It’s that time of year again! The NFL Draft is upon us again and this year is filled with big names and some huge storylines. We’ve got legal issues, mad genius coaches, questions over scheme fits and a whole lot more. It’s time to delve into Press Box Opinions’ 2015 Draft Preview.
As is often the case, quarterbacks headline this year’s draft class, specifically Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Winston is likely going to be the top overall pick by Tampa Bay, and frankly it’s a severe lapse in judgement (and a whole lot of other things) if the Bucs don’t take Famous Jameis. He’s one of the better prospects of the last several years; in fact, I’d say he’s the second best prospect in recent memory, only behind Andrew Luck. He’ll be starting in Tampa this season. Marcus Mariota, this season’s Heisman Trophy winner, is the one with all of the speculation surrounding him, currently. There are a ton of questions about Mariota, including ones about scheme fit, his size, his ability to execute a professional playbook, etc. To lead off, anyone who’s questioning Mariota’s size really doesn’t know what they’re talking about, because his measurables speak for themselves. Personally, I’m a supporter of Mariota and I think he can be a very successful NFL quarterback. His scheme-fit issues are completely overblown. Do you know which other quarterbacks played in a program-specific system in college? ALL OF THEM. Some were more pro-style, but the fact of the matter is that every coach/program has a system. Mariota, by all accounts, is a very intelligent and football-obsessed guy. I have no reason to believe that an athlete of Mariota’s caliber can’t succeed no matter what playbook he is given. Listening to Chicago sports radio, pundits and personalities are up in arms over the slim possibility the Bears end up with Mariota. I’d like to know if they saw the offense that new offensive coordinator Adam Gase ran with Peyton Manning in Denver. He’s smart, has a good arm and is an incredible athlete. Within three seasons, I firmly believe that Mariota will be an objectively successful NFL quarterback, regardless of whatever your individual criteria is. He may not be great right away for numerous reasons, but the same could be said for consensus top pick Jameis Winston. If Mariota falls, someone is going to get an absolute steal when they draft him (especially if that someone is Chip Kelly and his Philadelphia Eagles).
There are plenty of other quarterback questions as well. Who will be the third quarterback off the board? Bryce Petty? Garrett Grayson? Brett Hundley? I’ve been a huge supporter of Hundley for a couple of years now, and I think he’s much less of a project than many people believe him to be. He has an issue keeping his eyes up field throughout the duration of a play, and he has a tendency to resort to keeping the ball with a run when he doesn’t need to. That being said, you must remember that Hundley played behind one of the worst lines in major college football during his career. He was lucky to have two seconds to throw much too often. Hundley will be fine and he will be another steal in this draft. Frankly, I believe this will be a very strong quarterback class, at least at the top, because I also think Garrett Grayson will be a solid quarterback for a team down the line. A team like Chicago or someone else looking for a long-term option could definitely use Grayson. That being said, about the strong class, I believe there are going to be a lot of wasted picks much too high on weak quarterbacks. Included in this is Sean Mannion, who I honestly can’t see being very successful in the NFL. I haven’t seen a ton of tape, and maybe he’ll prove me wrong very quickly, but to me he seems like a lame duck already. If there’s a mid-round run on QBs, expect plenty of buyer’s remorse by teams needing another option under center.
There’s a big debate over the top wide receiver in this draft, whether it’s Amari Cooper from Alabama or Kevin White from West Virginia. I am of the belief that a top five (maybe even top ten) pick spent on Cooper is worth much more than one spent on White. Cooper is already an elite route runner, especially for someone who will be entering his rookie year. White has great speed and solid height, and he looked absolutely spectacular in his one full season of major college football action. He also had some pedestrian-at-best moments. He’s still very raw, and frankly is quite poor at running routes. He’s a good deep threat, but to be a top receiver you need to be able to run more than just fades and flys. I would take Cooper over White any day of the week. With all of that said, this is another very deep receiving class. Devante Parker from Louisville is another likely first round pick, for good reason. The same can be said of Jaelen Strong from Arizona State. As you go down the list of prospects, teams will be able to find plenty of gems in later rounds. Tyler Lockett from Kansas State could be one of the better slot receivers in coming years while also providing a definite boost in the return game. Watch out for Stefon Diggs out of Maryland as well, a third day prospect with tons of potential.
Of course, we also have tons of prospects that I personally do not see the hype for. UCF’s Breshad Perriman is getting plenty of hype, however other than because of his good pro day, I have no explanation for why. He’s a poor man’s Kevin White in terms of this draft, and that is not worth a first round pick. I’ll lump all of this year’s tight ends in with this group, because there is not a single tight end I like early in the draft this year. Maxx Williams and Clive Walford are getting tons of hype for tight ends, although I don’t see either of them being immediate impact players, which a first round pick usually should be (of course with some exceptions). I think both are overrated, especially Williams (or Walford if you’re one of the people actually picking him to go in the first). Last year’s receiver class was incredible, and if current projections remain true it could be one of the best ever. This year has plenty of strong prospects as well, and although there is tons of depth in this class, I have a sense that once again we will see plenty of teams pay up for potential while missing out on the real quality players.
After a multi-year hiatus, many people are projecting that we will have a running back taken in the first round of this year’s draft, and personally that is fine by me. If a running back is the most talented player on the board, you have to take him, it’s as simple as that. Todd Gurley is a stellar player and is worthy of the first round hype. However, I don’t think he’s worth a top ten pick, like some “top analysts” would like you to believe. First of all, that’s because he’s not one of the ten best players in this draft. Also there is a caveat to my prior point about being the best player on the board, and that is that you have to weigh how much higher that player is on your board than a player you could get later. For example, if Todd Gurley is your best player on the board but Tevin Coleman is a close second, and Coleman will likely be available with your next pick, then Gurley probably isn’t worth it. I realize that I backtracked on my original point, but nonetheless value and quality are both important to the draft process. There are a lot of good backs in this draft as well, so there is no need to reach for one early. Coleman, Melvin Gordon, David Cobb, Mike Davis, these are just a few of the names of potential future starting backs from this draft class. Todd Gurley is an excellent player and is worthy of a first round pick, but his positional value does not make him worth too high of a pick.
One other huge storyline this year is the effect that failed drug tests and drug arrest s will have on prospects. Two of this year’s top edge rusher prospects, Randy Gregory and Shane Ray, are both facing scrutiny over drug-related issues entering this weekend’s draft. Gregory allegedly failed multiple drug tests, including one at the combine, while Ray was arrested for possession earlier this week, to go along with an alleged failed test from early in his Mizzou career. Gregory will still likely be a first round pick (look for New Orleans to make a play from him with the 13th overall pick), while Ray’s status is more up in the air; he was revealed to have a foot issue before his arrest. The debate to be had right now isn’t over whether or not players should be punished for smoking/having weed, whether or not it should be decriminalized, etc. No, the debate is about why you should spend a high pick on a player who has judgement that is questionable at best. Ray knew the law, he broke the law. Whatever you believe about marijuana laws in the US, you have to follow the rules. A career worth multiple millions of dollars was in the near future for both of these players when they got in trouble, yet they still broke the rules. Are they worthy of being drafted highly best on talent? Of course, there’s no doubt about it. Should teams be concerned about these recent developments? Of course, there’s no doubt about it. After watching what has happened with Justin Blackmon, Josh Gordon and now Dion Jordan over the past few seasons, I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see teams be very cautious when it comes to players with drug issues, especially early in the draft.
Time for some bold predictions. Let’s start off with one that may not seem too far out there: Cleveland is going to do something stupid. The Browns seem to do this a lot, but with reports that they offered two first rounders for Tennessee’s second overall pick, with which they would draft Marcus Mariota, I can already feel the stupidity flowing. This is a team that needs plenty of help, and they have a couple decent quarterbacks on the roster. No one great, but between McCown, Manziel and Shaw, they’ll be no worse off than last season in that department. Trading two picks for a player you don’t need. This is why Cleveland is perpetually bad. Then again, if you’re going to give up on a first round draft pick after he put in a total of six quarters of play last season, then you get what you deserve.
The Eagles will not trade up to get Marcus Mariota. Chip Kelly would love to have him and I’m sure Mariota would love to play for his old coach, but it just doesn’t make sense to mortgage your future for a player that you frankly don’t need. As long as he can stay healthy, Sam Bradford can certainly operate Kelly’s offense well (people forget that he was a great prospect and has looked very good the last two seasons before getting injured). Philadelphia has several needs, especially in the secondary, thus trading away a boat load of picks and missing out on a defensive back with first round talent would be completely foolish. Kelly may be mad, but he’s not dumb.
Ben Heeney will be at least the third best inside linebacker from this class. This prediction is filled with my KU bias and love for the Diabolical Defender, but Heeney is still a very solid player. Heeney has great instincts and is a great on-field leader. Plus, the guy has plenty of confidence in himself, a good trait for an inside linebacker. It’s a weak overall class for ILBs, with Eric Kendricks being the premier player in the group, but Heeney is still a very good all-around player. He could go as early as the mid-third round or as late as the mid-fifth round, but he will make an impact regardless of when he is taken or who he is taken by. A team in need of a quality inside linebacker (Green Bay, Kansas City, Chicago, several others) will get a great one if they take Heeney.
A few more predictions: Nelson Agholor will have a solid career but will be taken much too high in the draft, either late in the first or right at the top of the second. Either Vic Beasley or Bud Dupree will fall late into the first round, despite both deserving to be top ten picks. Trae Waynes will not be the top drafted CB, despite common belief being that he is the best of the class. Preston Smith will be a “reach” near the end of the first round, yet will have one of the most productive careers of any pass rusher in this draft. Finally, I’m not expecting any major trades this year, at least involving first round picks. We’ve heard rumors of blockbuster deals happening for months now, but I doubt any of them will come to fruition.
To close out, a quick note on my Green Bay Packers. I’ve seen plenty of different scenarios for the Packers, ranging from trading out of the first round to moving up all the way to 18 (I’d bet anyone a month’s salary that this doesn’t happen). Personally, I think Ted Thompson will stay put, considering the talent and needs for the team and who should be available at spot #30. Ideally, linebacker Eric Kendricks would fall to that pick, but as the top ILB in the class he may be gone well before the end of the round. Even if he’s off the board, the team could use help at cornerback, and if either Kevin Johnson or Byron Jones is available, I would be quite content to see the Packers take them. Alternately, I would be fine with a trade back in order to get Clemson’s Stephone Anthony.
I love the draft. It’s a combination of college football and the NFL, my two favorite things (in the sports world, anyway). There’s always tons of excitement and plenty of great storylines throughout the night. Plus, getting to listen to Jon Gruden in April/May is definitely a positive. I’m in England for this year’s event so Commissioner Goodell won’t open the draft until 2am my time, but you had better believe I’ll be awake and as excited as ever for this year’s draft.