Posted: Tuesday March 14, 2006 12:16PM; Updated: Tuesday March 14, 2006 8:07PM
Once upon a time, NFL teams liked to say they took the best available athlete as they wound their way through the many rounds of the draft. But those days are long gone, because in the era of the salary cap and seven-round drafts, every pick is a need pick.
It's all about need now. And that's why free agency and the draft are a two-part play for every team. Free agency now sets the table for the draft, telling you what you still require and what you can do without when your turn to pick comes around in April.
The Cardinals don't need a first-round running back anymore, thanks to their Edgerrin James signing. The Packers don't really have a spot for defensive end Mario Williams now that Aaron Kampman has re-signed. And neither the Saints nor Dolphins need a quarterback after landing Drew Brees and Daunte Culpepper, respectively, on Tuesday.
With the scouting combine finishing two weeks ago and free agency now in its early days, our third mock draft of the year is a study in the quickly changing NFL landscape.
Mock NFL Draft No. 3
The bottom 31 slots in this first round might wind up looking vastly different between now and the April 29 draft, but I'm convinced Bush and the Texans are a marriage that's going to last. At least until I start hearing that Houston is seriously entertaining offers to trade down.
Now that the Saints have signed Drew Brees and don't need the best quarterback available at this spot, look for the Jets to move up and get the former Heisman Trophy winner. Although they did work out a deal with Chad Pennington, this is too good an opportunity to turn down.
Nobody had more buzz coming out of Indy than Cutler, and I'm sticking with the idea that the hometown Titans are intrigued with keeping the Vandy star in Nashville. But having Mario Williams sitting there for the taking is going to really test Tennessee's belief in Cutler.
Since the quarterback spot seems to be settled, the Saints need to replace free-agent defensive end Darren Howard, who signed a big deal with the Eagles. Williams is a rare physical specimen who could be a matchup problem for opposing defenses.
With the Packers re-signing defensive end Aaron Kampman, they now turn their attention to the defensive interior, where the run-stuffing Ngata is the best the draft has to offer. Taking the draft's blue-chip offensive tackle, Virginia's D'Brickashaw Ferguson, would also be a sound top-five strategy.
We can't think of a better way to aid in the development of second-year franchise quarterback Alex Smith than a cornerstone left tackle to protect his backside for the foreseeable future.
Given that the Raiders have failed at landing Daunte Culpepper, this move makes too much sense. As crazy as it would have sounded on the morning of Jan. 5 after his Rose Bowl showing, if Young slips past the Raiders, it's possible he could fall entirely out of the top 10.
In London Fletcher and Jeff Posey, the Bills have a couple of starting linebackers who are past their 30th birthdays. Hawk had great showings at both the combine and his pro day, and he's an impact addition for a defense that tumbled a long way in the league rankings in 2005.
We're going to go out on a limb and predict that the Lions won't be taking a first-round receiver for the fourth consecutive year. Huff is a versatile talent who had a solid top 10 ranking coming out of the combine. If the Lions get tempted by anyone on offense, it'll be Maryland tight end Vernon Davis.
The Cardinals didn't wait until the draft to land their No. 1 running back, splurging instead on Edgerrin James in free agency. So no DeAngelo Williams or LenDale White for them. Davis put on a virtuoso performance in Indy, and he'll give balance to an offense that already has a ridiculously potent passing game.