This is the first half of my first mock draft with the big splashes of free agency being mostly done and several surprising trades taking the league by storm causing the needs of some teams to change. Some teams are now better off and can draft the best player available while others now need to focus on certain positions to push themselves to being more credible contenders. It seems that many of the teams that needed quarterbacks choose to go through free agency or the trade route to get a starter or a reserve. Cleveland, Buffalo, Philadelphia, and St. Louis all added quarterbacks to their teams, while the Bears, Jets, and Titans have stated or have rumors that they will stick with their current starters.
This draft is deep in pass rushers and receivers and has more top-end running back talent than previous drafts have had. More people see the offensive line talent improving, but there is no elite tackle in the draft. The secondary and quarterbacks are underwhelming this year, and it seems that many teams are desperate for help at these positions. The selections below are where I believe the teams should go with each pick and notice there are some teams I believe should trade down if they can. If there need is deep, they should consider trading down to try and get more picks. Championship teams are built through the draft and getting the first round pick is the most important difference between the Patriots and Packers success and the Raiders and Jaguars struggles. I will put the second half of the draft soon and will also have a first two round mock draft before the Draft in late April. For now, I have the teams pick, as well a couple other options I would consider at their draft selection.
1) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston-QB Florida State
Winston Is the best quarterback to enter the draft since Andrew Luck. He has all the physical tools and has a presence in the locker room that teams like to have in a quarterback. His actual quarterback traits are what teams look for in the number one overall pick, his accuracy and vision are exceptional, and he seems able to make all the correct throws. Already having experience in a more pro-style offense should prove to be a plus in convincing people he deserves the nod over Marcus Mariota, although I’ve never been a huge believer in a pro-style offense making a difference. The only concern is the off-the-field issues that he seems unable to avoid and constantly in the media for. Outside the sexual assault allegations, none of these issues are too large and may have been overblown due to the fact he was a Heisman trophy winner and his team was the defending national champions. If the Buccaneers believe that surrounding Winston with a more stable environment and with teammates that can shield him from the media will negate these incidents, then there is no reason he should not be the first pick. Overall, Winston is the most talented player in this year’s draft and in the position that is most needed in the NFL, he will be the top pick in this year’ draft and I do project him to be a future star in the league. I really do not see his off the field issues being a huge concern and I believe Tampa may be the best situation for him to thrive.
Other Options: Trade the pick for the largest amount of picks possible.
2) Tennessee Titans
Leonard Williams- DE/OLB USC
The Titans were originally thought to be the landing spot of Mariota, but Mariota seems to be slipping down draft boards and after free agency, there seems to be less QB-needy teams who will be willing to spend a first round on a QB who will most likely not play this year. On top of that, it sounds like the Titans like what they saw from Zach Mettenberg and are content to head into next year with him as the guy. This leaves two options, draft the best available player or trade down, and I really doubt a team will be willing to trade up at this point to get Mariota. The next best available player is either Williams or Kevin White and this is a really tough decision, but since WR is so deep and the Titans see Andrew Luck twice a year, Williams is the choice. He has elite speed and power and the versatility to play multiple positions. He’s relentless chasing the ball carrier or the passer and continues to show an ability to be around the ball.
Other Options: Trade Down, Kevin White
3) Jacksonville Jaguars
Dante Fowler Jr. – DE/OLB Florida
A team that has been so bad for so many years, will finally start to see some brighter days with good free agent signings and deep draft classes starting to show signs of an improving team. Even though I do not love Blake Bortles and his talent, I do believe he will be a solid starting QB in the league as long as he protects the ball like Russell Wilson and not try to force things like Jay Cutler. Since the Jaguars are not looking for that franchise quarterback anymore, they can focus on building around their current core of players and improving the defense. I am pretty certain that if Fowler is available at this point he will be the pick. He has risen up draft boards and has a connection to the coaching staff of the Jaguars. Fowler played for a terrible Florida team that struggled in every aspect of the game and really did not get enough credit for what he did. Still raw, he is extremely athletic and has great speed and pass rush moves, it is still not certain if he can play well in coverage, but has the physical tools necessary to. The only other option would be offensive lineman based off a need perspective, but there is really no talent that can be justified for be taken in the top three.
Other Options: Maybe Kevin White…Maybe
4) Oakland Raiders
Kevin White- WR West Virginia
The Raiders are known for taking the more risky player or the faster player. Even with their struggles over recent years and new personnel in the front office, I find it hard to believe that this philosophy would change until I see it. Still this is a risk I would take, White is a ball hawk and will always go and meet the ball at the highest point. He has the athletic ability to make a catch and great speed to top it all off. If there is any reason to pass on him, it would be his route running ability and the fact that he is still raw in other areas of the game that Amari Cooper has perfected. Even with that said, White can make all the catches and will be a perfect security blanket for a young quarterback to help stabilize an offense that has been pretty lifeless. Now if only they could get an offensive line…
Other Options: Amari Cooper, Trae Waynes
5) Washington Redskins
Randy Gregory- DE/OLB Nebraska
This division could be won by anyone for any number of reasons, and the team that finished last could easily finish first. Well, actually, nothing comes easy in the NFL, but this team has talent and really just needs stability. They need to commit to one quarterback and focus on building around him and protecting him so he has time to throw the ball. The defense could also use some serious help and with so many talented offenses in the same division, getting to the ball carrier/passer may be the most important thing to do. Gregory again offers versatility in terms of his position, but he really can only come off the edge. He is so talented and can get to the passer so fast that he makes up for his lack of run support sometimes. This would not be the flashy pick that the fans would hope for, but honestly there is not a lot that can be done to this roster other than hope it gets better offensively and pray they can protect their quarterback, whoever that may be.
Other Options: Brandon Schreff, Trae Waynes
6) New York Jets
Andrew Peat- OT Stanford
Every sports league is a copy-cat league and after the turnaround the Dallas Cowboys had, there will be several teams looking to follow the blueprint and I believe the Jets will do just that. This is where the Mariota bidding may start, but if there is no trade here, I believe he will start to slide. This pick should show the commitment of the new regime to build the from the inside out and really look for sustain success instead of approval from fans. I still believe Geno Smith can be a decent quarterback and could probably could use some more time in the pocket to cut back on the mistakes and to gain some confidence. The Brandon Marshall addition looked to try and help Geno than to say “we are going to clear house,” and I expect an emphasis of helping Geno instead of trying to depend on him.
Other Options: Trae Waynes, Amari Cooper, Marcus Mariota, Trade Down
7) Chicago Bears
Vic Beasley- DE/OLB Clemson
Phil Emery managed to make one of the best defenses into the worst defenses in only a couple of years. This historically bad defense needs all the help it can get and taking the best player available is the best option. With a switch in schemes, the Bears now need more 3-4 OLB’s and Vic Beasley fits the mold and adds exactly what the Bears need, a pass rush. Now he cannot fix the defense, but the Bears need to start somewhere.
Other Options: Trae Waynes, Trade Down, Marcus Mariota
8) Atlanta Falcons
Shane Ray- DE Missouri
Atlanta has struggled with injuries recently, but has plenty of talent on the offensive side of the ball to compete. Now comes the much needed help on defense. Ray is a monster coming off the edge and will give the secondary help by knocking a quarterback out of rhythm.
Other Options: Brandon Schreff
9) New York Giants
Brandon Scherff- G/T Iowa
Scherff is an excellent run-blocker, but there are concerns about his ability to pass-block effectively, which is why a move to guard may help him, or at least to the right tackle. Very strong and disciplined, Scherff will be playing in the league for a long time and will give Eli Manning some much needed protection.
Other Options: Ereck Flowers, La’el Collins
10) St. Louis Rams
Amari Cooper- WR Alabama
Cooper may be the most NFL ready prospect in the draft and will make an immediate impact wherever he goes. The Rams addressed their quarterback problem with the Nick Foles trade, but they need some help on the outside. Cooper is an excellent route-runner who catches the ball extremely well. Even without outstanding athletic abilities, Cooper will be an excellent receiver.
Other Options: Devante Parker
11) Minnesota Vikings
Devante Parker- WR Louisville
Vikings fans would love this pick, reuniting with Teddy Bridgewater, but also an athletic receiver who goes up to get the ball. He will be the perfect addition to go with the speedy Cordarelle Patterson and help Bridgewater grow and to get out of a couple tough situations by winnings several jump balls.
Other Options: None
12) Cleveland Browns
Trae Waynes- CB Michigan St.
The signing of Josh McCown sent the signal that the Browns are not looking for a quarterback and may still have faith in Johnny Manziel to be successful. I think they will use both picks to try and improve their defense and Waynes will make big plays and set up the offense with some good starting position.
Other Options: Danny Shelton
13) New Orleans Saints
Marcus Mariota-QB Oregon
Sean Payton needs to start thinking about the future and I believe they started the process when they traded away Jimmy Graham. They really have no way to improve their team outside the draft with the cap problems they have. This pick also allows the Mariota to learn behind one of the all-time great and grow before starting, which I think he needs.
Other Options: Arik Armstead, Danny Shelton
14) Miami Dolphins
Arik Armstead- OT Oregon
Keeping Ryan Tannehill comfortable in the pocket is the most important thing the Dolphins can do to improve as a team. Wide receiver is another pick here, but the fact is the talent in the second round is as good as it would be here. Look for them to try and address another position in the first round.
Other Options: Jaelen Strong
15) San Francisco 49ers
Danny Shelton-DT Washington
This defense has been hurt with injuries the past few seasons and now they have a problem with early retirements. Danny Shelton will help to start rebuild a great defense that really could use some good news after all the departures this past offseason.
Other Options: La’el Collins. Eli Harold, Ereck Flowers
16) Houston Texans
La’el Collins- OT LSU
The Texans are not going to be able to address their quarterback problem in the draft and free agency is underwhelming, so the next best thing is to improve the group that protects the quarterback and running back. Houston could use a little help at wide receiver after Andre Johnson was cut, but they have several options to do that in the draft and free agency.
Other Options: Jaelen Strong, Maxx Williams