2011 NFL Free Agency: Ranking the Top 10 Free Agents Nobody's Talking About

Mihir Bhagat@mihirbhagatSenior Analyst IIIMay 25, 2011

2011 NFL Free Agency: Ranking the Top 10 Free Agents Nobody's Talking About

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    The NFL is currently facing a costly dilemma as they are currently undergoing a lockout that's now up to Day 74. While the uncertainty as to whether or not we'll have a regular season when fall rolls around still exists, we might as well look past it and speculate on the upcoming Free Agency period which will begin if and when this madness ends.

    There are several blockbuster names available, highlighted by Nnamdi Asomugha, LaMarr Woodley and DeAngelo Williams. While those are guys that will likely be gone in the early days, if not hours, of free agency, there are also some talented players who are flying under the radar.

    Sometimes, spending the big bucks on the household names isn't the best strategy to take. In fact, if you take a look at the premier franchises like the Patriots, Steelers and Packers, seldom do they ever dish out hefty contracts to free agents. Instead, they bring in players who fit their scheme and fill specific roles on their roster, and, even better, they often come at cheap prices.

    That said, here's my ranking of the top 10 value free agents available that nobody's talking about.

10. RB Tim Hightower

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    In today's NFL, running backs are in abundance, and in an increasingly pass-heavy league, it's unnecessary to make significant investments at the position.

    That's probably why we saw only one running back be taken in the First Round of last month's draft and why a lot of teams will be looking for second-tier players to fill their voids, as opposed to going for the home run hit. 

    With more and more teams employing the running back by committee system, I believe that Tim Hightower is a perfect fit.

    He's young, scrappy, and still has fresh tread on his tires. Moreover, in every one of his three seasons in the league he's improved his yards per carry average and posted a strong 4.8 last year.

    He may not be your every-down feature back, but he can be effective with 10-12 carries a game as well as in the red zone as a short-yardage runner. In fact, he's already scored 23 touchdowns to date. 

    While I will admit he has fumbling issues, I think the positives outweigh the negatives here.  

9. QB Seneca Wallace

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    With Colt McCoy set to be the Cleveland Browns starting quarterback, Seneca Wallace is at a loss. Yet, I believe that some other team may strike gold if they opt to sign him.

    While he's not you're typical signal-caller in terms of size or skill set, there's no denying that he's put up good numbers when given the opportunity.

    Sure, he's only started 18 games in his eight-year career, but that's not to say he wouldn't be a serviceable backup. 

    Also, get this. In the four games he started last year, three of which were against playoff teams if I may add, he ensured that the Browns were competitive despite going 1-3. 

    In addition, over his career, he's completed 60.4 percent of his passes, has a 1.8:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and posted a career passer rating of 83.9.

    Not to mention, his speed and overall athleticism presents another dimension to his game and allows for the playbook to be opened up. Plus, for teams with shaky offensive lines, he can use his elusiveness to evade pass rushers and avoid sacks. Note, that his 13.4 dropbacks per sack ranks higher than Super Bowl winners Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger.

    Note: I'd like to add that the Browns have already signed him to an extension.   

8. DE Shaun Ellis

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    Many NFL teams are transitioning to a 3-4 defensive scheme in order to create confusion for their opposition through creative play-calling and aggressive blitz packages. 

    One of the staples to that system is a five-technique defensive end who can set the edge and allow the outside linebackers to run free and get after the quarterback. 

    Shaun Ellis, for the past 10 years, has done a tremendous job doing so, and even at 33 I think he has enough gas left in the tank to be at the very least a solid rotational player along a three-man front.

    With Cullen Jenkins drawing much of the attention, a team could come up and snag Ellis and still get great value.  

7. OT Willie Colon

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    Protecting your quarterback is almost as important has having one, which is why I consider solidifying your offensive line with reliable bookend tackles a top priority.

    Willie Colon is a solid player, particularly as a driving run blocker. Unfortunately, an Achilles heel injury prematurely ended his season last year.

    Yet, prior, he'd started 50 consecutive games at right tackle and was arguably the Steelers' best blocker. If it hadn't been for the injury, he would've probably been much more coveted. On the flip side, I could see his stock decline as a result, which makes him a huge steal, in my opinion.  

    In addition, at only 26 years of age he could potentially be a team's starter for the next six to eight years.

6. FS Tanard Jackson

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    Tanard Jackson has had some major off-the-field issues and was suspended indefinitely at the beginning of this season for his third violation of the substance abuse policy.

    Nevertheless, don't allow that to undermine his talent. At 25, he's already established himself as one of the premier young safeties in the league and has proven to be a complete football player.

    It's a high-risk, high-reward move, and as we've seen in numerous occasions in the past those type of cases often wait on the market for a while.

    In the end, its a matter of how confident you are that he can turn around his character.

    Note: Due to the suspension, Jackson is not an immediate free agent and will have to wait for the Buccaneers to void his contract. 

5. MLB Kirk Morrison

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    Kirk Morrison was never the type of player to make the big flashy plays, but that's not all that matters in the NFL.

    Sometimes, you've just got to be fundamentally sound, instinctive, and get the job done.

    Up until a pedestrian campaign last year, that's exactly what he'd been doing as he recorded over 116 tackles in each of his first five seasons.

    This year's free-agent inside linebacker corp includes David Harris, Paul Posluszny and Stephen Tulloch, so obviously it's not short of talent.

    That being so, Morrison could slip through the cracks and some team could end up being very fortunate to have him sitting there after the first wave gets signed. 

4. WR James Jones

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    The NFL is a tough place to work because the competition is so tough and oftentimes you're left in the back seat depending on your situation. 

    James Jones was a classic example of that last year with the Packers. He was the third, and sometimes fourth, receiver on their depth chart so he wasn't given the same opportunities he would've been elsewhere.

    Regardless, he still managed to haul in 50 receptions for 679 yards and five touchdowns along with another 144 yards and two scores in the postseason. 

    There's no denying his talent and he could be a strong No. 2, if not primary, option for a lot of teams. 

    Despite that being so, I wouldn't be surprised they let him go since they've got other players capable of stepping up.

    If I were a team in need of a receiver, Jones would be atop of my list simply based on his skills and potential alone. 

3. CB Ike Taylor

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    This year's cornerback class includes two of the best in the business in Nnamdi Asomugha and Champ Bailey. Moreover, there are some fantastic second-tier guys as well. However, one player who's not getting much discussion is Ike Taylor.

    For the past five years or so, he's been one of the consistent players at the position for the Steelers, and losing him would be a monumental blow.

    While he's not the highlight-reel type of guy who will pick off a ton of passes, he's solid in coverage and is willing to come up and assist in run support as well. Just put on the tape and you'd think he was a linebacker based on how many tackles he gets.

    He's getting up there in age at 31 and perhaps he's a better fit at free safety now, but either way he's still a solid contributor. 

2. DE Cliff Avril

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    I'll start off by saying that I'd be extremely surprised if the Detroit Lions allow Cliff Avril to walk via free agency. They drafted him in the third round back in 2008, and has demonstrated huge promise as a pass rusher so far.

    After totaling 10.5 sacks in his first two years, he took major strides last season and put up 8.5, signifying he's ready to take that next big leap forward. 

    Generating an effective pass rush is an integral key to success in the NFL today. Just ask this year's two Super Bowl contenders, who ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in terms of sacks.

    That said, every team is going to be looking to bolster that unit and Avril has the skills to do so.

    Surprisingly though, I'm not hearing his name much in free agency rumors, but whomever lands him should be ecstatic.  

1. WR Santana Moss

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    Sometimes there are some players who undeservingly go unnoticed in free agency, and in this case that man is Santana Moss.

    For some unapparent reason, the two-time All Pro hasn't garnered much attention so far. Making things even stranger, he's coming off a year in which he hauled in a career-high 93 receptions, which ranked third in the NFL among wideouts.

    Not to mention he did so catching balls from a mediocre Donovan McNabb.  

    Sure, the 31-year-old may have a lost a step in his speed in comparison to his early career. However, he can still be a high-quality No. 2 option for most teams.