Rip It Up And Start Again: Double-Blockbuster Seven-Round Mock

I was working on turning that four-round mock into a seven-round mock… and then the Eagles trade broke yesterday. So, we have two blockbuster trades to the top, presumably for QBs; hence the “Double Blockbuster Mock.” And, as the title suggests… we’re going the whole way. Seven rounds. All seven and we’ll watch them fall! (RIP, Prince. Another star too bright for this world.)

I’ll write commentary as much as I can– for the first round, for sure, and selected picks thereafter. A mix of what I think, who I like, and needs. And I projected a handful of trades.

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Is the Drew Brees era over?

I started writing this after the Saints fell to 0-2 and it was revealed that Drew Brees injured his shoulder against Tampa Bay. With Brees missing the first game in his career due to injury in week 3 (the Saints are now 0-3), and with the team trading Akiem Hicks today for a blocking tight end, it seems clear that the season is a lost cause and the team is looking to clear cap space– yes, even their minor restructuring of Brees’ contract to create space this year was because they pretty much had to. (That said, if they let Hicks leave as a free agent, New Orleans might get a compensatory pick for him– but they’ve never valued compensatory picks, as we’ll cover below.)

What’s wrong?

I wrote some things about the Saints last year when they fell apart, and I don’t want to repeat them too much. Many of the problems (unreliable receivers, Tim Lelito, overall lack of defensive talent, Jairus Byrd’s contract) remain, and between the sheer lack of overall roster talent and the cap situation, it’s going to take time to fix those things.

I do want to mention that with the trade of Hicks, nobody from the team’s 2012 draft remains on the roster. The team fired the director of college scouting and cleaned out the department this offseason, and after the disastrous 2014 draft has left exactly one player from it on the active roster one year later, it’s understandable. But these kinds of draft misses– compounded by frequent trades up– have been part of the problem for years. For the handful of late-round gems the team found, they had many more late-round whiffs and early picks who disappointed or outright busted; Stanley Jean-Baptiste was simultaneously the apex of this trend and the straw that broke the camel’s back. The 2015 draft, with the new team headed presumably by Jeff Ireland (although his title is Assistant General Manager, not Director of College Scouting) is looking better, but the roster is threadbare and the cap is spent.

And with the roster threadbare and the cap spent, Drew Brees can only take them so far. If the Saints suck even with Brees, which is looking like the case, then the road to rebuilding could be long. 2016 is probably lost as well.

That leads into our next question:

Is Brees done?

I don’t think so. The murmurs about his deep ball and failing accuracy started last year (even though Football Outsiders disagreed), and increased in intensity after he put two deep balls to Brandin Cooks far too short in the Tampa Bay game. However, those both happened after Brees took the hit that injured his shoulder to the degree he missed the Carolina game. Before, I think he was fine. The problem is that his receivers just aren’t reliable– Marques Colston isn’t getting enough separation and is dropping too many passes, and no one else has the ability to reliably make difficult or contested catches. The team lost Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills and tried to replace their production with undrafted free agents; it isn’t working because those guys aren’t as good.

Unfortunately, what can the team do in the meantime? They won’t have cap room to sign free agents. If they draft receivers highly, they may take a while to develop. Brees may be too old to benefit by then. He may not even be on the team anymore.

Brees’ contract expires after 2016 and they may just be better served playing it out. With the new figures from Wednesday’s adjustment (via Spotrac), Brees sits at a $23.8m cap hit for this year, and with an extra $10m in dead money on top of that if they trade or release him, they have to stick it out. (That’s right: Brees would leave $33.8 million dollars in dead money on the Saints’ 2015 cap.) His cap hit in 2016 soars to $30 million, but would only leave $10 million in dead money if they released him. Even considering those $20 million in savings, it may still be best to just let him play out the year and re-assess. No point in eating cap room to stink and throw a guy into the fire.  (If they really think Garrett Grayson is The Guy, another year on the bench can only help. As could drafting some more reliable receivers.)

What can be done?

It’s going to take a serious and strong drafting effort over the next two years. The cap should look better in 2017. The team would do well to mostly stay out of the free-agent market this year; they don’t have a ton of free agents (Hicks would have been the better ones), but by letting them walk, and not spending on more free agents, they might garner some compensatory picks. The Saints’ approach has not involved much of this strategy, with the team needing to rebuild to become competitive again, they should be looking to stock pile as many draft picks as possible. (The Baltimore Ravens use this strategy to great effect.)

The 2015 rookie class already has shown promising returns. Stephone Anthony still makes some rookie mistakes, but he’s been outstanding in several facets of the game. Delvin Breaux (GIF-able moments aside) and Damian Swann seem to be legit additions to the secondary. (Keenan Lewis is scheduled to come back this week; this may be the first chance for us to see the Saints’ cornerback crew at anything close to full strength.) Hau’oli Kikaha has been positive, as have some of the rookie defensive linemen, particularly Bobby Richardson. The defense is not good yet, but they have some solid young parts and a couple of guys who could be franchise cornerstones. Another draft this good on the defensive end, and the team could have the foundation they’re looking for in place.

On offense, the two biggest weak spots seem to be Tim Lelito and the receivers. If Lelito doesn’t improve, the team should try to find a guard at some point in the 2016 draft. As I’ve said many times, the team needs a true #1 receiver, someone who can make the difficult catches as well as the big plays, someone you turn to in critical situations, someone you can count on when you need a catch.

Finding a Drew Brees replacement is critical, of course. Garrett Grayson may or may not be it. But I don’t think the team should pin all its hopes on a third-round quarterback (but then again, I wasn’t that high on him to begin with).

I also want the team to lock up Terron Armstead. Yes, I think Andrus Peat can play left tackle, but I’d rather have both. They have few proven players who are young and talented enough that they could be considered foundational pieces; Armstead is one.

2016 Mock Draft

I rolled over to Fanspeak’s On the Clock Mock Draft (while they’re running a trial period where the “premium” feature, with custom boards and trades, is free). I haven’t done enough draft work for 2016 to have my own board, so I just used Fanspeak’s. (Which also means I don’t necessarily know who’s good, but the exercise was still fun nonetheless.)

I did not set the draft order. Fanspeak decided of their own accord that New Orleans deserved the #1 pick.

Here are my selections and reasoning:

http://fanspeak.com/ontheclock/sharedraft.php?d=yshmhs (NOTE: As of publishing this link was down. Picks are still written and explained below.)

YOUR PICKS

1: R1P1
JOEY BOSA
OHIO STATE
Immediate substantial upgrade to the pass-rush. Talent jumps off the screen, even in a draft full of pass rushers. Saints have been running a 4-3 a substantial amount of the time and Bosa would be perfect opposite Cam Jordan. (There’s a strong argument to take a QB here; Jared Goff is my favorite at this time. I did exploit Fanspeak’s rankings to target a different guy, as you’ll see below.)

2: R2P7
WR MICHAEL THOMAS
OHIO STATE
I then traded down with Jacksonville, acquiring the 2.07 and 4.07 for the 2.01. Thomas I don’t know much about yet, but he was Fanspeak’s highest rated receiver at the spot, and I liked what I did see of him against Virginia Tech. I’ve made it clear I think the team needs more receivers who can make difficult and contested catches, and Thomas fits the bill with his size and strength, and adds nice ability after the catch to boot.

3: R3P1
OLB DADI LHOMME NICOLAS
VIRGINIA TECH
Probably won’t be available here in reality, but again, another guy whose athleticism is evident from tape (and will likely measure out that way in the Combine as well). Jumps off the screen with a fantastic first step and very good bend, too. If they stay in the 4-3, they now have one of the best young trio of linebackers in the league in Hau’oli Kikaha, Stephone Anthony, and Nicolas– add the outside ‘backers to Bosa and Jordan, and you have four young, fearsome pass rushers. This could be a return to the glory days of the Dome Patrol. (I’m not sure if Jordan or Bosa is Wayne Martin.)

4: R4P1
WR STERLING SHEPARD
OKLAHOMA
Another guy at the top of the board who I liked when I saw. Adds more speed and quickness to the mix. I like Shepard and Thomas to make tougher catches and also draw coverage away from Cooks to let him maximize his speed.

5: R4P7
ROBERTO AGUAYO
FLORIDA STATE
He was near the top of Fanspeak’s board, and I’ve really had enough of the kicking problems that continually plague this team.

6: R5P1
QB JACOBY BRISSETT
NC STATE
Likely won’t be here in real life, but he shows some really high-level deep accuracy and ability to read progressions on film. May need some work, but truthfully could be better than Garrett Grayson. The team really should do whatever it takes to find and develop their next starter.

7: R7P1
WR BRAXTON MILLER
OHIO STATE
Okay, fine, I don’t know what to do with him, I just took him because of the name and the idea of using him in a bunch of gadget stuff. In reality, they probably take a special-teams player or a developmental offensive lineman.

I like this draft (especially if Brissett pans out, obviously). It fills in two of the most obvious weak spots on the defensive front seven, and greatly upgrades the pass rush in the process. The team keeps searching for the QB for Year One A.B. (After Brees), and adds two receivers who should substantially strengthen the group for whoever that guy is.

2016 outlook

Even assuming a draft like this and Brees back to health, this is probably still a middling team. The young talent won’t be fully developed yet. They’ll bounce back a little bit, perhaps to .500. There’s even hope they could make the playoffs in 2016, if the rookies contribute right away, Andrus Peat takes over for Zach Strief (and becomes the dominant tackle he showed the potential to be), and everyone stays healthy.

Decisions will have to be made on Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd in the 2017 offseason. (My guess will be that Vaccaro regains form and earns a second deal, but Byrd, whether because of injuries or age or both, will be let go.) The team will have to fill in for those guys, as well as anyone else dropping off due to injury or age. With this 2016 mock and presuming things go roughly as I expected, the biggest needs in 2017 will probably be at safety, interior offensive lineman (and perhaps defensive, too), and running back.

And, of course, whether or not the single most important question of the franchise’s future has been answered: Who will be the next quarterback after Drew Brees?

Some helpful charts and spreadsheets for you from Day Two

I’ve linked to four spreadsheets we made over the course of the day to help with your NFL Draft experience.

The first won’t be too much help now, but in case you wanted to view the Day 2 mock vixticator and I made in the afternoon, before proceedings resumed, now you can.

The second is a list of our overall big board, with prospects already drafted marked out in red.

The third is a repeat of what we did on day 1, another list of brief reactions to picks.

And the fourth chart is a list of picks by team, including our grades of each prospect, so you can compare what we thought of them to where they were drafted.

Griddle Takes: Round 1 of the NFL Draft

Fresh off the griddle so you know they’re piping hot, vix and I have our takes on each pick in this draft.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

  • vix: Winston regressed in his soph season. His flaws on tape (decision making, random mechanical lapses) didn’t get as much attention as his off-field concerns. I’d still take him top 5 because I grade him as a 1st round QB, but give me Mariota all day.
  • nath: Obvious pick and the right one in my mind. Winston is an easier evaluation than Mariota, because of the offense he played in, but it’s also the reason it’s easy to see his very high football IQ and innate performance intelligence. Gotta start reading underneath coverages better and leaving the bonehead plays behind, but I feel confident he’ll be a “franchise QB.”

2. Tennessee Titans – Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

  • vix: I’m a fan of Mettenberger and Mariota. They should start Mett in order to showcase him for teams in ’16, and cash him in for some picks. If Mariota reaches his ceiling, or comes remotely close, he’ll turn this franchise around.
  • nath: I’m not as high on Mariota as vix is but I grade him highly enough that you can take him here. He’ll need work; I’m not sure what to make of him with Ken Whisenhunt. He’s not a typical Whisenhunt QB, but then, typical Whisenhunt QBs have mostly been crap.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Dante Fowler Jr., EDGE, Florida

  • vix: How do you not select Leonard Williams? Fowler is capable of leaping off the screen on tape, but his lack of production at Florida is worrisome. Looks fantastic in that suit at least!
  • nath: He’s a guy who jumps out at first on tape but then you realize he actually isn’t making many big plays. Worried that lack of production + relatively ordinary athleticism could add up to a bust.

4. Oakland Raiders – Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

  • vix: I would’ve loved to see Williams grow along with Mack. That defense starts looking scary. Except, no. Cooper isn’t as great as his production indicates. Doesn’t dazzle as much as he simply does his job. Unlikely to bust, in any event.
  • nath: Should have taken Kevin White. Cooper is pretty maxed out, but I think White has room to improve into a true #1.

5. Washington Potatoes – Brandon Scherff, G, Iowa

  • vix: He’s the best guard in the draft. Not tackle. An exceptional run blocker who mauls defenders. Footwork in pass protection is too shaky to play left tackle. He’ll help this line though.
  • nath: Safe, solid, dull pick. I would have liked La’el Collins here, although his connection to a recently murdered woman, fairly or not (I lean “not”), has by all accounts made him completely undraftable. Leonard Williams probably a better pick, but damn, their line sucked, so I can’t complain.

6. New York Jets – Leonard Williams, DL, USC

  • vix: I am sitting my quarterback when we play the Jets now. Wilkerson, Richardson, AND Williams? Holy hell. What a nightmare D-FENSE. Bowles worked without elite edge rushers at Arizona last year lest ye forgot.
  • nath: Perfect situation for Williams; surrounded by two stud linemen, he can wreak the most havoc, and probably allay any concerns he doesn’t have the top-flight athleticism you want in the position.

7. Chicago Bears – Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

  • vix: Best player available, and fills a giant need. Gotta love when that happens. White is my top receiver in this (really deep) class. His playmaking ability reminds me of Larry Fitzgerald.
  • nath: Should have gone sooner. Great pick for this team. White/Jeffery is a terrifying combo.

8. Atlanta Falcons – Vic Beasley, EDGE, Clemson

  • vix: Easily the most outstanding pass rusher in the nation. Dan Quinn must be doing backflips. Beasley at LEO will be exciting.
  • nath: Love the pick. Hate the team. Boo, screw you, Falcons.

9. New York Giants – Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami-FL

  • vix: My top left tackle prospect. His game against South Carolina was flawless. Sure, he needs to improve, and some other tapes aren’t so hot, but Flowers has the highest ceiling of any tackle in the draft. I like this pick.
  • nath: Count me in the group that doubts Flowers– I don’t think he has the agility or footwork to be an NFL left tackle. He played most of the year with a knee brace, and his kick-step looks like the kick-step of a guy with a bum knee. Second time in three years Giants have chosen a non-LT OL in the first round– between you and me, I don’t think they’re very good at drafting.

10. St. Louis Rams – Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

  • vix: The best running back since *checks calendar* Jim Brown, y’all. Don’t need no stinkin’ ACL to beast mode all over the NFC West. Right? But seriously, I’m totally on board with selecting Gurley in the top 10. He can be the best runner in the NFL from the first snap he takes.
  • nath: Love Gurley’s talent, but why did a team with a perfectly good starting RB (Tre Mason) and so many other problems take him? Jeff Fisher seems to think the rules haven’t changed since 1978, and running 50 times a game + a defense that beats people up (literally) is enough to win games. Here’s to another 7-9 season.

11. Minnesota Vikings – Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State

  • vix: He’s my favorite corner by a comfortable margin. I hate the Vikings for being so good at drafting. Good luck covering Megatron though. Waynes is special.
  • nath: Not as high as others on Waynes– DeVante Parker here would have been fantastic. Waynes is very fast but I’m not as sure about his ability to turn, and he played very grabby at MSU which he won’t be able to do in the pros.

12. Cleveland Browns – Danny Shelton, NT, Washington

  • vix: Large and in charge. Beefs up run defense. Has some ability to pass rush, but not enough to be scary. I’m not sold that he’s an every down player. He was gassed after a few drills at the Senior Bowl.
  • nath: Yeah, I just don’t believe two-down defensive tackles are as valuable in this day and age, but Shelton is, uh, fine, I guess. He moves fairly well for a dude his size, but the comparisons to Ngata or Poe are absurd.

13. New Orleans Saints – Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford

  • vix: Best pass protector at left tackle. He doesn’t get much push in the run game. Must learn to play lower (he’s really, really tall). Saints know how to develop offensive lineman. Peat has plenty of room to improve.
  • nath: Love it. Basically my BPA here (as it seems teams weren’t willing to touch Randy Gregory in round 1). Zach Strief is old and better suited to being a swing tackle. Peat will need some coaching but the Saints are great at coaching linemen– he’s the one guy in this draft I think can be a true blindside protector.

14. Miami Dolphins – DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville

  • vix: In related news, Greg Jennings has been released by the Dolphins. Parker plays too soft for my liking. Jarvis Landry can school him in the art of badassery perhaps. This is my only concern, otherwise Parker is damn good. Compliments their receiving group well.
  • nath: Love Parker when he’s healthy, love the A.J. Green comps (including the recurring foot problems). Miami had a collection of very good WR2s and 3s. Now they have a 1. Great pick for them.

15. San Diego Chargers (trade with San Francisco) – Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

  • vix: The Jamaal Charles comparison is dead on. San Diego needed a running back. Gordon is no Gurley, but he’s ridiculously good as well. Watch him break the single game record for rushing against Nebraska if you have time and haven’t seen it yet.
  • nath: I think Gordon is overrated, but everyone knew San Diego was taking him. The only funny part is that they traded up for him.

16. Houston Texans – Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest

  • vix: I’m a bit surprised to see Johnson picked this high, but the more I think about it the less I am. His tape is excellent, especially that closing speed. How is Dupree still available?
  • nath: Seems fine. Solid. Not sexy. Teams liked him a lot– his film was supposed to be quite good but I never got to watch it. No complaints.

17. San Francisco (via San Diego) – Arik Armstead, DL, Oregon

  • vix: Raw is an understatement with Armstead. Needs a ton of work. He flashes brilliance here and there, with strong hands. I’ll be shocked if he’s ready to start immediately. Pure upside pick.
  • nath: I thought it was funny how many places mocked Armstead to SF consistently, and how mad SF fans were about it. Well, congrats, you got a terribly raw athlete who may or may not develop.

18. Kansas City Chiefs – Marcus Peters, CB, Washington

  • vix: Physical press corner with some off field issues. Should start right away. Chiefs continue to build on strength. Defense, defense, more defense. Alas, Alex Smith.
  • nath: My #1 CB in this draft. Great pick for them. Peters / Gaines / Smith a pretty bad-ass CB trio. Never thought they’d make up for letting Flowers and Carr walk.

19. Cleveland Browns – Cameron Erving, C/G/T, Florida State

  • vix: He’s playing guard with Alex Mack, that’s for sure. The Browns are building a wall around Johnny Manziel so he can escape it and get hit anyways. Brilliant.
  • nath: So, we can all agree he’s moving to center in 2016, after a year of Alex Mack showing he never really recovered from his injury, right? Another fine pick– unspectacular but solid.

20. Philadelphia Eagles – Nelson Agholor, WR, USC

  • vix: I would’ve taken Agholor ahead of Parker. Big fan. I believe he can be a true #1 receiver. Philly was looking weak at the position before today. No longer.
  • nath: Like Agholor a lot. Definitely the best receiver available, and receiver is a huge need for Philadelphia. After all the hoopla about Whirlwind Chip and his Trade Tornados, they stay put and make a smart selection.

21. Cincinnati Bengals – Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M

  • vix: I guess the Bengals aren’t worried about his ACL. Ogbuehi is a ridiculous athlete at tackle, but he isn’t a bully. He will look elite for most of the game and then get destroyed on several plays. Can protect speed better than power.
  • nath: I like Ogbuehi enough that I think it’s a good pick. Likely at least one of Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith will be gone next year. Ogbuehi can recover and then step in as a starter.

22. Pittsburgh Steelers – Alvin “Bud” Dupree, EDGE, Kentucky

  • vix: Mistakes were made selecting Jarvis Jones. Dupree is much better. I’m angry that the Steelers got him one pick before my beloved Lions.
  • nath: One of the best values so far, although I understand the concerns about “Athlete who can’t play football.” Still, from the team that picked Jarvis Jones and took Ryan Shazier over C.J. Mosley, this is a positive step.

23. Denver Broncos (trade with Detroit) – Shane Ray, EDGE, Missouri

  • vix: Explosive first step, nothing else. He’ll be less dominant in the NFL. Must add a ton of moves to his arsenal. Limited athleticism. Awful combine.
  • nath: Let’s get the bright side out of the way: At least on this team Ray won’t have to be the best pass rusher, and he might be more effective as that third or fourth guy. You can probably infer that I don’t think a team should take a third or fourth guy in the first round, let alone trade up for him.

24. Arizona Cardinals – D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida

  • vix: Someone needs to explain the NFL’s love for Humphries. He was abused by none other than the aforementioned Shane Ray. I’m not seeing whatever is there with him.
  • nath: I like a couple of guys better, but I think Humphries is athletic enough to justify the selection. Still growing– lots of room to improve.

25. Carolina Panthers – Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington

  • vix: My face is officially melted. Didn’t expect Shaq to go this high. Carolina is one of the few teams where I can see him shine. They can protect him with a strong defensive line (Shaq is undersized). He’ll be a special teams ace, and play next to one of the greats in Kuechly.
  • nath: Wat. I heard the rumors, and it makes sense for a team that got so much out of Thomas Davis, but their offensive line is so dire I would have much preferred one of the remaining tackles (Clemmings or Fisher, most likely).

26. Baltimore Ravens – Breshad Perriman, WR, UCF

  • vix: Very raw route runner. Perriman is really strong and fast. Knew he would go around here, but not my favorite receiver on the board. His name is Devin Smith.
  • nath: Looks like a receiver except for the route-running and catching part. Glad it’s not my team that has to worry about whether or not he can do that stuff. Vix is right; Smith would have been a killer fit here.

27. Dallas Cowboys – Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut

  • vix: I wasn’t sold on Jones as a first rounder until I saw his tape against Boise State. It’s an extremely strong game. Still want to see more of him. Worst case scenario: he can jump really far.
  • nath: Good athlete, seems like a good player, not quite as high as I had him ranked, but I don’t hate the selection or anything.

28. Detroit Lions (via Denver) – Laken Tomlinson, G, Duke

  • vix: Well, the Lions sure have a lot of beef inside with Warford, Swanson, and now Tomlinson. Hard to be excited by a Duke guard not named JJ Redick. Wait, Duke has a football team?
  • nath: Not sure he stood out enough from the other guards to merit a first-rounder. Still seemed like a quality player; I hear mixed opinions on him, so I’m not as confident in my lower grade. Probably a good choice.

29. Indianapolis Colts – Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami-FL

  • vix: Hey, this isn’t Devin Smith. I’m a fan of Dorsett too, but not this high. Not a massive blunder given he wouldn’t have been there with their next pick. A reach is still a reach.
  • nath: I guess the thinking is “One T.Y. Hilton worked out great; why not two?” But this team already has Hilton, Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief, and Duron Carter. Did they really need a fifth receiver with their first-rounder?

30. Green Bay Packers – Damarious Randall, S, Arizona State

  • vix: Laugh out loud. Sorry Packer fans, not sorry. Randall cannot cover, tackle, or, well, he’s just not very good. I’ll leave it at that.
  • nath: LOL. I see some impressive statistics on Randall, but when I watch him, I see a guy who takes terrible angles and falls down a lot. Why do teams love him? Why did Green Bay take a bad player with their first-round pick at the same position they took a good player with their first-round pick last year?

31. New Orleans Saints – Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson

  • vix: Versatile linebacker that can play anywhere in a 4-3, or inside as he will with the Saints 3-4 hybrid. Sniffs out screens really well. Smart, tough player.
  • nath: Big fan. Eric Kendricks was my #1 ILB, but his medical has teams scared, and Anthony was my #2. His athleticism shows on the field, and I think he’s a fast, instinctive playmaker. Not quite as high as I graded him but happy to have him on my team.

32. New England Patriots – Malcom Brown, DT, Texas

  • vix: He’s not a world beater, but Brown is a nice pick at this point. He can play either 5 tech or 3 tech, it fits with the Patriots defensive philosophy.
  • nath: I literally have no opinion of Malcom Brown. My grade was a guess based on the opinions of others. But I ranked him 31 overall, and he went 32, so I probably guessed well.

Zone Reads Twitter Mock

Last night, vix and I mocked the first two rounds of the draft on Twitter, alternating picks. As a bonus for website readers and forum viewers, we did a third round privately.

Here’s the thread with the picks and discussion. Feel free to discuss either here or there.

If you’d like to see the Twitter conversation with the original picks, you can find it here.

Team Mock Draft: New Orleans Saints

I thought I’d do a few of these while it occurred to me. I don’t know how many I’ll finish by draft time, but based on our rankings and projections, these are drafts that I think match a team’s needs well with the expected talent available at each position. (I’ve also included some other possible selections for the Day One and Two picks, in case the player I mentioned is already gone or that need has been filled.)

I’ll start with my favorite team, the New Orleans Saints.

Round 1, Pick 13
Bud Dupree, EDGE, Kentucky

I expect Dupree to be the last of the “big four” (I do not count Shane Ray among that group anymore) edge guys available at this point. That makes him a good value here and an obvious selection for a team hurting on defense.

Possible Alternatives: Randy Gregory, EDGE, Nebraska; DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville; Marcus Peters, CB, Washington

Round 1, Pick 31
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

You can see my reasoning in the previous mock draft I wrote. Hundley would be allowed to sit until he was ready, and in an ideal situation as well. If the Saints don’t think their quarterback of the future is here, though, several potential options remain:

Possible Alternatives: Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA; Nelson Agholor, WR, USC; Owamagbe Odhigizuwa, EDGE, UCLA; Carl Davis, DT, Iowa; Henry Anderson, DE/DT, Stanford

Round 2, Pick 44
Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State

I think Smith’s elite deep game is going to offer the Saints offense a major factor it lacks after the Kenny Stills trade. I think Smith can be even better than Stills as a deep threat; I also think he’ll develop into a well-rounded-enough receiver to justify the pick here. If he’s gone, Sammie Coates and Phillip Dorsett offer alternatives.

Possible Alternatives: Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson; Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State; Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest; Eli Harold, EDGE, Virginia; Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota

Round 3, Pick 75
Ali Marpet, G, Hobart

“Athletic small-school lineman” is a prototype that’s worked well for the Saints in the past: Bloomsburg’s Jahri Evans and Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Terron Armstead currently anchor down crucial positions on the offensive line. Marpet could slide right in to replace the departed Ben Grubbs.

Round 3, Pick 78
Paul Dawson, LB, TCU

An instinctive playmaker on film who isn’t as fast or fluid as you’d like, Dawson slipped down some boards after poor speed times at the Combine. He’d likely be available here, where he’d represent good value.

Possible Alternatives (Picks 75 and 78): Tre McBride, WR, William and Mary; Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State; Grady Jarrett, DT, Clemson; Tre Jackson, G, Florida State; Laken Tomlinson, G, Duke; Dayrl Williams, OT, Oklahoma; Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB/S, Oregon; Eric Rowe, CB/S, Utah; Clive Walford, TE, Miami-FL

Round 5, Pick 148
Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska

A Matt Waldman favorite, Bell compares in many ways to the Saints’ departed 2013 fifth-rounder, Kenny Stills. Similarly, Bell could start off in a limited role in year one before expanding to be a bigger part of the offense. (I’m assuming Marques Colston and Nick Toon don’t stay on the roster past 2015, and the jury is out on late-season pickup Jalen Saunders.)

Round 5, Pick 154
Derrick Lott, DT, Tennessee-Chattanooga

Lott is one of my favorite small-school prospects in this draft, a defensive tackle who crushes film and whose combine measurements stack up to that performance. (A 7.30 three-cone time at 314 pounds is crazy!) The middle of the Saints’ defense has been questionable, despite the resources spent on Akiem Hicks, John Jenkins, and Broderick Bunkley. Lott adds a player who can be an aggressive part of a rotation early on until he’s ready for a bigger role.

In addition to these two players, the Saints may strongly consider a candidate for slot cornerback– Lorenzo Doss, Quandre Diggs, Senquez Golson, Bobby McCain, or Bryce Callahan are all viable options.

Round 6, Pick 186
Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State

The Bowling Ball Bulldog has been seriously underrated nationally– I have him as a high fourth-rounder; I project him in the sixth here because that’s closer to where most rankings have him. If the Saints are looking for a thumping clock-killer who breaks every tackle possible, Robinson is a guy who could make moving on from Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson very easy.

Round 7, Pick 230
Alani Fua, LB, BYU

A linebacker whose versatility will be a selling point for Rob Ryan, and whose agility and athleticism will probably allow him to be a valuable special-teams contributor right away.

The 2015 “No One’s Mocking” Mock

Reading through some of the Zone Reads archives, I discovered a mock draft from 2013 I made with the sole goal of identifying picks no one else was projecting for a team. I thought about that and decided it was a neat intellectual exercise– if you kept to two rules:

  1. The picks have to be a good, justifiable fit. You can’t have Jacksonville taking Jameis Winston #3 a year after taking Blake Bortles #3. Stuff like that. Picks that would genuinely benefit a team, but that no one else has projected.
  2. The picks have to be good value. Jacksonville needs a free safety after missing out on Devin McCourty in free agency, but that doesn’t mean you can draft Gerod Holliman or Cody Prewitt #3 overall.

I enjoyed thinking about the picks and I hope you enjoy reading about them. Onward:

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
La’el Collins, OT, LSU

The Bucs’ offensive line flatly sucks. They signed Anthony Collins to a big free-agent deal last offseason to play left tackle, and he was such a disaster they cut him this offseason. Replace one Collins with another: Some folks have concern about La’el’s ability to play left tackle in the NFL, but he’s immediately the best offensive lineman on the team. (And despite where others slot him, he’s my #4 overall prospect, so I don’t consider this a reach for our purposes.)

2. Tennessee Titans
Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson

He’s arguably the biggest-impact EDGE prospect and he is a natural fit as an OLB in a classic 3-4. Good marriage of need and value.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

I know they drafted two receivers in the second round last year (and uncovered an undrafted gem in Allen Hurns). I know they just signed Julius Thomas. I know there’s even hope Justin Blackmon could be reinstated. But I don’t think any of those guys (except Blackmon, and his off-field issues are too likely to get in the way) can be a true #1 the way White can. The Jaguars continue to build around Blake Bortles; if he fails, you can’t say they didn’t support him.

4. Oakland Raiders
Dante Fowler Jr., EDGE, Florida

Fowler gives them another edge player to pair with Khalil Mack. Fowler doesn’t have the elite bend around the corner you’d like to see, but he’s strong, fast, and does everything else well. Most likely alignment for Oakland is to continue at a 4-3 with Mack at LB and Fowler at DE, but you can do a lot of creative aligning with those two guys.

5. Washington Potatoes
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

I think the Robert Griffin era is probably over in Washington. (I do think his career can be salvaged, but now his career arc looks more like a Randall Cunningham, having to find redemption as a passer at his next stop.) Jay Gruden wants to do the West Coast Offense thing his way, and Winston is a highly accurate short-to-intermediate passer, among other things.

6. New York Jets
Randy Gregory, EDGE, Nebraska

Most mocks have the Jets taking an offensive player here. But QB/WR are too commonly mocked to the Jets, and they aren’t immediate needs now with the recent additions of Brandon Marshall and Ryan Fitzpatrick (okay, QB is still a need, but that doesn’t mean they’ll draft one). Quentin Coples has been disappointing on the edge, and the Jets need a player who can take advantage of the interior disruption Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson cause.

7. Chicago Bears
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

The new regime isn’t committed to Jay Cutler. He will start in 2015, though, as Mariota needs at least a year to get up to NFL speed. The Bears are bereft of talent in a lot of ways thanks to some draft misses by Phil Emery and (especially) Jerry Angelo, so they might as well start building for the future.

8. Atlanta Falcons
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Roddy White is 33. Harry Douglas just left for Tennessee. Jacob Tamme is the closest thing they have to a tight end. This receiver crew is one All-World player, a good veteran in decline, and… ??? Cooper answers one of those question marks emphatically.

9. New York Giants
DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville

“But the Giants are old-school! They build from the trenches!” Sure they do, that’s why they drafted Odell Beckham last year. Rueben Randle just isn’t getting it done as a big outside threat; Parker would fill that role nicely, and also provide the crew some insurance talent-wise in case Victor Cruz can’t return to his old form. Their goal here should be to extend the window they can compete with Eli Manning as their QB.

10. St. Louis Rams
Marcus Peters, CB, Washington

Jeff Fisher never met a character concern he didn’t like. Peters is the best cornerback in the draft. Janoris Jenkins had a promising rookie year, but has been inconsistent since then. E.J. Gaines also had a promising rookie year, but he’s a sixth-round pick and would look even better in the nickel role. Some playmaking talent on the back end will help the team make the most of their devastating pass rush.

11. Minnesota Vikings
Leonard Williams, DT/DE, USC

It’s not as crazy a fall as it seems: Some draft types have grumbled about Williams’ lack of explosiveness (what makes him impressive is his ability to command double- and even triple-teams despite that). Minnesota has a lot of talent on the edge but could use some up the middle– and what better player to take than another Williams?

12. Cleveland Browns
Landon Collins, S, Alabama

The only safety I could name on their roster was Donte Whitner, and he’s pretty old. I almost mocked another cornerback, but you gotta figure they believe Justin Gilbert will get his head on straight. Adding the guy who is well ahead of most players at his position on the board is… a good start (I think this is a little high for Collins, but I also think he could easily go here).
(edited to add: Okay, as of right now Tashaun Gipson isn’t technically on the roster until he signs his RFA tender, but I still should have mentioned him. He’s a back-end ballhawk type, though, and Collins will fit in nicely at strong safety next to him.)

13. New Orleans Saints
Danny Shelton, NT, Washington

One of the recurring problems in the Saints’ defense over the last few years is a complete inability to stop the run. Broderick Bunkley is their only capable run-stuffer, and he’s 31 and can’t play forever. Shelton would enable the team to both run more traditional 3-4 looks and actually stop offenses on early downs.

14. Miami Dolphins
Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA

Miami’s game of Linebacker Roulette last offseason didn’t really work out, as both Phillip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbee are now gone. Kendricks is by some accounts the best linebacker in the draft and a true three-down player. The Dolphins now arguably have the best front four in the league: Let’s give them a true playmaker to take advantage.

15. San Francisco 49ers
Alvin “Bud” Dupree, EDGE, Kentucky

Obviously inside linebacker has become more of a concern, with Navorro Bowman’s status still uncertain, and the unexpected retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland. But Aldon Smith is still a risk to be suspended at any time, and he’s really their only trascendent pass-rushing talent. Dupree lined up on the other side makes a lot of sense.

16. Houston Texans
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

Arian Foster is 29, which is about 72 in running back years. Their passing game is still nothing to write home about: If they were a band, they’d be called “DeAndre Hopkins and the Castoffs.” This is all part of Bill O’Brien’s plan to win by running 40 times a game until they find a real quarterback.

17. San Diego Chargers
Cameron Erving, C, Florida State

Nick Hardwick, who came into the league with Philip Rivers in 2004 and has been his starting center ever since, finally retired. Erving is projected as a plug-and-play center who could step right in without missing a beat.

18. Kansas City Chiefs
Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford

Offensive line is a need for Kansas City, but I haven’t seen Peat mocked anywhere. He’s more boom-or-bust than other OT prospects, as he more than anyone else in the draft has the feet and reach needed to play left tackle, but probably doesn’t have the kind of functional strength in the run game to succeed elsewhere. Anyway, I’m skeptical Eric Fisher can continue to play left tackle.

19. Cleveland Browns
Arik Armstead, DL, Oregon

Armstead is a raw athlete who would fit in as a 3-4 DE here and has the potential to be a wrecking crew if he develops. With the Kruger-Mingo pairing, the Browns don’t need edge guys so much as guys who can penetrate the interior and/or tie up blockers there.

20. Philadelphia Eagles
Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon

Fisher isn’t generally mocked this highly (and everyone has had the idea to mock Oregon players to Chip Kelly), but I saw Cian Fahey’s mock draft earlier this week that listed him at #13. I finally got started with film work on Fisher, and while I’m not so sure about his power, his athleticism and ability to get to the second level are astounding. Kelly loves athletic linemen– think Lane Johnson #4 overall– and Fisher would immediately fill one of the guard spots vacated by the released Todd Herremans or the rumored-to-be-shopped Evan Mathis, with the possibility that some day after Jason Peters is old and gone, Fisher and Johnson can form the bookend of the Eagles’ offensive line.

21. Cincinnati Bengals
Brandon Scherff, OT/G, Iowa

Scherff is a guy I have some questions about being able to play left tackle, but Cincinnati could use an upgrade anywhere on the line. Maybe he beats out the just-re-signed Clint Boling at guard. With rumors the Bengals will release Andre Smith flying, Scherff could start there right away. If he can play left tackle, Andrew Whitworth is 33 and probably won’t be able to much longer. Anyway, this is a good value pick for the talent and the Bengals like building that way even when the player they take doesn’t fill an immediate need.

22. Pittsburgh Steelers
Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota

Heath Miller is a reliable red-zone target but he’s old. Antonio Brown is a true #1 do-it-all receiver, and Martavis Bryant is, I believe, going to grow into a tremendous outside player. Williams gives this team one thing they’re currently lacking on offense, a true seam-splitter.

23. Detroit Lions
Malcom Brown, DT, Texas

This one’s easy. Detroit lost Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in free agency. Here is a replacement defensive tackle.

24. Arizona Cardinals
Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona

Arizona would seem to be set at receiver, but Larry Fitzgerald turns 32 before the season starts, Michael Floyd had a disappointing second year, and John Brown is basically the exact opposite kind of receiver as Strong. I’m not saying Strong can replace Fitzgerald, but he’s a big target with sure hands who uses his size and leaping ability to win difficult, contested catches. Now if only the Cardinals had a quarterback.

25. Carolina Panthers
Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest

Every mock I’ve seen has the Panthers taking an offensive lineman or a wide receiver. Let’s not overlook that, hey, their secondary is crap, too. We haven’t finished up work on Johnson, but some voices I respect are calling him the best cornerback in the draft. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but the first round is eminently reasonable.

26. Baltimore Ravens
Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State

Baltimore tends to use those early picks on impact players at major schools. Waynes was arguably the best player on a great defense, and given Baltimore’s health problems at cornerback, he makes perfect sense. On the other hand, Baltimore now becomes the “Live by DPI, Die by DPI” team.

27. Dallas Cowboys
Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri

Dorial Green-Beckham has substance abuse concerns. Dallas welcomed Josh Brent back with open arms.

Dorian Green-Beckham reportedly forced his way into a woman’s home and pushed her down a flight of stairs. Dallas just signed Greg Hardy.

I think Jerry Jones is going to remember what happened the last time he took a chance on a big-time receiver talent with character questions. (I also think he’s going to remember that that guy is due something like $15 million a year, very soon.)

28. Denver Broncos
Carl Davis, DT, Iowa

Davis is a prospect whose lack of buzz I don’t understand. He moves very well on the field, both horizontally and vertically; he has a full array of pass-rush moves, and he was frequently in the backfield disrupting plays at Iowa. He’s not quite the same kind of player as the departed Terrance Knighton, but he can add an interior pass rush; guys with Davis’ agility at his size are rare.

29. Indianapolis Colts
Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington

While it’s not fully clear where Thompson will play, he’s a hyper-athletic playmaker. The Colts could use him as ILB, an OLB, or even a safety on passing downs. The Colts need more playmakers on defense; now they have one more.

30. Green Bay Packers
Henry Anderson, DL, Stanford

An active, aggressive player up front who frequently disrupts plays. I’ve seen him all over the board on various draftnik rankings, but we like him and we think he could help the front seven, and even let B.J. Raji go back to playing a nose tackle.

31. New Orleans Saints (from Seattle)
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

I think this is the perfect landing spot for him. Sean Payton is not only the guy who recognized Drew Brees’ franchise talent when he was a free agent, he’s the guy who recognized Tony Romo’s talent at Eastern Illinois and groomed him into the QB he is today. Hundley has massive talent– enough to keep him a productive winner in 40 starts at UCLA despite iffy offensive support– but he lacks a lot of refinement in the finer points of the game. Here, he’d be on the Aaron Rodgers track: He can sit for at least a year– and more likely two or three– while he refines or even overhauls the parts of his game that need work. When Brees finally moseys on to Elysium, Hundley will be ready to take over, and the Second Payton Era will be underway.

32. New England Patriots
Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma

This is a bit high for him, in my opinion, because Phillips is a little inconsistent– he’s athletic and flashes some disruptive ability, but too often plays high and is shut down by a single blocker. He’s still young, though, so there’s room to improve, and his size will allow him to start taking some of Vince Wilfork’s snaps.

Thoughts? Disagreements? Disappointments? What picks would you like to see that no one else is talking about?