2011 NFL Free Agents: The Top 12 Potential Free Agents at Every Position

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterJune 29, 2011

2011 NFL Free Agents: The Top 12 Potential Free Agents at Every Position

0 of 12

    With reports saying the end of the NFL lockout is near, it is officially time to shift gears and start focusing on the potential of free agency starting very soon.

    As NFL teams scramble to sign free agents once the lockout is lifted, we are doing our best to identify the top free agents expected to be available once the clock strikes midnight on the day things go back to normal.



    No one knows for sure at this point if franchise tags will be valid, or if players involved in the NFLPA lawsuit will be eligible for the franchise tag. It also remains to be seen how many years of service are required for unrestricted free agency.


1 of 12

    The free-agent quarterback class of 2011 hinges on two players: Michael Vick and Peyton Manning.

    Both players were tagged by their respective clubs as franchise players before the lockout began, but it remains to be seen how the franchise tag will be used under a new collective bargaining agreement. There is a chance that both Vick and Manning could hit the open market.

    While we would not expect either player to leave their current city, it would definitely make the offseason a little more interesting.

    Rank Player 2010 Team Designation
    1 Peyton Manning Indianapolis Colts Franchise tag
    2 Michael Vick Philadelphia Eagles Franchise tag
    3 Alex Smith San Francisco 49ers  
    4 Matt Hasselbeck Seattle Seahawks  
    5 Matt Moore Carolina Panthers  
    6 Matt Leinart Houston Texans  
    7 Seneca Wallace Cleveland Browns  
    8 Rex Grossman Washington Redskins  
    9 Kerry Collins Tennessee Titans  
    10 Brady Quinn Denver Broncos  
    11 Dennis Dixon Pittsburgh Steelers  
    12 Troy Smith San Francisco 49ers  

Running Backs

2 of 12

    The running back class of 2011 belongs to DeAngelo Williams.

    While other running backs in this class will get some attention on the open market. Williams will be the highest-paid runner from this class once it's all said and done.

    Outside of Williams, there are great options for starters, complementary backs and third-down options—unless Arian Foster, who should be an exclusive-rights free agent, gets out of Houston. The Texans will have incredible leverage in re-signing him but it is possible he could slip away.

    We also like Ahmad Bradshaw, who is a powerful runner with great hands. He could be very tempting to many teams.

    One player to keep an eye on as a sleeper is Michael Bush of Oakland. If given a chance as a starter, he could really do some damage.

    Rank Player 2010 Team Designation
    1 Arian Foster Houston Texans Exclusive Rights (ERFA)
    2 DeAngelo Williams Carolina Panthers  
    3 Ahmad Bradshaw New York Giants  
    4 Michael Bush Oakland Raiders Restricted Free Agent (RFA)
    5 Cedric Benson Cincinnati Bengals  
    6 BenJarvus Green-Ellis New England Patriots RFA
    7 Ricky Williams Miami Dolphins  
    8 Ronnie Brown Miami Dolphins  
    9 Pierre Thomas
    New Orleans Saints
    10 Tim Hightower Arizona Cardinals  
    11 Leon Washington Seattle Seahawks  
    12 Darren Sproles San Diego Chargers  


3 of 12

    The fullback position is enjoying a small revival in the NFL over the past few years. Players like Peyton Hillis making a successful move from fullback in Denver to star running back in Cleveland certainly help.

    The 2011 fullback class is surprisingly strong, with classic blocking backs and athletic runner/receivers available.

    Rank Player 2010 Team Designation
    1 Vonta Leach Houston Texans  
    2 Mike Tolbert San Diego Chargers  
    3 Le'Ron McClain Baltimore Ravens  
    4 John Kuhn Green Bay Packers  
    5 Jason Snelling Atlanta Falcons  
    6 Jerome Felton Detroit Lions  
    7 Lawrence Vickers Cleveland Browns  
    8 Brian Leonard Cincinnati Bengals  
    9 Heath Evans New Orleans Saints  
    10 Lex Hilliard Miami Dolphins  
    11 Marcel Reece Oakland Raiders  
    12 Korey Hall Green Bay Packers  

Wide Receivers

4 of 12

    Perhaps the deepest and strongest free-agent position this year is at wide receiver.

    NFL teams will find themselves swimming with options at wide receivers who are of a Pro Bowl-caliber and able to make immediate impacts in their new cities.

    The availability of the franchise tag will affect teams here as well. San Diego would love to keep Vincent Jackson if the franchise tag can be applied. Minnesota confused many when they chose to tag linebacker Chad Greenway over Sidney Rice—who will be a hot player on the market this summer.

    Rank Player 2010 Team Designation
    1 Sidney Rice Minnesota Vikings  
    2 Vincent Jackson San Diego Chargers Franchise tag
    3 Santonio Holmes New York Jets  
    4 Steve Smith New York Giants  
    5 Braylon Edwards New York Jets  
    6 Malcolm Floyd San Diego Chargers  
    7 Mike Williams Seattle Seahawks  
    8 James Jones Green Bay Packers  
    9 Santana Moss Washington Redskins  
    10 Terrell Owens Cincinnati Bengals  
    11 Brad Smith New York Jets  
    12 Randy Moss Tennessee Titans  

Tight Ends

5 of 12

    The tight end class of 2011 is not as strong as those at wide receiver or cornerback, but there are three Pro Bowl-caliber tight ends hitting the market this summer.

    No. 1 among them is Zach Miller.

    Miller has been the best offensive weapon in the passing game for Oakland over the last two seasons. He's not just a receiver though; Miller can get dirty as an in-line blocker.

    Rank Player 2010 Team Designation
    1 Zach Miller Oakland Raiders  
    2 Marcedes Lewis Jacksonville Jaguars Franchise tag
    3 Owen Daniels Houston Texans  
    4 Kevin Boss New York Giants  
    5 David Thomas New Orleans Saints  
    6 Matt Spaeth Pittsburgh Steelers  
    7 Bo Scaife Tennessee Titans  
    8 Ben Patrick Arizona Cardinals  
    9 Leonard Pope Kansas City Chiefs  
    10 Desmond Clark Chicago Bears  
    11 Reggie Kelly Cincinnati Bengals  
    12 Daniel Felts St. Louis Rams  

Offensive Tackle

6 of 12

    Matt Light of the New England Patriots may be the most accomplished tackle available this offseason but it is the young guns at the tackle position who are worth watching.

    Players like Tyson Clabo, who has become one of the best right tackles in football, will be the early signings once free agency begins.

    Light and other veterans like Doug Free will be attractive options at left tackle, but it's Clabo who will command the early attention.

    Rank Player 2010 Team Designation
    1 Tyson Clabo Atlanta Falcons RFA
    2 Doug Free Dallas Cowboys  
    3 Jared Gaither Baltimore Ravens  
    4 Matt Light New England Patriots  
    5 Willie Colon Pittsburgh Steelers  
    6 Jermon Bushrod New Orleans Saints  
    7 Ryan Harris Denver Broncos  
    8 Jamaal Brown Washington Redskins  
    9 Ryan Cook Minnesota Vikings  
    10 Mario Henderson Oakland Raiders  
    11 Sean Locklear Seattle Seahawks  
    12 Jeremy Trueblood Tampa Bay Buccaneers  

Interior Linemen

7 of 12

    Rarely do offensive guards who have made All-Pro teams hit the open market, but that will happen if no franchise tag is allowed to be used this year.

    Logan Mankins, one of the best guards in the NFL, has an expired contract and a bad relationship with the ownership in New England. Without a franchise tag he will see huge money on the open market.

    Mankins might not be the best guard available though. That could be Carl Nicks.

    Rank Player 2010 Team Designation
    1 Carl Nicks New Orleans Saints RFA
    2 Logan Mankins New England Patriots Franchise tag
    3 Ryan Kalil Carolina Panthers Franchise tag
    4 Harvey Dahl Atlanta Falcons RFA
    5 Marshall Yanda Baltimore Ravens  
    6 Daryn Colledge Green Bay Packers  
    7 Davin Joseph Tampa Bay Buccaneers  
    8 Justin Blalock Atlanta Falcons  
    9 Lyle Sendlein (center)
    Arizona Cardinals
    10 David Baas (center) San Francisco 49ers  
    11 Chris Chester Baltimore Ravens  
    12 Kyle Kosier Dallas Cowboys  

Defensive Ends

8 of 12

    There are not any "can't-miss" players in the 2011 defensive end class of free agents, but there is a solid group of pass-rushers and run-stuffers for both the 4-3 and 3-4 defense here.

    The fight for top dollars will come down to Ray Edwards, formerly of the Vikings, and defensive end/outside linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka. Edwards is a traditional 4-3 defensive end, which bodes well for his bank account, but Kiwanuka is a stand-up pass-rusher made for the 3-4.

    Rank Player 2010 Team Designation
    1 Mathias Kiwanuka New York Giants  
    2 Ray Edwards Minnesota Vikings  
    3 Charles Johnson Carolina Panthers RFA
    4 Jason Babin Tennessee Titans  
    5 Cullen Jenkins Green Bay Packers  
    6 Cliff Avril Detroit Lions RFA
    7 Shaun Ellis New York Jets  
    8 Stephen Bowen Dallas Cowboys  
    9 Ray McDonald San Francisco 49ers  
    10 Tim Crowder Tampa Bay Buccaneers  
    11 Jason Hatcher Dallas Cowboys  
    12 Kenny Iwebema Arizona Cardinals  

Defensive Tackles

9 of 12

    Looking for a game-changing defensive tackle? Unfortunately, the free-agent class at the position is weak.

    The NFL's best defensive lineman, Haloti Ngata, will become available this summer, and so will savvy veteran nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin.

    Ngata is a likely recipient of the franchise tag, if one exists, and deservedly so.

    Rank Player 2010 Team Designation
    1 Haloti Ngata Baltimore Ravens Franchise tag
    2 Aubrayo Franklin San Francisco 49ers  
    3 Brandon Mebane Seattle Seahawks  
    4 Barry Coefield New York Giants  
    5 Pat Williams Minnesota Vikings  
    6 Anthony Adams Chicago Bears  
    7 John Henderson Oakland Raiders  
    8 Gerard Warren New England Patriots  
    9 Alan Branch Arizona Cardinals  
    10 Eric Foster Indianapolis Colts  
    11 Clifton Ryan St. Louis Rams  
    12 Gabe Watson Arizona Cardinals  


10 of 12

    If there is no franchise tag when the 2011 offseason rolls around, the talent at outside linebacker will be simply incredible.

    With a franchise tag, this is still a talented group, but nothing like the flood of marquee players we will see if there is no franchise designation.

    Rank Player 2010 Team Designation
    1 LaMarr Woodley Pittsburgh Steelers Franchise tag
    2 Tamba Hali Kansas City Chiefs Franchise tag
    3 David Harris New York Jets Franchise tag
    4 Paul Posluszny Buffalo Bills  
    5 Stephen Tulloch Tennessee Titans  
    6 James Anderson Carolina Panthers  
    7 Barrett Ruud Tampa Bay Buccaneers  
    8 Rocky McIntosh Washington Redskins  
    9 Kevin Burnett San Diego Chargers  
    10 Thomas Davis Carolina Panthers  
    11 Quincy Black Tampa Bay Buccaneers  
    12 Manny Lawson San Francisco 49ers  


11 of 12

    No position group has the number of dominant players available to free agency like the cornerback position this summer.

    The NFL's best cornerback, Nnamdi Asomugha, is joined by other elite cornerbacks—Johnathan Joseph and Antonio Cromartie—to form an exceptionally talented and deep group of free agents for cornerback-needy NFL teams to bid for.

    Rank Player 2010 Team Designation
    1 Nnamdi Asomugha Oakland Raiders  
    2 Johnathan Joseph Cincinnati Bengals  
    3 Antonio Cromartie New York Jets  
    4 Brent Grimes Atlanta Falcons RFA
    5 Carlos Rogers Washington Redskins  
    6 Ike Taylor Pittsburgh Steelers  
    7 Eric Wright Cleveland Browns  
    8 Josh Wilson Baltimore Ravens  
    9 Richard Marshall Carolina Panthers  
    10 Chris Carr Baltimore Ravens  
    11 Jason Allen Houston Texans  
    12 Ronde Barber Tampa Bay Buccaneers  


12 of 12

    The group at safety this summer is not particularly strong or heavy, but Eric Weddle of the San Diego Chargers figures to cash in big time.

    Weddle has excellent range and is a good tackler—basically the only two things you need from a safety. He will be a top-10 player on the open market.

    Rank Player 2010 Team Designation
    1 Eric Weddle San Diego Chargers  
    2 Quintin Mikell Philadelphia Eagles  
    3 Michael Huff Oakland Raiders  
    4 Dawan Landry Baltimore Ravens  
    5 Roman Harper New Orleans Saints  
    6 Tanard Jackson Tampa Bay Buccaneers  
    7 Atari Bigby Green Bay Packers  
    8 Bernard Pollard Houston Texans  
    9 Tom Zbikowski Baltimore Ravens  
    10 Tyrell Johnson Minnesota Vikings  
    11 Melvin Bullitt Indianapolis Colts  
    12 Danieal Manning Chicago Bears