NFL's Biggest Upside Free Agents Who Could Find Homes Before Training Camp

Alex BallentineJune 8, 2022

NFL's Biggest Upside Free Agents Who Could Find Homes Before Training Camp

0 of 7

    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 03: Will Fuller #3 of the Miami Dolphins lines up against the Indianapolis Colts at Hard Rock Stadium on October 03, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    With OTAs well underway, NFL teams are starting to get their first chance to see the holes on their roster on the field.

    The on-field work typically focuses on the mental side of the game or the finer points of technique. However, coaching staffs can still get a sense of who might be ready to contribute right away, who will need more time with the playbook and where they might need to add some talent.

    That's good news for some of the free agents that have yet to find a home for the 2022 season.

    Despite multiple waves of free agency, there are still some players who bring some upside to the table, but there's a reason why each of these players is still on the market. There's no such thing as a guaranteed commodity on the market this time of year.

    However, each player still has some upside based on recent production, age and injury history.

7. DT Sheldon Richardson

1 of 7

    Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (90) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021 in Minneapolis. Minnesota won 36-28. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
    AP Photo/Stacy Bengs

    Finding a defensive tackle who can play well against the run while providing some pass rush up the middle isn't easy. Sheldon Richardson is one of the few options that fit that mold.

    The veteran defensive tackle has become a bit of a mercenary in the latter stage of his career, but he still brings enough pass-rushing juice to be a worthwhile investment. There was a stretch from Week 8 to 11 where he generated at least two pressures a game for the Minnesota Vikings last season.

    In those games, he mostly played right around 50 percent of the snaps. His production warranted an increase in workload, though, and starting in Week 12, he logged at least 60 percent of the snaps over the last seven games of the year. However, his production waned as a result.

    Richardson makes sense for any team that needs to bolster its depth. He's no longer a player you want playing 75 percent of the snaps but could recapture some of his pass-rushing prowess if he is part of a rotation to keep him fresh.

    With the retirement of Stephon Tuitt, Richardson would make sense as someone who can play the three-technique when the Steelers are in nickel packages.

    Best Fit: Pittsburgh Steelers

6. DT Ndamukong Suh

2 of 7

    TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 9: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defensive End Ndamukong Suh (93) rushes the passer during the regular season game between the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on January 9, 2022 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Ndamukong Suh is going into his age-35 season but you wouldn't be able to tell by looking at his production or snap count.

    The man is a vision of consistency and durability. He's played in every game since the 2012 season and played 63 percent of the snaps last season.

    He isn't just playing, though—he's producing at a high level. Despite playing the lowest snap share of his career, he still had six sacks, 13 quarterback hits and seven tackles for loss with the Bucs.

    Tampa's signing of Akiem Hicks most likely signals the end of the Suh era there. However, there are multiple teams who could use a play-making interior defender of Suh's caliber.

    Brad Stainbrook of 247 Sports reported the Raiders are interested in Suh, and the fit makes sense. The Raiders have remodeled the interior of their defensive line this season with the additions of Bilal Nichols and Vernon Butler.

    However, Suh brings better pass-rush production, which is invaluable as the Raiders prepare to defend against Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Russell Wilson in their division.

    Best Fit: Las Vegas Raiders

5. WR Will Fuller V

3 of 7

    Miami Dolphins wide receiver Will Fuller (3) makes a catch for a two-point conversion against the Las Vegas Raiders during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
    AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

    It's fairly obvious that health has played a role in Will Fuller V still looking for a new home.

    He played in 14 games as a rookie in 2016 and hasn't played that many games in a season since. Most recently, he played in just two games with the Miami Dolphins.

    Fuller missed the first game due to suspension but suffered a finger injury that landed him on the IR. He only saw eight targets in two games for his new team.

    But when Fuller is healthy, he's a vertical threat that can change the geometry of a defense. Last year's sunk season has obscured his 2020 campaign, which was his most efficient to date. He averaged a career-high 11.7 yards per target and scored eight touchdowns in just 11 games.

    Fuller could reunite with the quarterback that helped him achieve those figures if he wants to get his career back on track.

    Deshaun Watson built a rapport with Fuller that could bring an added dimension to Cleveland's passing attack. Speedy second-year receiver Anthony Schwartz only brought down 10 of his 23 targets as a rookie. The team added Amari Cooper via trade and David Bell in the draft, but neither is the kind of pure burner that Fuller is.

    The Watson factor could of course become moot if he faces a significant suspension from the NFL in relation to the 24 civil lawsuits he is now facing from women accusing him of sexual assault or misconduct. But regardless of who is under center, Fuller's proven ability to stretch the field would make him a valuable addition to the Browns offense.

    Best Fit: Cleveland Browns

4. Edge Trey Flowers

4 of 7

    Detroit Lions outside linebacker Trey Flowers (90) walks off the field after an NFL football game, Sunday, November 14, 2021 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Matt Durisko)
    AP Photo/Matt Durisko

    Good pass-rush help is hard to find, especially for those who might be scared off by someone in their 30s.

    Trey Flowers is the rare pass-rusher who has the potential to give solid production but hasn't crossed the 30-year-old threshold.

    Granted, that hasn't kept him healthy to this point. Flowers has only played 14 games over the last two seasons, taking the quarterback down just 3.5 times in that span.

    But Flowers will only be 29 this season, and there's reason to believe he can still produce in the right situation.

    In 2020, Flowers was an asset against the run. He only had two sacks after compiling 21 over three seasons but he earned an 83.3 grade from Pro Football Focus.

    Flowers still has some upside if he can find a contender that will use him as part of a rotation on the edge. His production on bad Lions teams compared to his time in New England would indicate he needs a coaching staff that knows how to utilize him.

    The Buccaneers could be a good fit. Todd Bowles knows how to get the most out of his edge rushers, and the Bucs are certainly going to be contenders. Flowers could be the third rusher behind Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Shaq Barrett.

    Best Fit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

3. C JC Tretter

5 of 7

    CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 09: Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter (64) prepares to snap the football during the second quarter of the National Football League game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns on January 9, 2022, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    JC Tretter was a bit of a surprise addition to the free-agent pool. The 31-year-old center was released just one day before the official start of the new league year.

    Nearly three months later, the NFLPA president still hasn't found a new home.

    It's an interesting situation. Center isn't the most valuable position on the offensive line, but one as good as Tretter can be an asset. He still earned a strong 78.7 grade from PFF this season while allowing just one sack.

    Tretter missed a lot of practices while in Cleveland with various knee ailments, but it didn't keep him out of the lineup on Sundays. He started 16 games for five straight seasons with the Cleveland Browns.

    Tretter has shown a proclivity for getting in a great position within a zone scheme. He is a strong run blocker and has never given up more than two sacks in any given season.

    The San Francisco 49ers are now in need of a solution at center after Alex Mack announced his retirement.

    Mack was a Pro Bowler starting every game for the 49ers last season. They could now turn to another former Brown to fill the void once again.

    Best Fit: San Francisco 49ers

2. TE Rob Gronkowski

6 of 7

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) runs his route during a NFL divisional playoff football game between the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, January 23, 2022 in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Menendez)
    AP Photo/Alex Menendez

    It feels a little disingenuous to consider Rob Gronkowski as a free agent. The tight end appears to be mulling a return to the Buccaneers or retirement.

    Still, it's difficult to argue that anyone still out there could have as big an impact as Gronk.

    His injury history is a concern but the 33-year-old showed he's still a weapon when healthy. Only Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce averaged more yards per game at tight end last season.

    He remained one of Tom Brady's favorite targets, snagging 55 balls for 802 yards and six touchdowns.

    The Buccaneers still have Cameron Brate and drafted Cade Otton after losing O.J. Howard in free agency. Still, they seem to have left the light on for Gronk.

    Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reported the team is "optimistic" they will re-sign the tight end before training camp starts in July.

    That would give Brady another reliable pass-catching option while Chris Godwin recovers from the torn ACL he suffered last season.

    Best Fit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

1. WR Odell Beckham Jr.

7 of 7

    INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 13: Odell Beckham Jr. #3 of the Los Angeles Rams runs with the ball during Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium on February 13, 2022 in Inglewood, California. The Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    It's hard to believe that Odell Beckham Jr. is still under 30, but he'll only be 29 when the season starts.

    He's no longer an automatic WR1 and probably works best as a complementary piece who can moonlight as a top target. Still, he's still capable of having his moments.

    He was a crucial piece of the Rams' offense in the postseason. With Robert Woods out of the lineup, OBJ had 21 receptions for 288 yards and two touchdowns across four games in what was only the second playoff stint of his career.

    Unfortunately, that run was ended prematurely in the Super Bowl by a torn ACL, which is likely why he remains unsigned.

    When Beckham gets healthy, a return to the Rams is the best fit. He has a proven role in the Rams' offense, and his ability to run a diverse route tree would give him the ability to play alongside Cooper Kupp and new Rams addition Allen Robinson II.

    It's no wonder Beckham recently crashed head coach Sean McVay's wedding.

    Best Fit: Los Angeles Rams