The Best NFL Draft Fits After Early 2021 Free-Agent Action

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2021

The Best NFL Draft Fits After Early 2021 Free-Agent Action

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    Sam Hodde/Associated Press

    As NFL teams maneuver through the first wave of free agency, trades and agreed-upon signings from the two-day legal tampering period became official Wednesday. Given the roster movement, some fanbases should feel a sense of optimism.

    Teams with a ton of cap space could address several needs across the roster. Among the most active clubs, the New England Patriots had an aggressive approach while surveying the open market.

    On the flip side, the Baltimore Ravens haven't made huge splashes other than acquiring guard Kevin Zeitler, but they lost a couple of key starters. Some other front offices cannot offer lucrative deals because of limited financial capital.

    Regardless of strategy in free agency, every team will go into April's draft looking to fill specific positions. 

    With that in mind, let's take a look at the best draft fits for teams that either lost players in key roles or didn't fill certain spots in the first wave of free agency. We've omitted the obvious link between the Jacksonville Jaguars and quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The selections factor in a prospect's projected draft range.

Baltimore Ravens: Edge Zaven Collins, Tulsa

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens lost edge-rushers Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue to the New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders, respectively, in free agency. The front office re-signed Pernell McPhee, but he's a rotational defender. Jaylon Ferguson, a 2019 third-rounder, hasn't established himself as a starter.

    The Ravens can replace Judon, who's more than just a pass-rusher, with another versatile prospect at the back end of the first round. 

    Zaven Collins finished his collegiate career with modest sack numbers, logging 7.5 through three terms. At Tulsa, he fulfilled duties beyond rusher the passer, though. The 6'4", 260-pounder made an impact in coverage and against the run, tallying 25 tackles for loss, eight pass breakups and five interceptions as a collegian. 

    At the pro level, Collins could see a spike in his pass-rushing impact if that's his primary objective. He's shown the flexibility and closing speed to collapse the pocket. Most importantly, the Ravens could keep him on the field for all three downs because of his ability to support the run and cover shallow zones.

Chicago Bears: WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota

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    Stacy Bengs/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears haven't lost any of their top wideouts, but that could happen in the coming days or weeks.

    Per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, wide receiver Allen Robinson II accepted the franchise tag. He initially resisted the tender, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. If talks on a long-term deal between Chicago and the Pro Bowl wideout stall, that could lead to a tag-and-trade scenario.

    Secondly, the Bears had trade discussions involving Anthony Miller, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, who believes the team will probably deal the slot receiver. 

    At Minnesota, Rashod Bateman turned heads, hauling in 147 passes for 2,395 yards and 19 touchdowns. He answered concerns about his speed with an impressive 40-yard run, clocking in at 4.37 seconds (hand-timed) and 4.39 seconds (laser-timed) at the Exos combine.

    Bateman has collegiate production that suggests he can become a lead receiver at the pro level, which may appeal to the Bears if they trade Robinson. With significant experience in the slot, the Minnesota product could also replace Miller, assuming Schefter's prediction comes to fruition. 

    The Bears should make sure incoming quarterback Andy Dalton has a go-to target in the passing game to complement Darnell Mooney.

Detroit Lions: WR Ja'Marr Chase, LSU

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    Thomas Graning/Associated Press

    The Detroit Lions wide receiver corps will likely undergo a complete makeover in three-wide receiver sets. Marvin Jones Jr. signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola remain free agents. 

    The Lions signed Tyrell Williams, but he's battled injuries over the last two campaigns. In 2019 with the then-Oakland Raiders, he played through plantar fasciitis, which adversely impacted his productivity. The 29-year-old missed the entire 2020 season because of a torn labrum. 

    In addition to Williams, Detroit signed Breshad Perriman, who hasn't played a full 16-game slate since 2016. Quarterback Jared Goff needs a reliable receiver.

    Some teams may rank 2020 Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith as the best wide receiver on the board. Pass-catching tight end Kyle Pitts may take an early spot in the draft order. Detroit, though, could have a shot at Ja'Marr Chase at No. 7. 

    Chase possesses the qualities of a lead wideout. He can beat defensive backs on short-to-intermediate routes with physicality and pick up yards after the catch or stretch the field for explosive plays over the top.

    At 6'1", 200 pounds, Chase can match up against bigger cornerbacks with his ability to high-point the ball in tight coverage. He's also tough to bring down. According to Pro Football Focus, the LSU product forced 22 missed tackles in 2019. 

    The Lions can look at Chase's dominant 2019 season as evidence that he can handle a high volume of targets in a featured role.

Las Vegas Raiders: OT Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State

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    Brody Schmidt/Associated Press

    The Las Vegas Raiders traded Trent Brown to the New England Patriots, which creates a hole at right tackle. With the offensive line now in flux, the club must stabilize the position.

    The Raiders also traded guard Gabe Jackson to the Seattle Seahawks, so Denzelle Good will likely join Richie Incognito as a starter on the interior. That's important to note because the former filled in for Brown at right tackle last year. Brandon Parker still needs work before he's a trustworthy first-stringer at the position, and Sam Young is a free agent. 

    Along with Incognito, Teven Jenkins would bring an element of nastiness to the Raiders' restructured offensive line, which also lost center Rodney Hudson via trade, and allow quarterback Derek Carr time to scan the field. 

    Jenkins wins his battles with a strong base and active hands. He'll put speedy pass-rushers on the ground and absorb bullrushes on the edge. The Oklahoma State product can routinely open up his zone for chunk yardage on the ground, as well.

Miami Dolphins: Edge Azeez Ojulari, Georgia

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins traded pass-rusher Shaq Lawson to the Houston Texans in exchange for Benardrick McKinney. They also released Kyle Van Noy, who ranked third on the team in sacks (six) and posted 18 quarterback pressures this past season. 

    Although edge-rusher Emmanuel Ogbah had a breakout 2020 season (nine sacks) and linebacker Jerome Baker generated consistent pocket pressure (seven sacks), the Dolphins should shore up their front seven with a prospect who can chase down quarterbacks and provide solid run support. Miami ranked 16th against ground attacks last season. 

    At 6'3", 240 pounds, Azeez Ojulari plays with impressive strength for his size, and he's exceptionally flexible at the point of attack. The Georgia product recorded 26 reps on the bench press with 34⅜-inch arms (h/t Reese's Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy). 

    Ojulari's play recognition and quickness should alleviate some concerns about his size on early downs. On Day 1, he'd immediately add a jolt to the Dolphins' pass rush.

New England Patriots: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots re-signed Cam Newton on a one-year deal that's worth up to $14 million with a $5 million base salary. With that contract structure, the front office will likely keep its quarterback options open going into the draft.

    Newton goes into the 2021 campaign with a lot of wear and tear on his body because of hits he's taken as a ball-carrier throughout his career and multiple surgeries over the past couple of years. But New England could start him and groom his successor in the meantime.

    Trey Lance would fit with the Patriots because offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels could utilize his dynamic playmaking ability as a passer and ball-carrier in a similar fashion to Newton.

    McDaniels may want to pick and choose spots to use run-pass option designs with Newton because of durability concerns. He could expand on that with Lance, who threw for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 scores during the 2019 term. 

    In 2020, North Dakota State only played one game, so Lance didn't have a chance to fully showcase himself before declaring for the draft, but he's a high-upside prospect because of his physical ability.

    According to NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah (h/t NFL Network's Mike Garafolo), an experienced talent evaluator compared Lance to Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen and said the FCS standout is "dripping with ability."

    The Patriots should target Lance even if they have to move up a few spots.

Philadelphia Eagles: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Eagles haven't re-signed their primary slot cornerback from this past season in Nickell Robey-Coleman. They could shift Avonte Maddox back inside after a rough term on the boundary. In 2020, he allowed a 108.3 passer rating, much worse than his 85.1 mark as the nickelback for most of the 2019 campaign.

    The Eagles need a boundary cornerback opposite Darius Slay, who also struggled this past term, allowing a 76.7 completion rate and a 111.9 passer rating in coverage.

    Ideally, the Eagles should trade down a couple of spots to make this selection, but they're in a reasonable spot at No. 6 to take their No. 1 cornerback prospect off the board. 

    Patrick Surtain II isn't a twitchy athlete, but that didn't hurt his ability to blanket receivers at Alabama. He's skilled at the position with smooth footwork (few false steps), eye discipline and physicality. 

    As a collegian, Surtain only recorded four interceptions, but he found a way to get his hands on the ball, breaking up 24 passes through three terms.

    Surtain could line up inside if Maddox cannot make the transition back to the slot, and he's a solid run defender. Philadelphia shouldn't pass up a chance at a lead cornerback with its glaring coverage issues on the boundary.

San Francisco 49ers: CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers re-signed Emmanuel Moseley and Jason Verrett, but they lost Ahkello Witherspoon, who signed with the Seattle Seahawks. Richard Sherman remains a free agent.

    As an undrafted product out of Tennessee in 2018, Moseley has exceeded expectations, but he's yet to play more than 56 percent of the defensive snaps in a single season. Verrett has a lengthy injury history, playing just 39 games in seven years. 

    At No. 12, the 49ers could look to solidify the cornerback group with Caleb Farley, who often shut down his side of the field at Virginia Tech.

    If San Francisco sticks to its heavy zone coverage after former defensive coordinator Robert Saleh's departure to the New York Jets, Farley could use his length and playmaking ability to cover his area. He's capable of flipping the field with takeaways, logging six interceptions through two collegiate terms.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Farley never gave up a touchdown catch of 25-plus yards as a collegian. With him on the back end, San Francisco's defense could limit chunk plays and shrink passing windows downfield.