Re-Evaluating the 2015 first round

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers

By Oliver Connolly, Editor-In-Chief

With fourteen weeks of games, and tape, now in the books it is time to look back at last year’s draft and in particular the first round. I’m going to compare my draft night notes from the ‘instant reaction’ piece I wrote to how the players have played thus far.

As we gear up for the 2016 Draft it is important to look back at previous years and evaluate your own evaluations rather than simply march onto the next year. This is not intended to be self-indulgent, but more an analysis upon my analysis and of the play of the rookie crop. You can view the original instant reaction piece here, or view more detailed scouting reports from my 2015 top-100.

As always, it’s important to note that we can often get carried away with rookie years, for both good and bad, a players rookie campaign, and my thoughts upon that campaign, are not referendums on the player’s career or talent. Indeed, the likes of Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, Dante Fowler and D.J. Humphries have yet to play a snap.

1 – Tampa Bay – Jameis Winston, QB

Then: In my opinion he’s the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. He steps into a situation where he can win, win big and win big immediately. With a Lovie Smith coached defense, Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and a growing offensive line (needs to be addressed rounds 2-7) the Bucs are set for lift off. He’s going to get into the Bucs facility on Monday and galvanise everyone. He’s a leader and a winner. He’ll lead and win at the next level.

Now: In my pre-draft report I called Jameis Winston the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck and through week fourteen I’d deem that to be fair and not at all hyperbolic.

Winston has been everything the Bucs could have asked for and more. He has galvanised and revitalized a franchise that has never truly had a franchise quarterback. Off the field he is saying all the right things and doing all the right things.

On the field, he has been exemplary. He’s demonstrated elite arm talent, football courage, the ability to diagnose coverages and throw with anticipation, a trait rarely seen in rookie starters.

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His ability to throw downfield, with velocity, quality ball placement and before receivers break, is beyond his years. Moreover, I’ve been impressed by his ability to extend plays. At Florida State he demonstrated this consistently, but you often wonder how this will translate to the pro-level. Will the player become gun-shy behind a weak offensive line? Or will he stand in there, extend plays with his legs, keep his eyes downfield and makes plays with both his legs and arm. Winston has done the latter.

On the negative side, pre-draft concerns of attempting throws that aren’t there remain, but there has been far greater upside than there has downside. He has led the Bucs back to relevancy with a 6-7 record so far this season, one game below .500 and second place in the NFC South. Tampa could not have asked for more.

2 – Tennessee – Marcus Mariota, QB

Then: The Titans land their franchise quarterback after turning down a number of trade offers that included some mega deals. Mariota’s a special player who can stress defenses on the run and from the pocket. He can shred teams with his arm or legs, he’s a workout warrior and an unbelievable team-mate. The key question, can he (and Ken Whisenhunt) adapt their styles to find an offense that suits both coach and quarterback? Whisenhunt has adjusted his style before and Mariota ran more pro concepts at Oregon than he’s been given credit for. He’s going to be a great player.

Now: Mariota has been terrific in his first year in Tennesssee. All the pre-draft traits have carried over to the next level; a quick release, quick decision-making, playing with rhythm, elite athleticism, making plays inside and outside the pocket and great accuracy. Unfortunately for him he has been hamstrung by a series of inept decisions and decision-makers. His head coach has been fired, he’s surrounded by, perhaps, the worst group of offensive personnel in the league and has very, very little to work with.

I find it unfair to make any real negative comments towards his play in year one. There are some check-down concerns, though it’s hard to gauge given the talent protecting him and those attempting to catch passes. Titans fans must hope for a Derek Carr like offseason and leap in year-two.

Carr, like Mariota, was surrounded by nothing in his rookie season and was himself a check down machine. The Raiders went out and hired Jack Del Rio and surrounded Carr with talent, securing a Pro Bowl calibre guard, center and spending money and draft equity on Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. That’s the model for Tennessee heading into year two; find the right coach and surround Marcus Mariota with protection and weapons.

In year-two I expect a big leap, building upon the flashes we’ve seen in his rookie campaign.

3 – Jacksonville – Dante Fowler Jr, DE

Then: Fowler was the premier edge threat in this draft. He’s a perfect fit for what head coach Gus Bradley is looking for. He’s a hybrid (leo) DE/OLB who can line up all over the defensive formation and can get to the quarterback with a great first step, speed to power and a variety of pass rushing moves (bull, swim, spin). What I love about Fowler is his mentality to attack the run and pass. He’s an aggressive player who loves football and loves to light people up.

Now: Boy, how the Jaguars would love to have Fowler right now. Gus Bradley’s defense has been mauled all season long and relied on their explosive offense to keep their season alive. Jacksonville is giving up 6.5 net yards per pass attempt (19th in the league) and rank 20th in adjusted sack rate. They just don’t get to the quarterback enough. Dante Fowler should drastically change that, the way modern ligament tears are treated I’m confident that he will return to his former explosive self and have a major impact for the Jaguars in 2016 and beyond.

4 – Oakland – Amari Cooper, WR

Then: Amari Cooper is an isolation receiver who can align anywhere, draw double-teams and reveal coverages. Derek Carr gets a new, franchise, weapon who carried an average Alabama offense in 2014. Cooper’s an exceptional route runner with great hands and underrated speed. He’s not a true burner on the watch, but he’s quicker on the tape than the likes of Kevin White and Breshad Perriman due to his ability to get in and out of breaks.

Now: Cooper has had a very good start to his Raiders career, posting four 100-yard receiving games and being an instrumental cog in the development of Derek Carr. There are some drop concerns and down the field tracking problems. But the route running, crispness and chemistry with Carr is self-evident.

5 – Washington – Brandon Scherff, OG

Then: The safest bet in the draft. Scherff will be a pro bowler wherever he starts; at right tackle, guard or left tackle. He’s an outstanding run blocker who takes pleasure in pummelling edge rushers. Paired opposite Trent Williams the Redskins now have bookend tackles and can now go about evaluating their quarterback spot. I thought they may moved back and gathered assets but it’s a fantastic pick.

Now: Brandon Scherff was a symbol of the Redskins new build. They’re looking to build inside to outside with tough players. Scherff may not have been the safest pick but he has been good in his rookie campaign. Starting at right tackle early in the pre-season he struggled with pure speed-rushers and against explosive edge players. The Redskins moved him inside due to necessity and have since kept him their due to the quality of his play as well as that of Morgan Moses at tackle.

Scherff excels in the run game and likes to play in a phone box where he can get his hands on players and drive open huge holes. In the passing game he has real work to do. Too often he lacks situational awareness and peels off his blocks far too late. As a downhill run blocker he has been as good as expected, but there needs to be strides taken in pass protection.

6 – New York – Leonard Williams, DE

Then: I hate grades but this is an A+ pick. He’s the best player in the entire class a 300lb 5-technique who’ll dominate the POA, shedding blockers at will and shutting down the run.

The Jets front, as scary as it already was, just became the best front in the league. I honestly can’t believe he fell to six. He is a scheme versatile player who can move all over the defensive front and play as a 3-technique, 5-technique or over the center nose tackle. He never has to come off the field. Great player and an absolute steal.

Now: Muhammed Wilkerson may be the star of the Jets defensive front and their best player this season but Leonard Williams has been just as important for Todd Bowles and his team.

Williams has played 73.3% of the Jets defensive snaps and lined up all over the defense. His ability as a run defender is well documented; he can man-handle anyone at the point of attack, find the ball and continually stuff the run. The key question with Williams was could he generate enough of a pass rush from either the edge, or the interior, to be worthy of a top-ten pick? He was, in my opinion, the best player in the draft class but football is about value. Great run defenders are essential, but great edge rushers are more difficult to find and it’s difficult to justify taking a defensive lineman in the top-ten if he does not get after the quarterback.

Through fourteen weeks Williams has answered those questions emphatically. He has been every bit the pass rusher he has the run stuffer, if not better. He rushes from the edge, inside on sub-packages, from unique alignments and gets to the quarterback in multiple ways; he explodes with outstanding short area quickness, can bench press guards and use a variety of pass rushing moves (bull, swim, spin).

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Todd Bowles continues to show he can get the best out of individual defensive players and defensive units as a whole. In Williams he has a fun toy who has All Pro upside and has been fantastic as a rookie.

7 – Chicago – Kevin White, WR

Then: White is a big time play maker who’s a dynamic threat whenever the ball is in his hands. He has an immense catching radius and an innate ability to go up and get it. He reminds me of Julio Jones; He can stretch the field, high point the ball and dominate at the point of the catch. He is a big, physical receiver and bullies corners in press coverage. Paired alongside Alshon Jeffrey the Bears now have one of the best one-two punches in the league.

Now: Unfortunately for the Bears and neutral fans we haven’t been able to see White all season and we won’t for the remainder of the year following the news on Tuesday that he will be shut down for the remainder of the season.

White is an explosive player and the Bears are right to treat his surgery and recovery cautiously.

8 – Atlanta – Vic Beasley, DE

Then: Beasley is a great athlete but I’m not a huge fan of the pick. He’s a sub package player who the Falcons took with a top-ten pick. Beasley is allergic to the run and doesn’t want to fall at the bottom of the pile. But I do love him as a speed edge-rusher. He’s not a great speed to power player but he has an elite first step and a terrific motor.

Now: Beasley reminds me of early Chandler Jones. He is not a speed-to-power edge-rusher in the ilk of Khalil Mack or Ziggy Ansah. He is a pass rushing specialists who wins with his first step and will need to learn to improve on tackle-end stunts, as well as develop his pass rushing moves and counter moves, in order to consistently generate pressure.

Through week-fourteen of the season I would consider him a disappointment as a first year player. Beasley has played 50% of the Falcons defensive snaps due to his inability against the run. He needs to add weight, but you cannot add effort. Jones should be Beasley’s development model; he’s a speed rusher who is now right near the top of the league in terms of sacks and he’s constantly on the field due to his effort and intelligence in the run game. Jones is not a great run defender but he’s willing, he chases down the backside of plays, sets the edge and does the dirty work to setup third and long situations that enable him to unleash his speed-rush and get after the quarterback. That sort of development is exactly what the Falcons will be looking for from Beasley.

9 – New York – Ereck Flowers, OT

Then: Flowers is my favourite tackle in this class (I see Scherff as a guard). He’s an absolute monster of a human being – 6-6, 329. People at his size just don’t move as well as he does. Flowers is a passionate leader who demands everything from his team mates and leads by example on and off the field. He’s a huge, powerful, run blocker and he continues to improve his mirroring and hands in pass protection. He’s a right tackle on day one but I do think he has the natural talent and relentless aggression to play on the left side down the road.

Now: It’s important to avoid recency bias, but these players are all developing so their latest start should give us a glimpse as to where they are in that development. Monday night’s Giants/Dolphins game was Flowers’ best of the campaign, until he struggled with an ankle injury once again. Flowers’ rookie season has not been a pretty sight. He has been forced to play left tackle and often gone up against the opposition best pass rusher where he has just been bullied week-to-week. It’s been a baptism of fire and the Giants will have to hope (unlike second year man Greg Robinson) that Flowers will be better for it in the long run.

10 – St. Louis – Todd Gurley, RB

Then: I Love this pick. Gurley is an elite prospect who runs like a combination of Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch. He’s a between the tackles runner with elite top end speed and vision.

His IQ and anticipation are off the charts. Behind the Rams offensive line, which I’m sure they’ll address on day two and three, he’ll be a pro bowler early and often.

Now: What can you say about Todd Gurley that has not already been said?

He is a franchise running back and may already be a top-five back in a clustered, average, running back league. Everything he showed in college has converted to the next level; speed, acceleration, vision, patience and power. He is the perfect combination of size, speed and power. If he’s healthy he could be an all time great.

11 – Minnesota – Trae Waynes, CB

Then: I had Marcus Peters as my #1 corner but it was close. Waynes’ is a lockdown one half of the field corner. He’s a press corner who can get grabby when playing off man. He’s a perfect fit for Mike Zimmer’s base cover-3 defense, that now boasts; Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes. The Vikings secondary is loaded.

Now: Waynes has really struggled to get on the field for long stretches this season (played 19% of snaps) but has played in recent weeks due to the Vikings raft of injuries. He is an exceptional athlete who has a ways to go in his development. Due to his limited playing time it’s unfair to make any major judgements.

12 – Cleveland – Danny Shelton, DT

Then: Shelton is a perfect two-gapping nose tackle for Mike Pettine’s system. He’s a dominant run stopper at the POA and is a safe bet in the trenches, which is what the Browns really needed. He’s flashed the ability to collapse the pocket but is still a work in progress as a pass rusher. However, he’ll make his name (and money) with his ability to manoeuvre lineman at will and stuff the run.

Now: Like Washington, the Browns wanted to get back to basics during the 2015 offseason. Build inside-out, control the line of scrimmage and get powerful. So far this season Danny Shelton has been a big disappointment. He struggled in college to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback and has been non-existent in the NFL as a player who may collapse the pocket. Most of his value came as a run defender and he has struggled there in year-one. Shelton was the type of pick intended to have a noticeable first year impact and he hasn’t. This pick, along with the three other first round selections in the past two drafts, will likely cost general manager Ray Farmer his job.

13 – New Orleans – Andrus Peat, OT

Then: The best pure left tackle on my board and in this class. He’s a prototypical blindside protector with great length and athletic ability. He’s a work in progress who has flimsy hands (does not pack a punch) and needs to continue to work on his feet. He’ll start on the right side and joins a line that features; Terron Armstead, Senio Kelemete, Max Unger, Jahri Evans and Zach Strieff. It’s a perfect match for Peat who can either start or wait his turn and go when he’s ready.

Now: Peat was the best pure left tackle prospect in last years class. He has the athletic ability and length to play isolated on the left side of the line naturally, whereas the likes of Ereck Flowers have been forced to play there in their rookie season despite naturally fitting more as right tackles.

With Terron Armstead, perhaps the best at the position in the league, the Saints were being spoiled when they selected Peat. He was a work in progress and they had no need to throw him to the wolves on the left side of the line.

In the past few weeks Peat has been at left guard alongside Armstead. It appears the long term approach is to get Peat as many reps as possible, while not costing the team and having him struggle at right tackle, and eventually kick him outside where the Saints hope to have book end tackles who they can isolate on islands and allow them to create double-teams inside and make it easier for Drew Brees, or whoever is playing quarterback in the future, to climb the pocket and be sufficiently protected. 

14 – Miami – DeVante Parker, WR

Then: DeVante Parker is AJ Green 2.0. He shows an elite ability to go up and get the ball in contested situations. He’s a red zone nightmare with a huge catching radius. He stretches the field vertically and, for me, was the best receiver in the class at catching footballs with poor ball location. Nice fit for Ryan Tannehill.

Now: DeVante Parker has fought injuries all season but when he’s been healthy he’s flashed the kind of ability that made him a top-15 pick. He has an innate ability to climb the ladder and make, tough, contested catches and make important plays downfield or in the redzone. He needs to get healthy and remain healthy consistently. He entered the league with lingering foot concerns and we can only hope those are not chronic issues that routinely keep him out.

15 – San Diego – Melvin Gordon, RB

Then: Great player, great fit, great pick. Gordon is a violent, nasty, zone runner. He has a lethal jump cut and could end up being even better than Todd Gurley. He has elite vision, world-class speed, an ability to get in and out of creases and he’s willing to do the dirty work between the tackles and in pass protection. He’s more of an outside the tackle runner but it’s a wonderful fit with head coach Mike McCoy and change-up back Danny Woodhead.

Now: Wow, what a mess this has been. Now, I do think Gordon should get 10% of a reprieve from all the negativity coming his way due to the abomination they’re calling an ‘offensive line’ in San Diego and the terrible stench hanging over that entire organization.

However, there’s a fair share of blame that needs to go around everyone involved with this pick.

Put simply, Gordon has not been a fit, has not played well, has lacked explosion and continually turned the ball over when given the chance. It’s been a mess of a first season and he’s been far and away the biggest disappointment of the rookie class (and that includes guys who’ve yet to see the field).

16 – Houston – Kevin Johnson, CB

Then: I didn’t see this pick coming. I thought the Texans would go wide receiver or defensive line. Johnson has the best movement skills in the class. He’s a great athlete with good instincts. His biggest issues are his size and frame as well as his eye discipline. He often gets caught staring in the backfield and bites on double moves and pump fakes.

Now: Johnson fits the speed and length culture the Texans are looking to build, specifically on defense. He’s a rangy player who’s not too physical at the line of scrimmage but has a good break on the ball and, due to his length, can make plays other corners physically cannot. His terrific mirroring and movement skills have been evident all season and he’s beginning to show his down-to-down effectiveness. He’s not a game-changing playmaker but is extremely talented and has improved immensely as the year has gone on.

17 – San Francisco – Arik Armstead, DE

Then: My favourite team/player fit in the draft. The number eleven overall player on my board. He’s a complete physical freak who’s extremely raw and he flashes hot and cold. He’s a prototypical 5-technique who plays with immense leverage and has great instincts in the run game. He’s flexible for a 6-7 player and he has the raw tools to be a special player vs the pass if he’s coached up.

Now: 49ers fans appeared to be panicking midway through the season as Armstead was struggling to have any significant impact. But since the 49ers win over Atlanta he has been playing at an outstanding level. Armstead’s physical presence is reminiscent of Calais Campbell, he’s so big and makes so many plays, that he leaps of the screen on each snap. His game vs Cleveland this past Sunday may have been his best yet. He was consistently generating pressure, penetrating the Browns line and dropped Johnny Manziel for a sack.

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Armstead has just two sacks on the season but I expect that number to explode in 2016, similar to Khalil Mack this year.

18 – Kansas City – Marcus Peters, CB

Then: I was taken aback by this pick, like everyone I thought it’d be a receiver or Cameron Erving. However, Peters was the number one corner on my board. He’s a true press man corner who will be an impact player in year one if he sorts his attitude out and concentrates on football. The Chiefs are a great organisation with a great work environment. It’s a gamble pick but they gambled on the best player at his position.

Now: Right now, Peters is the favorite to walk away with defensive rookie of the years honors. Of course, the interception numbers leap of the screen but Peters has been more than that. He is a prototypical press corner who likes to get up at the line of scrimmage, put his hands on receivers and battle them downfield. He has played many games without having safety help shaded his way and has been a huge defensive playmaker for the Chiefs who have turned their season around and  seemed destined for the playoffs.

Peters’ was the number one cornerback on my board heading into the draft and I believe, in terms of ability, he likely was for most people. His biggest issues were those off the field that saw him booted out of Washington. Through his rookie year we have not heard a peep out of Peters away form the team facility. Who you are drafted by is more important than the number in which you are drafted. Peters was selected by an organization with adults and veterans of the NFL. He has been remarkable in his first year and certainly receives my vote for DROTY.

19 – Cleveland – Cameron Erving, C

Then: I love this pick. I wanted the Browns to go offensive line and they did. It’s interesting that they went with Erving who can play any position along the line. Now they have a loaded offensive line with Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Joel Bitonio and now Erving. Of course, they need offensive weapons but the Browns have to build inside out and they have grabbed two lineman in round one. Erving also offers the Browns protection for the future with franchise center, Alex Mack, able to opt-out of his contract at the end of next year.

Now: Frankly, Erving has been a mess this year. The Browns have not known what to do with him. He was embarrassed vs the Steelers being utterly dominated by Cameron Heyward, consistently committing penalties and being moved around. As we stand Erving has been re-benched by head coach Mike Pettine after struggling mightily at left guard. There’s a chance that the front office steps in and we see Erving again this season, but he has not earned it.

20 – Philadelphia – Nelson Agholor, WR

Then: Chip Kelly’s run on PAC-12 players continues. Agholor is the best route runner in the class not named Amari Cooper. He can line up anywhere; in the slot, the backfield, outside the numbers and can return punts/kicks. He’s a deadly after the catch threat and will be a force in the bubble screen game.

Now: Last week proved that Nelson Agholor is indeed alive. He has been targeted over five times just twice this entire season.

Agholor is an after the catch threat and deep threat who can split safeties in the middle of the filed or beat corners with double-moves. It hasn’t worked out in his rookie year in Philly but given the right quarterback and more opportunities I still believe he can be a big-time playmaker.

21 – Cincinnati – Cedric Ogbuehi, OT

Then: Ogbuehi tore his ACL and he’s continuing to rehab it. He has a lot of upside and potential but he needs to continue to work on his hands and balance against speed to power moves. Ogbuehi has great feet and eyes and is a force as pulling tackle and at the second level. It’s a long-term pick.

Now: The Bengals shelved Ogbuehi early. They have drafted and developed so well in the past five years that they were able to select Ogbuehi, a Pro Bowl talent with a torn ACL, at #21 with no pressure to try to rush him back. It will be interesting to see how he fares next season and whether the Bengals are willing to let tackle Andre Smith walk and start Ogbuehi immediately.

22 – Pittsburgh – Alvin ‘Bud’ Dupree, OLB

Then: The Steelers have to revamp their defense and it starts with Dupree who slid down the board. Dupree is a powerful, gifted, athlete who’s extremely versatile and athletic. He is inconsistent and can struggle at the POA. But he’s explosive and a big time effort player who leaves everything on the field. To me, he’s a perfect Steeler and I couldn’t think of a better fit for him.

Now: Dupree has been under the radar for Pittsburgh this year and just this week was elevated to being a starter. It’s clear that he remains a work in progress, particularly as a pass rusher, but he will regularly deliver ‘wow’ plays using raw athletic ability and overwhelming power at the point of attack. Becoming consistent is the key for Dupree, the Steelers have a number of young players who ‘flash’ and finding down-to-down consistency is what the Steelers need going forward.

23 – Denver – Shane Ray, OLB

Then: A great value pick for the Broncos who moved up to go get their guy. They now have two of the most elite first steps in football in Ray and Von Miller. Ray’s an exceptional athlete with another world first step.

He’s stout at the POA and crushes people when he arrives in the pocket. The biggest concern with Ray is his play against length. He struggles against longer offensive lineman and if he doesn’t win with that initial burst. He’ll likely be a sub-package edge rusher in year one but he has the ability to play every down as he’s a more than willing run defender and has an outstanding motor and closing burst. The other concern is obviously the off the field stuff. Ray has had trouble with drugs and a toe injury.

Now: Ray was brought into Denver to be a sub-package player and supplement a pass rush that featured Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. With DeMarcus Ware battling injuries Ray fell back in the pecking order, behind Shaquil Barrett who has been terrific for the Broncos. Ray plays limited snaps for Denver, traditionally between 25-35 a game, and is tasked with pressuring the pocket and rushing the quarterback. He has done a solid job in year-one but there are few signs of development. He still wins purely with his first step and has yet to display any evidence of a pass rushing arsenal, counter moves or the ability to hold up in the run game. His first step is lethal though and he has three sacks on the season. I traditionally don’t like teams taking sub-package guys in the first round, but Ray has game-changing ability as a pass rushing specialist and those players are extremely tough to find.

24 – Arizona – D.J. Humphries, OT

Then: The Cardinals have gone out of their way to get more physical in a tough division. Humphries is a good fit on an offensive line that was blown off the ball consistently in 2014. He’s a great kick and slide player in the run game and a natural pass protector, who was excellent head to head vs Shane Ray.

Now: The Cardinals have effectively redshirted Humphries in his first year, sitting him behind Bobby Massie on the depth chart. The coaches rave about his development and are consistent in their want for stability along the offensive line (though Massie has been a turnstile at RT) I’m excited to see his development in 2016, or if he’s thrust into action at the back-end of this season.

25 – Carolina – Shaq Thompson, LB

Then: There were lots of great prospects still available to the Panthers at twenty-five. Breshad Perriman, Malcolm Brown, Philip Dorsett and Thompson who they selected. I had Thompson higher on my board than most because I love his versatility as an OLB or safety and what he can do for the Panthers defensive alignment who already play a lot of two-man linebacker combinations. It’s a surprise because of their needs at tackle and receiver. However, they loved Cedric Ogbuehi and La’El Collins at twenty-five and it’s possible the Collins news changed their thinking. A risky pick but it has great upside.

Now: As I say above, the Panthers ideally wanted to select Cedric Ogbuehi (taken by the Bengals) or La’El Collins (questioned by police in connection with a murder the day before the draft). Collins was cleared of any wrong doing, went undrafted and has gone on to display top-five like talent in Dallas.

Instead, the Panthers gambled on Shaq Thompson as a hybrid player who excels as a coverage linebacker. Thompson has missed some time due to injury, but when he plays he has been very effective in helping Carolina nullify up-tempo and spread offenses. He is a versatile player who likes playing in space, covering tight ends, running sideline-to-sideline and making big plays. As Thomas Davis ages, Thompson is being groomed to takeover in the middle of the Panthers 4-2-5 defense alongside Luke Kuechly.

26 – Baltimore – Breshad Perriman, WR

Then: The Ravens grab an elite height-weight-speed outside receiver. He ran a 4.2 dead at his pro day at 6-2, 212. That’s just unheard off. He had a worrying drop rate in 2014 and he was inconsistent on the simple plays but he makes the most acrobatic, impossible, catches series after series. He has the chance to be a superstar opposite Steve Smith and with Joe Flacco’s arm talent. Look for him to be a year one vertical threat while they refine his route and combination running.

Now: Yet another played shelved for the season. The Ravens have had devastating luck with injury this year and it all kicked off with Perriman. How he rebounds from injury will be fascinating, unlike the other names who have missed the entire campaign, Perriman’s sole value is in big-plays, down the field, due to raw athletic ability. He doesn’t play in the post or run crisp routes and nor does he make each and every catch reliably. He is charged with stretching the field, creating underneath zones and making big plays downfield or in the screen game. If his injury has cost him any of his elite athleticism it will be a major problem for his future and the Ravens.

27 – Dallas – Byron Jones, CB

Then: Jones fits a need for the Cowboys. Jones is an elite press corner prospect. He can get grabby when he plays off man. I love his ability in the run/bubble screen game. He’s not always right but he’s willing, physical and he makes plays. He also offers versatility as a free safety where he may start his career or playing inside in the slot.

Now: Jones has been a flat-out stud in Dallas. He lines up all over the field; at free safety, outside the numbers as a press corner and in the slot. Marcus Peters has received many of the nods for DROTY, but had Dallas had Tony Romo for the entirety of the season and been in the playoff mix, more attention would have been paid to Jones. Though I hate writing ‘re-drafts’ were we to do one just 14 games into these players careers, Jones would be the second corner off the board and likely a top-ten pick. His is an extraordinary athlete, with gifted movement skills, an incredible closing burst on the ball and improving instincts at all three spots.

28 – Detroit – Laken Tomlinson, G

Then: The Lions crushed this. They got a talented guard, and the player they wanted, while moving back and gathering assets. He’s a powerful player who moves the pile and gets off the ball extremely well. They added Manny Ramirez in the Denver trade and now have; Riley Reiff, Travis Swanson, Larry Warford, LaAdrian Waddle, Ramirez and Tomlinson to choose from and plug into the best line possible. They may even add a RT in rounds two or three. Not a glamorous pick but a pick that improves their football team.

Now: Tomlinson was a disaster to start the season but since the Lions changed their offensive staff there has been a noticeable increase in his play, the entire Lions offensive line and the entire Lions offense.

29 – Indianapolis – Phillip Dorsett, WR

Then: I love Dorsett as a player he’s basically T.Y. Hilton. But to me it doesn’t make a great deal of sense. The Colts need help on their offensive line and defense and they had their pick of Landon Collins, Malcolm Brown, Randy Gregory or any tackle they wanted. Again, I love Dorsett and he’ll be great for them but they missed a chance to balance their team where they could have found another really talented wide receiver later in the draft.

Now: I disliked the pick at the time and it looks even worse the further we get away from it. The Colts failed to address their offensive line or lack of pass rush by selecting another receiver and a receiver who has played just 14.8% of the Colts offensive snaps. When you total up this pick with the players that were available and Ryan Grigson’s (GM) previous selections; trading a first round pick for Trent Richardson (out of football) and Bjorn Werner (14.6% of snaps) I don’t know how you could allow Grigson to spend your next first round pick and how he can keep his job.

30 – Green Bay – Damarious Randall, S

Then: I’m not a big Randall fan even though he flew up draft boards in the past month. He’s a great cover safety and easily the best in a poor safety class, he has good instincts and ball skills. But to me he’s just not physical enough. Though he’ll be sensational in the slot and matching up on running backs, the Packers need to get better and more physical in the middle and it’s something they’ll have to address through the remainder of the class.

Now: I was down on the Randall pick because I viewed him as a project player and the Packers are in the midst of a championship run that needs to take advantage of Aaron Rodgers’ prime. However, Randall has been a significant contributor in year-one and played very well. He’s played 68% of the Packers defensive snaps and has been every bit as effective as Kevin Johnson and Marcus Peters.

31 – New Orleans – Stephone Anthony, ILB

Then: I like Anthony but he’s the third inside linebacker on my board. He’s a downhill thumper with good instincts and great sideline to sideline range. He has a tendency to guess and over pursue. but he’s an elite athlete who can cover and get to the backfield from the interior.

Now: Anthony has greatly exceeded my expectations as a rookie. He is a down the hill gap shooter who consistently find himself in the backfield, making plays and hunting running backs sideline to sideline. He continues to over pursue and it can be costly against backside cuts but there has been far more positive than negative for the Saints. He’s been one of the only bright spots on a horrendous defense.

32 – New England – Malcom Brown, DT

Then: The Patriots had an embarrassment of riches to choose from with the last pick in the first round. Malcom Brown is a steal at thirty-two. He’s a big time run stopping defensive tackle who’ll immediately command double teams. He’s flashed the ability to generate pressure on the interior and collapse the pocket. But his best ability and main assignment is to command double teams and give one on one matchups to the likes of Chandler Jones.

Now: I wrote in-depth about Brown a few weeks ago. Brown’s role with the Patriots is increasing each week due to his improvement and injuries around him. He’s a run stuffer who anchors inside, gets the opposition into third and long and lets the pass rushers go to work. He clogs up rushing lanes and gives Chandler Jones one-on-one opportunities on the outside and allows the hyper-athletic Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins to crash the interior from the linebacker spot. What he does in the trenches is unspectacular, he doesn’t flash an elite burst and doesn’t consistently collapse the pocket, but what he does allows the likes of Jones, Hightower and Collins to do what they do at the highest level.

Oliver Connolly is the editor-in-chief of UKEndZone and a football columnist. He’s a former recruiting advisor for Western Michigan University, a contributor to SI Draft research and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can find him on Twitter @OllieUKEZ, listen to his podcast here, email here, or join in the conversation @UKEndZone, in the comment section below or on our Facebook Page.

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2 thoughts on “Re-Evaluating the 2015 first round

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