2013 NFL Free Agents: The Best Available Player at Every Key Position
The 2013 free-agent class is going to be highlighted by more than a few big names.
Which positions are rife with talent and which are depleted? The only real way to find out is to break down the best player available at each position.
Some of these guys are undoubtedly going to be hit with franchise tags or just re-sign with their respective teams, but others will test the free-agent waters and see what kind of payday awaits them.
Let's settle these debates and more as we analyze the best available player at every key position.
Quarterback: Joe Flacco
The odds of the Baltimore Ravens actually letting Joe Flacco hit the free-agent market are slim to none. However, should he sneak onto the market there is no doubt that Flacco will be the most exciting option.
Flacco is the only quarterback ever to make the playoffs in each of his first five seasons and he has thrown for at least 3,000 yards in each of the last four.
He may not be "elite," but Flacco is consistent and has a career completion percentage of 60.5.
Honorable Mention: Jason Campbell
Running Back: Reggie Bush
You can make a fair argument for either Reggie Bush or Steven Jackson as the biggest running back prize set to hit free agency.
I lean toward Bush because he is younger and seems to just be hitting his peak as an every-down NFL back. He has rushed for over 2,000 yards total in the past two seasons with Miami and has scored 15 touchdowns in that time.
Bush has not taken as many between-the-tackles hits as other 28-year-old running backs and seems to have greater focus and drive since he left the Saints. The fact that he has missed just one game in the past two years has to be another positive sign for prospective teams.
Honorable Mention: Steven Jackson
Wide Receiver: Dwayne Bowe
Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings and Wes Welker.
The 2013 free-agent class will be remembered for three big-name wide receiving targets that became available, and Bowe may be the best of the bunch.
Bowe is only 28 years old and will be fully healthy by the time next season rolls around. It is scary to think what this 6'2" 221-pound target could do in a decent offense.
Honorable Mention: Greg Jennings
Tight End: Fred Davis
Let's preface this by saying that if Tony Gonzalez does come back for another season then he instantly becomes the top tight end available. However, even if that does happen it is unlikely he would leave Atlanta.
So, we then turn to guys like Fred Davis, Jared Cook and Dustin Keller. All are solid options that have had setbacks, but Davis is the most intriguing of the bunch.
He has missed time due to a torn Achilles tendon and drug suspensions, but he is the prototypical new-wave tight end when healthy. Somebody is going to take a chance on Davis and will likely be able to do so at a discounted rate.
Honorable Mention: Jared Cook
Offensive Tackle: Ryan Clady
The Denver Broncos would be off their rocker to not retain Ryan Clady. Quite possibly the best tackle in the NFL, Clady is due for either the biggest contract ever for an offensive lineman or the dreaded franchise tag.
If the Broncos are not willing to pay, then another team will pony up the funds in a heartbeat. Clady has been a steadying force with both Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning under center. He has maintained tremendous footwork and poise whether the pocket stayed pat or Tebow had it moving laterally.
This 26-year-old Pro Bowler still has plenty of gas in the tank and should be a force for the next five to seven years.
Honorable Mention: Jake Long
Defensive End: Cliff Avril
Cliff Avril may not be a household name just yet, but his recent play suggests that won't be the case for long.
Avril is coming off a franchise tag from the Detroit Lions and performed accordingly this season. Avril recorded 9.5 sacks and forced two fumbles. The Lions defensive line as a whole was not as dominant as in past years, but Avril was the clear exception.
He has 29 sacks over the last three seasons and will be one of the most sought-after defensive players in free agency. Avril is one of the fastest rising pass-rushers in football, and with Detroit's lack of cap room he is extremely likely to hit the open market.
Honorable Mention: Osi Umenyiora
Linebacker: Anthony Spencer
The 2013 linebacker class may not look all that exciting at first glance, but Anthony Spencer is probably used to being overlooked.
Spencer is one of the most underrated linebackers in all of football and has been a steadying force for the Dallas defense all season. Few (if any) linebackers are better at stopping the run, and yet Spencer also has 10 sacks this season.
The trouble here is that Spencer is a bit of a one-hit wonder. Before 2012 he had never recorded more than six sacks or 67 tackles. So, has he finally put it all together or was this season a fluke?
Plenty of teams are going to be willing to take that risk once free agency opens.
Honorable Mention: Connor Barwin
Cornerback: Brent Grimes
There is a giant question mark hanging over Brent Grimes' head in that he missed virtually all of 2012 with a torn Achilles tendon. However, before that injury Grimes was beginning to make a name for himself as one of the better cover cornerbacks in the NFL.
At 5'10", 183 pounds he lacks ideal size and strength, but Grimes is always in the right position to make a play and has 142 tackles in his last 29 games.
This class also includes playmakers like Aqib Talib and Sean Smith, but when healthy Grimes is a clear cut above both of those guys.
Honorable Mention: Sean Smith
Safety: Jairus Byrd
Jarius Byrd did not give up a touchdown pass this season and yet few people will mention his name when considering the best safeties in the NFL.
The Buffalo Bills defensive star is often forgotten, but teams are not going to miss him this offseason as he is the clear-cut best safety available.
Over the last two seasons he has 174 tackles and eight interceptions. Byrd is great both in coverage and on the occasional blitz or rush package. Teams should be salivating at the prospect of acquiring his skill set.
Honorable Mention: Dashon Goldson
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