NFL Free Agent Mock Draft: Where Would Top Players on the Market Land?
NFL free agency is around the corner. Players are getting cut, franchise tags are flying and rumors abound.
Many of the top free agents are already off the market thanks to the franchise tag or long-term deals. Joe Flacco, Henry Melton, Michael Johnson and Jairus Byrd were all snatched away from the free-agent waters on the first of March alone.
There are plenty of quality free agents left, however. But what if free agency worked like the NFL draft?
Here is a look at where the top free agents left standing might land if they were drafted in the same order as the 2013 draft. That means Washington doesn't get a pick because it traded it away for Robert Griffin III last year.
Note: Salary cap implications are factored into these picks.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
Pick: Jake Long, OT
With the recent news that the Chiefs traded for Alex Smith's formidable services at quarterback, their biggest need shifts to offensive tackle.
Granted, Branden Albert could be slapped with the franchise tag or signed to a long-term deal before free agency, but that has not happened yet. Besides, despite Jake Long's injuries the past couple of seasons, he has the potential to be the top left tackle in the league.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Pick: Sebastian Vollmer, RT
Good thing Pat McAfee was hit with the franchise tag; otherwise, the Jaguars might be tempted here.
Too bad Joe Flacco agreed to a record deal with the Ravens, or he would have been the pick here. We cannot confirm or deny that word of this reached him and spurred him to sign a new contract.
This is a good spot for Jacksonville, which has had issues on the right side of its line. Sebastian Vollmer can fix those issues.
Eugene Monroe was great on the left side last season for the Jaguars, but Cameron Bradfield and Guy Whimper left a lot to be desired. Vollmer is a bookend offensive tackle with a great track record in his four-year history with the Patriots.
3. Oakland Raiders
Pick: Vance Walker, DT
The Raiders have climbed out of cap hell and into cap purgatory. That means they still don't have the firepower to sign any big-money free agents.
Vance Walker has had a fine career with the Atlanta Falcons in the middle of the defensive line. He may not be Henry Melton or Desmond Bryant, but the Raiders must make do with what they have in spending money.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
Pick: Dashon Goldson, S
Pick a defensive back in the Philadelphia defense—anyone—and you will note how terrible he was last season. Safeties were part of the problem, and Jairus Byrd is here to shore up that position.
Or he was, at least, until the Bills announced their intention to slap him with the franchise tag. That leaves Dashon Goldson as the next best thing at safety.
Goldson has proven himself on two consecutive "show-me" contracts—a one-year deal he took in 2011 and the franchise tender he signed last year—which gives him some momentum heading into this year's free agency. Assuming the 49ers don't tag him again, that is.
5. Detroit Lions
Pick: Michael Bennett, 4-3 DE
The Lions have an opportunity to re-sign Cliff Avril, but they know better. Avril is a one-trick pony at defensive end, hence his awful rating over at Pro Football Focus (h/t mlive.com).
Avril was rated fifth-worst at 4-3 defensive end last season thanks mostly to the poor job he does against the run. He is viewed as a dynamic pass-rusher, but his weakness in the run game is a big part of the reason he only netted 35 total tackles last season.
Enter Michael Bennett, who had almost as many sacks as Avril last year and managed to play the run much better. The 27-year-old defensive end is a late bloomer in the NFL, but he quietly put up a great season at the position for the Bucs.
Bennett was rated the seventh-best defensive end in the league last year at Pro Football Focus, whereas Avril was in the bottom 10. That disparity alone makes this decision easy.
6. Cleveland Browns
Pick: Anthony Spencer, 3-4 OLB
The Browns are switching to a 3-4 defense this year, making Anthony Spencer a perfect addition.
Demarcus Ware gets all the attention, but Spencer quietly had a far better season last year. Sacks were nearly equal, but Spencer topped 95 total tackles. He has always been better against the run.
Cleveland gets a guy who can provide stability as the Browns change defensive philosophies. Their defense struggled last season, and adding a well-rounded pass-rusher can only help it improve.
7. Arizona Cardinals
Pick: Branden Albert, LT
The Cardinals may as well have put a wet slice of bread in at left tackle for what they got out of the position after Levi Brown went down.
D'Anthony Batiste was horrendous, making the position a priority this offseason. While the position might be thinning with free agents being brought back or hit with the franchise tag, Albert will be a massive upgrade.
8. Buffalo Bills
Pick: Dwayne Bowe, WR
The Chiefs will decide whether to place the franchise tag on Dwayne Bowe or Branden Albert—or forgo its use altogether—soon enough, but if Bowe shakes loose, he will be the best receiver on the market, with apologies to Mike Wallace.
Outside Stevie Johnson, the Bills have had a dearth of talent at the receiver position. Pairing Bowe with the speedy Johnson would give the team a fantastic one-two punch to go along with C.J. Spiller out of the backfield.
With no real quarterback options in free agency, upgrading Ryan Fitzpatrick's weapons seems like a smart thing to do.
9. New York Jets
Pick: Paul Kruger, 3-4 OLB
The Jets went from being the team farthest over the cap to having a small amount of cap space after cutting Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Eric Smith and Jason Smith. The 2013 cap coming in at $123.9 million—over $3 million more than initially projected—has helped even more.
New York still doesn't have an incredible amount of cap space, so it has to be modest with its spending.
Enter Paul Kruger.
Don't get me wrong, the free-agent outside linebacker won't be cheap—his fantastic playoff run made him some extra coin in free agency—but he will not command nearly as much as some of the other free agents available here.
Kruger fills a pass-rushing need for the Jets.
10. Tennessee Titans
Pick: Andy Levitre, OG
Jairus Byrd has been caged in Buffalo by the franchise tag, leaving Andy Levitre for the taking.
He might not be Carl Nicks, but Levitre is most certainly the best interior lineman on the market. The Titans need improvement in several areas, but this is a rather big one.
Steve Hutchinson is declining with age, and Deuce Lutui and Leroy Harris weren't very good either. Despite a potentially big contract for an offensive guard, Levitre represents too big of an upgrade at the position to pass up here.
11. San Diego Chargers
Pick: Andre Smith, RT
The franchise tag eluded Andre Smith, landing on Michael Johnson instead. That means the talented offensive tackle will hit the market, assuming the Bengals do not sign him to a long-term deal before March 12.
Jeromey Clary was serviceable for the Chargers on the right side of the line, but San Diego needs a massive overhaul of its offensive line. Michael Harris was abysmal at left tackle; perhaps Smith or Clary can move over.
12. Miami Dolphins
Pick: Mike Wallace, WR
Miami media made a lot of noise about the Dolphins pursuing Mike Wallace in free agency. After all, Brian Hartline had a nice 1,000-yard season, but the wide receiver corps resembled the cast of the Walking Dead.
The draft gods smiled upon them here, putting the vertical threat in their laps at the 12-spot.
While right tackle Andre Smith was probably tempting—Jonathan Martin was not much of a reprieve from Marc Colombo at right tackle for Miami last season—Wallace represents a sorely needed upgrade at the wide receiver position.
Wallace might not be a complete receiver, but he is certainly the best option at the position for the Dolphins—assuming money is no object, at any rate.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Pick: Gosder Cherilus, RT
The Bucs lost out on a lot of quality offensive linemen to this point, so they take the next best available guy in Gosder Cherilus.
Cherilus has been quite good for the Lions, even if he is not the most athletic specimen at the position. Demar Dotson did a decent job for the Bucs last season, but Cherilus should be a nice upgrade.
14. Carolina Panthers
Pick: Desmond Bryant, 4-3 DT
None of Carolina's defensive tackles were good last year. Desmond Bryant falling to them at this point in the free-agent draft is a coup.
Last season, Bryant was the best defensive tackle in a group that included Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly for the Raiders.
Despite Steve Smith's age and the lack of a great second option at receiver, defensive tackle is a bigger need in Carolina. This will be a huge upgrade for the Panthers.
15. New Orleans Saints
Pick: Aqib Talib, CB
New Orleans played a different brand of defense last season. It was called "no defense."
Part of the problem was a porous defensive backfield, which can be remedied by improving the personnel.
Despite some issues in Tampa, Aqib Talib seems to have avoided trouble for some time now. He will be an excellent choice for the Saints here, who need all the help they can get turning that defense around.
16. St. Louis Rams
Pick: Greg Jennings, WR
The Rams have room for improvement at receiver considering Danny Amendola is injured so often and Chris Givens and Brian Quick are just coming out of their rookie seasons.
Adding quality veteran play would be ideal, and Greg Jennings fits that bill quite nicely.
Despite his age and some injury concerns of his own, Jennings should be a solid addition. His leadership could prove to be invaluable, and he would instantly be the best route-runner on the team.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pick: Chris Ivory, RB
The Steelers don't have a viable starting running back on their roster right now. Worse, they don't have any cap space to do much in free agency.
Steven Jackson might be perfect here, except one thing: He probably wants to sign the last contract of his career. That means a championship discount might not work or be enough, at any rate.
So what can Pittsburgh do to cheaply address the position? There may be no better match than Chris Ivory out of New Orleans.
The running back market is thin, but Ivory might be inexpensive enough for the Steelers to land him. At least if they can land any free agents.
His bruising running style seems well-suited for Pittsburgh, as is his price tag.
18. Dallas Cowboys
Pick: Cliff Avril, DE
The Cowboys are shifting to a 4-3 defense, and they could use a pass-rusher to replace the departed Anthony Spencer.
Here comes Cliff Avril, whose pass-rushing prowess might be irresistible at this stage in the draft.
Even though Avril is not good against the run, maintaining a good pass rush is paramount in today's NFL. Pairing Avril with DeMarcus Ware could be deadly for opposing offenses.
19. New York Giants
Pick: Randy Starks, DT
The interior of the Giants defensive line was average last year, and they just let Chris Canty go. This makes Randy Starks an excellent choice for this pick.
Starks has been solid for the Dolphins in the middle of the line, both as a 3- and 5-technique defensive lineman.
20. Chicago Bears
Pick: William Moore, S
With Henry Melton tagged, the Bears can focus elsewhere in free agency. At this point, they can take the "best player available" approach.
Chris Conte and Major Wright were fine last season, but the Bears have an opportunity to make their secondary the best in the league by adding a great safety.
Moore is a big-hitting safety who is good in coverage. Putting him in that defensive backfield with Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman is a good defense against the heavily armed NFC North.
21. Cincinnati Bengals
Pick: Wes Welker, WR
The Bengals have one of the best receivers in the league in A.J. Green. Despite utilizing some draft picks at the position, they haven't found consistency elsewhere.
Wes Welker, meanwhile, has been one of the most consistent receivers in the league over the past half-decade.
Adding Welker to the mix in Cincinnati could transform a good passing game into a great one.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington)
Pick: Louis Vasquez, OG
Harvey Dahl was fine last season, but the left side of the interior offensive line is lacking.
Louis Vasquez plays the same position as Dahl, but the Rams could move one of them over to the other side. The point is, they need some improvement, even if that means a quality guy is playing out of position.
Vasquez would be a huge upgrade, even in that instance.
23. Minnesota Vikings
Pick: Phil Loadholt, RT
This might be a bit cheap, but the Vikings need to find a way to retain their trailblazing right tackle.
Adrian Peterson had a monster year in large part due to a good offensive line. Loadholt was particularly good on the right side, which just so happens to be the direction Peterson ran most.
24. Indianapolis Colts
Pick: Brad Jones, 3-4 ILB
Last year, the Colts focused on overhauling the offense, and they succeeded. This year, it's all about the defense.
Pat Angerer and Jerrell Freeman were mediocre last season in their first as 3-4 inside linebackers. Brad Jones, meanwhile, moved from the outside to the middle of Green Bay's defense after injuries and thrived in the new role.
He picked a great time to break out, as he is hitting free agency. The Colts cannot resist upgrading the position at this stage.
25. Seattle Seahawks
Pick: Danny Amendola, WR
The Seahawks have an all-around solid team, but they could use some help at the receiver position. What better place to grab a free agent than a rival team?
Danny Amendola may not be marquee, but he is a great receiver when he is healthy. Of course, that is the issue.
Amendola has missed a ton of games with the Rams over the years, which makes him a risky pickup. It also likely reduces his price tag.
26. Green Bay Packers
Pick: Reggie Bush, RB
DuJuan Harris was the running back du jour for the Packers at the end of last season, but he may be going the way of James Starks.
Green Bay hasn't had a great running back since the days of Ahman Green, though Ryan Grant had a couple of productive seasons. Reggie Bush isn't necessarily great, but he could be fantastic in that offense.
Bush wasn't utilized to his fullest potential in New Orleans—and he fought through injuries—but he improved with Miami in a below-average offense over the past couple of seasons. Having that kind of threat out of the backfield could make the Packers offense incredibly scary.
27. Houston Texans
Pick: Kenny Phillips, S
The Texans were a bit of a mirage last season, though injuries on the defensive side had something to do with that.
Glover Quin was fine at safety, but Kenny Phillips would be a nice upgrade. The Giants have no need for Phillips after the emergence of Stevie Brown, so the Texans snap him up here.
28. Denver Broncos
Pick: Dannell Ellerbe, ILB
Things looked bleak for Baltimore last season when Ray Lewis went down with a torn triceps last season alongside Lardarius Webb's ACL injury.
Dannell Ellerbe did an excellent job filling in for Lewis, helping propel the Ravens into the playoffs. In seven starts, the young inside linebacker had 61 tackles and two sacks, and the Ravens have identified him as a piece they'd like to keep.
Too bad the Ravens paid Joe Flacco all that money. Also, too bad they beat the Broncos, allowing Denver to pick earlier in this mock draft.
29. New England Patriots
Pick: Derek Cox, CB
The Patriots defense was markedly improved when they picked up Aqib Talib, and losing him in the playoffs could have made the difference between an AFC Championship loss and a Super Bowl berth.
Derek Cox is a fine alternative to Talib, who was scooped up almost half a round ago.
Though he has had injury issues, Cox has been good for the Jaguars when on the field. At this point, the Patriots need to patch up their secondary in more than one place, and Cox is a good start.
30. Atlanta Falcons
Pick: Tony Gonzalez, TE
Assuming Mr. Gonzalez doesn't retire—and it looks more and more likely that he'll be back—the Falcons can do little better than to bring him back at this stage in the free-agent draft.
Gonzalez is the best ever, and the Falcons don't have any real players to replace him with right now. Besides, if Gonzalez got picked by anyone else, he probably would retire.
31. San Francisco 49ers
Pick: Sean Smith, CB
The secondary was a hidden problem for the 49ers defense last season, and it was exposed during the Super Bowl. With no significant pass rush on Joe Flacco, Chris Culliver and Co. were carved up like a John Madden turkey.
Sean Smith may not be an elite cover corner—despite what he may think—but he is a big defensive back who still has room to improve in the NFL.
Smith could thrive in the hostile environment the San Francisco defense fosters. With excellent players all around him, he could finally realize that potential.
32. Baltimore Ravens
Pick: Ed Reed, S
Of course, the Ravens could have been absolutely hosed at this point. Not only could they have they lost their Super Bowl MVP, Joe Flacco, but they were forced to wait as 30 other teams took 31 players before they could pick.
Thankfully for them, Flacco was saved by a last-minute deal. Still, having lost Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe to the free-agent draft and Ray Lewis to retirement—and with few better alternatives—the Ravens hope to cling to some semblance of continuity on defense by retaining the services of veteran Ed Reed.
Reed still has a few years left in his tank. Perhaps a taste of glory will keep the engine running.