Since everyone is doing mock drafts this time of year, let's switch it up and put a bit more of a personal spin on things. I've spoken with coaches, scouts and other NFL personnel about most of these guys during this whole draft process and decided to publish a list of my favorite 25 guys in the draft with a thought or two about each. Ranging from first rounders to late rounders, these are my favorite players that I feel are destined for successful NFL careers.
Just because I excluded someone (like Jameis Winston or Dante Fowler) doesn't mean they don't wind up having stellar careers. These are just my personal favorites.
1. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Wouldn't be right if I didn't start this list with my favorite player in the draft. Covering several UGA games over the past few years, he was the best college football player I saw on the field in each and every game. He dominated SEC competition when healthy and seems to have cleared up the medical issues to the satisfaction of NFL teams. Two NFL personnel people told me he was the best back to come in the league since Adrian Peterson.
2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
I've said for months now that I believe Mariota, if put in the right system, can be a better NFL quarterback than Jameis Winston. I don't know whether Tennessee or another team will take him at two, but he looked stellar at the combine and someone from one team that interviewed him there told me he was extremely impressive in the face to face interview. If he winds up with the Eagles, unless they give up too much, it's a home run.
3. Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
People have Amari Cooper as the best wideout in the draft and while he should have a nice career, I love the potential of this former Mountaineer. His character is clean, his body control and hands are superb and you need his size/speed combo to succeed in this era of the NFL. He's got all the measurables and should be a no doubt top five or six pick.
4. Alvin "Bud" Dupree, DE/OLB, Kentucky
Like Kevin White listed above him, he dropped out of the Senior Bowl less than a week before the festivities began in Mobile, but that doesn't change my opinion of him. Not many people are watching Kentucky football on a regular basis, but if you break down his tape you see he is a physical specimen that runs like the wind and can get after the quarterback. Plays the run better than a lot of the other players mentioned in the first round pass rush discussion. Would fit at 6, 7 or 8 and I believe he goes no later than 9.
5. Philip Dorsett, WR, Miami
The former Hurricane with speed to burn could go in the first round but I think he'll be hot property at the top of round two. Runs mid 4.2's and was misused at Miami with a coaching staff that sometimes fails to get the best out of top recruits. Dorsett is one of those guys that could contribute immediately if put in that deep threat role. He can take the top off the defense and when I saw him in Mobile at the Senior Bowl I came away very impressed. So did a lot of NFL scouts and coaches I spoke to.
6. Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut
Talk about a workout warrior. Broke record for broad jump and leapt out of the gym at combine in Indy causing scouts and other NFL personnel to go back and watch more tape. What they found is a player who now is more of a favorite to go in the first round than not. Teams I'm hearing that are intrigued by him are the Eagles and Ravens at the back end of round one. Potential is through the roof if he gets the right position coach to teach him technique at the next level.
7. Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota
Should go at some point on Friday night in round two. Best pass catching tight end in an otherwise down year at the position. Makes highlight reel catches on the regular and is a willing blocker. Was a frequent target in the red zone and would fit teams like the Falcons, Saints and Browns in round two.
8. Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn
Criticized for drops but what I saw down at the Senior Bowl reaffirmed what I saw on tape - he's big, fast and explosive. Snatched the ball out of the air away from defensive backs on several occasions, really impressing one wide receiver coach I spoke to for an NFC team, saying he's got "all the tools to be special."
9. Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami
This thumper who hits like a Brinks truck was the leader of that Hurricanes defense the past few years and is an instant plug and play rookie starter at the mike LB position. He makes sense for every NFC North team as all of them need upgrades at the linebacker position. Made one hit I saw from the sidelines at Senior Bowl practices that I thought he knocked the running back out. May have trouble covering speedy backs out of the backfield or quick tight ends but don't discount his value on first and second down in the run game.
10. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
A player that everyone thought was in the mold of A&M tackles like Luke Joeckel, Lane Johnson and Jake Matthews before him, Cedric tore his ACL last season and may not be ready until August. I think he'll be worth the wait, as pre injury he played guard and right tackle and excelled at both spots for the Aggies. If a team is patient they'll get a steal on Friday night.
11. Ali Marpet, G/C, Hobart College
Seeing and meeting this small school prospect at the Senior Bowl only reaffirmed what I had heard prior - the kid's got a great personality off the field and showed a lot of versatility playing inside and out during practices in Mobile. His best position may be center in the pros, but one team I spoke to sees him as a guard and a good one at that. Despite not popping on to NFL radars until the beginning of 2015, you can bank on him going in rounds 3 or 4, maybe even staying in his own backyard with Giants who have had him on their radar for months.
12. Paul Dawson, LB, TCU
Covered the Peach Bowl live at the Georgia Dome back in December, and to refresh your memory TCU destroyed Ole Miss in a game that was over after the first two drives. The TCU defense stifled Bo Wallace and in the heart of it all was a playmaker who was all over the field. I don't care what he ran at the combine. He can play for my team tomorrow and I'd be surprised if he lasted past pick 50.
13. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Listen, he's not for everyone. I get it. Too many mental mistakes, too many second half performances to forget for his UCLA Bruins. That being said, I think his talent is too much to ignore and I believe he projects as a future starter at the next level. His athleticism, arm strength and physical traits have to have some coaches drooling to get their hands on him. I'd look for him on Friday night to go somewhere between picks 50 and 75.
14. Anthony Harris, S, Virginia
Had a better year two years ago than last year statisically. Why? Opposing teams caught on and didn't throw to his side of the field. The Cavs defense was pretty darn good a year ago and Harris was a big part of it. Still racking up 108 tackles in 2014, this kid has Pro Bowl potential and fits in round three for a team looking for a ball hawk. This position has once again become a position of emphais in the NFL due to the pass happy attacks and getting a player like Harris would be a huge boon to any team in need of a safety.
15. Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State
Had the pleasure of meeting him in Mobile and had him on the station over the weekend to talk about his time leading up to the draft. May be the nicest, brightest kid I've met during the entire process. One NFC coach told me when Tyler came into the Senior Bowl meetings, he knew "our entire team's offensive personnel." Now THAT is impressive. Anyone who takes this kid is instantly a better team and I would NOT be surprised to see him contend for rookie of the year honors depending on where he winds up getting picked. Don't discount the Texans or the Browns, two teams I heard that are interested in him.
16. Marcus Hardison, DT, Arizona State
Had a career high 13 tackles in the Sun Bowl and absolutely dominated during his senior season. May not go until early on day three but the potential is there for him at the minimum to be a rotational defensive tackle.
17. Danielle Hunter, DE, LSU
In 10 starts last year he racked up eight tackles for loss and three sacks. On a unit that struggled a lot of 2015, he was their most consistent pass rusher. Underclassman, raw but the upside is tantalizing. Could be special in a few years, so he'll go in rounds 3 or 4 and be a developmental pick.
18. Mike Hull, LB, Penn State
He was a monster in the middle last year and is a prototypical mike LB who will contribute heavily on special teams early in his career. Had 10 and a half tackles for loss and 140 tackles his senior season. High character player and I'd draft him with a late round pick.
19. Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana
Just because all these other big backs played at big programs like Wisconsin, Georgia, Nebraska, Miami and Alabama doesn't mean anyone should forget how good Tevin Coleman was as a Hoosier. Didn't participate at the combine due to a foot injury but led the country in long distance touchdowns and is a threat to break one every time he touches the ball. Had over 2000 yards last year and averaged seven and a half yards per carry. People are sleeping on him. I'm not. He's a future upper echelon back in this league.
20. Wes Saxton, TE, South Alabama
People are talking more about Saxton's QB, Brandon Bridge, as a late round flier for teams but I like the potential of his tight end Saxton too. Ran like the wind at the combine and despite being a virtual unknown had 50 catches last year and over 1100 yards spanning his career. Underutilized his whole time with the Jaguars and should get a fair shake in the pros. His physical tools are intriguing, and I'd certainly take a shot with him as a stretch the field, poor man's Jared Cook type player.
21. Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn
Reese was a big part of a prolific complex offense most of his career down on the Plains under coach Malzahn. The Tigers line suffered a bit last year with the loss of Greg Robinson to the pros, who was in so many ways the anchor of that unit. They still ran the ball well with Marshall and Artis Payne most of the year and I believe Dismukes, despite being only in a zone blocking scheme during his college career, can excel as a solid 10 year NFL starter.
22. Laken Tomlinson, G, Duke
Run game mauler, prototypical left guard and came over from Jamaica when he was 10. At six foot three and 330 pounds, I would be surprised if he lasted past pick 50 and could even sneak into the bottom five or six picks of round one.
23. David Johnson, RB, Northern Iowa
Not on the radar of many teams before the draft process kicked into high gear, but after a strong Senior Bowl week and combine, Johnson has vaulted into the round 4-5 discussion. Arguably a top five pass catching back in this draft, Johnson will contribute immediately in the pros as a third down back and one AFC RB coach told me he was the "best looking back in Mobile." (this over guys like Cobb, Abdullah, etc.)
24. Kyle Loomis, P, Portland State
Averaged just shy of 50 yards a punt his sophomore and junior seasons and to me is the best punter in this draft.
25. Kyle Brindza, K, Notre Dame
Had a terrible senior year but just go back to his sophomore and junior years. He was automatic. Best K in draft.
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