Few quality wide receivers and pass rushers are on track to make it to free agency this year. Offensive tackles will be scarce, as usual. On the flip side, there will be plenty of off-ball linebackers, safeties and running backs to go around. The league is making it clear which positions are valued and which positions can be filled with rookies. The best free agent quarterbacks will get talked about, then stay put via the franchise tag.
This version of the Top 101 will change plenty before free agency starts on March 15. Expect a deluge of veteran cuts to add to a list that has plenty of value throughout, even if the top-shelf starters at premium positions are mostly absent.
It would be shocking if Jackson was re-signed by Baltimore before receiving the franchise tag. An exclusive tag would keep Jackson in Baltimore for $45 million in 2023. A non-exclusive tag would cost $32.4 million and allow other teams to sign Jackson to an offer sheet; the Ravens could choose to match or let him walk in exchange for two first-round picks.
I don’t understand why the Ravens would rather trade Jackson than give him a fully guaranteed contract. Surely they realize there are other teams happy to pay the man and won’t bat an eye at guaranteeing a contract for their best player, like the teams in every other major American sport do for all their players.
Smith’s breakout season reminded me of the mid-career performances of two quarterbacks Smith played behind, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning. There was incredible processing, along with jaw-dropping throws and risk-taking that could lead to turnover variance. He was a top-10 quarterback in 2022. The Seahawks want to keep the good times going, so they may get a deal done before a franchise tag is necessary.
Undervalued in free agency three years ago, Hargrave should get bigger money this time after back-to-back monster seasons. The Eagles tend to pay younger free agents, so he may get his full value elsewhere.
Left tackle may not even be Brown’s best position, but he’s an above-average starter with great physical traits. Even if Chiefs fans have had mixed feelings, the Chiefs front office offered him a huge contract last offseason for a reason. Another franchise tag could be coming.
It would be fascinating to see Jones operate with consistent pass protection and better weapons. We know he can run the ball and limit mistakes under Brian Daboll after their first year together, which is a start. It feels like Jones being tagged is way more likely than us learning what Jones’ value is on the open market. The tag would buy Daboll one more year to decide if Jones is The Guy around whom he can build a coaching career.
I debated whether to rank Jones or Carr higher. Both are just above the old “Dalton Scale” line as prime-meridian quarterbacks, able to upgrade plenty of rosters like the Jets’ without being a difference-making long-term solution. Carr played in so many systems in his nine seasons with the Raiders that he’d fit nearly anywhere.
NFL general managers probably won’t value an undersized slot corner/safety this highly, but I do! Gardner-Johnson is a dog, nipping at the heels of opponents. His versatility makes him ideal for this pass-happy era, and he can still deliver big hits.
Now famous for his costly penalty in Super Bowl LVII, Bradberry showed in Philadelphia he’s still a top-20 NFL cornerback. After signing a one-year prove-it deal last offseason, he proved it.
Bates, who played 2022 on the franchise tag, is likely out of Cincinnati after the Bengals drafted his presumed replacement, Daxton Hill. Bates has more value to a team that plays with a single high safety the majority of the time, although there are fewer of those teams every season.
Barkley runs smarter than he did as a rookie, even if he’s a little less explosive. His receiving ability forces defenses to game plan against him. He’s one of the most talented runners to hit free agency since Curtis Martin left the Patriots in 1998, and he will get paid plenty, even if positional value keeps his price tag lower than those of some of the players ranked after him here.
Payne’s marks in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (18) made for a hell of a contract year, even if he’s better at stopping the run than rushing the passer. He more than doubled his previous career highs in both categories and has rarely needed to come off the field as a pro.
It helps McGlinchey that nearly half the league is running Kyle Shanahan’s offense; it’s not hard to project how he’d do for those teams as a plug-and-play right tackle. Supply-and-demand dynamics should lead to him becoming one of the richest free agents available.
Raise your large defensive-line-playing children to become pass rushers. No one will get too caught up in Jones’ inconsistencies as a run-stopper when he was tied for fifth among interior linemen in pressures at the time he went down to a late-season hip injury (through Week 14), according to Pro Football Focus.
Allen just kept getting better and better in his fourth NFL season, graduating from a solid starter to one of the Cardinals’ best players. Few players made themselves more money in 2022.
On one hand, OBJ, who did not play at all in 2022, has had time to recuperate from his second ACL surgery last February. On the other, he’s had two ACL surgeries since 2020. In a dry season for free agent receiver talent, Beckham would still bring juice to any offense.
Jacobs’ breakout season with the Raiders in 2022 comes with a minor red flag because of his heavy usage (a league-high 393 touches). But Jacobs has been durable as a pro, is excellent in the passing game and nearly always makes the first defender miss.
For most of last season, Dean was the Bucs’ best cornerback. He doesn’t have the physical skills of teammate Carlton Davis, but something similar to the contract Davis signed last year to stay in Tampa (three years, $45 million) could be in store for Dean as a young, experienced starter.
Just watch him run routes. Meyers can fit into any offense as a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver; he’s able to win inside and out, depending on the team’s need that week or season.
David clearly outplayed Bucs teammate Devin White last season — because David outplayed most linebackers. While his age is a concern, Bobby Wagner’s success last season in Los Angeles proved that smarts and savvy linebacker play can still sell.
Poyer is coming off one of his best seasons, and he’s been one of the cornerstones of the Sean McDermott era in Buffalo. He could be the Bills’ Devin McCourty, refusing to age as he directs the secondary.
Sutton is typical of the good young players who hit free agency: He steadily improved throughout his time with the Steelers, only looking like a future star in his sixth season. There just aren’t many other young starters available.
Schultz gained 619 yards with eight touchdowns in 13 games after he and Dak Prescott returned from injury in Week 7, including a monster playoff game in Tampa (seven catches, 95 yards, two scores). The Cowboys essentially chose Schultz over receiver Amari Cooper last offseason, when they tagged Schultz and traded Cooper away, and they should try to keep the tight end.
The Cowboys had kept Pollard fresh for the rest of the league until he broke his leg in the playoffs. Pollard, who was one of the league’s most effective weapons per touch over the last two years, is expected to be ready for training camp. He would be ranked about eight spots higher if not for the uncertainty surrounding the injury.
If Davenport had entered free agency after his 2021 season, when he had nine sacks, rather than playing 2022 with the Saints on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract, he would probably have been in the top 10. He creates production with incredible power, but his inability to stay on the field and finish plays showed up as a bad reminder in his contract year. You can’t count on him for more than 500 snaps.
An incredible penetrator and run-stopper, Long has an innate ability to knife through offensive lines to create negative plays. He’s an excellent blitzer and terrific tackler. Long can look stiff in coverage occasionally, but that’s true of most linebackers. He’s a three-down player.
Smith-Schuster has had great career production as a possession receiver and is still somehow only 26 years old. A quiet playoffs with the Chiefs in 2022 shouldn’t detract from a nice bounceback campaign in Kansas City, during which he gained 933 yards, second most in his six pro seasons.
His two most recent games tell the story of his Bills career: He was electric against the Dolphins on Super Wild Card Weekend and lacking against the Bengals in the Divisional Round. Edmunds timed his free agency well coming off his best pro season, but I worry about an inconsistent player leaving an ideal setup in Buffalo.
Kelce will almost certainly re-sign with the Eagles or retire, but he should technically be a free agent after signing a one-year contract a year ago with a void. Kelce has said he’s not the player he used to be, but he‘s still the centerpiece of the best offensive line in football.
When he went down with a foot injury in Week 13, Jimmy G was playing his best ball since 2017. But his injury history (including 18 games missed over the past three seasons) can’t be ignored. I’d like to see him with Raiders coach Josh McDaniels, because the best Garoppolo ever played was with McDaniels as his offensive coordinator in New England’s system, not in Kyle Shanahan’s paint-by-numbers cheat-code attack in San Francisco.
The Jaguars signed Engram to a one-year deal worth $9 million last offseason. After the best season of Engram’s career (73 catches for 766 yards), it feels like tagging him for $11.3 million (the price for tight ends) is a no-brainer if the team can’t work out a long-term deal with someone who has been quietly durable the last three seasons.
He’s much more than bad versions of the Griddy and the scant production he registered in his first season under Mike McDaniel in Miami. A rocked-up slot receiver, Gesicki needs to find an offense that will treat him as such again.
Murphy proved with the Cardinals in 2022 he can play on the outside; his bona fides in the slot were already established. At a position with high variance, Murphy has been a steady starter since a rocky rookie year.
Sacks and QB hits sell, but Ngakoue’s inability to stop the run is probably why he’s likely headed to his sixth team in four years. This section of the Top 101 is where the 2022 crop begins to feel thinner than groups from previous years, because there aren’t as many plus starters available.
Like an offensive version of Ngakoue, Taylor is good on passing downs and a liability in the running game. He’s also been durable enough to play more than 1,000 snaps in all four of his NFL seasons.
McGary wouldn’t have qualified for this list if he’d been a free agent in 2022, but he developed under Arthur Smith into a nasty run blocker in Year 4. Atlanta declined his fifth-year option for 2023, but they could use the franchise tag here to see if McGary’s growth sticks.
Speed is sorely lacking in this thin wideout market. Chark is absolutely getting a bump because he can stretch the field in a league where each team needs three to four quality wideouts.
One big mistake I see in free agent evaluations is overrating the previous year instead of considering the full body of work over a player’s career. Like tight end Mike Gesicki, Ford is hitting free agency after a down year. Neither player fit in new schemes in 2022, but Ford previously showed enough traits as a high-level penetrator for me to believe there are more good seasons to come.
One of the best slot cornerbacks in the league for years, Jones was asked to play on the outside last year by the Patriots because Bill Belichick didn’t have options. Jones was fine there, but a move back to the inside makes sense as he gets older.
Just based on his 2022 tape, Peterson should get a multi-year contract. But his previous two seasons were less impressive, and he’ll turn 33 years old before this coming season. He figures to be a hired gun once again.
Not guaranteed to start heading into training camp, Powers became a favorite of the interior-lineman cognoscenti, as well as the Ravens coaching staff. Will other teams think he was a product of the Ravens’ system?
Another year, another Top 101 free agents blurb for Clowney. He gets a little lower on the list each season; the ugly ending to his time in Cleveland doesn’t bode well for his value.
The longest-tenured 49er played any position the team asked with smarts and toughness. He’s the type of short-term quality veteran that often gets undervalued in free agency when he could upgrade so many teams.
The Titans’ offensive line was mostly a mess, but Davis turned into a reliable starter. I struggle with where to rank most of this top tier of guards, because they are all plug-and play-guys, yet a team’s money is probably better spent on a great offensive line coach than on chasing mid-level guards in free agency.
Brissett is coming off his best season, with a few of his former bosses (Raiders coach Josh McDaniels, who worked with Brissett in New England, and Panthers coach Frank Reich, who worked with him in Indianapolis) looking for quarterbacks. Jacoby is probably the No. 1 choice to pair with a first-round draft pick as a mentor/fallback plan; in terms of a starter, New Orleans could do worse than rolling with Brissett.
Graham played just 18 defensive snaps in Super Bowl LVII, which was a typical amount for him during a part-time season. His per-snap production was still incredible, however; he tallied 55 pressures, including the playoffs (per PFF), and a career-high 11 sacks. He makes for a nice one-year signing.
A physical corner who excels at press man coverage, Ya-Sin profiles as a solid enough starter who has never quite reached his top potential. I like those kinds of signings in free agency, because the floor is high and the ceiling is higher.
Everyone could use a tight end-stopper. Bell was one of the better values as a free-agent signings three years ago, when the Bengals brought him in on a deal for just $18 million, and he is still young enough to get another good contract.
Yes, he was that dude who pushed Broncos backup quarterback Brett Rypien on the sidelines on Christmas Day. He’s also started 62 games at an above-average level since entering the league.
I love me some Drue Tranquill. He can play every down, excelling in coverage and as a blitzer.
Here come off-ball linebackers! Even if the position isn’t valued as highly in today’s NFL, it’s important to have players who don’t kill your coverage on passing downs. Holcomb would have been a star 20 years ago, and he’s still a great addition to any defense.
It’s a bad sign that Wynn seemed to fall out of favor with the Patriots before landing on injured reserve, but he’s still a young player with plenty of high-level tape — though it came during his first three seasons.
When Key replaced 2022 No. 1 overall draft pick Travon Walker in the lineup, the Jaguars’ pass rush improved. He is a perfect rotational piece for virtually any system.
One of those cornerbacks who just knows how to play, Peters was effective in his first season back from ACL surgery. He still looks like a starter.
Whenever Darius Slayton plays football, he makes quality catches and runs faster than the guys covering him. Sometimes the Giants didn’t let him play football, and sometimes they tried to replace him, which was confusing. But playing fast and making big plays (he boasts a 15 yards-per-reception career average) seem like good things to me!
Everyone likes their safeties to play linebacker these days, and that’s where Wilson does his best work.
The instincts weren’t always there for Sanders in 2022, even if the production was (1,347 total yards). Five yards per carry and 4,650 yards from scrimmage in just four seasons shouldn’t be overlooked.
Every year, I rank Ingram high in this list. Then no NFL team seems to want him, and then he balls out for a while. Even if he goes off-script sometimes, the chaos is worth it.
Edwards has improved every season as a pro, especially on passing downs. He was a plus starter who racked up more than 1,100 snaps on the way to the Super Bowl.
Onyemata lived up to the three-year, $27 million contract he signed before the 2020 season; he was routinely the best defensive tackle on the Saints’ roster. He holds up well for someone who plays a lot of snaps.
Like Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Seumalo is a mauler with position flexibility who figures to get a bump heading into free agency because he played on a ferocious Eagles defensive line.
Score another win for the 49ers’ defensive-line car wash; 95 pressures over the last two seasons (including playoffs) is terrific production for a part-time player. Playing opposite Nick Bosa certainly helps.
Beachum is a team leader who produces more than 1,000 capable snaps every season without ever seeming to age.
Teddy Two Gloves had career highs in yards per attempt (8.6) and touchdown percentage (5.1%) on just 79 pass attempts for Miami, with both of his starts cut short by injury. There are more teams looking for quarterbacks than there are surefire starters in this market, so Bridgewater should have suitors.
The Eagles recognized value when they signed White last offseason and immediately installed him as a starter. He fit in well, keeping promising rookie Nakobe Dean on the bench all season.
Flanked by outstanding guards and coached up by Bill Callahan in Cleveland, Pocic finished in the top five in both pass block and run block win rate last season, per PFF. He’s earned a starting job somewhere, although the Browns should be most motivated to re-sign him.
The Bengals are likely going to let Pratt walk, because a Logan Wilson contract extension is coming eventually.
This is not the Connor McGovern on the Cowboys. This is the one who took every snap for the Jets last season at center. The Jets should want to keep him, for the sake of continuity.
Okoronkwo has shown he can play with energy in any scheme, developing into a fun pass rusher down the stretch last season. He’s absolutely getting a bump because of how thin the position is in free agency.
Cox will likely still get around 45 pressures per season, and he finished with his most combined sacks and QB hits since his 2018 All-Pro season. Like Brandon Graham, Cox would probably do more with fewer snaps.
An injury-plagued year and limitations as a receiver limits Harris’ value, but he’s one of the most violent and explosive pure runners in football when healthy.
I get why Aaron Rodgers gassed up Lazard all last offseason as his No. 1 receiver. It seems like Lazard can do it all, but in reality, he looked overstretched when asked to be anything more than a quality role player.
Injuries threatened Callahan’s career before a resurgent 2022 season with the Chargers playing the slot.
It’s just silly how Houston never gets old. He is like the edge version of Calais Campbell and isn’t that far from having a case to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday.
Like a lot of Rams players, Gaines took a step back in 2022. He still is a surprisingly good pass rusher for a 312-pound player.
Al-Shaair took a backseat to the best linebacker duo in football (Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw) and deserves a chance to become a star on his own elsewhere. He’s a sleeper.
Okereke stepped in for an injured Shaquille Leonard last season and played the best football of his life. Did I mention there are a lot of good off-ball linebackers available this offseason?
It was fun to watch the Vander Eschaissance in Dallas. Even if his old quickness isn’t all the way back to his rookie form, he anticipates so well.
Vibes, toughness, touchdowns and great quotes, all in one delicious package.
Giants defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale got the best out of Love, using him all over the field in a variety of roles.
In Cincinnati, Hurst had the season I expected him to have in Baltimore or Atlanta. This feels like a marriage the Bengals should want to continue.
A defensive tackle that logs 500 quality snaps is usually available in free agency for about $5 million annually. Rankins is usually available, too.
SEE: Sheldon Rankins.
Ladies and gentleman, introducing your sixth-ranked PFF passer of 2022 … Andy Freaking Dalton! He avoided mistakes in a tough situation and truly wasn’t the reason the Saints lost most weeks. (Although they did lose most weeks.)
Rapp is an excellent tackler who never quite developed into the playmaker the Rams hoped when they took him in the second round in 2019. He should still absolutely start in the league.
Singletary scores well annually in PFF’s “elusive” ranking, matching the eye test that he usually gets more yards than what’s blocked for him by the O-line.
Mostert quietly set a career high with more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage — seemingly always a threat for a big play. He works best in a rotation.
Bobby Trees will be another year removed from ACL surgery and remains a savvy route-runner and locker-room leader. This is the year to get him, when his price tag should be down, following his release by the Titans.
Tonyan was not as explosive in his first season back from a torn ACL, although he set a career high with 52 catches. It’s realistic to expect him to play better in 2023.
Perryman is one of the last linebackers left who makes his money with monster hits and brutal efficiency on running downs. He’s great at it, but I’m still afraid to pay anyone who is a liability in coverage.
Like a young Chester Taylor, I’ve always thought Mattison could thrive if given a team of his own. The Vikings may even consider cutting Dalvin Cook and signing Mattison at a lesser rate.
It was a small sample size, but Elliss flew around the field at a preposterously productive clip when given the chance to start late last season for New Orleans. It was enough for him to make this list and surely open some eyes league-wide.
Bradberry fits in a zone scheme that can use his movement skills. He can get overwhelmed against bigger defenders — like Dexter Lawrence in Minnesota’s playoff loss.
Logging more than 1,200 snaps on the best offense in the league says something, even if Wylie ranks only just above a replacement-level starting right tackle.
An up-and-down tenure in Kansas City figures to end after the Chiefs’ championship run. The team is just too good at finding inexpensive talent in the secondary.
I’d take Minshew over Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold because he’s more consistent. He’ll get a backup job.
Lost in the shuffle in Miami last season, Van Ginkel is a jack of all trades, not unlike his old “Van” partner, Kyle Van Noy.
The Panthers’ offensive line improved when Bozeman was inserted into the lineup after six games. They should want to bring him back.
Ogunjobi is one of those free agents every season who winds up producing, but he also leaves his coaches wanting more, because he gambles so much in an effort to make a big play.
Because of injuries, Smith’s skill set is more of an idea than something we’ve been able to see on display over the last four years. He moves well enough to try out.
Signing Agholor at a discount isn’t a crazy idea. He’s still fast and was dragged down by the mismanaged Patriots offense last season.
In over 1,500 snaps in the last two seasons, Mayfield has profiled as a limited, if intriguing player. There are clear strengths (arm talent, accuracy) and obvious shortcomings in processing and decision-making. He plays like a quality backup, someone who can inject life for a handful of games, but who will be exposed the more he plays.
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