Now that we have really entered the offseason and with free agency in sight, which should offer us some good content as well, I wanted to focus on some of the most logical connections between certain draft prospects and the teams I could see target them in a certain range. I will not discuss Trevor Lawrence going number one overall to the Jaguars, because that’s obviously been a done deal for a while and a great fit. Instead, I want to dive more into the area of the draft, where it gets more interesting, which you can argue really starts at second overall with the Jets, but I would strongly guess that three of the first four picks will end up being quarterbacks. So from that point on is really where we look at potential landing spots for all of these prospects, working our way down the board and projecting which picks are actually reasonable, in regard to the position of the team’s selection and the player’s expected range of outcome.
Make sure to check back here or on my Youtube channel next week for a detailed preview of free agency, where we will discuss some of the specifics for this year, break down different position groups and maybe look at some of the fits I see for those names about to hit the market.
Cincinnati Bengals – Penei Sewell, OT, Bengals
The Bengals hope to have changed the course of their franchise last year, when they selected quarterback Joe Burrow with the first overall pick. To ensure themselves a chance at becoming a contender down the road, they now need to protect their investment by improving the offensive line, which got Burrow hurt mid-way through a really promising rookie campaign, taking a gruesome hit, which happened almost on a weekly basis up to that point. Penei Sewell is the best offensive tackle prospect I have scouted, since I started doing this seriously in 2011. He has such natural tackle feet and power for the position. His mobility off-the-charts, whether it’s on scoop blocks on the back-side of zone-runs, the way he gets out in space on screen passes or even executes skip-pulls. At this moment, Sewell is not as technically sound as Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater for example, in terms of his process of engagement as a pass-protector, but most of that can be cleaned up by good OL coaching. For Cincinnati, I think it would make a lot of sense to kick Jonah Williams to right tackle, where I originally thought he fit better anyway (even if he played on left side at Alabama), which finally gets Bobby Hart out of lineup, they keep Sewell at his original position (and polish him), Trey Hopkins can be average at center and them trading for Quinton Spain at one of guard spots should stabilize that. Now all they need to do is find another guard in free agency, like a J. Thuney or a lesser expensive name like an Austin Blythe and you upgraded immensely. I know that the Bengals want to use a quick-rhythm passing game and spread the field anyway, but defenses will learn their system this offseason and force Burrow to hold onto the ball – that shouldn’t just get him killed. Assuming everybody stays put, Miami is the only team really threatening to grab Sewell at number three, and if somebody comes up ahead of five, it will be for a quarterback.
New England Patriots – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
I don’t like going with the general public it seems like and follow the mock drafts out there, but Mac Jones to New England just makes too much sense. There is a significant drop-off in talent at the quarterback position after the big four, but Mac is superior in some regards to all of them when it comes to football IQ and diagnosing skills, plus after him the drop-off is actually much more immense in my opinion. And while you can argue what the Patriots need from that position, in terms of potentially more of a dual-threat to balance out their lack of offensive weapons, Bill Belichick in his own words (according to his scouting notes) looks for a quarterback that makes good decisions, a real competitor, someone his teams look up to, values accuracy over a guy with a cannon, has good field awareness and judgement and is sound fundamentally. You could take this and use it as a scouting report for Mac Jones, to be honest. Of course he wouldn’t nearly have the abundance of weapons in New England as he did in Tuscaloosa, but they could still add that one speed threat to open things up and Jones always has been more about winning through system over individual players. He can make those quick decisions, but also doesn’t shy away from sliding his feet and standing in there for receiver to break open. Josh McDaniels should be able to work with and trust him early on. With recent reports coming out, the Patriots might not be able to just sit there at 15 and let Jones come to them, as Mike Tannenbaum reported number eight is the floor, but I have also heard him say somebody should trade up to four to select him, which is pretty crazy to me. So let’s see how this whole thing plays out.
Tennessee Titans – Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas
Everybody who watched the NFL last season knows the Titans need help in the pass-rush department, as they recorded just 19 team sacks (which in most years would be dead-last) and only the Lions had a lower pressure percentage than theirs of 17.6% by a measily one-tenth of a percent. Jadeveon Clowney never looked like his former self and quickly got hurt, so it really was only Harold Landry & Jeffery Simmons, who had a breakout sophomore campaign, but excels more in the run game I would say, and they desperately need that second guy who can wreak havoc off the edge. So for me, this really comes down to either Texas’ Joseph Ossai and Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari, which of the two will be available at that point. I think Tennessee’s choice between the two would be Ossai, because he just brings a more versatile skill-set, which I think Mike Vrabel will appreciate and he may see more potential, that he and his coaching staff can bring out anyway. A former stand-up linebacker, Ossai is certainly still learning some of the intricacies of being an on-ball defender, but he has incredible speed to threaten around the corner and chase down ball-carriers, plays with his hair on fire for 60 minutes and can help that sack-production right now, if you free him up on twists and different games, where his burst can be deadly, while he continues to develop his pass-rush arsenal. That 22nd overall selection is right around where I would value him and he fits very well in that front, where they can play him as a 3-4 outside backer, who can drop out into the flats or replace second-level defenders as part of their exotic blitz-packages, but will mostly just be allowed to get upfield, with how much two down-linemen the Titans use.
Cleveland Browns – Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
The Browns have put together one of best rosters in the whole league, which is why they just won their first playoff game in the last two-and-a-half decades. There has been a lot of talk about Odell Beckham Jr. potentially getting traded, but assuming he’s back, as I look through this roster, they should continue investing into the defenses and the only two positions I see needing to upgrade compared to last season are cornerback and linebacker. Since they just invested a second-round pick in Greedy Williams last year and he still is a very promising player, that they need to see how he develops, plus there won’t be one of the top three corners available around the range they pick in most likely (own 26th pick right now), they should address the secone level level of their defense. Tulsa’s Zaven Collins for me will most likely be a top 20 prospect. The way he can fly around and make plays all over the field at 260 pounds is just mind-boggling. The unanimous Chuck Bednarik selection has a quick trigger against the run, reading his keys and unlike most college backers today, he can actually de-construct blocks, but also simply shoot gaps. And with four interceptions last season, he has plenty of production versus the pass as well. Collins has really done everything from rushing the passer as the end-man at the line to sinking deep from the middle linebacker spot. All three of Cleveland’s current starters in base are replaceable, so you could make the rookie fit no matter how you want to pair them up, but I think putting him right in the heart of that defense at MIKE and letting him roam would make a lot of sense, in the physical AFC North. To me the Browns’ biggest challenger in that division is Baltimore and Collins is capable of dealing with all the pulling linemen they may send at him and at the same time limit the damage Lamar Jackson can do as a scrambler.
Baltimore Ravens – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
This is the first skill-position player we’ll be talking about, since the top three wide receivers really can fit with any team and Kyle Pitts is just a matchup nightmare for whoever brings him in. There’s so much shit about Lamar Jackson out there, when really the two biggest areas of improvement for Baltimore are the pass-game design altogether and finding that true number one receiver. They have Marquise Brown as the speed element, who really finally came along late for them last season, they have two excellent tight-ends, who can take on different duties and two RB threats on the dive action of all their option run stuff. You can argue that they could upgrade at center (somebody who can freaking snap the ball consistently) and we’ll have to see what happens with Orlando Brown asking for a trade, and if they may need to address the right tackle spot, but I think getting more of a big-bodied receiver, who can use that frame when going over the middle and winning in 50-50 ball situations is priority number one. Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman is one of my favorite pass-catchers in this class and while I’m not done with my evaluation yet, I feel very confident in saying that he’ll end up as one of my top five receivers. He is a very smooth glider on vertical routes, has that “my ball” mentality when it’s up for grabs and his most effective routes are slants and digs, where he shows no reservations about going over the middle, plus he turned many of those upfield and went the distance at Minnesota. That’s exactly what the Ravens offense is missing right now. Bateman can line up at X and beat man-coverage, but also move into the slot and run those glance routes on RPOs. To me it’s either him, if he falls to 27th overall, or Allen Robinson in free agency, that would fit perfectly in Baltimore.
Buffalo Bills – Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State
The Bills offense was elite last season, but their defense really took a step back, until they started settling back in once Matt Milano returned from injury. The linebacker is about to become a free agent and reportedly will test the market, but I’m working under the assumption that Brandon Beane finds a way to bring him back. One of the two areas they may look to address is a true alpha pass-rusher, since J. Hughes may age gracefully but can’t play at that level forever and then they have a lot of complimentary guys, depending on how last year’s second-round pick A.J. Epenesa can grow. To me what makes more sense – since I don’t see anybody available at 30th overall that can fit that mold – is finding that number two outside corner alongside Tre White. Josh Norman other than a few turnovers that he stumbled into, was pretty much a disaster last season and Levi Wallace will always be an overachiever, who should really be a nice CB3 option. When I look at this zone-heavy scheme Buffalo runs, another instinctive guy, who can anticipate patterns and make plays on the ball is what they are looking for. And the name that comes to mind for me here is Asante Samuel Jr. out of Florida State. The son of the former Eagle and Patriot has inherited that natural ability to match patterns, with very light feet & fluid hips. He would allow the Bills to play some more man-coverage, but I think his skill-set in terms of quickness and anticipation also translates really well to play their field-side corner role. Late first round round may seem a little high, but I think fit has to be considered here, and they could be a team that trades back a few spots with a team that is desperate to upgrade on the offensive line especially with the Chiefs right behind them, who a lot of people may expect to target that group, after what happened in the Super Bowl.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Levi Onwuzurike, IDL, Washington
It’s the same story every year for the Super Bowl champions – other teams want a piece of that puzzle and the players are looking so sign big contracts for their performance. The challenge now is to bring the most crucial pieces back and at the same time be smart with their financial ressources. According to overthecap.com, the Bucs have an effective cap space of just under 10 million dollars. That calculation is based off the total cap being set at 180.5 million, which according to reports could be five to ten million too low. Still, with star players like Shaq Barrett, Lavonte David, Chris Godwin and others, it’s tough to imagine them being able to bring everybody back. One of the names I could definitely see leave in free agency in Ndamokung Suh. He is really the wild-card here, since he could also easily sign a one-year minimal deal, if he envisions himself retiring soon and wants to earn another ring, but he is somebody they may need to replace. And when I look ahead to the draft, there’s a player that I believe would fit perfectly in his spot. Washington’s Levi Onwuzurike opted out of the 2020 season and played somewhat out of position the year before, as a shade nose mostly, where he actually more than held him own. Projecting him to the next level however, I think with probably the best get-off in this class to shoot upfield and be disruptive, he would be an excellent three-technique, next to Vita Vea, who can deal with those double-teams inside. He could help keep Tampa Bay the number one run defense and maybe actually offer more of a dynamic skill-set on passing downs than Suh, if he works with the rest of that D-line down in Tampa, since he is still a little raw in that department. Put him in Todd Bowles’ system and just let him attack and he will become a problem, since they have the speed at the second level to clean up what he creates.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
I said throughout last season that something is being built down there in Jacksonville in terms of the personnel they have brought in and now with Urban Meyer taking on that whole organization pretty much, with the connections he still has to the college game and being equipped with the number one overall pick, to bring in a generational quarterback prospect in Trevor Lawrence, they could turn this thing around quickly. There’s still a lot of work to be done on the defensive side of the ball and they have the financial resources to address the secondary first and foremost in free agency. As far as the offense goes, they have found their franchise RB in last year’s undrafted free agent James Robinson, I think they have a very underrated group of receivers, with D.J. Chark leading the way, and since I expect them to address the offensive line with that 25th overall pick, they still have from the J. Ramsey deal – since there will be a run on O-line and teams may actually trade up into the late first, if only five or six guys have been selected at that point – the tight-end position becomes a logical way to target potentially. There have been a few guys under Meyer to be successful at the position and you look at the Ohio State offense now under Ryan Day, even though there are of course some variations, their tight-ends have a significant role, if they just have talented guys in the building. Florida’s Kyle Pitts has pretty clearly established himself as TE1, but the next name up for me without a doubt is Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth. And unlike Pitts, he can be a true Y at the next level, thanks to his abilities as an in-line blocker and what he can do in terms of sift blocks, power pulls, etc. At the same time, he can still be split out wide as a coverage indicator, is a beast in his own right at the catch point and once the ball is in his hands, he becomes a load to bring down. He would be an immense upgrade over a very uninspiring TE room in Jacksonville.
New York Jets – Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
No matter if the Jets draft a quarterback second overall – which I believe is the way they will go – or stick with Sam Darnold, they need to bring in a dynamic separator & space player to support their signal-caller. The offensive line still needs some work, but by drafting Mekhi Becton in the first round last year, who has perennial All-Pro potential and some of the free agency additions they made, plus they could steal someone like Joe Thuney from their division rival Patriots still, I think surrounding their signal-caller with weapons should be the focus here. I was a big fan of Baylor’s Denzel Mims in the second round last year as a boundary receiver, but Kadarius Toney is a guy that brings a lot of juice and will be a nightmare to match up with in the slot. He is still somewhat developing as a complete route-runner, but you see some flashes of just nasty footwork, with those hop steps and sudden breaks after kind of lulling defenders into stopping their feet. While you allow him to perfect his craft, you can manufacture touches for him and use him as a gadget player, to bind defenders on orbit motions and speed sweep fakes. He has some very unique moves to make people miss in space and can pull away from them with his speed. In reality, I would think Toney will go somewhere in the later half of the first round, but if he makes it to the start of the second, to me it’s a no-brainer. Maybe he could be a trade-up target, if he gets to 28 and the Saints are looking to build up draft capital for example to jump the Packers. He is not physical as a Deebo Samuel, but just think of how he can be used in that top of offense as a YAC specialist, with Mike LaFleur coming over from San Francisco with Robert Saleh, as offensive coordinator.
Philadelphia Eagles – Jabril Cox, LB, LSU
This has been a very odd offseason for the Eagles so far, starting with the benching of starters in week 17, then firing Doug Pederson, despite the reported power struggle between him and their quarterback with a big contract, Carson Wentz getting traded, with really only one mediocre offer on the table and now people around Philadelphia say the Birds may be looking at quarterback again at number six overall, rather than focus on the future of Jalen Hurts. I’m sure there’s a lot of smoke being blown around and we can’t know for sure what their plan is, but I feel pretty confident that they will either go QB if their guy is available or more likely draft their highest-ranked pass-catcher in the first round. I want to focus more on what they do early on day two, because to me outside of wide receiver, there is one more clear position they need invest in. Philadelphia had arguable the worst group of linebackers of all 32 times last season and if they don’t upgrade there, they will do so again in 2021. I projected T.J. Edwards to be a breakout player ahead of last year, because I really liked him as a UDFA and said he could be a major asset defending the run for them, and I like him in the middle of that defense. Not that they were or are actual difference-makers anyway, but Nathan Gerry and Duke Riley are entering free agency and the only stand-up backer on the roster is last year’s third-round pick Davion Taylor, who was far from being ready to play when I evaluated him coming out of Colorado. And with Jonathan Gannon coming over from Indy to replace Jim Schwartz as defensive coordinator, likely not using nearly as much Dime personnel, they need somebody at that second level they can trust in space. And the guy that comes to mind here is LSU’s Jabril Cox. I think there is a pretty clear top three at the position in this draft, but Cox has a strong argument to be the next name up. His ability to close distances, the fluidity to make plays on the ball in coverage how quickly he can get to the quarterback as a free blitzer could be huge for the Eagles D.
San Francisco 49ers – Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia
If you have followed me so far this offseason and listened to my recent breakdown of all the quarterbacks that could be on the move this offseason, you know that I would love to see the 49ers trade for Deshaun Watson and I believe they have to upgrade at the most important position, to put themselves in a championship window, since I think they have everything else in place. With that being said, assuming they bring back Trent Williams and all the guys that got hurt for them last season, the one position I think they could still need the most help with is cornerback. Richard Sherman already has a foot out the door and tempering with Jon Gruden on a Pro Football Focus podcast, and I’m not sure how much of the cap they want to invest in a position that usually doesn’t get paid a ton in that system. Now looking at the draft – in the eight to ten range, there are three teams that could easily go corner and I would think the top two will be off the board, once the Niners pick at twelve, plus that selection could be part of a trade package anyway. So instead, I’m wondering what options could be available to them in the second round and the one that really sticks out to me is that guy from Georgia, who to me played like the second-best player at his position last season. Eric Stokes has the physicality and length to challenge receivers at the line in press and then he excels at pushing those guys into the sideline and not getting beat over the top as part of a cover-three heavy defense. I think he is get overlooked in this process and would be a high value pick for San Francisco if he’s there in round two. Of course rookies have a certain learning curve, but Stokes is so fundamentally sound that I expect him to potentially be an upgrade over Sherm pretty soon, in particular when it comes to the speed to carry vertically.
Los Angeles Chargers – Creed Humphrey, IOL, Oklahoma
Don’t just look at the 7-9 record the Chargers had at the end of the season. This was clearly an underachieving team, considering they capped the year off with a four-game win streak and their opponents had nothing to really play for anymore. And the biggest reason for their lack of success is now gone, with the complete overhaul of the coaching staff, so now it’s time to focus on this roster, which is one of the most complete ones in the league. They might lose Melvin Ingram to free agency and he hasn’t been able to stay healthy for them these last couple of years, but with Derwin James coming back from injury, the defense is absolutely loaded and they have plenty of weapons around second-year quarterback Justin Herbert. The area they now need to bring up to speed is the offensive line. Center Mike Pouncey retired together with brother, Dan Feeney stepped in at the pivot last year, but he is no more than an average starter anyway and is about to enter free agency, guard Trai Turner was brought in via trade last year and he is really the only consistent piece for that interior three, plus they only have one more IOL on the roster. Left tackle to me is still a major need with T. Pipkins arguably being the worst starter at that spot last year, so I could easily see the Bolts go back-to-back linemen, if they were lucky enough to grab someone like VT’s C. Darrisaw 13th overall, and I just suggested a trade for Baltimore’s Orlando Brown on social media, but the need for help on the inside is even more glaring. That 47th overall pick may not be able to get them one of the top two centers, but I could absolutely see Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey be a target for them, potentially to trade up a few spots for. I think the former Sooner has the ability to play guard or center and he would bring a lot of physicality to the table, while being able to anchor down against powerful defensive tackles. He has three years of starting experience in a spread/Air Raid offense and would be a major asset in protecting their young star signal-caller.
Chicago Bears – Richie Grant, S, UCF
While they somehow sneaked into the playoffs, thanks to the seven-seed being added for the 2020 season, the Bears defense was the only reason this team was even in games for about two thirds of the season, as long as Akiem Hicks was healthy. Yet, they fell off dramatically at the end of the year as well. With Eddie Goldman coming back this season and Roquan Smith turning himself into a superstar at the linebacker position, that front-7 could be special and I like most of their pieces in the secondary, with rookie CB Jaylon Johnson immediately excelling in that system. The one spot they should still be looking to upgrade – and what I thought they should have done last year when now-Super Bowl champion Antoine Winfield Jr. was on the board for them mid-way through the second round – is find another safety to complement Eddie Jackson’s skill-set. He wasn’t his usual self in 2020 either, without a single interception and way too many missed tackles (13 total). However, a lot of that had to do with Chuck Pagano’s scheme, where they played a ton of simple, deep coverage, in a bend-but-don’t-break mold, to complement their lack-luster offense, which left the middle of the field wide open and didn’t allow Eddie to have that ball-production we usually see from him and put him in way too many one-on-one tackling situations. Tashaun Gipson had an okay year, but I think Richie Grant would be an excellent tandem partner to pair up with their former All-Pro. Grant can be used closer to the line of scrimmage, shoots up the alley with conviction against the run and can take on some single-high duty as well, thanks to his instincts. So adding him, would make those Chicago safeties pretty interchangeable and give them two guys with a quick trigger. I could see there being some momentum for Grant, similar to what happened a couple of years ago with Darnell Savage coming out of Maryland, but if they trade up into the high forties, that could do the trick, and if we don’t see a safety taken in the first round, that could push him back as well.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina
The Steelers need to overhaul what they do offensively altogether. That dink-and-dunk, spread offense, where they throw a hundred screens and shallow crossers per game just won’t work at this level. More importantly, they need to get that run game going and that starts up front, where I could see them going in round one, but with the top two centers to replace M. Pouncey already off the board most likely once they are on the clock again – and that means one of them could be on their team by then – they could be looking for that reliable force in the backfield Pittsburgh has had pretty much every year since the 70s. After the season James Conner just had, I just can’t see him coming back on anything more than a one-year deal worth a couple million dollars, if he really wants to stay home. Much more likely is they will let him walk in free agency and bring in somebody who’s actually available most weeks. North Carolina’s J. Williams would be an absolutely brilliant pick-up in my opinion. After Najee Harris and Travis Etienne, he is clearly my number three back (and he’s not too far off number two), thanks to the physicality he runs with, the ability to process information and string movements together, his contact balance and the fact he can contribute in the pass game as a receiver as well as a protector. In an AFC North, where they have Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, Joe Mixon and the young J.K. Dobbins, Williams would be right in line of what they want their RBs to bring to the table. And linebacker play is actually not great in that division, where his violent style would win the majority of battles when they match up in space. I think this guy would immediately give that offense, and the team as a whole, a different attitude.