2019 NFL Free Agency Predictions Part 3: Linebackers and Defensive Backs

Welcome to the final article of my 2019 NFL free agency prediction series!  Today, I’ll be sharing my predictions for where the best linebackers and defensive backs end up signing.  Where will Justin Houston, C.J. Mosley, LaMarcus Joyner and other top defensive free agents end up?  Keep reading to find out what I think, and you check out my tentative schedule for the entire series below with links to previous articles.

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2019 NFL Free Agency Predictions

Series Schedule

Monday, March 4: NFL Free Agency Predictions: Part 1: Offensive Skill Positions

Sunday, March 10: NFL Free Agency Predictions: Part 2: Linemen

Monday, March 11: NFL Free Agency Predictions: Part 3: Linebackers and Defensive Backs

 

Note: Predictions as of March 10, 2019.

Linebacker Predictions

OLB

Top Tier OLB

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Matthews may not be the best defender in the game anymore, but he is still a high tier talent at linebacker who will sign a multi-year deal.  I have him going to Buffalo, who has a huge hole at outside linebacker.  After being released by the Chiefs, Houston will head to another LB needy team – Detroit.  Look for Suggs, Bucannon, and Barr to resign with their former teams, who will end up with similar holes without their star linebackers.  McPhee will head to San Francisco, playing next to Malcolm Smith and providing experience to a young defense.

Cheaper OLB Options

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Kendricks and Wright will leave a crowded Seahawks front seven, with Kendricks providing depth in Green Bay and Wright playing across from second year star Darius Leonard in Indy.  Morgan will head to Miami to help out the pass rush in Wake’s absensce.  DE Charles Harris and Morgan could lead their 2019 pass rush.  Smith will serve as a veteran presence on a young Jets defense similar to McPhee in San Fran, while Worrilow returns to Philly for another year despite missing much of 2018.  Ray will fill a lingering need at linebacker for the Pats.

ILB

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Mosley and Alexander will wind up back with their 2018 teams despite interest from many others.   But Barron, who was just released, and Williamson will leave their former teams – with Williamson replacing Barron in LA and Barron heading to Philly as additional LB depth.  Te’o will also leave his 2018 team, heading to Arizona, close to his first NFL home in San Diego.  Brown will return to the Bengals after maintaining a starting job there in 2018.

Defensive Backs

Cornerbacks

CB1s

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There aren’t any top tier corners on the open market, but there are a handful that will score 2-3 year deals.  Claiborne will head to Cleveland after one year on the Jets for 3 years, and Scandrick will resign with Kansas City for 3 years after getting settled there in 2018.  Verrett may have missed 2018 with a torn ACL, but prior to that, he was a star on the rise, and he may benefit from a fresh start with the Colts.  Grimes will replace Jimmie Ward in San Fran on a 2-year deal.  Roby has established himself as a trustworthy starter in Denver, so I see him returning.  Darby, on the other hand, got hurt during his stint in Philly.  He underperformed leading up to that, but he could thrive in Tennessee as an upgrade over some of their current CBs.

CB2-Nickel Options

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Johnson and the young Shaquill Griffin could make for a good CB duo in Seattle.  I have J-Mac and Ward replacing him in Houston.  Gaines will head to Miami and battle against Minkah Fitzpatrick for the #2 CB job, while Skrine and Lippett will return to their New York teams for the same purpose.

Safeties

Top Tier S

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Honey Badger will head to San Francisco, filling a hole the Niners have had at safety since Eric Reid’s departure.  I originally thought Joyner would return to LA joining Mathieu on the west coast, but the Rams signed Eric Weddle recently.  That probably implies that Joyner’s moving on.  Hopefully, the young Packers secondary can follow by his example.  Bethea is not what he used to be, but should still score a one year deal with a safety-needy team.  Thomas may be injury prone, but the Cowboys have been linked to him and should give him a try in 2019.  Iloka can replace Thomas in Seattle, even though they were fine with Thomas on the sidelines in 2018.  Collins will return to New York after other teams don’t want to invest too much in him.

Cheaper S Options

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Amos will return to Chicago, maintaining a dynamic safety duo alongside Eddie Jackson.  Clinton-Dix will join J-Mac and Ward in a changing Houston secondary.  Vaccaro will head to Jacksonville after a year in Tennessee, while an aging Corey Graham provides depth to a strong Ravens secondary.  Exum will play alongside Eric Berry in Kansas City, and Nelson will return to Oakland as they give him one more chance to prove himself despite a decline during his time in Oakland.

That’s all for my NFL free agency predictions.  Stay tuned for more NFL coverage after free agency settles down.

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NFL Draft Report Cards: AFC East Edition

Welcome to my first NFL Draft Report Card article of 2018.  I have given a grade to every pick of the 2018 NFL Draft and compiled the grades onto 32 report cards, one per team.  I averaged all the grades on each team to determine my final grade for each team’s NFL Draft.  To avoid overly long articles, I have split it into eight parts, one for each NFL division.  Let’s start with the AFC East, the home of the New England Patriots.

NFL Draft Report Cards

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AFC East                                                              NFC East

AFC North                                                           NFC North

AFC South                                                           NFC South

AFC West                                                             NFC West

 

Miami Dolphins

Grade: B

What They Did Right: The Dolphins started off the draft on a strong note.  Rather than trading up for a QB of the future that they do not need quite yet, they took Minkah Fitzpatrick, a versatile defensive back who fits well into a Dolphins secondary that needs significant help.  This was a big steal by the Dolphins, and it’s not the first time they have done this.  They took T Laremy Tunsil, originally the projected No. 1 pick after he slid in the 2016 NFL Draft.  They also did a good job filling their needs early on, taking a strong pair of tight ends, a defensive back, a young RB, and a linebacker.

What They Did Wrong: They made some reaches in the later rounds, and they took a second linebacker, TE, and cornerback when they could have used some offensive line help.  But there are no fatal flaws here.  The Dolphins arguably had the best draft in the AFC East.

Buffalo Bills

Grade: B

What They Did Right: The Bills had a spectacular Day 1.  They took two grade-A prospects in Round 1, making smart trades to put themselves in position to get what they needed.  Josh Allen has very high potential, and he will definitely compete for the starting job.  Tremaine Edmunds brings much-needed help to the linebacking corps on the outside and on the inside.  They got a steal in Edmunds with the 16th pick. They also had two other quality steals. They took DT Harrison Phillips after he nearly fell to Round 3.  They do not really need a DT, but Phillips was a valuable pick for the Bills at this point in the draft.  They also scored a steal in G Wyatt Teller. Not only was Teller projected to be drafted much earlier, but he fills the hole that Richie Incognito left behind.  Teller has the chance to compete for a starting job and thrive in one across from fellow Bills linemen John Miller and Vladimir Ducasse. They topped off their strong draft with a couple of good wide receivers in the late rounds.

What They Did Wrong: The Bills already had what is emerging as one of the league’s premier secondaries.  Yet they drafted not just one, but two defensive backs. In the meantime, they failed to fill some of their more important needs like tackle and linebacker (they could have still used another prospect there after Edmunds). Despite many steals, they also took a couple guys too early, and they could’ve done a better job addressing their current needs.

New England Patriots

Grade: B-

What They Did Right: The Patriots addressed all of their major needs despite many trades down. They ended up with nine total draft picks and they used them wisely. They eventually selected a QB, RB, WR, TE, offensive lineman, corner, and a linebacker. They started things off strong with two good players out of Georgia to address major needs. They also picked up a major steal in WR Braxton Berrios.

What They Did Wrong: The Pats may have waited too long for a QB, but reports say that they would have traded up if Baker Mayfield is available, which would not be the right strategy either. They could have also taken a linebacker or a tight end earlier. They had four picks in the first two rounds, and they used them on one T, one RB, one CB, and a trade down. I didn’t really see RB and CB as needs that were urgent enough to spend a first or second rounder on, and they did not need to trade down. Their grade gets a boost for addressing all their major needs, something no other AFC East team did in my eyes. But they waited too long for certain needs I saw as urgent.

New York Jets

Grade: C+

What They Did Right: The Jets started off strong by taking an NFL ready QB with the 3rd pick. I also liked the players they picked in the 3rd and 4th rounds. These two players addressed needs and are on my list of draft sleepers. But the Jets draft began to plummet from there. Day 3 did not end up looking so good for them.

What They Did Wrong: The Jets could have had a good draft if they continued to address their needs or take top available prospects in the later rounds. But they took CB Parry Nickerson when they did not need a corner, and took a running back I had never heard of when they were totally fine at running back. They have Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell to handle the backfield. I doubt the RB they drafted will ever make an NFL roster, let alone an NFL start. They also took another DT in Round 6 when they had already done enough to address the defensive line.  If they were going to take two d-linemen, at least one of them should’ve been a defensive end, which is more of where the Jets need d-line help.

That’s all for Part 1 of my NFL Draft Report Cards. Stay tuned for more post-draft analysis soon.

NFL 2018 Final Mock Draft: Who Will Go #1?

The 2018 NFL Draft is almost here.  Normally, by this point, the top three picks would be pretty much locked in.  But this year, the draft appears to be so unpredictable that we do not even know for sure who will go #1.  Today, I will play out Round 1, including trades, and I will even look at later picks for the Patriots.  However, prepare to be surprised, because my mock draft is not here to be a carbon copy of everyone else’s.

1. CLE With the 1st overall pick, the Cleveland Browns select
Sam Darnold
QB
USC
Josh Allen has high potential, and he looked great at the Combine.  But I see Darnold as the most NFL ready QB.  He has consistently put up good numbers as a starter at USC, and he has the size.  He fits well with the Browns, and the rest of their offense is ready to contend, so an NFL ready QB is a priority with this pick.  Tyrod Taylor is by no means the future in Cleveland.
2. NYG With the 2nd overall pick, the New York Giants select
Saquon Barkley
RB
Penn State
Barkley is the best of both worlds in terms of draft prospects.  He has future Pro Bowl potential, and he is ready to provide the Giants with the young workhorse RB they need right now.  In my opinion, he is one of the best running backs to enter the draft in recent years.  He has posted 3 consecutive 1000 yard seasons at Penn State, and of all RBs at this year’s combine, only Nyheim Hines had a faster 40-yard dash.
3. NYJ With the 3rd overall pick, the New York Jets select
Josh Rosen
QB
UCLA
Rosen may have attitude issues, and he may have struggled at times during his college career. But he has the potential to become a reliable QB for the Jets, and maybe even a future Pro-Bowler. Just look at what he did freshman year at UCLA. He just has to mature a little bit.
4.  With the 4th overall pick, the Cleveland Browns select
Minkah Fitzpatrick
CB
Alabama
Minkah is a versatile defensive back who can give a much-needed upgrade to the Browns secondary. Whether he starts at CB or S, I think he’s ready to be an NFL playmaker. He had 9 interceptions and 171 tackles in his college career.
5.  With the 5th overall pick, the Denver Broncos select
Quenton Nelson
G
Notre Dame
The Broncos have announced that the #5 pick is for sale, but signing Case Keenum does not solve all their offensive problems. They need to surround him with talent, including protection. They cannot pass up on Nelson if he is available. Nelson is arguably the best interior offensive lineman in the draft in the last 5 years.
6.  With the 6th overall pick, the Indianapolis Colts select
Bradley Chubb
DE
North Carolina State
The Colts need front seven help, and they will significantly benefit from Chubb, the best edge rusher in this draft. Roquan Smith is also an intriguing choice, but they will not pass on Chubb if he is available. He has tallied 10 sacks in two consecutive seasons at N.C. State.
7.  TRADE ALERT (See Details In TRADE Section)

With the 7th overall pick, the Buffalo Bills select

Josh Allen

QB

Wyoming

Allen has very high potential although he may not be NFL ready. He was very good, but also inconsistent at Wyoming. Young A.J. McCarron is the perfect bridge, giving them the ability to roll the dice and draft Allen.

8.  With the 8th overall pick, the Chicago Bears select

Roquan Smith

ILB

Georgia

Smith is not a perfect fit in Chicago, as he may be better in a 4-3 scheme. But he will give the Bears defense an instant boost. He is one of the fastest linebackers in the draft, and he is a strong defender who dominated in his junior year with 6.5 sacks and 137 tackles. He will contribute right away.

9.  With the 9th overall pick, the San Francisco 49ers select

Denzel Ward

CB

Ohio State

Ward is a versatile defensive back who despite his small stature has great ball skills and speed. He ran a 4.32 40-yard dash at the combine, tied for the best this year among defensive backs. He will help fill the hole in the 49ers secondary that Eric Reid left. Ward and Richard Sherman could potentially make a great CB duo.

10.  With the 10th overall pick, the Oakland Raiders select

Tremaine Edmunds

OLB

Virginia Tech

Edmunds can help the Raiders front seven right away. He has two older brothers in the NFL already, and not only do I expect him to follow in their footsteps, but I expect him to be a better NFL defender than them. He will be able to make an impact against the run and against the pass. He fits well into Oakland’s defensive scheme.

11.  With the 11th overall pick, the Miami Dolphins select

Maurice Hurst

DT

Michigan

Hurst is arguably the strongest interior defensive lineman in this draft. He can really get on the opposing QB’s nerves. He will help fill the hole that Ndamukong Suh’s release left the Dolphins with.

12.  Pick acquired from Bills

With the 12th overall pick, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select

Derrius Guice

RB

LSU

Guice is not quite Saquon Barkley, who the Bucs will definitely opt to draft rather than trading down if he is available at #7. But Guice is also very quick and powerful. He tallied 2638 yards in his final two years of college.

13.  With the 13th overall pick, the Washington Redskins select

Derwin James

S

Florida State

The Redskins are set at corner, but James will help fill a hole at safety that DeAngelo Hall left the Redskins with. James is a versatile defensive back who can really get in the way of the receivers he covers. He will help continue to revamp the Redskins secondary with talent.

14.  With the 14th overall pick, the Green Bay Packers select

Calvin Ridley

WR

Alabama

Ridley is a fast, explosive receiver who is ready to make an impact now. With Jordy Nelson gone, the Packers need a slot receiver. According to NFL.com, Ridley thrives both in the slot and outside, and after tallying 750+ yards and 5+ touchdowns in each of his three seasons of Alabama, he will thrive across from Davante Adams and give an immediate post to the Packers receiving game.

15.  With the 15th overall pick, the Arizona Cardinals select

Courtland Sutton

WR

SMU

With Ridley off the board, the Cardinals will take Sutton, a great fit in Arizona. This is a very deep WR class. With Larry Fitzgerald retiring eventually and John Brown in Baltimore, this is a huge need for the Cardinals. Sutton gives them the physical outside receiver they need. He has dominated in his final two seasons at SMU, tallying 1000+ yards and 10+ TDs in both junior and senior year. He has very high potential and gives the Cardinals the WR boost they need. But is he NFL ready right now?

16.  With the 16th overall pick, the Baltimore Ravens select

Da’Ron Payne

DT

Alabama

Payne will help the Ravens stop the run, filling in where Timmy Jernigan once played. He is an up-the-middle run stopper who tallied 102 tackles in his college career. He can be a pest to opposing offenses, getting in their way.

17.  TRADE ALERT (See Details in TRADE Section)

With the 17th overall pick, the Carolina Panthers select

Christian Kirk

WR

Texas A&M

The Panthers will need a receiver across from Devin Funchess, who is not a proven #1 receiver yet. Kirk is not Calvin Ridley, and if the Panthers have the chance to draft Ridley, they have the potential for an explosive, young offense that keeps the Panthers in contention. But he is a sturdy receiver who can play in several different schemes. In 234 college receptions, he scored 10 TDs and tallied 2856 receiving yards.

18.  With the 18th overall pick, the Seattle Seahawks select

Jaire Alexander

CB

Louisville

Seattle has rebuilt their secondary, but they need to supply the secondary with young talent now. Alexander fits in the Seahawks scheme, he is very fast and versatile, and he had 7 interceptions in his college career. He is a good fit and can make an impact right away.

19.  With the 19th overall pick, the Dallas Cowboys select

Connor Williams

T

Texas

Williams will keep the Cowboys offensive line strong after Doug Free’s retirement. With this pick, the Cowboys would arguably still have the best o-line in the NFL. The Cowboys are a good, local fit for him

20.  With the 20th overall pick, the Detroit Lions select

Harold Landry

OLB

Boston College

Landry supplies the Lions with the edge rusher they need. He has the potential to become a pest to the QB and a Pro Bowl level sack machine. He had 16.5 sacks junior year when he played 12 games. He had 5 sacks in 8 games senior year, which is still a good amount. Landry has very high potential and he can make an impact right now.

21.  With the 21st overall pick, the Cincinnati Bengals select

Billy Price

C

Ohio State

After losing some of their o-lineman to free agency, it’s time for Cincinnati to revamp their offensive line with young talent. They are especially weak in the interior. Price supplies them with a powerful blocker that they need, and I expect the Bengals to use their 1st rounder on either Price or Isaiah Wynn.

22.  Pick acquired from Bills

With the 22nd overall pick, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select

Isaiah Wynn

G

Georgia

Now that the Bucs took Guice, it’s time to address the O-line. Wynn may be small, but he is a versatile offensive lineman who can help the Buccaneers protect young Jameis Winston whether it is at tackle or at guard.

23.  With the 23rd overall pick, the New England Patriots select

Mike McGlinchey

T

Notre Dame

McGlinchey has good size and has played at both LT and RT. If the Patriots draft him, expect to see him protecting Brady’s blind side. He should adjust rather quickly with the help of Dante Scarnecchia, although he cannot be playing at the level of Nate Solder right away, which could put Brady in a tough situation. But no offensive lineman available could do much better.

24.  Pick acquired from Panthers

With the 24th overall pick, the Los Angeles Chargers select

Leighton Vander Esch

ILB

Boise State

Vander Esch provides the Chargers with a fast, powerful inside linebacker who can get to the ball quickly. He had 4 sacks and 2 picks in 2017 at Boise State. He is one of this year’s best small school prospects, and it may take time for him to make an impact, but he will help the Bolts defense in the long term.

25.  With the 25th overall pick, the Tennessee Titans select

Vita Vea

DT

Washington

The Titans desperately need a powerful DT. Vea is just that. He can stop the run and get to the QB. He has Pro Bowl potential, and may not be all out dominant in Year 1, but he will fill a serious need for Tennessee.

26.  With the 26th overall pick, the Atlanta Falcons select

Marcus Davenport

DE

UTSA

Davenport will help restore Atlanta’s defensive line with young talent, and provide them with another edge rusher alongside Vic Beasley. He is powerful and explosive. He can really rush the passer, tallying 21.5 sacks in his college career, 8.5 of those in 2017.

27.  With the 27th overall pick, the New Orleans Saints select

Taven Bryan

DT

Florida

Bryan is an athletic and powerful DT who can help the Saints d-line across from Sheldon Rankins. Bryan had 5.5 sacks and 62 tackles in 3 years at Florida. He will take time to develop but has potential to become one of the league’s premier defensive lineman

28.  With the 28th overall pick, the Pittsburgh Steelers select

Rashaan Evans

ILB

Alabama

Evans is a powerful interior linebacker who specializes in rushing the passer. He racked up 6 sacks in senior year at Alabama, and he had 74 tackles. Evans and Ryan Shazier will make for a great pass rushing LB duo.

29.  TRADE ALERT (See details in TRADE section)

With the 29th overall pick, the New York Giants select

Baker Mayfield

QB

Oklahoma

My bold prediction in this mock is that only 4 QBs will go in Round 1, and I even had Mayfield slipping into Round 2 originally. But the Giants would be willing to trade up to secure the QB they want. Mayfield has not had off the field problems like Josh Rosen and Josh Allen, and he is one of the most NFL ready prospects of this draft. He nearly passed for 5000 yards in his senior year, tossing 43 TDs.

30.  With the 30th overall pick, the Minnesota Vikings select

Will Hernandez

G

UTEP

Hernandez will round out the Vikings o-line with Joe Berger retired.  He will serve as a physical, powerful run blocker for the Vikings, helping protect new QB, Kirk Cousins.  He will be a pest for defensive linemen to face.

31.  With the 31st overall pick, the New England Patriots select

Malik Jefferson

OLB

Texas

Jefferson fits well in New England’s 4-3 scheme.  The Pats could use a tough, physical OLB like him.  He is a powerful run stopper who collected 110 tackles in his junior year at Texas.

32. PHI With the 32nd overall pick, the Philadelphia Eagles select

Sony Michel

RB

Georgia

The Eagles need to add RB depth.  Michel thrived while fighting for time with Nick Chubb at Georgia, tallying 1227 yards in his senior year.  He can make an immediate impact, doing the same in the Eagles’ deep backfield.

Trades

TB acquires DT Adolphus Washington, R1 P12, R1 P22, R2 P24, R4 P21, 2019 R3
BUF acquires R1 P7

———————-

LAC acquires R1 P24, R2 P23, R3 P24, 2019 R1
CAR acquires R1 P17
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NYG acquires R1 P29
JAX acquires R2 P2, R3 P5
Patriots Mock Draft: Rounds 2-7
Check back tomorrow!
That’s all for today.  Enjoy the draft, and stay tuned for my NFL Draft Grades after it ends.