Top 10 Free Agents Making an Impact

| November 10, 2011

Remember that frenzied free agency. Everything was happening so quickly that it all seems like a bit of a blur looking back on it. But it happened, and right now teams are either cashing in, or wondering what went wrong with their haul.

We saw plenty of big moves as teams looked to find guys who could contribute quickly in a heavily shortened off season, but the wise teams didn’t just focus on the big names. They saw positions where there was value to be had and made a move. Either that or they just got lucky by throwing enough mud at the wall and seeing what stuck.

Now you can’t evaluate a free agent class after nine weeks of a season, but you can look at which free agents have come in and made the most significant impact. At least I think you can. That’s why I’m offering up my top 10 free agents who have come in and contributed to their new teams. Pretty self explanatory really.

(All contract figures used in this article have been taken from the ever excellent rotoworld).

 

1.  Carlos Rogers, CB, San Francisco 49ers

Contract: One-year, Undisclosed

Impact: If Darrelle Revis wasn’t Darrelle Revis then Rogers would have our highest grade of all cornerbacks. That’s how good the former Redskin has been. Outside of those moments that make you want to smack your head on the table (most notably trying to catch a ball with his helmet against Dallas) it’s been the kind of season Rogers has always threatened to have. Three interceptions and six pass break ups while allowing just 54.5% of balls thrown his way to be complete (all the more impressive considering he plays in the slot in the 49ers sub package defense). Those numbers tell the story better than anything I write ever could. Can he keep it up? We’ll find out, but for now you have to admire how well this move has worked out with both Rogers and 49ers.

 

2.  Stephen Tulloch, MLB, Detroit Lions

Contract: One-year, $3.25m

Impact:  When you adopt a scheme that sees your defensive line getting up the field, you’re going to need your linebackers to be adept at taking on linemen. In 2010 that was a big problem for the Lions, and they’ve had issues with it at times this year, but to nowhere near the same degree. A large part of that has been the signing, and subsequent play, of Stephen Tulloch. It was truly baffling that there wasn’t a stronger market for the former Titan who was coming off a superb year, but the Lions are reaping the benefits now. Our second ranked MLB on the year.

 

3.  Johnathan Joseph, CB, Houston Texans

Contract: Five-year, $48.75m

Impact: When you sign such a big deal the pressure is on. Look at what happened to Dunta Robinson who got more money and then had a so-so season in Atlanta (and has followed it up with a terrible one so far). So all eyes were on Johnathan Joseph to see how he could handle life as a true number one cornerback, and so far, all eyes are impressed. Sure he’s given up two touchdowns, but his three interceptions and four pass break ups (60% pass completion on balls thrown at him) are good numbers, leading to quarterbacks having a lowly 66.9 rating when throwing in his direction. Adding a bit of intelligence to the numbers he has the fourth highest grade of all corners in coverage and is a big part of a much improved Texans secondary. Home run signing.

 

4.  Alan Branch, DT, Seattle Seahawks

Contract: Two-year, $8m

Impact: Probably the most surprising name on this given how under the radar his performances have been.  Branch hasn’t produced big numbers, with just one sack and 10 total pressures on the year, but he’s currently our top ranked defensive tackle in run defense. Honestly, I did not see this coming given his performances in Arizona, but Seattle have done it again (after Raheem Brock last season) by turning one teams trash into their very own piece of treasure.

 

5.  Andre Carter, DE, New England Patriots

Contract: One-year, $2.25m

Impact:  Lost amongst the Patriots signing Chad Ochocino and Albert Haynesworth, New England managed to bring Andre Carter back to a 4-3 scheme and can be extremely pleased with the results. Our seventh ranked defensive end on the year isn’t the same player he was when he had that massive pass rushing 2009, but he’s a more balanced, and more reliable defender. Ranking positively in both run defense and with his pass rushing, Carter has been the success story of a failing defense, and has done it with a series of consistent displays. Only once has he graded negatively, with his 29 combined sacks, hits and hurries an excellent return on the year (he’s also fourth in tackles and defensive stops). See what happens when you put players in their right position?

 

6.  Evan Mathis, LG, Philadelphia Eagles

Contract: One-year, undisclosed

Impact:  Back in pre season it seemed as if Mathis was destined to be nothing more than a backup. But injuries thrust him back into a starting lineup for the first time since 2009, and he responded as we had an inkling he would: excellently. Currently our second ranked left guard on the year and a member of our second string Mid Season All Pro team, the biggest concern is no longer his performance, but how a bout of turf toe may impact his season. The value for money on this deal is off the charts which begs the question as to why other guard needy NFL teams didn’t pick up on his obvious talent.

 

7.  Darren Sproles, HB, New Orleans Saints

Contract: Four-year, $14m

Impact:  Massive. Sproles is on pace for 1,424 yards from scrimmage and has become the player, in eight games, that the Saints desperately tried to turn Reggie Bush into. At the time I questioned why the Saints, who had just drafted Mark Ingram to join the Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory in the backfield, would need another running back. Well Sproles isn’t another running back, he’s just a pure offensive (and special teams) weapon and is a perfect fit in New Orleans. Big time signing and it could reap bigger rewards the longer the season goes on.

 

8.  Jason Babin, DE, Philadelphia Eagles

Contract: Five-year, $28m

Impact: There’s one thing to dislike about Babin, and that’s the never ending flow of penalties. Sure one or two may be harsh, but seven on the year is just a little too much. That said those fears about Babin being a one season wonder appear to have been off the mark, with Babin notching up an impressive 33 combined sacks, hits and hurries. He’s given the Eagles what they wanted and is amongst the best pure pass rushers in the league right now (sixth highest grade for a pass rushing defensive end).

 

9.  Paul Posluszny, MLB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Contract: Six-year, $42m

Impact: While the performances of Blaine Gabbert have made Jacksonville somewhat irrelevant, they can point to a free agency that could serve them well for years to come. In addition to getting performances from Matt Roth, Dawan Landry and others, they’ve found themselves a middle linebacker they can trust in. Paul Posluszny hasn’t been the flashiest player in the league, but he’s gone in and played the way we knew he could when put in a 4-3 defense. Sure tackling (just two missed tackles), a good blitzer (a sack, three hits and four pressures), and more than able to hold his own in coverage (his 61.3% of throws aimed at him allowed is the second lowest of all MLBs). As advertised.

 

10.  Justin Durant, SLB, Detroit Lions

Contract: Two-year

Impact: Thing Justin Durant is not; three down linebacker. Thing Justin Durant is; force against the run. Despite missing time with a concussion the former Jaguar has looked every bit the player the Lions thought they were getting. Able to get off blocks and make plays, it’s only his lack of playing time that is holding back his +6.8 run defense grade. The Lions have made moves to change their culture and this is evident none more so than at linebacker, with Durant making a healthy contribution.

 

Honorable Mentions: Brian Waters, Thomas Howard, Steve Breaston, Cullen Jenkins and Justin Bannan

 

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  • Felton

    How about the highly desired Brian DelaPuente, who has far outplayed his contract for the Saints?

    It’s cool to note that Babin was the highest ranked of the Top 51 Free Agents at 15. Kudos to PFF for sportting Evan Mathis as a value fre agent. Much like the Monty Python Lupin Sketch, forecasting free agents is a tricky business.

  • seanjoc

    Willis McGahee should have been an honorable mention. He was signed by Denver for very little and he is having a great year. He is ranked 20th as a rusher and is averaging over 5 ypc. He’s been very good for us.

    • drgarnett

      It would be a lot easier to give credit to McGahee if the Broncos had shown some improvement from last year.

  • http://www.profootballfocus.com Khaled Elsayed

    DLP is an interesting one to watch – was very impressed against an admittedly poor Bucs team. Regarding McGahee – you may just be right there. Great fit in Denver. Really like his patience and decision making. Too many running backs run for the perimeter and get nothing – McGahee seems to know when to take what the defense is giving him. A world away from Moreno.