Published March 16, 2015
Philadelphia, PA – Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Hindsight has always proven the NFL Draft is nothing more than a glorified crapshoot for the organizations who spend millions trying to get things right.
So, predicting the thing six weeks out is an exercise in futility.
History will ultimately document that even the most accurate of mock drafts won't be all that precise but the crystal ball does tend to get a lot less murky after the opening days of free agency and the frenzy it creates.
After all, no matter how clandestine NFL teams can be, their actual actions in the free agency process give you the first real look at their thought process as they begin to cobble together their rosters for the 2015 season.
With that in mind here's The Sports Network's latest snapshot in time, Mock Draft version 3.0, the free agency fallout edition:
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State - In the first few days of free agency Bucs general manager Jason Licht spent most of his time writing the wrongs of the past by releasing overpaid defensive end Michael Johnson and preparing to waive goodbye to high-priced safety Dashon Goldson. He also brought in more cover-2-centric talent like defensive tackle Henry Melton, linebacker Bruce Carter and safety Chris Conte.
What Licht hasn't done is address the elephant in the room -- the quarterback position -- and that's because it will taken up in the draft. Tampa Bay is doing its due diligence on both Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota but Winston is way ahead in the clubhouse and neither Bucs coach Lovie Smith nor his new offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, have much interest in building an entire system around the strengths of the talented but ultra-raw Mariota.
Previous Pick: Winston
2. Tennessee Titans - Leonard Williams, DT, Southern California - Forget Mariota here also. With Dick LeBeau joining Ray Horton in Nashville, the Titans have gone all in on rebuilding their defense, bringing in Brian Orakpo and re-signing Derrick Morgan on the edges, while also signing former Buffalo safety Da'Norris Searcy and cornerback Perrish Cox to bolster the back end.
That trend will continue on April 30 and Tennessee will take the best player in this draft in Williams, who ran a 4.97-second 40-yard dash and had a nearly nine-foot broad jump at 6-foot-5 and 302 pounds at the NFL Combine. Williams is very versatile and could be a star at defensive end or defensive tackle in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. He should excel as a 5-technique in LeBeau's system.
Previous Pick: Williams
3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Dante Fowler, OLB/DE, Florida - The Jags had the most money in free agency and used plenty of it to get Blake Bortles a big- time threat at tight end in former Peyton Manning-target Julius Thomas, as well as a new right tackle in Jermey Parnell. On defense, Gus Bradley was given DT Jared Odrick as well as CB Davon House and linebacker Dan Skuta. What wasn't addressed was a pass rusher and Jacksonville should get the pick of the litter here.
Nebraska's Randy Gregory may be the best pure rusher available, but concerns over his size are a real issue so look for the Jaguars to go the safer route with Fowler, who weighed in at 261 pounds at the combine and may be the most well-rounded of the edge players in this draft.
Previous Pick: Fowler
4. Oakland Raiders - Kevin White, WR, West Virginia - Oakland was right there with Jacksonville as far as cap space available in free agency and used most of its assets on the defensive side, signing potential starters at DT, Dan Williams, LB, Curtis Lofton and Malcolm Smith, and safety, Nate Allen. The offense, however, only added a blocking tight end in Lee Smith, a complimentary piece at running back (Roy Helu) and a backup quarterback (Christian Ponder).
So while Derek Carr showed plenty of potential as a rookie signal caller in 2014, he needs some help outside the numbers if he plans to avoid a sophomore slump. The lengthy White moved past Alabama's Amari Cooper as the top receiver on the board by running a 4.35 40 at 6-3 and 215 pounds at the combine.
Previous Pick: White
5. Washington Redskins - Brandon Scherff, OL, Iowa - Some people believe the Redskins will take Mariota here because it's pretty clear Jay Gruden has no interest in moving forward with Robert Griffin III. But, that's assuming Gruden has the power to move away from RG3 and it's unlikely Daniel Snyder will allow that, making Scherff, the best offensive lineman in this draft who can play inside or outside at right tackle, the logical choice.
Washington also needed plenty of help on the interior of the defensive line but addressed that in free agency by inking a pair of DTs, Stephen Paea and Terrance Knighton.
Previous Pick: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
6. New York Jets - Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson - New Jets GM Mike Maccagnan is building quite a defense, hiring the ultra-aggressive Todd Bowles as head coach and bolstering what was already a top-tier front with three good-to- great corners in Buster Skrine, Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis. What's missing is the elite edge rusher and Beasley, despite lacking the prototypical length you look for, has the strength and athleticism to standout pretty quickly.
Previous Pick: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
7. Chicago Bears - Danny Shelton, DT, Washington - The Bears are shifting to a 3-4 under John Fox and Vic Fangio and already lost Stephen Paea to the Beltway. Meanwhile, the Bears signed an edge player in former Raven Pernell McPhee, a development which should take a Randy Gregory or Shane Ray out of the equation and point straight toward the massive Shelton, who has shown really impressive movement skills for a 340-pound player.
Previous Pick: Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri
8. Atlanta Falcons - Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska - It was obvious new Falcons coach Dan Quinn was going to want to bolster the front seven in Dixie immediately and sure enough the Falcons brought in LBs Brooks Reed and Justin Durant in free agency as well as defensive end Adrian Clayborn. That's not enough, though, especially on the pass rush and Gregory is the type of edge player who could make a difference if he can hold up to the grind. The 6- foot-6 rangy prospect is way too lean, though, and could get bullied at times, especially in the run game.
Previous Pick: Gregory
9. New York Giants - Landon Collins, S, Alabama - Collins isn't the best coverage safety in the world and probably isn't deserving of a top-10 position but the Giants lost veteran safety Antrel Rolle to Chicago in free agency and have virtually nothing of note at the position.
Previous Pick: Scherff
10. St. Louis Rams - Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama - Nick Foles is now the man in St. Louis and while the Rams brought back WR Kenny Britt and TE Lance Kendricks, the new signal caller still needs a real No. 1 on the outside and that's where Cooper comes in. He's a polished product who should hit the ground running as a sharp route-runner with plus hands and tremendous short- area quickness.
Previous Pick: Cooper
11. Minnesota Vikings - Shane Ray, DE, Missouri - The trade for Mike Wallace took receiver off the board for the Vikings and it's pretty clear the team wants to upgrade opposite Harrison Smith on the back end. Collins's absence, however, puts Ray, a top-10 talent, in play and it makes more sense than you think. Minnesota has Everson Griffen, an ascending star, at defensive end but Brian Robison is on the downside and Scott Crichton didn't show much as a rookie which is why Mike Zimmer took a run as his old friend. Michael Johnson, from Cincinnati in free agency. Ray is undersized but has the first step to create havoc early in his career.
Previous Pick: La'el Collins, OT, LSU
12. Cleveland Browns - DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville - The Browns are probably the most dysfunctional team in the NFL right now and Ray Farmer's first draft has already been labeled a disaster. Johnny Manziel is still in rehab and that could put Mariota in play except Farmer can't afford that kind of gamble. Conversely, with Josh Gordon suspended yet again, getting a rangy receiving threat like Parker would make a lot of sense for whomever is playing QB (McCown? Manziel?) for Cleveland in 2015. Parker brings a big body to the dance, along with soft hands, very good body control and the leaping ability to high-point the football.
Previous Pick: Parker
13. New Orleans Saints - Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon - Drew Brees is 36 and 2016 is the last year on his massive contract when his cap number will be an astronomical $27 million. Mariota, on the other hand, is a project because his mechanics, particularly his footwork, and accuracy downfield aren't up to snuff by NFL standards. His athleticism, live arm, football IQ and work ethic, however, make him a gamble which may pay off in the end and spending a year under the Brees learning tree makes a lot of sense.
Previous Pick: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
14. Miami Dolphins - Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State - The cornerback position opposite Brent Grimes in South Florida is in flux. Cortland Finnegan is gone and Brice McCain was brought in from Pittsburgh in free agency but would be better suited as a sub-package guy. Getting Waynes, the best corner in this draft with the size and length NFL teams crave on the outside, would be a nice fit.
Previous Pick: Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
15. San Francisco 49ers - Marcus Peters, CB, Washington - The Niners already lost CBs Chris Culliver (to Washington) and Perrish Cox (to Tennessee) in free agency. They were able to sign ex-Charger Shareece Wright and re-sign Chris Cook but more talent is needed and Peters would fit the bill. From a pure football perspective, Peters is regarded as the best cornerback prospect in the 2015 draft class and the top man-to-man coverage option in the process. He comes with plenty of baggage, though, which could be an issue for San Francisco because the club had so many off-the-field problems last year.
Previous Pick: Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
16. Houston Texans - Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State - With Andre Johnson now in Indianapolis, the Texans need an alternative opposite DeAndre Hopkins and Strong, a 6-foot-3 nightmare for opposing defensive backs, is a far safer option than the immensely talented Dorial Green-Beckham.
Previous Pick: T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pitt
17. San Diego Chargers - Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin - The Chargers upgraded their offensive line by signing Orlando Franklin away from the Broncos, meaning running back is the top option now because the talented but injury prone Ryan Mathews fled to Philadelphia in free agency. Because San Diego lived through the Mathews era, the club will likely settle on Gordon, who has great vision, natural balance and strength, over Todd Gurley, who tore his ACL last November.
Previous Pick: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
18. Kansas City Chiefs - La'el Collins, OL, LSU - The Chiefs addressed their biggest need in free agency by signing WR Jeremy Maclin away from the Eagles. That probably bumps up the offensive line where the team did bring in guards Ben Grubbs and Paul Fanaika but could use more help outside at right tackle. Collins is the best pure drive blocker in this draft and the prototypical road-grader you look for on the strong side.
Previous Pick: Strong
19. Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo) - Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami (Fla.) - The signing of former Dolphins DT Randy Starks will likely have the Browns focusing in on right tackle here in an effort to slide incumbent Mitchell Schwartz inside. The 6-6, 330-pound Flowers is a little raw but has great size and a nasty attitude.
Previous Pick: Flowers
20. Philadelphia Eagles - Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami-Florida - Until the Eagles actually extend Sam Bradford don't give up on the unhinged Chip Kelly mortgaging the farm to move up and get Mariota. That said, if the Eagles stay put, wide receiver has become a far bigger issue than cornerback because Philadelphia signed a pair of former "Legion of Boom" members, albeit JV ones in Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond. Dorial Green-Beckham is by far the best option but doesn't fit Chip's "culture," opening the door for the sprinter- fast Phillip Dorsett.
Previous Pick: Jalen Collins, CB, LSU
21. Cincinnati Bengals - Alvin "Bud" Dupree, DE, Kentucky - The Bengals' pass rush was dismal last season and the assumption Michael Johnson will cure things is fool's gold. Johnson is more of a base end and really had one good pass-rushing season. And he's two years removed from that. Dupree, who models himself after Aldon Smith, is a natural rusher with long arms and solid closing speed off the edge.
Previous Pick: Dupree
22. Pittsburgh Steelers - Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest - The Steelers were ranked 27th in pass defense last season and currently have nothing outside the numbers with Cortez Allen, who was a mess last season, and the nondescript BW Webb penciled in as the starters. Johnson doesn't strike me as a first-round guy but he does have solid man-to-man coverage skills and desperation will win out.
Previous Pick: Peters
23. Detroit Lions - Malcom Brown, DT, Texas - The Lions lost Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in free agency and could still lose C.J. Mosley. They did manage to sign Tyrunn Walker away from the Saints but more help is needed for the interior of what was the second-best defense in the NFL. Brown is the stoutest option in this draft after Shelton, with the strength to dominate at the point of attack and the natural quickness to penetrate gaps.
Previous Pick: Gurley
24. Arizona Cardinals - Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia - The Cardinals think they are a legitimate Super Bowl contender if they can just develop a running game. Rumors persist they are making a run at disgruntled Vikings star Adrian Peterson. Until that happens, though, Gurley, a big, physical runner who understands how to stick his foot in the ground and get north and south, has to be in play.
Previous Pick: Gordon
25. Carolina Panthers - Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford - When your 2014 tackles were Byron Bell and Mike Remmers, it's time for an upgrade and Peat looks like a natural left tackle, who can play for a decade if he shows enough functional football strength, something that has been a major problem for some recent big name Stanford O-linemen.
Previous Pick: Cameron Erving - OT, Florida State
26. Baltimore Ravens - Breshad Perriman, WR, Central Florida - Torrey Smith's sojourn to San Francisco has left the Ravens very thin at receiver with the aging Steve Smith as the only proven commodity. Perriman is a player on the rise, a big receiver with strong hands and decent route-running skills.
Previous Pick: Collins
27. Dallas Cowboys - Arik Armstead, DL, Oregon - The Cowboys need help on defense, particularly in the front seven and Armstead is a versatile player who can move inside and out while helping with the pass rush. He's raw but possesses quite the ceiling as a prospect.
Previous Pick: Beasley
28. Denver Broncos - T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pitt - You know Chris Clark isn't the answer at right tackle and the Broncos would prefer to keep Louis Vasquez inside where he is more comfortable. That opens the door for a right tackle and Clemmings is a natural for the that side of the line, often playing with a very nasty disposition.
Previous Pick: Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota
29. Indianapolis Colts - D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida - The Colts think they are close and went all in on free agency bringing in veterans Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, Trent Cole and Todd Herremans. Indy could still use some help in front of Andrew Luck, though, and Humphries is a very athletic tackle on the rise who needs to show he can play with more consistency.
Previous Pick: Armstead
30. Green Bay Packers - Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State - The one persistent weakness with the Packers over the past few seasons has been their inability to stop the run consistently. Both B.J. Raji, who is attempting to return from a torn biceps, and Letroy Guion, who has some serious legal issues to deal with, are free agents and likely won't be back. Goldman is a big body whose strength is stuffing the run.
Previous Pick: Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma
31. New Orleans Saints (from Seattle) - Eli Harold, OLB, Virginia - The Saints acquired this pick, along with Max Unger, when they sent Jimmy Graham to the Pacific Northwest. New Orleans needs plenty of help on defense and Harold has the skills to eventually develop into an impact rusher off the edge as a complement to Cam Jordan and an insurance policy for Junior Galette.
Previous Pick: P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State to Seahawks
32. New England Patriots - Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma - The Patriots can obviously afford to take chances and the mercurial Green-Beckham could provide the kind of home-run hitter Tom Brady hasn't had since Randy Moss was in Foxborough.
Previous Pick: Green-Beckham
Cameron Erving - OT, Florida State
Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota
Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma
P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State