NFL Free Agents 2014: The 10 Most Underrated Players Available
In this day and age of increased analysis on nearly everything in life, the NFL is no different. There seems to be a list for everything and anything.
When it comes to football, we rate everything from best and worst player performances to the top and the bottom when it comes to coaches to the best and worst chicken wings.
Underrated? Who is really to say? We will say this. You didn't see any of these players suit up for either Team Sanders or Team Rice in Hawaii in January. In fact, the combined career Pro Bowl totals of the following individuals is...zero.
Still, we are willing to take a stab at it here when it comes to the 10 performers who could become unrestricted free agents on March 11. Yes, Pro Bowl invitations are not the be-all, end-all when it comes to rating players. And yes, each of these pros has made a solid impression on the field for his team over the last few seasons.
Keep in mind that we are only talking about players whose contracts expire next Tuesday, not recent salary-cap casualties (aka street free agents).
As usual, we have enlisted the aid of Pro Football Focus (subscription required) to assist us with some of our thoughts.
The following 10 players are listed in alphabetical order according to the team they are currently still under contract with. Remember, there is still time for these 10 players to re-up with their current franchises. However, time is running out…quickly.
How’s that for suspense?
ILB Daryl Smith, Baltimore Ravens
Some would make the case that the Baltimore Ravens defense in 2013 was better than the unit that helped the team win Super Bowl XLVII the previous season.
Veteran inside linebacker Daryl Smith would be one very good reason why.
After piling up nearly 700 tackles and leading the Jacksonville Jaguars in stops three times over a span of nine years, the former second-round pick from Georgia Tech signed with the defending Super Bowl champions this past offseason and enjoyed a banner campaign.
Smith led the Ravens with 123 tackles, totaled five sacks, returned one of his three interceptions for a touchdown, forced two fumbles and defended 19 passes.
As Pro Football Focus points out, Smith had his issues against the run this past season. But keep in mind, he was coming off a 2012 campaign in which he only played in his team’s final two games.
The question now is whether he will be back in Baltimore in 2014.
T Anthony Collins, Cincinnati Bengals
In recent seasons, the Cincinnati Bengals have done a good job of retaining their free agents.
They could have a tough time bringing back two of their more talented performers this season.
Coley Harvey of ESPN.com documents why neither tackle Anthony Collins nor teammate and defensive end Michael Johnson received the team's franchise or transition tag.
The focus here is on Collins, who started just seven games in 2013, as well as the Wild Card Round loss to the San Diego Chargers.
In six seasons in the Queen City, he’s been a valuable part of the team’s offensive front, yet he’s never played in all 16 games in any one year. His seven starts this past season tied a career high set back in 2009. And when he's on the field, he has made an impression, according to Pro Football Focus.
Will that be enough to keep him in Cincinnati? Collins may have his share of suitors.
DE Willie Young, Detroit Lions
There always seems to be an emphasis on the defensive line when it comes to the Detroit Lions.
Having Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh at your disposal will do that for a team.
A seventh-round pick from North Carolina State in 2010, defensive end Willie Young is coming off a nice 2013 campaign. The 6’5”, 251-pound performer started 15 games, totaling 47 tackles, three sacks, five passes defensed and a pair of fumble recoveries.
Is there room for Young in the Motor City? Keep in mind that in last year’s draft, the Lions added defensive ends Ezekiel Ansah and Devin Taylor in the first four rounds. Ansah led the team with eight sacks, and Taylor totaled 2.5 sacks in limited duty.
Young could be a player getting ready to come into his own. It will be interesting to see just where that may be.
TE Garrett Graham, Houston Texans
When you think of tight ends and you hear the name Graham, need we say more?
When you think of tight ends and the Houston Texans, the first name that pops into your head is obviously Owen Daniels.
However, over the last two seasons, Garrett Graham has seen his role increase in the Texans offense. In his first two seasons in the league, the former University of Wisconsin product played in a total of 13 games and totaled one catch.
The last two years, Graham has started a combined 20 games, totaling 77 receptions for 808 yards and eight scores. With Daniels missing 11 games in 2013, Graham finished third on the club with 49 catches and tied for the team lead with five touchdown grabs.
Then again, we also found the Texans at the bottom of the AFC South standings in 2013 and owners of the league’s worst record at 2-14.
G Jon Asamoah, Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles finished second in the league in total yards from scrimmage (1,980), third in the NFL in rushing yards (1,287) and first with 19 total touchdowns in 2013.
But will he have the same group of blockers paving the way for him this upcoming season?
Left tackle Branden Albert could be an unrestricted free agent next week, as could right guard Jon Asamoah. The latter started 12 games last season and graded out pretty well, according to Pro Football Focus.
While there seem to be numerous suitors for Albert, Asamoah has not gotten nearly the same amount of publicity. Will he be back in Kansas City in 2014?
FS Chris Clemons, Miami Dolphins
Obviously, this is not Chris Clemons of the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
That’s not to say Miami Dolphins free safety Chris Clemons isn’t a very productive player.
The five-year veteran has started all 16 games each of the last two seasons. In 2013, he finished fourth on Joe Philbin’s team with 93 tackles while also totaling one interception and eight passes defensed. The previous season, the former Clemson Tiger ranked third on the club with 98 stops and also picked off two passes.
While stopping the run isn’t exactly a strong suit, Clemons ranked ninth in the league this past season—courtesy of Pro Football Focus—when it came to pass coverage.
The Dolphins have their share of potential unrestricted free agents on the defensive side of the ball in Clemons and defensive tackles Randy Starks and Paul Soliai. We shall see who will return to South Florida in 2014.
TE Jeff Cumberland, New York Jets
In Week 8 this past season, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Marvin Jones caught four touchdown passes in a 49-9 win over the New York Jets.
In 2013, Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland led the team with four scoring receptions.
It was certainly not a banner year for Rex Ryan’s offense, but Cumberland proved to be worth watching when he got his hands on the football. The former undrafted free agent from the University of Illinois averaged 15.3 yards per catch on 26 receptions.
In each of the last two seasons, Cumberland has started a dozen games, totaling 55 catches, seven of those for scores. He could be an interesting addition to any team.
More importantly, he could become quarterback Geno Smith’s go-to guy if they stay together for another year.
T Jared Veldheer, Oakland Raiders
You could make a case that Oakland Raiders tackle Jared Veldheer isn’t underrated but perhaps a bit of an unknown.
Rest assured, opponents know all about the Silver and Black’s four-year blocker. Unfortunately, no one saw a lot of him in 2013.
Last season, Veldheer played just five games. In each of his first three seasons dating back to 2010, the former third-round selection ranked among the top 20 tackles in the league per Pro Football Focus.
Now with less than a week to go before free agency, he remains unsigned. Will that still be the case on March 11?
P Donnie Jones, Philadelphia Eagles
Having good special teams is key to winning a championship.
Ten-year veteran punter Donnie Jones has made his share of stops around the NFL since the Seattle Seahawks made him a seventh-round pick in 2004.
Jones’ other NFL stops include stints with the Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams, Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles. A year ago in the City of Brotherly Love, the former LSU product averaged 44.9 yards per punt. Jones also put 33 kicks inside the 20, one of the top marks in the NFL. Philadelphia ranked 11th in the league in opponents' punt-return average.
CB Walter Thurmond, Seattle Seahawks
It’s probably technically impossible to call anyone who plays in the Seattle Seahawks secondary underrated.
You get the feeling that cornerback Walter Thurmond fits that criterion. Of course, playing in only 34 games (eight starts) and picking off just one pass in four seasons will do that.
Still, the former fourth-round pick from Oregon graded out pretty well with Pro Football Focus in 2013. Could he be headed elsewhere sooner than later?
That remains to be seen. The Seahawks do have Byron Maxwell as a starter opposite Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman. What they won’t have is Brandon Browner, at least for the first four games of 2014 due to a league suspension. The again, Browner is also slated to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11, and it's unknown whether he is in Seattle’s plans for 2014.
“I received wonderful news," Browner said on Twitter earlier this week, via Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com. “The NFL has reinstated me, and I now have the opportunity to prove to the fans and my teammates how important this sport is to me.”
As for Thurmond, it would be a bit of a surprise if he left the Pacific Northwest for greener pastures.