How the 2023 NFL Draft has been influenced by the first wave of free agency

With the initial wave of free agency in the books, we’ve already seen a ton of updated draft needs from around the league. After taking a step back and examining all of the signings and moves we’ve seen so far, here’s an early look at how the free agency period has impacted the 2023 NFL Draft.

QBs Still Projected To Rule Top 10

There was some quarterback movement during the early portion of free agency for the teams with a major need at the position. The Carolina Panthers signed Andy Dalton, the Indianapolis Colts signed Gardner Minshew, the Atlanta Falcons signed Taylor Heinicke, the Houston Texans signed Case Keenum and the Seattle Seahawks re-signed Geno Smith. Outside of the Smith signing in Seattle, none of those moves take quarterback off the table in the top 10 for those teams. In fact, all the veteran signings simply give those teams more flexibility to draft a player they believe has the highest potential, even if they wouldn’t want to start them right away.

Las Vegas Raiders No Longer A Trade-Up Candidate

Though quarterback may not be off the table for the Raiders in the top 10, the signing of Jimmy Garoppolo seemed to signal Las Vegas no longer being in on a major trade-up for a quarterback. In many mock drafts, we’ve seen the Raiders as a prime candidate to jump the Seahawks and the Colts by trading up to No. 3 with the Arizona Cardinals to select a quarterback. We’re not saying it’s impossible for that to happen now, but it seems less likely. They don’t want to act out of desperation — but if a quarterback they like falls to them at No. 7, they can still make that call.

Detroit Lions Achieve True “BPA” Approach For Nos. 6 and 18

For the past month or so, it feels as though cornerback has always been one of Lions’ selections with their two first-round picks in mock draft exercises. More often than not, mocks would feature the Lions taking CB1 off the board at No. 6 overall. And after the first wave of free agency, that could still happen, but now it would be because of a “best player available” approach and not desperately filling a need. The Lions signed Cam Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley in free agency, two players who they expect to start when healthy. They also have Jeff Okudah, a CB3 with upside. Later in the process, they signed safety/nickel C.J. Gardner-Johnson. With a new-look secondary already, the Lions have freed themselves to make BPA picks, with perhaps more a focus in the trenches with that top-10 pick.

Philadelphia Eagles Aren’t Forced To Go Cornerback at No. 10

For the longest time, we expected the Eagles to be in on the cornerback market with their luxury pick in the top 10. James Bradberry was coming off a fantastic year but was going to hit free agency, and we weren’t sure if they could afford to bring him back. They got that deal done, but then it was reported that Darius Slay might be out. That was resolved, as well, which now allows the Eagles to look elsewhere with their early pick. Cornerback could still be a target, but it feels like something in the trenches could now take priority. Perhaps this is where a Jalen Carter slide may stop, reuniting him with former Georgia teammates Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean.

New England Patriots Homing In On OL at No. 14

The Patriots’ roster isn’t what it used to be. They need a good amount of new talent to compete in one of the toughest divisions in football in the AFC East. With their pick in the middle of the first round, various mocks have them targeting offensive weapons like tight end Dalton Kincaid and wide receivers Jaxon Smith-Njigba or Zay Flowers. Not to take anything off the table, but the signings of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mike Gesicki, as well as some of the trade rumors for DeAndre Hopkins, seem to hint at them prioritizing pass catchers in free agency and not with their premium picks in the draft. For a team that had woes on the offensive line in 2022, that feels like where they’re going now.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Will Target OL At No. 19

With the release of long-time left tackle Donovan Smith, the Buccaneers announced a need for new trench talent. They pick at No. 19 overall, so the “big three” of Paris Johnson Jr., Peter Skoronski and Broderick Jones might not make it to them, but with no one else on the roster outside of Tristan Wirfs proven as a starting-caliber offensive tackle, they could be the first team to dip into that second tier of offensive tackles, such as Darnell Wright, Dawand Jones and Anton Harrison.

New York Giants’ Not Desperate To Fill A Need at No. 25

I really liked how the Giants attacked free agency this year — and I use that word “attacked” purposefully. They went out and signed linebacker Bobby Okereke and wide receiver Parris Campbell and traded for tight end Darren Waller, all while bringing back running back Saquon Barkley, quarterback Daniel Jones and wide receivers Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton. They could still use more talent at receiver, in the secondary and at linebacker, but those moves allowed them to let the board fall to them very optimistic about drafting a player who could be a big difference-maker. Some targets would be safety Brian Branch, receiver Quentin Johnston or likely their choice of the top interior offensive lineman in the class.

Dallas Cowboys Eyeing Top RB At No. 26?

With the release of Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys will look long and hard at running back at the back end of the first round. We know they’re not afraid to make a splash in the draft at the position, as they did when they selected Elliott at No. 4 overall. And with Tony Pollard only on the franchise tag, and coming off injury, they could have the chance to select a back like Bijan Robinson or Jahmyr Gibbs. Both are top-tier playmakers at the position.

Kansas City Chiefs Maintain “BPA” Luxury At No. 31

The Chiefs released Frank Clark and lost both starting offensive tackles Orlando Brown Jr. and Andrew Wylie in free agency. But they were able to sign Jawaan Taylor from the Jaguars and sign Charles Omenihu from the 49ers to mitigate those losses. Those moves still signaled Kansas City taking a BPA approach at the back end of the first round. It feels as though the defensive line will be the priority they push for, but if a good offensive tackle falls to them, they have the flexibility to jump at such a player. Edge rushers like Will McDonald IV, BJ Ojulari and Felix Anudike-Uzomah should be well on their radar.

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