2012 NFL Free Agents: Ranking the Targets by Bust Factor

James ToljCorrespondent IIJanuary 17, 2012

2012 NFL Free Agents: Ranking the Targets by Bust Factor

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    There is no way to tell how well an NFL free agent will fit in with the team he decides to sign with, but building the team through free agency can be just as crucial as filling needs through the NFL Draft.

    And just like the players taken in the NFL Draft, a free agent can be a total bust.

    Some players will get huge contracts that they don't deserve and play poorly, while others will get small deals for a year or two and exceed any expectations set for them.

    Two Green Bay Packers have a good chance of signing with another team but aren't great prospects.

    A starting running back is likely heading to a new team as well, but he will be facing some free agent competition at his position.

    The NFL could see a group of fantastic wideouts switching teams, and a 36-year-old linebacker could be the biggest steal of the offseason. 

Matt Flynn, QB

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    The price for Matt Flynn may never be higher after he threw for six touchdowns against the Detroit Lions in Week 17.

    Think of Flynn as the next Kevin Kolb. Flynn hasn't started more than a handful of games in his four year career, and this season his only start was against the Lions.

    Flynn did throw 31 completions on 44 attempts for 480 yards and six touchdowns against a subpar Lions secondary (and one interception), but is it smart for a team to spend a boatload of money on a quarterback who has just 132 pass attempts in four years?

    The NFL Draft is extremely thin at the quarterback position which could also make Flynn's value sky high.

    The former LSU Tiger could end up being a solid NFL quarterback, but with all the risk involved, handing him the reigns to a franchise could be a very costly mistake,

    Potential Bust Rating: Astronomical

Ryan Grant, RB

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    A running backs' shelf life isn't very long in the NFL, and after losing to the New York Giants in the divisional playoff round, it looks as if the Green Bay Packers will go with a younger group of running backs next season.

    Ryan Grant is currently 29 years old, but the former Notre Dame running back could have a year or two in the tank.

    He sat out all of 2010 with an ankle injury, but he came back and posted decent numbers for the Packers even though he shared carries with a committee of others.

    Grant had 559 yards on 132 carries. He average 4.2 yards per rushing attempt and scored three touchdowns.

    It is always risky to take in an older runner, but Grant could get picked up by a team that needs an experienced running back to impart wisdom to the younger guys.

    Also, Grant won't be asking a hefty price for his services, so a team could get him on the cheap. But a team that is looking for an impact player needs to look elsewhere

    Potential Bust Rating: High

Cedric Benson, RB

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    Cedric Benson may have played his last game with the Cincinnati Bengals. He had a decent year for the team, but his 1,067 yards with six touchdowns and an unspectacular 3.9 yards per carry average might not have been enough to keep him in Cincinnati.

    There has been no indication that the Bengals will re-sign him for next season, and numerous mock drafts project a running back to the team.

    Adding to the uncertainty surrounding Benson, CBSSports.com's Josh Katzowitz writes that Marvin Lewis has wanted to get Bernard Scott more time, and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden stated, "Really, to me, on a good football team nobody should worry about who’s scoring or who’s getting the ball so long as the team is moving.”

    Gruden was obviously attacking Benson over his displeasure with sharing carries with Scott, and it seems the team would be willing to let him go.

    Marshawn Lynch, Ray Rice, Arian Foster, LeGarrette Blount and Matt Forte are more than likely returning to their respective teams, but Peyton Hillis, Michael Bush and Benjarvis Green-Ellis top the list of players who will be fighting for big contracts on different teams.

    Benson could provide a boost to a team's running attacks, but his troubles with the law and reluctance to share carries probably won't earn him a very big or long-term contract.

    Potiental Bust Rating: Medium

John Carlson, TE

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    Is the Seattle Seahawks organization the place where tight ends' statistics go to die?

    That is what Zach Miller must be thinking after he went from catching 60 passes in 2010 with the Oakland Raiders to just 25 in 2011 with Seattle, but John Carlson had two solid 50-plus catch seasons before dropping of in 2011 to 31 receptions (with a different quarterback).

    Well, the Seahawks' less publicized tight end might be staying in Seattle and battling Miller for catches anyway.

    Carlson was hurt this season with a torn labrum and didn't play a single regular season snap. Most fans assume that he won't remain on the team next season, but they could be wrong.

    Pete Caroll has said that the Seahawks want to use Carlson in two tight end sets alongside Miller as reported by Eric Williams on thenewstribune.com, and Caroll is excited about seeing the two play together.

    With quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who rarely found his tight end this season, under center and another more expensive tight end already on the roster in Miller, keeping Carlson may prove to be a bad decision. 

    But if Carroll begins to draw up more targets for Carlson in his game plan, or if Carlson can find his way to a team that will utilize his talent, then he could be a solid pickup even after taking this year off.

    Potential Bust Rating: Medium

DeSean Jackson, WR

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    Wherever DeSean Jackson ends up, he will be looking for a Mt. Everest sized contract.

    Jackson has a ton of talent, and most of that skill revolves around his superb speed. Jackson can burn past defensive backs with ease, but sometimes he looks unfocused on the field.

    So, it really comes down to which Jackson a team will get. But either way, he is likely to have a productive season.

    In 2011, Jackson had 58 receptions for 966 yards and four touchdowns. While that might seem like underachieving for someone with such amazing abilities, Jackson didn't stray far from his career averages. 

    However, next season most fans expect Jackson to take a step forward .

    With the right team (and that team actually might be the one he played on this season), Jackson could end among the elite players at his position. 

    The only worry here is signing Jackson to a huge contract and getting only 50 receptions out of him, but he will add a spark to any team's offense and return game.

    Potential Bust Rating: Medium

London Fletcher, ILB

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    London Fletcher isn't getting any younger, but the 36-year-old linebacker can still play.

    In fact, he led the NFL in tackles with 166 on the year, and he was one of the sturdiest pieces of the Washington Redskins defense. 

    You can book it that Fletcher will bring in well over 100 tackles on the season for any team that he plays for next season.

    He also had 1.5 sacks, two interceptions, eight passes defended and three forced fumbles. While Fletcher isn't as explosive as he once was, he provides much more than tackling.  

    Fletcher won't be getting a long-term deal. His age won't allow a team to invest in him for more than a year or two tops. But if a team can bring Fletcher in while a younger linebacker learns under him, he would be an invaluable addition to a number of teams looking for experience and depth at inside linebacker.

    Potential Bust Rating: Low

Steve Johnson, WR

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    The Buffalo Bills will do everything in their power to re-sign Steve Johnson, but they aren't willing to pay an arm and a leg for him 25-year-old wideout.

    Johnson fought through numerous injuries this season but still posted solid statistics. He finished the year with 76 receptions for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns. 

    The Bills wide receiver has a number of highly coveted qualities. As Darrelle Revis found out this season, Johnson is almost impossible to press. He is extremely dangerous in the red zone on slant routes, and although he has gotten chastised by some NFL fans for a few drops late in games, he does have great hands.

    One can complain about Johnson's propensity for drawing penalties for his post-touchdown antics, but at least he keeps things interesting (and hopefully he will learn to wait until the game is put away before he breaks them out)  

    Any team that adds Johnson to the roster will be making a solid addition. As long as he doesn't ask for top 10 receiver money, then he will be a steal.

    Potential Bust Rating: Very Low