4 Questions: Top of the First Round
So today is the day. Finally, after months of big boards, mock draft, anonymous scouts, and everything in between, we’ve finally reached day one of the 2015 NFL Draft. The draft is always fun to watch because it gives fans of every team a renewed sense of optimism that the player their team has just drafted is going to elevate them to the next level.
This is also the first year where we have graded every snap in the FBS, so we have a unique selection of data, and plenty of opinions about every player in the draft. In this edition of 4 Questions, Gordon McGuinness asks four of our analysts questions about each section of Round 1 of the draft, starting with the Top 10:
1. With Jameis Winston likely to go No. 1, the Tennessee Titans have an interesting decision at No. 2. Should they stick where they are and draft Marcus Mariota, knowing that they might need to change their offense to fit him, or do they look elsewhere, either by trading down or just going in a different direction?
Michael Mountford: I don’t think Mariota is a great fit to the Titans offense, so I’d look elsewhere. I doubt that a team will give up enough to move up to the No. 2 pick. With that said, I would take Kevin White and add a top offensive weapon. They have Kendall Wright already, so what they need is an outside player who can stretch the field and possibly become a cornerstone for a Titans offense that is crying out for more playmakers.
Matt Claassen: While Tennessee could do worse than Zach Mettenberger at quarterback, I’m not sold that he is their quarterback of the future. If they choose someone else and Mettenberger is not the answer, the potential prospects in next year’s class are not looking too promising right now. Even if there is one better than Mariota next year, the Titans will have to be either in the same position again, or have to spend more draft picks to trade up, so I’d take the opportunity to grab a potential franchise quarterback now.
Thomas Maney: If they can find a trade partner and get a haul similar to what Washington gave up to get Robert Griffin or what the Bills traded for the Sammy Watkins pick, then Tennessee should do that. Otherwise, take Mariota. Zach Mettenberger had a couple of positive games late in the season, but I think Mariota is too good to pass on, even if they have to change the offense somewhat to take advantage of his strengths.
Mike Renner: I’m of the opinion that if you’re a team without an established quarterback, you draft one every year and let them develop. The drop-off from Mariota to Hundley and Petty is so drastic that waiting until the second round doesn’t make sense. Outside of a rumored Philip Rivers trade, no other move would net them a legitimate option at quarterback.
2. Let’s assume the Titans ultimately do decide to trade away the pick, which team should be waiting to make the move up to grab Mariota?
MM: The New York Jets should be calling the Titans to see if they can move up four spots without having to give the farm. The Jets have the majority of the defense set apart from edge rusher, but Todd Bowles has shown the ability to manufacture pass rush and with the defensive line able to get pressure it should help. Geno Smith was our fourth-lowest graded quarterback in 2014 and, outside of a few strong games to end his rookie season, has yet to show much to make you think he can be a franchise quarterback. Adding Mariota gives the Jets a playmaker at QB who can get the ball to Marshall and Decker on a consistent basis.
MC: I’m not trading up to the No. 2 pick if I am any of the quarterback-needy teams as I think the necessary compensation will be too high. I would rather take the chance that he drops to me, or at least drops a few spots where the compensation is not quite as high. However, if I have to trade to No. 2, I’m sending him to the team that should best know how to utilize him–the Eagles–and hope that a good offer for Sam Bradford still exists to offset some of the compensation for Mariota.
TM: The Eagles seem like an obvious choice given Mariota’s familiarity with the offense and little evidence that Bradford can stay healthy. If you saw PFF: Grading The 2015 Draft on NBC Sports this week, you would have heard Steve Palazzolo’s stat that the league leaders in terms of passes of 20 yards or more where the quarterback has had a throw which is easier or one we’d expect them to make were Nick Foles in 2013 and Mark Sanchez in 2014. This Eagles’ offense manufactures big plays without needing the quarterback to do too much, something Mariota, who lead the FBS in that regard last year, fits very well with.
MR: It might not be a likely scenario, but the Rams could benefit from a quarterback as much as anyone. Nick Foles’ stats fell back in line with his PFF Grade in 2014, and it’s tough to see him producing more outside of that quarterback friendly system in Philadelphia. They’ve steadily built up a legitimate receiving corps, but have no one to throw to them. A zone option rushing attack could also help bring Greg Robinson back to his college days after a rough rookie season.
3. If quarterbacks do indeed go No. 1 and 2, the Jacksonville Jaguars are sitting there in the third spot with their choice of the edge rushers and wide receivers. Which way should they go?
MM: If I’m the Jacksonville Jaguars there are too many holes not to go best player available and for me that is Amari Cooper. While many will say pass rusher, the Jaguars are probably still a year away from contending, so just getting the best player at this point makes a lot of sense. They drafted Blake Bortles a year ago, so I’d go out and draft Cooper, who averaged an impressive 3.97 Yards Per Route Run last season, the highest in this draft class.
MC: The Jaguars need to upgrade their pass rush and I really like Vic Beasley, but, like Michael, I have decided on Amari Cooper instead. Cooper is, for me, the best player in the draft, regardless of position, and the Jaguars were last in points scored per game last season. They took Bortles last year as their franchise quarterback and he really struggled as a rookie. While they have holes elsewhere, Jacksonville needs to everything it can to help him grow into the quarterback they believe him to be. Cooper, who produced 531 yards on passes thrown 20 yards or more downfield last year, would Bortles a true top receiver and a solid receiving core with Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, and Julius Thomas.
TM: I can’t see past edge rush here. Can’t go wrong with either Vic Beasley or Dante Fowler, but I prefer Fowler here. He played from a variety of positions at Florida and graded much better against the run last season – and Jacksonville graded worse against the run than rushing the passer. I think he has a better chance of being more than just a sub package rusher in year one.
MR: Vic Beasley is the perfect mix of measurables and production. He might have to put on weight and won’t be an every-down type player right away, but you can make the case that Jaguars aren’t building for this year. Beasley could very well end up as a one-dimensional Cliff Avril type, but I have no doubts about his ability to get after the quarterback at the next level, with 40 total pressure from 316 pass rushing opportunities in 2014.
4. The Atlanta Falcons would surely love to land an edge rusher at No. 8, but what happens if Vic Beasley, Dante Fowler and Randy Gregory are gone by that point? Do they reach for a guy like Shane Ray, or go BPA with the top receivers still available?
MM: With the major holes on the Falcons’ roster I would first attempt to trade down and get help on the trenches and then hope to grab one of the next group of WRs at the top of the second round. If they are unable to trade down, I would go with the best player on the board and if that happens to be DeVante Parker, with Roddy White starting to get up there in age you can have three good WRs and the future replacement to White. Parker lead everyone in this class in Yards Per Route Run against Power 5 teams in this draft class at 4.21, and I don’t think they’d be disappointed to land him.
MC: Injury and off the field issues aside, I still think this is too high for Ray. If there is a team looking to trade up, I would move down to get Ray or another edge defender where the value is more appropriate. With the other edge defenders already going and assuming there’s not a trade offer, I would select DeVante Parker. I am a believer in putting grades over needs. Just because you don’t have a need at a particular position today, that doesn’t mean you won’t six months or a year from now. Roddy White is 33 years old and hasn’t finished a season with a positive receiving grade since 2012.
TM: I’m staying true to my philosophy of best player available. Atlanta had the fourth-worst cumulative pass rush grade in 2014, but don’t reach just to fill a need. Would they go Offensive line in Round 1 two years in a row? They took Jake Matthews high last year, but still had issues there, so someone like La’el Collins, who allowed just four hurries from 256 pass blocking snaps, could be a great pick here.
MR: Reaching for a certain position is never advisable when you have a team littered with positions of need. Receiver, offensive tackle, and defensive tackle are all weak spots for the Falcons and will all likely have valuable players at pick No. 8 if Beasley and Fowler are off the board. I’d pair up whichever one of the top three receivers is left with Julio Jones and try to bring the Falcons offense back to their 2012 form.