8 Available NFL Free Agents Who'll Make an Impact in Training Camp
With NFL training camps in full swing, there are plenty of high-profile free agents who could still make an impact in the 2012 season. Players such as Plaxico Burress, Ryan Grant and E.J. Henderson are talented players who could improve a team before the preseason starts.
For whatever reason, the following eight players remain unsigned, but there is little doubt that each of them could have a rather large impact on a team's training camp and season.
Cedric Benson, Running Back
It really is quite surprising that Cedric Benson has yet to find a home this offseason. He's coming off his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season as a key contributor to the offense for the Cincinnati Bengals.
While there are certainly concerns about his age (Benson will be 30 years old by the end of the season), there is still plenty of gas in the tank for Benson to have some type of impact for a team. He can no longer be an every-down back in the NFL, but plenty of teams could use a sure-handed veteran like Benson.
Benson isn't going to set the world on fire with his speed or production at this point in his career, but his impact will come in short-yardage situations when a team needs to pick up a first down and keep the offense moving.
Look for a potential playoff contender to make a move on Benson before too long.
Ryan Grant, Running Back
Much like Cedric Benson, it is extremely surprising that Ryan Grant has remained unsigned for this long. Sure, he is coming off a major injury during the 2010 season, but with limited carries last year, he still posted 4.2 yards per carry. He also was coming off back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons before his season-ending injury in 2010.
However, Grant will be 30 years old in December this year, and teams are clearly wondering how big an impact he can make this year, even in a reserve role. Well, the answer to that question is that he can still have quite the impact this year because of his best quality: taking care of the football.
In 924 career carries, Grant has only put the ball on the ground eight times. That means that Grant fumbles .8 percent of the time he carries the football.
This type of care for the football simply can't be taught, and that assurance is why Grant will make an impact this year.
Plaxico Burress, Wide Receiver
There is always need in the NFL for a big target that can catch passes in the red zone. At 6'5" with solid hands, Plaxico Burress can still be an extremely effective target near the end zone for a team.
Last year with the New York Jets, Burress recorded eight touchdowns after a two-year hiatus from the league. That type of ability to get open in a short field and come down with the ball in a crowded area simply can't be taught.
Burress has that ability, and he can still be productive for a team. He may no longer be a true No. 1 receiver, but he would be an absolute steal as third option specializing inside the 20-yard line.
Anthony Gonzalez, Wide Receiver
Had Anthony Gonzalez not suffered injury after injury the past two seasons, he could easily be one of the best slot receivers in the league. After his 57-reception, 664-yard, four-touchdown season back in 2009 during his second year in the league, it definitely appeared he was on his way to stardom.
Unfortunately, Gonzalez hit a long string of nagging injuries to his knees and legs that have allowed him to only play 10 games over the past two seasons. However, if Gonzalez can stay healthy, he still has the speed, hands and agility to make some plays on offense.
He may only give a team a few receptions a game, but knowing his competitive nature, you could almost guarantee that every reception would make a big difference for the offense.
Hopefully Gonzalez can find a home soon, because teams can never have too many options on offense.
Andre Carter, Defensive End
Not many defensive players who record double-digit sacks the previous year have to wait this long to find a home in the offseason. However, Andre Carter is 33 years old and coming off a torn tendon in his quadriceps that was suffered late in the season.
Despite his age and recent injury, Carter could still provide a burst of energy off the bench as a situational pass-rusher for a team. He clearly isn't going to be an every-down player at this stage in his career, but coming in on third down to specifically get pressure to the quarterback would still allow him to make an impact in the league.
Whichever team ends up signing Carter will get an instantaneous boost to their defensive line.
Stephen Cooper, Inside Linebacker
Stephen Cooper is another player coming off an injury heading into the 2012 season. When Cooper is healthy, he is an extremely solid and productive inside linebacker.
He's smart and capable of making plays against both the run and the pass. He won't bring much to a defense in terms of pressuring the quarterback, but he'll be able to roam the center of the field looking to make a play.
What could make Cooper so valuable to a team would be his ability to come in from day one and produce. It may not be at a Pro Bowl level, but he'll definitely be able to contribute in a number of ways for a defense.
E.J. Henderson, Inside Linebacker
E.J. Henderson is coming off one of the most productive seasons in his career, but he still finds himself as a free agent with training camps in full swing. What makes Henderson being unsigned such a mystery is that there didn't appear to be much, if any at all, drop in his production last year.
While he wasn't quite the Pro Bowl-caliber player he was in 2010, he still showed the ability to dissect information and make plays against both the run and the pass. He also rarely makes mistakes and can still tackle in both the open field and in tight spaces.
The best quality that Henderson will bring to a team is his leadership. He is a smart player who knows how to play team football. Even if he spends most of his time on the bench, he'll be a fantastic teammate and teacher to younger players for whoever picks him up.
Charlie Peprah, Safety
The most recent player on our list to become a free agent is Charlie Peprah, who was released on July 25. It was one of the most surprising moves of the entire offseason.
Last year while filling in for an injured Nick Collins, Peprah recorded 94 tackles (third on the team) and five interceptions (second on the team). Peprah is only 29 years old, so there is still plenty of time for him to be an impact player in the NFL.
He'll need to learn to make fewer mistakes, but his ability to tackle and make plays on the ball should make him a valuable asset to a defense. Look for him to sign with a team soon and get a chance at the starting job from day one.
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