by Matt Waldman
Thanks and Goodbye
Today's column is my last at Football Outsiders. I have enjoyed my three-year run with the site and I appreciate the opportunity to write here. It's a fine staff of writers and I especially wish to thank past and present writers Doug Farrar, Tom Gower, Rivers McCown, Ben Muth, Mike Tanier, and Vince Verhei for their support.
Special thanks to Aaron Schatz for his willingness to embrace my ideas and to have the foresight to bring me aboard. He was faced with the decision to choose between me and Andy Benoit for one column to replace Farrar and decided the solution was to create a second column. Very cool.
I will still be writing about player evaluation at the Rookie Scouting Portfolio and you can continue to find my work there. Now, onto the show...
WARNING: DO NOT SKIP TO THE MOCK OR THE JOKE IS ON YOU.
Mock drafts are exercises in coloring inside the lines. No thanks. I prefer to start with a blank sheet of paper.
I don't care about correctly guessing the players that the teams will pick. Make a list of your favorite football sites and writers and you should find a good intersecting surface area where they have written and posted at least three mock drafts for your enjoyment. This week's Futures is devoted to what I think the first round should look like based on my perspective of the game.
I did not have the time to compare my thoughts with the stat projection systems at Football Outsiders such as SackSEER or QBASE. The ambition of this piece is to create a first-round exercise that doesn't factor "market value" ideas or connections to what others know about team preferences.
I also want to be free of restricting my choices of what conventional thinking is for position selection in the first round. My aim is to see how good my choices of talent would be three years from now and not whether I'm accurate about picks in April.
I call it my First-Round Time Capsule Mock. Read it, curse it, and bury it. In 2018, let's dig it up and see if it has more or less logic than it does today.
Matt Waldman's 2015 Time Capsule First-Round Mock
(1.01) Tampa Bay selects DT Leonard Williams, USC: Listen, I'm a fan of Jameis Winston on the field. Off the field, I don't have enough information about his alleged behavior despite the fact that there's a lot of smoke. What I do know is that a person I trust inside the league tells me that Winston's interviews at the combine reveal the quarterback as a guy for whom players would walk through a wall, but he still has little awareness of how immature his behavior has been. Combine that dynamic with a Tampa Bay organization that has a high turnover of quarterbacks and coaches, and has lacked the support system and foresight to prevent excellent rookies (Michael Clayton, Josh Freeman, and Mike Williams) from self-destructing. Maurice Jones-Drew made a great point in Mike Freeman's Bleacher Report column, saying that Winston has performed well under off-field pressures at Florida State, which should be a great indicator that he won't lose it in the NFL. Still, the idea of Winston landing a few hours down the road has a fear factor too hot for my liking.
I'd love to see Tampa Bay orchestrate a trade down, but Leonard Williams is too good to pass up -- especially if three of the next five teams on the board are likely to snatch the USC defensive lineman if Tampa Bay doesn't. It's true that Williams is well matched for the position that Gerald McCoy occupies in the 4-3, and Buccaneers writer Sander Philipse argues that J.J. Watt has not helped the Texans win as much as Matt Schaub did when the quarterback was playing well.
I can't get on board with Philipse's point for several reasons. You can't compare one great player with average surrounding talent on the line of scrimmage to the merit of three above average-to-very good players working as a unit. Jadeveon Clowney's injury-marred rookie year didn't help Houston. Williams isn't Watt, but he's good enough that the Buccaneers could move him around the line for match-up advantages and wreak havoc on opposing lines -- especially the Saints' aging unit, the empty cupboard in Carolina, and Atlanta's tattered carousel.
Drafting Winston could be leading a moth to the flame. Drafting Williams, building on a strength and waiting another round or three (might I suggest CSU-Pueblo's Chris Bonner?), or even another year, for a potential starting quarterback would be a conservative, but productive move. I don't expect this to happen, because as Einstein said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." The NFL is insane with its view of rookie quarterbacks, and the Buccaneers have displayed their own special affliction to grab a walking dysfunction when they see one.
(1.02) via trade with Tennessee, St. Louis selects QB Jameis Winston, Florida State: If there's a team that has a chance in giving Winston a fresh start off the field and just enough time away from the starting lineup to buy into a mission, it's the Rams and Jeff Fisher. Winston has a lot of Steve McNair to his game (not the freakish athlete version, but the mature version of McNair from the pocket who could still work outside and throw), and Fisher took a three-year window to develop McNair. Fisher used Chris Chandler as the starter while inserting McNair into games, gradually transitioning McNair into a permanent starting role.
I have never been a believer in Nick Foles as a long-term starter, but he offers what Kerry Collins, Neil O'Donnell, and Chris Chandler gave Fisher in Tennessee. Get Winston, make him sit for the year, and get his life straight off the field. Then develop him old school and continue building the offensive line while letting Foles take the lumps.
What do the Rams give the Titans? They swap first-round picks this year. The Rams also give up their first-round pick next year, the 2016 second-round pick that they acquired from the Eagles in the Foles-Bradford deal, and reserve running back Zac Stacy. Bishop Sankey struggled last year and I've never been a fan of Sankey as a potential starter. Shonn Greene is a good No. 3 back, but he's functioning as a No. 2 in Tennessee. Stacy gives the Titans a young, capable, and healthy starting-caliber back that could easily slide into the No. 2 spot if Sankey improves, or if Tennessee pursues another runner of greater talent in the near future.
Improbable? Yes, but if you don't want to see a high risk of Winston flaming out, St. Louis is probably one of the better destinations to consider.
(1.03) Jacksonville selects OLB Vic Beasley, Clemson: RSP contributor Eric Stoner is a Jacksonville fan and his heart is set on Beasley. He believes Beasley is the best player in the draft and that the linebacker offers the Jaguars the rare intersection of talent, upside, position fit, and position need. "I think his floor is Bruce Irvin and his ceiling is Von Miller," says Stoner. I like Dante Fowler, but I trust Stoner on this one. Take the best talent on the board, Jags.
(1.04) Oakland selects DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA: I seriously considered the Raiders entertaining a trade that would put Philadelphia in the fourth spot for Marcus Mariota, because this might be one of the few systems where Mariota becomes a good fit immediately and the risk of getting burned is lessened. The Raiders would have earned the Eagles' No. 20 pick and additional compensation, but I think Mariota has a good chance of dropping to Philadelphia if the Eagles want him.
Besides, this is about whom I think the teams should pick. Odighizuwa may not be among the most heralded edge rushers, but he might be the most underrated all-around defensive end in this draft. Michael Crabtree is a limited answer for the Raiders at their most desperate need, but there are plenty of receivers in this class and potential steals that could drop to the second round (Dorial Green-Beckham and Tre McBride possibly two of them) who could match or surpass the production of the prospects at the top of this class. With that in mind, take the solid prospect who should be very good for a long time rather than waiting for a projectable athlete who will have a team waiting too long on signs of greatness.
(1.05) Washington selects OLB Bud Dupree, Kentucky: I love Dante Fowler's passion for the game on the field, but he's not in the same planet of athletic talent as Dupree. My colleague Stoner puts it best. "Even if Dupree doesn't work out as your weakside edge rusher, he could probably still do a decent Jamie Collins impersonation as a fill-in-the-blanks guy. Fowler is not going to be your best pass rusher and I don't know where else he fits." There is a chance Fowler becomes a football player without game-changing athleticism or a true a position. Dupree is a good shot at greatness for a team that needs a pass rusher.
(1.06) New York Jets select OT Brandon Scherff, Iowa: I'm tempted to stick Brett Hundley here. New York is a great situation to match an athletic quarterback with Chan Gailey and receivers capable of winning fights for the ball. However, I'm testing the theory that the Rex Ryan regime didn't ruin Geno Smith's prospects. The addition of Ryan Fitzpatrick should also be helpful with preparing Smith for what Gailey likes to do on offense. So Scherff gets the call here because he'll make a nice guard with flexibility for the unit, especially with the aging Willie Colon. If Smith doesn't work out, the line and receiving corps will be good enough to support a new quarterback -- if the Jets don't find a capable replacement later in this draft.
(1.07) Chicago selects OLB Randy Gregory, Nebraska: I believe enough in 21-year-old wide receiver Marquess Wilson to develop into a solid contributor, if not a good starter, that adding a first-round receiver isn't necessary when there are other talented receivers to grab later. Gregory's weight concerns and marijuana use will sink his stock in real life, but he has the size to add and maintain weight. Give Gregory a chance to sit a year behind Pernell McPhee and Jared Allen and I'm bullish on what the former Cornhusker can become.
(1.08) Atlanta selects OL La'el Collins, LSU: Listen, I don't care about the "you don't take this position until point x in the draft" conventional wisdom. I've never been one to fawn over Matt Ryan, but he has done an excellent job behind a tattered offensive line the past two years. Give the Falcons Collins and they can try him at right tackle and then move him to guard if necessary. For a team that wants to run the ball more in Kyle Shanahan's offense, Collins offers a good foundation to shore up this line and in a place that needs help at either position where the rookie shows he's the best fit. I'm projecting it will be guard.
(1.09) New York Giants select WR Kevin White, West Virginia: I'm staying true to my receiver board despite the fact that Amari Cooper is a more polished route runner. However, this is a point on which I think analysts are harping too much. White's routes are decent for a college player and getting better. He's also a better receiver on contested passes, and that's a component of his game that will benefit Eli Manning in the red zone. White is also a wiser runner after the catch than Cooper, who has a small case of the Marqise Lees (great agility, but one too many moves to the detriment of the gain).
(1.10) via trade with St. Louis, Tennessee selects RB Todd Gurley, Georgia: Bishop Sankey is more of a combine wonder with a reserve's feel for the position. Maybe he improves, but trading for Zac Stacy gives the Titans a dependable runner while Gurley heals from his ACL tear. When healthy, Gurley can carry an offense, open up the deep passing game, and give Zach Mettenberger a real chance to develop into a reliable starter. Stacy also gives the Titans a strong one-two punch when Gurley needs a breather. With the bevy of smaller, faster defensive personnel entering the league over the years, pounding them with Gurley and Stacy is a successful counter strategy.
(1.11) Minnesota selects WR Amari Cooper, Alabama: Teddy Bridgewater may have familiarity with DeVante Parker, but Cooper is the best route-runner of the receivers in this class and arguably a better fit in Norv Turner's timing offense. Vikings receiver Charles Johnson isn't Parker, but he shares of the same attributes and skill sets. Cooper also gives Bridgewater a receiver who will work the entire field in this offense.
(1.12) Cleveland selects DT Danny Shelton: Cleveland isn't getting the next Haloti Ngata or Dontari Poe, but Shelton offers a Vince Wilfork-like presence in the middle and just enough quickness to clean up in the pocket when edge pressure forces a quarterback to climb. Shelton is a smart athlete with the potential to stabilize this defense.
(1.13) New Orleans selects WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Oklahoma: If I'm concerned about pairing Winston in Tampa, the idea of putting Green-Beckham in New Orleans should be terrifying. I'm not as concerned. Putting the big, bad speed demon of a receiver in an offense with Drew Brees and Marques Colston as mentors is an opportunity for Green-Beckham to start his career on the right foot while providing a replacement to Jimmy Graham as an eventual dominant force in the red zone and the vertical game.
(1.14) Miami selects CB Tre Waynes, Michigan State: Tackle Andrus Peat was a consideration, but Miami gets a press-man corner who can burn. The AFC East will need to consider adding more physical, boundary receivers than there are in the division to combat what Waynes will eventually bring to the table. Giving Waynes some time to learn with the mighty mite Brent Grimes would be a promising environment for the rookie with shut-down upside. By the way, there are many in the scouting community who compare Waynes to a smaller (but not too small) Richard Sherman.
(1.15) San Francisco selects LB Dante Fowler, Florida: This is a tougher pick than it seems. It's a strong bet that Fowler will be long gone when the real thing takes place next week, but my buddy Stoner, who loves evaluating linebackers, is "meh" (that was his actual response) on the Florida prospect. My take is more optimistic, but I do grasp the idea that he's a player without a true position and he may never become a top-tier edge rusher. In this respect, I was tempted to continue allowing Fowler to fall and pick a cornerback for the 49ers. However, I love Fowler's physical style of play and I think he can develop into a steady, if not above average starter. Besides, I'm a Seahawks fan, what should I care about the 49ers getting this right?
(1.16) Houston selects DE Preston Smith, Mississippi State: The Texans need another receiver, because I'm skeptical about Cecil Shorts staying healthy and the next best option might be Nate Washington, who is in the twilight of his career. A player like Tre McBride from William & Mary, who gives you the off-brand skills, traits, and talents of Amari Cooper, was in serious consideration here. However, Smith is big, strong, fast, and he can bend. Shane Ray is still on the board, but Smith has more upside and he's undervalued. Ray does not strike me as a full-time player as he's characterized. Put Smith on the same front as J.J. Watt and help this line against the run and become an effective pass rusher as a the five-technique outside the shoulder of the tackle.
(1.17) San Diego selects RB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: Branden Oliver was a surprise, but if you put him, Danny Woodhead, and Donald Brown together, you still don't get a back who is as good as Abdullah. The Chargers were a better zone blocking team in 2013 than they were a man/gap blocking unit in 2014. Abdullah can excel in either system. What the Cornhusker doesn't do well is pass protect, but I believe he'll improve and I also believe a team is nuts if it doesn't split this excellent route-runner and receiver from the formation. I'm sick of specialty running backs who allow defenses to narrow down the play choices depending on who trots onto the field. I think if a team is ballsy enough to draft Abdullah as its feature back and not peg him as a change-of-pace option, it will be rewarded in grand fashion. He'll probably still be available in the third round in the actual NFL draft, but in terms of talent I believe he'll be on 2018 hindsight drafts as a first-round pick.
(1.18) Kansas City selects QB Brett Hundley, UCLA: Say what you will about Marcus Mariota still being on the board, and all the talk that Hundley hasn't progressed to expectation, I still think Hundley is the second-best quarterback in this class and sitting him behind Alex Smith for a year or two would pay massive dividends for the Chiefs, Hundley, and Andy Reid's career. Hundley's issues in the pocket are criminally overstated and I like his playmaking capability as a passer much more than Mariota's. Give him a couple of years to study, especially with making pre-snap adjustments, and Hundley will give the Chiefs everything Smith offers and with a better arm and skill as a runner. Hundley also has that aggression you want from a player, and he'll fight through mistakes without getting into a hole. This is another pick that I'm hopeful will show up as a wiser hindsight choice three years from now.
(1.19) Cleveland selects ILB Eric Kendricks, UCLA: Browns fans will bemoan this pick now and love it later. Kendricks is another underrated UCLA defender who will go too low because his athleticism isn't through the roof. However, if Kendricks' athleticism is good enough for people to project him as a second-round pick, I'll take his savvy, tackling consistency, and adept coverage skills. I'm not a fan of Denzel Perryman and Benardrick McKinney as all-around linebackers. They are better in units where they are protected by surrounding talent. Give me this potential anchor for a rebuilding defense to learn next to Karlos Dansby -- even if it's a round earlier than the draft police like.
(1.20) Philadelphia selects QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon: I don't care what the Eagles say, I'm betting they'll take Mariota in a heartbeat if the quarterback drops this far. Sam Bradford had to be talked back into playing, and Tim Tebow is an expendable experiment. (By that way, it doesn't mean Tebow can't be a functionally good starter, but it would require Philadelphia embracing what he does best to the detriment of a dynamic passing game, and it would be a vastly different brand of pro football not seen in the league since Bronko Nagurski.) Give Mariota 18 to 24 games on the sidelines or limited playing time and he could develop into a productive starter in this scheme that seeks a quarterback with top athleticism, but an executor's mindset.
(1.21) Cincinnati selects OT Andrus Peat, Stanford: Depending which "big draft" analyst you read, Peat and Ereck Flowers compare to Andrew Whitworth. In this case, I'm going with Lance Zierlein at NFL.com and the added endorsement of Stoner on Peat's potential to play on the left side. Give him a year behind Whitworth and the Bengals will have high hopes of achieving continuity on Andy Dalton's blind side when they make the eventual transition from veteran to youth.
(1.22) Pittsburgh selects CB Jalen Collins, LSU: The lack of starts may make some nervous, but Collins' physical talent, size, and lack of bad habits is what you want from a developmental cornerback with his athletic upside.
(1.23) Detroit selects DT Malcolm Brown, Texas: Brown and Haloti Ngata as a tandem could limit the drop-off that some may expect from the Lions' defense with Ndamukong Suh moving on. With need matching talent, Brown is not much of a surprise here.
(1.24) Arizona selects C Cameron Erving, Florida State: The left tackle-turned-center is a natural at the position and he'll bolster an offensive line that should hopefully see improvement in the interior with the addition of free agent Mike Iupati and top prospect Jonathan Cooper a year healthier. With Erving at the most important position on the line of scrimmage, he, Iupati, and Cooper present a formidable trio on paper that could help the Cardinals get the most from Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald during their twilight.
(1.25) Carolina selects OT T.J. Clemmings: I realize Carolina is desperate for a tackle and maybe D.J. Humphries, Cedric Ogbuehi, and Ereck Flowers are better suited to play now, but Clemmings' potential is higher and I'm hoping that the Panthers can tread water for a year, giving Clemmings time to blossom into the player capable of fulfilling Lance Zierlein's Duane Brown comparison. It's a tough dilemma for the Panthers, because Humphries or Flowers can do more to stop the bleeding now. I'm hopeful Carolina can forego the bandages and wait for the stitch job.
(1.26) Baltimore selects RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: I know that many of you will absolutely hate this pick. I'm not even positive I like it, because Melvin Gordon and Duke Johnson are both still on the board and I have both rated slightly higher than Yeldon. There's no doubt that Gordon has the size to be a feature back, but Yeldon is a more patient and powerful runner, and a better pass protector. Skipping Johnson is actually more painful for me, because the Miami runner is so smart and creative. He's a turbo-boosted version of Justin Forsett. Maybe, it's my old AFC Central fan blood running through my veins, but Yeldon is that big back who won't have to come off the field for any reason beyond fatigue, and that's the mentality I think the Ravens will love.
(1.27) Dallas selects RB Duke Johnson, Miami: Quick, who would you rather have, Robert Smith or Clinton Portis? If you answered Smith, Melvin Gordon is your guy. If you answered Portis, then it's Johnson. Either option will work behind Dallas' offensive line, but Johnson is the savvier of the two runners. John Owning of Draft Breakdown, a Cowboys fan, will love this pick. As a fan who enjoys rooting against Dallas on most occasions, I hate it. Ironically, most Cowboys fans will hate it, too. They will want the speed that Gordon shows on tape, but I'd prefer Johnson's vision and creativity.
(1.28) Denver selects DE Arik Armstead, Oregon: Give him a year to learn under the likes of Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, and Malik Jackson, and Armstead has Calais Campbell-like physical skills that could come to the fore. The Broncos' starting defensive ends will be free agents after the season, so getting Armstead now is a worthwhile investment in a terrific physical talent.
(1.29) Indianapolis selects DT Eddie Goldman, Florida State: Not a great pass rusher from his position, Goldman can stop the run, and that's an important skill in the AFC South. He's a great fit for a 3-4 as the nose tackle.
(1.30) Green Bay selects CB Marcus Peters, Washington: The Packers have the kind of veteran leadership that can be a stabilizing influence on a young player like Peters, who had multiple run-ins with his assistant coaches. Peters compares favorably to Aqib Talib, so the risk is worth taking for a prospect of his technical aptitude and physical play.
(1.31) New Orleans selects OT Ereck Flowers, Miami: Right guard Jahri Evans is 31, and if Flowers can't hang in the NFL as a pass protector off the edge, his strengths make him natural fit as a guard.
(1.32) New England selects WR Tre McBride, William & Mary: Brandon LaFell is an average NFL receiver if you include the full range of superstars and reserves at the position. Danny Amendola is excellent depth, and Julian Edelman might be best suited to move around the formation. The Patriots need a go-to receiver. Breshad Perriman and Nelson Agholor are the available options most people know about, but McBride is the most talented. The William & Mary receiver wins battles for the ball in the air, makes plays in tight coverage, and has skill after the catch. He's a smart, disciplined young man from a military family whom I have characterized as the off-brand Amari Cooper of this class. The team that gets him will be laughing all the way to their getaway car and down the road.
Matt Waldman authors the 2015 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. available for download now. The guide covers over 140 prospects at the offensive skill positions (QB, RB, WR, and TE). If you're a fantasy owner, the 50-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012-2014 RSPs at no additional charge and available for download within a week after the NFL draft. Best of all, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio (2006-2014) for just $9.95 apiece.