A countdown of the top 50 overall players in the 2015 NFL Draft as ranked by NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah.(Note: this list has been updated to reflect Jeremiah's most recent rankings.)
For much of the 2015 offseason, we here at Buccaneers.com have been bringing you a weekly roundup of prominent mock-draft opinions regarding what Tampa Bay will do with the first overall pick. Here's the most recent in fact: You'll notice a strong consensus of opinion.
After weeks of reviewing the (occasionally-shifting) opinions of the Mel Kipers and Rob Rangs of the world, a thought suddenly occurred to us: "Why are we letting those guys have all the fun?"
Let's face it, what NFL mock drafts lack in, you know, accuracy, they make up in sheer entertainment value. Reading an NFL mock draft is an enjoyably lazy experience, like laying out by the pool. Actually doing the drafting yourself – in mock fashion – is even better and much more active, like diving into the deep end when it gets too hot. So let's go ahead and take a dip in the pool; presenting the Third Annual Buccaneers.com Mock Draft (Part 1).
In each of the last two years, Buccaneers.com Contributor Andrew Norton and I did all the heavy lifting, alternating picks from #1 to #32. Our predictive efforts in 2013 are best left in the archives, but we actually did fairly well last year. No, really. This year, we think we can do even better by doubling the mock draft brainpower. That's why Andrew and I are back but we've also invited two fresh faces, presumably with fresh points of view to match: Team Insider Casey Phillips and Buccaneers.com Contributor Joe Kania.
So, welcome to the show, Casey and Joe. Since four voices don't really fit into our old "Point/Counterpoint" format, we're going to do this roundtable style. I'll go first, with Casey batting second, Joe third and Andrew bringing up the rear, as usual. We'll simply alternate picks in that order throughout the first round, giving our predictions for what the team currently occupying each spot will do. For the purposes of this exercise, we will not be predicting any trades; go ahead and mention the possibility of a deal if you feel strongly about it, but you have to pick for the team you're assigned.
One more important note: Please keep in mind that these are our own opinions. Not only will they occasionally be irrational (Andrew) or laughable (ditto), but they are most definitely not intended to reflect the opinions of Lovie Smith, Jason Licht or anybody who will actually be making non-mock picks on April 30. This is most important to remember when considering the very first pick in this exercise.
Alright, my fellow mockers, any last words before we begin?
Casey Phillips: Good to know even as a newcomer I won't get made fun of as much as Andrew.
Andrew Norton: Hey Scott. Missed you too, buddy. Casey and Joe, we pretty much killed it last year, so don't go messing anything up. I'm just teasing, no pressure, have fun. Seriously though, don't mess this up.
Scott Smith: Thank you. Now, on to Part I, wherein we will cover the first eight picks of the first round. Stay tuned in the days to come for the remainder of our Buccaneers.com Mock Draft.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Jameis Winston, FSU (Scott Smith's pick)
I mentioned this is just my own opinion, right? That's clear? I do not have access to the Buccaneers' war room or its draft boards and this does not reflect any inside knowledge on my part. Rather, this is an example of simply going with the consensus opinion. If you clicked on that Mock Draft Roundup link above, you saw that the draft experts are united in the idea that Winston will go first. There are certainly some very attractive defensive players available, and the Bucs could use a premium pass-rusher, but IN MY OPINION (there it is again), the opportunity to add a potential franchise quarterback is just too good to pass up. Such opportunities do not come along often.
2. Tennessee Titans: DE Leonard Williams USC (Casey Phillips's pick)
For a while, it was conventional wisdom Winston and Mariota had a chance to go 1-2. I thought that made sense until I heard how much support Zach Mettenberger has within the Titans' front office. When you are comparing him to a Tom Brady-level steal, that doesn't seem to suggest you are looking to pick another QB just one year later this high in the draft. I think there's a reasonable possibility this pick gets traded away to someone who does want Mariota, but since trades aren't a part of the mock draft world (that would make them far too realistic), I have the Titans taking DE Leonard Williams. He is a safe pick for a franchise that has struggled to draft successfully at the top in recent years. Plus, he fits well as a versatile, disruptive presence in their 3-4 zone blitz who seems too powerful for tackles and too quick for interior linemen.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Kevin White, West Virginia. (Joe Kania's pick)
The Jaguars picked up Blake Bortles with the third overall pick in last year's draft, but the team's offense struggled during his first season. The unit ranked 31st in total offense and passing offense while finishing with the 29th-rated receiving core. And on top of that, their leading receiver, Cecil Shorts, signed as a free agent with the Texans. With the No. 3 pick on our mock draft, the Jags select Kevin White, the explosive wide receiver out of West Virginia, and continue building around Bortles. White hauled in 109 passes for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, including a 68-yarder, and averaged more than 13 yards per reception. White ran one of the fastest 40-yard dashes at the combine (4.35 seconds) and finished tied for the most reps on the bench press (23).
4. Oakland Raiders: OLB Dante Fowler, Jr., Florida (Andrew Norton's pick)
Let the record state that I had it all written up and ready to go that Kevin White would be in silver and black come April 30th, and then you went swiped him. I see how this is going to be. Amari Cooper is still on the board in this position and could be the Kevin White alternative for a future #1 receiver that Oakland desperately needs, but, the Raiders now have a big opportunity at four to address their pass rush. Oakland had just 22 sacks last year, second fewest in the NFL. Fowler had 8.5 sacks last year, 15 tackles for loss and 17 QB hurries and does fit in as a 4-3 pass rushing defensive end. Bonus points: NFL.com's Pro Comparison for Fowler is Khalil Mack, Oakland's impressive fifth-overall pick last year. I'm sure Raiders fans would be thrilled to have two Mack's zipping around the field in 2015.
5. Washington Redskins: DE Randy Gregory, Nebraska (Scott Smith's pick)
Well, since most mock drafts usually come flying off the rails about five picks in, it's probably good that we've already broken from the consensus here in the early going. I think most mock drafters are predicting the pass-rusher in Jacksonville and the receiver in Oakland, not the other way around. The bigger problem for me, as Washington-GM-for-a-day is that either way I don't get Fowler, the pass-rusher I really covet. I'm not buying the idea that Washington is giving up on RGIII and drafting a quarterback here, although I do think that if it falls this way the phone will busy in their draft room. Again, no trades allowed (dumb rule, whoever set this thing up), so I have to sit put and go with pass-rush Plan B, Nebraska's Randy Gregory. I favor him as a pure pass-rusher over Shane Ray and Vic Beasley. With both Marcus Mariota and Amari Cooper still on the board, not to mention those other pass-rushers, I think Casey's really going to have a fun time with the Jets at #6. Whatcha got, newbie?
6. New York Jets: QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon (Casey Phillips's pick)
You're right Scott. I bet the Jets would be salivating to have these options come draft day. My first instinct was to pick Amari Cooper, and if that happens, I do think it would be an interesting fit. But having Mariota fall into your lap here seems too good to pass up. For one thing, the Jets already have Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, and Jeremy Kerley and pay them like they are happy with that trio. Secondly, the new regime in New York doesn't have any obligation to Geno Smith. Plus, Mariota fits very nicely into Chan Gailey's scheme, and the idea of Mariota's athletic ability paired with Brandon Marshall as a target is a partnership with a lot of promise. The other likely possibility at this draft spot besides WR and QB would be on the offensive line. But Jets' GM Mike Maccagnan has already said publicly he believes he can shore up that unit later in the draft. Okay Joe, I know you walked by my desk after my first pick and said I stole your guy. Did I manage to ruin your plans twice?
7. Chicago Bears: CB Trae Waynes, Michigan State (Joe Kania's pick)
According to Pro Football Focus, the area in which the Bears struggled the most last season was pass coverage. Only four teams, the Falcons, Jaguars, Saints and Redskins, graded out worse against the pass and all 11 of the Bears' defensive backs received a negative grade in pass coverage. Now, there are two ways the Bears could go about addressing this issue. One would be finding a dominant pass-rusher and build from the bottom up. The other is picking up a dominant corner to shut down an opponents' top receiver. The safer bet is taking Trae Waynes, the corner out of Michigan State who many believe is the best defensive back in the draft, instead of the fourth-best pass-rusher, since Williams, Fowler and Gregory are already off the board.
8. Atlanta Falcons: DE Shane Ray, Missouri (Andrew Norton's pick)
Strictly role-playing as the hypothetical Falcons GM here… "Casey, Joe, thank you, thank you, thank you!" Remember that Oakland stat about them being second-to-last in sacks last year? Well, I wasn't entirely correct. The Raiders' 22 sacks were tied for second-to-last… with the Atlanta Falcons. New head coach Dan Quinn (previously Seattle's DC) is walking into a lot of needs on both O-line and D-line, but I expect his defensive mind to make a big push for pass rush here, especially in the dream scenario of Ray falling to eight (a scenario which occurs in zero of the seven mock drafts currently on NFL.com). Ray piled up 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss in his final college season. Under Quinn, he's a front-runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year as soon as he steps on stage. Atlanta is thrilled if he falls to eight.
(Part 2 of the Third Annual Buccaneers.com Mock Draft will be posted on Tuesday, April 21.)