BY KIERAN RUANE
Each year, over three hundred college football players declare for the NFL draft in hopes that their dreams of playing professionally will finally turn into reality. Players from all walks of life will sit eagerly by the TV, the telephone, or in the green room waiting for a team to call their number, and for those dreams to come to fruition. The buildup to this year’s draft created many questions: who will be the sleeper pick of the first round? Which of the past two Heisman Trophy winners will snag the number one spot? Which team will come out with the best picks? 2015 brought to the table some of the most exciting college players we’ve ever seen, and is sure to be a draft class that will be talked about for years to come.
With Florida State quarterback “Famous” Jameis Winston, exciting is an understatement. Selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the number one overall pick, the flashy, provocative leader of the Seminoles’ offense over the past two seasons has proved his worth to many NFL franchises with his talent on the field; however, he has been deemed by some as a “nightmare” when considering his off-the-field incidents. All this aside, Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith is sure that Winston is the man to usher in a new era for the franchise.
“Before you can be a great team, you have to have a leader at quarterback and leaders throughout,” Smith said, according to sbnation.com. “It’s a certain type of man. A certain type of way. Acceptance in the locker room of his role. It’s a big role. Everybody can see Jameis throw a football and the talent that is there. In classes you can see his football knowledge. But one of the big reasons he is our choice as our quarterback is he knows how to build relationships with his teammates. He knows how to lead them. I am willing to work for those relationships. Jameis is, too.”
Smith is looking to implement Winston into his offense right from the get go, and with his skill, passion and football IQ, it seems as though he is the perfect fit to revamp the Buccaneers’ offense in 2015.
Following Winston at the number two spot was former Oregon quarterback and 2014 Heisman trophy winner Marcus Mariota, who was selected by the Tennessee Titans. Mariota was a three-year starter for the Ducks, and led the program to a 35-6 record, including three Rose Bowl victories. With his illustrious college career in mind, from the moment Commissioner Roger Goodell called him on stage, he became an instant hit in the state of Tennessee. With jersey sales skyrocketing and cries of happiness and relief ringing all the way from LP Field in Nashville, Mariota was easily just the pick that Titans fans were hoping for.
After the two high-profile selections were done and dusted, it was outside linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. of the Florida Gators who arose as the third overall pick, selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars, his home-state team. In high school, Fowler was considered one of the best defensive ends in the country, being named an honorable mention All-American by Sports Illustrated, and being selected for the 2012 Under Armour All-America Game. During his freshman season at Florida, however, he moved to outside linebacker where he shone for the Gators. In 2014, he recorded 60 tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks and two forced fumbles all while earning first-team All-SEC accolades. Jacksonville is already “full of optimism” with Fowler added to the roster, noting that out of all of the possible players they could have picked, Fowler will “make the biggest impact,” according to nfl.com. Fowler enters the league with great size, speed and athleticism, which will all be important assets to Jacksonville’s defense this coming season, and hopefully for many seasons to come.
With the fourth pick, the Oakland Raiders set themselves on another SEC standout in Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper. According to nfl.com, in 2014, “[Cooper] was a unanimous first-team All-American and was SEC Offensive Player of the Year. [Cooper] led the nation in receptions (124) and finished second in yards (1,727) and touchdown receptions (16).” Oakland will add Cooper to an already talented receiver corps, which most notably includes recently signed wide-out Michael Crabtree, in order to give current quarterback Derek Carr a new asset to add to his arsenal. His talent at the collegiate level has already drawn him comparisons to the likes of Reggie Wayne, and is sure to send him strides ahead of the rest of his draft colleagues in their respective rookie seasons, as well as amongst his fellow pass-catchers.
Washington rounded out the top five by selecting Brandon Scherff, a strong offensive guard out of Iowa and the perfect pickup for their offensive line. Winner of the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top interior lineman, Scherff brings in youthful energy and talent to help the line that protects quarterback Robert Griffin III. While draft experts note the effect his strength and size can have for Washington, supporters of Scherff praise his attitude above all, both on and off the field.
“He worked hard to get there,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “He went through hard times. But it’s his attitude. It’s all about playing his absolute best. All about practice. That’s something he ingrained in his mentality. Most players have to work hard to become really good and he’s done that.”
One thing is for sure when it comes to Scherff: he has indeed worked hard to get to where he is today, and he’s not going to stop there. While the current quarterback situation in Washington is anything but certain, whoever is starting under center for the Redskins next season will surely appreciate having his protection.
Finally, as with every draft, there were definitely some surprises that came to light this year. For example, many were surprised that defensive end Leonard Williams of USC fell as far as he did at the number six pick. Described by NFL analyst Mike Maycock as “the best player in the draft regardless of position,” Williams was expected to go as low as number three to Jacksonville, so the Jets were fortunate to grab him where they did.
Another surprise on the defensive side was safety Landon Collins falling out of the first round to pick number 33, before eventually being selected by the Giants. After not making the cut on the first night of the draft, Collins took to Twitter to express his disappointment, and his willingness to work even harder to show what the other 31 teams will be missing. Collins tweeted, “Definitely disappointed I didn’t hear my name called last night but just means I have to get back in the lab and continue to master my craft. One thing I know is draft day wont define me but will motivate me to prove the doubters wrong and confirm what I already know.”
In what was arguably the most surprising pick on the offensive side of the ball, the St. Louis Rams used their number ten pick to snatch up running back Todd Gurley of Georgia, who was the first running back selected in the first round since 2012. This sparked questions due to the fact that the Rams drafted running back Tre Mason from Auburn in last year’s draft; however, with the Rams also bringing in a new quarterback in Nick Foles, a backfield consisting of two new players could quite possibly bring some excitement to an offense that has struggled in recent years.
From the safe picks to the shockers, and from the number one pick all the way down to number 256, this draft brought plenty of entertainment and excitement for the future of the NFL. This has the potential to be one of the best draft classes to date, and when the 2015-16 season kicks off in September, these players’ projected skills will be truly put to the test. Can they live up to the hype? We will just have to wait and see.