The NFL free-agency period is quickly winding down as the draft approaches and teams scramble to leave themselves with only a few gaps still to fill.
At this point, the best free agents available at each position have already signed with their 2012 teams.
The players who are still without contracts are generally more modest in their talents, although they still have plenty of potential to contribute on the field. In fact, there may still be a few diamonds in the rough that haven’t yet been snapped up.
Which available free agents are the best men for their respective jobs? Here are a few who should be the top prospects of the remaining candidates.
Plaxico Burress may have suffered from shooting himself in the leg (both physically and through time in prison), but he proved in 2011 that he is still capable of contributing plenty of big plays in the NFL.
Provided that Burress can accept that he is no longer worth the price he thinks he can command, he should be able to continue making a difference as a third or fourth receiver. In the context of that lesser role, Burress is one of the better receivers left on the market.
Joseph Addai was one of many pieces in an offensive puzzle that failed to produce results in Indianapolis. His lack of production over the past several years resulted in his being part of the housecleaning process that Indianapolis has undertaken.
Addai’s numbers for the past four years may not be terribly impressive, but he has more left to offer a potential team than stats may indicate if he can stay healthy for an entire season. He has the potential to be an excellent supporting player in a pass-happy offense like the one he came from.
Coming from the lackluster Miami Dolphins defense, Yeremiah Bell managed to stand out from the rest.
He has recorded over 100 tackles—the vast majority of them solo efforts for each of the past four seasons—making him a solid defensive presence. In 2011, that dominance made him arguably one of the better safeties in the league.
Bell won’t be returning to the Dolphins for another season, but this may be in his best interest. With a more reliable performance from the defensive unit as a whole, Bell may be able to blossom into a true team leader.
Due to a combination of injury and failure to click with quarterback Alex Smith, Braylon Edwards was unable to become the wide receiver that 49ers fans were hoping he could be. For that, he’ll be back on the free-agent market to wait for another team to take a chance on him.
While Edwards has never had the production of a career No. 1 wide receiver, he has been extremely successful in a supporting role. His average of 12.1 yards per catch last season were a career low, so it’s not unreasonable to expect him to bounce back with a healthy season and a change of scenery.
A promising player whose career has been sidelined by injury, Tim Hightower has the potential to be the explosive every-down running back that many teams are searching for.
After three unremarkable seasons in Arizona where he was unable to reach that all-important 1,000-yard mark, Hightower seemed to finally be on track to hit that milestone in Washington.
Whether he could have maintained that pace all season is all speculation now, but based on what he showed before he was injured, Hightower could be a bruising addition to a team in need of a powerhouse running back.
Perhaps the best running back left on the free-agent market, Cedric Benson is coming off of his third 1,000-yard rushing season in a row. He may no longer be a part of the Cincinnati Bengals, but he certainly found his equilibrium as a starting running back there.
It’s too bad that there seems to be a slow running back market this offseason, coupled with a flood of veteran talent looking for new homes.
Benson may find himself at a slight disadvantage compared to some of the other talent out there if his off-the-field behavior is taken into account, but other than that he’s still young and clearly able to produce. He will be an excellent pickup for whichever team eventually signs him.