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29th Apr 2015

From AP to Double Z, it’s the A-Z of the 2015 NFL Draft

It's time for the next wave of stars to be selected

Gareth Makim

It’s a day of hope for every NFL fan

The 2015 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday night and with it the hopes of every NFL fan are reignited that this year’s crop of players will be the ones to at some stage lead them to Super Bowl glory.

But who are the players and teams that will make the headlines? Allow SportsJOE’s A-Z of the NFL Draft fill in the gaps…

A is for… Adrian Peterson

The Minnesota Vikings running back’s future remains one of the major outstanding issues going into the draft. After being suspended (or placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List to be precise) for most of last season, Peterson, a former league MVP who still ranks amongst the best at the position, has been reinstated but has indicated he no longer wants to play for Minnesota. The Vikings, a team expected to improve behind the play of second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, say they want to keep Peterson, who is 30 but refreshed after a year on the sidelines. But interested teams, potentially including the Dallas Cowboys (who lost last year’s leading rusher DeMarco Murray to free agency) and the Arizona Cardinals, believe the threat of Peterson acting up will force them to trade their franchise star.

B is for… Boos

Bumbling commissioner Roger Goodell has become a panto villain of sorts and is certain to receive a cacophony of catcalls from what is usually a pretty rowdy crowd. It remains to be seen how the Chicago fans, hosting the draft for the first time in 51 years, will greet the Bears’ pick, but if they are anything like their New York brethren, if they aren’t happy they will make themselves heard.

C is for… Cleveland

First-round picks are like gold in the NFL and the Browns have been in the envious position of having two in each of the past three seasons. Having butchered both choices in the last two drafts, including making mistakes on quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel, the pressure is on general manager Ray Farmer not to cock things up again. Reports have the calamitous Browns as one of the teams interested in trading up for quarterback Marcus Mariota, so you can’t fault Cleveland for trying.

D is for… Draft grades

Experts will insist that you can’t judge a draft for three seasons until you see how players develop, but that won’t stop them handing out grades for each team’s performance. If your team gets a poor grade, don’t worry, the Seattle Seahawks 2011 draft, which included fifth-rounder Richard Sherman and five other major contributors to their 2014 Super Bowl triumph, earned a D-plus from ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.

E is for… Edge rushers

The newest term for the guys who attack the edge of the offensive line and get after the quarterback. Always in high demand, there are five prospects likely to hear their names called in Thursday’s first round, although in what order is anybody’s guess. If there was a consensus, it would suggest Florida linebacker Dante Fowler will be first off the board, possibly as high as third to Jacksonville, but depending on who you ask, any of Vic Beasley, Shane Ray, Randy Gregory and Bud Dupree could also go in the top ten. Gregory didn’t help his case by failing a marijuana test at the Combine, while Ray managed to get popped for possession of the drug just this week.

F is for… Fashion statements

It’s fair to say many of these lads have rarely, if ever, been asked to wear a suit, so who can blame them if they go a little wild on their big night to meet the Commissioner.

For some, like Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, it’s nothing more than a chance to show off your colourful side…

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26:  Robert Griffin III from Baylor smiles on stage during the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 26, 2012 in New York City. Griffin III was selected #2 overall by the Washington Redskins.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

… for others, like 2009 draft bust Aaron Curry, it’s literally your only chance to shine.

NEW YORK - APRIL 25:  Seattle Seahawks draft pick Aaron Curry poses with his new jersey at Radio City Music Hall for the 2009 NFL Draft on April 25, 2009 in New York City  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Expect bright colours, bow ties and plenty of awkward bear hugs for the Commish.

G is for… Gurley and Gordon

With running backs ageing faster and becoming more easily replaced as the league revolves ever more around the passing game, the position has become rapidly devalued at the draft. In 2005, three of the top five picks were backs, but 2012 (when Trent Richardson, Ryan Matthews and Jahvid Best – none of whom have come close to living up to their billing) is the last time one was drafted in Round 1. That should change this year, with Todd Gurley, despite coming off a torn ACL, among the top players in the draft for many and Melvin Gordon also in the first-round discussion.

H is for… Heartwarming tales

Every year has at least one feelgood story to follow as the draft unfolds. Michael Sam was the centre of attention last year as viewers waited to see if he would become the first openly gay player drafted to the NFL. This year’s unlikely hero could be 34-year-old Nate Boyer, a former Army Green Beret who spent the past five years long-snapping on special teams at the University of Texas. He’s highly unlikely to get his name called (few long snappers ever do), but could end up in a training camp with a shot to make a team.

I is for… Irrelevant

There will be 256 players selected and the last of those earns the title of Mr Irrelevant.

J is for… Jameis

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 06:  Jameis Winston #5 of the Florida State Seminoles celebrates after their 37-35 victory over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the ACC Championship game on December 6, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Jameis Winston is the former NCAA championship and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback of Florida State and is widely predicted to go first in the draft to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Winston is strong, confident and seen as ready to step into the professional game but even his own lawyer has admitted he lacks maturity, with several off-field issues clouding his potential just enough to leave a slither of doubt over the pick, the worst of which involves an accusation of sexual assault.

K is for… Kelly

As in Chip Kelly, the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles who also assumed personnel control of the team this winter. Kelly’s reputation as an outside-the-box coach has clearly transferred to team management and the former Oregon head coach has already left his mark this offseason with a series of moves that have left many scratching their heads, including signing multiple free agent running backs and adding oft-ridiculed quarterback Tim Tebow. Draft experts have tried to predict who the Eagles will select at No.20, but most admit they have no clue what Kelly has in store.

L is for… Leonard Williams

By most rankings, Williams is one of the top, if not the No.1, overall prospect in the draft. The 300lb USC defensive lineman is still only 20 but is seen as a can’t miss run defender with the potential to develop as a pass rusher. Will understandably drop below the two quarterbacks, but with teams like Jacksonville and Oakland perhaps getting seduced by the top edge rushers and wider receivers, the unglamorous Williams could be a steal for any team outside the top four.

M is for… Marcus Mariota

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 21: Quarterback Marcus Mariota of Oregon throws a pass during the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 21, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The second of big-name quarterbacks, Mariota is in many ways the polar opposite of Winston. The Oregon star has an impeccable character but there are many that doubt whether his success in the rapid-fire Oregon offence will translate to the NFL, or at the very least that he will require time to develop at the pro level. Nonetheless, he is the only player who could dethrone Winston at No.1, and the speculation over what Tennessee will do at No.2 remains the biggest question entering the first round. The Titans claim they are happy with last year’s sixth-round pick Zach Mettenberger, but Mariota would surely be an upgrade, but with many suitors for Mariota, including possibly his former college coach Kelly in Philly, San Diego (more to come on that) and Cleveland, a trade seems equally likely.

N is for… Names

Who is this year’s D’Brickashaw Ferguson or Barkevious Mingo? Safety Jaquiski Tartt jumps right out, but our favourite might just be wide receiver DeAndre Smelter.

O is for… On the road

The draft is taking place outside New York for the first time in more than half a century, with Chicago’s Roosevelt University hosting the event for the first time. In addition, several teams will announce their third-day picks from alternative locations, with Jacksonville hosting their picks in London as part of their bid to win over UK fans. Camera crews from ESPN and the NFL Network will also be busy as top picks Winston, Mariota and receiver Amari Cooper all turned down the invite to Chicago and will be at home when their name is called.

P is for… Patriots

The Super Bowl champs have the last pick in the first round, but any New England fans staying up for their pick have every chance of being disappointed, as boss Bill Belichick is notorious for trading down and collecting extra picks to use later in the draft. With the Pats usually picking late in the round, New England have traded out of the first day’s activities entirely four times since 2007. You have been warned.

Q is for… Quarterbacks

Aside from Winston and Mariota, it’s a terrible year to be looking for a signal caller. The rest of the quarterback class is shockingly bereft of talent, with GMs having to talk themselves into, or in some cases out of, names like Bryce Petty, Brett Hundley and Sean Mannion, none of whom are viewed as close to even be serviceable NFL back-ups yet. (So just watch somebody trade back into the bottom of the first round for one!)

R is for… Rivers

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 28:  Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers watches from the sidelines during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on December 28, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers threw the cat amongst the pigeons when he declared his unwillingness to follow the team to Los Angeles should the Chargers follow through with plans to relocate the 130miles north. With Rivers’ contract expiring this year, the Chargers have suddenly become candidates to shoot up the draft to select Marcus Mariota, headlining a package to move up from No.19 to Tennessee’s second pick with Rivers. It would a blockbuster deal that would alter the short and medium-term fortunes of both sides, as the 33-year-old remains one the NFL’s top quarterback, perhaps the best in the league without a Super Bowl ring, and those don’t get traded all that often.

S is for… Smokescreens

The closer we get to the draft, the more lies outweigh the truth. Team personnel become increasingly unlikely to offer any real tidbits of news to reporters, instead offering misinformation intended to keep everyone off their scent. Believe nothing.

T is for… Trades

Anything involving Rivers and/or Mariota will steal the headlines, but with 19 trades in the first round over the past two drafts and trade rumours already swirling there is bound to be plenty of action.

U is for… Uncertainty

Character issues and injury histories are the two major concerns for teams heading into the draft. For the most part players will deliver based on the evidence in their college tape, but problems of character and durability prove difficult for even the most thorough scouting departments to quantify, and when players start falling in the draft it becomes a game of chicken amongst general managers. New England famously gambled on two tight ends in the 2010 draft with hugely different returns – Rob Gronkowski fell to pick 42 due to fears over back problems while recently convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez slipped all the way to the fourth round. This year, questions hang over cornerback Marcus Peters (team discipline), the previously mentioned Gregory and Ray (marijuana), Gurley (injury).

V is for… Viewers

2014 NBA Finals: 15.5million average
2014 MLB World Series Game 7: 23.5million
2015 Masters final round: 14million

2014 NFL Draft First Round: 32million

It’s a pretty big deal.

X is for… X-Factor

Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, however, has the biggest question mark beside his name. With his size and ability, DGB has been drawn comparisons to future Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson, but did not play his final college season at Missouri after being kicked off the team following drug problems and allegedly pushing a woman down a flight of stairs. Would otherwise be taken in the top half of the first round, but is likely to fall all way to the second or beyond.

W is for… Wide receivers

Auburn v Alabama

After last year’s wide receiver class (hello, Odell Beckham, Sammy Watkins and many, many more) was hailed as the deepest in memory, 2015 is coming close to matching it. Alabama stud Amari Cooper, above, and West Virginia speedster Kevin White should both go in the top ten and, on talent alone, Green-Beckham belongs in their company. Below them you have DeVante Parker of Louisville and a host of others loaded with potential who could be off the board by the close of business on Thursday. There were five first-round receivers last year and should be matched or exceeded this time round.

Y is for… York

Under young owner Jed York, the San Francisco 49ers rose from the doldrums into one of the NFL’s model franchises in the past four years. Hiring Jim Harbaugh as head coach certainly helped, but internal disagreements led to his offseason removal from the Niners staff, prompting fears that the team could be headed back to a period of decline. Sudden retirements, free agency losses and coaching upheaval hold the makings of disaster alright, so York-backed GM Trent Baalke needs a strong draft.

Z is for… Zach Zenner

Come on now. Hardly spoilt for choice, Double Z (as we like to call him) is a full-back from South Dakota State projected to go in the late rounds. So this will probably be the only time you ever have cause to know his name.