By: Lucas Kochevar
We have a blockbuster trade! It's not Aaron Rodgers, yet, but it's the Bears finally giving up the first overall pick. Chicago sells the first pick for the ninth pick, 61st pick, a 2024 first round pick and a 2025 second round pick. That's not all! The Panthers also attached star receiver D.J. Moore to the deal as the cherry on top. It's an absolute haul for the Bears as they decided on this deal Friday afternoon. All reports seem to indicate that Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud is the target as he's now the odds-on favorite to be the first pick. Stroud fits a mold that new head coach Frank Reich likes in a big frame and great precision on throws. The big question is how will they build the weapons around whoever they take now as Laviska Shenault is now their number one receiver. The Bears now have more assets than before and can likely snag one of the best offensive lineman at the ninth pick to defend their franchise guy in Justin Fields. It'll be intriguing to see the buzz around this draft with over a month until Carolina makes the pick. Now, I continue to the defensive side of the ball for five more free agents I like.
Five More Free Agents I Like
Sheldon Rankins, DT
Rankins has had a relatively up and down career so far in the pros, but after one of his best years yet, I think Rankins can be a great bargain bin pickup for a team. The defensive tackle market is one of the better groups in this free agency class, so finding diamonds in the rough should be a relatively easy practice. Rankins is an all-around decent defensive tackle with average run defense and average pass rush, but his well-roundedness is what makes him effective. His biggest weakness would be his missed tackle percentage. The past three seasons, he's posted his worst numbers in that category with double-digit numbers in each of the seasons. Overall, I think he can be an effective tackle that clogs up running lanes.
Cameron Sutton, CB
Sutton enters free agency as a player that has had an up-and-down career to this point, but steady improvement in each of his last couple seasons and a jump in snap counts makes him a target for teams that are needy for a cornerback. He isn't a true shutdown corner, but he has decent numbers on the perimeter. He's improved his interception numbers each year and finished last season with three. His tackling numbers don't jump off the page, but he is a cornerback so it's hard to hold that against him. At 28, I think he's worth a shot on a deal for a couple years.
Byron Murphy Jr., CB
Admittedly, Murphy has not had a great showing to this point in his young career, but at 25 years old, I think Murphy has his best ball ahead of him. Last year, he was banged up but posted his best year when he played. I think a change of scenery will do him some good and a return to the slot corner role will help him. In 2021, he played more in the slot and managed to get 4 interceptions. Unlike Sutton, who I mentioned before, Murphy is better at tackling and his run defense. Murphy has to improve his ball skills, but I think there's still a solid player underneath all the struggles he's had so far.
Juan Thornhill, FS
There are a number of guys on the Chiefs that are free agents that have been key in their reign over the conference. Thornhill is one of those underrated guys that I think could make another team very happy. Thornhill has been a common fixture for the Chiefs and stepped up big time once Tyrann Mathieu left the team last offseason. Thornhill plays free safety and looks to be hitting the prime of his career as he's been playing much more consistent. Although he was penalized the most in his career last season, he also matched his career high in interceptions with three. Having a reliable performer at safety is hard to find and Thornhill should be sought after by many teams that need postseason experience in the back end.
Taylor Rapp, SS/FS
Another young free agent hitting the market is Taylor Rapp, whose versatility and performance should make him a highly-demanded player. Rapp has been a good performer for the Rams back end for four seasons and played the best ball of his career last year. Rapp plays free safety primarily, but has lined up at strong safety and in the slot as a cornerback. It's rare to find a player that can play good football at all of those positions and Rapp is that guy. Rapp has great instincts in the run and has good interception numbers over the past couple seasons as well. A spot where he can improve is his ball coverage. During his time in the league, Rapp doesn't have a season with less than 70% completions against him. Despite that, I think his overall play and upside should boost his stock tremendously.
Sources: Image via Adam Hunger, AP Photo. Stats via PFF premium stats.