2012 NFL Free Agents: Grading the Top Available Players at Each Position
With the big-ticket players like Peyton Manning and Mario Williams off the market, some may think that there are no valuable commodities left on the market.
On the contrary, this is one of the most crucial times in the NFL offseason.
For a number of teams, a bargain-basement move over the next few days could greatly contribute to a Super Bowl run.
Here are the top free-agent players remaining at each position, complete with analysis and player grades.
QB: Vince Young
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Also considered: Donovan McNabb
Analysis: Young's lack of maturity and accuracy far outweighs his top-tier athleticism.
The former Eagle is not suited for a starting role in the NFL until he can string together a few good performances and prove that he's grown up.
If I needed a capable backup who could play the position in a pinch, I'd take a one- or two-year flier on Young, but that's about it.
RB: Cedric Benson
John Grieshop/Getty Images
Also considered: Joseph Addai
Analysis: While he doesn't fit in with many of the hybrid running backs that are so popular in today's game, Benson could carry the load for a team and rack up tough yards.
He is not a very fast tailback, however, and his suspect hands will certainly hurt his value on the open market.
When Benson is at his best, he is a bruiser who runs between the tackles and fights for every yard. This man should be the first option for any team that needs a workhorse in the backfield.
WR: Mike Wallace
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Status: RFA (first-round tender)
Also considered: Plaxico Burress
Analysis: This Steeler wideout is a restricted free agent with a first-round tender, meaning a team would have to fork over a first-round selection (to Pittsburgh) in addition to whatever money they give Wallace.
The pass-catcher is one of the league's top few receivers and has one of the best skill sets in the NFL for his position, but he gets graded down for the high price it would take to pry him from Pittsburgh.
Wallace can take the top off of the defense and stretch the field wherever he goes. If a team is thinking about signing him, they should already have a top-tier quarterback in place and a lot of cap room to spare.
TE Jeremy Shockey
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Also considered: Dallas Clark
Analysis: Though he didn't crack 500 yards or five touchdowns last year, Shockey graciously accepted his role as a No. 2 tight end and was key in Cam Newton's development.
I can't grade him too highly because he is not a great blocker and his pass-catching skills are waning, but he could provide veteran leadership and be a good No. 2 tight end.
I can't see Shockey getting much more than a one-year deal, but he'd be a solid, cheap pickup for a team in need.
OT: Demetrius Bell
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Also considered: Marcus McNeill
Analysis: With a limited body of work to judge as well as some injury concerns, we can't grade Bell in the "B" range just yet, but he certainly played well at the beginning of 2011.
When healthy, No. 77 is an above-average pass blocker who gets the job done.
Teams looking for a starter on the left side of the offensive line would be wise to give the tackle a mid-range deal with incentives for staying on the field.
OG: Vernon Carey
Doug Benc/Getty Images
Also considered: Jacob Bell
Analysis: Carey is a good anchor piece at the right guard position. Even though guards don't get much air time, this player is worth signing.
The former Miami Dolphin was able to clear holes all year for Reggie Bush and, despite being 30 years old, is still a very good run-blocker whom an offensive coordinator could build a run scheme around.
NFL teams are certainly paying attention to where this domino will fall. Look for Carey to get a solid deal with a club that needs better run blocking up front.
C: Dan Koppen
Al Bello/Getty Images
Also considered: Casey Wiegmann
Analysis: Nothing much to see at the center position except for a few elder statesmen that can be counted on for a short while.
Koppen missed almost all of last year with a broken ankle, and at age 32, teams are wondering whether or not he can really bounce back.
The former Patriot is a good locker-room guy and could be worth a short contract for a team still looking for an answer at center.
DE: Desmond Bryant
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Status: RFA (second-round tender)
Also considered: Luis Castillo
Analysis: Bryant is a 26-year-old, Harvard-educated, productive 3-4 defensive end with just a second-round tender on him—there's a lot to like here.
In an attacking Raiders defense last year, the 6'5" behemoth racked up 35 tackles and five sacks, which are impressive numbers considering the position he plays.
A team would be well suited to fork over a second-round pick in the interest of signing Bryant to a long-term offer sheet.
DT: Derek Landri
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Also considered: Antonio Garay
Analysis: Derek Landri did a lot of good things as a backup defensive tackle on the Eagles last year, outperforming his role and being very productive in limited playing time.
Even though he almost didn't make the roster out of training camp, Landri was able to secure a spot and become a valuable lineman for Philadelphia.
With the high volume of teams in the NFL still running the 4-3, bringing in this former Eagle as a rotational tackle would be a very smart move.
OLB: Leroy Hill
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Also considered: Manny Lawson (Update: Lawson says he's returning to Cincinnati)
Analysis: In an expanded role last season, Leroy Hill responded with a solid 89 tackles and proved that he is a legitimate option for any team that needs a starting outside linebacker.
Hill is better against the run than he is in pass coverage. Don't be surprised if a 3-4 team signs him to play inside linebacker.
Pushing 30 years of age, this former Seahawk can still contribute to an NFL team on a short-term contract.
MLB: London Fletcher
Larry French/Getty Images
Also considered: Gary Brackett
Analysis: Say whatever you want about his age, London Fletcher gets the job done year in and year out.
Write him down for 16 games and 130 tackles next season and possibly even for the season after that. Fletcher is one of the most consistent players in the NFL, and his age hasn't stopped him.
After leading the NFL in tackles last season, Fletcher deserves a two-year contract for a good amount of money—he is a top-five middle linebacker right now.
CB: Lardarius Webb
Al Bello/Getty Images
Status: RFA (first-round tender)
Also considered: Marcus Trufant
Analysis: Mike Wallace is a great player, but it's possible that Lardarius Webb is the best player still on the market.
Webb, like Wallace, gets graded down for having a first-round tender slapped on him, but the former Raven cornerback is certainly worth the draft pick.
According to Walter Football, Webb allowed just a 54.6 percent completion rate last year and picked off seven passes while allowing no touchdowns. Lardarius Webb has arrived and is a top-five corner.
FS: Oshiomogho Atogwe
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Also considered: Husain Abdullah
Analysis: When he's healthy, OJ Atogwe is a great football player who makes plays on the ball and racks up tackles.
The only problem is that Atogwe started only eight games last season and just turned 30 years old.
He is worth the money, but the number of years and guaranteed dollars will certainly be a sticking point in contract negotiations between an NFL team and Atogwe's agent.
SS: Yeremiah Bell
Marc Serota/Getty Images
Also considered: Melvin Bullitt
Analysis: Yeremiah Bell is a veteran leader and a tackling machine at strong safety. He would have received a much higher grade except for his age and lack of pass-coverage skills. In eight NFL seasons, Bell has brought down just six interceptions.
At the right price, he's worth a contract for a team that has good ballhawks in the secondary and needs an enforcer at the strong safety position.
K: Neil Rackers
Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images
Also considered: Steven Hauschka
Analysis: In terms of accuracy, Rackers had a bit of an off year in 2011 and now finds himself unemployed going into April.
Going 32-of-38 on field-goal attempts, the former Texan's 84.2 field-goal percentage was down from a solid 90.0 percent in 2010.
Teams could do a lot worse, though, and Rackers will find himself on an NFL roster soon enough.
P: Donnie Jones
Jay Drowns/Getty Images
Also considered: Dave Zastudil
Analysis: I could have gone with Dave Zastudil here, who actually had a better year in 2011, but Jones has a proven track record as a great punter.
Jones had 105 punts on the season in 2011, the most in the NFL, and he would be worth a contract for the high number of teams looking for a punter right now.
The former Ram could be a valuable addition to an NFL roster next year and I expect him to sign somewhere soon.
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