Most NFL coaches and front-office personnel are bunkered this week in draft meetings, trying to rate players but, more important, trying to gauge how those players will help their teams.
|Replace Nate Clements? One of the league's best cover corners? Not easy, Bills. (Getty Images)|
To help you get a better idea of what some of those teams are dealing with heading into 2007, we look at how teams might fill the loss of some of the key free agents who moved this year.
We call it rating the replacements.
Player who left: Cornerback Nate Clements (49ers)
Replacement player(s): Kiwaukee Thomas and Ashton Youboty.
The skinny: Losing Clements is a big blow to the Bills defense. He was an outstanding cover corner, and those are tough to replace. Thomas, a seventh-year player, won the job as the team's nickel back last season and played well. Coach Dick Jauron knows him from when he was his defensive coordinator with the Jaguars. Second-year player Youboty, the team's third-round pick last season, has more skills than Thomas, but he is raw and barely played in 2006. Still, if you use a high pick on a corner, it's usually a sign that the job is his.
Rate the replacement: Questionable at best. Losing Clements is a stinger. Youboty has to come through to make this move OK.
Player who left: Linebacker Adalius Thomas (Patriots)
Replacement player: Jarret Johnson
The skinny: Thomas was a versatile player who could do so many things for Rex Ryan's defense. His loss will be felt. But he turns 30 this year, so signing him to a long-term deal was risky. The Ravens chose to re-sign Johnson, who is younger. At 6-3, 270 pounds, he has played outside linebacker and defensive end, much like Thomas. He led all Ravens backups in tackles last season.
Rate the replacement: Good. Johnson is an underrated player who will step in and play well. As likely the only new starter on defense, it will make for a smooth transition.
Player that left: Defensive end Patrick Kerney (Seahawks)
Replacement player: Chauncey Davis
The skinny: Losing Kerney hurts. He is an effort player who can create problems off the edge. He missed time last season, which forced young players like Davis and Paul Carrington to get time at end. Davis has some speed, but he isn't in the same league with Kerney. He does play the run pretty well. The loss of Kerney will put even more pressure on John Abraham to stay healthy.
Rate the replacement: Not good. Look for the Falcons to do something in the draft at defensive end.
Player who left: Guard Derrick Dockery (Bills)
Replacement player(s): Ross Tucker, Mike Pucillo, Jason Fabini, Todd Wade
|Losing Derrick Dockery won't kill the 'Skins: Hey, he's a guard. (Getty Images)|
Rate the replacement: OK. They'll get by with whoever starts there. Hey, it's a guard, not a tackle.
Player who left: Guard Eric Steinbach (Browns)
Replacement player: Andrew Whitworth
The skinny: Steinbach was a good player who started every game in his four seasons with the Bengals. He will be tough to replace. But Whitworth is a second-year player who played well when he started at left tackle last season for the injured Levi Jones. At 6-7, 339 pounds, he is more of a power player than Steinbach, which should help the run game. This is a perfect example of a team being prepared for a veteran free agent to exit.
Rate the replacement: Good. Whitworth showed last season that he is a mauler who won't back down. The Bengals won't miss Steinbach.
Player who left: Receiver Drew Bennett (Rams)
Replacement player(s): The Titans will give a group of young players a chance to win this job, including Brandon Jones, Courtney Roby and Roydell Williams.
The skinny: Bennett was a nice player, but he lacked deep speed. That showed up at times. He will be missed, but it's time some of these younger receivers stepped up and took over as a deep threat. Jones can fly, and he would seem to be the leader for the job, but he has to be more consistent. David Givens, who is coming off a major knee injury, also has to get back healthy. The Titans could also use a high pick on a receiver.
Rate the replacement: OK. It's time for Jones to develop into this team's deep threat. He has the tools. If he does, they will be fine.
Player who left: Tight end Daniel Graham (Broncos)
Replacement player: Kyle Brady
The skinny: Graham was a solid tight end who could block and make some plays in the passing game. But the Patriots couldn't afford to pay what Denver paid him. In getting Brady, the Patriots might be getting the best blocking tight end in the league. He can really seal the corner. He isn't much in the passing game, but he is like an extra tackle when he's on the field.
Rate the replacement: Good. With Ben Watson as the pass-catching tight end, all they needed to do was find a blocking tight end -- and they landed the best one in football.
Player who left: Safety Deon Grant
Replacement player: Gerald Sensabaugh or draft pick.
The skinny: Grant was a good player and a leader on defense. He will be missed. But the Jaguars like the athletic ability of Sensabaugh, a third-year player who has the tools to be a good safety. He played strong safety last season when Donovin Darius went down and played well. Sensabaugh does sometimes have mental lapses that hurt his game. The Jaguars will also consider drafting a safety, maybe even Florida's Reggie Nelson in the first round.
Rate the replacement: OK. Sensabaugh needs to be more consistent. If he is, he will be fine.
Player who left: Linebacker London Fletcher-Baker (Redskins)
Replacement player: Angelo Crowell
The skinny: Fletcher-Baker was a good, solid player for the Bills, but even with him they had problems stopping the run. He was a smallish linebacker who could get overwhelmed at times at the point of attack. The Bills might use their first-round pick on a linebacker (Mississippi's Patrick Willis?), but for now Crowell is listed as the starter inside, moving from his outside spot. He is bigger than Fletcher-Baker, which should help the run game. Moving Crowell inside does weaken the outside.
Rate the replacement: If they get Willis, they will be fine at all three spots. If they don't, they will have to get a young player to step up in Crowell's old spot. If Crowell plays the middle, he will be fine.
Player who left: Running back Ahman Green (Texans)
Replacement player(s): Vernand Morency, Noah Herron and a draft pick
The skinny: The Packers would have liked to keep Green, 30, but they didn't want to give him a big-money deal at his age. That's the right call; you don't pay aging backs. But they do need to find a back. Morency and Herron are spot guys who can't be feature backs. The Packers have to get a back in the draft. They could use a first-round pick on Marshawn Lynch of Cal or could wait until the second round to get a player like Kenny Irons. At some point, though, they have to use a premium pick on a back.
Rate the replacement: Incomplete. Until we see who they get in this draft, it's hard to gauge. But a younger back is the way to go here.