Top 75 FAs 2015

| 2 years ago

Top 75 FAs 2015


2015-top75-FAsFree agency is just around the corner and that means we’re joining in the fun of naming our Top 75 Free Agents. Of course these lists come with a degree of subjectivity as you find yourself cross comparing positions, examining potential, and trickiest of all, deciding what kind of impact injury and age are likely to have on a player.

We’ve given it a go after watching every snap from the past year (as well as the seven that preceded it) in painstaking detail. So let’s see who sits atop our list for 2015.

Initial List, published: 02/27 05:00

  1. Justin Houston, Edge Defender: Our top-ranked 3-4 outside linebacker for the past two years, his big sack numbers earned him praise, but there’s still a feeling people don’t realize just how good Houston is. A rare talent to face on each and every down.
  2. Ndamukong Suh, Defensive Interior: Much has been written about Suh and much will be going forward. The one universal truth is that he is destructive on the football field. A feared pass rusher and an improved player of the run, Suh can change a game.
  3. Dez Bryant, Wide Receiver: A true marquee playmaker on the offensive side of the ball, it seems unlikely that Bryant hits the open market. Yet, for as long as he is scheduled for it Bryant is the top offensive player.
  4. Devin McCourty, Safety: After switching from corner early in his career McCourty has really hit his stride as a center fielder that you really shouldn’t try testing. A valuable skill in any era.
  5. Demaryius Thomas, Wide Receiver: Will Denver let him tackle free agency? It seems unlikely, but if the explosive receiver does, a team will get an excellent player. Our fifth-ranked receiver in 2014.
  6. DeMarco Murray, Running Back: The touches he got last year worry you, but he’s the kind of back you could build an offense around. He’ll make you miss, run you over and above all, punish any holes you leave open for him.
  7. Jason Pierre-Paul, Edge Defender: Has never developed into the consistent, elite pass rusher he looked set to be in his early years. Still, his all-around ability saw him rank seventh overall in our 4-3 defensive end rankings.
  8. Greg Hardy, Edge Defender: Would be higher but for his much documented off-the-field issues that will likely see a league mandated suspension. Still, his upside is so high (No. 2 in our 2013 defensive end rankings) that someone will pay him in the short term.
  9. Brandon Flowers, Cornerback: Really silenced the doubts about him after his torrid 2013 with a superb first year in San Diego. Not going to fit in every scheme but put him in the right spot and he’s a top-tier cornerback.
  10. Brandon Graham, Edge Defender: One of the most debated selections. Nobody doubts that Graham is about as deadly a pass rusher per snap as there is available. However, he’s never managed a full workload so will he be up to the task when he lands a contract that dictates big playing time?
  11. Randall Cobb, Wide Receiver: A mismatch in the slot who led the league in slot receiver yardage (1,067). Can he be more than that in an offense that might ask more? Does he need to be?
  12. Terrance Knighton, Defensive Interior: The anchor in the Denver defense, Knighton proved the naysayers wrong with his two years at Mile High showing some stellar run defense. Streaky pass rusher, but offers you more than you might expect in his role.
  13. Nick Fairley, Defensive Interior: Might crack the top three on talent alone, but until he answers the questions about consistently delivering on that, remains something of a gamble. Tremendous upside.
  14. Derrick Morgan, Edge Defender: Not the best run defender in the league and wouldn’t seem the most natural 3-4 outside linebacker, but his talent shone through rushing the passer where he has three years on the back of a grade above +10.0.
  15. Julius Thomas, Tight End: There’s a worry about how he might fare without Peyton Manning throwing him the ball, though no denying he’s the kind of rare athlete defenses have to account for on every down.
  16. Kareem Jackson, Cornerback: Former first-round pick who has done very well to rebuild a reputation that looked almost beyond salvaging after his first two years in the league. Jackson has rebounded with some impressive play and can be one of the better No. 2 corners in the league.
  17. Bryan Bulaga, Offensive Tackle: The best tackle available, Bulaga has battled his injuries and that probably limits what you’re prepared to give him long term, but he’s a very capable right tackle.
  18. Orlando Franklin, Offensive Lineman: Outside of getting a Cliff Avril-sized beating in the Super Bowl, has proved to be a competent right tackle that has thrived at guard. Teams love versatility, especially when you can star at more than one position.
  19. Pernell McPhee, Defensive Lineman: Will need a creative coordinator to get the best out of him, but his ability to win from various techniques is invaluable. Can he handle a full-time workload?
  20. Byron Maxwell, Cornerback: A chance to shine outside of Seattle or a case of the grass not always being greener elsewhere. We may find out just how good Maxwell is if he opts to leave the 12th Man.
  21. Mike Iupati, Offensive Guard: A fun guy to watch in the run game, where he just bulldozes all and sundry. Would be higher if he was healthier and, more importantly, wasn’t such a liability in pass protection.
  22. Rodney Hudson, Center: His desire to be the highest paid center in the game seems a bit ambitious, but there’s no denying he’s emerged as one of the most reliable centers in a league somewhat short on them.
  23. Jerry Hughes, Edge Defender: His trade to Buffalo has been the making of him, though is somewhat streaky pass rush efforts and the overall talent of the Bills’ defense make you think someone might overpay for him.
  24. Jared Odrick, Defensive Interior: Classic ‘tweener lineman who mixes flashes of truly explosive play with spells of inactivity against both the run and pass. Odrick has faded toward the end of the last two years.
  25. Tramon Williams, Cornerback: Six years as a starter and six years worth of positives grades in coverage. Never kicked on after his sublime 2010 to be a truly elite corner, but is one of the most dependable in the league.
  26. Jason Worilds, Edge Defender: There’s always the impression with Worilds that if you catch him on the right Sunday you’ll think you’re watching an All-Pro player. The other 15 weeks of the season? Less so.
  27. Brian Orakpo, Edge Defender: Would be higher but at this stage the sheer volume of injuries and the nature of them mean if you pick him up you’re likely doing so knowing that a full 16 games out of him is unlikely.
  28. Jeremy Maclin, Wide Receiver: Surprised us with a career year coming back from injury after flattering to deceive until that point. Is he more of a one-year wonder or a legit No. 1 receiver?
  29. Clint Boling, Offensive Guard: Boling’s game picked up again in the second half of 2014, a full year past the ACL tear he suffered the season before.
  30. Torrey Smith, Wide Receiver: Smith hasn’t built on his hot start to life in the NFL, but remains one of the scariest deep threats in the league. With that in mind he choose a bad time to catch just eight (and drop five) deep balls in 2014.
  31. Stefen Wisniewski, Center: Consistently impressive run blocker who struggled in pass protection in 2014. Wisniewski has previously shown to be better than that and is the kind of center you can hand a long-term deal to and be comfortable you’re set there.
  32. Chris Culliver, Cornerback: After missing all of 2013 on Injured Reserve came back with a bang and really proved he can be a starter in the league.
  33. Rolando McClain, Linebacker: Question marks about McClain are largely of an off-the-field variety, though it’s important we don’t let one excellent year in Dallas rob us of our memories of his time in Oakland. Still in “prove-it” mode and likely to have to settle for incentive-laden deals.
  34. Doug Free, Offensive Tackle: Looked done in Dallas, but two good years mean he’s back on the radar as a tackle teams will be interested in. Experience at left tackle just adds to his value.
  35. Henry Melton, Defensive Interior: Didn’t do enough to convince Dallas he was worth the long-term deal that he craves, but did enough to convince us that he’s still a terror rushing the passer from the inside.
  36. Rahim Moore, Safety: Another good year for Moore who is the kind of deep safety you feel comfortable with, even if he isn’t a dynamic playmaker like an Earl Thomas.
  37. Brandon Spikes, Linebacker: Born in the wrong era, this two-down terror is as good as it gets disrupting the run game. Limited value, though, because he’s not a guy you’re likely to leave on the field on passing downs.
  38. Jabaal Sheard, Edge Defender: It’s never been easy for him in Cleveland, with constant position switches and competition that you’ve felt the team is more invested in seeing succeed. Sheard is strong against the run and has demonstrated an ability to get pressure.
  39. Antonio Cromartie, Cornerback: Rebuilt his rep in the first half of the season but didn’t follow that up with the kind of strong second half that would have everyone expecting a big short-term deal come his way. Cromartie proved that 2013 was an aberration and can still play.
  40. Charles Clay, Tight End: Versatile weapon who divided opinions on the PFF staff. The feeling is that wherever he lands will give a true impression of just how good he is.
  41. Stephen Paea, Defensive Interior: Classic contract year situation with Paea doing very little until he turned in a starring effort on a poor Bears defense. If he’s that player year in, year out then he’s finishing a lot higher than this.
  42. Justin Forsett, Running Back: The elusive Forsett might be the wrong side of 30 but his limited usage means it’s not unreasonable that a team heavily on a zone blocking system can’t expect good returns from him for a couple of years.
  43. Rashean Mathis, Cornerback: The end may be near, but if Mathis can creak one year out similar to what he did in 2014 then he’s a good get for near enough any team.
  44. Mark Ingram, Running Back: Showed more in 2014 than he ever had, but the lack of work he does in the passing game will always limit his value.
  45. Sean Weatherspoon, Linebacker: Lots of talent, lots of question marks. Weatherspoon has struggled for consistency (despite his tendency to make plays) and health, but there’s no doubting he’s a force when everything clicks.
  46. Lance Briggs, Linebacker: Not the player he once was, but had such a head start that he could afford to drop off and still be better than most. Still Father Time remains undefeated and coming off an injury shortened year he won’t have the market he might have hoped for if he continues playing.
  47. Sterling Moore, Cornerback: Something of an afterthought as part of a Dallas defense expected to be historically bad, was a pleasant surprise as the unit surpassed the wildest expectations.
  48. Dan Williams, Defensive Interior: Never fit into an Arizona defense that saw him as a base package player and will surely look to land somewhere that he might get more playing time.
  49. Ryan Mathews, Running Back: History with fumbles and injury well documented, but a graceful runner with more power than credited with. High ceiling, low floor.
  50. Da’Norris Searcy, Safety: Former fourth-round pick would represent something of a gamble since he’s never held down an every-down role, but looked the part as part of a rotation in 2014 to suggest he could be a nice find.
  51. Jordan Cameron, Tight End: Big injury red flag and streaky production. Top-end athleticism will entice a team who, if they can get the best out of him, will find one of those pesky mismatches.
  52. Dwight Freeney, Edge Defender: Might be nearing the end but he’s still got the kind of burst to the edge (and spin inside) that means he will get pressure. Best ticketed for a sub-package role.
  53. C.J. Spiller, Running Back: Two terrible years make 2012 seem such a long time ago, but perhaps a healthier Spiller behind a better line will see this explosive talent reach his potential.
  54. Brian De La Puente, Center: Wherever he has played has always done a good job. An extremely solid center that deserves a shot at being the starter.
  55. Corey Peters, Defensive Interior: Rebounded nicely from a devastating Achilles injury with a solid 2014 effort. Teams will surely hope that a year further removed will see him closing in on the form that had many rightfully praising him during the 2013 season.
  56. Perrish Cox, Cornerback: Versatile corner who can play outside or in. He won’t be your stud defensive back but if you have to start him you won’t feel a big play is inevitable.
  57. Mike Adams, Safety: Been around the league for a while now and always delivered when called upon, but isn’t getting any younger.
  58. Dawan Landry, Safety: Landry’s time in Jacksonville wasn’t the success he was hoping for, but he rebuilt himself replacing his brother in New York. A stop gap at this stage of his career.
  59. David Harris, Linebacker: Works well when you can keep blocks off him, has experience leading a defense and has a knack for making plays.
  60. Kenny Britt, Wide Receiver: Put forth the kind of year you didn’t expect from. Far from a rollercoaster Britt was solid without channeling the play that set him apart earlier in his career.
  61. James Harrison, Edge Defender: His time in Cincinnati pushed him towards retirement, but he found himself in a better spot back in Pittsburgh he was back to making plays. Plenty of teams would benefit from what he brings on a one-year deal.
  62. Michael Crabtree, Wide Receiver: Feels like an awful long time ago (2012) that Crabtree was one of the league’s most promising receivers, with a scary ability after the catch to do damage. Is he still that guy? Can a team more committed to passing find him?
  63. C.J. Mosley, Defensive Interior: Every team needs a Mosley. Not an ideal starter but a quality backup who can fill in for a guy missing for any number of reasons.
  64. Shane Vereen, Running Back: Time in New England hasn’t shown him to be anything more than a situational back, which has value, just not as much as his agent might like.
  65. Derek Newton, Offensive Tackle: Really turned his career around with a surprising 2014 season that saw him really impress in the run game (even if there were a couple of games that he won’t want to watch again).
  66. Bradley Fletcher, Cornerback: Another one of those guys the staff was in different places on. There was a feeling that Philadelphia left him on an island more than they should have and he got beat an awful lot more than you’d like.
  67. Patrick Robinson, Cornerback: First-rounder who has struggled to find playing time after not living up to the tag. Looked better at times in 2014 with less pressure on him.
  68. Eddie Royal, Wide Receiver: There’s always a place for a quick inside receiver like Royal who brings with him the ability to damage in the screen game.
  69. Frank Gore, Running Back: Gore still has something left but the recent history of aging running backs with a lot of wear and tear is not encouraging when they move in free agency.
  70. Virgil Green, Tight End: Intriguing player who blocked well while being buried in terms of targets given the options that Denver had. At the very least, a good No. 2 option for a team.
  71. Owen Daniels, Tight End: Proved there’s still a role for him in the NFL with a nice season filling in for Dennis Pitta.
  72. Walter Thurmond, Cornerback: Injuries ruined his season with the Giants, but let’s not forget his time with Seattle and his ability to line up on the outside and in the slot.
  73. Knowshon Moreno, Running Back: More injuries, less productivity but fewer miles on the clock than Frank Gore. His season with Miami should scare suitors off in the short term, but he has feature back experience.
  74. Brooks Reed, Linebacker: Not the most productive pass rusher you’ll ever see but has shown the flexibility to play inside and outside linebacker that will appeal to teams.
  75. Davon House, Cornerback: Has flashed talent but never got on the field long enough that you’re convinced by what you’re seeing. Something of a gamble with upside.

 

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| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

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