25 Things to Watch During the 2015 NFL Draft
You might want to go grab a jacket -- it’s starting to feel a bit drafty in here!
If you’re like me, you’ve been counting down the 356 days, 8,544 hours, 512,640 minutes, or 30,758,400 seconds between Mr. Irrelevant Lonnie Ballentine being selected to close out last year’s festivities and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers officially going “on the clock” to begin this year’s NFL Draft. I can’t get enough of it, and I usually behave like a kid on Christmas morning when those first few selections are “unwrapped” for the first time.
Whether you’re a die-hard draft connoisseur like me, a casual fan just wanting to check out the new faces on your favorite team, or somewhere in between, here’s a list of 25 things to watch for at this year’s NFL Draft, beginning this Thursday April 30th at 8 PM Eastern. Enjoy!
1. The draft will be held outside New York City for the first time in 50 years. The first two days will be at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University and the third day will be outside at Grant Park, with a Draft Town complex set up splitting Grant Park and Congress Plaza. How will Chicago fare as a host?
2. Most people believe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will select quarterback Jameis Winston from Florida State with the number-one overall pick. However, he does have major maturity and off-the-field concerns, and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is about as clean as they come. They must take a signal-caller, as their Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play last year was -0.09, second worst in the league. (Our NEP metric quantifies a team’s production in comparison to expectation-level production.) Who will the Buccaneers choose to be the new face of their franchise?
3. The Tennessee Titans’ number-two overall selection is the first big pivot point in the draft. Do they stand pat and take the quarterback left on the board by Tampa? Do they stick with Zach Mettenberger (whose -8.99 Passing NEP ranked 56th out of 72 quarterbacks last year) and take a defensive player, possibly USC defensive end Leonard Williams? Or do they get a Robert Griffin III-esque haul from a team like Philadelphia or San Diego to move down?
4. Speaking of San Diego, Philip Rivers had another solid year (105.93 Passing NEP, ninth among quarterbacks) but has stated that he’s not interested in extending his contract before it expires after the season or moving his family to Los Angeles if that comes to fruition. Do the Chargers roll the dice and hope he changes his mind or include him in a trade to snag Mariota?
5. Presumed first and second overall picks and latest Heisman Trophy winners Winston and Mariota have both declined the NFL’s invitation to attend the draft in person, instead opting to stay at home with their families. Who will be the first player to walk up on stage and receive a bro-hug from Roger Goodell?
6. The 2014 draft produced one of the best wide receiver classes that the league has ever seen, which included Odell Beckham Jr. (118.01 Reception NEP, eighth out of 184 wide receivers), Mike Evans (100.3, 14th), Kelvin Benjamin (97.14, 15th), Sammy Watkins (89.99, 18th), and Brandin Cooks (41.58 through just 10 games) being selected in the first round and all having very impressive rookie seasons. This year, Amari Cooper, Kevin White, DeVante Parker, Breshad Perriman, Dorial Green-Beckham, Phillip Dorsett, Nelson Agholor, and Jaelen Strong are all projected to be selected very early. How many wide receivers will we see taken in Round 1?
7. The Vikings maintain that they want to keep running back Adrian Peterson in Minnesota and have yet to find a team willing to pony up a first round pick for the 30-year-old superstar. Will that change once a team is on the clock?
8. Edge-rushers are typically a trendy pick early in the draft, with NFL teams wanting more than ever to be able to get to the opposing quarterback on a consistent basis. Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr., Clemson’s Vic Beasley, and Kentucky’s Bud Dupree have seen their stock rise during the evaluation process -- which will be the first edge-rusher selected?
9. Going in the other direction, Nebraska’s Randy Gregory tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine, and Missouri’s Shane Ray was charged with marijuana possession just this Monday. Once, both were considered to be potential top-five picks. How far will these two pass rushers fall?
10. A running back has not been selected in the first round since 2012. This year’s class is extremely deep. Will we break the streak and finally see a first-round running back again?
11. Even if that does end up happening, we don’t know who it will be, as Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon are both competing to be the first running back selected. In the past couple of years, the presumed best prospect at the position didn’t end up being the first one taken. Which one will go higher, Gurley or Gordon?
12. Two words: Chip. Kelly. What will he do next?
13. As one of two teams with multiple first round picks, the Cleveland Browns have to start getting some of these picks right. This is the third year in the last four that they’ve had multiple first rounders, but the last two haven’t gone so well -- 2012 draftees Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden are no longer with the team and are barely hanging on in the league, Justin Gilbert is dealing with personal issues, and Johnny Manziel is fresh out of rehab. Will the Browns finally nail these two picks?
14. With off-the-field missteps dominating the NFL headlines over the past year, players with character concerns continue to get pushed down draft boards and even removed completely from some. Two of this year’s top on-field talents, Washington cornerback Marcus Peters and Missouri/Oklahoma wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, were dismissed from their college teams: Peters for arguing with assistant coaches and Green-Beckham for three incidents including two marijuana arrests and allegedly pushing a young woman down several stairs. Will NFL teams let their talents outweigh their personal issues, or will they fall far because of them?
15. Alabama has become the new Miami, a draft pick factory, currently maintaining a five-year streak of having at least two players selected in the first round. We know Amari Cooper will be one, but will safety Landon Collins stay in the first round and allow the Crimson Tide to continue the streak?
16. For most of the year, Cooper has been the overwhelming favorite to be the first receiver off the board. However, West Virginia’s Kevin White had a phenomenal season and is now considered a 1B to Cooper’s 1A. Will White end up leaping him in the end or will Cooper still be the first wide receiver selected?
17. The New England Patriots have the last pick in the first round, but have been known throughout the years to make several draft-day trades to maximize the value of their selections. How many trades will Bill Belichick make this year?
18. Three more words: Mel. Kiper's. Hair.
19. Ryan Grigson has been very aggressive since becoming the general manager of the Colts, with an all-in attitude and a propensity to trade draft picks for established NFL talent. They dealt their 2013 second-round pick to Miami for cornerback Vontae Davis and their 2014 first-round pick to Cleveland for running back Trent Richardson. Will Indianapolis select all college players or will they deal one or more of their picks for an NFL veteran? Evan Mathis, anyone?
20. We know without a shadow of a doubt that Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota will be the first two quarterbacks selected, but no clear favorite has emerged to be the third. UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Baylor’s Bryce Petty, Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson, and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion have all been mentioned, but every evaluator has a different opinion on the group. Who will be the third quarterback selected, and how high will he be taken?
21. The Steelers had a fantastic year offensively in 2014, with running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown leading their respective positions in Total NEP -- 82.85 and 153.26, respectively -- and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (151.31) finishing third at his. However, their defense ranked 27th overall in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play at 0.08. Will Pittsburgh draft any offensive players at all, or will they use every selection on the defensive side of the ball?
22. The Texans lost a legend this offseason when wide receiver Andre Johnson was released and signed with the division rival Colts. Even though his Reception NEP per target in 2014 was the lowest of his entire career at 0.38, his absence will create a void in the locker room and on the field. DeAndre Hopkins (0.76 Reception NEP per target) looks ready to take over, but what other reinforcements will the Texans bring in via the draft to help their depleted receiving corps?
23. While we’re on the topic of replacing legends, the 49ers lost a big one when middle linebacker Patrick Willis surprisingly called it quits at the age of 30. Playing in a 3-4 defense that requires two middle linebackers, Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Chris Borland was poised to step up in his place next to stalwart Navarro Bowman. But then Borland -- even more surprisingly -- retired at the age of 24, leaving San Francisco with a gaping hole in the middle of their defense. Who will they bring in during the draft to replace their two retired studs?
24. Even though the Super Bowl runners-up have the latest first pick of any team this year at number 63 overall (thanks to the Jimmy Graham trade), the Seahawks strangely also have the most selections in the draft with 11. This gives Pete Carroll and John Schneider the flexibility to maneuver a bit to their liking. Will they trade back into the first round with all of their ammunition?
25. There were an abundance of new coaches -- Dan Quinn in Atlanta, Rex Ryan in Buffalo, Gary Kubiak in Denver, Jack Del Rio in Oakland, Jim Tomsula in San Francisco, John Fox in Chicago, and Todd Bowles in New York -- and general managers -- Scot McCloughan in Washington, Ryan Pace in Chicago, and Mike Maccagnan in New York -- hired this offseason. They’ll all be looking to make their mark and establish an identity, so keep an eye on these teams. How will they approach their first drafts with their new organizations?