2021 NFL Draft: Perfect draft fits for teams that did not spend big in free agency | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics | PFF

NFL News & Analysis

2021 NFL Draft: Perfect draft fits for teams that did not spend big in free agency

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 NFL Free Agency LIVE Deal Grader | The 100 best available NFL free agents remaining2021 NFL Free Agency Tracker | PFF Improvement Index for all 32 teams | Fantasy Football Free Agency Tracker

Baltimore Ravens

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.

Unfortunately, they struck out on the big-name receivers like Will Fuller V and Kenny Golladay and even missed out on the “Tier 2 guys” like Corey Davis, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Curtis Samuel.

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.

 

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.


New Orleans Saints

2021 Free Agency spending rank: 28th
Position(s) of need: Slot CB, field-stretching WR
Perfect Fit: CB Elijah Molden, WR Dyami Brown

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.

 

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.

Atlanta Falcons

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.

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).

Green Bay Packers

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.

Indianapolis Colts

2021 Free Agency spending rank: 30th
Position of need: EDGE, OT
Perfect Fit: EDGE Gregory Rousseau, OT Liam Eichenberg

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.

Tackle Lifes financial Challenges. Western Southern Financial Group.
Sponsor

NFL Featured Tools

  • Power Rankings are PFF’s NFL power ratings based on weekly player grades in each facet of play. These power rankings are adjusted based on coach, quarterback and the market each season.

    Available with

    Edge
  • PFF predictions and real time spread, moneyline and over/under lines for each NFL game.

    Available with

    Elite
  • PFF's Player Props Tool reveals betting opportunities within player prop markets.

    Available with

    Elite
  • PFF's exclusive metrics provide matchup previews, position rankings, grades, and snap counts.

    Available with

    Edge
  • Our exclusive database, featuring the most in-depth collection of NFL player performance data.

    Available with

    Elite
Pro Subscriptions

Unlock NFL Player Grades, Fantasy & NFL Draft

$9.99 / mo
$39.99 / yr

Unlock Premium Stats, PFF Greenline & DFS

$34.99 / mo
$199.99 / yr