Draft offers cheaper, younger versions of the Top 10 NFL free agents

Feb 3, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Los Angeles Rams nose tackle Ndamukong Suh (93) reacts during warm-ups before Super Bowl LIII against the New England Patriots at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY

Rob Rang

With the NFL raising the salary cap roughly six percent this offseason to give its 32 clubs a record $191 million dollars to allocate on players, the upcoming unrestricted free agency period promises to feature some shocking contracts and new faces behind different facemasks.

Should your favorite NFL invest huge dollars into veterans or are their similarly gifted players available in the 2019 draft?

Below is NFLDraftScout.com’s ranking of the top 10 unrestricted free agents available, as well as the names of two comparable college prospects; the first is an immediate impact player likely to be off the board among the first 32 picks of the draft. The other is more of a sleeper candidate who with some fine-tuning could develop into a legitimate starter and perhaps be looking for his own second NFL contract in free agency four or five years from now.

Le’Veon Bell, RB, 6-1, 225, drafted 48th overall (2013, Pittsburgh Steelers)

Bell offers a unique combination of size, vision, patience and excellent hands out of the backfield. The only running back currently projected in this draft to be selected as high as Bell is Alabama’s Josh Jacobs, whose explosive combination of burst, power and balance through contact is more comparable to a young Marshawn Lynch than Bell. A team willing to take a chance on the injury-prone Rodney Anderson (6-0, 224) on Day Three could get a similar bang for their buck as the Steelers received with Bell.

Earl Thomas, FS, 5-10, 202, drafted 14th overall (2010, Seattle Seahawks)

A fearless hitter with extraordinary range, Thomas was the most physically gifted of Seattle’s vaunted Legion of Boom secondary. When leaving Texas, some scouts thought his relatively slim frame might force a move to cornerback in the NFL. The ability to play multiple positions could earn Delaware’s similarly slimly-built (6-0, 195) and athletic Nasir Adderley a first round selection. Maryland’s 5-11, 203 pound Darnell Savage and his eye-popping testing numbers (4.36 in the 40-yard dash and 39.5” vertical jump) could prove a quality Day Two consolation prize.

Ndamukong Suh, DT, 6-4, 313, drafted second overall (2010, Detroit Lions)

At one point the NFL’s highest-paid player and a five-time Pro Bowler, Suh is one of the more physically dominant players in the NFL, beating opponents with an almost unfair combination of power and quickness. One of the few defensive linemen to dominate at the college level the way Suh did for Nebraska was Alabama’s Quinnen Williams, who, frankly, was the best player at the amateur level last season. Williams will likely require a top five selection. Arizona State’s Renell Wren is nowhere near a finished product but he has a rare combination of size and explosiveness to suggest that his best football may still lie ahead of him.

Trey Flowers – DE, 6-2, 265, drafted 101st overall (2015, New England Patriots)

Had Flowers only bloomed a couple more inches, the former All-SEC pick out of Arkansas likely would not have been forced to wait until Day Three to hear his name called in the 2015 draft. Some talent evaluators apparently put too much emphasis on Flowers’ below-average height, ignoring his 34 ¼” arms and otherwise excellent testing numbers and production. Sawed off but strong, TCU’s L.J. Collier (6-2, 280 with 34 ¾” arms) is a possible top 50 candidate with the all-around game to match Flowers. Michigan’s Chase Winovich (6-3, 256) is lighter and quicker, proving much more athletic in Combine drills than anticipated and plays with the same passion that helped Flowers “exceed” expectations.

Nick Foles, QB, 6-6, 243, drafted 88th overall (2012, Philadelphia Eagles)

Given his prototypical frame, Foles was typecast as a rocket-armed quarterback by some when he left the University of Arizona but in reality he is more of a quick-thinking ball distributor. Teams in search of a similar player early in the 2019 NFL draft will no doubt focus on Duke’s Daniel Jones (6-5, 221). While considerably shorter, Washington State’s Gardner Minshew II is another opportunistic point guard of a quarterback who should be able to carve out an NFL career as a backup and might just surprise if given an opportunity to start.

Landon Collins, SS, 6-0, 222, drafted 33rd overall (2015, New York Giants)

A Mack truck as a hitter with better coverage skills than his rocked-up frame would suggest, Collins is a sleeker version of the traditional run-stuffing “box” safety and a very different type of player than the afore-mentioned Thomas. While significantly smaller at 5’11, 205 pounds, Mississippi State’s Johnathan Abram plays with a similar highly physical style as Collins and faced elite competition in the SEC, as the former did at Alabama. So too does Miami’s Jaquan Johnson, though he’s even smaller at 5-11, 195 pounds.

Anthony Barr, OLB, 6-5, 255, drafted 9th overall (2014, Minnesota Vikings)

A former running back and top 10 pick with a prototypical blend of size, speed and power, Barr looks the part of an All-Pro edge rusher worthy of a massive contract. His below-average numbers since joining the NFL (including just 13.5 sacks in five seasons) is a good reminder prior to free agency that raw talent does not always equate to production, especially if the player is asked to play a different role in the NFL than he was in college. The 6-4, 258 pound Josh Allen was Barr’s opposite at Kentucky, leaving the Wildcats as the team’s all-time sack king and finishing among national leaders in both QB-takedowns and tackles for loss. While capable of dropping into coverage, Allen is at his best rushing upfield, like Barr. A team looking for a bargain later might be intrigued by Oregon’s Justin Hollins, another productive PAC-12 pass rusher who showed intriguing agility and instincts playing off the ball at the East-West Shrine Game.

C.J. Mosley, ILB, 6-2, 250, drafted 17th overall (2014, Baltimore Ravens)

Averaging well over 100 tackles a season since earning a mid-first round selection out of Alabama, Mosley is a classic no nonsense, glass-eating thumper of an inside linebacker whose square frame and power allow him to take on and shed blockers in the hole. The unquestioned top inside linebacker of the 2019 draft is clearly LSU’s Devin White, the reigning Butkus Award winner (Mosley won the same award in 2013) and a Combine standout. Crimson Tide fans may not appreciate a comparison to a hated rival like White and they’ll probably be even less thrilled with another enemy – Clemson’s Tre Lamar (6-2, 255) – offering NFL teams a similar frame and game as the 6-2, 250 pound Mosley.

Trent Brown, OT, 6-8, 380, drafted 244th overall (2015, San Francisco 49ers)

It cannot be overstated that the emergence of Brown as Tom Brady’s blindside pass protector in 2018 was one of the “biggest” developments in the Patriots’ return to Super Bowl glory. Brown is not likely to earn anything near the record contract that his predecessor – Nate Solder – earned from the New York Giants but with another class of rookie tackles lacking a surefire top 10 pick, he could get significant interest on the open market. While lacking elite agility, Brown is so large (and Brady gets the ball out so quickly) that opponents rarely have enough time to affect the quarterback. There is not a tackle in this class who can match Brown’s size but the 6-5, 312 pound Jawaan Taylor possesses an ideal frame for tackle and sports 35 1/8” arms to keep pass rushers at bay. Elon’s Oli Udoh is even bigger (6-5, 323 with 35 3/8” arms) and helped assure scouts that he could handle the jump in competition at the Senior Bowl.

Golden Tate, WR, 5-10, 197, drafted 60th overall (2010, Seattle Seahawks)

While the Antonio Brown Sweepstakes carries on, teams are going to find that there are few accomplished receivers available in free agency with Tate – and his 7,214 yards and 38 career touchdowns – among the few exceptions. While lacking the height teams prefer on the outside, Tate has carved quite a career for himself by catching underneath passes and using his terrific run-after-the-catch skills to generate extra yardage. At a chiseled 5-11, 216 pounds, South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel is a bigger version of Tate and could be drafted similarly. At 6-2, 202 pounds, Mississippi’s DaMarkus Lodge has a different sort of frame than Tate or Samuel but he also is very good after the catch, showing lateral agility, vision and leaping ability.