The 2015 National Football League draft is officially in the books. From the get go, you knew that this year’s version was going to be bigger than ever before. Instead of keeping up with the annual tradition of holding it in New York City, for the first time in 51 years the league’s marquee off-season event was held in Chicago, Illinois aka The Windy City. With the entire football world watching, you had to expect that the NFL, the hometown Bears, and the city of Chi-Town itself, were going to pull out all the stops to make sure that the occasion was going to be memorable. That’s exactly what happened.
Days 1 and 2 of the draft was held at Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theatre right in the heart of downtown Chicago. For the last couple years while operating out of NYC, the event was held at the cozy but much smaller and less extravagant Radio City Hall in Manhattan. The beautiful and enormous venue in Illinois which seats nearly 4,000 people and was built in 1889, really gave rounds one and two a special feel.
Day 3 of the event saw the league try something new as for the first time in its history, they conducted the draft outside. The festivities started at Grant Park which was turned into “Draft Town”. Hundreds of fans were able to watch on a big screen as contest winners, former players, cheerleaders, and team personnel announced draft choices for Rounds 4, 5, 6, and 7. Besides all the football and family oriented activities that were available to the fans, to make it even more fun, teams made picks at various locations like team headquarters, draft rooms, practice fields, bars, an Air Force base, the new College Hall of Fame, and in the case of the Minnesota Vikings, the construction site of their new stadium.
All of the effort and glitz, glamour put forth by the league and the city of Chicago made, the fact that both Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota the 1st and 2nd overall picks in the draft choices not to attend the event, seem like a forgotten subplot throughout the entire 3 days. During Day 3 Chi-town Mayor Rahm Emanuel while addressing the crowd said that he wanted the draft to come back next year. If next year’s edition is anything like this year’s, you have to like the city’s chances.
Prospects Set To Flourish:
10 Leonard Williams
Life is funny sometimes. The first year the NFL decides to hold the draft outside of New York City, the Jets pretty much hit a home run over the three day event. With holes at QB, WR, and OLB, the J-E-T-S got great value when they chose to fill those spots with Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith, and Louisville OLB Lorenzo Mauldin. While Petty might not see any meaningful action till the 2016 season,(then again with Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick in front of him you never know) Smith and Mauldin should be able to help the Jets out as early as this season.
The big tuna though, was their first round pick, Leonard “The Big Cat” Williams who many draft experts thought was the best overall player in the draft slid to Gang Green who picked 6th overall. It was no surprise that Jets officials wasted little time in picking the defensive linemen. Williams is set to make a huge impact for the Jets. Despite the fact that they already have Pro Bowlers Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson on their D-Line –and especially Wilkerson who plays the same position as the USC product- the Jets clearly believe in the idea that you can never have enough of a good thing. With the talent new nead coach Todd Bowles will have at disposal in the trenches, Tom Brady, Ryan Tannenhill, and Matt Cassell or E.J Manuel better watch out.
9 Trae Waynes
Their draft started off great as they were able to address a perceived position of need when they selected the top rated Corner Back in the draft in Michigan State’s Trae Waynes with the 9th overall pick. Although the Vikes added veteran CB Terrence Newman in free agency from the Cincinati Bengals, having Waynes to go along with a deep secondary that already includes the ever-improving Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn, and the aforementioned Newman, can only improve their chances when they have to take on the vaunted passing attacks of their divisional foes the Packers, Lions, and Bears.
The fact that Wanyes is being coached by Mike Zimmer, a guy who constantly gets the most out of his defensive players, coupled with the fact that he has good veteran support around him will help Wanyes make an impact in his rookie season.
8 Kevin White
First year Bears general manager Ryan Pace simply had a really good draft. When you get arguably the best wide receiver in the draft in Kevin White, (Where do you sit on the Cooper versus White argument?) who can step in and replaced the departed Brandon Marshall at the no.7 spot in the opening round, you have to be satisfied.
The only issue for White will be how effective Jay Cutler can be, but this is an offense with enough talent to put up a lot of points. White may be a favorite for offensive rookie of the year.
To Bears fans saying “he couldn’t have gotten rid of Cutler too?” sadly Pace’s magic has limitations.
7 Dorial Green-Beckham
While getting a potential franchise quarterback even one with as many question marks as former Oregon Duck Marcus Mariota, is obviously a huge step in the right direction, the rest of their draft was really solid as well. After taking the QB, the Titans got a potential major steal in the 40th pick of the second round when they selected wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham who the NFL Network’s draft czar Mike Mayock referred to as a young Randy Moss. Talk about a lofty comparison.
Green-Beckham does come with a lot of red flags. He didn’t play this past college season after he had transferred to Oklahoma because he was deemed ineligible to play due to transfer rules. He was also dismissed from the University of Missouri in 2014 after allegedly being the subject of a burglary and assault investigation by police. He was also arrested twice for marijuana-related incidents. If the former Missouri WR can get his act together, the 1st round talent that he displayed when he was actually on the field, the Titans will be the last ones laughing.
DGB certainly isn't a bad weapon for a rookie quarterback to have.
6 Amari Cooper
Talk about getting just what the doctor ordered for Derek Carr. Carr showed tremendous promise in his rookie season, but lacked the tools around him to produce some wins in Oakland. The Raiders have put together some solid drafts the last couple of years. Reggie McKenzie started out with a rough cap situation and was depleted of draft picks when he first took the job but he is now building the team he envisioned. Cooper and Carr seem set to make a formidable tandem in the black hole.
5 Randy Gregory
Every year somebody ends up being the last player picked from the green room. In 2005 it was California quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In 2007 it was Notre Dame Pivot was Brady Quinn, and in 2013 it was West Virginia QB Geno Smith. The one thing all those players had in common besides the fact that they were all the guy behind center, is the fact that they were all players who came from offenses that while they were in college allowed them to put up great numbers, but a lot of coaches, scouts, and draft experts thought that their game wouldn’t translate as successfully to the NFL. .
This year’s green room castaway was the aforementioned Nebraska OLB/DE Randy Gregory. It should come as no surprise that he lasted to the second round of the draft given his weight fluctuation (he showed up at the NFL Combine in February weighing a paltry 235 pounds), he tested for marijuana at the Combine itself, and according to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Gregory came late for pre-draft meetings with some teams, while he no showed some others.
While Gregory who picked up 7 sacks last year, and was voted the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ Defense MVP in 2013, cost himself millions by falling out of the first round. While he could still blossom into the player his talents suggest he could be under the tutelage of noted Defensive Line Coach Rod Marinelli, there is also a big chance that the risks associated with Gregory come to fruition. For a team like the Cowboys who shockingly decided not to draft a running back at all over the three days, a second round pick could have been used to address another need on the roster.
4 Shane Ray
One of the draft’s top pass rushers, the Missouri product whose 14.5 sacks this past season set a school record, possess one of the quickest first steps of any player in the draft at his position. His high motor and active hands made him hard for offensive tackles to handle at the collegiate level. Unfortunately for Ray, he got pulled over last Monday (three days before the opening round of the draft) for speeding in Cooper County, Missouri. During the stop he was cited for possession of marijuana. As expected Ray who was expected to be a top 10 pick, fell all the way to the Denver Broncos who held the 23rd pick. While Ray was lucky enough to end up on a Super Bowl contending team that needs his services, and unlike Gregory he managed to stay in the 1st round, he also ended up costing himself some money in the process.
It has to be of some concern if Ray's poor decisions will follow him over the next year.
3 Phillip Dorsett
This isn't a knock on the player, but rather the situation. With the Colts' depth chart, it's hard to see Phillip Dorsett as the one making the big impact on the Colts and their Super Bowl aspirations. The reigning off-season champs have been getting better every season since the arrival of Andrew Luck. In 2012 Luck’s rookie season they lost in the Wild Card round to the eventual Super Bowl winners the Baltimore Ravens. In 2013 they lost in the Divisional round to the New England Patriots. This past season they advanced to the AFC Championship Game, but once again fell to the Pats who gashed the Colts on the ground by curtesy of 148 yards rushing yards and three TDs by running back LaGarrette Blount.
You would assume that the Colts would look to add some run defense in the draft. Instead of picking University of Texas run-stuffing DT Malcom Brown who also happened to be the best player available at that spot in the first round (29th overall), Indianapolis decided to select University of Miami wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. While the WR ran a remarkable 4.33 in the 40 yard dash at the combine, the Colts already have dynamic speedster and former Pro Bowler T.Y Hilton, the aforementioned Johnson, good looking 2nd year pass catcher Donte Moncrief, former CFL All-Star Duron Carter who happens to be the son of NFL Hall of Famer Cris Carter on the roster. While Dorsett has value, Brown does as well, and more importantly, he would have addressed a glaring need. The Colts better hope they don’t run into the Pats again come playoff time.
2 Arik Armstead
Just think Niner fans this time last year you guys had Jim Harbaugh, arguably your best head coach since George Seifert leading your team. You had career rushing and rushing TD leader Frank Gore leading your offense, and the best MLB in the game Patrick Willis leading your amazing as always defense. A lot of things have changed in 12 months. Willis has retired, Gore took his talents to Indy to chase a Super Bowl ring, and what could possibly be the stupidest move in all of professional sports, CEO Jed York agreed to mutually part ways with Harbaugh after the coach and general manager Trent Balkee who had reportedly been feuding for years, appeared to not be able to co-exist anymore.
While the 9ers had already drafted RB Carlos Hyde last year to be the heir apparent to Gore, San Fran needed to replace Willis, his backup Chris Borland a promising rookie who shocked by NFL by retiring after one season due to fear over potential heads injuries, and starting CBs Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver who left in free agency to The Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins respectively. With a total of 10 draft picks, including three in the fourth round, the 49ers went on to select zero MLBs and zero CBs.
Arik Armstead doesn't really address the needs the Niners had and while Jim Tomsula is a defensive line specialist, it's hard to see Armstead win snaps from his teammates. Again, this is probably more of a knock on the team than the player.
1 Jameis Winston
There's no doubt all our eyes will be glued to the screen when Jameis Winston leads the Buccaneers onto the field. However the impact he'll make, at least in his rookie season, is very difficult to gauge. His turnovers coming into the league are concern. There will inevitably be a lot of rookie mistakes, so it'll likely be a rough first year for Winston, who's joining a Bucs team still learning how to win.
The good news for Winston is he's going to a division in which its winner last year was 7-8-1. Who knows, maybe a losing record will still be good enough for Winston to lead his Bucs to the NFC South title.