Free agency opens on Wednesday, and some teams will fill their needs there before the draft.
Most, though, will add the bulk of new talent during the last week of April. The 2016 NFL Draft takes place in the windy city once again, and the draft order is almost as similar as last year.
Of the 32 teams, 18 have $20 million or more, though some of that will be allocated to signing picks and each teams’ own players.
10 teams have $40 million or more in salary cap room, and should be major players in free agency. These teams — Jacksonville, Oakland, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Cleveland, Tennessee and the new York Giants — are hard to call.
But the projections will reflect the history of team leadership, as well as needs that don’t seem to be available for purchase.
1. Tennessee — Tackle Laremy Tunsil
Tunsil’s athletic ability and college production is incredible. Watching him go through his combine drills at 6-foot-5 and over 300 pounds was something else. He is built like a tank and moves like a cheetah. Tunsil is as near a lock to go first overall as Andrew Luck or Jadeveon Clowney.
2. Cleveland — Quarterback Jared Goff
New head coach Hue Jackson needs a quarterback, and he knows it. He needs this guy to be as pro ready as possible, and his only obstacle to Goff is baseball guru turned football experimentalist, Paul DePodesta.
3. San Diego Chargers — Linebacker Myles Jack
San Diego drafted their middle linebacker of the next decade (and one of my favorite players in the entire 2015 draft) in Denzel Perryman, and pairing Jack in that corps could be devastating. Especially for a division struggling to enter a renaissance.
4. Dallas Cowboys — Defensive lineman Joey Bosa
It’s borderline criminal for a player like Bosa to fall this far. But that’s exactly what happened with Khalil Mack in 2014, but still not worse than when the Texans nabbed J.J. Watt 11th overall in 2011. Dallas strikes gold here, and surges back to prominence.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars — Tackle Ronnie Stanley
Stanley is as fundamentally sound as any prospect in this class, and has plenty of talent. That translates well in a surging offense led by Blake Bortles, and the impending return of defensive end Dante Fowler.
6. Baltimore Ravens — Tackle Jack Conklin
It’s becoming likely that the Ravens will bid adieu to starting left tackle Eugene Monroe, and general manager Ozzie Newsome has a deep history of bold moves replacing key contributors through the draft. He might spend his rookie year on the right side, but make no mistake — this guy has every drop of heart that is necessary to succeed in the AFC North.
7. San Francisco 49ers — Quarterback Carson Wentz
The 49ers need a quarterback more than any other team in the NFL. Even more than Cleveland. And they have a knack for properly evaluating small school players. They take Wentz, and hope to eagle on their mulligan of the 2005 decision to take Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers.
8. Miami Dolphins — Defensive back Jalen Ramsey
The Miami offense is alive and well, but the defense has struggled despite adding big money free agents. They add something that is almost impossible to add in free agency: an impact defensive back who could stifle opponents for a decade or more.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Running back Ezekiel Elliot
All of the impact left tackles are gone here, at least the obvious choices. So Tampa does the next best thing and adds a running back with explosiveness and the ability to catch the ball when Jameis Winston faces too much pressure.
10. New York Giants — Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche
General manager Jerry Reese has built his most successful teams around the defensive line. He’s made a living letting players walk in free agency, and then dealing with the critics by drafting the best lineman available and then winning a lot. Nkemdiche is the next Jason Pierre-Paul or Mathias Kiwanuka.
11. Chicago Bears — Edge rusher DeForest Buckner
Chicago’s 34 defense gets their missing piece here. They have Eddie Goldman and Will Sutton up front, but Buckner’s freakish size-speed-strength combo brings the defensive front together.
12. New Orleans Saints — Cornerback Eli Apple
The Apple doesn’t fall from the Dennis Allen tree. New Orleans has drafted well over the past few seasons, but hasn’t hit in the defensive backfield outside of Kenny Vaccaro. They take the same big corner they missed on in Stanley Jean Baptiste, and the spider senses tingle. This is going to become an excellent player.
13. Philadelphia Eagles — Guard Cody Whitehair
Of all the bad decisions made by Chip Kelly as an executive, releasing guard Evan Mathis was probably the worst. Philly gets all kinds of brotherly love from Whitehair, though, and the Eagles run game becomes competent again.
14. Oakland Raiders — Linebacker Jaylon Smith
This is a tough one. With some prospects gone, needs to fill and knowing that there’s little value here, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Raiders move down here. And Smith’s physical apparently scared some teams off. But his talent is insane. The Raiders take a chance with arguably the most talented player in the draft.
15. Los Angeles — Linebacker Reggie Ragland
The Rams bring physical dynamite to Hollywood and Ragland makes hits that are usually only seen on the silver screen. He helps give Los Angeles’ team a tough identity.
16. Detroit Lions — Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell
With the retirement of Calvin Johnson, the Lions have a huge need outside. Treadwell is an extremly gifted player, and the top receiver in the draft. Best of all, he’s tough to tackle at the one yard line.
17. Atlanta Falcons — Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves
Head coach Dan Quinn gets a big part of what his ideal defense is missing: a high end cornerback with the ceiling of a shutdown defender.
18. Indianapolis Colts — Defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson
The Colts have holes everywhere, but their defensive line is just bad. They haven’t drafted a defensive tackle in the first round since 1995, selecting Ellis Johnson 15th overall. They take a huge upside project again, though it’s uncertain whether it will pan out.
19. Buffalo Bills — Quarterback Paxton Lynch
The Bills get the quarterback they so desperately need, and in the mold that Rex Ryan loves most. Lynch has dual threat ability, but like Russell Wilson, uses it to create plays downfield rather than simply take off running. They have the option to keep Tyrod Taylor under center, so there’s no rush to get Lynch under center.
20. New York Jets — Linebacker Leonard Floyd
The Jets fill out their defense by adding Floyd, who has the potential to be a premier pass rusher but also has rare ability to cover in space.
21. Washington Racist Football Name — Wide receiver Josh Doctson
Boom. This pick takes Washington to a whole new level. And probably some success in the postseason.
22. Houston Texans — Running back Derrick Henry
In a division void of much defensive talent, and no solidified quarterback situation, Houston adds what has been their strength for several years. Arian Foster has left the building, and in comes Derrick Henry.
23. Minnesota Vikings — Wide receiver Corey Coleman
It’s unfortunate, but Mike Wallace has been relatively underwhelming since leaving Pittsburgh, though he’s maintained acceptable touchdown numbers. Coleman brings a new dimension to the Vikings offense, and gives Minnesota a quality receiver group.
24. Cincinnati Bengals — Linebacker Darron Lee
Lee instantly injects some youth, speed and agility into a Bengals defense that has lacked such attributes for far too long.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers — Cornerback Mackensie Alexander
This is an easy choice at this slot, so easy that Pittsburgh doesn’t even consider using their full time allotment and instead rushes their card to Roger Goodell while giggling like teenage girls.
26. Seattle Seahawks — Linebacker Kentrell Brothers
The Seahawks haven’t picked in the first round since 2012, instead trading back, or for players who turn out to be busts in their system. They attempt to move down, but can’t get the right deal. Which is alright with them, because Brothers is one heck of an instinctive player who fits perfectly.
27. Green Bay Packers — Linebacker Scooby Wright III
Wright becomes the fifth consecutive defensive first rounder of Ted Thompson’s packers, and does what he’s supposed to do.
28. Kansas City Chiefs — Edge defender Shaq Lawson
Lawson proved that his athleticism surpasses initial expectations when he was one of the top performers at the combine. He fills some major needs for Kansas City.
29. Arizona Cardinals — Cornerback William Jackson III
The last corner drafted out of Houston was D.J. Hayden, and we know how that’s going. But Jackson is gaining serious attention after he murdered the combine, and though he’s somewhat of an enigma, the Cardinals make this selection with confidence.
30. Carolina Panthers — Linebacker Kyler Frackrell
Frackrell is one of the best fully healthy cover linebacker prospects in some time. He’s exactly what Carolina does, cover and let their down linemen pursue the quarterback.
31. Denver Broncos — Tackle Le’Raven Clark
The Broncos offensive line is just bad, save for guard Evan Mathis and left tackle Ryan Clady. Clark gives Denver a major upgrade, and someone who can take over at either tackle position for the future.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.