It’s never too early to start planning ahead for the next NFL season. Scouts are traveling across the country to see as many college prospects as possible, and pro scouting departments are dissecting the NFL film each week to identify potential free agent targets for the upcoming offseason. With that in mind, we’ll be running a “team needs tracker” that examines where each club could stand to improve going forward. Every few weeks, we’ll highlight one college prospect at the position group selected along with one pending free agent who should represent a good fit from a financial and schematic perspective.
As the 2024 PFF Big Board grows, we will not just discuss the same first-round prospects that you’ll hear mentioned all over draft coverage. Perhaps we’ll take a look at some potential Day 2 and Day 3 players at a position that has a future need but not necessarily an immediate 2024 need.
Projected win totals are pulled from PFF’s Power Rankings, which are updated weekly. Projected draft position is based on Vegas odds and can be found on the PFF Mock Draft Simulator. Grades, stats and write-ups on all of the top college prospects can be found on PFF’s 2024 Big Board. Finally, as we advance through the season, the 2024 free agency landing page will have grades, stats and analysis on top players across every position.
Last Updated: Sept. 26
JUMP TO A TEAM:
Arizona Cardinals: Interior defender
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 12th (6th via Houston)
- Unit grade through Week 3: 49.0 (29th)
New Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon came from a Philadelphia Eagles franchise that has built from the inside out for a decade-plus and traded up in the top 15 of back-to-back drafts to acquire Jordan Davis and Jalen Carter out of Georgia. Here, Gannon adds a foundational piece on the interior of his defensive line to build everything out from there.
Prospect: Illinois DI Jer’Zhan Newton
Newton was downright dominant in 2022, earning a 91.2 run-defense grade and an 84.1 pass-rush grade with 34 defensive stops and 55 quarterback pressures. Newton has 15 quarterback pressures and 15 defensive stops through four games, earning an elite 91.3 grade against a good Penn State team.
Free agent: Cincinnati Bengals DI D.J. Reader
With the franchise tag in Cincinnati seemingly reserved for wide receiver Tee Higgins, all the other pending free agents should be able to shop around and listen to offers, and Reader may hear a few big ones. He’s coming off back-to-back seasons with grades above 80.0 and has established himself as one of the top interior run defenders in the NFL when healthy.
Atlanta Falcons: Cornerback
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 18th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 66.8 (T-15th)
Atlanta’s new-look defense is off to a remarkable start in 2023, with all of their free agent signings from the past offseason looking like hits, namely David Onyemata and Jessie Bates III. Nevertheless, the Detroit Lions could have, and probably should have, scored more than 20 points in Week 3, and the cornerbacks outside of A.J. Terrell were picked on a bit at times.
Prospect: Iowa CB Cooper DeJean
DeJean is a Swiss Army knife defensive back that Falcons defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen would love to get his hands on, after years of coveting versatile defensive backs in New Orleans — including Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Bradley Roby, Alontae Taylor and Tyrann Mathieu. DeJean earned an 81.5 coverage grade and an 85.8 run-defense grade in 2022 and has a 75.7 coverage grade through four games in 2023.
Free agent: Tennessee Titans CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
Murphy-Bunting has experience playing out wide and in the slot, adding a versatile piece to the secondary with starting upside. The former second-round pick earned a career-best 80.9 coverage grade in 2022 and parlayed that into a free agent contract with the Tennessee Titans — but just for $3.5 million across one year.
Baltimore Ravens: Running back
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 24th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 60.6 (22nd)
With another season-ending injury to running back J.K. Dobbins and with Gus Edwards playing in the final year of his contract, Baltimore needs to add a rushing threat alongside Lamar Jackson to fully weaponize zone read and RPOs. The Ravens have a lot of players up for new contracts across the roster and need to use premium draft capital on premium positions, but hitting on a later-round back could provide a nice benefit to this offense.
Prospect: Ohio State RB Miyan Williams
Williams is the name you’ve probably heard less about in this Ohio State backfield, with TreVeyon Henderson likely to come off the board earlier. However, Williams maintains a low pad level, runs hard through contact and has a 76.1 rushing grade on gap runs this season, which presents a fit in Baltimore’s power- and counter-heavy rushing attack.
Free agent: Chicago Bears RB D’Onta Foreman
Foreman enjoyed a career resurgence in Carolina last year, where the Panthers utilized similar concepts in the run game and let him get downhill between the tackles. Foreman signed a one-year flier with Chicago and has been made a healthy scratch the past two weeks, so maybe the Ravens should trade for him now instead of waiting until the offseason.
Buffalo Bills: Safety
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 28th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 69.0 (16th)
Buffalo’s starting safety duo of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde are 32 and 33 years old, respectively, and Hyde is in the final year of his contract. The team uses free agent addition Taylor Rapp as a third safety, but he is playing on a one-year flier. A young ball hawk on the back end of this defense could flip the field with regularity behind a deep and talented defensive line.
Prospect: Miami (FL) S Kamren Kinchens
Kinchens earned an elite 90.0 grade in 2022 while displaying serious coverage skills on the back end, intercepting six passes and scaring opposing quarterbacks away from throwing the deep ball. Kinchens is also not afraid to come up and make a tackle, having earned an 83.5 run-defense grade and an 88.0 tackling grade so far in 2023.
Free agent: New York Giants S Xavier McKinney
McKinney is a versatile defensive back who can make plays in the box as a sure tackler while also ball-hawking in the deep third. McKinney hasn’t played up to his breakout second season, in which he had five interceptions, four more pass breakups and a 75.4 overall grade, but perhaps Bills general manager Brandon Beane can get the scouting report from his old friend Joe Schoen and inject some youth into his safety room.
Carolina Panthers: Linebacker
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 3rd (35th)
- Unit grade through Week 3: 65.6 (T-17th)
Carolina is without a first-round pick and may prioritize premium positions like edge defender and wide receiver with any early picks. However, the loss of Shaq Thompson for the season likely ends his strong run in Carolina and leaves a gaping hole over the middle alongside Frankie Luvu.
Prospect: Clemson LB Jeremiah Trotter Jr.
Trotter is the middle linebacker in Clemson's defense. He earned a 77.1 run-defense grade and an 87.9 coverage grade in 2022 while also adding 16 quarterback pressures on the occasional pass rush.
Free agent: Kansas City Chiefs LB Drue Tranquill
Tranquill signed a one-year flier with the Chiefs after a quiet free agency period following a breakout 2022 with the Los Angeles Chargers. He earned back-to-back coverage grades in the mid-70s in 2021-22 and could be a good fit as the linebacker who plays backward while Frankie Luvu comes screaming forward.
Chicago Bears: Interior defender
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 1st
- Unit grade through Week 3: 61.2 (20th)
The Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans, Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are among the teams off to surprising starts through Week 3, so it's possible that Chicago has two top-five picks if Carolina continues on its current path. The Bears could stand to improve every position on the roster, but we’re starting with the defense before moving to the offense. One of the few bright spots of this entire roster through Week 3 is nose tackle Andrew Billings, but he’s also set to hit free agency unless he signs an extension.
Prospect: Miami (FL) DI Leonard Taylor III
Taylor earned an 87.3 overall grade in 2022 with 25 quarterback pressures on 159 pass-rush snaps (15.7%) and has carried that into 2023 with 15 pressures on 70 pass-rush snaps (21.4%). The former five-star recruit could be the disruptive three-technique this Bears defense needs desperately.
Free agent: Baltimore Ravens DI Justin Madubuike
Madubuike generated a career-high 32 quarterback pressures in 2022 and has seven pressures and a sack through three games in 2023 but needs to continue to improve in Baltimore in the final year of his rookie contract.
Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive tackle
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 26th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 57.2 (24th)
The Bengals shifted former first-round tackle Jonah Williams over to the right side entering his fifth-year option season, which prompted a trade request that was later rescinded. Odds are that Williams won’t be back in 2024, and Cincinnati also released tackle La’el Collins a few weeks into this season. Joe Burrow’s blindside should be solidified with Orlando Brown Jr., but another bookend is crucial to keeping Burrow upright for the long haul.
Prospect: Georgia OT Amarius Mims
Mims is a very large human at 6-foot-7 and 340 pounds and has continued to build on his 79.5 pass-blocking grade in 2022 with an 82.9 mark through three weeks in 2023.
Free agent: Las Vegas Raiders OT Jermaine Eluemunor
Eluemunor was very solid for the Raiders in 2022 and returned in 2023 on a one-year, $3 million deal. He started off the season strong before a tough matchup with Pittsburgh Steelers edge defender T.J. Watt. He’s not a long-term solution but could provide stability for Cincinnati as they continue their search for a foundational bookend opposite Orlando Brown Jr.
Cleveland Browns: Linebacker
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 23rd (56th — 2024 1st belongs to Houston)
- Unit grade through Week 3: 76.2 (4th)
It’s hard to identify many areas of need on this roster, and linebacker isn’t necessarily a weakness at the moment, but two of Cleveland's top three contributors on the linebacker unit — Anthony Walker Jr. and Sione Takitaki — are in contract years. The Browns' new-look defense under Jim Schwartz is off to a historic start, and adding another second-level defender alongside Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah could round out a ferocious unit.
Prospect: Missouri LB Ty’Ron Hopper
Cleveland and general manager Andrew Berry are likely going to follow the Philadelphia Eagles philosophy of not investing top resources at the off-ball linebacker position, with Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah a rare exception when he fell down draft boards. Hopper is the exact same height and weight — 6-foot-2 and 221 pounds — as Owusu-Koramoah. Hopper tallied 32 quarterback pressures last year and could be a player whom defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz likes to send on blitzes. He also earned a strong 78.6 coverage grade in 2022, although some of that may be because of what he was asked to do.
Free agent: Kansas City Chiefs LB Willie Gay Jr.
Gay could reunite with safety Juan Thornhill in Cleveland, bringing solid coverage ability with a career-high 73.2 grade in 2022 on the largest snap share of his young career.
Dallas Cowboys: Cornerback
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 29th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 79.8 (1st)
Cornerback Trevon Diggs, who tore his ACL, is a devastating loss, as he was looking every bit the part of a top cornerback in the NFL through two weeks. The Cowboys' acquisition of Stephon Gilmore looks sharp in hindsight, and 2022 fifth-round pick DaRon Bland is an ascending young player. Nevertheless, it would be wise to add another young outside cornerback, as the team attempted to do with the drafting of Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright.
Prospect: Ohio State CB Denzel Burke
Burke looks the part at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, and he’s off to a strong start in 2023 after up-and-down play in his first two seasons. Ohio State pumps out NFL cornerbacks annually, and Burke has earned an 83.5 coverage grade through four games with only six receptions allowed on 18 targets.
Free agent: Baltimore Ravens CB Rock Ya-Sin
Ya-Sin is not starting in the Ravens' secondary despite the absence of Marlon Humphrey through Week 3, with Brandon Stephens and Ronald Darby playing ahead of him on the outside. We’re thinking of a young, depth option here for Dallas more so than a splashy free agent signing, especially with massive contracts looming for Micah Parsons, CeeDee Lamb and others. Ya-Sin had back-to-back seasons with coverage grades above 65.0 in 2021-22 and could be a solid contributor as Trevon Diggs gets healthy.
Denver Broncos: Edge defender
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 5th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 53.3 (28th)
The Broncos' defense has completely collapsed thus far in 2023 after playing like one of the best units in the NFL throughout 2022 — and despite the offense consistently putting them in advantageous positions. Now, the offense is moving the ball efficiently and the defense is coming off the worst performance in the history of modern football against the Miami Dolphins in Week 3, allowing 726 yards and 70 points. Baron Browning‘s return will help, but more reinforcements on the edge may still be needed.
Prospect: Florida EDGE Princely Umanmielen
Umanmielen earned pass-rush grades of 83.5 and 83.1 in 2021 and 2022, respectively, with pressure rates above 10% in each season. Umanmielen is long with a big frame but reportedly slimmed down this offseason to move from defensive end to outside linebacker. His continued progression will be interesting to monitor. Through four games in 2023, Umanmielen has an 87.6 pass-rush grade with 17 quarterback pressures.
Free agent: New England Patriots EDGE Josh Uche
Uche has been remarkably efficient rushing the passer since a breakout 2022 campaign, but he’s still logging around only 25 snaps a game as more of a rotational player. Uche has had at least four quarterback pressures in all three games this season with a 25% pressure rate, picking up right where left off last season with 56 pressures on 285 pass-rush reps. He may be too good for New England to let go, but if they do, the Broncos should be all over this, with their 28 quarterback pressures so far in 2023 the fewest of any team in the league.
Detroit Lions: Guard
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 24th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 71.6 (1st)
Halapoulivaati Vaitai was playing good football to start the season before missing Week 3 with an injury — unfortunately, a common occurrence for the big offensive lineman playing in the final year of his contract. Starting left guard Jonah Jackson is also a pending free agent, and protecting quarterback Jared Goff from interior pressure is absolutely critical.
Prospect: Michigan G Zak Zinter
We’re not just recommending Zinter because he plays at Michigan. The 6-foot-6, 322-pound mauler also represents a good fit in Detroit’s offense with good run-blocking ability on gap and zone concepts and an 84.0 pass-blocking grade on true pass sets in 2023 that has carried over from 2022.
Free agent: Seattle Seahawks G Phil Haynes
Haynes has been a steadily developing guard after the Seahawks drafted him in the fourth round in 2019, finally playing meaningful snaps in 2022 and earning the starting job for 2023. The 6-foot-4, 322-pound Haynes holds up well in pass protection against power rushers yet can still lose to finesse at times. He has a promising 83.5 pass-blocking grade through Week 3 and offers the ability to play on either side of the line.
Green Bay Packers: Running back
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 11th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 62.9 (20th)
The Packers were reportedly involved in trade conversations centered around Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor and clearly want a long-term option alongside quarterback Jordan Love with Aaron Jones now 29 years old and A.J. Dillon averaging 2.7 yards per carry with one run of 10-plus yards on 39 attempts in 2023.
Prospect: Wisconsin RB Braelon Allen
Allen is a big, physical back with an 84.1 grade on zone runs that ranks seventh in the FBS through four weeks in 2023. He also has forced 12 missed tackles and recorded 12 first downs on 32 zone carries. Why not keep it in-state here with both of our recommendations?
Free agent: Indianapolis Colts RB Jonathan Taylor
If Taylor does somehow reach unrestricted free agency, which doesn’t seem like a strong possibility, a return to Wisconsin — where he had one of the better college careers of all time at the position — makes plenty of sense, given the interest already expressed in his services.
Houston Texans: Edge defender
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 6th (23rd via Cleveland)
- Unit grade through Week 3: 62.9 (23rd)
Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud is looking like a young stud out of the gate, and that’s while playing without four starters along the offensive line. The fourth-year emergence of Nico Collins, the early breakout of Tank Dell and the potential resurgence of John Metchie could mean this receiver corps is in a much better place than we thought coming into the season. However, the Texans' other top-three draft pick in edge defender Will Anderson Jr. could use some help rushing off the edge with Jonathan Greenard and Jerry Hughes set to hit free agency.
Prospect: Alabama EDGE Dallas Turner
Turner popped up on tape when watching No. 3 overall pick Will Anderson Jr. last season, and he looks to have hit the weight room headed into 2023. Turner earned a 73.1 pass-rush grade with a 12% pressure rate in 2022. Through four games in 2023, he has a 74.1 pass-rush grade with a 21% pressure rate. Over the past two weeks, Turner has 16 pressures and five sacks. He can also set the edge in the run game and cover well on the occasional drop. Why not reunite these Alabama studs in the NFL?
Free agent: Dallas Cowboys EDGE Dante Fowler Jr.
Fowler enjoyed a career resurgence in 2022 with the Dallas Cowboys, earning a 77.0 pass-rush grade with a 15.8% pressure rate as a rotational pass rusher. The former No. 3 overall pick has always been able to get after opposing quarterbacks, and DeMeco Ryans’ San Francisco 49ers defenses found ways to put talented players in positions to succeed year after year.
Indianapolis Colts: Safety
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 6th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 52.5 (30th)
The Colts were able to limit the explosive Baltimore Ravens passing attack and hang on for an overtime road win in Week 3, holding Lamar Jackson to 6.5 yards per attempt. His longest completion was only 24 yards. This had more to do with the pass rush winning up front, but the secondary deserves credit, as well. Nevertheless, starting strong safety Julian Blackmon is in a contract year and free safety Rodney Thomas has a 44.5 grade through Week 3.
Prospect: Alabama S Malachi Moore
Perhaps most importantly in this Gus Bradley Cover 3 defense, the 6-foot, 198-pound Moore has played more than 100 snaps already in single-high shells. Moore’s 77.8 grade on Cover 1 and Cover 3 snaps is a top-20 mark among 297 safeties with at least 50 such snaps in the FBS.
Free agent: New York Jets S Jordan Whitehead
One of the heroes of Week 1, Whitehead intercepted Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen three times to help the Jets come from behind and steal a victory with an epic punt return touchdown in overtime. Whitehead has back-to-back seasons with coverage grades above 70.0 but really makes his mark as a physical player down in the box, often having one of the lowest average depth of tackles — how close to the line of scrimmage he tackles ball carriers — among safeties.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Guard
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 21st
- Unit grade through Week 3: 54.1 (23rd)
The Jaguars' offense was incapable of doing anything against an injury-decimated Houston Texans secondary in Week 3, which speaks more to how poor this interior offensive line is playing. Starting right guard Brandon Scherff was a big-ticket free agent acquisition who is a shell of his former All-Pro self, with no guarantees remaining on his contract in 2024. And starting left guard Ben Bartch is in a contract year. When tackle Cam Robinson returns from suspension, one of Walker Little or Anton Harrison will likely kick inside, but the other guard spot will remain a top need.
Prospect: Miami (FL) G Javion Cohen
The Alabama transfer has picked up where he left off as a pass blocker, earning an 80.9 grade through four weeks in 2023 after recording an 80.8 mark in 2022. Cohen could stay in the state of Florida and provide a major boost to a weak spot of this Jaguars offense.
Free agent: Miami Dolphins OL Isaiah Wynn
Wynn has started the first three games in Miami at left guard but could still kick back out to tackle going forward if needed, which is an added benefit. Wynn has dealt with injuries throughout his career yet earned pass-blocking grades above 70.0 in each season from 2019 to 2021 and has a 77.6 pass-blocking grade during Miami’s historic start in 2023.
Kansas City Chiefs: Interior defender
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 31st
- Unit grade through Week 3: 63.4 (T-16th)
Chris Jones is arguably the best interior defender playing football right now but will have a franchise tag in the neighborhood of $32 million in 2024 after he revised his contract. Even if he does find his way back to Kansas City on a long-term deal, Kansas City needs more up the middle of their defense.
Prospect: Michigan DI Kris Jenkins
Jenkins is a stout run defender up the middle for the Wolverines, recording an 86.1 run-defense grade and seven defensive stops through four games in 2023, with all of those games seeing the starters pulled once the score got out of reach. Jenkins is No. 6 on Bruce Feldman of The Athletic’s annual “Freaks List” as he continues to add weight and explosiveness to his frame.
Free agent: Tennessee Titans DI Teair Tart
Tart is coming off a breakout 2022 season, earning a 73.1 grade with 26 quarterback pressures and 23 defensive stops. He’s a big, physical presence on the interior. Perhaps Tennessee decides to let him test free agency after making Jeffery Simmons one of the highest-paid players on the interior in the NFL this offseason. Tart has eight defensive stops and a 71.2 run-defense grade through Week 3.
Las Vegas Raiders: Cornerback
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 8th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 58.6 (24th)
Veteran cornerback Marcus Peters is the Raiders' No. 1 cornerback in his age-30 season and only signed a one-year flier with the team. Las Vegas’ outside cornerbacks have been credited with two forced incompletions this season, tied for dead last.
Prospect: Clemson CB Nate Wiggins
Wiggins is tall and long at 6-foot-2 with an edge to his game in coverage, especially when going up against bigger wide receivers. Wiggins earned a 78.9 coverage grade in 2022 with 10 pass breakups and a 50.8% allowed completion rate. His tape from the Florida State game battling big wide receivers Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson was impressive, and he allowed zero receptions on four targets with a pass breakup.
Free agent: Los Angeles Chargers CB Michael Davis
Davis had a career year in 2022, earning a 73.5 coverage grade with 12 pass breakups and just a 52% allowed completion rate. All three of those marks were career bests. Davis is a big, physical cornerback at 6-foot-2 and 196 pounds and will be 29 years old entering his eighth NFL season in 2024.
Los Angeles Chargers: Linebacker
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 22nd
- Unit grade through Week 3: 47.6 (32nd)
Former first-round pick Kenneth Murray is in a contract year after his fifth-year option was declined, and veteran Eric Kendricks missed Week 3 with an injury and is in his age-31 season. Almost every level of the defense could use some help, but linebacker is certainly on the shortlist.
Prospect: North Carolina LB Cedric Gray
Gray is a three-year starter at North Carolina with coverage grades above 70.0 in each of the past two seasons. Gray racked up 59 defensive stops last year and earned an 84.4 run-defense grade, a 50-point jump from 2021, and he has 19 defensive stops and a 78.5 run-defense grade through four games this season.
Free agent: Denver Broncos LB Josey Jewell
Jewell has been a consistently solid middle linebacker for the Denver Broncos, with run defense grades above 65.0 in his last two healthy seasons and coverage grades above 60.0. Jewell had 40 defensive stops, 11 quarterback pressures and two interceptions in 2022 in what was arguably his best NFL season, and could be a solid veteran presence over the middle opposite Eric Kendricks.
Los Angeles Rams: Cornerback
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 15th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 48.7 (30th)
The Rams play as much zone coverage and two-high shells as any team in the NFL. 2022 sixth-round pick cornerback Derion Kendrick earned a 44.3 grade through Week 2, which ranked 96th out of 102 qualifying cornerbacks, and veteran Ahkello Witherspoon, who starts on the other side, is in a contract year.
Prospect: Auburn CB D.J. James
James may not be for everyone at 6-foot-1 and only 164 pounds, but his 79.5 coverage grade on Cover 2, Quarters and Cover 6 snaps is a top-15 mark among FBS cornerbacks. The Oregon transfer earned an 85.7 coverage grade in 2022 and is on track to repeat that performance in 2023.
Free agent: Tennessee Titans CB Kristian Fulton
Fulton has had an up-and-down first four seasons with the Tennessee Titans on account of injuries and just variance in play. Still, the former second-round pick out of LSU has talent and is willing to come up and make tackles, earning an 88.6 run-defense grade with 18 defensive stops and a forced fumble in 2022. A fresh start in a new secondary could get his career back on track.
Miami Dolphins: Guard
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 29th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 60.4 (18th)
This Dolphins' offensive line has been one of the pleasant surprises of the 2023 season thus far, though they’re also benefiting from Tua Tagovailoa getting the ball out quicker on average than any other quarterback. Nevertheless, starting guards Robert Hunt and Isaiah Wynn are in contract years, as is center Connor Williams, so the interior of this offensive line will be a major focus of the offseason.
Prospect: UConn G Christian Haynes
Haynes was one of the highest-graded guards in the nation in 2022, earning a 90.1 pass block grade and 87.2 run block grade in his third season starting at right guard. Haynes is in his sixth year of college, so he’s an older prospect and won’t go very high in the 2024 Draft, but he could be a nice addition in the later rounds. Through four games in 2023, Haynes is again grading above 85.0 in both facets.
Free agent: Minnesota Vikings G Ezra Cleveland
Cleveland kicked inside to left guard after playing left tackle in college at Boise State, and thus far he’s been a very good run blocker while he continues to grow in pass protection, earning an 80.3 grade in 2022 in a similar rushing scheme to Miami’s. Perhaps the potential to kick out to right tackle could add another value component, as Miami may need to also address that spot. At the very least, they would appreciate the positional flexibility.
Minnesota Vikings: Guard
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 9th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 70.0 (4th)
Minnesota saw enough of right guard Ed Ingram and signed free agent Dalton Risner heading into Week 3, but Risner is on a one-year flier and current starting left guard Ezra Cleveland is also a pending free agent. Minnesota appears to have answers at both tackle positions for the foreseeable future, but the guard spots could still use reinforcement.
Prospect: Missouri OT Javon Foster
Foster is a three-year starter at left tackle, so perhaps that’s where he belongs at the next level. Minnesota took Ezra Cleveland in the second round in 2020 after he started at left tackle in college, and he shifted inside to left guard. That’s the thinking here, with Foster currently earning a 91.4 grade on zone runs.
Free agent: Minnesota Vikings G Ezra Cleveland
It probably makes the most sense for Minnesota to re-sign Cleveland — like they did with center Garrett Bradbury last offseason — or keep Dalton Risner around on a multi-year deal if he impresses the rest of the way.
New England Patriots: Wide receiver
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 14th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 61.8 (27th)
New England found some contributors in this past year’s draft in sixth-round wide receivers Kayshon Boutte and Demario Douglas, but they still don’t have a bonafide No. 1 option and haven’t for some time. The Patriots, for as good as they’ve been the past two decades-plus, have struggled mightily to identify top receiving talent in the early rounds. Nevertheless, they need to keep swinging, and fortunately for them, there’s a lot of talent in free agency and the draft.
Prospect: Washington WR Rome Odunze
The Washington product is coming off a 75-reception, 1,145-yard season in 2022. He has followed that up through four weeks in 2023 with 27 receptions for 544 yards, four touchdowns, a 16.8-yard average depth of target and a 20-plus yards per reception average. Odunze’s overall grade thus far is 86.0, and battles with the tougher Pac-12 schedule ahead will tell us a lot.
Free agent: Carolina Panthers WR D.J. Chark
Chark’s field-stretching ability would help any offense, with his average depth of target and yards per reception numbers always near the top of the league. That is an offensive element sorely lacking from a Patriots unit with zero explosive playmakers. Chark had four receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown in Week 3, including a 47-yard snag for six. The Patriots had one play go over 20 yards in Week 3.
New Orleans Saints: Safety
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 20th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 66.5 (18th)
Marcus Maye is currently serving a three-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, and he and Tyrann Mathieu are both in their 30s. New Orleans has invested draft capital and good money in quality play at the safety position over the years, so here they start looking for a long-term answer.
Prospect: Washington State S Jaden Hicks
Hicks is a big, versatile defensive back with experience in the slot. He possesses the all-around talent that could tantalize Saints head coach Dennis Allen, who has targeted players just like him throughout his tenure in New Orleans. Hicks has an 86.7 coverage grade through four weeks in 2023 with four pass breakups and an interception, and his 10 defensive stops is a top-10 mark among FBS safeties.
Free agent: Dallas Cowboys S Jayron Kearse
Kearse earned grades above 70.0 in 2021 and 2022 with 139 tackles, 57 defensive stops and just six missed tackles, comfortably one of the best tackling ratios in the NFL. In coverage, Kearse added three interceptions and 12 pass breakups over 2021-22. With Dallas extending both safeties Donovan Wilson and Malik Hooker, odds are that Kearse hits free agency after the season.
New York Giants: Wide receiver
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 11th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 57.8 (32nd)
Jalin Hyatt showed off his game-breaking skills with a huge catch in Week 2 that jump-started a huge comeback against the Arizona Cardinals, but otherwise, the Giants have a half-dozen slot receivers and no big-bodied possession receiver besides tight end Darren Waller. They simply need to get Daniel Jones a true X receiver in this offense.
Prospect: Florida State WR Keon Coleman
The Michigan State transfer has burst onto the scene at Florida State and put up huge performances against LSU and Clemson, with a combined 14 receptions, 208 receiving yards and five touchdowns in the two contests. Coleman has a knack for getting behind opposing defenses for massive gains and is sure-handed down the field with Seminoles quarterback Jordan Travis never afraid to uncork it deep.
Free agent: Cincinnati Bengals WR Tee Higgins
Higgins is likely staring down a franchise tag from the Bengals after the 2023 season, but we can dream here. The Giants' offense could desperately use a big-bodied, contested catch guy like the 6-foot-4, 219-pound Higgins. Higgins is coming off back-to-back seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards and 15 contested catches, something Daniel Jones has never been able to work with on the outside.
New York Jets: Interior defender
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 7th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 66.8 (12th)
Star interior defender Quinnen Williams is surrounded by a healthy mix of wily veteran contributors and young rotational pieces, but the Jets could use another legitimate player in the middle of their defense. The three leaders in snaps alongside Williams — Quinton Jefferson, Al Woods and Solomon Thomas — are all pending free agents.
Prospect: Texas A&M DI McKinnley Jackson
Jackson is a big presence who can clog up the interior with a stout frame that is hard to move. His play strength isn’t the only impressive thing about him, as he has a quick get-off for a player of his size. Jackson earned a 71.8 run-blocking grade in 2022 and has bumped that up to an 80.5 mark through four weeks in 2023.
Free agent: San Francisco 49ers DI Javon Kinlaw
The former first-round pick had gotten off to a very slow start in the NFL but was a top-15 pick at 6-foot-5 and 319 pounds for a reason. Through three games in 2023, Kinlaw has 10 quarterback pressures and grades above 70.0 as a pass rusher and a run defender. Perhaps Kinlaw reunites with his former defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and continues his ascension in New York.
Philadelphia Eagles: Linebacker
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 30th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 65.5 (17th)
The Eagles aren’t likely to use a top-100 pick or any significant free agent dollars here, but there are always exceptions — such as 2022 third-rounder Nakobe Dean — and it’s always worth trying to find a late-round gem who can eat up snaps behind an elite defensive line.
Prospect: Georgia LB Smael Mondon Jr.
Why would we highlight any player here but a Georgia Bulldog defender for the Eagles? Mondon is a good fit behind a stout Philadelphia defensive line as a quick reactor and sifter through traffic at the line, racking up 35 defensive stops in 2022 and missing fewer than 10% of tackle opportunities.
Free agent: New York Giants LB Isaiah Simmons
It would be typical of the Eagles to buy low on a former first-round pick at a non-premium position, and they could let Simmons roam as their coverage linebacker with run-defending thumpers such as Zach Cunningham in the mix, as well. Simmons has a 73.2 coverage grade so far in 2023 after earning a career-high 69.9 mark in 2022.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Cornerback
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 16th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 61.8 (21st)
While Joey Porter Jr. battles to crack the starting lineup, Pittsburgh needs upgrades in its secondary even after that eventually happens. Levi Wallace is a pending free agent, Patrick Peterson is 33 years old and slot cornerback Chandon Sullivan is also a pending free agent.
Prospect: Iowa State CB T.J. Tampa
Tampa is a big outside cornerback at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, which fits the mold in Pittsburgh, and is coming off an 81.6 coverage grade and an 87.7 run defense grade with eight pass breakups and a 46.5% allowed completion rate in 2022. Through four games in 2023, Tampa has three pass breakups and an interception.
Free agent: Chicago Bears CB Jaylon Johnson
Johnson is stuck playing a lot of soft zone and off coverage in Chicago and it doesn’t appear to fit his skillset all that well. Pittsburgh traded for William Jackson III at last year’s deadline as he grew frustrated with the defense in Washington, and perhaps that could apply here too. Johnson is playing in a pivotal contract year in 2023 that is off to a very strong start, earning an 84.1 coverage grade through Week 3.
San Francisco 49ers: Offensive tackle
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 32nd
- Unit grade through Week 3: 71.2 (11th)
Right tackle Colton McKivitz has earned a 55.4 grade through three weeks and future Hall of Famer Trent Williams is now 35 years old. Somehow, the 49ers' offense hasn’t really been impacted by a shaky offensive line at several spots, but they’ve also faced Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants pass rushes with perhaps the worst edge-rushing units in the NFL thus far in 2023.
Prospect: Missouri OT Javon Foster
Foster is a three-year starter at left tackle but could make the shift over to the right side early on in his career and perhaps slide back over as Williams' eventual successor. Foster boasts a 91.4 blocking grade on zone runs in 2023, and that right tackle spot has always been a key component of the run game for San Francisco.
Free agent: New York Jets OT Mekhi Becton
Why not see if you can get one freakishly athletic tackle to serve as the mentor to another? Mekhi Becton earned run-blocking grades of 73.9 and 78.7 in 2021 and 2022, respectively, while operating in a similar offense to San Francisco’s. Becton wants to be a left tackle eventually but would presumably be open to learning from Trent Williams, growing his game on the right side and then kicking back over.
Seattle Seahawks: Interior defender
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 19th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 70.3 (9th)
Prospect: Georgia DI Nazir Stackhouse
Stackhouse is a handful at nose tackle for the Bulldogs, checking in at 6-foot-3 and 320 pounds and earning an 86.1 run-defense grade with 19 defensive stops in 2022.
Free agent: Indianapolis Colts DI Grover Stewart
The Colts may retain Stewart to maintain a defensive line that has caused a lot of problems for opposing offenses to start 2023, with Stewart’s 87.9 run-defense grade and 10 defensive stops both ranking near the top of the position. If not, he alone could change the entire complexion of Seattle’s front.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Linebacker
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 14th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 63.4 (23rd)
Longtime veteran and future Buccaneers Ring of Honor member Lavonte David returned in 2023 on a one-year flier, and former No. 5 overall pick Devin White is playing in 2023 on the fifth-year option, so neither player is guaranteed to be on the roster in 2024. This defensive line still has serious talent with Vita Vea, Joe Tryon, Shaq Barrett and first-round rookie Calijah Kancey. This would be a nice job for any young off-ball linebacker to step into.
Prospect: Michigan LB Junior Colson
Colson is a big off-ball linebacker in today’s game at 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds, but he covers fairly for his size, earning a 67.6 coverage grade in 2022. Colson is as reliable a run defender and tackler as you’ll find in the FBS, with 31 defensive stops and a missed tackle rate of just 6.7% in 2022. Finally, he’s flashed some ability to come forward and rush the passer occasionally, which is a huge part of Devin White’s game.
Free agent: San Francisco 49ers LB Oren Burks
If the Buccaneers want to add a solid defensive contributor with special teams ability, Burks has been just that over the past few years, earning special teams grades above 60.0 in six straight seasons on around 250-plus snaps in each year. On 187 defensive snaps from 2022 through Week 3, Burks’ 86.8 run-defense grade ranks eighth among linebackers, and he had four defensive stops on just 21 snaps against the Giants in Week 3.
Tennessee Titans: Wide receiver
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 10th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 63.4 (22nd)
The Titans will likely continue to be a run-first offense under head coach Mike Vrabel, even when they eventually hand the reins over to quarterback Will Levis. They still need more help at wide receiver nonetheless. Veteran free agent addition DeAndre Hopkins signed a two-year deal, and 2022 first-round pick Treylon Burks has come along fairly slowly thus far, though it’s still very early.
Prospect: Ohio State WR Emeka Egbuka
Egbuka is the forgotten name in this talented Ohio State offense because Marvin Harrison Jr. is potentially a “generational” prospect, but Egbuka very well could be the No. 2 wide receiver in this class. He earned an 84.0 receiving grade in 2022 with 74 receptions for 1,151 yards and 10 touchdowns. Thus far in 2023, Egbuka has 19 receptions for 263 yards and three touchdowns, and his seven-catch, 96-yard performance against Notre Dame as Harrison dealt with an ankle injury was the difference in the game for by far the Buckeyes' biggest win this season.
Free agent: New England Patriots WR Kendrick Bourne
Bourne may not be the best blocker, particularly in the run game, but his effort in that facet can rarely be questioned — and he pushed his way onto the field in San Francisco because of it. The Tennessee Titans rarely play wide receivers who aren’t willing blockers, so it’s no coincidence that’s where he’s been thus far in his career. As a receiver, Bourne kicked off 2023 with six receptions for 64 yards and two touchdowns, and he could be a solid No. 2 or No. 3 option in Tennessee next year with inside-outside flexibility.
Washington Commanders: Tight end
- Projected draft position (per Vegas odds): 9th
- Unit grade through Week 3: 63.8 (10th)
Veteran tight end Logan Thomas may be in his final year with the Commanders, and the other young tight ends on the depth chart offer blocking upside and possession-receiving ability. A dynamic move tight end who can win underneath could provide a huge benefit to Sam Howell and help him bring down his ridiculously high sack numbers by serving as a check-down outlet.
Prospect: Florida State TE Jaheim Bell
Bell is not quite an all-around tight end with great blocking ability, but Commanders offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy has gotten the most out of athletic move tight ends who can rack up yards after the catch over the years, and that’s Bell to a tee. At South Carolina in 2021 and 2022, Bell earned 88.8 and 76.4 receiving grades with 11.8 and 8.1 yards after the catch per reception, respectively.
Free agent: Seattle Seahawks TE Noah Fant
Fant has endured an up-and-down start to his career after the Denver Broncos drafted him in the first round in 2019 but has recorded at least 40 receptions in every year of his career thus far with just four drops on 240 targets over the past three. Fant is playing in 2023 on the fifth-year option and could reach the open market after the season. While he isn’t the greatest blocker in the NFL, he could be a solid outlet for Howell to pick up some yards after the catch, averaging more than 9.5 yards after the catch per reception in every season of his career thus far.