The NFL draft is Thursday through Saturday in Chicago and it’s time to take one last look at how things could play out in the first round.
Last year in my final Mock Draft, I correctly projected 25 of the 32 players that would be selected in the first round, with five going to the designated team I predicted.
With that, here is my updated and final 2015 NFL Mock Draft – with 24 changes from my previous edition. My picks are based on observations, team needs, scouting services and various NFL sources:
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Jameis Winston, 6-4, 240, Florida State.
Comment: No change. Six Mock Drafts, six predictions that the pick is Winston. I’m not buying into the rumors that the Buccaneers might trade out of the top overall spot. If it happens, I’ll be completely stunned. It’s going to be Winston and everyone will be watching his every move in the NFL.
2. Tennessee Titans: QB Marcus Mariota, 6-4, 215, Oregon.
Comment: No change. A trade could still happen here if someone really wants Mariota bad enough, but I think teams are scared to mortgage their future after watching what happened to the Redskins and Robert Griffin III. Tennessee would love to grab some extra picks and drop down a tad in the first round, but I don’t see it unless a team like the Browns or Eagles is willing to risk it all for Mariota. Personally, I’d like to see the Titans draft Leonard Williams here, but they’re bound to marry themselves to Mariota.
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3. Jacksonville Jaguars: DE/OLB Dante Fowler Jr., 6-21Ž2, 271, Florida.
Comment: No change. The only thing that worries me about this pick – and Fowler has been the choice for a long time now – is that the Jaguars might consider taking one of the top two wide receivers, Amari Cooper or Kevin White.
4. Oakland Raiders: DT/DE Leonard Williams, 6-4, 290, Southern Cal.
Comment: Pick change. I’m going back to Williams, whom I’ve had here before, simply because he’s really the best overall prospect in this draft. The Raiders can get a receiver later, but a player like Williams doesn’t come around very often.
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5. Washington Redskins: DE/OLB Vic Beasley, 6-2, 235, Clemson.
Comment: Pick change. With Williams now gone, the Redskins take the next-best player on defense and it’s between Beasley and Kentucky’s Alvin “Bud” Dupree. I had Beasley going here in my fourth Mock Draft. Washington picked up the 2016 option on RGIII, but the Redskins could still be interested in Mariota if he were available.
6. New York Jets: OLB/DE Alvin “Bud” Dupree, 6-3, 250, Kentucky.
Comment: Pick change. I think they’ll pass on any trade involving Mariota, but if the Oregon quarterback slides to No.6, they’ll snatch him up. New coach Todd Bowles is going to love to add Dupree to an already very good defense. He’s a game-changer and his stock continues to soar.
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7. Chicago Bears: WR Amari Cooper, 6-1, 205, Alabama.
Comment: Pick change. Personally, I like Kevin White just a tad bad than Cooper – and I had White going here last time out – but the Bears can’t go wrong with either wide receiver. They need a replacement for Brandon Marshall and now they’ve got it. Quarterback remains an issue, long-term, but I don’t see them entering the Mariota sweepstakes. Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton remains an option here.
8. Atlanta Falcons: RB Todd Gurley, 6-1, 222, Georgia.
Comment: Pick change. This might seem like a surprise, but it shouldn’t be. Now that doctors have given Gurley’s repaired knee the green light, his draft stock has soared and it could thrust him all the way into the Top 10. Previously, the pick here was Dupree, and although a pass rusher is something they want to add, I’ll predict Gurley goes here anyway. I’ve mentioned him at this spot before.
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9. New York Giants: OG/OT Brandon Scherff, 6-5, 315, Iowa.
Comment: No change. This has been the pick for each of my last five Mock Drafts and I’m not changing it now. Scherff is a great fit for the Giants. He’s the consensus No.1 offensive lineman in the draft and he fills a real need. Unless the Giants grade another lineman higher, this is the pick.
10. St. Louis Rams: WR Kevin White, 6-3, 210, West Virginia.
Comment: Pick change. Previously, the pick was Louisville receiver DeVante Parker, but the Rams score a steal here if White were to fall to them at No. 10. If he’s not available, though, I can see the Rams following in the Giants’ footsteps and taking an offensive lineman, either Stanford’s Andrus Peat or the University of Miami’s Ereck Flowers.
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11. Minnesota Vikings: WR DeVante Parker, 6-3, 205, Louisville.
Comment: Pick change. In Mock Draft No.5, I had the Vikings taking the top-rated cornerback, Michigan State’s Trae Waynes. Now, I’m heading back to Parker, who was a college teammate of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s. Central Florida receiver Breshad Perriman is another option.
12. Cleveland Browns: DT Danny Shelton, 6-1, 325, Washington.
Comment: Pick change. Last week, the pick was Todd Gurley. Now that he’s gone, I’ve got the Browns resisting the urge to draft one of the next great wide receivers (although I was close to doing it) and giving coach Mike Pettine what he really wants – a beast to rule his defensive line. That’s Shelton, all right. Again, Cleveland might be tempted to make a play for Mariota and move up to get him. There are reports the Browns might be willing to part with at least both of its first-round picks, but it will take more than that.
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13. New Orleans Saints: DE/OLB Randy Gregory, 6-6, 240, Nebraska.
Comment: Pick change. Last time out, the choice here was Missouri’s Shane Rey, but he’ll probably tumble now following concerns about his injured toe and his recent marijuana charge. Gregory has issues with failed drug tests while in school, but I don’t think the Saints can pass on him here.
14. Miami Dolphins: CB Trae Waynes, 6-1, 185, Michigan State.
Comment: Pick change. I had the Dolphins taking LSU corner Jalen Collins here in my fifth Mock Draft, but now that the top-rated corner suddenly is available, it’s a no-brainer. Miami could go with a wide receiver here and there are plenty of very good ones to select if that’s the plan.
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15. San Francisco 49ers: DE Arik Armstead, 6-8, 290, Oregon.
Comment: Pick change. Previously, the pick was Danny Shelton, who would have looked fantastic here. It was unrealistic, though. This pick isn’t and I’ve got to say, I think it’ll be a mistake if this is what the 49ers do. Armstead doesn’t always bring it, he needs a lot more developing, and San Francisco can do much better with this pick. Problem is, these aren’t the same 49ers that went to three consecutive NFC Championships. I’m telling you right now, the Raiders will end up with more wins that the 49ers next season.
16. Houston Texans: WR Breshad Perriman, 6-2, 212, Central Florida.
Comment: No change. Perriman might be long gone by this point, but if he isn’t, he likely won’t get past the Texans, who need to replace Andre Johnson. Perriman’s speed is incredible and he could become an instant star in the NFL.
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17. San Diego Chargers: OT Andrus Peat, 6-6, 310, Stanford.
Comment: Pick change. Last week, I had them snatching up Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, who so far remains available. They aren’t going to trade Philip Rivers to the Titans for the No.2 pick. The best way to make him happy is to add an offensive lineman and Peat, the former Tempe Corona del Sol standout, is a hulking one. Melvin would be a very intriguing pick here, however.
18. Kansas City Chiefs: OT Ereck Flowers, 6-5, 315, Miami.
Comment: Pick change. I’ve been projecting offensive linemen here forever and although I almost leaned to a wide receiver here, Flowers would be an ideal selection at this spot. Previously, the choice was Miami’s Cameron Erving. Either would be a great addition. I love Erving’s versatility, but I really love Flowers’ nasty streak on the field.
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19. Cleveland Browns (via Buffalo): WR Jaelen Strong, 6-3, 210, Arizona State.
Comment: Pick change. Now that they’ve addressed the defensive line, the Browns can use this pick to bring in a starting wide receiver and Strong could start for any team in the league. Everything changes if Cleveland makes a move for Mariota and/or trades with the Eagles for Sam Bradford. You can argue quarterback is this team’s biggest quandary, but a quarterback needs a wide receiver, too.
20. Philadelphia Eagles: CB Kevin Johnson, 6-0, 190, Wake Forest.
Comment: Pick change, but let’s be very clear here, the Eagles are almost sure to surprise all of us in some way. It could be in the form of a trade (Mariota, Johnny Manziel) or it might be a pick on one of the speed-demon wide receivers still available. Previously, the pick was Alabama safety Landon Collins, who is one of the top two prospects at his position along with Arizona State’s Damarious Randall.
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21. Cincinnati Bengals: DT Malcom Brown, 6-3 1/2, 317, Texas.
Comment: Pick change. Previously, the pick here was Randy Gregory, but now that he’s gone, I could see Brown sliding nicely into this spot. The Bengals want to beef things up on their defensive line and this kid will certainly do that. Missouri DE/OLB Shane Rey could be tempting at this spot, but I have him slipping out of the first round.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Marcus Peters, 6-0, 198, Washington.
Comment: No change. The Steelers need to add help in the defensive backfield in the worst way, be it through the cornerback or safety positions, and Peters looks like he could be a good fit. If they want someone else, the pick could be Connecticut’s Byron Jones, LSU’s Jalen Collins or Utah’s Eric Rowe.
23. Detroit Lions: C/G/OT Cameron Erving, 6-5, 320, Florida State.
Comment: Pick change. If there’s a defensive tackle out there they value this high, that could be the pick, but I’ve had the Lions drafting an offensive lineman here for a while now and this time, it’s Erving, who could step right in at center and move his way around the line. Previously, the pick here was Andrus Peat.
24. Arizona Cardinals: RB Melvin Gordon, 6-1, 203, Wisconsin.
Comment: Pick change. After predicting Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson going here last week, I’m going back to Gordon, who would be a real steal if he’s still available. It’s clear the Cardinals need to upgrade their running game and for as many other needs as they have, solidifying this position would make, I think, just about everyone excited. If they go in another direction, it could be for a defensive or offensive lineman. A wild card pick to watch: Missouri pass rusher Shane Rey, if he falls this far.
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25. Carolina Panthers: OT/OG D.J. Humphries, 6-5, 307, Florida.
Comment: Pick change. I’ve always had an offensive lineman going here and this time, it’s Humphries after listing Pittsburgh’s T.J. Clemmings as the pick four times and Miami’s Ereck Flowers in my fifth Mock Draft. The Panthers need to do a lot of things, but protecting Cam Newton is paramount.
26. Baltimore Ravens: WR Phillip Dorsett, 5-10, 185, Miami.
Comment: No change. I’ll stick with the speed blazer Dorsett, who ran a 4.29 40 and can beat any cornerback down the field. He’ll also be a huge asset as a kick returner. If they don’t take a receiver, it could be a corner and again, Jones, Collins and Rowe are all available here.
27. Dallas Cowboys: CB Byron Jones, 6-1, 199, Connecticut.
Comment: Pick change. You have to assume the Cowboys will go defense with their first pick but instead of taking Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, now I’ve got them going with Jones, who is moving up a lot of draft boards in recent weeks. You never know what the Cowboys will do on Day 1 of the draft, though.
28. Denver Broncos: OT/OG La’el Collins, 6-5, 315, Louisiana State.
Comment: Pick change. In my last Mock Draft the choice was Pittsburgh tackle T.J. Clemmings, but I’m switching to Collins, who may or may not be here. Collins’ draft stock is a little unnerving at the moment, given that he will meet with Baton Rouge police Wednesday to discuss the death of his pregnant ex-girlfriend, who was fatally shot. Collins isn’t considered a suspect, but this situation could scare away several teams.
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29. Indianapolis Colts: S Landon Collins, 6-0, 215, Alabama
Comment: Pick change. I’ve had offensive linemen going here pretty much from the beginning but last week, I mentioned they could bite on a safety here and suggested it could be ASU’s Randall. But since Collins has slid this far, he’s now the choice.
30. Green Bay Packers: DT Eddie Goldman, 6-4, 320, Florida State.
Comment: Pick change. In my last Mock Draft, the pick was UCLA inside linebacker Eric Kendricks. But in the past few days, I’ve been hearing a lot of different things about which direction the Packers might go and they’ve even been linked to some trade rumors. I still believe they’ll go defense here, and Goldman is a solid interior solider they could immediately plug in up front.
Photos: 2015 NFL draft prospects
31. New Orleans Saints (via Seattle): WR Nelson Agholor, 6-0, 198, Southern Cal.
Comment: Pick change. They got their pass rusher earlier, now they add a slot receiver who could catch 100 passes from Drew Brees this season. Agholor just needs the right system to be a star and this is an offense in which he will quickly excel. He also gives New Orleans another viable weapon on kick returns.
32. New England Patriots: CB Jalen Collins, 6-1, 203, Louisiana State.
Comment: Pick change. Last time out, I had them going offensive line here. We’ll see if those reports of failed drugs tests in college lead him to drop even further than this, but there was a time when Collins was rated as the No.2 cornerback in the draft. Bill Belichick will keep him in line and get the very best out of him. The Patriots need help at cornerback and if it’s not Collins, it could be Utah’s Rowe.
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2015 NFL Draft
TV: ESPN and NFL Network.
Times: Thursday, Round 1, 5 p.m.; Friday, rounds 2-3, 4 p.m.; Saturday, rounds 4-7, 9 a.m.
First pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Cardinals first pick: No. 24.
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TV party: Last year’s draft was watched by a record 45.7 million people, according to the Nielsen Co., the most since 2010. Round 1’s viewership of 32 million was also a record.
Plethora of picks: 256 players will be selected in this year’s draft, including regular picks and 32 compensatory selections. The Cardinals’ final such pick will be the last one of the entire draft.
Off-campus: A total of 84 players who still have college eligibility chose to enter the draft; 10 of those have graduated.
Sitting it out: Neither the Buffalo Bills nor Seattle Seahawks own a first-round pick. Buffalo last missed out on the first round in 2005; Seattle has not had a first-rounder since 2012.
Cardinals Draft Experience: Go to nfldraft.azcentral.com on your computer, phone or tablet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday to watch a live webcast during the NFL draft from the Cardinals’ perspective.