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The first(s) of the year

The 32 players that will hear their names called first on April 30th.

#1 Marcus Hardison
#1 Marcus Hardison
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the first day of 2015…Happy New Year everybody! What better day than this to look at my guess for the 2015 1st round draft class. This is not a mock. This is more along the lines of a "big board". In fact, I won’t even put these guys in order. Literally, it will just be the 32 names that I think best project as 1st rounders, and sorted by position(s).

The QB’s:

Marcus Mariota

Jameis Winston

I think Mariota is the #1 overall pick. Tampa really doesn’t need another year of toiling away playing QB platoon with Glennon and McCown.

I wouldn’t touch Winston with a 10 ft pole, but if he declares…someone will. Out of desperation for a QB in a non-existent QB field, someone will take Jameis.

Sidenote: Connor Cook really should consider declaring.

The RB’s:

Melvin Gordon

I think Todd Gurley’s injury will cause him to drop out of the 1st, but Melvin Gordon will break the two-year string of not having a RB drafted in the 1st.

Gordon has benefit of padding his draft resume with a 2000-yard season, Heisman finalist, and soon he’ll light up the combine while Gurley is still probably rehabbing from knee surgery.

The WR’s:

Devante Parker

Amari Cooper

Kevin White

Jaelen Strong

I think Parker, who just tuned up Georgia to the melody of 8/120 in the Belk Bowl on Tuesday, uses his 6’3"/211 frame, future combine superiority, and explosive play advantage, to surpass Cooper and become 1st WR off the board.

In 2014, Cooper held a slight edge over Parker in receiving YPG (127.4 to 122.5), but Parker blows Cooper out of the water in YPC: 21.0 to 14.4. Plus, it’s very likely GM’s will prefer Parker’s Senior class status, and downgrade Cooper for having more drops.

Kevin White and Jaelen Strong seem really solid WR prospects for the 1st round.

If a 5th WR is to get drafted in the 1st, I don’t think it’s Devin Funchess…I think the next one in would be Sammie Coates. Sammie is going to be one of the freakiest combine freaks we’ve seen in some time, and that alone could spark the interest of some team.

The OL:

TJ Clemmings

Ty Sambrailo

Jake Fisher

La’el Collins

Brandon Scherff

Cedric Ogbuehi

Strangely, all of my projections for 1st round OL are currently OT’s. I think there’s a couple reasons: 1) it is a pretty weak OG/C class, 2) I would plan to move a couple of these guys inside to Guard regardless. I think Scherff will get the Bitonio treatment, and I think Collins probably does as well.

Funnily, the first Center drafted this year might also be an OT convert: Cameron Erving. Erving’s already been playing at C for FSU, it’s just a question of whether teams like him best there, and if he’s the first one picked.

Clemmings is my sneaky pick to be the first OL drafted. Which is funny, because months ago I feel like I was the first person championing TJC when he was barely ranked a 3rd rounder.

I’m currently leaving Andrus Peat and Ronnie Stanley out of my 32 as underclassmen yet to declare. If Peat declares, I still don’t put him in my 32, but Stanley I would. It just seems, as a redshirt Sophomore, Stanley is the less-likely to declare.

The TE:

I’m not listing any TE in my top 32. Maxx Williams is probably closest, and NFL teams will likely move Funchess to the position. I just don’t think, in this overall draft class, the talent at TE merits a 1st. Hell, the NFL has only averaged drafting 0.6 TE per 1st round for the last five years…we’ve seen one picked each of the last two years…we’re probably back to another year TE gets shutout.

That concludes the Offense portion of my big board. Crazily, I only have 13 names on offense. But, here’s the thing: we’re going to see the pendulum continue to swing further toward a defensive minded league as more teams begin to covet what Seattle has created, and this is a GREAT draft class to start putting a dent in that intention.

The CB:

Jalen Collins

Trae Waynes

Eric Rowe

Cornerback is very tough to project this year. A few of the frontrunners (Marcus Peters, PJ Williams) have created off-field redflags that could cost them 1st-round money, and another long-standing 1st round projected CB simply had an off year (Ekpre-Olomu). So I’ve cut all three from my list.

Of my group, Trae Waynes is the one that has been projecting 1st round pretty much all year. He’s played well, he’s kept his nose clean, he should be 1st CB picked.

Jalen Collins is a Junior that just recently declared. Collins has decent tape, but he’s coming from a school that has strong recent history developing DB’s, as well as a school that was one of only two this year that held opponents under a 100 passer rating for the collective year. And at 6’2"/195, Collins is going to get a bump just for being built like Richard Sherman.

Eric Rowe will be a DJ Hayden like riser. Rowe has great size (6’1"/201), has versatility to play Safety (a position group that, itself, is weak this year), finished top 12 in the country in PBU this year, and he’ll put on a really nice combine. Rowe is currently draftscout’s 15th-ranked CB and #123 overall, so this is stepping out on him quite a bit on my part.

The S:

Landon Collins

Gerod Holliman

Like I said, this is a weak group this year, but also "two" is pretty commonly the number of Safeties that go 1st round.

Collins comes from a nice line of Alabama 1st round-drafted safeties (Barron, Clinton-Dix), but should showcase as the better athlete of the three. He’s just a sound player.

I’m going to include Holliman in the 1st round because I think people will be reaching on Safeties, including in the 1st, because teams will want to replicate the L.O.B. Holliman gets lifted because he picked off FIVE MORE passes than anyone in the country, and his total of 14 INT’s tied the all-time record.

I was tempted to include Cody Prewitt in my top 32 simply because his style of play runs closest to Kam Chancellor of anyone in this draft. The other one to watch in this group could be the small-school Safety Jaquiski Tartt. His tape is arguably the best I’ve seen from a S this year, but it’s just a question of how penalized he gets for coming from Samford.

The LB:

Shaq Thompson

It feels off only having one LB in the 1st, but more than likely a few of the guys listed at DE will play more of an OLB role.

Shaq Thompson, I don’t believe, has officially declared yet, but I think he’ll come out. I think he’ll get picked in the top 15, which probably wouldn’t improve much with another year in college.

The next LB on the bubble that got cut was Benardrick McKinney. Most people have him in the 1st, but I just don’t see the type of athlete in him that makes the jump into the 1st as a linebacker. If guys like Mychal Kendricks, Bobby Wagz, Lavonte David drop to the 2nd, so will McKinney.

We’ve now gone over all of the position groups save for DT and DE…total picks accounted for? 19. Total remaining? 13.

Yes. I am projecting 13 players getting drafted to play Defensive Line in the first round. And, as I was trimming my list down, I had 30 names on the list with four names remaining, and the four were two DE and two DT. So the first two bubble names are also DL.

The DT:

Eddie Goldman

Marcus Hardison

Danny Shelton

Adolphus Washington

Leonard Williams

Jordan Phillips

Williams should go top 5. Shelton should go top 20. Both feel pretty no-brainer. Eddie Goldman is also a very safe bet. After that, I’m really going on gut.

The last time I looked, Marcus Hardison was ranked by nfldraftscout as the #299 overall player. And that’s AFTER Hardison spent his first (and only) year at the FBS level racking up 10 sacks and 15 TFL as a 6’4"/300lb DE. "One year wonder?" people may ask. Not if you’ve seen his performance for ASU in the Sun Bowl: 13 tackles and 1 TFL. That’s insane.

Jordan Phillips I’m kind of taking a shot in the dark on. I’ve only watched him in the few times I saw Oklahoma play on TV. As a redshirt Sophomore, I wasn’t planning on him declaring. So I’m not as studied on Phillips as I am on pretty much every other player on this list. But at 6’6"/334, Phillips represents only 1 of 2 true nose tackles within the first two days of the draft. I think someone will take a chance on him.

Adolphus Washington is sort of the opposite of Phillips; I’ve seen plenty of his tape, he just hasn’t officially announced his plans for 2015 yet. He could follow teammate Michael Bennett’s track to the pros, or he could return to team up with Joey Bosa for another year. And it’s entirely possible his decision will hinge on how Ohio State does in the college playoffs. If they win, maybe Wash goes out on top, and makes the leap? Regardless, at 6’4"/295, Adolphus is a bad, bad man and will be a 1st rounder whenever he enters.

Oh, and the last guy to make the cut at DT was Phillips, while the last guy to be cut from the 32 was Texas DT Malcom Brown. He’s a very worthy player, and likely can still make it depending on other underclass declares.


The DE:

Vic Beasley

Bud Dupree

Randy Gregory

Eli Harold

Shane Ray

Preston Smith

Hau’oli Kikaha

This is the best position group in the entire draft. And it could have been, and still might actually end up being, an even longer list.

My last DE saved was Kikaha, who barely nudged out last-cut Nate Orchard. These two guys have such a weird parallel story to me that it is tough to choose between them. I went Kikaha as a bit of homerism, but also as an expectation that he’ll get at least one sack in Friday’s Cactus Bowl, thereby propelling him into the college football national sack champion for 2014. With that, could come 1st round status.

The names (after Orchard) that were also left off include undeclared Shilique Calhoun, Arik Armstead, and Danielle Hunter, returning-to-school Shawn Oakman, and simply not earning 1st round status: Lorenzo Mauldin and Dante Fowler.

Beasley, Dupree, Gregory, and Ray are all fairly unanimous selections. No big surprises there.

Preston Smith, however, is the surprise of the DE class. Listed as draftscout’s #125 overall, Smith is jumping two rounds on my board because of his size (6’5"/270), athleticism (see: his one-hand INT vs UAB), and production (9 sacks, 14.5 TFL, 15 QBH, 3 PBU, 2 INT, 2 FF, 2 blocked kicks).

Eli Harold is, unfortunately, on a rocket to the 1st round. Back in May 2014, I had Harold, even as a Junior, as one of my favorite DE to watch for that season. But in that arbitrary way that draft media operate…underclassmen like Gregory and Calhoun have been talked about all year, while Harold has gone under the radar all the way up until he declared last week. And, already, Harold is showing up in many-a mock draft since.

This one frustrates me as it reminds me that, even though I try very hard to be the first in the country to bring you the future stars of the draft and the league, being first holds no tangible value. We don’t actually get to enforce "dibs", and Eli will probably end up elsewhere.

The only consolation I get is that, as just depicted, the 1st round of the 2015 NFL Draft is STACKED. We’re going to miss out on 6-12 players that I legitimately want on my team (barring a trade-up, which would be brilliant this year)…but we’re going to have options from the back ends of each of my preferred positions groups worth targeting: OL, DE, DT. This will leave us someone from the likes of Sambrailo, Fisher, Smith, Kikaha, Phillips, Hardison…PLUS, from the list of "last cuts": Brown, Orchard, Mauldin, Bennett, Armstead.

I really like Carroll and Schneider’s chances of finding a future star in this draft. It wouldn’t be the first.