1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-14) – Jameis Winston (QB/Florida State)
Winston is the best QB prospect in the draft. Any questions about Winston as a prospect have to do with off the field things like his maturity and character flaws. I believe most of Winston’s issues come from maturity. A good foundation in the coaching staff to help maximize his talents are crucial to his development. In Tampa Bay, he’ll have one of the more well-respected coaches in the game in Lovie Smith and a bright offensive mind at OC in Dirk Koetter in addition to having one of the best young WRs in the game, last year’s 1st round pick Mike Evans.
2. Tennessee Titans (2-14) – Randy Gregory (DE/OLB/Nebraska)
An argument can be made that Tennessee should go with whichever QB doesn’t go at 1 here. However, there’s been more than a few whispers that the Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt and the Titans coaching staff think highly of last year’s 6th round pick Zach Mettenberger and would like to focus on addressing needs elsewhere. Pass rusher is certainly one of those needs and Gregory addresses that. Another option would be a trade down to gain more picks. Considering the roster makeup, that may be the best route to take.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13) – Leonard Williams (DT/USC)
Despite RT being one of their biggest needs, there’s not a prospect worthy of a selection at this spot. So I’ll go with the best available player who also fills a need. More than a few scouts peg Williams as the top prospect in the entire draft.
4. Oakland Raiders (3-13) – Amari Cooper (WR/Alabama)
The Raiders could use help on both sides of the trenches, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, where they were near the bottom of the league in sacks. However, with a young, developing QB who showed some promise last year despite few worthy targets, I think grabbing a weapon for Derek Carr here fits the bill. I don’t believe Cooper to be the best WR in the draft. That being said he’s generally the highest rated one and seems like one of the higher floor prospects at his position.
5. Washington Redskins (4-12) – Shane Ray (DE/OLB/Missouri)
The Redskins could go a few directions here. Their secondary was one of the league’s worst last year. And outside of LT, where Trent Williams is consistently a fine performer, help on the line is needed. That being said, Brian Orakpo has torn his pectoral muscle 3 times in his career and Washington is expected to let him go this offseason so a replacement opposite Ryan Kerrigan could be the direction here.
6. New York Jets (4-12) – Marcus Mariota (QB/Oregon)
The Jets are one of the most QB-needy teams in the league, if not the most. Mariota isn’t the prospect Winston is talent-wise, but is still a highly rated prospect in his own right. While he does have extensive physical tools with prototypical size, a fine arm, and very good athleticism, the questions about him are how he’ll adapt to playing in a pro-style offense after playing his entire career in Oregon’s spread attack. With a new coach and a new GM often comes a new QB. What they get out of Mariota could determine their tenure with the Jets.
7. Chicago Bears (5-11) – Alvin ‘Bud’ Dupree (DE/OLB/Kentucky)
The Bears once mighty defense has really regressed in recent years. The hope is new DC Vic Fangio will help turn them around. A true nose tackle like Danny Shelton will be an option here, but this pick is more about projecting. Dupree is likely to test off the charts at the combine and has all the tools needed to become a very good pro. He can play the run as well as the pass and is a fantastic athlete. Sometimes teams fall in love with what a player does at the combine and that could be the case here.
8. Atlanta Falcons (5-11) – Dante Fowler (DE/OLB/Florida)
Atlanta’s defense is seemingly always in need of playmakers and this year is no different. New coach Dan Quinn comes to a team with an explosive offense already in place but has his work cut out for him on defense. They finished tied with the Raiders with the second-least amount of sacks in the league. A pass rusher like Fowler can help improve on that.
9. New York Giants (6-10) – Andrus Peat (OT/Stanford)
With Justin Pugh reportedly being kicked inside to guard, where he fits much better, a need at RT could open up. Peat is a better run blocker than pass blocker at this stage in his career but has the physical tools to become a full time LT in the NFL. William Beatty has been a serviceable LT save for one abysmal year. With him still there it would allow Peat to develop on the right side before making the switch over to LT.
10. St. Louis Rams (6-10) – Brandon Scherff (OT/Iowa)
Scherff is listed as a tackle but some believe his best position will be at guard in the NFL. Either way, he’s a nasty run blocker who could bookend last year’s second overall pick Greg Robinson and give the Rams two cornerstone tackles to build their offense on. His flexibility to be able to play guard in addition to tackle enhances his value. With an already loaded defensive line, the Rams would be able to dominate both sides of the line of scrimmage.
11. Minnesota Vikings (7-9) – Kevin White (WR/West Virginia)
Teddy Bridgewater handled himself quite nicely last year as a rookie. He did that while missing Adrian Peterson and not having Kyle Rudolph. His best WR by year end was a guy the Cleveland Browns cut, though, to be fair, Charles Johnson always flashed potential. A target for Bridgewater makes a lot of sense here. White has been compared to Julio Jones at times and some believe he’s the best WR prospect in the draft.
12. Cleveland Browns (7-9) – Danny Shelton (DT/Washington)
The Browns defense really struggled against the run last year. That might be an understatement. They were the worst run defense in the NFL last year. A stout nose tackle like Shelton can help shore up that part. Wide receiver is also a possibility here, but the value is right for Shelton, who some consider a top 10 pick.
13. New Orleans Saints (7-9) – Vic Beasley (OLB/Clemson)
The only knock on Beasley is that he’s undersized. He’s got elite speed coming off the edge and and can be a disruptive pass rusher at the next level. Because of his lack of size, he’s hard to project in the NFL, but he’s likely too small to be a full time 4-3 DE. The best fit for him is a 3-4 OLB and a 3-4 is what Rob Ryan runs.
14. Miami Dolphins (8-8) – Shaq Thompson (OLB/Washington)
The Dolphins spent a lot of money in free agency on linebackers a few seasons ago and the returns haven’t been good. Both Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe are candidates for release this offseason. Thompson could slot right into a starting role alongside Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi. Thompson is a very good athlete having played running back and safety in addition to LB in college.
15. San Francisco 49ers (8-8) – DeVante Parker (WR/Louisville)
Michael Crabtree is a free agent and unlikely to be brought back. That leaves Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson as their starting WRs. As tough as he is, Boldin is going to be 35 next season. Johnson has shown flashes at times but also battled inconsistency. Not to mention Vernon Davis’ production falling off a cliff last season. If the 49ers are going to try to make the Colin Kaepernick experiment work, they’re gonna need to give him some more weapons. Parker is a fantastic athlete who could raise his stock significantly at the combine.
16. Houston Texans (9-7) – Trae Waynes (CB/Michigan State)
This is probably a little high for Waynes. He’s arguably the best CB in the draft and with Kareem Jackson a free agent he would definitely fill a need if Jackson were allowed to walk. The Texans covered the pass fairly well last year, but having the best defensive player in football wreaking havoc up front has a tendency to mask certain deficiencies in the back end, Waynes would improve some of those deficiencies.
17. San Diego Chargers (9-7) – La’El Collins (OT/LSU)
King Dunlap is a free agent and doesn’t seem likely to be brought back. That opens up a big hole at LT. Phillip Rivers is 33 and coming off a back injury that really hampered him in the second half of last season after a hot start. Collins was 1st team All-SEC tackle for the Tigers last year, excelling in run blocking. He’d be a nice fit protecting Rivers’ blind side.
18. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7) – Landon Collins (SS/Alabama)
Collins is the best safety in the draft. Due to the unfortunate situation with Eric Berry being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, there’s a big hole at safety for the Chiefs. The hope would be that Berry will make a full recovery and form a top notch safety tandem with Collins.
19. Cleveland Browns (7-9) – TJ Clemmings (OT/Pittsburgh)
With the year-long suspension of Josh Gordon, receiver is a big need for Cleveland, but so is RT. It’s a deeper draft at WR than it is at OT, so value wise it makes more sense to go OT here. In the top 20 picks the Browns could improve greatly on both sides of the trenches.
20. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) – PJ Williams (CB/Florida State)
If you watched the Eagles at all last year you’d know their secondary needs a lot of help on the perimeter. Bradley Fletcher is definitely not coming back and Cary Williams is at best 50-50. Their only bright spot is Brandon Boykin at slot corner but, due to his size, would probably be out of his element playing on the outside. This might be a little high for Williams still but he certainly fills a need.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1) – Eddie Goldman (DT/Florida State)
The Bengals need help along the defensive line. Whether it be in the form of a pass rusher or run stuffer. Here they get a run stuffer in Goldman. Domata Peko’s play has fallen off the past few years and Goldman would slide in nicely as his replacement. A pass rusher is also needed here but there isn’t one worth the pick at this spot.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) – Eli Harold (OLB/Virginia)
The Steelers outside linebacker situation got so dire that they brought James Harrison out of retirement. More surprising is he actually held up quite well, grading out as a top 10 player at his position. Nonetheless, Harrison is going to be 37 and Jason Worilds is a free agent. Jarvis Jones has been a disappointment to this point in his career. Harold will likely test very well athletically at the combine so while he may be a reach currently his value will likely rise. He has solid upside as a pass rusher.
23. Detroit Lions (11-5) – Malcolm Brown (DT/Texas)
Obviously DT isn’t a need based on last year. However, with Ndamakong Suh set to hit the open market and demand a hefty payday and Nick Fairley a free agent as well it seems unlikely that they bring both back at major dollars. The more likely scenario is they don’t let the best DT in football go, so Suh will likely return. That does, however, still leave a hole next to him. Brown can come in and start from day 1.
24. Arizona Cardinals (11-5) – Melvin Gordon (RB/Wisconsin)
The history of RBs taken in round 1 lately is not good. The position has transitioned from bellcow backs taking 300+ carries a year to more committee-type rotations. That being said, Gordon is still a pretty special talent and the Cardinals have had a tough time finding a RB in recent years. Andre Ellington is explosive but best deployed as a scat back in space because getting 20+ touches this year didn’t work out very well for him.
25. Carolina Panthers (7-8-1) – Ereck Flowers (OT/Miami FL)
Byron Bell made the switch from RT to LT last year after the retirement of long time LT Jordan Gross. He was mediocre at best. He’s better suited for the right side. Drafting Flowers will allow Bell to shift back to RT and would strengthen the Panthers O line as they struggled to protect Cam Newton last year.
26. Baltimore Ravens (10-6) – Marcus Peters (CB/Washington)
The Ravens secondary really struggled last year, particularly after top CB Jimmy Smith went down with a foot injury. Peters is a very talented player, one could argue he is the best CB in the class. It’s his character questions that has him last this long. The Ravens have shown a willingness to roll the dice on talented players with questionable character most recently with another CB in Jimmy Smith. If they’re able to work with Peters the risk could pay off big time.
27. Dallas Cowboys (12-4) – Jordan Phillips (DT/Oklahoma)
Heading into last season, the Cowboys were expected to field one of the leagues worst defenses. However, Dallas’ ball control offense and ability to control the line of scrimmage with their O line helped mask some of their defensive deficiencies. The fact still remains that the Cowboys could use an infusion of young talent on defense, particularly on the D line and at CB. Since most of the top CBs are off the board Phillips fits in fairly nicely here. He’s a massive body who can make it very difficult to run the ball against.
28. Denver Broncos (12-4) – Eric Kendricks (ILB/UCLA)
The Broncos team doesn’t have many holes, but they do have a need at ILB. Kendricks could fit that role as he is a sideline to sideline defender. He’s a bit undersized for the position but makes up for it with good instincts and lots of production. His profile reminds some of undervalued LB Chris Borland from last year’s draft. Size is a concern but he’s a football player, and a pretty good one.
29. Indianapolis Cols (11-5) – Nate Orchard (DE/OLB/Utah)
Anybody who watched the AFC Championship game could see the Colts are desperate for pass rushers. Robert Mathis is returning from an Achilles injury but he’s also going to be 34 years old and that’s not an easy injury to come back from. Former 1st rounder Bjorn Werner has been very disappointing to put it politely. Colts GM Ryan Grigson has done a poor job of surrounding Andrew Luck with talent. Perhaps Orchard can change that trend.There are questions about Orchard’s performance vs the run but an 18.5 sack season last year speaks to his potential as a big time pass rusher.
30. Green Bay Packers (12-4) – Benardrick McKinney (ILB/Mississippi State)
Green Bay moved Clay Matthews inside on early downs last year and it yielded solid results. However, Matthews’ best position still remains on the outside. McKinney would let Matthews stay there full time. McKinney is bigger than the conventional ILB and may struggle if left in coverage too much but he’s good coming downhill and a powerful tackler. The Packers were better vs the pass last year than they were against the run. This could help that issue.
31. Seattle Seahawks (12-4) Dorial Green-Beckham (WR/Missouri)
Another case of the talent vs the character concerns. Green-Beckham has all the tools to be a top flight WR in the NFL. A huge target with speed, he could be a matchup nightmare in the NFL assuming his head is on straight. The Seahawks could be the perfect landing spot for him as they’re not unfamiliar with volatile personalities with big time ability. Pete Carroll might not be the best Xs and Os guy in the NFL, but he is a fantastic motivator. As seen in the Super Bowl, Russell Wilson is desperate for a big target at WR. Green-Beckham fits that bill.
32. New England Patriots (12-4) AJ Cann (G/South Carolina)
As seen early on in the season, one of the Patriots main weaknesses was offensive line play. They obviously were able to figure it out enough to win the Super Bowl so the need may not seem big but with Dan Connolly a free agent Cann would fit in nicely. Cann’s probably the best pure guard prospect in the draft and with Nate Solder and Bryan Stork would combine to form a nice young nucleus for the Patriots on the line.