NFL Draft 2015: Which players will be in the spotlight Thursday night?
NFL teams will be on the lookout, starting Thursday evening, for that next great football player who can help their team reach the Super Bowl.
Erin Hooley, Chicago Tribune/AP
Thursday evening in Chicago marks the 80th annual college draft held by the National Football League, where all 32 teams attempt to restock their rosters with new, younger, and less-expensive talent.
As in years past, quarterbacks will be high on the list of several teams. The last two Heisman Trophy winners, Jameis Winston of Florida State in 2013 and Oregon's Marcus Mariota last year, are expected to be selected within the first five picks. Winston led the Seminoles last year to the Rose Bowl, one of two College Football Playoff national semifinal games, against Mariota and the Ducks.
Oregon, behind the stellar leadership of Mariota, cruised past Florida State and advanced to the national championship game against Ohio State.
In terms of statistics, Mariota threw for 4,454 yards, 42 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions last fall for Oregon. Winston had 3,907 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions for Florida State.
The order of the first five teams drafting is as follows: 1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2. Tennessee Titans, 3. Jacksonville Jaguars, 4. Oakland Raiders, and 5. Washington Redskins.
Several NFL observers, including Sports Illustrated's Peter King, are expecting the Buccaneers to take Winston with the first pick and the Titans to select Mariota at No. 2.
Other impact college players expected to go early include defensive lineman Leonard Williams of Southern California, who was the Trojans' most valuable player and first team All-Pac-12 in 2014 with 80 tackles and seven quarterback sacks.
Back on offense, Alabama's Amari Cooper is expected to be the first wide receiver selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. Cooper led NCAA Division 1 receivers with 124 catches last season, good for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns.
A pair of running backs also have NFL teams' attention – Todd Gurley of Georgia and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. Last fall, Gurley was having a terrific season for the Bulldogs before a four-game suspension and late-season leg injury brought an end to his college career, according to CBSSports.com.
Gordon, on the other hand, led all Div. 1 ball carriers with 2,587 yards gained and 29 touchdowns in 2014.
Of course, part of the reason fans pay attention to the NFL Draft is the prospect of a trade that allows teams to move up or down the draft selection list or sees established players move to another franchise.
The fact that the draft is taking place outside of New York, where the NFL offices are located, is news this year. For the first time in over 50 years, the NFL Draft will be taking place in Chicago. Ever since the first draft 1936, the NFL Draft has been in seven different cities, including Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.
You can watch Round 1 of the 2015 NFL Draft, beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern time Thursday, on both the NFL Network and ESPN. The draft continues on Friday night at 7 p.m. Eastern with the second and third rounds and Saturday at noon Eastern with rounds four through seven.
[Editor's note: The name of the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner was misspelled in the original version of this article.]