With the combine over, we now dash headlong into draft speculation, which includes mock-draft-a-palooza and free agency, which officially begins March 13. 

We decided to give free agency a mock-draft feel, allowing Yardbarker NFL writers to “draft” pending free agents. For this draft, we used the current NFL draft order (mostly) but gave Carolina, Cleveland and Houston their first-round picks back.

So, suspend reality for a few minutes. Remember: The real NFL Draft is in Detroit from April 25-27. It can’t get here soon enough.

Carolina, you’re on the clock … (2023 regular-season records are in parentheses.)  

1. CAROLINA PANTHERS (2-15) | EDGE Brian Burns | With wide receiver Tee Higgins returning to the Bengals, Carolina doesn’t reach for a skill-position player at No. 1 overall. Instead, the Panthers retain talented edge-rusher Brian Burns, who has 46 sacks for the franchise since being drafted 16th overall in 2019, 32 more than the next-closest Panthers defender during that span. — Eric Smithling

2. WASHINGTON COMMANDERS (4-13) | DT Chris Jones | After losing Montez Sweat and Chase Young last season, Burns would have been a perfect fit for Washington. Instead, the Commanders will try to fix a defense that allowed a league-high 30.5 points per game in 2023 by adding Jones, who has five Pro Bowl appearances, three Super Bowl championships and two first-team All-Pro nods on his resume. He should be a great addition to a line that already has defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne. — Bruce Ewing

3. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (4-13) | QB Kirk Cousins | Although New England could simply address quarterback with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, what are the odds of a rookie QB massively upgrading its 31st-ranked scoring offense? Signing Cousins to serve as a stop-gap would provide the Patriots with considerable flexibility for their rebuild, as they could either auction off the third pick or draft a needed weapon in Ohio State wideout Marvin Harrison Jr.— Colum Dell

4. ARIZONA CARDINALS (4-13) | EDGE Josh Allen | The Cardinals were 25th in the NFL in yards against, 31st in points against and they have a weak pass rush. They need impact players, and with  $51 million in salary cap space to play with, Allen — a standout with the Jaguars in 2023 (17.5 sacks) — would be a great addition. He is one of the best pass-rushers available in this free-agent class and young enough (26) to be a part of Arizona’s long-term rebuild. — Adam Gretz

5. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (5-12) | RB Saquon Barkley | New Chargers OC Greg Roman recently said he wants to give QB Justin Herbert “a great run game.” Signing the two-time Pro Bowler — who rushed for 962 yards and scored 10 TDs (six rushing, four receiving) in 14 games with the Giants last season — would be smart. — Clark Dalton

6. NEW YORK GIANTS (6-11) | WR Michael Pittman Jr. | New York averaged 169.8 passing yards per game in 2023, the second-fewest in the NFL. The Giants could use a guy who had 336 catches for 3,662 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns over the past four seasons despite playing with seven different starting quarterbacks in Indianapolis. Keep in mind, though, the Colts could put the franchise tag on Pittman. — Bruce Ewing

7. TENNESSEE TITANS (6-11) | OT Tyron Smith | The Titans must protect second-year quarterback Will Levis, who was pressured on 44.5 percent of his dropbacks in 2023 with a 40.6 completion percentage, per Pro Football Focus. Tennessee should, and probably will, draft an offensive tackle with the No. 7 overall pick, but Smith — who has surrendered three or fewer sacks and 30 or fewer pressures in every season since 2015 — will make a great one- or two-year bridge starter until that player is ready. — Michael Gallagher

8. ATLANTA FALCONS (7-10) | EDGE Danielle Hunter | The Falcons ranked last in ESPN’s pass-rush win-rate rankings in 2023, and with the team’s top sack leaders (Calais Campbell, Bud Dupree) unrestricted free agents, adding a pass-rusher is essential. Hunter is one of the most productive on the market, finishing last season with a career-high 16.5 sacks. — Eric Smithling

9. CHICAGO BEARS (7-10) | S Antoine Winfield Jr. | After finishing 24th against the pass last season and cutting former Pro Bowler Eddie Jackson, the Bears need a significant upgrade at safety. The 2023 All-Pro with Tampa Bay more than fits the bill, finishing sixth in tackles (90), second in pressures (20) and first in sacks (six) among safeties while also earning the highest defensive grade (90.7) at the position, per Pro Football Focus. — Mike Santa Barbara

10. NEW YORK JETS (7-10) | WR Calvin Ridley | The Jets must start overhauling their offensive line in free agency, but adding another receiving threat should be a priority, and there’s no better win-now option hitting the market than Ridley. Despite struggling with inconsistency with Jacksonville in 2023, Ridley posted his second career 1,000-yard season, which is encouraging for his outlook considering he had been away from football for nearly two years. — Colum Dell

11. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (7-10) | CB L’Jarius Sneed | Despite having many options at cornerback, none come close to being a standout No. 1, which the Vikings desperately need after giving up the ninth-most passing yards per game (234.5) in 2023. The 27-year-old Sneed finished 2023 with the fifth-lowest reception percentage (52.0) allowed and fourth-lowest passer rating against (66) in the NFL. The Chiefs standout would immediately add shutdown capabilities and swagger to Minnesota’s secondary. — Mike Santa Barbara

12. DENVER BRONCOS (8-9) | QB Baker Mayfield | The Broncos are going to move on from Russell Wilson. Mayfield would be a solid replacement, as he threw for 28 TDs in 17 games with the Buccaneers last season and earned his first Pro Bowl nod. — Clark Dalton

13. LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (8-9) | DT Justin Madubuike | Madubuike could help the defense reach the next level after it finished ninth in the league in points allowed (19.5) last season. The 26-year-old recorded career highs in sacks (13) and tackles for loss (12) over 17 games with the Ravens in 2023. — Clark Dalton

14. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (9-8)  | DT Christian Wilkins | The Saints had the league’s fifth-worst pressure rate last season and allowed more than 2,000 rushing yards for the second year in a row. Wilkins is coming off his best season, posting nine sacks and 23 quarterback hits in 2023 for the Dolphins while ranking 13th among defensive tackles, per ESPN’s pass-rush win-rate rankings. — Eric Smithling

15. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (9-8) | CB Xavien Howard | With top cornerbacks Kenny Moore and Tony Brown set to hit the market, the team must add a veteran who can help stabilize the secondary. Despite getting cut by the Dolphins recently in a cap-clearing move, Howard is still at the top of his game, allowing just two touchdowns on 475 coverage snaps and surrendering just 11.4 yards per reception, which ranked in the top 25 of the league. — Michael Gallagher

16. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (9-8) | LB Patrick Queen | The Seahawks have had one of the NFL’s worst defenses the past two years (25th in points against each year), a factor that held them back more than any other. One of the biggest holes on that unit is middle linebacker, a position Queen would fill admirably against the run and pass. Playing for Mike Macdonald, his former DC with the Ravens, would be enticing as well. — Adam Gretz

17. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (9-8) | DE Chase Young | General manager Trent Baalke has said the offseason goal is to build through the trenches, and since there aren’t many top-tier guards available in free agency, it makes sense to bolster the defensive line. Young had a career year in 2023 with the Commanders and 49ers, totaling 74 pressures, 54 hurries and 7.5 sacks, per Pro Football Focus, and he would be an excellent replacement for Josh Allen, who the team could lose in free agency. — Michael Gallagher

18. CINCINNATI BENGALS (9-8) | DE Leonard Williams | With DT D.J. Reader also set to hit the open market, the Bengals opt to sign the healthier and more productive option in Williams. With the Seahawks last season, the No. 6 overall pick in 2015 played in four more games (18) and had 4.5 more sacks (5.5) than Reader in 2023. — Aaron Becker

19. LOS ANGELES RAMS (10-7) | CB Jaylon Johnson | The Rams need to upgrade everything about their pass defense, and getting an impact corner would be a great place to start. Johnson is 24 and coming off a monster 2023 season in which he intercepted four passes with the Chicago Bears and earned second-team All-Pro honors. — Adam Gretz

20. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (10-7) | OT Mike Onwenu | With free agency’s top cornerbacks off the board, the Steelers opt to add another pillar to their offensive line in Onwenu. The 26-year-old allowed just three sacks in 2023 with New England and would allow Broderick Jones to move back to left tackle, which is what “he was drafted to be,” according to general manager Omar Khan.Aaron Becker

21. MIAMI DOLPHINS (11-6) | CB Kendall Fuller | With Miami set to release four-time Pro Bowler Xavien Howard at the start of the new league year, splurging for his replacement would be an ideal use of cap space, and Fuller is an ideal candidate. Not only was Fuller Pro Football Focus’ seventh-highest-rated cornerback in 2023 (83.1) with the Commanders, but his 488 yards allowed were the 11th fewest among players at the position who played at least 500 coverage snaps. — Colum Dell

22. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (11-6) | G Robert Hunt | With Cam Jurgens expected to take over at center for the recently retired Jason Kelce, the Eagles could use insurance at right guard. Hunt played both sides as a rookie tackle, but he spent the past three years for the Dolphins at right guard, where he’ll be pushed by Tyler Steen, the first of Philadelphia’s two first-round draft picks in 2023.— Bruce Ewing

23. CLEVELAND BROWNS (11-6) | WR Marquise Brown | Elijah Moore underwhelmed once again in 2023 (640 yards, two TD catches), so the Browns must continue looking for a No. 2 wide receiver to complement Amari Cooper. Brown, a former 1,000-yard receiver, could be exactly that, coming at a cheap price in a potential return to the AFC North. (He played for the Ravens from 2019-21.) — Aaron Becker

24. DALLAS COWBOYS (12-5) | OT Mekhi Becton | With Tennessee poaching eight-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith, a 6-foot-7, 363-pound dancing bear (according to PFF) will have to do. Becton had trouble staying healthy after being drafted 11th overall in 2020, but played well in 16 games for the Jets last season. — Bruce Ewing

25. GREEN BAY PACKERS (9-8) | S Xavier McKinney | In a slim safety market, McKinney stands out and could easily plug a massive hole at the position. (Darnell Savage, Jonathan Owens and Rudy Ford are headed for free agency.) McKinney played in all 17 games for the New York Giants in 2023, allowing the third-lowest passer rating against (52.1) among safeties while earning the fourth-highest grade (87.8), per Pro Football Focus. — Mike Santa Barbara

26. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (9-8) | QB Russell Wilson | The Bucs and Broncos complete a “swap” of quarterbacks in this mock draft with Wilson headed to Tampa Bay. The nine-time Pro Bowler — already notified of his impending release by Denver —- posted the third-highest completion percentage of his career (66.4) and led the league in fourth-quarter comebacks in 2023 (four). He would give Tampa Bay a solid veteran as it seeks a franchise-record fifth consecutive playoff appearance. — Eric Smithling

27. HOUSTON TEXANS (10-7) | RB Josh Jacobs | While the Texans want to bring back Devin Singletary after his 898-yard rushing season, he fits as more of a solid change-of-pace No. 2 running back than a starter, whereas Jacobs is a clear-cut RB1. He has rushed for 1,000 or more yards in three of his five seasons, hasn’t scored fewer than six touchdowns in any season and his versatility as a receiver (he averages nearly 40 receptions per season) would give quarterback C.J. Stroud another weapon. — Michael Gallagher

28. BUFFALO BILLS (11-6) | S Kyle Dugger | Buffalo must add a starting-caliber safety as the team could see Micah Hyde walk in free agency and might be forced to make Jordan Poyer a cap casualty. Dugger, a safety/linebacker hybrid for the Patriots the past four seasons, would significantly boost the run defense of a Bills team that ranked 23rd in EPA allowed per rush in 2023 (-0.06). Colum Dell

29. DETROIT LIONS (12-5) | DE Jonathan Greenard | In 2023, Detroit’s 41 sacks tied for 13th in the NFL, but 11.5 came from star edge-rusher Aidan Hutchinson. With an enormous need for a threat on the other side, Greenward would be a tremendous addition. He’s coming off a breakout campaign with the Texans in which he recorded career highs in sacks (12.5), tackles (52), QB hits (22) and tackles for loss (15). — Mike Santa Barbara

30. BALTIMORE RAVENS (13-4) | RB Derrick Henry | With just two RBs on their roster, the Ravens must add to their running back room. Henry’s playing style fits perfectly with Baltimore. In 2023 for Tennessee, he showed no signs of slowing, rushing for 1,167 yards and 12 touchdowns. — Aaron Becker

31. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (12-5) | G John Simpson | The 49ers have few needs, but strengthening their offensive line is at the top of the list. Simpson, a solid player for the Ravens in 2023, can upgrade the interior, help protect quarterback Brock Purdy and could be a natural fit in the running game to open holes for Christian McCaffrey — Adam Gretz

32. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11-6) |  WR Curtis Samuel | The Chiefs must upgrade their receiving corps, which led the league in drops (44) last season. Samuel, 27, is a dependable pass-catcher who had 62 receptions for 613 yards and four TDs in 16 games with the Washington Commanders in 2023. — Clark Dalton



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