Fanspeak Mock Draft 3.15: How early free agent moves will impact the NFL draft
New Orleans has its quarterback of the future – or at least, it’s QB of “right now.” Same goes for Las Vegas.
Philadelphia’s mighty defense has taken hits, although the Eagles managed to retain a big piece. Conversely, San Francisco just keeps adding players to its defense. Dallas, meanwhile, is less likely to view cornerback as a Day 1 or 2 need in the draft. Denver’s leaky offensive line suddenly looks much better. And Atlanta and Carolina found starting safeties – but both came at Cincinnati’s expense.
Less than a week in, and free agency is already reshaping team’s draft needs.
Here is a first-round mock draft that focuses on the early free agency signings and trades:
1. Carolina Panthers (via CHI): QB Anthony Richardson, Florida
Carolina has quietly put together a very solid offensive line, so expect a run-heavy offense this year with Richardson as the ringleader. And they’re going to need Richardson’s elite athleticism, as the team has very little talent at the receiver and running back positions.
2. Indianapolis Colts: QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
(Trade with Houston)
Would Indianapolis be willing to part ways with running back Jonathan Taylor in a trade that moves them up two spots? He followed up a solid rookie year by winning Offensive Player of the Year his second season before injuries limited him to 11 games last season. Otherwise, the Colts have a big decision coming up, as Taylor will be an unrestricted free agent after the upcoming season.
3. Arizona Cardinals: Edge Will Anderson, Alabama
Arizona no doubt would love to trade out of this spot with QBs Bryce Young and Will Levis still on the board. But who would be willing to move that far up to acquire either player? Seattle just re-signed Geno Smith, Las Vegas signed Jimmy Garoppolo and Atlanta and Tennessee will likely give their 2022 third-round rookies a real shot, either this season or next. You can count New York Jets out if the team trades for Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. That leaves Washington, which would have to give up a boatload of picks and probably players to move up from 16 to 3. Start with this Washington’s first three picks, then add-in next year’s second- and third-rounders. That seems excessively high for an undersized QB (Young) and a QB who struggles with accuracy and decision-making on the field (Levis). Pass.
4. Houston Texans: OT Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
(Trade with Indianapolis)
Recent media reports say Houston may be willing to skip the QB position this year and go with 2021 third-rounder Davis Mills one more year. That would allow the Texans to take a “best player available” approach, then go for broke in the 2024 draft and aim for one of those signal-callers. So if that’s true, then why would Houston take Levis or Young at No. 4 when it passed on both players with the second overall pick? With Skoronski at guard, the team would have a pretty good offensive line. Add in another serviceable guard and a starting center, plus the one-two RB punch of Taylor (in the trade with Indianapolis) and 2022 star rookie Dameon Pierce, and Houston suddenly looks much better.
5. Seattle Seahawks (via DEN): S Brian Branch, Alabama
Don’t look now, but Seattle has quietly put together one of the best overall rosters in the league. Georgia’s Jalen Carter would have been the obvious pick here before the team re-signed Jaren Reed and then signed Dre’mont Jones to a big contract in free agency. The only real “holes” worthy of a pick this high in the draft would be in the secondary, where cornerback Mike Jackson and safety Quandre Diggs are replaceable. Branch could literally play slot corner or either safety position, making him coach Pete Carroll’s new Earl Thomas.
6. Detroit Lions (via LAR): QB Will Levis, Kentucky
To be fair, Detroit coach Dan Campbell towers over most people, but he’d at least be close to eye-to-eye with the 6-foot-4, 229-pound Levis, a somewhat polarizing prospect. Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter would be super tempting here, but the Lions might not get another shot at drafting a top-10 QB and potential Jared Goff replacement for many years, as the team is relatively close to playoff contention.
7. Las Vegas Raiders: Edge Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
Wilson would be the perfect complement to Chandler Jones, about to start his 12th season. Jones doesn’t become a free agent until 2026, giving him two seasons to serve as Wilson’s mentor and future replacement opposite Maxx Crosby.
8. Atlanta Falcons: CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
Again, tempting to take Jalen Carter here, but Atlanta now sports an imposing three-man rotation at defensive line after signing David Onyemata to a three-year, $35 million deal. However, of the nearly quarter-billion dollars spent by Atlanta in the first few days of free agency, the team still lacks talent at outside cornerback opposite of 2021 first-rounder A.J. Terrell.
9. Chicago Bears (via CAR): DL Jalen Carter, Georgia
This is an easy pick. Chicago lacks talent and depth at the position. The greater need may be at offensive line, as the Bears have lots of questions there and a new QB, but Carter was still too good of a talent to pass up, plus DT is a position of need for Chicago.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (via NO): DL Bryan Bresee, Clemson
This is a tricky pick. On the one hand, this feels like the perfect spot for UT running back Bijan Robinson, the No. 1 overall player in the Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board. On the other hand, the team just signed former first-rounder Rashaad Penny, while Miles Sanders, a 2019 second-rounder likely won’t return and is an unrestricted fee agent. And the team re-signed James Bradberry to a three-year deal, so cornerback is no longer as big of a need. But losing Javon Hargrave to the 49ers hurts, but a Bresee-Jordan Davis pairing gives the Eagles a solid DL duo for the next decade.
11. Tennessee Titans: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
Is Andre Dillard any good? Who knows, as the 2019 first-rounder has never received more than 340 snaps in a single season. Blame that on Philadelphia’s depth along the line, sure. But you’d also think Dillard could have forced his way into more playing time if his play deserved it. Either way, OT is probably not a Day 1 priority anymore for Tennessee. But receiver is. Last year’s first-rounder, Treylon Burks, caught 33 passes for 444 yards and 1 TD last season. He’s the Titans’ best returning receiver. JSN looked smooth during Combine drills, eliminating fears about a perceived lack of athleticism, although he also skipped the 40. Still, Smith-Njigba would immediately walk in as Tennessee’s best receiver.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Bryce Young, Alabama
(trade with Houston)
Yes, Tampa Bay signed veteran Baker Mayfield to a one-year deal. And, yes, Kyle Trask was a recent second-rounder. And, yes, the Buccaneers would likely have to give up next year’s first-rounder. But Tampa Bay has shown that it’s willing to go for broke when it comes to acquiring a quarterback.
12. Green Bay Packers: Edge Lukas Van Ness, Iowa
(trade with New York Jets)
Van Ness has the size to play as a defensive end in Green Bay’s 3-4 defense and the size to kick out to outside linebacker, where Rashan Gary is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
13. New England Patriots: OT Paris Johnson, Ohio State
The player New England drafts here depends on what kind of help it wants to provide 2021 first-rounder Mac Jones, as you could make strong arguments for taking a tight end, running back or wide receiver with this pick. But offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn is reportedly not returning, which would open a gaping hole at right tackle.
14. Green Bay Packers: OT Broderick Jones, Georgia
If Jones can’t beat out Yosh Nijman at right tackle, then he’ll compete with Jon Runyan at right guard. Either way, Jones provides positional flexibility.
15. Washington Commanders: CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
Washington appears intent on starting the season with a second-year, fifth-round quarterback. And yet, the Commanders have prioritized its defensive line after re-signing Daron Payne to a four-year, $90 million deal despite drafting a DT in the second-round last year and picking up another rookie DT who played extremely well in limited snaps. And, oh yeah, don’t forget about Jonathan Allen, the team’s starting 3-tech. Signing former Minnesota third-round CB Cam Dantzler helps, but not much, as more help is needed in the secondary.
16, Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Quentin Johnston, TCU
The Still Curtain’s Tommy Jaggi has Pittsburgh taking Georgia’s Jones with this pick, noting the significant drop-off in talent after Jones. And Jaggi’s right – the next-highest ranked OT is Tennessee’s Darnell Wright, the No. 39 overall prospect in the Fanspeak-Rigdon big board. That’s why it would be surprising to see Jones last past Green Bay. As for cornerback, the Patrick Peterson signing probably takes CB off the table for Round, although it could still be in play when the Steelers have two picks in the second round, including No. 33 overall. The under-the-radar solid pickup of Nate Herbig probably takes Florida guard O’Cyrus Torrence off the board, too. However, it’s not a great receiver class, and if the Steelers don’t take one now, then they’re probably not going to find a George Pickens-type in the second round. Johnston would give the Steelers a big, fearsome duo as the two are similar in size: Johnston is 6-foot-3, 208 pounds while Pickens measured 6-foot-3, 195-pounds at last year’s Combine. Johnston, though, posted a much-better vertical (40.5 inches) and broad jump (11-feet, 2-inches) than Pickens in 2022 (33-inch vertical and 10-foot, 5-inch broad jump).
17. Detroit Lions: CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
The signing of Cameron Sutton was a good start, as it could potentially push Jeff Okudah into more of a CB3 role – still important in this pass-happy era. Adding Witherspoon, though, would turn this position into a strength.
18. Houston Texans (via CLE): WR Jordan Addison, USC
(Trade with Tampa Bay)
Veteran Robert Woods was a nice pickup, but the he’ll be 31 soon and is coming off his second consecutive pedestrian season. Meanwhile, Brandin Cooks reportedly wants out after a sub-700-yard season. And Noah Brown was more of a special teams player until being forced into a No. 3 receiver role this past season in Dallas. In other words, Houston needs help at the position. Addison’s 40-time of 4.49 was good by not eye-catching, and he lacks ideal height at 5-foot-11, 176-pounds. But the dropoff after Addison is fairly steep.
19. Seattle Seahawks: CB Kelee Ringo, Georgia
Seattle reportedly met with Ringo during his pro day at Georgia and at the Combine. A Ringo-Tariq Woolen combo would be fun to watch.
20. Miami Dolphins: FORFEIT
21. LA Chargers: WR Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee
Tight end Gerald Everett has been a nice “bridge” player and is in the last year of his two-year contract, and 2021 third-rounder Tre’ McKitty has disappointed thus far, but this is a deep tight end class, so Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer might not be the pick here. Instead, the Chargers add something sorely lacking on offense: pure speed. Hyatt doesn’t have to put up big numbers his rookie year to have an impact, as his speed alone will force teams to account for it.
22. Baltimore Ravens: RB Bijan Robinson, Texas
All these things can be true: Baltimore needs a receiver and a cornerback more than it needs a running back; recent history (Ezekiel Elliott) shows that Robinson probably has a six- to eight-year shelf life and might not make a second contract for Baltimore; Robinson could lead the league in rushing at least one of the season’s he’s with Baltimore. Granted, it’s a great year for running backs and a below-average one for receivers, the Ravens would be drafting a borderline-first, likely second-round talent if it still went with receiver at this point in the draft. However, this year’s draft is very deep at the cornerback position, so the team could conceivably find a starter or at least a contributor in the third round (Baltimore doesn’t own a second-round pick). Therefore, free agency may be Baltimore’s best option to improve its receiver group. So, what do you do if you don’t have an A-plus receiver group? Run the football. Pairing the league’s best running QB with the top rookie running back could make Baltimore Super Bowl contenders – at least for one year.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Edge Myles Murphy, Clemson
The beauty of signing Byron Murphy to a reasonable two-year, $22-million contract is that Minnesota doesn’t have to take a cornerback in the first round. That doesn’t mean they won’t, but the talent at the position is drying up. Plus, with only five picks, the Vikings have to swing for the fences with its first pick and hope for the best – and Clemson’s Murphy is exactly that type of player. Cutting receiver Adam Thielen will no doubt have an effect, but the offense wasn’t the problem last season. Adding the best pass rusher still on the board is a good start.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars: CB Deonte Banks, Maryland
Jacksonville doesn’t have a lot of holes, although it’ll be interesting to see how Walker Little fares as the team’s starting right tackle when massive Ohio State RT Dawand Jones is still available. But the team has made it clear that adding pieces to the secondary is a priority, and Banks is a big, physical and fast prospect.
25. NY Giants: CB Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State
The Darren Waller trade is huge, so you can probably rule out Notre Dame’s Mayer, who continues to fall. Upgrading the secondary, though, has to remain as a big priority.
26. Dallas Cowboys: TE Darnell Washington, Georgia
Need guard, need receiver, need run-stopper, need running back, blah, blah, blah, blah. Let’s just cut to the chase and explain why Washington is the pick here: He would fix a lot of issues on offense as that proverbial-but-rare “sixth offensive lineman.” Think Witten-Bennett 2.0 – which was pretty good while it lasted. And here’s a second bonus prediction: Dallas will overdraft and take TCU’s Max Duggan in the second round.
27. Buffalo Bills: G O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida
This will continue to be the pick until it stops making sense.
28. Cincinnati Bengals: TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
Tight end suddenly shoots up Cincinnati’s needs list after Hayden Hurst signed with Carolina on Wednesday. Mayer’s fall finally comes to and; now expect him to put up Rookie of the Year-type statistics with QB Joe Burrow.
29. New Orleans (via SF): TE Delton Kincaid, Utah
Kincaid is the perfect safety-valve for new QB Derek Carr.
30. Philadelphia Eagles: CB Cam Smith, South Carolina
The Wednesday release of Darius Slay due to contract reasons has painted the Eagles into a corner, no pun intended. They had a shot at Porter, the No. 2 corner in this class, but passed in this mock draft with the thought that they could still draft one late in the first. However, Smith is now seen as more of a Day 2 prospect due to alleged issues on and off the field. If he play all 17 games for Philadelphia next season? Then this pick could be a steal, as Smith was rated as the top CB for much of the draft season by the Fanspeak-Rigdon big board.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: OT Dawand Jones, Ohio State
As for Kansas City, they seem to be the only team in the league that can completely overhaul its offensive line in a single offseason and still come out on top, as the Chiefs lost both starters but replaced
Los Angeles Rams, second round: OT Matthew Bergeron, Syracuse
Cleveland Browns, second round: CB D.J. Turner, Michigan
Miami Dolphins, second round: RB Tyjae Spears, Tulane
Denver Broncos, third round: RB Zach Charbonnet, UCLA
San Francisco 49ers, third round: RB Tank Bigsby, Auburn
Jake Rigdon (@jrigdon73) covers the NFL draft for Fanspeak.com. His big board is updated at least once per week during the season and leading up to the draft. Message him on Twitter to receive $3 off your new Ultimate GM subscription.