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2015 NFL Draft: Potential replacements for top 17 free agents

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The NFL's free agency period began March 10, and 18 unrestricted free agents were labeled "difference-makers" or "impact starters" by the "Around the NFL" team.


» Mike Mayock's top 5 prospects by position for 2015 NFL Draft


Here's a look at the top 17 who remain unsigned, and who might be available in the first two rounds in this year's NFL draft as possible replacements.

1. DT Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions


Draft history: 2nd pick, 2010 draft. First DT selected.
First-round draft slot: No. 23
Potential draft replacements: Ohio State's Michael Bennett, Texas' Malcom Brown, Washington State's Xavier Cooper, Iowa's Carl Davis, Florida State's Eddie Goldman.
The skinny: The Lions could use two new tackles, what with Suh and Nick Fairley being free agents. Detroit picks 23rd in the first round, and all these guys seem likely to be available. The question, obviously, is whether the Lions would go with a corner or a defensive tackle with that first pick. Cooper could be there when the Lions pick in the second round (54th overall).

2. S Devin McCourty, New England Patriots


Draft history: 27th pick, 2010 draft. Selected as a CB; third CB taken, behind Joe Haden (7th pick) and Kareem Jackson (20th pick).
First-round draft slot: No. 32
Potential draft replacements: Alabama's Landon Collins, Virginia's Anthony Harris, Fresno State's Derron Smith, Samford's Jaquiski Tartt.
The skinny: Collins is the only safety who looks to be worthy of a first-round pick, and it's extremely unlikely he would be there at No. 32. Each of the other prospects listed could be there with the last pick in the second round (64th overall).

2015 NFL DRAFT

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3. TE Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos


Draft history: 129th pick, 2011 draft. Sixth TE selected, behind Kyle Rudolph (43rd pick), Lance Kendricks (47th pick), Rob Housler (69th pick), Jordan Cameron (102nd pick) and Luke Stocker (104th pick).
First-round draft slot: No. 28
Potential draft replacements: Ohio State's Jeff Heuerman, Rutgers' Tyler Kroft, Florida State's Nick O'Leary, Miami's Clive Walford, Minnesota's Maxx Williams.
The skinny: Williams looks to be the only potential first-round tight end, and he could be there when the Broncos pick 28th. But Williams seems certain to be gone by the time the Broncos pick in the second round (59th overall). Walford probably is the second-best tight end in this draft class, but he might not be there, either. The question, then, is whether the Broncos would think any of the others listed are worth the 59th pick.

4. RB DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys


Draft history: 71st pick, 2011 draft. Sixth RB selected, behind Mark Ingram (28th pick), Ryan Williams (38th pick), Shane Vereen (56th pick), Mikel Leshoure (57th pick) and Daniel Thomas (62nd pick).
First-round draft slot: No. 27
Potential draft replacements: Boise State's Jay Ajayi, Indiana's Tevin Coleman, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Georgia's Todd Gurley, Miami's Duke Johnson.
The skinny: The Cowboys pick 27th in the first round. Gordon and Gurley are seen as potential first-rounders. Would either be there at 27? If not, would Dallas consider any other back worthy of a first-round pick? Dallas picks 28th (60th overall) in the second round, but whether any of these guys will be there is a question. This is a deep running back class, and there is going to be a run on backs. The question is when that run occurs.

5. DE Jerry Hughes, Buffalo Bills


Draft history: 31st pick, 2010 draft. Fifth DE selected, behind Brandon Graham (13th pick), Jason Pierre-Paul (15th pick), Derrick Morgan (16th pick) and Jared Odrick (28th pick).
First-round draft slot: None (first pick is 50th overall)
Potential draft replacements: LSU's Danielle Hunter, UCLA's Owa Odighizuwa, Utah's Nate Orchard.
The skinny: The Bills traded their 2015 first-round pick to move up and take Sammy Watkins last year, which means their first pick is 18th in the second round (50th overall). Hunter, who is highly athletic but raw, and Orchard, who is highly productive but lacks athleticism, could be there when it's Buffalo's time to pick. Odighizuwa seems likely to be off the board; if he is there, he seems to fit best at right end, which would mean Mario Williams would have to move to the left side.

College Football 24/7 is following four 2016 draft prospects as they pursue their NFL dreams.

6. G Mike Iupati, San Francisco 49ers


Draft history: 17th pick, 2010 draft. First G selected.
First-round draft slot: No. 15
Potential draft replacements: South Carolina's A.J. Cann, Texas A&M's Jarvis Harrison, Florida State's Tre Jackson, Iowa's Brandon Scherff, Duke's Laken Tomlinson.
The skinny: Remember that the 49ers drafted Clemson's Brandon Thomas last year, when he was coming off an ACL injury, and he easily could slide into Iupati's vacant spot. San Francisco picks 15th, which would be too early to take any of the guys listed except for Scherff. A left tackle in college, Scherff is seen by some analysts as a better fit inside in the NFL. Each of the others could be there when the 49ers pick 14th (46th overall) in the second round.

7. DE Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers


Draft history: 175th pick, 2010 draft. 20th DE selected.
First-round draft slot: No. 25
Potential draft replacements: Missouri's Markus Golden, LSU's Danielle Hunter, UCLA's Owa Odighizuwa, Mississippi State's Preston Smith.
The skinny: The Panthers certainly could use a pass rusher, but it seems likely that the top-flight pass rushers will be gone by the time Carolina picks at No. 25. The Panthers pick again at No. 25 in the second round, and each of the guys listed could be there, though Odighizuwa seems likely to go earlier.

8. CB Byron Maxwell, Seattle Seahawks


Draft history: 173rd pick in 2011 draft. 21st CB selected.
First-round draft slot: No. 31
Potential draft replacements: Stanford's Alex Carter, LSU's Jalen Collins, Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson, Washington's Marcus Peters, Miami of Ohio's Quinten Rollins, Florida State's P.J. Williams.
The skinny: Seattle picks 31st, which is in line with where Collins, Johnson and Williams are projected. Peters is a special case: He might be the most talented corner in the draft, but his off-field issues are a concern. (And, presumably, since Peters went to college in Seattle, the Seahawks could have some inside information.) Rollins is an intriguing talent; taking him in the first round is a risk, but he probably would be gone by the time Seattle picks in the second round (63rd overall). Carter could be there, though.
UPDATE: Maxwell says he'll sign with Eagles

9. WR Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens


Draft history: 58th pick, 2011 draft. Fifth WR selected, behind A.J. Green (4th pick), Julio Jones (6th pick), Jonathan Baldwin (26th pick) and Titus Young (44th pick).
First-round draft slot: No. 26
Potential draft replacements: Oklahoma's Dorial Green-Beckham, Florida State's Rashad Greene, Louisville's DeVante Parker, UCF's Breshad Perriman, Ohio State's Devin Smith, Arizona State's Jaelen Strong.
The skinny: This is a deep draft for receivers, and the Ravens have more pressing needs in the first round. Still, all of the above-listed prospects but Parker likely would be there when Baltimore picks 26th. The flipside: Each of these guys could be gone when the Ravens pick in the second round (58th overall).

10. OLB Jason Worilds, Pittsburgh Steelers


Draft history: 52nd pick, 2010 draft. Sixth LB selected, behind Rolando McClain (8th pick), Sean Weatherspoon (19th pick), Koa Misi (40th pick), Sergio Kindle (43rd pick) and Daryl Washington (47th pick).
First-round draft slot: No. 22
Potential draft replacements: Clemson's Vic Beasley, Kentucky's Bud Dupree, Virginia's Eli Harold, Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha, Louisville's Lorenzo Mauldin.
The skinny: The Steelers have taken outside linebackers in the first round in each of the past two drafts ( Jarvis Jones in 2013 and Ryan Shazier in 2014). Will they make it three in a row? If Beasley somehow slips to 22nd, you know the Steelers would be tempted. Dupree and Harold have interesting upsides, but are far from sure things. Kikaha and Mauldin are potential second-round targets (56th overall).

PATH TO THE DRAFT
(Weekdays at 6 p.m. ET on NFL Network)

"Path to the Draft" previews the 2016 NFL Draft by providing in-depth expert analysis of the top prospects and each teams' needs.

11. DE/OLB Pernell McPhee, Baltimore Ravens


Draft history: 165th pick, 2011 draft. 11th DE selected.
First-round draft slot: No. 26
Potential draft replacements: Florida State's Mario Edwards Jr., Indiana's Bobby Richardson, Mississippi State's Preston Smith.
The skinny: The Ravens definitely need a pass rusher, but the "elite" guys almost certainly will be gone when the Ravens pick 26th, and none of the guys mentioned is worth the 26th pick. Each guy could be there in the second round, though. Richardson was a relative unknown at IU, but he is moving up some draft boards.

12. WR Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles


Draft history: 19th pick, 2009 draft. Third WR selected, behind Darrius Heyward-Bey (7th pick) and Michael Crabtree (10th pick).
First-round draft slot: No. 20
Potential draft replacements: USC's Nelson Agholor, Florida State's Rashad Greene, Louisville's DeVante Parker, UCF's Breshad Perriman, Ohio State's Devin Smith, Arizona State's Jaelen Strong.
The skinny: The Eagles pick 20th, and of the guys listed, all but Parker should be available. (If Parker is there, you'd think an Eagles official would sprint to the podium.) But is anybody but Parker in that group worth the 20th pick? And it might be a stretch to think any of the guys listed would be there when the Eagles pick (52nd overall) in the second round. The good news is that this is a deep draft for receivers, so receivers will be there is the later rounds.

13. DT Nick Fairley, Detroit Lions


Draft history: 13th pick, 2011 draft. Second DT selected, behind Marcell Dareus (3rd pick).
First-round draft slot: No. 23
Potential draft replacements: Ohio State's Michael Bennett, Texas' Malcom Brown, Washington State's Xavier Cooper, Iowa's Carl Davis, Florida State's Eddie Goldman.
The skinny: We talked about the Lions' need for D-tackles above. And with Ndamukong Suh also possibly leaving, it could be a big need.

14. OT Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay Packers


Draft history: 23rd pick in 2010 draft. Fourth OT selected, behind Trent Williams (4th pick), Russell Okung (6th pick) and Anthony Davis (11th pick).
First-round draft slot: No. 30
Potential draft replacements: Pitt's T.J. Clemmings, LSU's La'el Collins, Miami's Ereck Flowers, Wisconsin's Rob Havenstein, Florida's D.J. Humphries, Stanford's Andrus Peat.
The skinny: The Packers pick 30th overall, and each of these guys could be there. Havenstein is not worth a first-round pick, but it is likely he would be there when Green Bay picks late in the second round.

15. DT Jared Odrick, Miami Dolphins


Draft history: 28th pick, 2010 draft. Drafted as a DE; fourth DE selected, behind Brandon Graham (13th pick), Jason Pierre-Paul (15th pick) and Derrick Morgan (16th pick).
First-round draft slot: No. 14
Potential draft replacements: Ohio State's Michael Bennett, Texas' Malcom Brown, Iowa's Carl Davis, Florida State's Eddie Goldman, Oklahoma's Jordan Phillips, Washington's Danny Shelton.
The skinny: Miami picks 14th, which could be too late for Shelton. It also might be a bit early for any of the others, though Brown and Goldman -- both tough run-stuffers -- could make sense. Phillips has a big upside, no doubt, but a bad back cost him the 2013 season.

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16. DT Terrance Knighton, Denver Broncos


Draft history: 72nd pick, 2009 draft. Ninth DT selected, behind B.J. Raji (9th pick), Peria Jerry (24th pick), Ziggy Hood (32nd pick), Ron Brace (40th pick), Fili Moala (56th pick), Sen'Derrick Marks (62nd pick), Alex Magee (67th pick) and Jarron Gilbert (68th pick).
First-round draft slot: No. 28
Potential draft replacements: Oregon's Arik Armstead, Texas' Malcom Brown, Florida State's Eddie Goldman, Oklahoma's Jordan Phillips, Indiana's Bobby Richardson, Mississippi State's Preston Smith.
The skinny: As with the Dolphins, the Broncos could be looking for help up front -- though they don't pick until 28th. Armstead seems likely to be gone, but the board for defensive tackles overall seems ever-evolving, which means Brown, Goldman or Phillips could be there. Each would make sense. Richardson and Smith could be there in the second round. Wade Phillips is the new defensive coordinator, which means Sylvester Williams could be moved to nose tackle; that means the Broncos might be searching for a hybrid end/tackle. Some would say that description fits Smith perfectly.

17. C Rodney Hudson, Kansas City Chiefs


Draft history: 55th pick, 2011 draft. Third C selected, behind Mike Pouncey (15th pick) and Stefen Wisniewski (48th pick).
First-round draft slot: No. 18
Potential draft replacements: Florida State's Cam Erving, Oregon's Hroniss Grasu.
The skinny: The Chiefs seem likely to go with Erik Kush, who was Hudson's backup. If they go in a different direction, picking Erving at No. 18 in the first round might be considered a reach. Grasu midway through the second? That would make sense.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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