Underrated 2023 NFL Free Agents Teams Should Look to Poach from Division Rivals

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IJanuary 5, 2023

Underrated 2023 NFL Free Agents Teams Should Look to Poach from Division Rivals

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    Giants WR Richie James
    Giants WR Richie JamesDavid Berding/Getty Images

    With the 2022 NFL season almost complete, many teams are focused on 2023 free agency. Franchise cornerstones are often found through the draft, but adding proven veterans can help improve a team quickly.

    Free agents don't have to be highly coveted players to make a major impact either. Quarterback Geno Smith lingered on the open market for more than a month before the Seattle Seahawks re-signed him. Smith is now a Pro Bowler and has Seattle playing for a postseason spot in Week 18.

    Teams love to find value in under-the-radar free agents. What they love more is weakening a bitter division rival by plucking away a quality role player.

    Below, you'll find seven underrated impending free agents and why they should be targeted by divisional foes this March. Factors like player production, player health, team need, cap space and projected contract value were all considered.

    Players are listed in alphabetical order.

Parris Campbell, WR, Indianapolis Colts

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 26: Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell (1) waits for play to resume during the NFL football game between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Indianapolis Colts on December 26, 2022, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Indianapolis Colts have been a mess this year. Quarterback Matt Ryan has been a flop. Head coach Frank Reich was fired and replaced by Jeff Saturday—a former NFL player with no college or NFL coaching experience—and the team has stumbled to a 4-11-1 record.

    While Indy's defense has played hard (16th in yards allowed), its 29th-ranked offense has been a disaster. This is why it's been easy to miss the emergence of fourth-year receiver Parris Campbell.

    Campbell, a 2019 second-round pick out of Ohio State, suffered multiple injuries (including a broken hand and a PCL/MCL injury) during his first three seasons and tallied just 360 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

    This year, though, he has been healthy and has become one of the Colts' more dependable receivers. He's caught 57 passes for 581 yards and three touchdowns.

    Campbell would be a great fit for the Houston Texans, who are trending toward the No. 1 overall pick and may build around a rookie quarterback next season.

    The Texans have watched Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence flourish in 2022 alongside free-agent pass-catchers Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram. Adding Campbell could help Houston take a similar approach.

    The Texans are projected to have $47.7 million in cap space, so money isn't a big issue. With a projected market value of just $2.5 million annually, though, Campbell would be a budget addition who allows Houston to splurge on other players.

    On top of being a young and emerging wideout, Campbell is well versed in the AFC South. His experience against division coordinators and defensive backs would be an asset as the Texans look to develop their quarterback of the future.

Samson Ebukam, Edge, San Francisco 49ers

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    SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 11: Samson Ebukam #56 of the San Francisco 49ers runs out during introductions against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi's Stadium on December 11, 2022 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    San Francisco 49ers edge-rusher Samson Ebukam isn't a household name, but he's been a quality contributor this season. While Nick Bosa headlines and leads the 49ers pass rush, Ebukam has been a nice complementary piece.

    Playing 60 percent of the defensive snaps, Ebukam has chipped in with 35 tackles, 4.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss and 14 quarterback pressures.

    With a projected market value of $7.7 million annually, Ebukam figures to be a bargain for any team that seeks pass-rush help. The Arizona Cardinals are one of those teams.

    The Cardinals lost pass-rusher Chandler Jones in 2022 free agency and have logged only 32 sacks this year. J.J. Watt has produced 10.5 of those sacks, but he has announced his decision to retire after this weekend.

    "It's been an unbelievable ride," Watt told reporters.

    With Watt on the way out, the Cardinals desperately need to reload on the edge. Sniping Ebukam from the rival 49ers would be a great start. While the 27-year-old won't replace Watt's production, he can make an impact—especially in divisional games.

    After two seasons in San Francisco following four years with the Los Angeles Rams, Ebukam knows the strengths and weaknesses of the division's offensive linemen, including his own. Three of his 4.5 sacks this season have come against NFC West foes. That's production the Cardinals can make work for them.

D'Onta Foreman, RB, Carolina Panthers

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    CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 24: D'Onta Foreman #33 of the Carolina Panthers scores a touchdown against the Detroit Lions in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)
    Eakin Howard/Getty Images

    There's a good chance the New Orleans Saints will be looking for a new quarterback in 2023. Andy Dalton has played well but isn't a long-term answer. Whether it's Dalton or someone else next season, though, the Saints should support their quarterback with an improved running game.

    Alvin Kamara is a tremendous dual-threat back, but he's averaged a modest 4.0 yards per carry this season. New Orleans ranks just 21st in yards per carry, and power-rushing complement Mark Ingram II is 33 and set to be a free agent.

    The Saints would be wise to augment their ground game by snagging D'Onta Foreman from the rival Carolina Panthers. Foreman has helped Carolina's rushing attack flourish after the Christian McCaffrey trade, and he's been impressive as a lead back.

    Foreman has rushed for 846 yards, 4.4 yards per carry and five touchdowns, yet he has a projected market value of only $3.4 million annually. This is important because the Saints will need to be very budget-conscious.

    New Orleans is projected to be $57.8 million over the salary cap. While general manager Mickey Loomis is quite good at financial gymnastics—the Saints were more than $60 million over the cap entering 2022—big names like Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs aren't realistic running back options.

    Foreman would be an upgrade over Ingram and would make sense financially, and at only 26 years old, he could be a long-term complement to Kamara.

Richie James, WR, New York Giants

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 01:  New York Giants wide receiver Richie James (80) prior to the National Football League game between the New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts on January 1, 2023 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Dallas Cowboys have spent much of the season searching for a complementary receiver to partner with CeeDee Lamb, Noah Brown and Michael Gallup. They flirted with Odell Beckham Jr. and eventually signed T.Y. Hilton.

    Chatter even emerged that the Cowboys would target 49-year-old receiver Terrell Owens—though franchise owner Jerry Jones shot that down.

    "I don't know where that's coming from," Jones told Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I have no idea. But I haven't spoken a word to him or his agent."

    This offseason, Dallas should look to pull wideout Richie James away from the rival New York Giants. The 27-year-old was one of the more overlooked additions last offseason, but he's emerged as a big-time contributor in New York, especially over the past few weeks.

    Over his past four games, James has caught 26 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns. He has 569 yards on the season, which would make him Dallas' second-leading receiver behind Lamb.

    James has also provided a stellar 119.6 passer rating when targeted in 2022. He's become arguably New York's most reliable and consistent pass-catcher, and he'd be a tremendous second or third target for the Cowboys. His experience against Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Commanders defenses would also be valuable.

    Dallas is projected to have just $6.5 million in cap space available. James, who signed a one-year, $1.1 million deal with New York, is one of the few quality receivers Dallas could likely fit within its budget.

Jerick McKinnon, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 24: Kansas City Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon (1) celebrates in the end zone after scoring a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks on December 24th, 2022 at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City Missouri. (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Running back Jerick McKinnon saw little work for the Kansas City Chiefs during the 2021 regular season (12 carries, 13 receptions), but he began to flash during the postseason. In three playoff games, he tallied 150 rushing yards, 14 receptions, 165 receiving yards and a touchdown.

    The 30-year-old has continued to shine this season, especially as a receiving back. He's rushed for 285 yards and 4.1 yards per carry while catching 54 passes for 512 yards. He has found the end zone nine times in 16 games.

    While McKinnon's skill set is a perfect match for Andy Reid's offense, he'd look good with the Las Vegas Raiders as well. The Raiders have a fantastic dual-threat back in Jacobs, but he's set to become a free agent in March.

    Even if the Raiders retain Jacobs, McKinnon could be a huge asset as a pass-catching complement. While backup Ameer Abdullah has averaged a solid 8.4 yards per catch, McKinnon is averaging 9.5 yards per reception this season. McKinnon's eight receiving touchdowns are also just five fewer than the combined total of all Raiders not named Davante Adams.

    Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels has traditionally utilized multiple backs with specialized roles, dating back to his time as the New England Patriots offensive coordinator. McKinnon would provide him with a lot of options, and he wouldn't impact Las Vegas' financial ability to re-sign Jacobs.

    The Raiders have $33.1 million in projected cap space, while Jacobs has a projected market value of $12.8 million annually. McKinnon, meanwhile, has averaged just $1.1 million annually over his last three one-year contracts.

Larry Ogunjobi, DT, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 13: Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (99) is announced during the national football league game between the New Orleans Saints and the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 13, 2022 at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Last year, defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi provided a perfect example of what poaching from a division rival can accomplish. The Cincinnati Bengals signed Ogunjobi away from the Cleveland Browns and got a huge return on investment.

    Ogunjobi finished the 2021 season with 49 tackles, seven sacks, 12 tackles for loss and 24 quarterback pressures. Along with fellow free-agent additions Trey Hendrickson, Eli Apple, Chidobe Awuzie, Mike Hilton and Ricardo Allen, Ogunjobi helped Cincinnati forge a playoff-caliber defense.

    This offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed Ogunjobi after his deal with the Chicago Bears fell through because of a failed physical. While the 28-year-old hasn't been as disruptive in Pittsburgh, he's been solid, especially against the run.

    Ogunjobi has logged 45 tackles, a half-sack, six tackles for loss, 10 quarterback pressures and only two missed tackles.

    The Browns would be wise to bring Ogunjobi back into the fold. Cleveland lacks both talent and depth in its defensive interior and has been horrible against the run. The Browns rank 25th in both rushing yards allowed and yards per carry allowed.

    Adding a big-name defensive tackle like Daron Payne isn't realistic because the Browns are projected to be $5.8 million over the cap. Ogunjobi, who has a projected market value of $3.4 million annually, is a much more reasonable target.

    Ogunjobi has spent his entire career in the AFC North, he knows both the division and the Browns' personnel well, and he'd be a welcome addition to arguably Cleveland's most underwhelming unit.

Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Las Vegas Raiders

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    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 18: Rock Ya-Sin #26 of the Las Vegas Raiders walks through the tunnel to the field prior to an NFL football game between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Arizona Cardinals at Allegiant Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
    Michael Owens/Getty Images

    We've discussed how the Raiders should swipe McKinnon from the Chiefs, and Kansas City would be just as smart to snag a player from Las Vegas. In this case, we're talking about cornerback Rock Ya-Sin.

    The Raiders acquired Ya-Sin from the Indianapolis Colts in a trade for pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue. Before he landed on injured reserve with a knee injury, the 26-year-old proved to be a capable starter.

    In 11 games with nine starts, Ya-Sin registered 45 tackles and seven passes defended while allowing an opposing passer rating of just 82.6 in coverage. He did it while facing some of the best receiving corps in the NFL.

    Ya-Sin's experience against quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Justin Herbert—not to mention receivers like Keenan Allen, Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy—would be valuable to the Chiefs. His talent would boost a Kansas City Chiefs defense that ranks 19th in passing yards allowed and has surrendered a league-high 32 passing touchdowns.

    Despite being targeted 69 times this season, Ya-Sin gave up only one receiving score.

    The Chiefs will have a projected $18.1 million in cap space and might not be able to target a standout corner like James Bradberry, who has a projected market value of $17.1 million annually. Ya-Sin is a more realistic option, as his projected market value of $10.8 million annually might drop because of his knee injury.

    The Chiefs may be kings of the AFC West with seven straight division titles, but they could still benefit from signing Ya-Sin away from Las Vegas.

    Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference. Cap, contract and market information via Spotrac.