20 Under-the-Radar NFL Free-Agent Signings Sure to Make an Impact in 2012

Vincent FrankCorrespondent IJune 4, 2012

20 Under-the-Radar NFL Free-Agent Signings Sure to Make an Impact in 2012

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    Every season there are four or five NFL free agents that no one pays attention to who go out there on the football field and perform better than some of the big-name individuals.

    This is a testament to the scouting process of some teams and their ability to find a diamond in the rough, while other teams spend top dollar for players who end up fizzling out.

    2012 promises to be no different.

    You cannot discount the additions of solid trench players who sometimes go unnoticed in the grand scheme of things. You cannot discount backup quarterbacks or third-down running backs who play pivotal roles due to the rigors of a NFL season.

    This article is going to focus on 20 under-the-radar free-agent signings that promise to make a huge impact for their new teams in 2012.

20. Blake Costanzo, Linebacker, Chicago Bears

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    Not often does a pure special teams player make a list like this, but Blake Costanzo just isn't your average depth player.

    The veteran linebacker helped the San Francisco 49ers field the best kick coverage unit in the National Football League last season. He was among the best special teams tacklers in the league last season, according to Football Outsiders.

    It might not seem like a big deal that the Chicago Bears went out and signed Costanzo. That is just on the exterior. He is going to help them win field position battles on a consistent basis. Add one of the best kickers and return men in the league and Chicago promises to boast one of the best units in 2012. 

    This addition pretty much assures that. 

19. Cory Redding, Defensive End, Indianapolis Colts

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    What Cory Redding brings to the table might not show up on the stat lines after games. After all, he has recorded a total of 25.5 sacks in nine NFL seasons.

    That being said, Redding has been one of the most consistent run-stopping defensive ends in the league over the course of his career.

    He also fits extremely well in the Indianapolis Colts' newly implemented 3-4 scheme. Redding did a great job in this role while starting 22 games for the Baltimore Ravens in the last two seasons.

    His presence on the Colts defense should also help Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney transition to the outside linebacker positions. Redding will be able to take on double-teams, which enables those two to roam free on the outside.

    Great under-the-radar signing here.

18. Andre Caldwell, Wide Receiver, Denver Broncos

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    It is well known by now what Peyton Manning can provide for an offense in regards to helping receivers make the most impact. 

    How else would you explain the production that the likes of Austin Collie, Brandon Stokley and Pierre Garcon have put up throughout their careers?

    This isn't going to change with the Denver Broncos. 

    Andre Caldwell didn't produce as much as the Cincinnati Bengals hoped when they selected him in the third round of the 2008 draft. The Florida product has recorded a total of 124 receptions in four seasons.

    That being said, Manning should do wonders for the talented receiver. I can envision a scenario where Caldwell bests his previous career high of 51 receptions set in 2009.

    Not bad for someone set to make just $800,000 in 2012.

17. Eddie Royal, Wide Receiver, San Diego Chargers

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    Eddie Royal jumped onto the scene as a rookie in 2008, grabbing 91 receptions and over 1,000 total yards.

    That was Jay Cutler's final season with the Denver Broncos and was the last time that Royal actually had a reliable quarterback throwing to him.

    Now the talented receiver joins Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. He promises to be in the mix for the No. 2 and slot receiver positions heading into the regular season.

    If Royal is able to stay healthy, something that was an issue for him in 2011, then he should have another breakout season.

    Expect a minimum of 60 catches from Royal in 2012.

16. Mark Anderson, Defensive End, Buffalo Bills

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    Mark Anderson jumped onto the scene as a rookie in 2006, recording 12 sacks for the Chicago Bears. He failed to record that many sacks in the next three seasons combined for Chicago before being let go.

    After recording four sacks for the Houston Texans in just 11 games in 2010, he signed a one-year contract with the New England Patriots.

    Anderson went on to have his best season since his rookie year, recording a total of 10 sacks for the New England Patriots and adding a much-needed pass-rush threat for that defense.

    The talented defensive end now joins the Buffalo Bills after signing a four-year, $27.5 million contract in March. Anderson will be pairing up with Mario Williams to form a solid pass-rush tandem for that rebuilt defense.

    Expect him to continue his progression and become a consistent threat off the edge. He has the talent, fits their scheme to a T and will be overshadowed in terms of blocking scheme by the aforementioned Williams.

15. Kendall Langford, Defensive Line, St. Louis Rams

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    Kendall Langford is the type of player that doesn't do anything great. Rather, he is a solid all-around performer on the defensive line.

    He started 54 games for the Miami Dolphins over the course of the last four seasons, consistently showing up a great deal against the run.

    Langford signed a four-year, $24 million contract with the St. Louis Rams and will provide them with a solid threat off the edge. What he really brings to the table is an ability to fill the gap from the end position and stuff the run.

    Pretty darn good signing here.

14. Richard Marshall, Cornerback, Miami Dolphins

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    There was a direct correlation between the Arizona Cardinals' improved pass defense and the integration of Richard Marshall into the starting lineup.

    The talented cornerback recorded 11 passes defended and three interceptions in nine starts during the 2011 season.

    He comes to the Miami Dolphins on a three-year, $16 million contract and appears set to challenge Sean Smith for the starting left cornerback spot, opposite Vontae Davis.

    At the very least, Marshall figures to be a tremendous upgrade over Nolan Carroll in the slot as a nickel corner.

13. Dan Connor, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

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    Some "experts" have proclaimed Dan Connor to be one of the most overrated players in the National Football League. I just don't see it that way.

    The former Penn State standout is a solid inside linebacker and should provide the Dallas Cowboys with leadership next to fellow Nittany Lion alum Sean Lee.

    He recorded 73 tackles in 11 starts last season and will quickly become one of the surest tacklers on the Cowboys defense. Expect Connor to compete with 2011 second-round pick Bruce Carter at inside linebacker.

12. Jerome Simpson, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings

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    If it wasn't for a serious drug arrest earlier this year, Jerome Simpson would have been one of the most sought-after free-agent receivers on the open market.

    He has a ton of talent and is able to stretch the field on the outside. The former second-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals recorded 50 receptions for over 700 yards last season.

    Simpson now heads to the Minnesota Vikings and will be looking to provide Christian Ponder with a consistent receiving threat opposite Percy Harvin.

    I fully expect Simpson to flirt with 1,000 yards as long as Ponder continues to progress as a quarterback in Minnesota. Either way, the $2 million that the Vikings committed to Simpson isn't too shabby.

11. William Gay, Cornerback, Arizona Cardinals

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    William Gay has started 32 games and recorded 35 passes defended for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the course of the last three seasons.

    He was their starter opposite Ike Taylor at the cornerback position. However, a bad salary-cap situation forced Pittsburgh to cut ties with Gay this offseason.

    The former fifth-round pick now joins an Arizona Cardinals team in need of a starter opposite Patrick Peterson. Reports indicate that Gay was working with the first team during OTAs last week.

    At the very least, Gay should be a solid stopgap starter for the Cardinals until rookie Jamell Fleming is ready to take over at the right corner spot.

10. Kyle Orton, Quarterback, Dallas Cowboys

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    Let's get one thing straight: Kyle Orton was not brought in by the Dallas Cowboys to compete with Tony Romo for the starting quarterback job.

    To suggest this would be utterly foolish.

    What Orton does bring to the table is starting experience and veteran leadership in case Romo goes down to injury, something that has happened twice in his career.

    The fact is that Orton is an immediate upgrade over Jon Kitna as the Cowboys' primary backup quarterback. He has had success as a starter with both the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears. In fact, Orton could probably start on a handful of teams.

    This is a solid under-the-radar signing.

9. Mike Brisiel, Guard, Oakland Raiders

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    Mike Brisiel was one of the best zone-blocking offensive linemen in the National Football League when he saw action for the Houston Texans.

    He does a great job as a pulling guard, opening up lanes for the running backs on the outside. The talented guard was one of the primary reasons that Houston had consistent success on the ground throughout the 2011 season.

    He now joins the Oakland Raiders, who run a similar blocking scheme. This addition will help Darren McFadden a great deal on the ground, as Brisiel is an immediate upgrade from what the Raiders had last season on the right side.

    It doesn't hurt that he came relatively cheap at $20 million over five seasons.

8. Jeff Saturday, Center, Green Bay Packers

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    Not often would a player that has made five Pro Bowl appearances make this list, but the center position seems to be undervalued a great deal in today's NFL.

    Jeff Saturday started 54 consecutive games for the Indianapolis Colts over the course of the last three-plus seasons. Moreover, he was a mainstay on their offensive line for the better part of the last decade.

    Many people expected the future Hall of Fame center to join Peyton Manning with the Denver Broncos. It did not play out that way.

    Instead, Saturday is going to be tasked with replacing Scott Wells in Green Bay with the Packers. Despite being rather long in the tooth, he still seems to have a lot of solid football left in him.

    Aaron Rodgers just got a new best friend.

7. Drayton Florence, Cornerback, Denver Broncos

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    Drayton Florence is one of the most unheralded cornerbacks in the entire National Football League. The veteran defensive back started 45 games for the Buffalo Bills over the course of the last three seasons, recording seven interceptions and nearly 40 passes defended.

    He is solid in man coverage and will immediately come in as the Denver Broncos' nickel corner behind Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter. He should be a major upgrade over what this defense has had at that position throughout the last few seasons.

    The Broncos also got Florence on the cheap in the form of a two-year, $4.5 million contract. Not too bad for someone that projects to make a real impact in the defensive secondary.

6. Jarret Johnson, Linebacker, San Diego Chargers

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    Jarret Johnson might not put up the sack numbers that you expect from a 3-4 outside linebacker. But that really isn't his game.

    Instead, the veteran linebacker provides a strong defensive presence against the run and has performed at an extremely high level playing this role for the Baltimore Ravens for the last nine seasons.

    He fits extremely well in the San Diego Chargers' 3-4 scheme as a complement to the talents of Antwan Barnes, Shaun Phillips and Melvin Ingram, all of whom possess great pass-rush ability.

    The transition for Johnson is going to be relatively smooth as well. He will be playing in nearly the same exact defense that he played in with the Ravens.

5. Randy Moss, Wide Receiver, San Francisco 49ers

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    Randy Moss has not been a contributor in the National Football League since the 2009 season, when he recorded over 1,200 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns for the New England Patriots. At the age of 35, it is hard to imagine him being much more than a No. 3 receiver in the NFL.

    That being said, Moss has impressed the San Francisco 49ers a great deal during the offseason, and it seems that he is in the best shape of his stellar career.

    If anyone can make a comeback after a season away from the league, it is Moss. He still has the speed and the hands to be a force on the outside and down the field.

    Matt Maiocco over at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area is projecting that Moss will be the 49ers starter opposite Michael Crabtree to start the 2012 season.

    Pretty impressive.

4. David Hawthorne, Linebacker, New Orleans Saints

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    I have consistently stated that David Hawthorne is one of the most underrated linebackers in the entire National Football League.

    All the linebacker has done is record at least 100 tackles in each of his last three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. He also intercepted seven passes, accumulated six sacks and tallied 15 passes defended during that span.

    Hawthorne now joins a revamped New Orleans Saints linebacker group looking to replace Jonathan Vilma, who was suspended for the entire 2012 season due to "Bountygate."

    He joins Curtis Lofton and Scott Shanle in what promises to be a much better trio along the middle of the Saints defense in 2012.

    Expect Hawthorne to outplay the five-year, $19 million contract he signed in March.

3. Jason Jones, Defensive Line, Seattle Seahawks

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    Talk about under the radar. Jason Jones has been one of the better defensive tackles in the National Football League over the course of the last two seasons.

    He is stout against the run and takes up a tremendous number of double-teams as a gap filler. The Seattle Seahawks got an absolute steal in signing Jones to a one-year, $5 million contract.

    Jones now teams up with Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Alan Branch to form a rather solid defensive line rotation in the NFC West.

    Expect big things from him in their scheme during the 2012 season. If so, Jones can expect a huge payday next offseason.

2. Demetress Bell, Offensive Tackle, Philadelphia Eagles

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    You have to love this signing. Demetress Bell was performing like an elite tackle during the 2011 season prior to an injury that cost him the final nine games of the year.

    He is solid as a pass-protecting left tackle and should do a great job replacing Jason Peters, who looks like he is going to miss the entire 2012 season due to a torn Achilles.

    Don't expect the Eagles to take a dramatic step backwards in terms of protecting Michael Vick, with Bell slotted to cover his blind side.

    For Bell, it is all about staying healthy and continuing his progression towards elite status.

1. Michael Bush, Running Back, Chicago Bears

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    We have absolutely no idea if or when Matt Forte is going to show up to play for the Chicago Bears. His current contract stalemate with the club has proven to be one of the most volatile in the recent history of the league.

    This is one of the primary reasons the Bears went out and signed Michael Bush, who has everything you look for in a starting running back in the NFL.

    He did a standout job replacing Darren McFadden with the Oakland Raiders last season, accumulating nearly 1,400 total yards while starting just six games.

    At 27, Bush also seems to be in the prime of his career.

    Whether Forte suits up for the Bears in 2012 really isn't the point here. Bush is going to have a dramatic impact on their offense. At the very least, he is a major upgrade over Marion Barber as the primary backup to Forte.

    Due to a rather flat free-agent market for running backs, the Bears got Bush on the cheap at $14 million over the course of four seasons.

    An absolute steal if you ask me.