7 Under-the-Radar 2012 NFL Free Agents to Keep an Eye on
While the 2012 free agency period is still far off, it is never too early to start looking at which prospects will end up where.
With teams like the Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders only a piece or two away from becoming legitimate contenders, there is bound to be some major free-agency excitement in the offseason.
Here are seven under-the-radar 2012 free agents to keep an eye on, as their final destination could shake up the league.
Josh Johnson: Quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
J. Meric/Getty Images
Josh Johnson was stuck behind Josh Freeman on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' depth chart this year. In his one start, he threw for 229 yards and a touchdown and added another 45 yards on the ground.
Johnson will be entering his fourth year during the 2012-2013 season. He was drafted as a developmental player, and while he hasn't fully developed yet, he looks close to ready to take over a starting quarterback position.
While Matt Flynn will garner the most attention in the offseason—outside of quarterbacks drafted in the 2012 NFL Draft—Johnson could also be a surprise by signing for a team like the Washington Redskins or Seattle Seahawks, who both have late first-round picks.
Steve Slaton: Running Back, Miami Dolphins
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Steve Slaton had one of the quickest falls from grace in recent memory. Just three years ago, Slaton was a rookie who rushed for over 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns.
Now, he's the third-string running back for the Miami Dolphins. He'll be a free-agent in 2012, and while I don't see him becoming a starting running back, he could find a roster spot as a backup.
Since he is so young, and no one really knows where his talent went, Slaton could potentially become a decent backup and provide a team with a boost as a second option at running back.
Harry Douglas: Wide Receiver, Atlanta Falcons
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
When given the opportunity this year, Harry Douglas proved that he has the ability to be an explosive player in the right offense.
While filling in for injured Julio Jones in Week 10, Douglas had eight receptions for 133 yards. He has good hands, quickness and can make plays down the field.
He may not be a true No. 1 receiver for a team, but he could easily be a second or third option. Look for there to be a surprise bidding war on Douglas from teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, St. Louis Rams and other teams in need of serious talent at the receiver position.
Jacob Tamme: Tight End, Indianapolis Colts
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Although Jacob Tamme didn't have a good year in 2011, his 2010 season was spectacular while filling in for Dallas Clark. He recorded 67 receptions, 631 yards and four touchdowns.
While Tamme isn't an overly athletic tight end, he still has good hands, and can also be used as an extra blocker. He will never have Jimmy Graham or Jermichael Finley-type production, but he could turn into a solid starting tight end.
For teams that are looking to boost their offense, Tamme is an under-the-radar guy who could step in to help right away.
London Fletcher: Middle Linebacker, Washington Redskins
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
You might be wondering how one of the better linebackers in the league can be an under-the-radar free agent, and the reality is that London Fletcher is quite possibly the most underrated player in the NFL.
So, of course he is going to fly under the radar this offseason.
Fletcher has been spectacular for the past decade or so, but no one seems to notice or recognize. He's easily been the best player on the Washington Redskins, and if they lose him to free agency, their defense will take a major hit.
If Fletcher does leave, look for the team to sign him to instantly improve their defense. If a team like the Tennessee Titans or Arizona Cardinals can convince him to leave Washington, they could become a dark-horse playoff contender.
Ronde Barber: Cornerback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
There is some speculation that Ronde Barber will retire after spending 15 years in the NFL.
However, he is still a capable cornerback, and if he doesn't re-sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he could improve another team's secondary as a nickelback.
Barber won't garner nearly as much attention as Nnamdi Asomugha did during the 2011 offseason, but he may be a more important player to the team he signs with, if he doesn't retire.
Jim Leonhard: Safety, New York Jets
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
When you look at Jim Leonhard's defensive statistics, they certainly don't jump off the page. However, when you look at his impact on a team, he is an extremely impressive player.
When Leonhard went down with a season-ending injury in Week 14, the New York Jets lost their remaining three games. A big reason why they lost these games was because of the loss of Leonhard's leadership in the secondary.
Leonhard may not get the coverage of Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed, but he is arguably just as important to his team as those players are to their team.
A young defense in need of leadership could definitely make a big offer on Leonhard to instantly improve their defense.