The 2015 NFL Draft is in the books.
What began Thursday with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selection of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, culminated Saturday evening with the 256th and final pick, the Arizona Cardinals selection of Louisville tight end Gerald Christian, christening him as 2015’s “Mr. Irrelevant.”
The three day affair featured surprises, steals, reaches, trades, and plenty of video, highlighting the skills and athleticism of many of the 256 players selected.
And now, it is time to reflect on the draft. What teams got better from the moves they made, and who fared poorly? Let’s take a look at the winners and losers of this year’s NFL Draft:
Winner: Jameis Winston
With so much conjecture leading up to the draft, the question of who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would make the first overall pick was finally answered.
It was Jameis Winston hearing his name called to open the draft proceedings Thursday night.
The landing spot is a good one for Winston, who could very likely walk right into the starting quarterback role straight out of training camp depending upon how he performs in the preseason. Despite some character concerns related to off-the-field incidents, Winston possesses playmaking ability, a strong arm, and a high level of football intelligence.
With Josh McCown departing Tampa Bay in the offseason, the Buccaneers will open training camp with Mike Glennon as the only real competition for Winston to beat out for the starting job under center.
Many will question, through the remainder of the offseason and even into the regular season, whether the Bucs should have taken Marcus Mariota with their pick, considered to be the more athletic of the top two quarterback prospects in the draft, but until both men have seen the field in an NFL game, questions are all they will remain.
For now, at least, the Bucs have acquired an important piece to their franchise puzzle and given Winston, with his confidence and history of winning, a chance to shine in the bright Tampa Bay sun, and an opportunity to disprove any doubts about his skill and character.
Loser: Zach Mettenberger
Speaking of Marcus Mariota, his name being called as the second pick of this year’s draft had to have peaked the interest of one man specifically- Tennessee Titans current quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
A product of last year’s NFL Draft, Mettenberger, a sixth-round selection out of LSU, started six games for the Titans in 2014, all losses, while putting up just pedestrian statistics. But with just veteran journeyman Charlie Whitehurst and Alex Tanney to compete with, it appeared Mettenberger would get another chance at starting for the Titans.
With the selection of Mariota, viewed as a potential franchise quarterback, it would appear the Titans are interested in going another direction.
This does not definitively spell the end for Mettenberger in Tennessee, but there is a high probability of that being the case. The team will likely give the two QB’s the chance to duke it out in training camp, give each an equal opportunity to win the starting job, but the onus will be more on Mettenberger to perform than Mariota.
And if he fails to outduel Mariota, or feels as though he is not a part of Tennessee’s future plans, Mettenberger could be seeking a trade and a new home very soon.
Winner: Malcom Brown
What could be better for an NFL draft pick than to be drafted by the defending Super Bowl champions, with a chance to step right into a starting role, while also being that team’s first round pick?
Perhaps being selected with any of the first 31 picks of the draft, but for University of Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown, becoming the newest first-round selection of the New England Patriots has the potential to be a perfect fit.
Brown, who many NFL analysts felt could have been taken in the first 15 picks of the draft, slid down the board before the Patriots finally snatched him up with the 32nd and final pick of the first round.
With veteran nose tackle Vince Wilfork leaving New England via free agency, the Patriots needed a man up the middle to take his place, and the 320-lb. Brown is just the man for the job.
Athletic, with a quickness that he improved upon in his junior season at Texas, Brown can slot in at many places along a team’s defensive line, and should fit perfectly in Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia’s oft-changing defensive schemes.
Brown recorded 6 1/2 sacks in his final season at Texas and fills out a Patriots defensive line that already includes Dominique Easley, New England’s first-round pick in 2014, Chandler Jones, and veteran Rob Ninkovich. With a strong performance in training camp, Brown could very easily win himself a starting job on that Patriots defensive front.
Loser: La’el Collins
La’el Collins may be a victim of what could be termed “Aaron Hernandez Syndrome,” with the possibility of his being connected to the murder of an ex-girlfriend keeping the former LSU offensive tackle from being drafted at all.
Collins, thought to be a first-round talent, is not considered a suspect in the murder, but NFL teams shied away from picking the LSU product, with police still seeking to question him in regards to the case.
With former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez being found guilty of first-degree murder in April, it is not unwise for teams to be cautious about drafting a player who is tied in any manner to a crime of this nature. But, without the case of Hernandez as a recent warning, teams may not have been as wary about taking Collins with one of their late-round selections.
Despite not being considered a suspect, teams will likely wait until Collins has been cleared completely of any involvement in the murder, at which point Collins can expect multiple teams to be calling upon his services.
The real loss for Collins is in monetary value. If he were taken in the first round of the draft, as expected, he would have been looking at a contract in the millions. Now, it stands that Collins could see a contract much closer to the NFL minimum.
Winner: Ryan Tannehill/ Blake Bortles
In the draft, the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars acquired new weapons and protection for their quarterbacks.
With their first-round selection, the Dolphins drafted Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker, a sizeable target with good hands, who will be a very solid weapon for Ryan Tannehill. Parker joins Kenny Stills, who the Dolphins added in free agency, and Jarvis Landry as the top wide receivers on the depth chart.
The Dolphins also added a new running back, selecting former Boise State running back Jay Ajayi in the fifth round. Health concerns related to knee problems contributed to Ajayi’s slide in the draft, but if he can stay healthy, the Dolphins will be seeing huge value out of their late-round pick.
To go along with Parker, the Dolphins added another wide receiver in the seventh round, selecting Tony Lippett out of Michigan State, and gave Tannehill a versatile pass protector in guard Jamil Douglas in the fourth round.
The help for Bortles, the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, may not be as flashy as what the Dolphins acquired for Tannehill, but will greatly improve the weaponry available to the young quarterback in Jacksonville.
With their second round pick, the Jaguars took big, instinctive running back T.J. Yeldon out of Alabama. While at ‘Bama, Yeldon ran for 1,000 yards as a true freshman backing up current Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy. He offers Bortles an option both in the running game and as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.
The Jaguars picked up some blocking help for Bortles in the third round, drafting South Carolina guard A.J. Cann who could earn a starting job in Jacksonville immediately. He possesses good power and strength to drive opposing defenders back, and will improve the Jaguars as a pass protector and run blocker.
With three of their final four picks, the Jaguars selected new passing-game weapons for Bortles, adding wide receivers Rashad Greene and Neal Sterling, and tight end Ben Koyack. Both Sterling and Koyack present Bortles with big-frame target areas, while Greene may better serve the Jaguars in the return game, but can play wide receiver as needed.
Loser: Dallas Cowboys
Despite acquiring a possible second-round steal in defensive end Randy Gregory, a player with first-round talent, but who failed a drug test at the NFL combine, the Cowboys failed to draft a running back, a position where they now enter the season with the ever-inconsistent Darren McFadden leading the charge.
The top two running backs in the draft, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon, were both off the board when the Cowboys came up on the clock with the 27th pick of the first round. Six more running backs were selected in the second and third rounds combined, with the Cowboys having a chance to select four of those six with their second-round pick.
With last season’s league-leading rusher DeMarco Murray departing Dallas in free agency, a void was opened in the Cowboys backfield. But they failed to address that hole in the draft, instead believing perhaps, that they already have enough talent at running back.
In the draft, they passed up on players they could have taken, like Tevin Coleman, Duke Johnson, Jeremy Langford, and Javorius Allen.
The Cowboys did fill needs at linebacker and in their secondary, while also improving their offensive line depth, but missed an opportunity to at least add to the depth of their current mixed bag of running backs.