The NFL scouting combine has concluded and the 2015 NFL Draft is just over a month away, with the players’ pro days the only thing left to improve their stock, it’s time to get geared up and take a look at some possible positions of strength and weakness in this year’s draft class.
With scoring continuing to grow at a record pace in the NFL, sacks continuing their downward trend, as well, and the increase in pass interference and defensive holding calls, many teams will be looking for a neutralizing force in the form of elite pass rushers to counter the recent trend. This should be a great draft class to bolster team’s pass rush as there’s likely to be multiple edge rushers taken within the first 10 picks this year.
Some notable names from the group include Randy Gregory (Nebraska), Shane Ray (Missouri), and Vic Beasley (Clemson), who may all see their name called before the top half of the 1st round is complete. And beyond the big names, there’s also great value to be had in some of the second their rushers like Alvin “Bud” Dupree (Kentucky), Dante Fowler (Florida), Leonard Floyd (Georgia), Hau’oli Kikaha (Washington), Eric Striker (Oklahoma), Mario Edwards (Florida State), Trey Flowers (Arkansas), Shilique Calhoun (Michigan State), Markus Golden (Missouri), Nate Orchard (Utah), and Lorenzo Mauldin (Louisville). All are considered 4-3 defensive ends/3-4 outside rushers who could hear their names called in the first two rounds of April’s draft.
After the pass rushing group, another strong position in this year’s draft is the wide receivers. Many teams view this as an exceptionally deep class, with not much drop-off from the top to second tier of players. Alabama’s Amari Cooper tops the wide receiver class with his elite route running and quickness in and out of breaks. After that comes Kevin White from West Virginia, the speedster who basically caught every catchable ball this season and made some big time plays when the Mountaineers needed him to. After those two there’s still some elite value to be had at the position with names like DeVante Parker (Louisville), Jaelen Strong (Arizona State), and Dorial Green-Beckham (Oklahoma). All of these players have the ability to make an instant impact in their first NFL seasons and contribute immediately.
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At the opposite end of the spectrum, both the group of tight ends and safeties lack depth this year. Only one tight end figures to be a possible first round candidate, and that’s 6’4”, 250 lbs, Maxx Williams from Minnesota. And some still consider him a reach in the first.
Mike Manock of NFL Network and Jon Price of Sports Information Traders said, ““Maxx Williams would be the only guy that could be considered a late [first-round pick]. I see him as a second round pick, but he’s a good receiving tight end. I like him a lot as an athlete,” Manock explained. Williams caught 36 balls for 569 yards and 8 touchdowns last year as a Junior for the Minnesota Gophers. After him there’s a slight drop-off to the second tier, with names like Clive Walford (Miami) and Nick O’Leary (Florida State) likely to be taken in the 2nd or 3rd rounds.
A similar story for the safeties in this year’s class. The group is lead by Alabama’s Landon Collins, who according to many analysts is the only true safety with a first round grade. Even if he is the only first round quality safety, that doesn’t mean he’ll be the only one called before the conclusion of the first round. Washington’s Shaq Thompson is also considered an early 2nd to late 1st round talent that a team could reach for based on need, but some scouts see him as too bulky to play safety in the NFL and instead view him as a linebacker prospect.
The rest of the positions seem a bit top heavy to most. The quarterback group has Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcuz Mariota head and shoulders above the rest. And a similar story for the running backs with Todd Gurley from Georgia and Melvin Gordon from Wisconsin the only two backs with a chance at being taken in the late first or early second. The offensive line is also considered an average group this year, with no franchise grade left guards, but some solid prospects to build upon.
Find rookies that can come in and contribute from day one is what separates the perennial contenders from the perennial losers each year in the NFL, and it seems as though teams looking for edge rushers and wide receivers may have plenty to choose from to bolster their lineup. We’ll see how it all pans out on April 30th when the 2015 NFL Draft gets started and see how this year’s crop of talent develop into the next wave of NFL stars.