Free Agency 2011 – 10 Players Ready to Step Up

| August 9, 2011

It’s been such a crazy free agency period that’s it’s easy to forget about the guys left behind. Those players already on the roster that aim to fill the shoes of players gone for greener pastures.
.
No celebrated arrival and no fanfare, but no less important. Players who were last year seen as depth and security, are going to get a chance to be “the guy” that their teams are now relying on.
.
Here are ten of these men that we’ve seen enough from to think they can do it.
.

.
.

George Wilson, S, Buffalo Bills

Replacing: Donte Whitner

Why He Can: It’s not just that Wilson can cover the loss of Whitner, it’s that he’ll be an upgrade if the way he played in 2009 is anything to go by. While Whitner gave up six touchdowns on his way to a -3.4 grade last year, Wilson was actually our third ranked safety in 2009. The converted wide receiver didn’t allow a single TD while picking off four balls, and earning a higher grade in run support than Whitner. He also had 10 more defensive stops, despite Whitner making more tackles. All in all, Bills fan need not fret about Wilson stepping up.
.

Lardarius Webb, Baltimore Ravens

Replacing: Josh Wilson

Why He Can: It’s going to be hard to replace our fifth ranked corner from last year, and while Webb may not find that kind of form, he’s got the talent to make the drop off negligible. Last year he earned a +1.1 grade in coverage as he worked primarily on the outside in nickel sets, and in his rookie year he picked up a +6.9 overall grade despite picking up a pretty serious injury towards the end of the year. Now, a year further removed from injury, you’d be looking for him to build on that.
.

Jerome Simpson, Cincinnati Bengals

Replacing: Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens

Why He Can: Primarily because neither man was up to much last year, with their reputations and name value being harder to live up to than their actual performance. Simpson had failed to really do anything since being drafted, but judging by how he ended the season, something seemed to have finally clicked. He only managed 153 snaps but wrapped up 2010 with three strong performances as opportunity presented itself. If he can carry that through, then he’s actually an upgrade on the inconsistent Owens.
.

William Hayes and Derrick Morgan, Tennessee Titans

Replacing: Jason Babin

Why They Can: Babin was so impressive last year that if this duo can at least limit the impact of losing our tenth ranked defensive end they’ll have done well. Hayes may not be the flashiest but he played exceptionally well in his 555 snaps last year. If you don’t know what he’s capable of, watch what he did to one of the stronger right tackles in the league, Eric Winston, in Week 12. As for Morgan, well he only had 114 snaps as a rookie, yet in that time he picked up a couple of sacks and seven pressures. There’s talent in both these players.
.

Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys

Replacing: Roy Williams

Why He Can: Listed here primarily because he’s not Roy Williams. It may sound harsh, but Williams didn’t just fail to live up to his huge price tag in Dallas, but he failed regardless of what was paid for him. Williams was our 90th-rated receiver in 2010 after being 99th in 2009, and that kind of “progress” means Bryant doesn’t have awfully big shoes to fill. Still, expectations are understandably high, and a +4.8 receiver rating shows the potential. At times he looked exquisite, particularly Weeks 9 and 10. If he can produce like that all season, the Dallas offense could be scary.
.

Jason Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys

Replacing: Stephen Bowen

Why He Can: This may come down to Hatcher purely filling the role Bowen occupied in sub packages (though given Rob Ryan’s style of defense that may have been the case for Bowen as well). Hatcher has demonstrated an ability to pressure the quarterback, pressuring the QB once in every 10.53 snaps he rushes the passer. That compares favorably to Bowen (one in every 11.81). Look for Hatcher to wreak havoc in the Dallas sub packages.
.

Captain Munnerlyn, Carolina Panthers

Replacing: Richard Marshall

Why He Can: We got a big look at the man with the best name in football last year (as Chris Gamble missed plenty of time) and he didn’t look all that bad. While Marshall had our tenth-lowest grade in coverage last year, Munnerlyn fell in at No.26 and allowed just 57.5% of passes thrown his way to be completed. A fit and proper Gamble and Munnerlyn should be a more productive pairing than the underachieving Marshall and Gamble of the past couple of years.
.

Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers

Replacing: Tyler Brayton

Why He Can: This comes with a giant asterisk given that Hardy is missing the first week or two of camp because of a motorcycle accident he was involved in. But when he does see the field he’s bound to be more productive than the cloak of invisibility that had been Tyler Brayton while rushing the passer. Just as way of comparison, Brayton had 19 quarterback disruptions on 332 pass rushing attempts. Hardy managed 25 on 217 pass rushes. Look for the Panthers to make more of an impression on quarterbacks.
.

Leroy Hill, Seattle Seahawks

Replacing: Lofa Tatupu

Why He Can: It’s not a like for like replacement, but with Hill moving to the outside and David Hawthorne moving to replace Tatupu inside, the Seahawks linebacker group got stronger. Tatupu had seen his play drop off after Hawthorne noticeably outplayed him as his replacement in 2009. Hill has had some off the field problems, but on it he brings more physicality to Seattle and their run defense. Keep him out of trouble and watch him go.
.

Daryl Washington, Arizona Cardinals

Replacing: Gerard Hayes

Why He Can: Hayes missed plenty of last year with various injuries, and when he was on the field, gone was the guy who excelled as Karlos Dansby’s partner. In contrast, Daryl Washington was one of the most impressive rookies in the league, and showed the kind of range and aggressiveness teams covet. He’ll be an every down upgrade with the Cardinals keeping him on the field.
.
.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus
.
.

.
.
.

Comments are closed.