1. ATLANTA FALCONS -- It was crystal clear that improving upon last season's 28th-ranked pass defense was the top priority in Atlanta, and the Falcons wasted little time addressing their weakness, signing the market's top free-agent cornerback in Dunta Robinson and re-signing veteran cornerback Brian Williams, who missed the majority of last season with a knee injury.
Those moves left Atlanta feeling deep enough at cornerback to trade underachieving 2007 second-round pick Chris Houston to Detroit this week for a sixth-round pick, plus flopping spots with the Lions in the fifth round. The Falcons no longer need to focus in on a cornerback like Boise State's Ryan Wilson at No. 19 in the first round, and can shift their focus to either outside linebacker or defensive end, where another pass rusher is desperately needed. Michigan defensive end-linebacker Brandon Graham or Missouri outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon are two very attractive options who project to that portion of the round.
2. DENVER BRONCOS -- I don't think I was the only one giving University of Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams to Denver in some early mock drafts, but that's one projection that is hopelessly out of date after the first few days of free agency. The Broncos have totally remade their three-man defensive line since late last week, signing a pair of potential starters at nose tackle in Justin Bannan and Jamal Williams, and adding a 3-4 end in ex-Patriot Jarvis Green. Bannan actually has experience at end in a 3-4, meaning Justin, Jamal and Jarvis is how the Denver D-line (J-line?) could line up next season.
The defensive emphasis in free agency leaves the Broncos open for taking a receiver like Dez Bryant or a quarterback like Jimmy Clausen if either lasts until No. 11. The Broncos also need a center, but that seems a bit high for Florida's Maurkice Pouncey to go. And let's not forget, if Denver winds up getting a first-round pick in exchange for receiver Brandon Marshall, the Broncos' first-round options will have multiplied. They could even package their two one's and move up in the draft if they cared to.
3. MIAMI DOLPHINS -- Miami might have overpaid for Arizona inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, but it certainly gives Tony Sparano's team options come late April. I have had Alabama inside linebacker Rolando McClain going to the No. 12 Dolphins in my past two mocks, but with Dansby on board, you can now rule out that pick.
I still see Texas defensive end/outside linebacker Sergio Kindle a nice fit for the Dolphins' 3-4 defense, but safety and receiver are also viable directions for Miami to head. Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant could give the Dolphins a decision to make, or Miami could react to not being able to land Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark in free agency by choosing between first-round safeties Earl Thomas of Texas or (in a bit of a reach) the freakishly athletic Taylor Mays of USC.
4. NEW YORK JETS -- The Jets look set at cornerback after the Antonio Cromartie trade, and the release of veteran Lito Sheppard last week underscored that New York feels it has the necessary depth at the position. The safety slot could still get first-round attention if that's where the board's value is, but more likely the No. 29 Jets are now in position to take either a receiver they covet (maybe Illinois' Arrelious Benn or Georgia Tech's Demaryius Thomas) or look for an addition to the defensive line that adds strength and youth to the unit (Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick or UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price).
5. NEW YORK GIANTS -- New York chose to not pursue Karlos Dansby as an option to fill its need at inside linebacker, but the Giants are certainly glad it was the Dolphins who landed the ex-Cardinal. That's because it might just put New York in the driver's seat to draft Alabama inside linebacker Rolando McClain with its No. 15 pick. It would be a perfect union of need and first-round value if that scenario unfolds.
Having signed another ex-Cardinal free agent in safety Antrel Rolle, the Giants are no longer a potential home for either Texas safety Earl Thomas or USC safety Taylor Mays. If McClain isn't available when New York's turn rolls around, defensive tackle is the likely focus, with Tennessee's Dan Williams carrying a solid mid-round grade.
6. CHICAGO BEARS -- We all know Julius Peppers became Chicago's 2010 first-round pick last Friday, with running back Chester Taylor serving as the Bears' second-round choice. Without either of their top two selections in April's draft, Chicago had to do some very expensive shopping in free agency to make up for it (a potential $53 million in guaranteed salaries to Peppers, Taylor and blocking tight end Brandon Manumaleuna).
But the Bears aren't entirely sitting out one of the deepest drafts in years, and after their big free agency purchases, they still have needs at almost every position in the secondary. In a stroke of good fortune for Chicago, there's plenty of cornerback and safety talent in the middle rounds, and we can't help but remember the Bears have had a knack at times of finding good defensive backs at something other than the top of the draft (Zackary Bowman, Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman come to mind).
7. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS -- The surprise signing of veteran 4-3 defensive end Aaron Kampman in free agency saves Jacksonville from being desperate for pass-rush help in the first round, and perhaps reaching at No. 10 for either Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan or South Florida defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Both players come with something less than consensus top-10 grades, and the last thing Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio and Co. could afford this year was a risky first-round selection (Jacksonville has no second-round choice).
With Kampman secured, Jacksonville could choose to entertain any and all trade down offers, perhaps for a team eager to take Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, if he should linger. Then again, the Jaguars could be tempted by Clausen themselves, although the win-now mentality in Jacksonville probably precludes a first-round quarterback. Dropping down into the middle of what is a very deep first round shouldn't hurt Jacksonville, which has other needs at safety and linebacker, and it might be a way to reacquire a second-round pick in the process.
8. DETROIT LIONS -- Some have read Detroit's signing of defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch and trade for defensive tackle Corey Williams as a clear indication the Lions are headed somewhere other than defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy with their No. 2 pick. But my sense is head coach Jim Schwartz wants one of the draft's two premier prospects (my money's on Suh) more than ever, because it would only accelerate the rebuilding of his defensive line into one of the team's strengths.
Williams is open about his eagerness to return to tackle in a 4-3 formation, the position he was productive in before his two mostly lost years playing end in Cleveland's 3-4 front. If both his and Vanden Bosch's games rebounds in Detroit, the Lions could avoid placing too much of a rookie burden on Suh, instead allowing him to play alongside a pair of veterans who would only aid his development as a playmaker.
9. BALTIMORE RAVENS -- Between signing Donte' Stallworth last month and executing the Anquan Boldin trade last week, it's a safe bet the Ravens have taken receiver off their first-round radar. That leaves cornerback and tight end as the two most likely areas of need to address at No. 25. Boise State's Kyle Wilson and Rutgers' Devin McCourty are the cornerbacks who could still be available for Baltimore, and Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham figures to be the only tight end prospect whose draft grade supports a low first-round selection.
10. HOUSTON TEXANS -- It was no surprise to see Houston lose cornerback Dunta Robinson in free agency, and it'll be no surprise to see the Texans draft someone in the first round to replace him, as Glover Quin, Jacque Reeves and Brice McCain would be the team's top three cover men if it had to play a game today. The Texans have needs at running back and defensive tackle that could also merit first-round love, but if there's a cornerback who is rated highly enough at No. 20, it would likely be Boise State's Kyle Wilson.
At running back, the prospects who make sense for Houston's draft slot are Clemson's top-rated C.J. Spiller, who'll probably never last that long, and Fresno State's fast-rising Ryan Mathews. With both the cornerback and running back crop being deep in this year's draft, the Texans can follow a best-player-available approach with their first two picks and meet two needs.
11. WASHINGTON REDSKINS -- Washington failed to reel in Packers offensive tackle Chad Clifton after he made a free-agent visit, and instead the Redskins settled for Vikings backup guard-tackle Artis Hicks, signing him to a three-year deal. But the lack of getting a frontline tackle could mean the position goes back on the front burner in the first round (if indeed it ever left).
The big question, of course, is what will No. 4 Washington do if it comes down to choosing between top-rated offensive tackle Russell Okung of Oklahoma State and whichever quarterback it has rated highest, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford or Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen? If Bradford goes first to the Rams, we can see the Redskins taking Okung. If Bradford is still there, I'm guessing the tackle issue can wait until round two.
12. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS -- New Orleans wanted to keep strongside linebacker Scott Fujita around for another year or two, but Cleveland blew him away in free agency with a three-year, $14 million deal that included $8 million guaranteed. The Saints were going to be looking long and hard at the outside linebackers in the first round anyway -- because they were seeking an upgrade over weakside starter Scott Shanle -- but now the position becomes all the more pressing. At No. 32, New Orleans wouldn't mind a bit to see TCU outside linebacker Jerry Hughes, who had a great combine showing, waiting for it as the first round comes to a close.