Seth Wenig/Associated Press
Throughout the college football and NFL regular seasons, we focus on team needs—moves that need to be made, whether they be re-signings, trades or cuts. Now, as the first wave of free agency has come and gone during the two-day legal tampering period, much of the focus shifts to what teams have left to do.
Nothing affects the NFL draft more than free agency. On March 8, one could have been sure the Oakland Raiders would draft a wide receiver, but acquiring Antonio Brown has changed things. The same goes for signings like Trey Flowers to the Detroit Lions and Tyrann Mathieu to the Kansas Chiefs and Dee Ford being traded to the San Francisco 49ers.
Which moves made the biggest splashes that will affect the draft? That’s below.
—By far the biggest domino to fall was the trade of Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns. The New York Giants are now armed with two first-round picks (Nos. 6 and 17 overall) and two second-round picks (Nos. 37 and 49 overall) and Jabrill Peppers at strong safety to replace the departed Landon Collins.
The Giants are not expected to package those picks to get a quarterback ahead of the No. 6 pick; in fact many league sources I spoke to believe the Giants will go after a defensive lineman first and potentially a quarterback or wide receiver with the pick from Cleveland.
The Browns don’t have a first-round pick this year, but they added Kareem Hunt (suspension still pending) and Beckham this offseason. Cleveland fans will have plenty of highlights to watch before the first pick at No. 49.
—The San Francisco 49ers signed linebacker Kwon Alexander and traded a 2020 second-rounder for pass-rusher Dee Ford. Does this mean they’re out on Nick Bosa or Josh Allen at No. 2 overall? It doesn’t.
Phelan Ebenhack/Associated Press
The 49ers still need another outside pass-rusher unless the front office believes Solomon Thomas can be that player. If that’s the case, the 49ers are an interesting trade-back team if someone wants to move up for a quarterback.
All told, the 49ers should be waiting to see what Arizona does at No. 1 overall. If Nick Bosa is available, he has to be the pick in San Francisco.
—The New York Jets almost had their pass-rusher in Anthony Barr, as ESPN and NFL Network initially reported he was signing with the Jets. But he opted to stay in Minnesota. Because of this, the Jets have to be all-in on pass-rushers at No. 3 overall. Kentucky’s Josh Allen makes too much sense, especially with the Jets filling needs at running back (Le’Veon Bell), linebacker (C.J. Mosley) and slot receiver (Jamison Crowder).
—The quarterback market was weak this year in free agency, but the signing of Nick Foles to Jacksonville does shake up the draft. Now that the Jaguars are out of the quarterback chase, teams potentially in need of quarterbacks—such as Denver, Miami and Washington—have one fewer team to worry about.
Butch Dill/Associated Press
That could mean Drew Lock goes to Miami instead of being a top-10 pick, or it could mean we see a race by teams like those mentioned to move up the board and secure a Kyler Murray or Dwayne Haskins.
—Earl Thomas to the Baltimore Ravens shook up everyone after the Ravens lost C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs, and Thomas checks a huge box for them. The other big get was running back Mark Ingram II. That fills the two biggest needs in Baltimore. That eliminates Josh Jacobs (Alabama) as a running back target in Round 1. It also means the Ravens could pivot to a linebacker like Devin Bush (Michigan) or a receiver like A.J. Brown (Ole Miss) to help Lamar Jackson.
—The Patriots weren’t spenders in free agency, losing tackle Trent Brown and Trey Flowers, but that still has a ripple effect through the draft. The Patriots will slide in last year’s first-rounder Isaiah Wynn at left tackle, but this makes them players for a defensive end with pick No. 32 overall or one of their other 11 picks in the three-day draft.
Coming out of the NFL Scouting Combine, here is an updated look at my top 32 players.
1. Nick Bosa, EDGE, Ohio State
2. Quinnen Williams, DL, Alabama
3. Josh Allen, EDGE, Kentucky
4. Devin White, LB, LSU
5. Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama
6. Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan
7. Ed Oliver, DL, Houston
8. Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama
9. T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa
10. Montez Sweat, EDGE, Miss. State
11. Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State
12. Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
13. Brian Burns, EDGE, FSU
14. Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida
15. Taylor Rapp, S, Washington
16. Christian Wilkins, DL, Clemson
17. Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Clemson
18. Jeffery Simmons, DL, Miss. State
19. Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State
20. A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss
21. D.K. Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss
22. Greedy Williams, CB, LSU
23. Byron Murphy, CB, Washington
24. Devin Bush, LB, Michigan
25. Cody Ford, OL, Oklahoma
26. Noah Fant, TE, Iowa
27. Johnathan Abram, S, Miss. State
28. Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple
29. Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia
30. Trayvon Mullen, CB, Clemson
31. Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
32. Irv Smith Jr., TE, Alabama
5. Kyler Murray Pro Day
Even as NFL free agency was entering Wave 2 on Wednesday, the league paused and looked at Norman, Oklahoma, where quarterback prospect Kyler Murray and the rest of the Sooners were working out at the team’s pro day.
Murray was the star of the show, but he did not get measured again and did not run the 40-yard dash, according to many reports from those at the event. Murray did throw, though, something he didn’t do at the NFL Scouting Combine, and according to scouting sources who were at the pro day, he did very well.
Alonzo Adams/Associated Press
That needs to be taken with context, though. A quarterback rarely does poorly at his pro day where the entire throwing session is scripted by the player and his coach. For Murray, this meant a lot of throws from a mock “pocket” to simulate his ability to play in a pro-style offense.
On those throws from between the tackles, Murray executed well and showed off impressive arm strength and a quick whip motion on his passes. That’s what evaluators wanted to see.
One note: Jon Gruden and Kliff Kingsbury were both notable absences from the pro day. Read into that what you will.
4. Stock Up
Washington left tackle Trey Adams was supposed to be the story of the Huskies offensive line, but a back injury shut him down for much of the season. Without him, right tackle Kaleb McGary emerged as a legitimate star in pass protection and in the powerful Washington running game.
George Frey/Getty Images
Following a strong performance after the season—and after I got a chance to dive into his tape more—McGary is moving up my board. It’s unlikely that we’ll see McGary fly up into the first round, but he’s a solid Round 2 player now with bona fide starting tools on the right side of the line.
As more teams try to figure out ways to stop Khalil Mack and Von Miller types coming off the right side, tackles like McGary continue to become more valuable.
3. Stock Down
One of the tougher parts of the national draft analyst gig in the media is that you don’t get access to all the tape you want or need whenever you want it. That’s important to note when looking at why players move up and down the board—sometimes it’s as simple as needing more game footage to evaluate.
That’s the case this week with linebacker Tre Lamar (Clemson). As I started NFL Draft 400 work on linebackers, Lamar didn’t look as fluid or rangy as I’d seen in smaller sample sizes. He’s a very good two-down linebacker patrolling between the tackles, but can he cover or take away the outside play? That was a weakness on film, and it’s why he’s moved down to the third round on my newest update.
2. Sleeper of the Week
In a cornerback class without a consensus top player, keep an eye on Michigan State’s Justin Layne as a late riser up boards. After getting to study his film more and his good combine week to boot, I have Layne in the Round 2 range on my latest rankings update.
Darron Cummings/Associated Press
At 6’2″ and 192 pounds, he ran a 4.5 at the NFL Scouting Combine but also impressed with his interviews, according to multiple scouting sources. Layne has the ideal body type and athleticism that NFL evaluators are looking for.
1. Stick to Football has three new episodes this week. On Monday, we updated our Round 1 mocks in “Mock Draft Monday.” Wednesday’s show featured a heavy free-agency review and an interview with Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker.
Friday, live from HoneyFire BBQ in Nashville, Tennessee, we looked at how the draft is affected by free agency and took listener Draft on Draft questions. Check out the podcast and subscribe if you haven’t already. We will also post a ton of behind-the-scenes content on our Instagram page.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.