Free Agents Who Will Be Instant Starters in 2013
USA TODAY Sports
When NFL teams look for players in free agency, they obviously want players who can step in from day one and be an instant starter. They want impact players who will ultimately make their team better moving forward.
While the 2013 class of free agents lacks elite talent at top like in recent seasons, it is an extremely deep class of players. There are more than a handful of players who can come in right away and start for a number of teams in the league.
Today we're going to look at some of these free agents who will be instant starters in 2013. We'll focus on players who we're predicting to be playing for a new team next season.
Reggie Bush, Running Back
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New Team Prediction: Detroit Lions
Until Reggie Bush signed with the Miami Dolphins two years ago, he was considered quite the bust. He never really reached his full potential with the New Orleans Saints, but that all changed when Bush arrived in Miami.
Not only did he prove that he has the ability to be an every-down back in the NFL, but he proved that he can be successful while doing it. Bush is still a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands, and his ability to make plays in both the run and pass game would make him extremely valuable to an offense.
He’s a major upgrade over any running back the Lions currently have on their roster and would provide an already dangerous offense another weapon to work with.
Steven Jackson, Running Back
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New Team Prediction: Green Bay Packers
With Steven Jackson planning to void his contract with the St. Louis Rams, he'll obviously be playing for a new team in 2013.
Despite turning 30 years old in July, Jackson still has plenty to offer a team in need of a running back. He's had eight straight seasons of at least 1,000 rushing yards even though he has been the only source of offense in St. Louis for years.
A team like Green Bay that desperately needs some stability at running back will look long and hard at Jackson. He may only have a few years left in the tank, but there is little doubt that they'll be extremely productive years.
Mike Wallace, Wide Receiver
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New Team Prediction: Minnesota Vikings
Had Mike Wallace not had a down season in 2012 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he’d probably be a much more sought-after free agent. However, Wallace struggled to perform consistently and now has teams wondering whether or not he can still be a high-impact player.
Wallace still needs to be considered one of the premier deep threats in the league. He’s the only player to have at least eight receiving touchdowns in the past three seasons, proving that he knows how to find the end zone.
With the future of Percy Harvin still unknown in Minnesota, Wallace could step in from day one and be a legitimate No. 1 receiver for Christian Ponder and the Vikings.
Greg Jennings, Wide Receiver
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New Team Prediction: Miami Dolphins
It wasn’t too long ago that Greg Jennings was considered one of the best receivers in the league. Unfortunately, injuries have gotten the best of him the past two seasons and his production has declined dramatically.
That doesn’t mean that Jennings isn’t going to instantly help whoever signs him. He’s still got great hands and the ability to pick up chunks of yards after the catch.
Only a handful of teams need playmakers at the receiver position like the Miami Dolphins do. Not only would Jennings give them a legitimate No. 1 receiver, he'd also help greatly in the development of Ryan Tannehill.
Dustin Keller, Tight End
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New Team Prediction: St. Louis Rams
Despite missing the majority of the 2012 season due to injury, Dustin Keller could become a hot commodity in free agency.
He's the type of tight end who has the ability to stretch the field for an offense. His talents were underutilized by the New York Jets, mostly due to the lack of quality quarterback play.
While the Rams may not be in a better situation in terms of their quarterback, they still need playmakers in the worst way. Keller would team with Lance Kendricks to form a dangerous duo for Sam Bradford in the middle of the field.
Brandon Albert, Offensive Tackle
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New Team Prediction: Chicago Bears
Now that the Kansas City Chiefs have their quarterback in Alex Smith, they'll likely use their first pick of the 2013 NFL draft on an offensive tackle. That means that Brandon Albert will likely be finding a new home next season.
While Albert wasn't exceptional last season, he was a solid starter for Kansas City. He ranked as the 25th best offensive tackle according to Pro Football Focus and only gave up one sack on the entire season.
With J'Marcus Webb getting arrested earlier in the week on drug charges, the Bears need offensive linemen even worse than before. Albert would provide them with a quality left tackle to help protect Jay Cutler.
Jake Long, Miami Dolphins
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New Team Prediction: Arizona Cardinals
Even though Jake Long isn't the elite offensive tackle that he used to be, he still has plenty going for him.
For starters, Long will only be 28 years old for the 2013 season. He's still young enough to turn back into the tackle that he used to be.
On top of that, Long wasn't really as bad as many thought he was. Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller had him ranked as the No. 23 left tackle in the NFL last season.
With the Cardinals boasting one of the worst offensive lines in the league next year, they could make a big splash in free agency and sign Long. This would be an especially wise move if they plan on drafting a quarterback in the 2013 NFL draft.
Cliff Avril, Defensive End
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New Team Prediction: Indianapolis Colts
Cliff Avril may be the most talented free agent that is likely to sign with a different team this offseason.
He's one of the best pass-rushing defensive ends in the league, but is versatile enough to make plays in a number of ways. Over the past five seasons, Avril has 39.5 sacks, 16 forced fumbles and 13 pass breakups.
Few teams have the cap space that will likely be necessary to sign Avril to the contract he wants, but Indianapolis is one of them. While he might not seem like a natural fit in the 3-4 defense that Chuck Pagano runs, his versatility would make him extremely valuable to the Colts.
Osi Umenyiora, Defensive End
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New Team Prediction: Tennessee Titans
While Osi Umenyiora has sort of fallen off the map in recent seasons, he is still a player who can have big impacts on games due to his pass-rushing abilities. He's still got the combination of speed and strength that made him so valuable just a few years ago.
His lack of playing time (he only played 653 snaps last season) should make him a little fresher than you might expect from a 31-year-old defensive end. A team like Tennessee that had so much difficulty in rushing the quarterback last year would love a player like Umenyiora.
Look for the Titans to make a move to sign Umenyiora and get him starting for them from day one.
Dwight Freeney, Defensive End
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New Team Prediction: Atlanta Falcons
The transition from a 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker didn't go too smoothly for Dwight Freeney. He had some moments of dominance, but not nearly as many as he's had in the past.
His best position is still defensive end, and that is where he'll start for a team in 2013. While he is 33 years old, he still has the quickness and agility to beat offensive tackles at the edge.
The Falcons need players who can put pressure on quarterbacks in the worst way. Freeney can still do that for them and should be a starter right away.
Paul Kruger, Outside Linebacker
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New Team Prediction: San Diego Chargers
One of the unsung heroes of the Baltimore Ravens' success in 2012 was Paul Kruger. In fact, he graded out as the best linebacker on the Ravens' roster this year according to Pro Football Focus.
The only part of Kruger's game that could stand to improve is his ability to stop the run. He's a fantastic pass-rusher and he can drop into coverage, but struggles to make consistent plays against the run.
His struggles shouldn't stop the Chargers from offering Kruger a big contract once free agency begins. They have struggled to create pressure from their linebackers, and Kruger could change that instantly.
Anthony Spencer, Outside Linebacker
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New Team Prediction: Cleveland Browns
Even though DeMarcus Ware is the most well-known defensive player on the Dallas Cowboys, Anthony Spencer actually played better than him in 2012. According to Pro Football Focus, Spencer was the best 3-4 outside linebacker last year, while Ware came in at No. 11.
Spencer has an all-around game that allows him to make an impact in a number of ways. Not only can he pressure the quarterback, but he's also stout against the run and capable when dropping back into coverage.
Spencer will likely be looking for a big payday this offseason for his outstanding 2012 campaign. Not only do the browns have a major need at linebacker, but they also have plenty of cash to get this deal done.
Sean Smith, Cornerback
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New Team Prediction: Jacksonville Jaguars
While Sean Smith isn't one of the better cornerbacks in the league, he's a big, physical player who can be an instant starter for a team in need of an upgrade in its secondary.
Smith will only be 26 years old when the 2013 season begins. While he doesn't necessarily excel at causing turnovers (only five career interceptions), he is still capable of making plenty of plays against bigger receivers.
Jacksonville desperately needs to improve its roster at a number of positions, and cornerback is one of them. Smith likely won't be too expensive of an option, and he could step in right away and provide the Jaguars an upgrade at cornerback.