2014 NFL Free Agents: Underrated Players Who Could Become Stars with New Teams

Brian MaziqueCorrespondent IIIJanuary 7, 2014

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 08:  Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks #88 of the New York Giants looks on prior to the start of the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 8, 2013 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

All but eight NFL teams are already focusing their attentions on the upcoming NFL draft and free agency. As the Divisional Playoff Round approaches in the NFL postseason, we are inching closer to the whirlwind of offseason moves.

We can expect to see players like Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack heavily sought after. The same can be said for Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy.

Whether those two young stars are allowed to leave their respective teams remains to be seen. Aside from the most obvious impact players, there are at least three lesser-regarded players who could really make an impact with a new team.


LeGarrette Blount, RB

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 29: LeGarrette Blount #29 of the New England Patriots stiff arms Jim Leonhard #35 of the Buffalo Bills on his way to a touchdown in the fourth quarter during the game at Gillette Stadium on December 29, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusett
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

As young power backs go, there aren't many more athletic or productive as Blount. He has been a lifesaver for a New England Patriots team ravaged with injury and player absence.

The 27-year-old ran for 772 yards on just 153 attempts in 2013. That's an average of five yards per carry. Teams looking for a nimble, north/south power back probably won't find a better short-term option than Blount.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Blount had plus ratings in each of the last four regular-season games.

Though he's three years shy of the dreaded 30-year-old mark, Blount has only 549 career carries. He may be able to push the limits of the unwritten rule against aging backs.


Hakeem Nicks, WR

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 10:   Hakeem Nicks #88 of the New York Giants  runs after a catch against  Kevin Burnett #94 of the Oakland Raiders during their game at MetLife Stadium on November 10, 2013 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bell
Al Bello/Getty Images

Injuries have hampered Nicks in the last two years, but he is still a solid possession receiver capable of 75 catches and 1,000-yard seasons. He had back-to-back seasons with the New York Giants in which he attained those numbers from 2010 to 2011, but his production has trailed off.

Per PFF, Nicks had just one game in 2013 with a plus rating. He did appear in 15 games, but he only had 896 yards and no touchdowns. Thanks to those mediocre numbers, Nicks could be easy to acquire in real life—and in fantasy football.

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said this about Nicks' 2013 struggles to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News:

He had certain things happen this year to him. I’m not talking about injuries. I’m just talking about being in situations where the ball would be there and perhaps a couple of times he didn’t go for the ball. A couple of other times he just wasn’t able to get himself open on a continuous basis. It just wasn’t a very productive year.

He is still just 25 years old. His decline could be due to a need for a change of scenery. What could Nicks do for a team like the Panthers? Carolina needs a presence at wide receiver and Nicks played his college football at North Carolina.

Don't call it a rumor, but consider it a serious thought.


Dexter McCluster, RB/WR/KR

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 29:  Wide receiver Dexter McCluster #22 of the Kansas City Chiefs scores on a two yard touchdown pass play in the first quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 29, 2013 in San Diego, California.  (Ph
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

McCluster doesn't really have a position, but he's been a proven playmaker with the Kansas City Chiefs. PFF ranks McCluster as the 10th-best overall return man, but the second-best punt returner in the NFL in 2013.

At 5'9", he isn't big enough to get the ball consistently out of the backfield; but for teams with solid defense and a need for a playmaker in the slot—or in special teams—McCluster could be a big-time signing.


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