How free agency has affected draft
Broncos' draft needs now have shifted from defense to offense
After passing on LB in free agency, Giants in position to take Rolando McClain
Set at wide receiver, Ravens' draft focus is now on cornerback and tight end
Almost one week of the NFL's free agency period is in the books, and that means some of what we thought we knew about the first round of this year's draft is already painfully out of date. Here's a look at 12 teams that have had their draft wish list impacted in some way by key gains or losses in free agency, or in the case of the Jets, a key trade just before it began: (Editor's Note: A full mock draft is scheduled for Tues., March 16).
1. ATLANTA FALCONS -- It was crystal clear that improving upon last season's 28th-ranked pass defense was the top priority in Atlanta, and the Falcons wasted little time addressing their weakness, signing the market's top free-agent cornerback in Dunta Robinson and re-signing veteran cornerback Brian Williams, who missed the majority of last season with a knee injury.
Those moves left Atlanta feeling deep enough at cornerback to trade underachieving 2007 second-round pick Chris Houston to Detroit this week for a sixth-round pick, plus flopping spots with the Lions in the fifth round. The Falcons no longer need to focus in on a cornerback like Boise State's Ryan Wilson at No. 19 in the first round, and can shift their focus to either outside linebacker or defensive end, where another pass rusher is desperately needed. Michigan defensive end-linebacker Brandon Graham or Missouri outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon are two very attractive options who project to that portion of the round.
2. DENVER BRONCOS -- I don't think I was the only one giving University of Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams to Denver in some early mock drafts, but that's one projection that is hopelessly out of date after the first few days of free agency. The Broncos have totally remade their three-man defensive line since late last week, signing a pair of potential starters at nose tackle in Justin Bannan and Jamal Williams, and adding a 3-4 end in ex-Patriot Jarvis Green. Bannan actually has experience at end in a 3-4, meaning Justin, Jamal and Jarvis is how the Denver D-line (J-line?) could line up next season.
The defensive emphasis in free agency leaves the Broncos open for taking a receiver like Dez Bryant or a quarterback like Jimmy Clausen if either lasts until No. 11. The Broncos also need a center, but that seems a bit high for Florida's Maurkice Pouncey to go. And let's not forget, if Denver winds up getting a first-round pick in exchange for receiver Brandon Marshall, the Broncos' first-round options will have multiplied. They could even package their two one's and move up in the draft if they cared to.
3. MIAMI DOLPHINS -- Miami might have overpaid for Arizona inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, but it certainly gives Tony Sparano's team options come late April. I have had Alabama inside linebacker Rolando McClain going to the No. 12 Dolphins in my past two mocks, but with Dansby on board, you can now rule out that pick.
I still see Texas defensive end/outside linebacker Sergio Kindle a nice fit for the Dolphins' 3-4 defense, but safety and receiver are also viable directions for Miami to head. Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant could give the Dolphins a decision to make, or Miami could react to not being able to land Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark in free agency by choosing between first-round safeties Earl Thomas of Texas or (in a bit of a reach) the freakishly athletic Taylor Mays of USC.
4. NEW YORK JETS -- The Jets look set at cornerback after the Antonio Cromartie trade, and the release of veteran Lito Sheppard last week underscored that New York feels it has the necessary depth at the position. The safety slot could still get first-round attention if that's where the board's value is, but more likely the No. 29 Jets are now in position to take either a receiver they covet (maybe Illinois' Arrelious Benn or Georgia Tech's Demaryius Thomas) or look for an addition to the defensive line that adds strength and youth to the unit (Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick or UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price).
5. NEW YORK GIANTS -- New York chose to not pursue Karlos Dansby as an option to fill its need at inside linebacker, but the Giants are certainly glad it was the Dolphins who landed the ex-Cardinal. That's because it might just put New York in the driver's seat to draft Alabama inside linebacker Rolando McClain with its No. 15 pick. It would be a perfect union of need and first-round value if that scenario unfolds.
Having signed another ex-Cardinal free agent in safety Antrel Rolle, the Giants are no longer a potential home for either Texas safety Earl Thomas or USC safety Taylor Mays. If McClain isn't available when New York's turn rolls around, defensive tackle is the likely focus, with Tennessee's Dan Williams carrying a solid mid-round grade.
6. CHICAGO BEARS -- We all know Julius Peppers became Chicago's 2010 first-round pick last Friday, with running back Chester Taylor serving as the Bears' second-round choice. Without either of their top two selections in April's draft, Chicago had to do some very expensive shopping in free agency to make up for it (a potential $53 million in guaranteed salaries to Peppers, Taylor and blocking tight end Brandon Manumaleuna).
But the Bears aren't entirely sitting out one of the deepest drafts in years, and after their big free agency purchases, they still have needs at almost every position in the secondary. In a stroke of good fortune for Chicago, there's plenty of cornerback and safety talent in the middle rounds, and we can't help but remember the Bears have had a knack at times of finding good defensive backs at something other than the top of the draft (Zackary Bowman, Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman come to mind).
NFL Truth & Rumors