The NFL draft is nearly here. However with some highly regarded prospects encountering concerning issues at the 11th hour of the pre-draft process, Thursday’s first round could yet take some unexpected turns.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Florida State QB Jameis Winston: You can pretty much bet the mortgage on this one. The Bucs have done plenty of homework on Winston, whose on-field readiness for the NFL is rarely questioned. For better or worse, he will be this franchise’s new face.
Other considerations? When you’re 2-14, your problems extend beyond the quarterback. GM Jason Licht will certainly listen for offers that could do more to upgrade the roster than Winston’s presence. However without a quarterback, these Bucs will remain lost at sea.
2. Tennessee Titans — Oregon QB Marcus Mariota: Whether he’s a Titan, Jet, Brown, Charger or Eagle, it’s become fairly apparent that the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner will come off the board with the second selection. Coach Ken Whisenhunt certainly sounds like he could be in the minority who prefer Mariota to Winston from the skill set perspective … though “Whiz” could also be doing an excellent job drumming up interest in this pick.
Other considerations? Young Zach Mettenberger gives the Titans another compelling option under center, though he’s the antithesis of Mariota as a player. But sticking with Mettenberger and loading up on extra choices would allow the Titans to address numerous deficiencies throughout the roster.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars — Florida OLB/DE Dante Fowler, Jr.: The Jags have quietly put together a defense with promise. But they don’t have any game wreckers flying off the edge, and Fowler could be the next Justin Houston.
Other considerations? USC DT Leonard Williams is widely considered the draft’s best all-around player and would certainly fit here, though Fowler may be better suited to make the impact this team needs. GM Dave Caldwell could also use help on the O-line and at running back but might be better served to trade down if he targets elite players at those positions.
4. Oakland Raiders — USC DL Leonard Williams: New coach Jack Del Rio is a defensive guy and would certainly love to plug this fellow Trojan into his defense. Williams would erase a need and beautifully complement stud linebacker Khalil Mack. He’s simply too good to bypass.
Other considerations? A dynamic wide receiver is the type of asset second-year QB Derek Carr could use. But even if they don’t take Amari Cooper or Kevin White, the Raiders can still get a Day 1 starter at the top of Round 2.
5. Washington Redskins — Clemson OLB Vic Beasley: A freakish athlete at a premium position would seem to make sense for new GM Scot McCloughan, who rebuilt his D-line in free agency but lost OLB Brian Orakpo and only has fellow edge rusher Ryan Kerrigan under contract for one more season.
Other considerations? McCloughan has signaled willingness to deal out of this coveted spot, a move that would make sense given the other issues on the roster. He covets big bodies and would certainly like to pick up a few for an O-line that’s problematic beyond LT Trent Williams, another potential free agent in 2016.
6. New York Jets — Georgia RB Todd Gurley: New coach Todd Bowles comes from the NFC West, where he watched Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore (plus excellent defenses) successfully take the heat off young quarterbacks. Gurley, possibly the best tailback prospect since Lynch and Adrian Peterson in 2007, might do the same for Geno Smith and could platoon with Chris Ivory if his knee isn’t initially ready for a heavy workload.
Other considerations? The Jets need youngsters who can get to the quarterback and might also be a bidder for Mariota given Smith hasn’t blown anyone away after two seasons.
7. Chicago Bears — Alabama WR Amari Cooper: If new GM Ryan Pace is a “best player on the board” type of decision maker, then Cooper will be his guy in this scenario. As Brandon Marshall’s replacement, Cooper’s route running would meld nicely with red zone beast Alshon Jeffery, who could move on in 2016 and leave the No. 1 role in Cooper’s capable hands.
Other considerations? A horrific defense that’s undergoing a scheme change clearly demands an influx of talent. Arik Armstead, Danny Shelton and Bud Dupree could all provide immediate relief to new coordinator Vic Fangio.
8. Atlanta Falcons — Kentucky OLB Bud Dupree: The 6-4, 269-pounder played numerous roles for the Wildcats and could be something of a chess piece for new Falcons coach Dan Quinn, who takes over a defense that allowed the most yards in 2014 and produced the fewest sacks in the NFC.
Other considerations? The defense is in shambles, and Quinn will need a lot of help to craft anything close to what he had in Seattle. But QB Matt Ryan might remind GM Thomas Dimitroff that more blocking and a bellcow back would be equally appreciated.
9. New York Giants — Miami (Fla.) OT Ereck Flowers: Two words — raw and power … and also raw power. Flowers’ upside is significant, and he’s perfectly equipped to step in at right tackle and elevate the running game while allowing Justin Pugh to slide over to guard. And Flowers might just be the left tackle of the future.
Other considerations? The Giants have next to nothing at safety and must shore up the NFC’s worst run defense. But those concerns can be addressed down the board if they deal out of this spot.
10. St. Louis Rams — Iowa OL Brandon Scherff: This team wants to run the ball but blew up its offensive line in the offseason. Scherff would patch a hole at tackle or guard and would be likely to later find himself on QB Nick Foles’ Christmas card list.
Other considerations? Foles could leave next year, so GM Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher could certainly wade into the Mariota derby. A team that hasn’t had an 800-yard receiver since 2007 also needs to improve at wideout.