This is the fifth in The Star’s series of NFL first-round draft projections. You can find the fourth here, 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
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock made waves this week by sliding Marcus Mariota past Winston in his player rankings this week, but Winston remains at the top of The Star’s QB board. He gives the Bucs a better chance to win now than Mariota because of his combination of moxie, arm strength and familiarity with pro-style concepts.
DE Leonard Williams, 6-5, 302, Southern California
There’s some school of thought that Marcus Mariota will go here, but coach Ken Whisenhunt might want to keep developing Zach Mettenberger. Also, the Titans’ decision to sign Brian Orakpo and re-sign Derrick Morgan nullifies their need to take an edge rusher. The best player on the board, then, is Williams, a disruptive interior presence when he is allowed to get upfield.
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. 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. Clemson’s Vic Beasley is gaining traction as a possibility here, but this is probably a little too high for a one-dimensional player.
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 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 now is 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 Kevin White, 6-3, 215, West Virginia
Ray was the pick a week ago, but White — a competitive, emotional player with great ball skills — is the best player on the board, and will form a solid tandem with Eric Decker. 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 Geno Smith’s favor.
OLB Randy Gregory, 6-5, 235, Nebraska
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. Gregory is, quite simply, the best player on the board at this point, and his combination of size, athleticism and ceiling could tempt the Bears to overlook his past issues with marijuana.
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 size and frame are long-term 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.
9 New York Giants
G/T Brandon Scherff, 6-5, 319, Iowa
Scherff is a mauler who best profiles as a guard. Conventional football wisdom says this is early to select a guard, but you have to take the best player on the board, and Scherff is certainly that. He only benched 23 reps at the combine, but NFL teams should not care about that; turn on the tape and you’ll see a powerful run blocker who can move people and play classic Giants football. His presence would also 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 major position of need 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 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 it 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. 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.
QB Marcus Mariota, 6-4, 222, Oregon
The Browns need a quarterback, even with the signing of Josh McCown, and they simply cannot rely on Johnny Manziel. Mariota’s character, athleticism and arm strength are a plus, and while he’ll need a chance to adjust to the NFL game, he has some serious upside. A trade could also be an option — 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 really isn’t another no-brainer remaining on the board at No. 12 if they aren’t crazy about Mariota.
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 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. ACL injuries are no longer considered a death knell, and Gurley has the qualities to be a Marshawn Lynch-ish type back.
15 San Francisco
DE Arik Armstead, 6-7, 292, Oregon
Defensive end Justin Smith is reportedly considering retirement, and although the defense-first 49ers signed Darnell Dockett, they don’t have a ton of options at one of their most important positions up front. 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.
ILB Eric Kendricks, 6-0, 232, UCLA
Kendricks — a tackling machine with excellent instincts — makes a ton of sense here. Brian Cushing played part of 2014 with a broken wrist but still didn’t look like the same player he was. Choosing Kendricks would not only provide the Texans with insurance for Cushing, 28, it would also beef up a front seven that could become dominant if Jadeveon Clowney heals from his microfracture injury and lives up to his immense potential.
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.
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 cover technique to be a consistent cover man. Thing is, the Chiefs might be willing to bet they can coach him up and get the most out of him. Sean Smith is a free agent in a year, and while Phillip Gaines and Jamell Fleming have upside, corner is the one position they did not address in free agency. Offensive tackle, receiver, inside linebacker and defensive line are the other positions to keep an eye on if the Chiefs — who should also be entertaining a trade down — keep the pick.
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. Brown could potentially go higher, too. His upside is real.
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 with an injury, and you really can’t have too many corners in today’s NFL. 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.
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-tech 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.
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.
T Ereck Flowers, 6-6, 329, Miami, Fla.
The Lions could go for a defensive tackle like Eddie Goldman or a receiver like Jaelen Strong, but if they draft Flowers — who started at left tackle at Miami — he would represent an upgrade at right tackle. He could also start at left tackle, which would allow them to move Riley Reiff to left guard, where he might have a Pro Bowl ceiling. Flowers 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.
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’ll also be be able to 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 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 Marcus Peters, 6-0, 197, Washington
Dallas would love to get its hands on Gurley, but he’s long gone. Cornerback is another significant need, and Peters represents good value, talent-wise. He’s a competitive player with good athleticism and press-man skills, and while he has character concerns — he didn’t mess with the Huskies’ new coaching staff and was kicked off the team — that might not keep the Cowboys from taking him.
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 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
WR Jaelen Strong, 6-2, 217, Arizona State
The Saints jettisoned left guard Ben Grubbs to the Chiefs, so an offensive lineman like LSU’s La’el Collins would be ideal. But the Saints simply can’t pass on a player like Jaelen 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 will fit well in New Orleans for a Saints team seeking playmakers.
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.