2015 NFL Mock Draft 1.0

It's that time again - the time for people to pretend like they have any actual idea what NFL teams are going to do come draft time. As ususal, a few caveats. First, I'm not going to forecast any trades. The guesses, let's be honest, that's what they are, below are based on a scenario where not a single first round pick gets traded. Fat chance, right? Second, these are the picks that I would make as general manager of every team. In some cases it will be best player available, but in most, they design is to fill an area of need. Third, full disclosure, I haven't seen video of all these players -- I'm basing my picks on scouting reports and articles from a variety of sources.

All of that out of the way, let's begin.

1)      Tampa Bay – Jameis Winston, QB, FSU: Since we can't trade back for ransom of picks to fill a lot of roster holes, we go with the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft. I actually like Mike Glennon more than most, but a chance at a potential franchise quarterback probably shouldn't be passed up. 

2)      Tennessee – Leonard Williams, DE, USC: Lots of folks have Mariota here, but I kind of like what I saw last season from Mettenberger. So why not pick an immediate impact player on the defensive line in Williams?

3)      Jacksonville – Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: If you’re going to use a high pick on a qb, like they did with Bortles last year, it’s probably a good idea to surround him with some talent. This could just as easily be Kevin White, as he and Cooper are the consensus top two guys at WR, but I'm going Cooper.

4)      Oakland – Kevin White, WR, West Virginia: Derek Carr looks legit, eh? It’s going to be either White, or Cooper if he gets past the Jags. The Raiders are closer to good than you might think. Help on offense is exactly what they need.

5)      Washington – Dante Fowler, DE, Florida: This is another situation where I could see a trade back, especially with Mariota still on the board, as the ‘Skins are much more than one player away. But since we can't trade back, however, Fowler is a monster and this pick is a no-brainer.

6)      NY Jets – Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: I think I’m selling out here and deviating from what I told you I was going to do. If Mariota is here, no way he falls beyond the J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS. I'd take Brandon Scherff, personally, but I should also defer to reality from time to time. So here you go. 

7)      Chicago – Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson: The Bears’ 2014 season was a dumpster fire. With a new coaching staff in place, I think they start the rebuilding with the defense first. And Beasley is a good one.

8)      Atlanta – Brandon Scherff, OL, Iowa: I wonder how good Matt Ryan could be if he had some proper time to throw every now and then… Scherff is the best offensive lineman in the draft, and would instantly fill a big need in Atlanta. 

9)      NY Giants – Trae Waynes, CB, MSU: The second best corner in the draft (Peters is better, but more of a potential headache) is still plenty good, and the Giants, while probably annoyed they won’t get Scherff, get a nice consolation prize to start plugging a leaky secondary.

10)   St. Louis – DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville: I don't think WR is overly pressing for the Rams, but Parker could be this year's Odell Beckham. That supercedes other needs. 

11)   Minnesota – Jaelen Strong, WR, ASU: Teddy Bridgewater was pretty good without the benefit of a good receiving corp, not to mention no AP. You must think he’ll improve massively in year two with an improved weapons cache on offense, right?

12)   Cleveland – Breshad Perriman, WR, UCF: Blah blah blah. Josh Gordon. Blah blah blah. Breshad Perriman is fast. Kidding aside, Cleveland has a good defense, and no real weapons to speak of on offense. That has to change if they're going to compete. 

13)   New Orleans – Shane Ray, DE, Missouri: I’m gonna be honest here. I have no @#$%ing clue what New Orleans is doing with their off-season. But Shane Ray is good, and they could use a good pass rusher.

14)   Miami – Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin - In the new line of thinking permeating the NFL, running backs are no longer shoe ins for first round picks. But screw that, really. I don't think Lamar Miller is terrible, but top teams have better number one backs, so he completely fits here. 

15)   San Francisco – Danny Shelton, DT, Washington - It might be a long year in San Francisco. They need help at linebacker desperately with Willis and Borland retiring, but they're all reaches here. Shelton can fill the Ray MacDonald hole on the defensive line. 

16)   Houston – Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest - I confess, I don't really know what to do here. But with a defensive line that figures to cause plenty of hurried throws from opposing quarterbacks, a very good cornerback makes a lot of sense. 

17)   San Diego – Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia - Hand, meet glove. Big need, great player available, it makes sense. 

18)   Kansas City – Cameron Irving, C, FSU - Rodney Hudson left, so there's a need. Irving is a bit of a reach here, but in this case a justified one. Irving would do fine at guard too if they go a different direction at center. 

19)   Cleveland – Malcom Brown, DT, Texas - Man, it was tempting to go with Garrett Grayson here. They might also go receiver, but Brown makes sense as an addition to a solid run defense. 

20)   Philadelphia – D.J. Humphries, OL, Florida - We all saw what DeMarco Murray could do behind Dallas' excellent offensive line. It stands to reason that Chip Kelley will start trying to build one of those himself. Also, when new quarterback Sam Bradford has had good protection, he's been reasonably good. So there's that. 

21)   Cincinnati – Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska - I avoid guys with weed issues like the plague, but at a certain point, a guy who is a top 5 talent has to get taken. Gregory will either get his crap together and become an instant impact player, or he'll become a cautionary tale. But at the 21st pick, it makes sense for Cincy to find out which.  

22)   Pittsburgh – Landon Collins, S, Alabama - Collins isn't great in coverage, but if we're being honest, it's not a skill the now retired Troy Polamalu was known for either. Foot, meet shoe. 

23)   Detroit – Marcus Peters, CB, Washington - It was tempting to go defensive line here after the Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley departures, but 23rd is a good position to take a chance on a troubled but potentially game-changing defensive back. For what it's worth, Peters has owned his immaturity and petulance publicly. Saying the right things and doing them are not one and the same, but in some cases it does work out that way. 

24)   Arizona – Bernardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi St. - I nearly went Phillip Dorsett here, but Arizona has a defensive identity I like McKinney being a part of. The secondary is very strong here, and adding to the linebacking corp just makes a tough unit even tougher. 

25)   Carolina – La’el Collins, OT, LSU - That division was awful last year, but hey, someone had to win it. Want to know what else was awful? The Panthers' offensive line. Collins is not a finished product but the upside is very real. 

26)   Baltimore – Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami - Torrey Smith is gone, Steve Smith Sr. is old (but still decent). Joe Flacco needs targets. Dorsett is a legitimate deep threat and Flacco has the arm. Most mocks have Dorsett going in the second round, but not this one as it turns out. 

27)   Dallas  - Bud Dupree, OLB/DE, Kentucky - Dupree is way better than this position, I just couldn't find a home for him earlier. Dallas would be thrilled if he fell to them. Their defense wasn't as awful as predicted, but that doesn't mean they can't use a little help. 

28)   Denver – Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford - The offensive line really ended up being their undoing last season, I think. Peat is more of a smart blocker than a mauler, and unless I'm way off on how the Broncos' blocking philosophy works, this is a great fit. 

29)   Indianapolis – Eli Harold, LB, Virginia - The Colts have to get serious about their defense. They have more needs than just one, but Harold is an impact pass rusher immediately, and if developed properly, could become a star. 

30)   Green Bay – Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami - I think Aaron Rodgers makes his offensive line look better than they are. If they continue to improve that unit, they can run Eddie Lacy more and really let Rodgers go to work. He's unstoppable when he has time. 

31)   New Orleans – Devin Funchess, TE, Michigan - Funchess is more of a wide receiver than a tight end, much in the same way that Jimmy Graham is. Speaking of Graham, didn't he get traded? Opening up a spot??? Just sayin'...

32)   New England – Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska - I gave some serious consideration to Laken Tomlinson here. He's NFL ready. The Pats could use a solid guard. But they could also use an explosive running back. Stevan Ridley is gone, Shane Vereen is more of a third down back, albeit a great one. And I don't know any coach who would feel great about Jonas Gray or LeGarrette Blount being the lead back in week one. 

So, how did I do? Did your team get the guy you want? Feel free to let us know. You can follow us on Twitter at @thestainsports. 



Overthrown Royalty

It’s not unprecedented: A major sports team wins a championship and then fails to qualify for the post-season the following year. Before the Los Angeles Kings just somehow managed to do it, the Carolina Hurricanes did in 2006-07. It happens in other sports more frequently, baseball being a perfect example, but what makes it such a, uh, accomplishment in hockey is that so many teams make the playoffs. 16 to be exact. That's more than half. 

And what makes it such a monumental shock to many is that the Kings were in the midst of a mini dynasty, with two Stanley Cup Championships sandwiched around a Western Conference Finals loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. 

It didn’t take long for the excuses and the finger pointing to start. And granted, some of it is valid. Those pointing to injuries could accurately say that the loss of young superstud Tanner Pearson for much of the season with a broken leg severely impacted the team’s offense. They could say that the weeks Alec Martinez, he of the game winning goal from last year’s Stanley Cup Final, missed with a concussion had a profound impact on a defense already thinned due to the season-long absence of Slava Voynov while his domestic violence case moves forward. They could say that losing Andrej Sekera to a leg injury just a few games after they acquired him to thicken the aforementioned thin defense was another nail in the coffin. All of these points have some validity. 

Then they point to all the extra hockey the Kings played the last three seasons. Extra hockey… what a bunch of crap. The point is, of any professional sport, to play as much extra of it as you can! Because that would mean you’re in the running for a championship. You didn’t see all that extra hockey impacting the New York Rangers, who have the league’s best point total, despite the lengthy absence of Henrik Lundqvist.

The blame game usually starts with Mike Richards and his disproportionately huge cap number compared to his offensive production. Similar vitriol is thrown at captain Dustin Brown, whose paychecks are similarly gaudy while his offensive production is equally meager. 

And again, these points are not entirely devoid of merit, nobody wants to put any blame where it really belongs – with the coach and general manager who were at the reigns for the team’s first two championships in…well, in ever. Kings fans should be forever grateful to Darryl Sutter and Dean Lombardi. But as happens frequently with success, complacency and/or arrogance never lurks far away. It’s worth noting that in Sutter’s coaching career, he’s won less than half of the games he has coached. So, while there has been some success, it hasn’t all been chocolate and roses. And Lombardi, while having been general manager of some very good San Jose Sharks teams from 1996 to 2003, had plenty of detractors in hockey circles for failing to fill out those rosters with the players to take the team from good to championship level. It explains why he eventually wasn’t employed there anymore.

Now, good coaches/executives don’t get every decision right. Billy Bean doesn’t get every decision right. Bill Belichick. Vince Lombardi. Pat Riley. (Phil Jackson is being intentionally omitted). Bruce Bochy. They get decisions wrong. What makes these guys better than everyone else is that they get more calls right than they get wrong. Fred Claire trading Pedro Martinez to Montreal for Delino Deshields would have been forgivable if there had been two or three moves where the scales tipped back in the other direction. But they didn’t.

Moving back to this past off-season, Dean Lombardi made two decisions that would ultimately prove fatal to the Kings’ playoff hopes. First, the decision was made to not re-sign defenseman Willie Mitchell. He may not have a ton of household notoriety, but those who know hockey know that Mitchell is an exceptional player. Not all defensemen score like Erik Karlsson or PK Subban. Some just control their defensive end, move the puck well, and chew up huge, productive minutes. And the decision not to re-sign Mitchell was reportedly due to…wait for it… they didn’t want a defense partnership with two left-handed shooting defensemen. Yeah. Never mind that they won two Stanley Cups with that arrangement, and when they lost to Chicago in the Conference Finals, Mitchell was out with a knee injury. Coincidence? Lombardi the compounded ludicrously inept bit of business by giving Matt Greene a new four year deal. Greene was once a borderline serviceable third pairing defenseman who worked hard, was a favorite of fans and in the clubhouse, and wasn’t afraid to drop the gloves to protect a teammate. Then injuries hit. And more injuries. And at this point he would be overmatched on the junior circuit and should seriously consider retiring and beginning a coaching career. If you want to criticize Lombardi further, you can also point out that he failed to take advantage of the opportunity to amnesty Richards, instead giving the veteran a chance to prove he had something left in the tank…at a cap hit of just under six million. Bad call? Possibly. But let’s move on to Sutter.

Quick, what do Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty have in common? If you said they’re universally regarded as four of the best players in the NHL, you’d be right. Then you have super sniper Marian Gaborik, puck possession monster Justin Williams, young star Tyler Toffoli. There are so many great pieces to the Kings’ puzzle that it’s incomprehensible they failed to make the post season. Sutter epically screwed up so many different things this season that it’s hard to pick just 12. So let’s just start ripping off a few. Repeatedly jacked with line combinations that were working…because who effing knows why? Demoted the underperforming Mike Richards to the minors to send a message, and replaced him with the woefully inept Nick Shore. And when he did have Richards in the lineup, put him on a fourth line ill-suited to his abilities. Somehow kept throwing Jarret Stoll in the lineup instead of, well, anyone with a pulse. Paired two top notch centers who own the puck in Kopitar and Carter on the same line. The team had fifteen overtime/shootout losses, and only three wins. The only way a Stanley Cup champion team can have that woeful record in overtime and shootouts is if 4 on 4 skating and penalty shots were never practiced. 

Going on at this point would be self-indulgent to my own disgust at how the Kings were run this year. Fortunately, the core of a great roster remains. Fans will just have to hope it’s run by new and competent leadership next year. And I still can’t believe the team only had three more overtime/shootout wins than my cat did this season. What a joke.


MLB 2015 AL Central Preview

After earning a Wild Card spot last year and going on a wild run into the World Series, the Kansas City Royals have lost James Shields, Billy Butler, and Nori Aoki, but don’t seem to have taken much of a step back at all. Their pitching staff will be lead by young phenom Yordano Ventura and they still have the best bullpen in baseball. Alex Rios looks good this spring, and could be a real offensive weapon if his thumb is healthy (I have my doubts), while Kendrys Morales looks to bounce back. The Cleveland Indians only big off-season addition was Brandon Moss, but their relatively young team will likely only get better. Last year Corey Kluber was a surprise Cy Young candidate, and they may have another this year in Carlos Carrasco. The Chicago White Sox made moves bringing in Jeff Samardzija and signed Melky Cabrera. Avisail Garcia has looked good in the spring, as have rookies Micah Johnson and Carlos Rodon. Rodon will start in Triple-A, but will be in the rotation this season and has the potential to be dominant while Johnson will likely be the opening day second baseman and number nine hitter. Both will improve the club that already had an underrated pitching staff and has a very good mix of power and speed. The long time favorites, the Detroit Tigers, are only getting older. Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera are coming off surgery this off-season and Justin Verlander will start the year on the DL. They brought in Yoenis Cespedes, Anthony Gose, and Shaen Greene, but the bullpen that was their downfall last year is virtually unchanged. The Minnesota Twins have brought back fan favorite Torii Hunter, but are a clear bottom of the barrel in the division. Ervin Santana will miss 80 games due to a PED suspension, and the team really lacks a true star. This may be the year uber prospects Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and multiple highly touted pitching prospects make their big league debuts, so at least Twins fans have that to look forward to.

Projected Winner: This may be the toughest division to pick a winner, but the Indians are the favorite for me. They might have the best rotation in the division outside of Chicago, and they could also end up as the best offensive team in the division.

Is there a Wild Card, perhaps? I think it is almost a certainty one of the Wild Card spots comes from the Central, but which team is tough. Based on pure talent, the Tigers should be the team, but I think they finish fourth in the division. That leaves the White Sox and Royals. I would not be shocked if both teams earn a Wild Card bid, and the rest of the league should be scared if it is the White Sox as their potential playoff rotation could be the best in baseball. In the end, I think the Royals get the only Wild Card bid from the Central, but it will be close.


MLB 2015 NL East Preview

There isn’t much intrigue to speak of here. The Nationals will probably have the division all but locked up by the all-star break. As a whole, the NL East comes down to groups of teams trending rapidly in opposite directions. The Nationals added the top free agent pitcher available, The Marlins locked up Giancarlo Stanton for 68 years and 984 billion dollars, and picked up some productive pieces in Dee Gordon, Mike Morse, and Dan Haren. The Mets didn’t add a ton apart from Michael Cuddyer, but the healthy returns of Matt Harvey, David Wright, and Bobby Parnell, figure to help. And then there’s the other guys…

The Phillies are looking to…they’re in a…they should probably… Ok, let’s just call it what it is. If Ruben Amaro had a shred of sense, he’d have gotten what he could for aging slugger Ryan Howard, still productive veteran Chase Utley, and now injured hurler Cliff Lee last year, or at the latest, this off-season. I don’t know that trading your best pitcher is ever the answer, but if it was, Cole Hamels would also fetch the best return of prospects.

Then there’s the Braves. I’m not sure they needed to blow everything up, but at least they committed. Out with Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Jason Heyward, and in with… Shelby Miller and a bunch of guys they hope to see in a couple years. While the future may be brighter for one of these teams, this season figures to be a long one for fans of both.

Projected Winner: The Nationals. I get angry at weird things sometimes. I don’t know why. I just do. Last year, the Nats had a pitcher win 15 games and sport a sub-3.00 ERA. Moreover, his fielding independent pitching (FIP) supported those numbers being reflective of excellent pitching, rather than luck. And he isn’t good enough to crack their rotation. What. The. Fudgesickles? My point is this. If Tanner Roark isn’t good enough to crack your starting rotation, you either have an embarrassment of riches in starting pitching, or you have no clue who he is. So the Nationals will win this division. Because they have a guy who could secretly trade places with Zack Greinke and very few people would notice… and he’s not good enough to make their rotation. Ridiculous. 

Is there a Wild Card, perhaps?: If you asked me this question and no form of bet hedging was an option, I’d say yes. I think the Marlins have done enough to improve the roster to be in the conversation, and if Jose Fernandez successfully returns from TJ surgery in June, I think they have enough to make a run. I also think Christian Yelich is an all-star this year. You heard it here first. Unless you heard it somewhere else first, in which case you heard it here second. The Mets might also be a part of the conversation, but ultimately I think they’ll fade.


MLB 2015 AL East Preview

The AL East is as intriguing a division as there is in baseball. The two big teams in the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees both have massive needs. The Red Sox pitching staff is barely middle of the road, and the catcher who was expected to make each of them better, Christian Vazquez, is out for the year with TJ surgery. Meanwhile the Yankees have yet another old/injury prone lineup and the distraction that is Alex Rodriguez. Their pitching staff may be improved, but the depth in the middle infield, pitching staff, and behind the plate leave a lot to be desired. The Tampa Bay Rays trail only the Oakland Athletics in roster turnover it seems this off-season, but have an interesting squad. They open the season with several injury concerns, but if the young pitching staff can stay healthy and pitch up to their potential, it could be the best staff in the East by far. The Baltimore Orioles are still waiting on Matt Wieters to come all the way back from TJ and JJ Hardy will enter the year on the DL. Chris Davis has one game left on his suspension, but he has a therapeutic exemption to go back on Adderall so time will tell if he returns to his 2013 form. The Toronto Blue Jay will roll out six rookies with major roles to start the season. All have tremendous upside (except maybe Devon Travis who just has solid upside) but there is obviously plenty of risk with such a young roster.

Projected Winner: The risk just might pay off for the Jays. They traded Brett Lawrie for Josh Donaldson this off-season, and signed the best catcher on the market In Russell Martin. Justin Smoak will look to resurrect his career in the friendly confines of the Rogers Centre, and there might not be a better trio in the middle of an order than Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Donaldson. If their pitching can hold up, there is a chance the Blue Jays not only win the division, but run away with it.

Is there a Wild Card, perhaps? Probably not, but there are some situations that I could see a team sneaking in. The division is rather weak as a whole, so if a team like Tampa Bay or Baltimore perform really well within the division, they could put up enough wins to sneak in as a Wild Card. The bottom of the division will likely be the Red Sox and Yankees, unless the Red Sox move some of their quality pitching prospects and outfield depth to improve both their rotation and bullpen. If they get a guy like Cole Hamels and a bullpen piece or two in July, it could be enough to catapult them up to Wild Card contention.