The biggest event of the pre-NFL draft season is in the books, with nearly a week of events in Indianapolis putting the Scouting Combine at the forefront of the national sports conversation.
There are still two long months of debate before the NFL draft on April 30, and while opinions about prospects are beginning to solidify, there is still much uncertainty to be decided: free agency doesn't begin until March 10. That, as always, will create and fill a lot of needs for teams, and until then we can't get a full picture of the direction teams might head.
Still, the Combine greatly increased the amount of available information, and the time between that, pro days and free agency presents a perfect opportunity to evaluate where this year's draft class stands. So, without projecting trades, here's an early look at how the 2015 first round might shape up.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. This is already starting to feel quite anticlimactic. Marcus Mariota made sure to remind everyone what a great athlete he is by running an absurd 4.52 40-yard dash at the combine, while Winston finished in a plodding 4.97 seconds. Still, Winston clearly has the most pro-ready game. If Lovie Smith and the Bucs believe that they can manage Winston's maturity issues, then they'll draft him. Coaches always feel they can help fix part of a player if there is obvious talent. Coaches believe their systems can rein in potential character issues, just as coaches believe they can develop talented but raw strong-armed quarterbacks into finished products. With Winston, talent and on-field intelligence are phenomenal. With Josh McCown gone, the clock is already ticking for Winston to beat Mike Glennon for the Bucs starting job.
2. Tennessee Titans: Leonard Williams, DE, USC. Arguably the best player in the draft, Williams would go No. 1 if the team picking first didn't have Mike Glennon as the only quarterback on its roster. By no means can the Titans be ruled out of the quarterback market with former No. 8 overall pick Jake Locker veering toward bust territory and Zach Mettenberger around as a small investment as a 2014 sixth-rounder. Still, when quarterback isn't necessarily the obvious pick because of the questions about Mariota's transition, then there's no arguing against taking the best player available, a 290-pound force who can play anywhere on a defensive line and can team with Jurrell Casey to create a lethal combination for a run defense that ranked 31st last year.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dante Fowler, DE, Florida. Fowler never posted eye-popping numbers at Florida, but he was a five-star prospect who had a great all-around career, both as a pass rusher and a run defender. At 6-foot-3, 261 pounds, he's a versatile defender who can line up just about anywhere, and he turned a lot of heads at the combine by posting a ridiculous 4.6-second 40-yard dash. He's the type of player who will start moving up draft boards over the next two months after what he did in Indianapolis, putting him in the top-five discussion. With how crowded the pass-rush competition is in the top 10, though, the Jaguars could be candidates to trade down with a team looking to draft Mariota.
4. Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama. Kevin White was one of the stars of the combine, including a 4.35-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds. That sounds right up the Raiders' alley. Cooper, though, is a polished product who dominated SEC competition as a junior. A great route-runner, he can look like a running back after the catch, and while he wasn't considered a burner, he ran a 4.42 in the 40. The Raiders are in great position here and could even trade down and get one of Cooper, White or DeVante Parker if someone targets Mariota, but at No. 4 Cooper is still the best bet to give Derek Carr a much-needed instant upgrade at receiver.
5. Washington Redskins: Shane Ray, DE/LB, Missouri. Ray broke out as a star for the Missouri defense in 2014, proving to be an explosive pass rusher in the edge -- an even better player than the stars he replaced, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam. With free agent Brian Orakpo possibly on the way out of a Redskins defense that struggled to force turnovers and defend the pass, an explosive, relentless rusher off the edge like Ray is exactly what this defense needs, although we'll have to see what he does at his pro day after he didn't work out at the combine.
6. New York Jets: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon. It's unlikely that Mariota will actually be on the board this long. In a league with several teams in need of a quarterback and only two top quarterbacks available in the draft, it's hard to imagine Mariota lasting six picks. That doesn't mean the Jets won't get him; it just means a team is likely going to jump into the top five to secure him. The way the board is set up, the Jets are the next most likely option for Mariota if the Titans pass on him, as Geno Smith appears to be an unlikely long-term solution under new coach Todd Bowles.
7. Chicago Bears: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington. Ignore his 40 time. No, his sluggish time of 5.64 seconds won't impress anyone, but it doesn't have to. What matters most is that despite being 339 pounds, Shelton has proven to have some short-area quickness, with a lot of energy and physicality in the middle of a defense. He put up an astonishing 93 tackles and 16 ½ tackles for loss as a senior, despite his massive frame, making him an excellent, versatile fit for Vic Fangio's new 3-4 base defense in Chicago.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Randy Gregory, DE/LB, Nebraska. Unsurprisingly, beyond Winston and Mariota there will be a heavy focus on pass rushers early. Gregory is an explosive athlete with some versatility off the edge, and he could probably go as early as No. 3. Weighing in at just 238 pounds raises some red flags, but his 4.64 40-yard dash shows how much of a freakish athlete he is. He would help provide a much-needed injection of talent into the Falcons pass rush under new coach Dan Quinn after they finished 30th in sacks.
9. New York Giants: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa. It's been one of the most obvious fits since the draft order was determined. Scherff is a strong, powerful force who played left tackle at Iowa but could end up on the right side or even at guard for the Giants. He's ready to play right away, and he could play a role in upgrading a mediocre Giants ground game.
10. St. Louis Rams: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia. The future of Sam Bradford in St. Louis remains murky, and perhaps the Rams could trade him and attempt to move up for Mariota. If not, they could at least attempt to further upgrade the receiving corps, which has struggled to find reliable targets in the draft. Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey still have potential, but there's not a No. 1 receiver on this team. The 10th pick is a perfect opportunity to fill that void, whether it's Cooper, White or Parker.
11. Minnesota Vikings: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State. How often does the extremely obvious mock draft pick actually happen? Understandably, DeVante Parker has long been pegged to the Vikings, who need another outside receiver. Who better to pair with Teddy Bridgewater than his top college target? But the wide receiver depth in this draft is strong; the Vikings may instead opt to take the top cornerback on the board. Waynes further established himself in that position after running a blistering 4.32 in the 40.
12. Cleveland Browns: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville. If the Vikings pass, the Browns would be a great fit for any of the top three receivers. Their quarterback situation remains dicey, but they can at least aid that messy situation by adding a top target like Parker, who may not be a game-breaker but has excellent size and ball skills. With the Josh Gordon drama continuing, adding someone like Parker would feel like a home run.
13. New Orleans Saints: Vic Beasley, DE/LB, Clemson. Beasley's relentless dominance and explosiveness as a pass rusher were almost underappreciated by the time he left Clemson because of concerns about his size. The combine served as a nice reminder of how impressive of an athlete he is: He ran a 4.53 40, had a 41-inch vertical leap, did 35 bench press reps and broad jumped 10 feet, 10 inches. And he's clearly no workout warrior, either, as he recorded 25 sacks over the last two seasons. While his 246-pound frame makes him a tweener, his burst off the edge give a necessary boost to a lackluster defense.
14. Miami Dolphins: Jalen Collins, CB, LSU. This may be a little early, but Collins is climbing up draft boards at a valuable position. With Waynes off the board, Collins presents an enticing cover corner with upside as a 6-foot-1, 203-pounder who ran a 4.48 40. NFL teams love looking for big corners, and Collins blends size and athleticism as well as any in this year's draft.
15. San Francisco 49ers: Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri. Character concerns continue to put Green-Beckham's draft status in question, but all it takes is one team to believe that he's past those issues and fall in love with his talent. A former blue-chip recruit, Green-Beckham showed flashes of big-time ability at Missouri before being dismissed and ending up at Oklahoma, where he turned pro after sitting out the 2014 season following his transfer. He's a huge target at 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, at a significant position of need with Michael Crabtree hitting free agency.
16. Houston Texans: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford. Stanford has been known for producing study offensive lines lately, and while Peat remains a project, his upside is undeniable. With starting right tackle Derek Newton hitting a free agency, Peat is a solid value pick here at a position of need.
17. San Diego Chargers: Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon. Armstead's draft position is a bit hard to peg, as he's the type of athlete who could go earlier than expected based on upside, even though he wasn't particularly dominant at Oregon. At 6-foot-7, 292 pounds, he makes for an excellent fit as a 3-4 defensive end, which is what he did for the Ducks.
18. Kansas City Chiefs: La'el Collins, OT, LSU. The Chiefs are in dire need of wide receiver help, but there will be talent available on Day 2. When all else fails, give Andy Reid an offensive lineman. In this case, Collins -- a powerful run blocker -- represents solid value as a player who may play right tackle or guard, both of which are needs for the Chiefs.
19. Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo): Malcom Brown, DT, Texas. The Browns have two first-round picks for the second year in a row, and it's possible they'll use their draft wealth to move up (last year, they netted this pick by trading down with the Bills, who wanted Sammy Watkins). In this scenario, with Parker on board at receiver, the Browns turn their attention to defense, where they add some help to a unit that ranked last in the league against the run in 2014.
20. Philadelphia Eagles: Landon Collins, S, Alabama. Mock drafts have very much become Philadelphia-unfriendly. Sixers GM Sam Hinkie will inevitably ruin every mock NBA mock draft by setting a trades-per-minute record that ends with him acquiring one out of every two picks in the second round. Eagles head coach and now personnel head Chip Kelly may be poised to pull a Mike Ditka in pursuit of Marcus Mariota. And perhaps he should: If any coach is equipped to increase the chances of Mariota's game translating to the NFL quickly, it's the forward-thinking coach who recruited Mariota to Oregon. Trades are very mock draft-unfriendly, though, and thus we go to the Eagles backup plan in the event that they can't climb high enough -- or aren't willing to -- to snag Mariota. In this case, with no quarterback worth the 20th pick, there is no choice but to draft a defensive back, and as potentially the only safety who will come off the board in the first two rounds, Collins is a great Mariota alternative, unless they opt for a cornerback instead.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Bud Dupree, DE/LB, Kentucky. After finishing last in the league in sacks, the Bengals clearly need some help in the defensive front. Like Beasley, Dupree put up absurd combine numbers, running a 4.56 40 with a 42-inch vertical leap at 269 pounds. Overlooked in college on subpar Kentucky teams, Dupree's reputation has been on the rise, making him a likely candidate for the middle of the first round.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers: Marcus Peters, CB, Washington. Drafting Peters in the first round mostly comes down to a team developing trust with him after repeated confrontations with a new Washington coaching staff cut his 2014 short. When on the field, Peters has the ability to be a lockdown cornerback with physicality, which is just what one of the league's worst pass defenses needs.
23. Detroit Lions: Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State. It's hard to know how the Lions will look up front prior to free agency, as tackles Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, C.J. Mosley and Andre Fluellen are all set to hit the market. Even if Suh returns, there still could be a need at the position, and Goldman represents a solid match at this point in the first round after a breakout season for the Noles.
24. Arizona Cardinals: Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State. With a need at inside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme, the Cardinals are in solid position here, should they choose to go that route. They may have their pick of players at the position at No. 24, and while it could be Denzel Perryman or Eric Kendricks, McKinney's combination of size and speed make him a worthy pickup here.
25. Carolina Panthers: Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami. Offensive line is an obvious choice as the Panthers look to improve the protection in front of Cam Newton; it's just a matter of which second-tier prospect fits best here, whether it's Flowers, Pitt's T.J. Clemmings or Florida's D.J. Humphries. Humphries played a big role in Duke Johnson's running success at Miami and led all offensive linemen with 37 bench press reps at the combine.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State. It was said about Torrey Smith, of course, but now it can be said about Devin Smith: He's a perfect match for Joe Flacco's arm strength. Perhaps no player in college football was better at tracking deep balls than Smith, and with Torrey Smith hitting free agency, it's a logical move for the Ravens.
27. Dallas Cowboys: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin. DeMarco Murray may have led the NFL in rushing, but the Cowboys may not be prepared to sign him as a free agent, when they also need to worry about re-signing Dez Bryant. While personal preference would send Todd Gurley here, Gordon would slide in well as a replacement for Murray and doesn't have the injury issues hanging over him either.
28. Denver Broncos: Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma. While Phillips never quite broke through as a consistently dominant force, he showed a ton of potential as a powerful player on the interior of the Sooners defense. With Terrance Knighton hitting free agency, the 329-pound Phillips could step in as Denver's new nose tackle.
29. Indianapolis Colts: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia. Forget the recent sliding of running backs out of the first round. Gurley is without a doubt a first-round talent, and the only hang-up is the torn ACL he suffered in November. The injury shouldn't be dismissed, but Gurley is a rare talent at running back with power, big-play speed, receiving ability and a nearly unmatched physical style. Two of the most universally praised college players over the last several years were Andrew Luck and Gurley. Putting them in the same backfield feels unfair.
30. Green Bay Packers: Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA. The Packers are in need of a long-term solution at inside linebacker, and Kendricks is just that: a steady, reliable, athletic tackler who could start from day one and stick around for a long time.
31. Seattle Seahawks: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State. Strong lacks big-play speed, but he's a big, physical receiver with phenomenal hands and ball skills, allowing him to make acrobatic catches even without much separation.
32. New England Patriots: Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington. Thompson is a great athlete who may slip a little bit as teams question where he'll best fit in a defense -- linebacker, safety or some sort of hybrid. Nobody better capitalizes on players like that than Bill Belichick, who would undoubtedly find a way to use him on offense too.