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2012 NFL Free Agents: Ranking the Best Remaining Players Available

Shawn BrubakerContributor IIMay 17, 2012

2012 NFL Free Agents: Ranking the Best Remaining Players Available

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    Though the majority of blue-chip NFL free agents have already been scooped up, there remain a few diamonds in the rough who could help teams this season.

    These guys will be crucial for teams that didn't fill their needs in the draft or, even more likely, teams that are struck by injury.

    Though they weren't the first choices for teams, these 26 free agents have the potential to make some serious noise during the 2012 season.

26. Plaxico Burress

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    Former Jets receiver Plaxico Burress had a disappointing season in 2011, but he still showed that he has the size and jump-ball ability to be a solid red-zone threat.

    Plax caught eight touchdowns last year, showing that he can still be a productive receiver. At 34 years old, he's somewhat limited in what he can do, but he could still find a niche as a jump-ball threat.

    Burress hasn't garnered much interest so far, but he could be a solid injury replacement for a team that needs some size at the receiver position.

25. Cedric Benson

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    Cedric Benson is primarily known as a slow, old running back, but he still has the ability to make an impact if given a chance.

    Benson will turn 30 in December, but he has had a light workload in his seven seasons, which could lengthen his career.

    As for his ability, Benson does lack speed, but he makes up for that with good power that could lend itself to a second career as a goal-line back.

    Any team looking to add a bit of power to its backfield should consider adding Benson. If signed to an incentive-laden contract, he could surprise this season.

24. Braylon Edwards

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    Injuries shattered his 2011 season, but Braylon Edwards is still capable of solid production.

    Though he is no longer the same receiver who caught 16 touchdowns in 2007, Edwards is still tall and reasonably fast for his size. He is a capable deep threat, but his shaky hands are a major issue.

    Edwards is one of the last free-agent receivers with starting ability. He could be a solid injury replacement or complementary receiver.

23. Dennis Dixon

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    Not often does a quarterback with high upside like Dixon make it to the open market. Even more rare is when such a quarterback doesn't garner major interest on the open market.

    Dixon has been impressive when given the chance, but the Steelers prefer their older, more experienced backup quarterbacks. He has impressive speed, arm strength and moxie, but he is still raw as a prospect.

    A team looking for a developmental prospect should take a shot on Dixon, as he has the upside to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.

22. Visanthe Shiancoe

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    Visanthe Shiancoe will probably never catch 11 touchdowns again like he did in 2009, but after four straight seasons with over 400 yards receiving, he has proven he can still get it done.

    While he is not elite in any one area, Shiancoe is a solid player who could be an excellent complementary piece to an offense that needs an extra tight end. 

    He would also be a good injury replacement. Although Shiancoe may be on the market for a while, he should make an impact when he is finally signed.

21. Ryan Longwell

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    The only remaining specialist worth signing, Ryan Longwell is a solid kicker who has had a reliable, long career.

    Longwell has showcased solid accuracy throughout his career, maintaining a field-goal percentage of over 80 percent in 12 of his 14 seasons. Despite his age, he also has solid leg strength, booting a 53-yard field goal last year.

    While he'll probably have to wait for an injury, Longwell should definitely be kicking again in 2012, and he still has the ability to be an excellent option.

20. Matt Roth

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    Versatility is the name of Matt Roth's game, and some team will benefit from that versatility in 2012.

    Roth can play both outside linebacker and defensive end well, and he excels at setting the edge in run defense. 

    While injuries are a concern, Roth could still be an excellent role player who will excel at stopping the run in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense.

19. Eric Steinbach

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    Injuries robbed Eric Steinbach of his 2011 season, but when healthy, he is capable of being one of the top guards in the NFL. 

    Steinbach possesses monstrous size at 6'6", and he is also a good athlete. His athleticism gives him the flexibility to play in a variety of offensive schemes.

    If Steinbach can rebound from his back injury, he could prove to be a steal in free agency. While that's a big "if," it could just be worth the risk.

18. Billy Volek

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    That Billy Volek never got the chance to be a long-term starting quarterback in the NFL is disappointing, but he is a premier backup who could make any team better in 2012.

    Volek's career passer rating is higher than many NFL starters at 84.9, and his accuracy and experience could help him be a mentor for a younger quarterback.

    Any team looking for a backup quarterback absolutely needs to add Volek, and he even has the ability to be a short-term starter if necessary.

17. James Farrior

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    At age 37, James Farrior still has the ability to be a tremendous run defender and defensive leader.

    For an entire decade, Farrior anchored one of the league's best run defenses. He has great instincts that have only sharpened over the years, and he also possesses great leadership skills.

    Farrior needs to find a job in 2012. He has earned the right to go out how he wishes, and he has the ability to have another great season this year.

16. Phillip Merling

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    Injuries have been a huge limiting factor in his career thus far, but Phillip Merling has the potential to be an absolute gem in free agency.

    Merling is a monster at 6'4" and 295 pounds. With his size and strength, he has the ability to be a tremendous defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.

    Despite his limited success thus far in his career, Merling has as much potential as anyone on the open market. He just needs the right opportunity.

15. James Hall

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    Any team looking for help rushing the passer needs to take a look at James Hall, who is still a force at 35 years old.

    With 16.5 sacks in the past two years, Hall has made the twilight of his career the highlight of his career. If he can continue that level of play, he will definitely improve a defense in 2012.

    At this point in his career, Hall will probably be forced to be a situational player, but he can still make a major impact this season.

14. Montrae Holland

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    Montrae Holland is a big, bad man who is capable of mauling opposing defensive linemen.

    Holland excelled last season for the Cowboys, and he has been a steady performer throughout his career. 

    More likely than not, Holland will re-sign with the Cowboys. He should be a solid backup in 2012, and he could start in a pinch.

13. Ryan Grant

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    A Super Bowl champion and two-time 1,200-yard rusher, Ryan Grant has had a career to be proud of, and he'll look to finish it in style with a new team in 2012.

    Grant has lost a step, but he still has a smooth, powerful style that would complement a faster back well.

    Most likely, Grant will end up being an injury replacement and, if given the chance, he could surprise this season.

12. Jake Scott

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    Though he's not a huge guard, Jake Scott is an efficient blocker who can protect quarterbacks well.

    Scott has been a key member of the Titans offensive line for years now, which is both good and bad. He was around for Chris Johnson's 2,000-yard season, but that line also struggled in 2011.

    All in all, Scott can help an offensive line that struggles protecting the passer, and he is talented enough to be a solid starter.

11. Dallas Clark

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    When Dallas Clark became available this offseason, the first thought was that he belonged with Peyton Manning. After the Broncos signed Jacob Tamme, though, Clark will have to move on without his former quarterback.

    It remains to be seen whether or not Clark can succeed without Manning. He is still reasonably fast and, in the right scheme, he could be dangerous.

    Clark will need to find the right situation, which could be difficult. In a scheme that suits his talents and with a solid quarterback, he could be a major impact player for a new team in 2012.

10. Jeremy Shockey

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    Arguably the top tight end still available in free agency, Jeremy Shockey continues to be productive as he advances in age.

    Entering his 11th season, Shockey brings experience, savvy and solid production. Despite regularly dealing with injuries, Shockey has never had a season with under 400 yards receiving.

    At this point in his career, Shockey might be forced to be a complementary piece, but he still has the talent to be a dynamic offensive threat.

9. Mewelde Moore

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    Mewelde Moore will never be a full-time starter, and his role is pretty limited to being a third-down back—but what a third-down back he is.

    Moore's role on the Steelers has gradually decreased, but he has long been a thorn in the side of their AFC North rivals. One of the better receiving backs in the NFL, Moore's quickness and surprising power give him a nose for the first-down marker.

    Though he can't be a bell-cow back, Moore is the best running back available simply because he is such a solid complementary piece. Any team looking for a third-down back needs to consider Mewelde Moore.

8. Jason Brown

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    Though he never lived up to his major contract, Jason Brown still has the potential to be a top center or guard. If he gets an incentive-laden contract, he could surprise in 2012.

    As a Raven, Brown had grown into one of the top young interior offensive linemen in the game. However, as a Ram, he wasn't compelled to work as hard thanks to his massive contract.

    When motivated, though, Brown is a mauler of a run-blocker and a solid pass-blocker as well. He is still young enough to grow into a solid player again as well.

    Brown could be an absolute steal in free agency if his contract is filled with incentives. When motivated, he is a top-tier offensive lineman.

7. O.J. Atogwe

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    Like many of the players on this list, the main thing holding back O.J. Atogwe is his injury history. When healthy, he is a solid safety capable of upgrading any defensive backfield. 

    The Redskins made a big mistake signing Atogwe to the massive deal that they did, but that doesn't mean he's not a good player.

    On the contrary, he is a great ball hawk whose aggressive style allows him to regularly make plays. In five of his last six seasons, Atogwe has picked off three or more passes.

    Atogwe is one of only a handful of players left who can and should start in 2012. That makes him one of the top remaining players available.

6. Rocky McIntosh

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    Rocky McIntosh has been hurt in his young career by a change from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense, which doesn't suit his talent for running sideline to sideline and making plays.

    Against both the run and the pass, McIntosh has the athletic ability to make plays all over the field. In a scheme that uses defensive linemen to eat up blocks, McIntosh could excel.

    At only 29 years old, McIntosh still has room to develop. He could continue to get better, especially in the right scheme.

    His upside combined with his already solid performance thus far in his career make McIntosh a high-upside free agent worth a close look.

5. Bobbie Williams

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    The only thing holding Bobbie Williams back from being a top-tier free agent is his age. At nearly 36 years old, Williams' best years are behind him, but he still has enough in the tank to provide one or two solid seasons.

    Williams was part of a very solid Bengals offensive line that protected Andy Dalton and helped the plodding Cedric Benson maintain solid productivity.

    As an individual player, Williams maintains excellent strength and technique, which allowed him to do a solid job controlling the Ravens' big defensive linemen in 2011.

    Williams might need to wait until some injuries happen in training camp to get a call, but when he does, he will be a major impact addition this season as a leader and player.

4. Vernon Carey

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    One of the largest offensive linemen in the NFL, Vernon Carey would be a big signing for any team that needs interior offensive line help.

    Carey is both enormous and extremely versatile. He can play any position on the line other than center, which could be extremely useful for any team.

    At any position, Carey is capable of mauling opposing defensive linemen with his enormous size. The Dolphins' running game has always been solid with Carey along the line, regardless of who was toting the ball.

    Carey might be limited to a power-blocking scheme, but his positional versatility and run-blocking ability make him a worthy pickup.

3. Albert Haynesworth

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    What can be said about Albert Haynesworth that hasn't already been said?

    In terms of pure ability, he is by far the most talented player on this list. When motivated and in shape, Haynesworth is still the best defensive tackle in the NFL.

    Even when uninterested in playing hard, Haynesworth is still serviceable, as he has been the past few years.

    The key to controlling Haynesworth is to surround him with a quality locker room and offer him a contract full of incentives. With that motivation, he could be an absolute freak.

    He is still a major risk, however. Even the New England Patriots, whose stability and strong locker room are well established, couldn't motivate him to play his best football.

    If Haynesworth can stay out of trouble, he is well worth the risk, as even at half-speed he is a starting-caliber defensive tackle. Ultimately, though, Haynesworth will decide his own fate, as he may have already run out of chances.

2. Marcus McNeill

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    Another immensely talented player limited by injuries, Marcus McNeill is a Pro Bowl left tackle who can't find a job because of his injury history.

    While it's true that McNeill has missed 12 games in the past two years because of injury, he is still a tremendously talented tackle who is a quality starter when healthy.

    Furthermore, McNeill is still reasonably young at age 28. He has room to grow and heal, so a team that signs him could be patient with him.

    As a player, McNeill excels as a mauling run-blocker. He has blocked for LaDainian Tomlinson, and he helped in the development of Ryan Matthews last year.

    His pass-blocking is also serviceable, as his length and athleticism allow him to control the edge reasonably well, though he can struggle with speed.

    All in all, a left tackle with McNeill's ability can't stay unsigned for long. If he can remain healthy, McNeill will be the steal of this free-agent class.

1. Andre Carter

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    The New York Giants won two Super Bowls largely on the strength of their pass rush. Clearly, pass-rushers are at a premium in the NFL.

    That makes it all the more surprising that Andre Carter is still available at this point in free agency.

    A year after racking up 10 sacks, Carter is still an unsigned free agent due to a quadriceps tear he suffered towards the end of the 2011 season.

    When healthy, Carter is one of the better pass-rushers in the NFL, and he is certainly the best remaining one available. In two of his last three seasons, he has managed 10 or more sacks.

    Two things are crucial when examining Carter as a potential signing.

    First, Carter needs to play in a 4-3 scheme. Twice in his career he was forced into a 3-4 defense, and he struggled mightily. He is at his best with his hand on the ground, so Carter's suitors should be limited to 4-3 teams.

    Second and just as important, any potential suitor needs to be confident that the 33-year-old Carter can heal from his quadriceps tear. Players who are Carter's age do not always heal well, which could limit his ability to come back at a high level.

    If these two criteria are met, though, some team will find themselves with a top-tier pass-rusher who will make a major impact in improving a defense. 

    Premier pass-rushers are rarely available in free agency, which makes Carter the top remaining free agent available.

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