When the Bucs released Josh McCown earlier this offseason, they gave us clear indication that this pick will be a quarterback. Some may debate whether it should be Winston or Oregon's Marcus Mariota, the two previous Heisman Trophy recipients, but Winston has been the odds-on favorite for months and I still expect him to be the selection here.
Although Winston's increase in interceptions were an issue last year, he has the strong arm, accuracy, football intelligence and on-the-field leadership skills to develop into a franchise-changing quarterback. NFL Network's Steve Mariucci referred to Winston "the most astute X's and O's guy that he's ever put on the board."
With Winston, of course, the biggest concern relates to off-the-field issues -- and those concerns are amplified given the nature of the position and this draft slot. Assuming the Bucs feel comfortable with Winston as the face of their franchise, he is the selection here.
Here's the full list: Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson. What do these elite quarterbacks have in common? They are the eight quarterbacks that led their teams to division titles last year. It's nearly impossible to win a division with an unsettled or sub-par quarterback situation.
Whether or not the Titans believe Mettenberger can develop into the type of quarterback that can lead the Titans to a division title, it's clear that the team needs better play from whomever is under center. If the Titans are unable to find a suitable trade partner to move down, I ultimately think that they go with Mariota here. That said, a number of teams, most notably Cleveland, Philadelphia, San Diego or St. Louis, could be highly interested in trading up with the Titans.
Over the course of his collegiate career, Mariota threw for 10,796 yards, rushed for 2,237 yards and accounted for 136 touchdowns -- 105 passing, 29 rushing and two receiving -- with only 14 interceptions. There will naturally be some questions about how well and quickly Mariota will transition from Oregon's spread offense to a pro-style system, but Mariota possesses good size, a strong arm to stretch the field and difference-making athleticism for the position in addition to impeccable character off the field.
[Related: Winston and Mariota could potentially face each other as the Bucs host the Titans in Week 1. View full 2015 NFL schedule.]
There has been some speculation about the Jaguars using this pick on Amari Cooper. To me, that appears to be a smokescreen. With the position as deep as it is, the Jags could get a talented wide receiver with their (early) second- or third-round picks to give Blake Bortles another weapon if they choose.
Recently, Florida's Dante Fowler said that he would be "shocked" if the Jags didn't select him. While I wouldn't be "shocked" if they don't select him, the decision for David Caldwell and Gus Bradley will likely come down to Fowler or Williams if Winston and Mariota are the first two prospects off the board on Thursday.
The top overall prospect on my 2015 NFL Draft Big Board, Williams is a scheme-diverse defensive lineman that has the ability to win in a variety of ways at multiple spots along the defensive line. As an example, half of his seven sacks this season came from lining up on the edge and the other half came from lining up as a defensive tackle. His ability and versatility has generated some comparisons to J.J. Watt and Richard Seymour and the sky is the limit for this 20-year-old defensive lineman.
The Raiders have found their quarterback of the future with Derek Carr, last year's second-round pick, but one of their focal points in the draft should be to improve the weapons around Carr. As much as the Raiders front office attempted to bolster their group of pass catchers in free agency, it was a big swing and miss for Oakland's front office.
Fortunately for the Raiders, they will have their choice of two elite wide receiver prospects in Cooper and West Virginia's Kevin White based on how the top-three picks in this mock have played out. It's likely a win-win choice as I expect both prospects to have enormously successful careers. As Sean Beazley noted in our collaborative mock draft earlier this month, the Raiders have had their fair share of misses on high first-round picks and may prioritize the higher level of safety of Cooper over the potential upside of White.
As Alabama's first Biletnikoff winner in school history, Cooper finished with 124 receptions for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns, all of which ranked first or second in the nation this season. The most pro-ready receiver in this draft class, Cooper is a great route-runner with no glaring weaknesses in his game.
General manager Scot McCloughan has indicated his willingness to trade down to acquire more picks in the draft and he may find a willing trade partner with the Falcons. Not only do the Falcons need to bolster their pass rush -- only the Bengals had fewer sacks last season, but new head coach Dan Quinn coached Dante Fowler for two seasons at Florida before joining the Seahawks staff in 2013.
Given their leaky pass protection -- only the Jags allowed more sacks last season -- offensive line could be a possibility here for Washington. While it's certainly a need, it's questionable whether any of the offensive line prospects are worth a top-five selection unlike in my way-too-early 2016 NFL Mock Draft. If there are no offensive linemen selected in the top five, it will be only the second time in the past 10 drafts that has occurred.
If they keep this pick, Fowler is the obvious choice. Although Ryan Kerrigan had a career-high 13.5 sacks last season, 2015 will be a contract year for him. In addition, outside linebacker Brian Orakpo signed with the Titans this offseason. A versatile player with a non-stop motor, Fowler led Florida in tackles for loss (15.0), sacks (8.5) and QB hurries (17) last season.