The NFL's Best Free Agents at Every Position
As free agency approaches, what player stands above the rest at each respective position?
This is a question more easily answered in certain cases. We all know that Jerome Felton is the best fullback available, and few would question that Cliff Avril is the best defensive end on the open market.
But the answers get a bit murkier when we look at running back, defensive tackle and cornerback.
How much of a wrench has Steven Jackson thrown into the RB pool? Is there a quarterback available that is worthy of a starting job? And would you rather have Mike Wallace or Greg Jennings?
Let's try to answer some of these questions as we break down the best player available at each position and hand out some honorable mentions. We start with the game's most important position...
Quarterback: Jason Campbell
With Joe Flacco having re-signed with the Baltimore Ravens, the 2013 crop of free agent quarterbacks is far from exciting.
Matt Moore was likely the best option on the market, but he and his marginal talents have decided to stay in South Beach, per USA Today. That leaves us with Jason Campbell as the top guy on the open market.
Campbell struggled in relief of Jay Cutler last season with the Chicago Bears, completing 32-of-51 passes for 265 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. That means he averaged just 5.2 yards per completion.
Still, there is talent inside of Campbell. He has a solid build at 6'5", 230 pounds and has underrated mobility when either moving the pocket or moving outside the pocket. He has likely run out of chances to be a starting NFL signal-caller, but he can be one of the better backup options in the league.
1. Derek Anderson
2. Brian Hoyer
Running Back: Steven Jackson
Steven Jackson is not getting any younger, but he is still one of the best running backs in football and can be a team's leading rusher for at least two or three more seasons. He has officially voided his contract with the St. Louis Rams, per Howard Balzer of ESPN Radio in St. Louis.
Jackson has proved to be one of the NFL's best downhill runners during his nine years with the Rams and should be highly sought after on the open market. At 29 years old, he is obviously not going to be a long-term option for a franchise, but he is consistent and has missed only 13 regular-season games over the course of his career.
The free-agent market is stocked with running back talent, so Jackson is not going to be every team's fancy. Younger players with potential, such as Chris Ivory of the New Orleans Saints, will come with a lower price tag, but Jackson is the safest guy to go with for certain production next season.
1. Reggie Bush
2. Ahmad Bradshaw
3. Shonn Greene
Fullback: Jerome Felton
Fullbacks are a dying breed in the NFL, but Jerome Felton is definitely the best one available for teams looking to exert their force via a strong rushing attack.
Felton helped pave the way for Adrian Peterson's 2,097-yard season and is one of the best pure blocking backs in all of football. He is never going to set the world on fire statistically, as he has never found the end zone, but he can be a valuable piece to any team's puzzle.
1. Mike Cox
2. James Casey
Wide Receiver: Mike Wallace
It was tough to decide the best free-agent wide receiver. Are you looking for one of the most reliable pass-catchers in Wes Welker? How about the balanced game that Greg Jennings brings to the table? Or the vertical threat that Mike Wallace provides?
I lean toward Wallace because he is the youngest and has the most potential. In four seasons, he has hauled in 235 receptions for 4,042 yards and 32 touchdowns. His game is only improving, and he can become a versatile weapon wherever he goes.
Wallace's speed forces opposing defenses to respect the deep ball at all times, exposing lapses in coverage and keeping defenders outside the box. This allows running backs extra lanes to run through and opens up possibilities offensively.
In other words, Wallace does more than just catch the deep ball.
1. Greg Jennings
2. Wes Welker
Tight End: Fred Davis
Fred Davis is a prime example of a high-risk/high-reward player. He is a supremely athletic and talented player, but he has battled drug and injury issues in the past.
So is Davis worth taking a flier on? For the right price, it is hard to think he wouldn't be. He has gained 1,973 yards on 155 receptions in his five-year career, along with 12 touchdowns and 99 first downs.
Davis can work in the short to intermediate passing game, but he can also stretch the field vertically, especially when he makes catches in open space. He makes tough catches in traffic and is a competent blocker.
These are all attributes that have to seriously excite NFL teams, but coming off a torn Achilles is a scary proposition, so teams will be wary when looking in his direction.
1. Jared Cook
2. Dustin Keller
Offensive Tackle: Jake Long
If you have read anything about Jake Long recently, then you have heard that he is not playing at the same level that he was just two or three years ago. Long has battled injuries over the last two seasons, but he has clearly demonstrated the ability to be one of the best left tackles in football.
When at his best, Long is almost unbeatable in pass protection, rarely allowing sacks because of his quick feet and strong hands. Similarly, he gets great drive off the line of scrimmage in run-blocking and clears important holes off the edge.
One interesting note here is Long's reported desire for a deal in the neighborhood of $11 million per year (h/t Ian Rapoport of NFL.com). He has only been in the league for five years, so he could still be a bookend left tackle for a long time, but he likely must first prove he is fully healthy before garnering such a large deal.
1. Andre Smith
2. Sebastian Vollmer
Offensive Guard: Andy Levitre
This is not the year to be in the market for a stud offensive guard. Free agency is lacking big names, but there is at least one saving grace in the form of Andy Levitre.
This Buffalo Bills guard is one of the best pass-blockers in all of football and would be a welcome addition to nearly any offensive line that spends most of its time protecting aerial attacks. His run-blocking skills are average at best, which means he certainly has a limited appeal on the open market.
Teams predicated on the ground-and-pound philosophy will not be interested in Levitre, but everyone else should be frothing at the mouth at the prospect of bringing him in.
As for cheaper options, look toward the honorable mention section for a bargain-bin player from the New York Jets that should have no problem finding a home.
1. Brandon Moore
2. Ramon Foster
Center: Dan Koppen
Clearly, Koppen is doing something right.
Koppen allowed only one sack last season, his first with Manning, and even after 10 years in the league, he is one of the more consistent options at the position. Koppen brings stability to the Denver Broncos offensive line and would be a tough piece for the team to let slip away.
There are a flurry of aging centers set to hit free agency, but Koppen is the best of the bunch.
1. Todd McClure
2. Brad Meester
Defensive End: Cliff Avril
Cliff Avril is a bit of a one-trick pony. He is absolutely dominant when coming off the edge on a pass rush, but he can get lost in run defense.
Avril is probably better suited as 3-4 rush linebacker, but as a 4-3 defensive end, he has still amassed 39.5 sacks and 16 forced fumbles in his five-year career with the Detroit Lions.
Players with Avril's speed and versatility are hard to come by, so it is hard to see him not bringing in a massive contract this offseason. His value grows even greater when considering that he is only 26 years old and entering the prime of his career.
If Avril can balance out his game and become better at stopping the run, he could become one of the best defensive players in all of football.
1. Osi Umenyiora
2. Dwight Freeney
Defensive Tackle: Richard Seymour
This one is more of a matter of opinion as opposed to fact, as the defensive tackle pool is extremely deep this year. Still, Richard Seymour is an established veteran that can make a serious impact.
Some may have forgotten about Seymour since he moved from the New England Patriots to the Oakland Raiders in 2009, but Seymour has been just as productive as ever. He has recorded 18.5 sacks in the last four years to accompany 138 total tackles.
What may be most appealing about Seymour is that he can fit into virtually any scheme. He has experience playing defensive end in both a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme, but also as a defensive tackle in a 4-3.
Pro Football Focus ranked Seymour as the 14th-best defensive tackle in the league in 2012. He can still get the job done and should be an attractive piece in free agency.
1. Cullen Jenkins
2. Casey Hampton
**Update: Cullen Jenkins has reportedly agreed to sign with the Giants for three years and $8 million.
Outside Linebacker: Paul Kruger
Entering this season, Paul Kruger wasn't a greatly known commodity, but his play in 2013 has made him one of the most exciting outside linebackers in the NFL.
Kruger played at an elite level this past season, generating nine sacks and continuously wreaking havoc in opposing backfields. Kruger is a high-motor guy; he never takes a play off and makes the most of offensive mistakes.
Few outside linebackers can bring greater pressure off the edge than Kruger, and that should help his cause once he starts negotiating with potential suitors. The fact that he played his best football in the postseason, registering 4.5 sacks, can only help his cause.
1. Daryl Smith
2. Connor Barwin
3. Justin Durant
Inside Linebacker: Dannell Ellerbe
With a shift to inside linebacker, we look at another Baltimore Ravens player in Dannell Ellerbe. With the retirement of Ray Lewis, the Ravens can ill afford to let Ellerbe slip away, but that is an issue for another article.
For now, let's focus on what Ellerbe brings to free agency. He is a multi-faceted weapon with the ability to play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. Ellerbe has 132 solo tackles in four years to go with 5.5 sacks.
Ellerbe's 6'1", 240-pound frame allows him to move well laterally. He is adept at stopping the run but is not out of his element when asked to drop back in coverage.
He is entering the prime of his career at 27 years old and appears to have really found his niche within the NFL game. Ellerbe's versatility should make him highly sought after in the coming weeks.
1. Rey Maualuga
2. Brian Urlacher
Cornerback: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
There is almost no denying that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is the most physically talented cornerback that will be available in free agency. The question is if he will be the player that dominated with the Arizona Cardinals or the shell of that player that joined the Philadelphia Eagles.
Rodgers-Cromartie ran a stunning 4.33 40-yard dash back at the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine and then recorded 13 interceptions and four touchdowns in three seasons with the Cardinals. His 6'1" frame is perfect for the position, and it was easy to see why the Eagles wanted to add him to the depth chart.
However, he has just three interceptions in two seasons with Philadelphia and has often looked lost in coverage. He has not been able to press at the line of scrimmage as frequently as in the past and has struggled without the physicality that is such a staple of his game.
Still, he is only 26 years old and has flashed the skills of a supremely talented NFL player. If a new team can bring energy, life and vigor out of Rodgers-Cromartie, then it could have a perennial Pro Bowler on its hands.
1. Brent Grimes
2. Aqib Talib
3. Charles Woodson
Safety: Dashon Goldson
2013 is definitely the year to take the plunge and go after a free-agent safety. Players like Louis Delmas and Ed Reed are all available and capable, but they are still just honorable mentions because Dashon Goldson is there for the taking.
Goldson is one of the most athletic safeties in the game. At 6'2", 200 pounds, Goldson has the blend of size and speed that teams covet. He seems to always be looking for the big hit (sometimes even at the cost of not making a play on the ball), but Goldson also has sure hands when he does see the ball in the air.
He has recorded 14 interceptions in his six-year career and still has prime years ahead of him.
1. Ed Reed
2. Louis Delmas
Kicker: Phil Dawson
Phil Dawson has spent his entire 13-year career with the Cleveland Browns, but the 38-year-old kicker is now an unrestricted free agent. Even though he is one of the oldest players in football, Dawson should have no trouble drawing interest from teams looking for a consistent, quality kicker.
Dawson has not always played in the greatest conditions in Cleveland, but that has not stopped him from converting 84 percent of his career field-goal attempts. The amazing thing is that Dawson has only gotten better with time. In the past two years, he has only missed one of his 15 attempted 50-plus-yard field goals.
Dawson has not missed an extra-point attempt since 2009 and hit 29-of-31 field-goal attempts last season.
1. Nate Kaeding
2. Lawrence Tynes
Punter: Shane Lechler
For seemingly forever, the Oakland Raiders have possessed the most potent kicking duo in the league in Sebastian Janikowski and punter Shane Lechler.
It appears that duo is breaking up as Lechler is entering free agency. He has been one of the best punters in the league for over a decade, and at 36 years old, he should garner interest from plenty of teams.
Lechler has averaged 47.5 yards per punt over the course of his career, including a 47.2-yard average last season. He also landed 21 punts inside the 20-yard line.
If a team is looking for one of the most reliable punting options in NFL history, then it need not look any further than Lechler.
1. Reggie Hodges
2. Donnie Jones
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