PFF’s Top *75* Free Agents

| March 7, 2012

A few weeks ago we kicked off our look at free agency by telling you who our Top 50 free agents were. Well, wouldn’t you know it, those inconsiderate NFL teams have gone about franchise tagging and re-signing their players which has robbed us of 12 of the guys we had included.

But you can’t keep a good free agent list down, and between myself, Sam Monson, and Ben Stockwell, we’ve revisited ours as only we can … in a multi-hour debate seasoned with insults, put downs, and profanities.

It has seen some historical arguments settled (yes Ben, you were right about Ben Grubbs) and created a few more moments that will lead to “I told you so’s” in the future (you guys just wait and see what Brandon Lloyd does this year). But we’ve settled not just on a Top 50, but a rather ridiculous Top 75 free agents–and there were still guys we wanted to talk about.

A PFF reader competition will follow.

 

1. Peyton Manning, QB

If there’s any chance that Manning gets healthy (which there is), then he’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for a franchise looking to win now. Maybe the greatest QB of all time, you only had to see how Indianapolis fell apart without him to further appreciate what he can do.

2. Mario Williams, DE/ OLB

Williams avoided the franchise tag and now looks set to hit the market as the most highly regarded player out there. The Texans-Williams divorce seems amicable and in the best interests of both parties, with the likely scenario being that Super Mario can return to an every-down defensive end role that is bound to bring out the best in him.

3. Carl Nicks, G

The Saints may have invested in the wrong guard given how much better Nicks has been than Jahri Evans over the past two years. But if they can’t re-sign the former Nebraska lineman (as looks likely), that haste could be to the benefit of wherever Nicks lands. The mauling guard has finished first (2009), first (2010) and second (2011) in our rankings the past three years.

4. Vincent Jackson, WR

In terms of pure talent, Jackson has it in him to make a bigger impact than any other free agent. That talent will make you forget that he’s walking the suspension tight rope and a couple of sub-standard years (by his standards).

5. Cortland Finnegan, CB

The Andre Johnson punching bag isn’t the most popular player in the league, and that kind of unpopularity can take away from what a good player he can be. This year, where he seemed less interested in antagonizing receivers, and more focused on shutting them down–may have been his finest year to date. Not just playing outside, but doing an excellent job in the slot, Finnegan may be the most versatile cornerback available.

6. John Abraham, DE

Abraham isn’t getting any younger, but then his production isn’t showing any signs of tailing off. You may not get many good years, but unless his play falls off a cliff you’ll still be getting a pass rusher who gets as much pressure as anyone. Has ranked among our top seven defensive ends in each of the last four years.

7. Evan Mathis, G

It’s one of the great mysteries of NFL scouting how a player like Mathis hasn’t been locked down before now. One of the most technically sound and agile guards, the former Bengal may be turning 31 this year, but his limited mileage makes him a safe investment for the long term.

8. Chris Myers, C

Finding elite players at any position isn’t easy, so Myers should attract plenty of interest as an agile center who has got better year on year since starting. Our top-ranked center in 2011, Myers could prove a steal if someone can pry him away from Houston.

9. Brandon Carr, CB

Some view Carr as the top corner on the market. Others see him as purely a No. 2 type who can’t be trusted to go up against top receivers. Capable of playing very well, his best games tend to come against the worst quarterbacks. That is always a worrying trend.

10. Stephen Tulloch, LB

It was a surprise to us that teams didn’t make a bigger effort to sign Tulloch down last year. They may all pay the price this year after his excellent year in Detroit likely increased his demands on what he was looking for last year.

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11. Matt Flynn, QB

This may seem a little high for Flynn, but such is his potential (and such is the value of quarterbacks) that if he ends up being what a team expects him to be, then he’s the top free agent out there. The Packers’ backup QB has looked good when presented an opportunity to do so, and has yet to show any of the weaknesses that didn’t stop Kevin Kolb getting a $60m deal.

12. Jared Gaither, OT

After missing all of 2010, a false start penalty for Kansas City likely got the career of Gaither back on track, as the Chiefs cut him and he thrived at the end of the year in San Diego. The character and health concerns are there, but if you can look past that, you’re planting your eyes on a Top 5 left tackle.

13. Carlos Rogers, CB

The concern with Rogers is that as good as he was for the first half of the season, his play slipped in the second half. Factor that in with his ups and downs in years gone by and the former Redskin is something of a question mark. Still his talent and versatility makes him a gamble plenty of cornerback-needy teams could make.

14. Marques Colston, WR

If you use Colston right and keep him healthy, he’s one of the biggest mismatches in the league at the receiver position. But he’s had an awful lot of surgeries over the past five years, and will need a team to realize he’s more than outside receiver; last year he logged the ninth-most yards from the slot.

15. Sione Pouha, DT

The kind of player who makes life easier for all around him, Pouha is more than just a prototypical zero technique, capable of making plays in three- and four-man defensive fronts. Likely to command a double team or rag doll a helpless offensive linemen.

16. Brodrick Bunkley, DT

11.3% of all plays Bunkley was in run defense ended up with him making a defensive stop; the most of all DTs in the league. Outside of an injury plagued 2010, the former Eagle has always brought disruption when teams have run at him and there’s no reason to see that changing.

17. Ben Grubbs, G

The Ravens’ Grubbs is a Top 10 guard in a league low on talented guards, but his ceiling isn’t such that he’ll have the impact to dramatically improve an offensive line.

18. Brandon Lloyd, WR

Lloyd seems like he’s been around longer than his 30 years of age would suggest, but even then he’s got plenty of tread left on his tires. The big concern is whether he can maintain his last two years of play, where’s he emerged as one of the hardest to cover receivers in the league.

19. David Hawthorne, LB

After his 2009 and 2010 seasons, this year was a tad disappointing for Hawthorne. That’s not to say he played badly, but injuries seemed to slow him. We’d fully expect a healthy Hawthorne to plug in to any defensive scheme and make a more than positive contribution. It’s why he’s earned a +45.7 grade from us over the past three years.

20. Jason Jones, DT

With Jones you almost have to completely discard his 2011 year where the Titans used him at defensive end. You go back to when Jones was used at DT and you’ve got a guy too quick for guards, making plays on every down. Put Jones back in the right scheme, and at the right spot, and you have one of the most explosive tackles in the league.

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21. Scott Wells, C

The Packers’ center has got better every year, leading to his finishing fourth in our center rankings this year. Solid technically, Wells was consistent but never quite reached height of his opening week tour de force that earned such rave reviews. Still, quality centers are hard to come by and Wells is in that bracket.

22. Erin Henderson, LB

After the year the younger Henderson had, there was a strong case to move him further up the list. But we’ve seen two-down linebackers struggle to justify a big price tag when moving to a three-down role, so we’re being a bit cautious with our fourth-ranked 4-3 OLB from 2011.

23. Jeremy Mincey, DE

It wasn’t really until Aaron Kampmann went down in 2010 that Mincey really got an opportunity to prove himself. Since then he’s been on quite the tear, with a strong finish to 2010 as a starter, and then a starting role in the excellent Jags defense in 2011. Our 12th-ranked defensive end from last year can handle a lot of snaps (973 last year) and still produce on every down so should command a healthy market.

24. Curtis Lofton, LB

The conversion of Lofton to an every-down linebacker has had its pros and its cons. On the plus side, we’ve seen Lofton improve in coverage and become the quarterback of the defense. On the negative front, he’s failed to look like the impact run defender we saw as a rookie. A talented, but limited player.

25. Jarret Johnson, LB

There isn’t a linebacker in the league who sets the edge like Johnson, who is a bigger part than many credit for how good the Ravens’ defense is. More of a two-down linebacker at this stage (he’s never been the most productive pass rusher in sub packages) Johnson has earned a +60.3 run defense grade over the past three years.

26. Jason Campbell, QB

You wonder where the Raiders would be right now if Campbell hadn’t gone down injured. If nothing else, Campbell has shown an ability to be a little bit more than just a game manager. Players not even capable of that have commanded quite the fee.

27. Andre Carter, DE

There are some big question marks with Carter coming off a season-ending injury and not getting any younger. But his production in New England, where he was comfortably the best player on their defense before injury, shows that if you get him in the right scheme (not a 3-4) he will make plays. Finished 11th in our defensive end rankings in 2011.

28. Alex Smith, QB

One good year doesn’t offset a career of disappointment. That’s what to remember with Smith who holds more value to the 49ers then he does to any other team. Still, the QB position is the most valuable of all, so any solid starter is going to have a market.

29. Paul Soliai, DT

2011 didn’t quite match 2010 in terms of production for Soliai who saw less playing time as the Dolphins got more sub packages involved in their defense. A valuable run defender who has shown some burst to get up field, Soliai is at the right age (28) and could fit into any defensive front.

30. Kendall Langford, DL

It’s not until you really start looking at Langford that you realize how talented a player he is and how much he’s done at just 26 years of age. Has performed since his rookie year and gets constant pressure; so don’t be fooled by his low sack count.

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31. London Fletcher, LB

So it’s unlikely that Fletcher makes a move to anywhere but Washington, but if you’re looking for an excellent linebacker on a short term deal then why not make him an offer he can’t refuse. Not every free agent move needs to be with the future in mind.

32. David Garrard, QB

It’s easy to forget about Garrard, a player who took the year off to let his back heal up. His last couple of years in Jacksonville were largely uneventful, but better than people gave him credit for. An above average passer and a threat to run with the ball, he’s the most proven available QB.  

33. Demetrius Bell, T

An intriguing player, Bell struggled before 2011, but in six games looked every bit the franchise left tackle. Is that body of work enough for a team to take a chance on him? We think not, but the ceiling is high for Bell in a weak tackle market.

34. Reggie Wayne, WR

It could be argued that Wayne is losing a step after a disappointing 2011. But how much of that was down to playing with quarterbacks who struggled to make the most of his ability? The Colts’ WR is still an excellent route runner, but his age and last year impact on his value.

35. Peyton Hillis, RB

There are some big question marks about Hillis, who really only has one good year under his belt. That year–where he finished second in our running back rankings–was an indication of the kind of every down back he is, but you’re always worried about him being something of a one-season wonder.

36. Manny Lawson, OLB

Lawson played well in Cincinnati, but he now finds himself in an interesting position. An effective pass rusher, two teams have used Lawson as primarily a base-downs player. Given the lack of interest in him last year, has much happened in 2011 to change that?

37. Geoff Schwartz, G/T

While Schwartz didn’t play last year, we haven’t forgotten about him. A superb 2010 in Carolina saw him fill in at both right tackle and right guard and perform so well at both you would trust him at either spot. A genuine head scratcher as to why Carolina wouldn’t tender a talented lineman.

38. Cedric Benson, RB

We’ve seen running backs wear down under a heavy load, so with 922 carries in the past three years and entering his age 30 season, Benson has some question marks over him. Not done by any stretch, but averaging just 2.1 yards after contact (third lowest of all running backs with 100 carries) hurts his value.

39. Robert Meachem, WR

This was supposed to be the year Meachem really stepped up. It didn’t quite work out that way, but you wonder how much that was down to his use by the Saints. The former first round pick has never been given an opportunity to flourish as a No. 1 receiver, so a change of scenery could bring out the best of a player who has flashed top level talent.

40. Tim Jennings, CB

Jennings is purely a cover two corner, but these past two years have proved he can be an above average starter in that scheme. Being good enough to start for a team earns you a spot on this list … just.

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41. Mario Manningham, WR

Without that Super Bowl catch you wonder if Manningham would be getting as much press as he is. But he made the catch and while 2011 wasn’t his best year, he does have a knack for getting open and making plays. Can a team harness this better than the Giants?

42. Joe Mays, LB

If you want a downhill thumper then look no further than Mays. A perfect two-down linebacker, he doesn’t always look comfortable dropping into coverage, but is a force in the run game. His 14.3% of run plays that he recorded a defensive stop was highest of all middle linebackers.

43. Martellus Bennett, TE

Bennett has the ceiling to be one of the real difference-making free agent pickups, but whether by his application or the Cowboys’ use of him, he was never that guy in Dallas. Instead, he was primarily a blocking tight end, and it should be noted he was pretty special in that regard. Huge upside.

44. Pierre Garcon, WR

Did Garcon really turn down a five-year, $35m contract? He does offer a rare ability to break tackles and make things happen, but lacks the consistency to really be regarded as one of the top receivers in the league.

45. Antonio Garay, NT

Back in 2010, Garay looked like one of the most explosive defensive linemen in the league, but with an increased role, he struggled to make the same kind of impact that made him the most productive pass rushing DT in the league then. If he can reclaim that form, he’ll be worth whatever he gets.

46. Nick Hardwick, C

More of a finesse center, Hardwick isn’t going to blow anyone away with his run blocking. But if you’re looking for a solid hand at center then you could do a lot worse.

47. Tracy Porter, CB

2011 wasn’t a great year for Porter, but he’s shown enough in his career to suggest he can be a good starter in this league. Will be grateful for playing in a scheme that provides some support

48. Laron Landry, S

Maybe the biggest question mark in free agency. Talent would see him in the Top 10, but has a huge red flag regarding his health. Will avoiding surgery prove the smart long term move?

49. E.J. Henderson, LB

Is Henderson a fading force? Always better at coming forward, his play in coverage could see him firmly dropping into the ‘two-down linebacker’ category. He’ll be 32 when the season starts with a troubling injury history.

50. Michael Bush, RB

Bush rumbled to 958 yards in 2011 but he’s not the shiftiest runner and doesn’t power through as many tackles as you’d like to see. He can handle plenty of carries, but you wonder if he’s better suited to being a component of a committee backfield.

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51. Red Bryant, DE/ DT

An interesting tweener type, Bryant has graded as one of the best defensive ends when it comes to work in the run game since Pete Carroll took over in Seattle. Would he be as successful in another scheme?

52. Joel Dreessen, TE

The injuries to Owen Daniels have quietly allowed Dreessen the opportunity to develop into one of the more complete tight ends in the league. He won’t wow you with his athleticism but he’s player you can count on every down.

53. Chad Henne, QB

Outside of a great display against the Patriots in Week 1, there wasn’t much this year to suggest Henne had ‘got it’ in terms of constantly challenging defenses. Still, the question needs an answer and Henne has as much talent as other starting QBs in this league.

54. Shaun Rogers, DT

Wasted to a degree in New Orleans, Rogers still has the ability to have his way with defensive linemen. His work in run defense was stellar this year, though he didn’t look quite as explosive getting up field.

55. Juqua Parker, DE

Parker is not cut out to be an every-down defender, but has consistently played well when his snap count has been managed. Has done a good job generating pressure the past two years.

56. William Gay, CB

Didn’t make the leap many expected after being promoted into the starting lineup but has become a dependable corner who can move into the slot in nickel.

57. Mark Anderson, DE

Coming off the back of a good year, you’d expect to see Anderson higher, but how often has he disappointed when you expect to see more from him?

58. Mike Tolbert, RB

A dangerous weapon catching balls out of the backfield and an effective (if limited runner), Tolbert is an ideal RB when it comes to spelling a more talented feature back.

59. Laurent Robinson, WR

Nobody has ever doubted Robinson’s talent, but with question marks over durability he still has something to prove.

60. Brodney Pool, S

It was somewhat baffling how a player like Pool found opportunities so limited in New York. You need only go back to his last season in Cleveland (and first as a Jet) to see what he is capable of.

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61. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB

Can ‘Law Firm’ carry the load when teams aren’t busying focusing on Tom Brady and the Patriots’ receiving options? The PFF staff are divided on these issues with some seeing BJE as too limited to be a feature back.

62. Derek Landri, DT

May have one of the fastest first steps of any interior linemen, but showed in 2010 that he doesn’t hold up well under the strains of anything more than a rotational role. Thrived in Eagles Wide-9 scheme.

63. Reggie Nelson, S

It’s amazing how one decent season can make everyone forget. Nelson was something of a liability in Jacksonville and hasn’t ironed out those issues from his game just yet.

64. Shaun Hill, QB

There’s little upside to Hill, but then in this instance that’s okay. A reliable QB, he’s good enough to manage a team, and smart enough to understand his role to a franchise.

65. Leroy Hill, OLB

The charges were dropped but Hill’s latest run-in with the law has reminded us all just how risky a proposition he is.

66. Channing Crowder, LB

After a year out of the league, Crowder is as healthy as ever and ready to come back; seemingly. He has plenty of value to 3-4 teams looking for a two-down thumper type.

67. Samson Satele, C

Coming off his best year, Satele is a maddening talent. Capable of pushing around some of the best linemen in the league, it makes it all the more frustrating when he himself gets the rag doll treatment.

68. Jeff Backus, OT

Backus is primarily so low because we don’t see him leaving Detroit, and at his age we don’t see him having much value on the open market. Has got better with the continuity presented by the Lions line.

69. Aaron Ross, CB

A Super Bowl winner, but can be a liability at times. When he’s thrown at he’s normally making a play or giving one up.

70. Kroy Biermann, DE

Feel sorry for Biermann. An efficient pass rusher, he found himself demoted and watched his performance fall off a cliff. His 2010 year will ensure a decent market if the Falcons don’t tie him down.

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71. Jerricho Cotchery, WR

Better than being any teams fourth choice wide out, franchises seem to forget that despite a torrid 2010 where he played hurt, Cotchery was once one of the most consistent receivers in the league.

72. Richard Marshall, CB

A jack of all trades, yet a master of none. Showed impressive versatility as an outside corner, nickel back and safety in the Cardinals’ scheme. Versatility trumps talent.

73. Amobi Okoye, DT

An old 25, Okoye got his career back on track in Chicago. Good enough to be a heavy part of a rotation, he still has some talent when it comes to one-gapping.

74. Anthony Collins, OT

A player with huge upside, it’s amazing Collins (who must be lousy in practice) hasn’t got a run with the Bengals–every time he’s played, he’s looked the part.

75. Aubrayo Franklin, DT

Didn’t find a market for himself after a superb 2010, so what will he do after an uneventful 2011? Lower demands may make him a reasonable target for a nose tackle-needy team.

 

Dropping Out

Ryan Grant, RB

Grant didn’t look completely done last year, but neither does he look like the back that burst onto the scene in 2007.

Kyle Orton, QB

Orton isn’t the type of QB who seems happy being a backup, nor is he the type that can be relied upon to be a starter. Off sets the good with the bad all too often but does have talent.

 

Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled … and our main feed too: @ProFootbalFocus

 

  • ItsJustWerner

    Seeing as how Peppers is #90, I wonder if Mario would like his old college number. I may be jumping the gun here a bit…

  • corey09f

    I agree with the list for the most part, but Cedric Benson over Michael Bush? Bush is younger, clearly better, has much less wear and tear, and is a better locker room guy. Im not sure Benson deserves to be on this list at all, for he is not better than BJGE, Tolbert, or Ryan Grant, given his age and attitude.

  • dbro0880

    Theres a guy named Peyton Manning???

  • tim tellean

    Did Hardwick retire?

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

    Dielman retired.

    Understand the concerns with Benson, but after discussing it we just felt Benson could still carry a load (just) and worried a little about whether Bush could (a lot of games where he did nothing).