PFF’s Mike Renner said it best, “free agency is for need. The draft is for value.”
Unfortunately, not every NFL team can sign the perfect free-agent class and fill those needs. These teams must now shift focus to finding the draft prospects who can contribute immediately and fill the holes left vacant by their lack of activity in free agency.
Here are the perfect draft fits for five teams that opted not to spend big on a position of need in free agency.
More from PFF's live free-agency coverage:
2021 Free Agency spending rank: 17th
Position of need: WR
Perfect Fit: WR Rashod Bateman
The Ravens need a true alpha wide receiver, and they needed it yesterday.
Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' front office will now be looking to the draft to find their guy, and they should look no further than Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman.
Comped to Los Angeles Chargers receiver Keenan Allen in PFF’s NFL Draft Guide, Bateman is one of the most complete receivers in this deep draft class. He has an NFL-ready build at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds that can hang with the physicality of NFL corners. Bateman hauled in 63.2% of his contested targets as a sophomore, seventh among Power 5 wide receivers.
Despite his success, contested catches are not his bread and butter. His specialty is his ability to create separation thanks to a plethora of release packages at the line of scrimmage. Bateman was tied for second with five touchdown receptions coming with a step or more of separation in his last full season.
The Ravens rank 31st league-wide in yards after the catch from receivers since 2019, but that also happens to be one of Bateman's strengths. The Minnesota wide receiver has forced 36 missed tackles and recorded 905 yards after the catch in his career, eighth and 16th among Power 5 receivers, respectively.
The rumored knock on Bateman’s game is his lack of top-tier speed, but that did not stop him from creating big plays down the field. Since 2019, no other receiver has more catches on 10-plus-yard throws than Bateman (46). If that sustained success down the field did not shut down those claims, then his reported 4.39 40-yard-dash time might do the trick.
Per Source: Bateman ran a 4.37 hand time and a 4.39 laser at the Exos combine.
*Rashod Bateman is not slow ????
— Rashod Bateman (@R_bateman2) February 27, 2021
Bateman’s ability to offer a complete package at the receiver position is what should be most alluring to Baltimore. His ability to play outside and in the slot should add a much-needed facet to a Ravens passing game that has been somewhat one-dimensional since Jackson took over under center. Since 2019, Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews have more targets (345) combined than the next seven most-targeted Ravens pass-catchers combined (336).
Bateman is mostly mocking in the Pick 22-23 range, so there’s always a chance that he falls to the Ravens at 27, as he does in Mike Renner’s most recent NFL mock draft. But if the Ravens want Jackson to take a Josh Allen-like leap, they might need to do what it takes and go and get their guy.
The Saints were one of the teams in “salary cap hell” leading into free agency. New Orleans cut or traded seven players this offseason and opted not to bring in any new additions. Mickey Loomis will now have to focus on the draft to keep the Saints’ Super Bowl window open.
The biggest offseason story for the Saints was future Hall of Famer Drew Brees‘ retirement and Sean Payton's decision to hand the offense over to Jameis Winston. The change at QB might offer a more down-the-field offensive attack than we have seen in years past, leading to a need for a field-stretching wide receiver such as North Carolina’s Dyami Brown.
Highest passer rating when targeted since 2019:
1. DeVonta Smith, 'Bama – 152.4
2. Dyami Brown, UNC – 136.9
3. Dazz Newsome, UNC – 132.4
4. Marlon Williams, Wake – 129.0 pic.twitter.com/azdeY9iFfc
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) December 29, 2020
Brown was one of the most explosive receivers in college football during his career. The North Carolina product ranks tied for second with 13 touchdown receptions on 20-plus-yard throws since 2019; he was also one of the few receivers to eclipse 1,000-yard seasons in both the 2019 and 2020 seasons while averaging 20-plus yards per reception.
There might not be a better match for Winston than Brown. In Winston’s last full season as a starter, he ranked first in completions (12), yards (439) and big-time throws (10) on go-routes. Brown ranks first in receptions (15), yards (606) and touchdowns (8) on go-routes since 2019.
On the other side of the ball, the Saints secondary has struggled to consistently cover pass-catchers out of the slot in recent years, and there is no better corner suited for such a role than Washington’s Elijah Molden.
Since 2019, the Saints have given up the fourth-most touchdown passes (23) and fourth-most receptions (258) from the slot. On the other hand, Molden is the best slot corner in the draft and could help the Saints defense immediately.
Since PFF started tracking college data in 2014, Molden ranks first in coverage grade (91.2) and forced incompletions (21) when lined up in the slot during that span.
2021 Free Agency spending rank: 31st
Position(s) of need: RB
Perfect Fit: RB Javonte Williams
It’s the dawn of a new era in Atlanta, with offensive guru Arthur Smith taking over as the new head coach.
The Falcons have a ton of needs on their team, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. But giving Smith a No. 1 running back like North Carolina’s Javonte Williams instead of relying on Mike Davis or Ito Smith could be beneficial to set Smith up for success in his first season.
Smith’s system utilizes play action at one of the highest rates in the NFL. Since 2019, the Titans ran play action at the second-highest rate (32.9%) and posted the third-most expected points added (EPA) per play during that same span.
Matt Ryan has been one of the league's most successful quarterbacks on play action since 2015, as he ranks first in completions (576) and yards (8,073) on those concepts while ranking sixth in passing grade (91.3) over that span. It’s safe to say the former MVP already stands to improve under Smith, and the addition of a pass-catching back like Williams could drive the offense to click as it did during the team's Super Bowl run.
Yes, Smith’s former back was Derrick Henry, and it is hard to compare any current running back to him. Williams might not be the workhorse back that Henry is — no one is — but his combination of explosiveness, agility and toughness make him the perfect back for the Falcons.
A casual Javonte Williams run
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 8, 2021
Williams rushed for a first down or touchdown on 45.9% of his carries in 2020 (first in college football) while finishing the campaign as the highest-graded running back in the nation (94.3).
2021 Free Agency spending rank: 22nd
Position of need: WR
Perfect Fit: WR Rondale Moore
Green Bay’s lack of depth behind wide receiver Davante Adams has been a glaring weakness in recent years. Not many teams have had more of a drop-off from their No. 1 receiver to their No. 2.
Last season, Adams had more receptions (115) and touchdowns (18) than all other receivers on the Packers combined, while also being the only wideout who posted a receiving grade above 69.7 (91.9).
Purdue’s Rondale Moore is absolutely electric with the ball in his hands. He would give the Packers a do-it-all weapon to work next to Adams from inside the slot.
Having battled injuries for most of his career, most of Moore’s tape comes from his freshman season in 2018. In that season, he led the FBS in receptions (114), yards after the catch (892) and missed tackles forced on receptions (37).
Moore’s height at 5-foot-7 does raise some eyebrows, but there’s no arguing against his unearthly athleticism and the fact that he is built like a rock. At Purdue’s pro day, Moore ran a 4.29-second 40-yard dash and recorded a 42.5-inch vertical leap.
Green Bay could wait until later rounds to draft a wide receiver, as we have seen them do in the past, but Moore’s “upside” tag-teamed with Aaron Rodgers and Adams could create a deadly combo almost instantly.
With left tackle Anthony Castonzo‘s retirement, the Colts must now turn to the draft to fill the hole left on one of the league’s most imposing offensive lines. The perfect fit lies with Notre Dame offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg to play alongside another Fighting Irish alumnus in All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson.
Eichenberg provides one of the highest floors in a very deep offensive line class and might just be a second-round gem for the Colts if they can land him. He has not allowed a single sack on 902 pass-blocking snaps in the past two seasons.
Adding to his ability to protect Carson Wentz’s blindside from Day 1, he has also progressed as a run-blocker during his time at Notre Dame. In 2020, Eichenberg was one of eight Power 5 tackles to record a 90.0-plus run-blocking grade.
On the other side of the ball, the Colts have one of the better defenses in football and will be looking to beef up their defensive line alongside DeForest Buckner. In steps Gregory Rousseau, an absolute athletic specimen at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds.
The last we saw from Rousseau was in 2019 when he led the ACC in sacks (15). Rousseau saw a ton of success bouncing inside and engaging the smaller guard with his size and reach.
He is still unproven on the edge with a limited move set against tackles, but with veterans like Justin Houston and Buckner to help mentor him early in his career, Rousseau can terrorize AFC South quarterbacks for years to come.