This is the eighth and final installment of The Star’s series of first-round NFL Draft projections. You can find the seventh here, the sixth here, the fifth here, the fourth here, the third here, the second here and the first here.
Each mock draft is based on individual film work, research and recent transactions.
1 Tampa Bay
QB Jameis Winston, 6-4, 231, Florida State
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.
Many people are projecting Marcus Mariota to go here. If so, so be it. But if the Titans can’t find a taker for this pick, they better take the best player available at a position of need. Southern California defensive tackle Leonard Williams is one of the four best players in this draft, but Cooper is in his stratosphere as a prospect, and it makes sense to buttress young quarterback Zach Mettenberger with a legit No. 1 receiver.
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. Williams is in the mix, but the Jags have some interior linemen who can get after the quarterback.
Williams is a disruptive interior presence when he puts an emphasis on getting upfield. He could form a destructive young tandem up front with edge rusher Khalil Mack. West Virginia receiver Kevin White is an option, as well.
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 Missouri’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
White 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 quarterback 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 Mariota has grown in recent weeks — Chicago had a predraft visit with him — and the Bears’ new regime has been less than committal 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.
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. With the stock of Nebraska’s Randy Gregory and Missouri’s Shane Ray taking a hit due to off-field concerns, Dupree is the last player who is considered to be a “premium” pass rusher by most on the board.
9 New York Giants
Drafting Scherff, a mauler who best profiles as a guard, will allow them 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
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.
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 Michigan State’s 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.
If the Browns to make a run at Marcus Mariota, Shelton could easily be the pick. Even though he 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 Browns signed Randy Starks to bolster the interior 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
Brown is 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. He can rotate in with Akiem Hicks, who is in a contract year, and assume a starting position either this year or the next. The Saints need an edge rusher and could also gamble with a player like Mizzou’s Shane Ray.
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
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. The 49ers need a 3-4 end, too.
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. The Texans have a solid pair of corners in Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph, but Joseph is 31, coming off an Achilles injury and slated to be a free agent in 2016.
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.
Kendricks was the player I picked for the Chiefs in my first mock draft, so it’s coming full circle. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a regular reader, which means I probably don’t have to sell you on Kendricks’ credentials again; he’s a tackling machine with excellent instincts who has a chance to become an impact contributor immediately. The Chiefs cannot make a run this year if they don’t improve their run defense, and while Derrick Johnson returns and Josh Mauga is back on a three-year deal, Kendricks will solidify the group and protect them in case Johnson, who turns 33 this November, gets hurt again.
Of course, there’s a chance Johnson is going to return to being the stud player he was before his Achilles injury. In that case, it might make sense for the Chiefs to attack cornerback, offensive tackle, defensive end or center. But for the purposes of this mock — and after watching tape of nearly 500 players — I’ve got Kendricks as the highest remaining player on my big board, so this is a hill I’m willing to die on.
For the record, here’s the other guys I considered at this spot, in order: Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson, Florida State center Cam Erving, Miami, Fla., offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes, Connecticut cornerback Byron Jones and Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown. The Chiefs have also done their due diligence on Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham at this spot, and NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah — who used to work with Andy Reid — cited Texas A&M tackle Cedric Ogbuehi as an option, too.
One late addition to keep in mind, too: USC receiver Nelson Agholor, a picture-perfect fit as an “X” receiver in a West Coast offense.
19 Cleveland (from Buffalo)
Stud center Alex Mack is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next year, and the Browns will not be able to franchise tag him. Might as well line up his long-term replacement now. In the short-term, Erving 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 because it takes tall centers longer to shoot their arms into squatty tackles — he’ll also be be able to compete at right tackle.
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. He also fits a need at strong safety, as youngster Earl Wolff is unproven. SI’s Peter King predicts the Eagles will take Arizona State safety Damarious Randall, which some (including me) would see as a reach. But King could be on to something.
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.
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. The Steelers’ cornerback play was below average last season.
With the first-round defensive tackles off the board, the Lions continue their never-ending quest to put pieces around quarterback Matthew Stafford. 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 moves people, plus he flashes nastiness. He can either replace Riley Reiff at left tackle or start at right tackle.
The Cardinals need to replace Antonio Cromartie, and Jones — a big, physical press cornerback — fits the bill. He blew everyone away during the testing portion of the combine and could form a nice tandem with Patrick Peterson for years to come and allow them to continue their blitz-happy ways, despite the departure of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
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.
Peters is a gifted, but emotional, press-man corner who would be a nice fit in Baltimore, which has a locker room and coaching staff capable of handling him. A tight end like Minnesota’s Maxx Williams would be a nice pick, as well.
Gregory’s combination of size, athleticism and ceiling could tempt the Cowboys to overlook his past issues with marijuana.
The Broncos could still use a right tackle, and with Humphries and Flowers off the board, the Broncos can take Ogbuehi, whose feet and length make him an ideal zone-run tackle on the right side. He’s recovering from a torn ACL but said he expects to return by training camp.
The Colts are in win-now mode, and they need a safety. Rowe has cornerback skills and played that position in 2014, but might be more natural at free safety, where his range, cover skills and willingness to hit will be a boost for the Colts.
30 Green Bay
This is borderline unfair. Williams — a natural hands catcher with NFL bloodlines — would only bolster one of the league’s most dangerous offenses. You can rarely go wrong giving quarterback Aaron Rodgers another weapon, especially one as rock-solid as Williams.
31 New Orleans (from Seattle)
After trading Kenny Stills and Jimmy Graham, the Saints would be wise to get quarterback Drew Brees another playmaker, and Dorsett fits the bill with his game-changing speed and explosiveness.
32 New England
Ray’s overall bulk and lingering toe injury are concerns, as is his recent citation for possession of marijuana. But the Pats need more juice of the edge, And Ray possesses an elite first step and will be an immediate contributor on passing downs if the Patriots don’t trade away the pick — which is a possibility.