s Kevin White or Alabama’s Amari Cooper. But they did just invest two second-round picks in receivers a year ago, and they really need a pass rusher to complete an emerging front seven. With Fowler off the board, the classic pick is Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, whose size and chippiness would give him the edge over Ray with most teams. But this is Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley, whose premier pass rushers in Seattle — Cliff Avril, Chris Clemons, Bruce Irvin — were all slightly undersized. This is a bit of a projection, because Ray hasn’t worked out yet, but the guess here is that he’s going to run a dynamite 40-time at Missouri’s Pro Day on March 19. If that happens, it could be tough for Bradley to pass on Ray, who displays an elite first step and had excellent production in the Southeastern Conference.
4. Oakland: DE Leonard Williams, 6-5, 302, Southern California
The Raiders have their pick of the best receivers on the board, White and Cooper, but they should be big spenders in free agency and may not be required to invest a high pick in the position. In that case, the Raiders could go for Williams, a polished interior linemen who understands how to use his hands and projects as a three-down player. I’m not as high on Williams as others — though I like him plenty, I just wish he were a tad more explosive — but there seems to be a sense that Williams won’t fall lower than this spot, even with White and Cooper on the board.
5. Washington: OLB Randy Gregory, 6-5, 235, Nebraska
This isn’t a bad position at all for Washington, which gets to choose between a promising edge rusher and the two best receivers on the board. Well, Washington is going to go with the edge rusher, particularly since Brian Orakpo is a pending free agent who may command more on the open market than Washington is willing to pay an injury-prone star. Gregory weighed in at only 235 pounds at the Combine, but he has the athleticism and frame to carry more weight well and certainly has a high ceiling. He’d be a nice fit in Washington’s 3-4 defense.
6. New York Jets: WR Kevin White, 6-3, 215, West Virginia
The Jets wouldn’t mind seeing one of the three-best edge rushers fall, but White remains a very nice consolation prize. He gets the nod over Cooper here because he’s bigger and burned the track at the Combine, running a blazing fast 4.35 40-yard dash time. He’s also got an outsized personality that should help him in New York, as opposed to the reserved Cooper. Truthfully, however, either player would make a nice tandem with Eric Decker for whoever the quarterback will be. Speaking of quarterback, the Jets could go with Mariota here, but they’ll need to be sold that he won’t need an inordinately long time to adjust to the pro game. If they aren’t, they might just go with a player that can help them quicker.
7. Chicago: LT Andrus Peat, 6-7, 313, Stanford
I could see the Bears going for an edge rusher here, especially with new coach John Fox wanting to run a 3-4 defense. Problem is, the Bears still have the personnel for a 4-3 team, which could make for a rough transition. The best pass rusher on the board is Clemson’s Vic Beasley, who checked in at a surprising 6 feet 3 and 246 pounds at the Combine, but this might be a tad high for a guy who struggled vs. the run. That said, the Bears also need an upgrade at offensive tackle, and Peat offers prototypical size with good athleticism. He needs to get stronger, but he shows some nastiness as a run blocker. Peat can start at left tackle if the Bears choose to move on from Jermon Bushrod, or right tackle if they want to keep him.
8. Atlanta: OLB Vic Beasley, Jr., 6-3, 246, Clemson
Yes, I just wrote that this is probably a tad high to take Beasley, but the Falcons need pass rushers, and their new general manager is Scott Pioli, who isn’t afraid to reach for a guy he liks (see: Tyson Jackson). Beasley actually checked in an inch taller and 11 pounds heavier than he was listed at Clemson, which will only boost his stock. The guy can get after the quarterback, too — he’s got good athleticism and speed off the edge, and he knows how to use his hands to win in the pass rush. The Falcons just need to hope he finds a way to set the edge vs. the run, which is an area in which need needs to improve.
9. New York Giants: WR Amari Cooper, 6-1, 211, Alabama
The Giants would have to think hard about taking Iowa 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. However, they just can’t pass on Cooper here. This is a steal that would immediately give Eli Manning an elite receiving corps with Victor Cruz, Odell Beckham, Jr., and Rueben Randle.
10. St. Louis Rams: QB Marcus Mariota, 6-4, 222, Oregon
If Mariota is still on the board at this point — several teams could vault past them to get the Oregon quarterback — he could easily be the pick of the Rams. Rams coach Jeff Fisher talked up his oft-injured quarterback Sam Bradford at the Combine, but he might be wise to line up his replacement given Bradford’s inability to stay healthy. 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.
11. Minnesota: WR DeVante Parker, 6-3, 209, Louisville
I still like Parker here for the Vikings, though they certainly need help at offensive line and inside linebacker. His history with emerging young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater — the two lit up defenses together at Louisville from 2011 to 2013 — is working in his favor (despite what general manager Rick Spielman says), and so is his ability to win contested balls downfield and surprising juice after the catch. Minnesota also would have to be tempted by Scherff, who would immediately step in as a plug-and-play guard.
12. Cleveland: NT/DT Danny Shelton, 6-2, 339, Washington
I keep going back and forth on Florida State’s Eddie Goldman and Washington’s Danny Shelton as my top interior defender, but Shelton has pulled back in front because he might have a better motor. Shelton doesn’t project as a disruptive NFL pass rusher but he does play hard and should be difficult to move if allowed to shoot gaps as a one- or three-technique in Cleveland’s hybrid 3-4 scheme. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin is a free agent while Phil Taylor might be released to create cap space, so Shelton can essentially be a plug-and-play run stopper.
13. New Orleans: CB Trae Waynes, 6-0, 186, Michigan State
Waynes might jump a few spots after running a ridiculous 4.32 40-yard dash at the Combine, and like Deion Sanders said afterward — he made it look easy. Waynes doesn’t really play to that speed, but he has experience in a press scheme and is a willing tackler with good instincts. The Saints, by the way, need a ton of help at corner, as they might be ready to move on from Patrick Robinson and Corey White.
14 Miami: DT Eddie Goldman, 6-4, 336, Florida State
Jared Odrick is a free agent, and the Dolphins could need a penetrating three technique if they don’t bring him back. In my opinion, Goldman fits the bill. Through my first round of film study, I’ve got him as my second best defensive tackle, though I now have him behind Danny Shelton. Goldman can add some juice to a pass rush that already has Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon coming off the edge.
15. San Francisco: CB Jalen Collins, 6-1, 203, LSU
The 49ers’ two starting defensive backs, Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver, are set to become free agents, and the 49ers could really use another high-level talent there. They also could use help at receiver, where Michael Crabtree is a free agent and Anquan Boldin turns 35 this year. Iowa tackle/guard Brandon Scherff would have to be a consideration, since stud guard Mike Iupati is a free agent, but the 49ers have a third-round pick in 2014 (Brandon Thomas) and a fourth-round pick in 2012 (Joe Looney) who could step in. They do not have any premium young talent at cornerback, however, and Williams is one of the top press-man corners in the draft. I like FSU’s P.J. Williams — I think he’s the best corner in the draft — but Collins is bigger and faster, though he’s much rawer. Teams love to mold guys like that — “We can teach him how to play!” they all seem to say — so Collins, it is. He checks all the physical boxes but needs to be more consistent and work on his technique.
16. Houston: OLB Nate Orchard, 6-3, 250, Utah
A lot of people like Kentucky’s Alvin “Bud” Dupree as the draft’s fifth-best pass rusher, but for my money, give me Orchard, who is explosive off the edge, particularly as a wide-nine technique, is crafty with his pass-rush moves and plays hard. My only issue with him is a lack of bulk and strength; he gets moved vs. the run. But he often does a good job of finding the football anyway, and would conceivably have a year to develop behind Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney. Orchard provides insurance in case the Texans choose to move on from Mercilus after the 2015 season and Clowney — whose injury issues as a rookie are cause for concern — simply doesn’t pan out.
17. San Diego: RB Melvin Gordon III, 6-1, 215, Wisconsin
For the third straight mock draft, I’ve got the Chargers taking Gordon. The fit is just that solid. Keep an eye on Georgia’s Todd Gurley, however; Gurley is a freak athlete who might be a better player. Trust that the Chargers will keep an eye on how Gurley runs on his Pro Day on March 18. Either player represents an upgrade, someone who gives the Chargers the kind of balance that might have been worth a few more wins in 2014.
18. Chiefs: G/T Brandon Scherff, 6-5, 319, Iowa
This wouldn’t have seemed possible for Scherff to fall to No. 18 that long ago, and it still may not be. But here’s the reasoning; No. 1, I believe Scherff projects best as a guard — he has heavy legs in pass pro that will be negated when shifted inside — and this is right around the sweet spot where teams feel comfortable taking guards. No. 2, he wasn’t terribly impressive at the Combine, where he only benched 23 reps (which doesn’t matter that much) and he injured his hamstring and had to pull out of drills early (which does).
Scherff played through a torn meniscus injury this year — kudos to him for that, by the way — so his senior tape isn’t as impressive as you’d hope. But as a junior, he looked like a run-blocking mauler, someone who can give the Chiefs the kind of attitude coach Andy Reid and John Dorsey wants up front. Scherff can also provide insurance at tackle, just in case Eric Fisher doesn’t improve and Donald Stephenson can’t earn the trust of the staff again. But I believe Scherff is a plug-and-play guard, and the best-case scenario for the Chiefs would be if he and Fisher grow together on the left side for years to come.
If Scherff, who I’m proud to announce is officially the ninth member of the 22-man T-Rez All-Juice Team, falls, I tentatively have them taking him over UCLA inside linebacker Eric Kendricks, Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams and Arizona State receiver Jaelen Strong, all of whom still on the board. However, I believe Kendricks could be the best player of the three, particularly if his medical (which I’m not privy to) checks out, and I still love Williams’ potential, even after he ran a 4.78 40-yard dash. So if I were picking for the Chiefs, I’d still have a hard time passing on Kendricks, even with Scherff on the board. But I could still see the Chiefs going this way, even with Jeff Allen, Zach Fulton and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif waiting in the wings.
By the way, Scherff and Fulton could grow into a nice little duo at guard, even if the Chiefs would have to use more man/gap-blocking running schemes (which I personally prefer to zone and would enjoy to know end, even as an unbiased observer).
Here is the story I wrote on Scherff.
19. Cleveland: WR Jaelen Strong, 6-2, 217, Arizona State
While the Browns need a quarterback, there’s no one worthy of the pick here. It looks like Cleveland is going to lose tight end Jordan Cameron to free agency, so Minnesota’s Maxx Williams should be in play, despite his somewhat pedestrian 4.78 40-yard dash at the Combine a week ago. But tight ends who go this high are often taken a little lower, even I personally wouldn’t care, given his ball skills, savvy and effort as a run blocker. On the flip side, Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong answered questions about his long speed with a 4.51 40-yard dash at the Combine, and with Josh Gordon out for a year, the Browns desperately need a talented, big-bodied receiver.
20 Philadelphia: ILB Eric Kendricks, 6-0, 232, UCLA
Inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans is expensive ($6.9 million cap hit) and the 32-year-old is coming off an ACL tear. That makes him a potential cap casualty, and no one else on the roster — other than Mychal Kendricks — has distinguished himself at the position. So if coach Chip Kelly can pass on stacking his offense, it might make sense to reunite Mychal with his younger brother, Eric, a tackling machine from UCLA with plus athleticism, instincts and makeup.
21. Cincinnati: DE Alvin “Bud” Dupree, 6-4, 269, Kentucky
The Bengals’ pass rush could use a little more juice, and in my last mock draft, I gave them Utah’s Nate Orchard. Orchard is off the board here, but many have Kentucky star Alvin “Bud” Dupree rated above him, so this wouldn’t be a bad pick. 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. Considering the Bengals’ pass-rush woes at defensive end — starter Wallace Gilberry only had 1 1/2 sacks — Orchard’s pass-rush ability could be a breath of fresh air in Cincinnati.
22. Pittsburgh: CB P.J. Williams, 6-0, 194, Florida State
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, and I still like a cornerback here. The Steelers were subpar on the back end last season, and need someone who can come in and help right away. That’s Williams, a press corner whose quick hips, willingness as a run defender and competitiveness impressed me. The Steelers played a ton of off coverage last year, however, so someone like Miami of Ohio’s Quinten Rollins could also make sense.
23. Detroit: CB Quinten Rollins, 5-11, 195, Miami, Ohio
Rollins is raw — he’s a former basketball player — but he displayed impressive athleticism, physicality and ball skills (seven interceptions) in his one season of college football. He’s still developing football instincts, but there’s a lot to work with here, as he showed promise in press and off-man coverage. The Lions already have one good young corner in Darius Slay, and selecting Williams would give them a chance to better match up with Green Bay, especially if veteran Rashean Mathis — a pending free agent — does not return. A defensive tackle like Ohio State’s Michael Bennett or Texas’ Malcom Brown is also an option, especially if they fail to bring back Ndamukong Suh or Nick Fairley.
24. Arizona: C/G Cameron Erving, 6-5, 313, Florida State
I still love Erving for the Cardinals, so there’s no reason to switch it up. He’s my favorite center prospect in the draft. He offers versatility — he started the 2014 season as a left tackle and ended it at center, where he thrived due to his quickness off the ball and zone-blocking instincts. If he’s too big to play center — his length could cause problems there because it takes tall centers longer to shoot their arms into squatty tackles — in the NFL, he’ll also be a plug-and-play guard or tackle, and the Cardinals need help everywhere on the line outside of left tackle.
25. Carolina: LT Ereck Flowers, 6-6, 329, Miami, Fla.
Flowers goes to the Panthers in my third consecutive mock. I like Texas A&M’s Cedric Ogbuehi a tad more, but after a short audition at left tackle, he moved back to right tackle during the season. That means Ogbuehi is probably better on the right side, and the Panthers really need a left tackle that can handle the position. Flowers, who started on that side 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 pass pro technique, there’s some real talent to work with there. He’s brawny, strong and athletic.
26. Baltimore: RB Todd Gurley, 6-1, 222, Georgia
I had the Ravens going with Ohio State receiver Devin Smith in my last mock draft, and even though they still could lose Torrey Smith, a deep receiver class means they can probably focus their attention somewhere else. Namely, running back; Justin Forsett emerged as a solid back this season, but he’s a free agent. And while the Ravens have drafted some backs reasonably high in recently years, including Bernard Pierce (third rounder in 2013) and Lorenzo Taliaferro (fourth rounder in 2014), neither offer the upside of Gurley, whose freakish mix of athleticism and size made him a top-15 pick before his ACL injury in November.
27. Dallas: LB Shaq Thompson, 6-0, 228, Washington
Making his first-round debut in The Star’s mock draft is Thompson, whose impressive athleticism was put on display during linebacker drills during the Combine. Thompson looked as fluid as anyone, and showed the ability to flip his hips and run. I’m not crazy about his instincts in the box — he seemed a step slow to diagnose at Washington — but if you stick him on the weakside of Rod Marinelli’s 4-3 scheme, that might free him up to run and hit. I like what he does in coverage, and that role would allow him to do take advantage of that talent. There’s also a need, here; Anthony Hitchens can move to the strongside to accommodate his presence.
28. Denver: TE Maxx Williams, 6-4, 249, Minnesota
The Broncos could still use a right tackle, but I’m not sure I love any of the options at this point, though Texas A&M’s Cedric Ogbuehi is growing on me at this point. So with Julius Thomas set to hit free agency — he reportedly turned down $8 million per season — the Broncos are going to need someone to carry the mantle, and Williams would be an awesome fit due to his ball skills, competitiveness and passion for the game. He’s also the best player on the board, in my opinion.
29. Indianapolis: SS Landon Collins, 6-0, 228, Alabama
The Colts just cut LaRon Landry, while Sergio Brown and Mike Adams (a Pro Bowler) are slated for free agency. That makes safety a significant need, and while box safeties aren’t as valuable as they used to be, Collins shows just enough versatility to sneak into the first round here. I’m starting to come around on him as a prospect; 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.
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 I’ll stick McKinney here for the second consecutive mock draft. He’s a big dude and could outgrow the position as he adds grown-man strength, but that size should help him as a “jack” inside linebacker, someone who takes on lead blockers and stuffs the run. I still like him more as an edge rusher, though.
31. Seattle: LG La’El Collins, 6-4, 305, LSU
I’m tempted to go with Arizona State receiver Jaelen Strong here, but the Seahawks still have Jermaine Kearse, Doug Baldwin and two receivers they drafted in the first four rounds last year (Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood). They can address receiver in the second round. I think someone like Collins would be a good pick. Starting left guard James Carpenter is headed for free agency, and while I’m high on South Carolina’s A.J. Cann and Duke’s Laken Tomlinson, Collins — a college tackle — is a better athlete than both and offers some position flexibility.
32. New England: LG A.J. Cann, 6-3, 313, New England
The Patriots could use some help on the interior offensive line, so someone like Cann or Duke’s Laken Tomlinson makes sense. I’m going to give them Cann, who I really like as a prospect, because he’s a left guard while Tomlinson is a right guard, and the Patriots’ play at left guard was subpar last season. Cann is a big, strong and aware guard, a plug-and-play type who will likely join Tomlinson on my all-juice team very soon.
Dropped out since Mock 2.0: WR Devin Smith, Ohio State; OT T.J. Clemmings, Pittsburgh; DT Michael Bennett, 6-2, 288, Ohio State.