NFL Free Agents 2012: 10 Players Who'll Be Steals After the Draft
The NFL free-agent market is not exactly flush with game-changers or players who fans would be excited to see lineup for their team.
More quality can be found in the bargain DVD bin at Wal-Mart than the scraps left for NFL teams via free agency.
While teams will be trying to fill their holes via the draft on Thursday, it is unlikely every team will fill every hole it has. Teams' attention will once again turn to free agents in order to find the final piece or two of the puzzle.
Through all of the free agent equivalents of Dumb & Dumberer, Semi Pro and The Marine, a team just might find something of value.
Here are a look at 10 free-agent steals that will be available after the draft.
Ryan Grant Is the Best Available Running Back Left
Ryan Grant is probably on the downside of his career at 29 years old. That does not mean he cannot be a contributor in the right situation.
Grant averaged 4.2 yards per carry with the Packers last season and seemed to be health enough after a 2010 plagued by injury. There is no reason to not think he could come in and get some yards for a team who has a premier back or even be a starter for a pass-first team.
He is certainly a better option than Cedric Benson, who looked washed up last season, or Tim Hightower, who is coming off a serious ACL injury.
The Patriots have shown an interest in him, but few more teams hoping to get a RB in the draft may have to shift their attention to Grant should they fail to grab one in the draft.
Visanthe Shiancoe Could Be a Red Zone Monster
All the free agent talk about tight ends seems to begin and end with Dallas Clark. A few teams could use a solid TE, and the draft is not exactly brimming with them.
Visanthe Shiancoe could be an absolute steal for a team needing a second TE. While not as exciting as Clark, he is certainly more durable and is a presence in the red zone.
Shianoce's numbers have dropped since 2009 when he caught 56 passes and 11 touchdowns, but then again, the Vikings have had issues at quarterback in that time.
Playing with a quality quarterback should see Shiancoe post numbers closer to what he did in 2008 and 2009.
Plaxico Burress Will Produce in 2012
Plaxico Burress did not exactly set the world alight with his play in 2011, but after not playing for two seasons, he did an admirable job.
A lot of teams will shy away from Burress because of his past history and age, but he has another season or two left in him.
Burress should be sharper in 2012 than he was in 2011, and he certainly has the ability to surpass his numbers from last year.
Every free agent receiver left on the market has baggage, but Burress is one of the few whose risk his relatively low and whose reward could be high.
Max Starks a Could Be the Gamble That Pays off
Max Starks is coming off of another injury after tearing his ACL in the playoff against the Broncos. This is the second consecutive season Starks suffered a serious injury.
However, with tackles so hard to find and Starks' obvious talent, he could be bargain for a team willing to take a massive gamble on health.
Starks played well for the Steelers after re-signing with the team in Week 5 of the season. It is unlikely he would be ready by the start of training camp, but he should be up to speed by the start of the season.
If he can stay health, Starks could be one of the best free-agent signings of 2012.
Chad Clifton Could Solidify an Offensive Line
If signing Max Starks represents a gamble, then taking a flyer on Chad Clifton is a blindfolded shot in the dark after being spun around 100 times.
Clifton was cut by the Green Bay Packers after failing a physical, and his future is very much up in the air at this point.
He is not the player he was, but he is still one of the better tackles in the league and could help out quite a few teams with his leadership and toughness.
Green Bay's loss will be another team's gain, as tackles like Clifton are hard to find.
Aubrayo Franklin Has the Size and Skill to Be a FA Steal
There are not a ton of players left on the free-agent market who can play nose tackle. Aubrayo Franklin is by far the most talented available.
He has the size to clog up the middle and be an above-average run-stopper. His experience means that Franklin is a safer bet than going with a nose tackle in the later rounds of the draft.
It can never hurt to have extra size in the trenches, and Franklin is certainly loaded, but with more skill than a lot of stiffs currently plying their trade as defensive tackles in the NFL.
Jim Leonhard Should Have No Trouble Finding a New Team
Jim Leonhard looked good in 2011 before succumbing to a PCL injury late in the season.
A reliable safety, it is a bit surprising Leonhard is still free agent. He has been injured in each of the past two seasons, but whatever team signs him will be getting a good player.
The former Wisconsin Badger is not an impact player in the secondarylike some other safeties in the league. What he lacks in game-changing ability, though, he makes up for with his intelligence and toughness.
It seems likely Leonhard will stay in New York. However, the longer the Jets wait, the opportunity for another team to sneak in and sign him grows.
Kelly Jennings Will Be a Secondary Steal
Last season was not the best for Kelly Jennings. He never really found his feet in Cincinnati after five decent seasons in Seattle.
The reality is that he is decent in coverage and an above-average tackler, but he's probably not talented enough to be a starter.
However, Jennings would be a cost-effective pickup for a team needing help with its nickel package.
It is unlikely he will play as badly in 2012 as he did in 2011. Jennings does have some upside and is one of the better cornerbacks still available.
Matt Leinart Just Might Be Worth a Shot
It was a shame to see Matt Leinart get injured almost immediately after getting his shot to start for the Texans.
In his brief time behind center for Houston, he looked good. It may have only been for like 20 minutes in total, but it was a lot better than his dreadful last days with the Cardinals.
The consensus is that Vince Young is the best backup quarterback left in free agency. Leinart is probably a better fit for most teams, though, and he could even surprise some people.
Teams looking for backup QBs after the draft do have a dearth of choices left.
The worst-case scenario is Leinart gets into a few games and implodes. There is a chance that he may prove that he is not a complete bust, though.
That is, of course, if he even gets into a game this season.
Keith Brooking Provides Reliability and Durability
There are plenty of options for teams looking for a veteran linebacker after the draft. E.J. Henderson, James Farrior and Gary Brackett are all guys who could come in and get the job done.
Keith Brooking gets the nod on this list simply because the odds are he will play in every game next season. Brooking has not missed a game since he entered the league in 2002.
His production is on the wane, and he is certainly no longer the force he once was. However, there is a chance he could improve on his 2011 production.
Brooking will give some team added depth at linebacker while being as reliable as he is durable.
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