Everybody seems to have an opinion about how his or her favorite team should build through free agency and the draft—opinions almost as myriad as the ways in which teams (successfully and unsuccessfully) try to actually accomplish the task.
This much is true: Free agency isn't a long-term plan for success. The draft is geared toward providing teams with young and cheap talent without having to bid for it as teams must do with big-name free agents.
Therefore, it makes sense that (with few exceptions) the players added in free agency aren't long-term solutions for their new teams. Even if the free agent is young enough to play five or more years in his new home, financial reasons can shorten that time immensely.
The best way to attack free agency is to sign enough free agents to leave the team free to draft the best available player that it can use. That doesn't mean that a team will completely eschew a position in the draft because it signed a free agent. It's about options rather than being backed into a corner.
Now that the first wave of free agency is winding down, here are my predictions on the first two rounds of the draft.
This is a perfect example of the explanation that was given in the intro slide. Sure, the Chiefs were ridiculously bereft at quarterback last season. But with Alex Smith and Chase Daniel now in the fold, they can draft the best player available rather than reaching for what many would consider an inferior player.
It's also a perfect example of the opposite approach. Signing left tackle Branden Albert to the franchise tag shouldn't affect this pick in any sense of the word. Albert may be an improving left tackle, but Joeckel can man the blindside for Smith (and others) for the next decade, and he has more upside at the position. There is zero assurance that Albert will be a Chief past this season.
Best player, first pick—it is just that easy.
The Jaguars weren't able (willing?) to lure any top quarterbacks in free agency, so they're backed into that corner with this pick.
Blaine Gabbert hasn't shown that he can be anything more than a fringe starter in the NFL, while Smith is clearly the top quarterback available in this draft. He has pocket presence and accuracy that Gabbert can only dream of.
With Smith in place under center (or, rather, back in the shotgun), the Jaguars finally have a shot at moving forward into the future.
The Raiders had a severe lack of pass-rushers last season and they have lost a lot of talent along the front seven throughout the past few years.
Ansah has the kind of size/speed combination that fits the old Raiders regime's modus operandi, but he has the upside and elite physical tools that transcend the "just win, baby!" mentality.
With the Eagles installing a defense that is similar to what Chip Kelly used in Oregon and what Bill Davis has used in previous stops, that means that the team will likely be adding a versatile linebacker/defensive end hybrid similar to what Dion Jordan played in Eugene.
Oh, what's that? Jordan is available and is one of the top-ranked pass-rushers in the draft? Well then...
Jordan's ability to excel both on the edge and in space makes this pick almost a no-brainer.
Riley Reiff could potentially replace Jeff Backus or Gosder Cherilus, but he certainly can't replace both. That leaves names like Jason Fox and Corey Hillard as potential options to start, and neither has the crazy upside and elite athleticism that this local kid possesses.
With Fisher in the fold, Reiff can move to either right tackle or right guard, potentially solidifying two spots along the team's offensive line.
For a team with a brand new head coach and general manager, the Browns have a lot of nice, young talent. They don't have a ton of pressing needs, and they seem content to try out Brandon Weeden for one more year rather than reaching for a quarterback here.
So, instead, they will get a fantastic perimeter defender to pair with Joe Haden.
Now that Carson Palmer has come over from the Raiders, the Cardinals don't have to take a quarterback in the first round, although they still could because Palmer isn't the long-term answer by any means. Still, he'll need some semblance of protection, and the Cardinals can't provide that at the moment.
Enter Lane Johnson, a great athlete and a superb pass-blocker. His presence will allow Palmer to get vertical to Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.
The Bills have added Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson this offseason. Not to belabor the point, but no one should be that surprised if the team still decides to pick a quarterback here. However, with no quarterback anywhere near the top of the board besides the previously selected Geno Smith, the Bills will instead grab the top-ranked offensive player that is still available.
Patterson isn't a perfect prospect. He lacks a lot of polish that a top receiver should have at this point in the draft, but he's a perfect complement to the Bills' current offensive pieces and he would be another dynamic playmaker on a team that sorely needs one.
This pick isn't going to fix any butt-fumble problems, but it will give the Jets' defense some teeth that it lacked last season.
Werner isn't a perfect fit as a standup linebacker, but Rex Ryan has always been adept at taking square pegs and whittling out the perfect role for talented prospects.
I'm higher on Allen than many in the media currently are, as he's seemingly been forgotten by many, while names like Patterson and Tavon Austin have been climbing up draft boards.
Allen doesn't have the speed of Patterson or the joystick-nature of Austin, but he's a natural athlete and a big-time playmaker. The Titans have some talent on offense, but Allen can be the type of extremely talented glue-guy who can bring it all together.
The Chargers' pass protection was so horrid last season that they'll likely try their darndest to trade up for a guy like Eric Fisher or Lane Johnson. Barring that, North Carolina's Johnathan Cooper could be the pick here as the next-best pass-blocking offensive lineman. Yet, picking a guard at No. 11 would be outside the normal box that general managers like to fit into, and adding a talent like Vaccaro could have just as big of an impact.
Next to Eric Weddle, Vaccaro would give the Chargers some incredible pass coverage up the middle. Any errant passes would almost assuredly be picked off, and the high-impact safety tandem would allow the Chargers to call plenty of blitzes knowing that the top of the defense is covered.
Mike Wallace is going to give the Dolphins a great vertical element on the outside, and Dustin Keller will be great in the seam. Alongside these two—not to mention Brian Hartline and Davone Bess—Austin might seem like a bit of a luxury, but that's kind of the point.
Giving Ryan Tannehill a ton of weapons is the best way to aid his ascension among the young elite passers in the NFL. Plus, Austin can carve out a niche in the middle of the field and after the catch that would help the team transition into the post-Reggie Bush era.
The Buccaneers once wanted to pair Gerald McCoy with Brian Price and build the front seven of the future through those two 2009 draft selections—but that plan didn't really work out.
They're working hard to fix the back seven and that could certainly be the direction that they go in here, but adding Lotulelei to create havoc alongside McCoy will end up making that back seven look a lot better anyway.
It's borderline criminal to have a fantastic running quarterback and spend a king's ransom on running back talent when you have such despicable interior blocking.
The addition of Warmack will finally help some of those other investments start to pay dividends.
Some people have Mingo going a lot higher because he has the ability to be such a dominant pass-rusher at the next level. I have him falling to No. 15 because I think that is all he'll ever be.
He'll always be somewhat of a liability against the run, and the Saints new defense can allow him to be a situational pass-rusher rather than being responsible for an anchoring one side of the line.
With two first-round picks and a stagnant offense, the temptation for a lot of mockers is to put an offensive lineman in one spot for the Rams and a receiver in the other and then call it a day. However, the Rams defense has a chance to be truly special with a couple more pieces, and Jeff Fisher will probably climb up on the table for a talented athlete like Ogletree.
Sure, Ogletree has some character issues that may scare other teams away, but Fisher has had success with lots of troubled prospects and has usually come out on top (see: Jenkins, Janoris).
I don't think Floyd is the elite playmaker or athlete that other analysts have made him out to be. Don't get me wrong, he has the ability to be a very good player at the next level, but there's nothing about him that truly stands out.
His best fit would be on a team with talented defenders around him (like he had in college) in a scheme where he can play as a 3-4 defensive end and still rush the passer with regularity.
The Cowboys probably won't be smart enough to finally fix the interior of their offensive line, so go ahead and plug the next best receiver in here if you want.
Still, it would make a lot of sense to protect Tony Romo with a guard who can actually keep interior rushers off of him.
It wasn't that long ago that the Giants had a well-stocked front of capable pass-rushers—both interior and exterior—that kept opposing quarterbacks up at night. Now, the Giants defense seems toothless and weak, as teams passed upon it at will in 2012 (28th-ranked passing defense).
Richardson is the best player available in this scenario. In fact, he's one of only three players left on my board that has a "top-15" grade. He'll slide in next to Linval Joseph, and he will also allow Cullen Jenkins and Marvin Austin to be rotational players.
Many people believe that Cornelius "Tank" Carradine would be a top-10 pick if it hadn't been for a torn ACL this past November. While I'm not that high on him, he is an intriguing pass-rushing prospect. Still, he lacks a lot of polish and could struggle when he goes up against the savvier offensive linemen in the NFL.
The Bears will take him here to continue to revamp their defense in the post-Urlacher era. He may need to start on the PUP list or take a "red shirt" year altogether, but he could be a fantastic rotational pass-rusher in his first season and perhaps even become the heir apparent to Julius Peppers.
As ridiculously talented as the Bengals' front seven is, there are moments when the secondary seems cobbled together and woefully inadequate. Cyprien, an extremely talented small-school safety, could go a long way toward changing that.
He has the athleticism to play in the deep-third, but his true value shows when he is roaming around the line of scrimmage. He has the strength to press a tight end at the line and shuck him off his route as well as the ability to blitz off of the edge. He's athletic enough—both linearly and laterally—to keep up with slot receivers as well.
Hmm...a thickly built back who is faster than people expect with good balance and an injury history....where have we seen this before?
The Rams need to do something at running back with Steven Jackson now headed to Atlanta. Maybe they don't pull the trigger on the position this early, but Lacy can step in today and help the team on all three downs. That can't be said for a lot of backs found in the later rounds.
Rhodes is another one of those "top-15 pick" grades that I mentioned earlier, and I truly believe that he could end up going a lot higher to a team that trades up to snag the No. 2 corner on just about everyone's board.
He's ridiculously physical—almost to a fault—and has the size to play either corner or safety at the next level. The Vikings desperately need help in the secondary and may need to make this selection in the teens if they really want a shot at the Seminole prospect.
In some ways, Brown is having a similar pre-draft experience as Russell Wilson did last year. We all agree that Brown is very talented, but the disagreement seems to be on how detrimental his lack of size will be at the next level. His physical style of play won't work as well in the pros as it did in the Big 12 because he's not going to be as athletically superior to opposing blockers as he was in college.
Here, he heads to the Colts where Chuck Pagano will look to install him as his very own Ray Lewis-type linebacker. If he pans out, he could be to the Colts' defense next season what Andrew Luck was to their offense last season.
The Vikings picked up Greg Jennings this offseason, but they still have a serious lack of offensive talent as they try to figure out if quarterback Christian Ponder is "the guy."
Patton is one of my favorite receivers in the draft. He has great hands, body control, vertical ability and moves after the catch. He'll be a great No. 2 option across from Jennings, and he will give Ponder all of the weapons he needs, effectively taking away any possible excuses.
It's never easy to say goodbye to a legend like Charles Woodson, but the addition of a young playmaker in the secondary is sorely needed, with or without his departure. Now, it's become a glaring need, and Ted Thompson's aversion to free agency means that they may need to reach a little bit to get their guy.
The Packers need Elam for his ability to match up with the physical tight ends in the NFC North—like Brandon Pettigrew and Martellus Bennett—but moreover, they need a player with his attitude to scare the daylights out of opposing running backs.
Jones' precipitous slide ends with a selection by the Texans, who can bank on his upside as a pass-rusher while also being protected from his potentially shortened career due to spinal stenosis because of the amount of talent that they already have on defense.
They're not counting on him to be the cornerstone of their defense. They would just need him to help apply more pressure across from J.J. Watt.
The Broncos have Terrance Knighton and Kevin Vickerson manning the middle of the defense, which may work for stretches, but Jack Del Rio will want more internal pressure than those two can provide. Some of that will likely be engineered by moving Derek Wolfe inside during nickel situations, but it can also be remedied with an inspired selection like this in the first round.
Jones is well-built, athletic and is just now learning the finer points of the position. Because of that, his best football may be ahead of him, and he can become a staple on the Broncos' line for years to come.
The Patriots would love a big body to stick next to Vince Wilfork in their 4-3 look, and they wouldn't mind reaching out to Bill Belichick's old pal Nick Saban to grab a guy with experience in a pro-style 3-4 as well.
Williams' rugby background just screams out as something that would appeal to Belichick, as does the tenacity and athletic upside of a guy who would rather toss a quarterback into the third row than abide by the NFL's quarterback protection rules.
Jamar Taylor has flown under a lot of radars, but the Falcons need more help at cornerback and have always placed a premium on athletic guys with great character. Taylor has both athleticism and good character in spades.
He would come in and start almost immediately for the Falcons, which is rare for cornerbacks to do. However, with his polish in both man and zone schemes, Taylor should be able to make the transition and keep receivers from getting behind him at the next level.
We've got a run on West Coast cornerbacks here, as the 49ers look to continue their fantastic offseason by adding Marcus Trufant's little brother to their squad.
This is another example of how free agency shouldn't necessarily affect a team's draft plans too much. Nnamdi Asomugha, who signed with the team on Tuesday (h/t ESPN), isn't a sure thing after the last couple of seasons that he's had, and Trufant may need a year (or so) to acclimate to NFL life.
With so many high draft picks, it makes sense for the 49ers to take a shot on Trufant here—even if he only sees time in subpackages and special teams in his first season.
"Nuke" Hopkins is almost too perfect of a fit for the Ravens and is often compared to Anquan Boldin, the receiver that just helped the Ravens to a Super Bowl win. Hopkins is exceedingly tough and rugged for a receiver and makes plays that one doesn't expect him to make because he's so natural, both with the ball in the air and after the catch.
With Torrey Smith stretching the field and Dennis Pitta working the middle, Hopkins would be a great asset on the other side as the Ravens look to maximize their investment with Joe Flacco.
33. Jacksonville Jaguars—Tyler Eifert (TE, Notre Dame)
The Jaguars got their quarterback in the first round; now he's got a safety blanket to go with an underrated receiving corps.
34. San Francisco 49ers (From KC)—Zach Ertz (TE, Stanford)
With Delanie Walker gone, the 49ers need an H-back to create mismatches with opposing defenses. Ertz can't do much in the way of blocking, but he'll be a fantastic complement to Colin Kaepernick and the rest of that offense.
35. Philadelphia Eagles—E.J. Manuel (QB, Florida State)
Michael Vick isn't going to last forever and may not even be the quarterback of the present for Chip Kelly's Eagles team. Manuel has work to do, but he has all the physical tools to succeed in the NFL and in Kelly's offense.
36. Detroit Lions—Damontre Moore (DE, Texas A&M)
The Lions desperately need a pass-rusher, and they have a couple of talented defensive line coaches to polish the pock marks in Moore's game. He'll be a good fit in the Wide Nine scheme.
37. Cincinnati Bengals (From Oakland)—Menelik Watson (OT, Florida State)
With their "extra" pick, the Bengals get a developmental tackle who could end up playing the right or the left side in a pinch, or even slide inside to guard. He needs work and time, though, which are two things that the Bengals can afford to give him.
38. Arizona Cardinals—Larry Warford (OG, Kentucky)
The Cardinals will continue rebuilding the offensive line with this massive interior line prospect who also has stunning feet in pass protection.
39. New York Jets—Tyler Wilson (QB, Arkansas)
Eventually, the Jets will need to take a quarterback who provides some light at the end of the tunnel. Wilson may step onto the practice field as the best passer on the Jets from Day 1.
40. Tennessee Titans—Manti Te'o (LB, Notre Dame)
Te'o's fall isn't necessarily because of the whole hoax thing. Rather, it has much more to do with how exposed he looked in the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama. He isn't that athletic and may end up starting on the weakside, where he doesn't have to fight off as many blockers.
41. Buffalo Bills—Matt Barkley (QB, Southern Cal)
The Bills have shown interest in Matt Barkley and will pull the trigger on him here. Barkley has a low ceiling, but he is also a smart, young player who could step in and provide wins right away after the inevitable Kevin Kolb meltdown.
42. Miami Dolphins—D.J. Fluker (OT, Alabama)
With Jonathan Martin switching over to left tackle, Fluker is the perfect prospect to come in and man the right side. After adding Austin in the first round, this represents an almost best-case scenario for the Dolphins offense.
43. Tampa Bay Buccaneers—Ryan Nassib (QB, Syracuse)
I'm not sure that Greg Schiano and Josh Freeman will ever get along. Enter Nassib, who will look awfully good facilitating an offense with the amount of talent that Tampa Bay has collected.
44. Carolina Panthers—Johnathan Hankins (DT, Ohio State)
The interior line additions continue in Carolina, this time on the defensive side. I've been advocating for more beef in the middle of the Panthers' line forever, but with Luke Kuechly in the second level, this pick is almost a no-brainer. With Hankins creating havoc up front, the 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year will have more room to operate.
45. San Diego Chargers—Terron Armstead (OT, Arkansas Pine-Bluff)
After missing on the elite tackles in the first round, the Chargers will look to grab an elite pass-protecting prospect here. Armstead turned heads at both the Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl, and he may be closer to making an impact at the next level than some think.
46. St. Louis Rams—Markus Wheaton (WR, Oregon State)
This is why the Rams should pass on receivers with both of their first-round picks. The receiver talent in this class is almost centralized in the second and third round, and the Rams get a great prospect here who might be their most well-rounded receiver from Day 1.
47. Dallas Cowboys—Margus Hunt (DE, Southern Methodist)
Hunt isn't guaranteed to make a splash in the NFL, as he's a bit of an odd prospect because of his size (legitimately 6'8") as well as how SMU moved him all over the field. Rod Marinelli is one of the better defensive line coaches in the league, and he will find a way for Hunt to make in impact.
48. Pittsburgh Steelers—Johnthan Banks (CB, Mississippi State)
The Steelers brought William Gay back to town, but they can't possibly be depending on him to start. Banks has fallen down boards as of late, but he has the physicality and toughness to fit in with the Steelers defense.
49. New York Giants—Khaseem Greene (LB, Rutgers)
I'm less a fan of Greene than others, and I think he's limited to being a "chase" linebacker at the next level, which can mean a lot of tackles but not as much impact. He'll provide much needed depth to the Giants and could end up with a bunch of reps at weakside linebacker.
50. Chicago Bears—Jordan Mills (OT, Louisiana Tech)
The Bears added some talent to their offensive line in free agency, but they can't get too complacent with such an incredibly poor unit. Mills adds depth to both the tackle and guard positions and could end up starting in his first season.
51. Washington Redskins—Jordan Poyer (CB, Oregon State)
Without a first-round pick, the Redskins need to make a splash. Poyer provides great value here as a fringe first-round prospect in a deep cornerback class. He'll get heavy reps almost immediately.
52. Minnesota Vikings—Sam Montgomery (DE Louisiana State)
The Vikings don't need a defensive end desperately, but they will end Montgomery's slide here and keep him fresh in a very talented pass-rushing rotation.
53. Cincinnati Bengals—Kevin Minter (LB, Louisiana State)
Minter is actually my favorite ILB in this year's class, and he should make an immediate impact at the next level. He could come in and immediately displace Rey Maualuga, and he would look awfully nice next to Vontaze Burfict, whom Marvin Lewis apparently prefers on the outside.
54. Miami Dolphins (From IND)—Alex Okafor (DE, Texas)
Defensive end isn't a glaring need for the Dolphins, but adding an impact player across from Cameron Wake would be a great long-term move for a squad that has already improved a lot offensively in this offseason.
55. Green Bay Packers—Barrett Jones (OC, Alabama)
This, like the last Packers pick, is a bit of a reach, but they get the top center in the class, and it's a position of great need for them.
56. Seattle Seahawks—Kyle Long (OG/OT, Oregon)
The Seahawks have spent a lot of picks on the offensive line as of late, but they still have room for improvement on the right side, where Long could play either position and be an immediate upgrade.
57. Houston Texans—Robert Woods (WR, Southern Cal)
The Texans have needed a No. 2 receiver for a while, and they could finally be able to get one here thanks to the depth of this class. Woods has a ton of physical talent and should be a fine protege for Andre Johnson.
58. Denver Broncos—Eric Reid (S, Louisiana State)
With fans clamoring for the head of Rahim Moore, the Broncos will grab his eventual replacement in Reid—although the two would look awfully nice next to each other heading into the future if Moore gets a dose of forgiveness for his playoff mishap.
59. New England Patriots—Aaron Dobson (WR, Marshall)
With good straight-line speed and a basketball background, Dobson can be the vertical threat that the Patriots have been looking for since Randy Moss left. He'll stretch the defense and make the catches that Brandon Lloyd seemed allergic to last season.
60. Atlanta Falcons—Johnathan Franklin (RB, UCLA)
Another high-character pick for the Falcons—this time, on a player who may need to wait in the wings for a while. Steven Jackson was a great signing for Atlanta, but Franklin will be great insurance for when (not if) Jackson starts breaking down.
61. San Francisco 49ers—Justin Hunter (WR, Tennessee)
The hits just keep on coming for the 49ers, who will add another talented receiver here to help make up for the "loss" of Randy Moss and help spur on the maturation of Kaepernick as a passer.
62. Baltimore Ravens—Sio Moore (OLB, Connecticut)
Moore has the ability to play multiple linebacker positions, which is always a boon for teams that are running hybrid fronts. He'll help continue the re-stocking of Baltimore's defensive shelves, which aren't nearly as bare as critics thought they would be.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.