The NFL offseason is in full swing; with OTA workouts taking place last week through next week, and mandatory camps taking place either this week or later in the month. Teams are testing their free agency pickups along with draft picks, undrafted players and of course returning players for fitness and cohesiveness. Meanwhile fans are either intently watching for news on these events or impatiently waiting for all of this to end and the season to start.
It’s the best of times and the worst of times, with reports of some players performing well, some showing up looking bloated and hungover, and the rare and devastating injury report that puts fans and coaches alike, in tears.
One of the most interesting things to watch for during OTAs and minicamps is what draft picks do during these periods. While college performance is important for appraising a draft pick’s potential, April to June and the lead up to training camp all help to appraise a pick’s position with the team, along with a look at long term viability.
Here is a look at what the NFL’s top 15 picks will likely be able to do in their rookie years. All information relating to injuries is accurate as of Sunday, June 7th, at 2 PM, given that such information is time sensitive.
15. San Diego Chargers – RB Melvin Gordon
Finishing just 41 yards shy of Barry Sanders’ NCAA FBS record of 2,628 yards, Melvin Gordon had an unbelievable fourth year with the Wisconsin Badgers in 2014. He set a new single game rushing record with 408 yards against Nebraska. It was broken just a week later by Samaje Perine of Oklahoma, but it’s still damn impressive.
The Chargers taking a running back in the first round was almost a no-brainer. While their wide receivers in 2014 were unremarkable, Malcom Floyd, Keenan Allen and Eddie Royal put up passable numbers as a trio. Antonio Gates proved that in some cases 34 is just a number. Unfortunately, that running back stable suffered in 2014. Danny Woodhead missed 13 games with a broken fibula. Branden Oliver, Ryan Matthews and Donald Brown combined for just over 1,100 yards on the season at about 3.56 yards per carry.
For Gordon not to start in 2015, he will either have to get addicted to methamphetamine or stabbed by Danny Woodhead. Failing these two things, he is the go-to guy in the backfield. Gordon has the speed to be a good NFL running back with brilliant cuts, agility, and overall athleticism. The Chargers will likely try to develop his pass blocking and catching skills, both of which are suspect. He has earned the reputation of moving like Jamaal Charles and hopefully his catching skills will develop similarly.
Adding Orlando Franklin on the offensive line will help both Philip Rivers and Gordon. Gordon will have a functional stable behind him, involving Woodhead, Brown and Oliver, but he will see most of the team’s offensive snaps. My prediction is that he will rush for over 1,000 yards but not more than 1,200, and that seven touchdowns on the ground and two through the air will be his scoring numbers.
14. Miami Dolphins – WR DeVante Parker
Adding DeVante Parker was an interesting choice for the Miami Dolphins, who now have what may be one of the deepest groups of wide receivers in the NFL. I say “may” because Greg Jennings and DeVante Parker have some question marks. Jennings is past his prime and can no longer be considered a top-tier deep threat. He will be turning 32 around the start of the season (mid-September). Parker is a gifted playmaking wide receiver but suffered a broken foot in 2014. Analysts noted his speed suffered following this injury.
Furthermore, the Dolphins now have two other young wide receivers who will likely be stiff competition for numbers one and two; Kenny Stills, who came over from New Orleans and had 63 catches for 931 yards in 2014, and Jarvis Landry who caught 84 passes for 758 yards, with five touchdown catches in his rookie 2014 campaign. Landry will likely see the vast majority of work from the slot in 2015, but Stills has shown capability in that area as well.
Parker recently underwent foot surgery and will miss the next few months; his presence in week one is in jeopardy, but he will be back in time for much of the season. Obviously this foot issue is a concern looking ahead to his career.
Parker will have a chance to start in 2015 but if his speed has not recovered completely, obviously his field time will suffer. 30 catches will be his achievable total, for around 400 yards, with three or fewer touchdowns. There is plenty of wide receiver talent in Miami now and Parker is a great talent but will be much less of a threat against stronger, faster cornerbacks in the NFL. His foot status will need to be monitored in Miami.
13. New Orleans Saints – T Andrus Peat
With pick 13, the Saints grabbed the archetypal athletic, bruising tackle in Andrus Peat, whose father played in the NFL and whose brothers are also football players. At 6’7 and 315 lbs, he is roughly perfect size for the position, and plays a decent but raw positional game.
The Saints still have an above average offensive line, giving up just 30 sacks on the year, tied for ninth with the likes of the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. It is highly unlikely that Peat will see much time in his rookie year. He had experienced some inconsistency while at Stanford dealing with quicker pass rushers. Before the Saints trust him to block for the likes of Drew Brees, he will need to solve these problems. Looking ahead however, the Saints will have plenty of depth when their aging big guys up front start to retire.
12. Cleveland Browns – NT Danny Shelton
From the Washington Huskies; welcome to the worst rush defense in the league, Danny Shelton! Well, to be fair, they cleared up part of their problem in the first round of the draft. The Browns gave up about 141 yards per game on the ground, which was 32nd overall. Shelton is a big, strong defensive end that can make life hell for rushers as well as quarterbacks.
His criticisms include the fact that while he’ll pick apart an inferior offensive lineman, he will struggle against those that are better. Basically, he’s thought to have a great ceiling despite some inconsistencies. He’ll probably start week one and will likely contribute right away. 40 tackles, seven for a loss and three sacks is his rookie year prediction.
11. Minnesota Vikings – CB Trae Waynes
The Minnesota Vikings picked up the best corner in the draft, but he still has a great deal of question marks on his resume. The speed is one thing, but his weaknesses involve any wide receiver running a complicated route. He’s also on the slimmer end of the cornerback size scale, which does not bode well for him in run stopping.
He’s also been called an overly handsy corner who could be a liability against some of the quicker wide outs in the NFL. If he can learn to keep his hands off receivers and anticipate routes a bit better, he’ll be a real asset.
Heading into training camp, Waynes has a great chance to start, given that neither Xavier Rhodes or Captain Munnerlyn are top tier corners. Both are decent, and he’ll have a tough time, but his speed is his best asset. The Vikings currently have over ten cornerbacks signed to their roster, but few of them are names worth mentioning. Waynes may be one of the starting two, especially if Munnerlyn is moved to the nickel spot, which may become a reality in training camp. Waynes will play, but his first year in the NFL will be tough, because his inexperience and inconsistency with complicated routes will hurt him early.
It will be a year or two before Waynes can really contribute. NFL receivers are on a different level from those in college and speed can only do so much for a young corner.
10. St Louis Rams – RB Todd Gurley
Gurley had a rough year in 2014, playing in just six games due to injury and a suspension. Business as usual for the NCAA, a player nearly had his career destroyed because of stupid rules enforced by incompetent goons, and thought up by ignorant dinosaurs. He was suspended in October and after his return to play, he tore his ACL in his first game back.
His future is uncertain at this point but his potential is almost unlimited. He was a machine for Georgia, rushing for an average 6.4 yards per carry throughout his career, and being the most promising back in the draft prior to the 2014 season. His biggest issue is that ACL tear and ankle problems from the year before. A safe amount of time for a fully healed ACL tear, including surgery, is between nine months and a year. That places his recovery time to be right around the start of the 2015 season. Trying to play him in preseason or even week one is risky. Starting a rookie with his upside too early could be catastrophic.
An early October return may be in the works, and that will have been ten months worth of recovery for Gurley. Every injury and each athlete is different, but Gurley’s injury was a “clean” one; only affecting the ACL and leaving the rest of the knee and other ligaments intact and unharmed. He’s on the road back to playing, but nobody in the Rams’ organisation is going to push him on the field prematurely. It could be a full year before he gets back in the NFL, but October is looking like the earliest he will safely step onto the field in the NFL. Once on the field, he’ll likely replace Tre Mason as Jeff Fisher’s number one back, giving the Rams a great one-two. If he gets back around early October, 700 yards rushing with four touchdowns will not be ridiculous to ask of the former Bulldog.
9. New York Giants – G Ereck Flowers
A solid run blocker from Florida, Flowers played much of his time in college at tackle but has all but had the word “guard” tattooed on his forehead by the NFL. He’s ideal for either tackle or guard in terms of size, and while run blocking is great, his pass protection woes, which include a penchant for holding, and balance problems, may have Eli Manning sweating already.
With that said, his issues are correctable through coaching. What brings him the most upside is his strength. He’s an absolute beast, topping all offensive linemen in terms of bench reps at the combine. Strength and aggression can’t be taught, but balance and certain other fundamentals can be improved. Flowers’ has also had some minor discipline issues. It will take a lot of work to make him an elite lineman, but for now, it is likely that he will be in a starting position for the Giants, especially after the injury to Will Beatty. In his rookie season however, he’ll be a target for any defensive tackle in a 4-3 and a strong end in a 3-4, who will likely pick him apart until his form improves in pass protection.
8. Atlanta Falcons – OLB Vic Beasley
While sacks are not the only way to evaluate a pass rush, they are a pretty damn good place to start. The Falcons’ pass rush was abysmal in 2014, with just 22. They tied Oakland in this stat and only beat Cincinnati, who had 20 sacks on the year.
Beasley is a freak, who was at the top of the combine in every way. He has the top speed of some safeties, with decent size for an outside linebacker. While it takes more than one player to revamp a defense, Vic Beasley has more than enough potential to make an impact right away. He holds the record for career sacks at Clemson along with being fourth in tackles for loss.
He’s been criticized for a lack of competitive aggression, but his speed is second to none at the position. He needs to add some bulk according to some critics, but he’ll be a starter from week one. In 2014, the top sack total on the Falcons was Kroy Biermann’s 4.5, which will be a number Beasley will top in 2015. The Falcons have a good chance to win the NFC South this year, if Beasley can regularly get pressure on quarterbacks that was lacking in 2014.
7. Chicago Bears – WR Kevin White
The Bears lost Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets, leaving them with Alshon Jeffery as their only wide receiver who caught more than 20 catches in 2014. Overall, it looks like Kevin White, who was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award for his 109 receptions for 1,447 yards at West Virginia last year, will start across from Jeffery this year. Eddie Royal was picked up as well in free agency but he’s a career slot man.
White has great speed and great hands but has trouble against press coverage. With that said, the Bears won’t start Marquess Wilson, 2013’s seventh rounder who caught 17 passes last year. Failing a brutal showing in camp, White will be a starter and hopefully for Bears fans he’ll be able to help Jay Cutler get out of whatever he suffered from last year. I will not be surprised if he catches 50 passes for 700 yards and six touchdowns in 2015.
6. New York Jets – DE Leonard Williams
Named “the most talented player in the draft” by a couple of analysts, the Jets got a player with amazing potential in Leonard Williams at sixth overall. The jets could use him at either end or tackle, depending on situation, and despite being 300 lbs, he moves like a smaller man and pushes blockers aside like a heavier man.
The former USC star is an outstanding force as a run stopper and has shown promising development as a pass rusher. He’s raw in some ways but his strength and athleticism are his greatest assets.
The Jets of course already have a strong defensive line, with names such as Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Damon Harrison, but coaches have hinted that they may utilize a 4-3 scheme in conjunction with their standard 3-4, depending on situations and opponents. A versatile weapon like Williams will offer added opportunity for their defense to shine. I predict 25 tackles, five for loss, and four sacks on the year, but that his first month in the NFL will be slow. This slow start will be due to the fact that he made plays during college despite being beaten early, but his ability to do that in the NFL will be diminished. It is a whole new ball game, but he’ll get used to it.
5. Washington Redskins – G/T Brandon Scherff
Iowa’s 2014 Outland Trophy (best interior lineman) winner was picked up by the Washington Redskins at fifth overall, and will help that offense mostly as a run blocker. He’s strong as they come but his pass blocking is suspect, as he is a liability at the NFL level as a tackle and will get ripped apart by a top tier pass rusher. While he spent plenty of time at tackle and guard in college, right now he is most promising as a guard.
Running back Alfred Morris has achieved three 1,000 plus yard rushing campaigns in his three years in the league, but his numbers have dropped each year, from over 1,600 in 2012, to just over 1,000 in 2014. With Scherff at guard, Morris will have renewed potential to raise his per carry average, which was 4.05 ypc in 2014, down from 4.8 in 2012. At this point, Scherff is unsteady as a starting tackle, but at guard, and in rushing situations he’ll be a great asset for the team.
4. Oakland Raiders – WR Amari Cooper
The Raiders do not have their two biggest offensive (non-QB) threats from last season at the moment. James Jones could come back, but remains a free agent. Darren McFadden signed with the Dallas Cowboys. At wide receiver they added Michael Crabtree, and at running back they picked up Trent Richardson and Roy Helu Jr. Nobody listed so far is a standout by any means, but the Raiders’ first rounder out of Alabama, 2014 Biletnikoff winner Amari Cooper may be the target Derek Carr needs to get this pass offense higher than 26th in the league.
Cooper will not be able to make NFL safeties look as foolish as he did in college, but his combination of hands, speed and decent size will help the team immensely. Their offensive line looks decent heading into the 2015 season and if they can keep Derek Carr safe, he’ll probably complete to Cooper 70 times this year, for just under 1,000 yards. Six touchdowns on the year will be a likelihood, as he has a good chance at being their most productive wide receiver.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – OLB Dante Fowler
For those of you who missed the news, it is not a good time to be a Jacksonville Jaguars fan. They drafted a talented pass rusher whose size and speed would have made him a nightmare for offensive linemen. Unfortunately, on the first day of OTAs, Dante Fowler tore his ACL. Better luck next year to both Fowler and Jags fans.
2. Tennessee Titans – QB Marcus Mariota
The 2014 Heisman and just about everything else winner tore up the college football world but many consider him another example of an NCAA quarterback who will flop in the NFL. The Tennessee Titans grabbed him second overall after a sad 2-14 season in Ken Whisenhunt’s first year as head coach.
Mariota is a quick, quarterback with a decent arm, decent accuracy but instincts and tendencies that some analysts think will make him a liability. The Titans have indicated that in essence, the starting job is up for grabs, with second year quarterback Zach Mettenberger itching to keep his spot. Coaches have noted his unsteadiness in the pocket, along with some problems with the quickness with which he will tuck and run, rather than throw to a receiver.
In Tennessee, he will be working with a nearly non-existent stable of running backs, but some decent receiving targets; Delanie Walker, Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter. His abilities outside the pocket will help, but he will need to improve inside the pocket if he wants to start in week one. He has the potential for a 2,500 yard passing season with 18 touchdowns, along with 700 rushing yards, but will likely throw one interception for every touchdown. Again however, there is no guarantee that the Titans will not start Mettenberger who proved himself a capable passer in 2014, after disappointing showings by Jake Locker and Charlie Whitehurst.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – QB Jameis Winston
On paper, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a decent set of offensive weapons. In 2014, they had a quarterback duo of Mike Glennon and Josh McCown, who did nearly nothing with these weapons, going 2-14 with a miserable offense ranking 29th in the league. Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans both caught for over 1,000 yards, leading the passing game, but that rushing attack was well below miserable.
Doug Martin missed time yet again due to injury and he, Bobby Rainey and Charles Sims rushed for 1,085 yards as a trio, achieving an underwhelming 3.6 yards per carry. 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston has potential to increase the productivity in the passing game but lacks mobility to add anything in terms of the rush. With that said, he’s a better passer than any quarterback the Bucs have had in years, which in and of itself will keep defenses honest. His field vision and arm are outstanding, and he has confidence figuratively coming out his ears; seen as arrogance by some, and an asset by others.
He will pass for 3,200 yards this year, with 20 touchdown passes being a possibility, but his decision making will be that of a rookie however, and 16 interceptions is my prediction. Under Winston, the Buccaneers have the chance to improve to 7-9, but beyond that will need to be an act of God.
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