Ranking the 2013 Free Agents: Wide Receivers
Every day this week (and some of next) we’re going to be breaking down the top free agents at each position. It’s more than just looking at our grades, but factoring in longevity, age, injuries and so much more in order to tell you who we think are the best gets out there.
We’re not going to insult your intelligence though when it comes to guys unlikely to hit the open market because of restricted free agency, so don’t expect to see names like Victor Cruz or Brian De La Puente in these pieces. Instead we’re focusing on guys with a real shot at dipping their feet into the free agent pool and making your team better.
1. Greg Jennings – to MIN: 5-year, $45m
2012 Grade: +4.1
2012 Snaps: 531
Summary: An impressive class of receivers is headlined by Greg Jennings, arguably the most complete receiver available, but one coming off some injury concerns. Jennings has speed to burn and is one of the slickest route runners in the league. He is equally at home inside in the slot as he is out wide, and there isn’t a route in the tree he can’t run. While other receivers in this list are best suited to certain offensive systems, there isn’t a system that Jennings wouldn’t fit.
His 2012 season was derailed with injury, but in 2011 Aaron Rodgers had a 124.0 passer rating when targeting Jennings, and Jennings notched nine touchdowns.
If teams are satisfied that Jennings isn’t a durability concern going forward, he should be the marquee receiver and the first guy pursued by multiple teams trying to answer their question at the position. Fast, fluid and efficient with zero character questions, he makes the most sense.
2. Wes Welker – to DEN: 2-year, $12m
2012 Grade: +15.0
2012 Snaps: 1,236
Summary: If any player has overcome odds in their career to become an excellent receiver it is Wes Welker. His emergence really sparked off the trend toward small, quick slot receivers that we now see everywhere, and his production in New England has been little short of astounding. On underneath routes and working across the middle, Welker might be legitimately uncoverable — too fast for linebackers and too quick for defensive backs to stick with him.
The down side to Welker is that he is now 31 (and will be 32 when the 2013 season starts), and despite what announcers will have you believe, he does drop more passes than you would like, even for a high-volume receiver. Last season he led the NFL with 15 drops in the regular season, and his drop percentage of 11.28 was 58th.
If you want to use Welker as an underneath threat, there may be nobody better, but even split wide last year he caught 32 of 44 passes for 11.4 yards and remained efficient. He may not have as high a value outside of New England as he does in Foxboro however.
3. Mike Wallace – to MIA: 5-year, $60m
2012 Grade: -4.5
2012 Snaps: 852
Summary: The wheels fell off the gravy train for Mike Wallace over the past twelve months. Holding out for a better deal last offseason, the Steelers elected to give his money to Antonio Brown instead and let him play out the year. In the new, more conservative offense, Wallace wasn’t half the threat he was in years past and his numbers took a major drop from 2010 and 2011. Wallace still has enough deep speed to scare any corner he comes up against, and may be able to run the top off a defense like no other receiver, but he has never developed the ability to run a complete route tree, and is limited by the number of routes he can effectively run.
That being said, teams value speed and game-breaking ability, and Wallace does have enough in his arsenal to be an effective weapon at all levels of the defense, even if he isn’t the most complete receiver on offer. Wallace may have lost out on the huge pay day he was gunning for, but he should still receive a healthy contract from a team that hasn’t been able to find that game-breaker.
4. Danny Amendola – to NE: 5-year, $31m
2012 Grade: +13.0
2012 Snaps: 524
Summary: If it wasn’t for being built like a high-school kid, Danny Amendola would be one of the league’s better receivers and be commanding a serious payday. The Rams were visibly better on offense when he is on the field, and he operates over the middle in a way only Wes Welker can arguably do better. Amendola led Rams receivers last season in receptions by a dozen, despite playing at least 117 fewer snaps than two of his teammates. Unlike Welker, Amendola does have legitimately impressive hands, especially on those inside routes that routinely come at him at speed. He had just a single drop last year from 75 targets when he lined up in the slot, a mark bettered by just four receivers, none of whom saw as many passes thrown their way.
If you want a perimeter threat, then you need to look elsewhere, but if you need that reliable slot weapon, Amendola is an intriguing option, albeit one that does have durability concerns.
5. Brian Hartline – stays in MIA: 5-year, $30.8m
2012 Grade: +7.1
2012 Snaps: 914
Summary: It speaks volumes that the Miami Dolphins are seen as a team crying out for receiver help and their top WR, Brian Hartline, appears on this list as a potential candidate for other teams. Hartline simply isn’t a No. 1 receiver and doesn’t have the ability of some of the others on this list, but he is capable, can add to an offense, and can occasionally have a huge game (remember Hartline put up 253 yards on 12 catches against the Cardinals in Week 4).
This season he caught 62.7% of all passes thrown his way, and though he scored just a single touchdown, he was moving the ball at 14.6 yards per reception on his way to over 1,000 yards receiving. He isn’t a massive threat after the catch, with just two missed tackles forced on the season, but he is a reliable target. If you need a true No. 1, you might be out of luck, but Hartline can help teams lower down on the depth chart.
6. Brandon Gibson – to MIA: 3-year, $9.8m
2012 Grade: +6.6
2012 Snaps: 794
Summary: I have to confess I’ve always been quite a fan of Brandon Gibson, but he doesn’t seem to be able to string it all together for long enough and eliminate the inconsistency to his game. It’s fair to say that the up-and-down play from his quarterback, Sam Bradford, doesn’t help, but that by no means explains it all.
Gibson ended the season with healthy-looking numbers, but almost all of his grade came from his two biggest performances in terms of receptions and yardage. He had only a single 100+ yard receiving day this season, and had 10 games with three or fewer receptions. Teams will likely have seen enough positive from Gibson to take a look at him.
7. Domenik Hixon – to CAR: 1-year, $1.2m
2012 Grade: +8.2
2012 Snaps: 389
Summary: With the Giants hit by injuries this season, Domenik Hixon found himself with an unexpected opportunity to get back into the lineup and contribute, and he again showed himself to be a capable receiver. He caught 67.2% of the passes thrown his way, topping 500 receiving yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns on his 39 receptions. Hixon is another player that won’t be confused for a stud any time soon, but could easily start for some teams and upgrade plenty of receiving groups. He has an unfortunate syndrome of refusing to run under deep passes, choosing almost every time to instead turn and catch the ball facing back to the quarterback.
8. Randy Moss
2012 Grade: +5.3
2012 Snaps: 416
Summary: Once the most dominant receiver in football and a terrifying prospect for any defender to come up against, now Moss is more a savvy veteran, capable of exploiting what a defense gives him. He claims he isn’t packing it in after this season and he can do a job, albeit a limited one, for a team needing an extra receiver. Can still run deep over coverage if given the time.
9. David Nelson – to CLE: 1-year, $0.5m
2012 Grade: +0.5
2012 Snaps: 30
Summary: The big bodied Nelson missed nearly all of 2012 on injured reserve and with changes ahoy in Buffalo finds himself unlikely to be tendered by the organization this offseason. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for Nelson who possesses the kind of size and talent that plenty of personnel people around the league will think they can exploit. Back in 2011 Nelson emerged as one of the leading slot receivers in the league finishing seventh overall in terms of slot yardage while also contributing three touchdowns from the area. That will should spark the interest of a number of franchises.
10. Braylon Edwards
2012 Grade: +0.4
2012 Snaps: 305
Summary: Outside of one year in Cleveland Edwards has never really up to being the third overall pick in any draft, and having just turned 30 it’s unlikely he ever will. That doesn’t mean he can’t offer something to a team presuming he’s healthy. That’s likely to be in New York with the Jets, where as recently as 2010 he did rack up 904 yards with Mark Sanchez throwing him the ball, while also adding seven regular season touchdowns. For a little money you could make worse moves.
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