Whenever free agency actually takes place this offseason, 2011 provides a talented pool of unsigned players who are looking for jobs. There are Pro Bowlers, future Hall of Famers, and potential packed youngsters in this year’s free agent class, but talent isn’t everything.
If players struggle to stay healthy and have trouble staying on the field, then it doesn’t matter how talented they are because they can’t help the team by sitting on the bench.
Consistency is the name of the game. Too many times we have seen players have a breakout season in their contract year but fail to have the same success the next season. Here is a list of the top 10 free agents who are sure bets to perform well this season.
Remember, these aren’t necessarily the most talented free agents. Instead, they are the players who are sure to take the field, play well and earn every cent of their contract.
In the New York Giants Super Bowl-winning season, Ahmad Bradshaw came out of nowhere and emerged as one of the young, up-and-coming running backs in the league.
At only 25 years old, Bradshaw has shown a lot of potential and he has proven that he can be a number one back in this league.
2010 was the best season of his young career as he played in all 16 games, carried the ball 276 times, ran for 1,235 yards, and scored eight touchdowns. Bradshaw took over the Giants starting job for Brandon Jacobs and did well, but fumbles constantly cost him. The running back from Marshall fumbled seven times last season though he did gain an average of 4.5 yards a carry.
The fumbling problem is something that can be fixed.
Former Giant great Tiki Barber had fumbling problems early in his career but coaches taught him a new way of carrying the football and he turned out to have a successful career. If Bradshaw learns to carry the ball more securely, he will be a really good back in this league.
His blinding speed and short stature make him tough to tackle. The 5’9’’back often sneaks under the offensive line and slips through small spaces. He is a home run hitter who can break long runs and can tire out defenses.
Buccaneers linebacker Barrett Ruud has been nothing but consistent since coming into the league as a rookie in 2005.
He takes the field every week and racks up plenty of tackles every game. Since 2007, he has at least 114 tackles and an interception. Ruud also is a pretty good pass rusher and has a knack for disrupting offenses.
Sometimes it seems as though there are two Barrett Ruuds are on the field at once because he is all over the place.
Ruud is among the best linebackers available in free agency so expect numerous teams to go after him. He might have played his last game for the Bucs, but there is still a shot that he returns to Tampa next year.
Not many people around the football world know about Tamba Hali. Hali flies under the radar for a team that doesn’t get much publicity.
He has been a solid player for the Kansas City Chiefs. In his five-year career he has had at least seven sacks in all but one season. He is durable too, only missing one game since 2006.
His numbers have been getting better every year. Last year Hali led the AFC in sacks with 14.5 and was selected to his first Pro Bowl.
He has a lot of potential with him being a first-round pick from Penn State back in 2006. 2010 wasn’t a fluke. Hali will be pick up where he left off and look to build on his 2010 success.
Probably the most important area on any offense is the line. Without good protection, the best quarterback doesn’t have enough time to let a play develop, and the best running back can’t find the hole.
One of the league’s best offensive linemen the past few seasons has been New England Patriots guard Logan Mankins.
Mankins has been selected to three Pro Bowls in his six-year career and has been a mainstay on the New England offensive front. People give Tom Brady a lot of credit and rightfully so, but a great deal of credit has to be given to Mankins and the rest of the line because they give Brady all day to throw the ball.
The most important stat for an offensive lineman is the number of starts he makes. Before last season, Mankins started every game for the Patriots since 2005, and if he hadn’t held out for more money in 2010, he would have started every game again.
Mankins is only 29 and is looking for a big deal. After watching him play since 2005, he is definitely primed to have another good year.
With the San Diego Chargers, Antonio Cromartie became a star. Over the years Cromartie has made a living off intercepting Peyton Manning. It’s the reason why the Jets traded for him and it will probably be a reason for teams to sign him this offseason.
Cromartie is a very unique cornerback. He has a height advantage over many receivers, yet he can match even the quickest ones stride for stride. He has a long wingspan which allows him to break up a ton of passes. In total Cromartie broke up 17 passes and had three interceptions in 2010. His athleticism is just incredible as he has made some impressive one-handed interceptions in his career.
What is different about cornerback stats is that the better a cornerback plays, the quieter he is. A lockdown corner such as Darrelle Revis completely takes away a receiver to the point where teams stop looking for that receiver.
Working alongside Revis, Cromartie was tested more than he was all of his time in San Diego. Being on the same team as Revis definitely made things more difficult for Cromartie, but he played well.
He has been a very consistent cornerback for years now but Cromartie is also a weapon in the return game. Whoever signs this player will get a lot of production from him.
One of the best players on the Steelers lights out defense, LaMarr Woodley is equally as good a pass rusher as he is a run stopper. With Troy Polamalu on the same team it is easy to overlook Woodley, but the defensive stud is just as much the reason for the Steelers defensive success as any other player on the team.
Only 26 years old, he isn’t even in his prime, yet he has shown the world how dominant he can be. The past three seasons he has had 11.5 sacks, 13.5 sacks, and 10 sacks respectively.
Last year he also showed off his hands by tallying two interceptions, five pass deflections and three forced fumbles.
Surely Woodley isn’t a one-year wonder as he was a Pro Bowler in 2009 and a Super Bowl XLIII champion.
He has started at least 15 games the past three seasons and has produced year in and year out. Whoever signs him doesn’t have to worry about whether he will produce in 2011. He is a lock to have another good season.
Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. After leaving Pittsburgh he proved that he can be a team’s No. 1 receiver.
Despite missing four games due to suspension, Holmes caught 52 passes for 746 yards and six touchdowns. Probably the most clutch player on the Jets last season, he had huge catches late in games last season in Detroit, Cleveland and against Houston.
Holmes has tremendous speed, great hands and is a great route runner. He is a one of the best yards-after-catch receivers and can also help teams in the return game.
“Tone” is a sure bet to perform well this coming season as he will not be suspended at the start of the season like he was last year. If he signs with the Jets along with Braylon Edwards, Holmes will enjoy a lot of success in New York.
Oakland Raiders Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha headlines 2011 free agency as the best defensive free agent available. Playing in Oakland, not many people around the country get a chance to see him play on a weekly basis. But if you have the luxury of watching him defend, he will leave you in awe.
Asomugha has been a Pro Bowler since 2007 and has been arguably the best cornerback in the NFL the past few seasons.
He is a shutdown defender who dares quarterbacks to throw at him every play. He had a career high eight interceptions in 2006, but as the league has caught onto him, he rarely gets any opportunities at picking the ball off because he completely takes the receiver out of the game.
Wherever he goes he will make the defense a whole lot better. Maybe he decides to join Revis Island, or maybe he wants to go elsewhere to prove that he is the clear-cut best cornerback in football.
Yes, Peyton Manning is a free agent in 2011. Don’t worry though Colts fans. The only way Manning won’t come back to Indianapolis is if he decides to call it a career.
What else is there to say about Peyton? One of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, Manning is a sure bet every year. You can count on him to throw at least 25 touchdowns and pass for 4,000 yards every season.
He is an ultimate competitor and a true professional. He is the smartest football player out there, and he loves to study defenses.
Manning has started every game for the Colts since 1998 and hasn’t suffered too many injuries throughout his career. Last season he was a little banged up because of his offensive line which gave up 16 sacks. He was under constant pressure in 2010 but this season should be different. The Colts addressed their need on the offensive line by drafting Anthony Castonzo out of Boston College, so the offensive line should hold up better for Manning in 2011.
Also worth mentioning is that Manning will get a lot of his offensive weapons including Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez back from injury this season.
When Manning leads his team to the playoffs in a year when virtually everyone on his team goes down with injuries and he makes Blair White look like a Pro Bowler, you know Peyton Manning is a special player.
At 35 years old, Manning’s best years are behind him but he still has a few more good seasons in him. Look for Manning to have yet another great season for the Indianapolis Colts.
Michael Vick’s career has been a rollercoaster ride. With Atlanta he was the most electrifying players in the league with a cannon for an arm and running back type moves at the quarterback position. After his three-year absence from the game, lots of teams passed on signing Michael Vick. Philadelphia got him for a bargain.
The time away from the game changed him greatly. He isn’t the same quarterback that he was in Atlanta. Frighteningly he has become an even better player. Vick has become more patient in the passing game and looks to throw first. If he can’t find a target, he takes off and tears defenses apart with his legs.
When Vick is at his best it is awfully difficult to stop him. Start blitzing him and he’ll get rid of the ball quickly to his receivers. Play conservative defense and he has plenty of time to survey the field and decide whether to hit an open receiver or to scramble.
The Eagles are the favorites to sign Vick and if he stays in Philadelphia, he has a lot of offensive firepower. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin can fly, and Brent Celek is a reliable tight end. Don’t forget LeSean McCoy and the running game. If Vick returns to Philadelphia, he knows that he will be the starter from day one and the Eagles will have one of the best offenses in the NFL.
Even on his own Vick can carry a team. Last year he finished second in MVP voting to Tom Brady with 3,018 yards, 21 passing touchdowns, 676 rushing yards, 11 rushing touchdowns, only six interceptions and a 62.6 percent completion rate.
Injuries were a bit of an issue for him last season but now Vick has learned to slide or run out of bounds to try and avoid getting hit. His rib injuries were caused by his reckless scrambles but don’t expect him to miss as many games this season.