John McMullen - NFL Editor Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
April 15 means many things to many people.
To most of the country it's the yearly nightmare called tax day. To baseball fans, it's Jackie Robinson Day or in my twisted Yankee-centric reality, Mariano Rivera Day, to a lot of hard-partying NFL players, it means their favorite holiday (420) is right around the corner, and to those of us who follow the NFL Draft, it means we are essentially two weeks out which puts us firmly in "look-at-me" season.
Understand actual NFL teams have already cobbled together a framework for their boards and there is no wild gesticulating on prospects this late in the process, barring a serious off-the-field, red-flag issue like an arrest.
If you are a draftnik, however, 'tis the season to get noticed so a few more radio segments open up. And the quickest way to that end is with the wild "look-at-me" comments.
Generally those outlandish statements pack the biggest punch when they are about the most high-profile of the potential picks, which is why you had a spate of analysts suddenly placing former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota above the guy who had been riding the pace car this entire spring, ex-Florida State star Jameis Winston.
Some, like NFL Network's Mike Mayock, always had questions about Winston due to his well-documented, off-the-field behavior and penchant for throwing too many interceptions. And Mayock finally pulled the trigger, putting Mariota above his more NFL-ready counterpart in his ratings.
Others, like NFL Films' Greg Cosell, have a history of throwing out their backs with wild predictions, especially at the game's most important position.
Cosell called Logan Thomas the most intriguing QB prospect last year and said he was more "pro-ready" than Cam Newton. Meanwhile, in 2013 Ryan Nassib was Cosell's top signal caller.
The veteran talent evaluator, who to be fair has also given a lot of great information over the years, was at it again this week on a Nashville radio station saying that:"(Zach) Mettenberger and Winston are very, very similar in style of play. I'd argue Mettenberger is more advanced as an anticipatory thrower and has a little bit better arm."
Now let's examine that statement. Winston, who would be a slam dunk at No. 1 overall on April 30 if not for the off-the-field issues, is behind the 178th selection from last year's draft, who has plenty of extracurricular problems himself?
If that's not a "look-at-me" declaration, than what is?
For me, the only "look-at-me" comments you're going to get involve far-lesser prospects and my thoughts are far more reality driven, based on the fact that NFL personnel types think a lot more of players like FSU defensive tackle Mario Edwards, Jr. and Arizona State safety Damarious Randall than most of the YouTube scouts.
So without further ado, here's The Sports Network's latest and greatest mock draft, version 4.0: the look-at-me edition.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Don't buy the hype when it comes to Mariota surpassing Winston in the Bucs' eyes. This isn't "House of Cards" with ruthless politician Frank Underwood using naive journalist Zoe Barnes to advance his vision. Think about the people who have been knocking Winston lately and selling the narrative that Tampa Bay has had a change of heart, names like Cosell, Mayock and Ron Jaworski.
What binds them is that they are all Philadelphia-based and remember Bucs general manager Jason Licht spent three years in the City of Brotherly Love in the Eagles' scouting department. Licht is engaging in subterfuge and hardly doing it with the subtlety of a Kevin Spacey character. Here's what you need to know: Lovie Smith wants Jameis and if the former Heisman winner ends up anywhere other than Central Florida, you know Smith is all but done in Tampa.
Previous Pick: Winston
2. Tennessee Titans - Leonard Williams, DT, Southern California
This pick remains the lynchpin of the 2015 draft. There is little doubt that the Titans want out of this slot because they need multiple assets in order to get better and Ken Whisenhunt has no real interest in Mariota.
The question becomes whether anyone has the intent of trading up and overdrafting a solid but far from spectacular quarterback prospect. The most likely candidates remain Washington, the Jets and Chicago, simply because those are teams that don't have to move that far. That said, Daniel Snyder isn't giving the green light on moving on from RG3, the Jets understand Mariota may drop to them anyway, and the Bears will have issues trying to move the poster- child for bad-body language, Jay Cutler.
Cleveland, Philadelphia, and to a lesser extent New Orleans and San Diego, remain the wild cards. The Browns have two No. 1 picks, Nos. 12 and 19, and a GM, Ray Farmer, who not only struck out badly in the first round last year, he also showed he was in over his head with the embarrassing text-gate scandal, facts that mean Farmer is looking to make a splash to save his job. Chip Kelly, meanwhile, is unhinged, at least in a football sense, and is capable of shock and awe even if makes no sense and mortgages his organization's future.
The Chargers are the one team that could get it done rather easily if they agree to part with Philip Rivers.
Projecting trades is generally an exercise in futility so for this version of the mock the Titans stay put to take the best pure football player available, Williams, a player who should excel as a 5-technique with both Dick LeBeau and Ray Horton now in Nashville.
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, though, Dave Caldwell didn't address his significant pass-rushing problem and Jacksonville should get the pick of the litter when it comes to edge players. Clemson's Vic Beasley is coming hard but Fowler remains the most well-rounded of the options available.
Previous Pick: Fowler
4. Oakland Raiders - Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
Derek Carr certainly needs some serious help outside the numbers if he is to improve on his sophomore season so receiver makes sense for Oakland here. This should come down to Amari Cooper versus White and taking the ceiling over playing it safe is just a very Raider-ish thing to do. White has the size and speed advantage but isn't as polished as Alabama's Cooper.
Previous Pick: White
5. Washington Redskins - Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
This probably comes down to rock-solid Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff and Beasley. From a need standpoint, the O-line is a better fit inside the Beltway but Beasley is the higher-ranked prospect on most boards and there is no guarantee second-year man Trent Murphy develops into a capable complement to the underrated Ryan Kerrigan. New 'Skins GM Scot McCloughan is in the camp that believes need is the worst talent evaluator in sports so expect him to stay true to his board. Beasley, despite lacking the prototypical length you look for, has the strength and athleticism to standout pretty quickly.
Previous Pick: Scherff
6. New York Jets - Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
First-year Jets GM Mike Maccagnan has no interest in moving forward with Geno Smith and veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick is obviously just a stop-gap. Mariota won't hit the ground running in New York but Maccagnan and new coach Todd Bowles have a year or two to play with.
Previous Pick: Beasley
7. Chicago Bears - Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
With Brandon Marshall now with the Jets, Chicago needs some help opposite Alshon Jeffery. Copper is a polished product who should hit the ground running as a sharp route-runner with plus hands and tremendous short- area quickness.
Previous Pick: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
8. Atlanta Falcons - Alvin "Bud" Dupree, DE, Kentucky
You know new Falcons coach Dan Quinn wants to bolster the front seven in Dixie especially when it comes to the pass rush. This could have been a great fit for Nebraska edge rusher Randy Gregory but his dalliances with weed will send him tumbling out of the top 10. Dupree, who models himself after the 49ers' Aldon Smith, is a natural rusher with long arms and solid closing speed off the edge.
Previous Pick: Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska
9. New York Giants - Brandon Scherff, OL, Iowa
The Giants are pretty talent-deficient right now and could go in a number of different directions but bolstering the offensive line to help extend Eli Manning's stretch as a competent option at the QB position makes a lot of sense. Scherff is the best offensive lineman in this draft who can project inside at guard or outside at right tackle.
Previous Pick: Landon Collins, S, Alabama
10. St. Louis Rams - DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
The Rams need help opposite Greg Robinson at tackle but reaching for Andrus Peat or Ereck Flowers this early doesn't make a lot of sense. Receiver may be the secondary option based on need but Parker is a better prospect than the OL available and 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: Cooper
11. Minnesota Vikings - Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
With Brian Robison aging and shaky depth behind him the Vikings could look at edge rusher but coach Mike Zimmer is enamored with Waynes, the best cornerback in this draft. Teaming the former Michigan State star with the ascending Xavier Rhodes would open up a lot of things for Zimmer, who is known around the NFL as the blitz doctor.
Previous Pick: Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
12. Cleveland Browns - Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
It's fair to call the Browns the most dysfunctional team in the NFL right now and GM Ray Farmer is likely a little desperate and willing to take chances with his two first-round picks. Staying put and playing it safe isn't sexy but probably the right prescription for an organization that rarely gets it right. Cleveland needs help up the middle on defense and the massive Shelton, who has shown really impressive movement skills for a 340-pound player, is a solid fit.
Previous Pick: Parker
13. New Orleans Saints - Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska
Sean Payton is on record saying the Saints have "to bring in some (defensive) guys that we feel like can help us play right away." Gregory is the best pure pass rusher in this draft and likely would have been a top-five pick if not for a significant marijuana problem. Payton's desperation leads me to believe New Orleans is willing to take the chance right here.
Previous Pick: Mariota
14. Miami Dolphins - Breshad Perriman, WR, Central Florida
The fact that the Dolphins brought in Michael Crabtree, Greg Jennings and Wes Welker for free agent visits tells you how badly they want to upgrade at the WR position. Perriman is a player on the rise, a big receiver with the blazing speed to replace what Mike Wallace brought to the table, along with a pedigree (his father Brett was the ex-Lions receiver), strong hands and decent route-running skills.
Previous Pick: Waynes
15. San Francisco 49ers - Mario Edwards, Jr., DT, Florida State
Trent Baalke hasn't been real conventional in recent months basically running off a coaching heavyweight, Jim Harbaugh, to Ann Arbor and replacing him with a guy, Jim Tomsula, who came off like a "Saturday Night Live" skit in some early interviews. So why not take the fast-rising Edwards, who really put together some average tape while in Tallahassee but possesses freakish athleticism.
Previous Pick: Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
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. A medical recheck of Strong revealed a broken bone in his wrist that could require surgery but that shouldn't be a long-term concern.
Previous Pick: Strong
17. San Diego Chargers - Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
There have been 64 first- round picks in the NFL Draft since the New York Giants tabbed David Wilson with the final selection of the opening round of the 2012 draft. The running- back fraternity is 0-for-64 over that span, a stunning dry spell that speaks to the current mindset of the NFL. Gurley, however, is such a transcendent prospect, he was undoubtedly going to end that slump at least until he suffered a torn ACL in November of last year. My bet is he sill does.
Previous Pick: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
18. Kansas City Chiefs - Landon Collins, S, Alabama
With Eric Berry still battling against Hodgkin lymphoma, the Chiefs could use help on the back end and Collins is the only safety in this draft who undoubtedly carries a first- round grade.
The Browns could use a natural right tackle with the intent of sliding incumbent Mitchell Schwartz inside. The 6-4, 305-pound Collins is a power-based, road-grader type who could develop into a bully on the strong side.
Previous Pick: Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami (Fla.)
20. Philadelphia Eagles - Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut
Until the Eagles actually extend Sam Bradford don't give up on Chip Kelly mortgaging the farm to move up and get Marcus Mariota. It remains unlikely though because Philly would have to climb over many other suitors. Despite overpaying ex- Seahawks CB Byron Maxwell in free agency, the Eagles need more help at the position and Jones is a physical freak who has been moving north on most draft boards after strong workouts at the combine and his pro day.
Previous Pick: Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami-Florida
21. Cincinnati Bengals - Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
Yes the Bengals have two good tackles in Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith but both will be entering the final year of their deals so it may be time to look toward the future. 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: 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 possesses solid man-to-man coverage skills and should be a solid fit in the Steel City.
23. Detroit Lions - Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
The Lions lost Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in free agency while adding Tyrunn Walker away from the Saints to the interior of what was the second-best defense in the NFL. That's not a great trade off and more help is needed. Enter Brown, 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.
The Cardinals could be a legitimate Super Bowl contender with a healthy Carson Palmer and a legitimate ground game. Gordon isn't quite the prospect a healthy Gurley is but he has the vision, natural balance and strength to be a bell cow.
When your 2014 tackles were Byron Bell and Mike Remmers, it's time for an upgrade and Humphries gets the nod over Miami-Florida's Ereck Flowers because he's more athletic and projects to the left side.
Previous Pick: Peat
26. Baltimore Ravens - Jalen Collins, CB, LSU
The Ravens need help at WR but can't afford a character risk like Dorial Green-Beckham so they will look elsewhere. The secondary was an issue last season and Collins has a solid upside despite little real experience at LSU.
Previous Pick: Perriman
27. Dallas Cowboys - Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State
Darren McFadden isn't going to cut it so unless the Cowboys are able to pull off a trade for Adrian Peterson or move up to snare Gurley or Gordon, three RBs will be off the board in the first round. Ajayi is a well-rounded back with the body type to develop into a primary option.
Chris Clark simply 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 Flowers, a raw prospect with great size and a nasty attitude.
Previous Pick: T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pitt
29. Indianapolis Colts - Damarious Randall, S, Arizona State
Randall is small for a safety who has an in-the-box, extra linebacker mind-set but his effort level, athleticism and pure toughness has caught the eye of NFL scouts. Indy can't be comfortable counting on just Mike Adams and Dwight Lowery on the back end so Randall is in play here.
Previous Pick: Humphries
30. Green Bay Packers - Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
Surprisingly the Packers brought back both B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion at defensive tackle so that will shift their focus toward the secondary to bolster a CB group that needs reinforcements. From a pure football perspective, Peters is regarded by some as the best cornerback prospect in this draft class and the top man- to-man coverage option in the process. He comes with plenty of baggage, though.
The Saints acquired this pick, along with Max Unger, when they sent Jimmy Graham to the Pacific Northwest. As stated New Orleans needs plenty of help on defense and Armstead is a versatile player who can move inside and out on the line while helping with the pass rush. He's raw but possesses quite the ceiling as a prospect.
Previous Pick: Eli Harold, OLB, Virginia
32. New England Patriots - Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Once thought to be a potential top-10 pick Ray is trending downward because he is not quite as athletic as you would like and he is a bit of a tweener -- undersized for defensive end and lacking the lateral-movement skills for 3-4 linebacker. He does, however, have a wonderful first step and Bill Belichick will find a way with him.