NFL1000: Top Overall Free-Agent Rankings

Doug Farrar@@BR_DougFarrar NFL Lead ScoutMarch 6, 2017

NFL1000: Top Overall Free-Agent Rankings

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    Every free-agent class has its good and bad points. The 2017 class is outstanding if you need a lineman on either side of the ball, or a receiver, or a defensive back. Things are a bit more scarce at the quarterback position, where Colin Kaepernick is the one obvious entrant with upscale game experience, and Tyrod Taylor’s fate is still in the hands of the Buffalo Bills. 

    No matter what positions teams are looking for, the common theme in today’s NFL is specificity. More than ever, teams are looking for a certain kind of safety (box, slot, deep coverage), a certain kind of receiver (speed slot, route-savvy slot, outside) or a certain kind of pass-rusher (defined edge or inside/outside). The hybrid nature of the game allows players who would have been thought of as tweeners a decade ago to grab high-dollar contracts because, although their skill sets may not be complete, they fit a certain need.

    The top free agents in the 2017 class each have a lot to offer, and versatility is the key to success at the top. The NFL1000 team of scouts has done our positional free-agent rankings, and here's the cream of the crop.

    Previous Installments

    NFL1000 Free-Agent Quarterback Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Tight End Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Fullback Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Kicker/Punter Rankings
    FL1000 Free-Agent Left Tackle Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Offensive Guard Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Center Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Right Tackle Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Inside Linebacker Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 3-4 Defensive End Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 4-3 Defensive End Rankings
    NFL1000 Free Agent Defensive Tackle Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 3-4 Outside Linebacker Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 4-3 Outside Linebacker Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Running Back Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Wide Receiver Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Free Safety Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Strong Safety Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Cornerback Rankings

Honorable Mentions

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    Bradley McDougald, FS, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 20.1/30
    Recovery: 20.7/30
    Slot: 5.5/10
    Tackling: 15.1/20
    Positional Value: 8/10 
    Overall: 69.5/100
    2016 NFL1000 Free Safety Rank: 34/50

    McDougald doesn’t get a lot of national attention, but the undrafted free agent from Kansas has quietly developed into one of the league’s better do-it-all safeties. Not only is he a quick and aggressive run-stopper, but he also allowed just 23 catches on 42 targets for 373 yards, two picks, one touchdown and an opponent passer rating of 72.8. Unless the Buccaneers do the right thing and bring him back to pair with the newly impressive Keith Tandy, some team’s going to get a steal.

    JC Tretter, C, Green Bay Packers

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Pass Pro: 17.7/25
    Run Block: 16.4/25
    Power: 15.3/20
    Agility: 16/20
    Positional Value: 6/10
    Overall: 71.4/100
    2016 NFL1000 Center Rank: 11/38

    Tretter was the Packers’ starting center until a torn MCL ended his season in Week 8. Assuming he makes a full recovery, he’s going to have a lot of teams looking his way. He’s not the most powerful center in the business, but in any offense requiring inside linemen to pull, get to the second level and hit his targets accurately in space, Tretter will be an enormous asset. He made a nice jump in technique and consistency in 2016, and his best play could still be ahead of him.

    Ricky Wagner, RT, Baltimore Ravens

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Pass Pro: 17.6/25
    Run Block: 17.7/25
    Power: 14.5/20
    Agility: 13.9/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 70.6/100
    2016 NFL1000 Right Tackle Rank: 21/38

    Wagner allowed three sacks in the first five games of the 2016 season and then never allowed another one. He had some of the highest-graded weeks at his position in the second half of the season. Baltimore’s offense regressed in a lot of ways last year, but Wagner wasn’t part of the problem, and the team has indicated that retaining him is a priority. If they’re not able to, it’s because another team decided to pay a ton of money to the best right tackle on the market—a position that has grown steadily in importance over the last decade.

    Kenny Britt, WR, Los Angeles Rams

    NFL1000 Scores

    Route Running: 17.3/25
    Hands: 17.1/25
    Yards After Catch: 13.2/20
    Blocking: 11.3/20
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 67.8/100
    2016 NFL1000 Wide Receiver Rank: 40/155

    Gaining over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career for the worst passing offense of the decade was enough to put Britt on this list. He’s not the speedster he used to be, but Britt is a strong player who works hard to get open and can grab a deep pass once in a while. He has a clear ceiling as a route-runner, which should pump the brakes a bit on the “Gosh, if he gained 1,002 yards with Jared Goff as his quarterback, he’d be Superman with us!” philosophy. But he’ll help any team as a No. 2 receiver who has some high-volume seasons left in him.

    Barry Church, SS, Dallas Cowboys

    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 18.6/25
    Recovery: 18.6/25
    Slot: 15.8/20
    Tackling: 15.3/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 74.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 Strong Safety Rank: 10/53

    Church was an important part of the NFL’s most underrated safety trio in 2016—the Cowboys’ secondary didn’t get nearly the credit it deserved as the franchise saw an impressive resurgence. Church was specifically impressive as a short-to-intermediate pass defender, allowing 24 catches on 30 targets for just 189 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Any team with a need for a designated strong safety who can deal with quick receivers in short-route situations—and wouldn’t mind some great run defense on the side—would be wise to look him up.

    Jabaal Sheard, DE, New England Patriots

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Pass Rush: 18/25
    Run Defense: 14.1/25
    Snap Explosion: 13.3/20
    Tackling: 13.1/20
    Positional Value: 8/10 
    Overall: 66.1/100
    2016 NFL1000 4-3 Defensive End Rank: 27/68

    The question Sheard will have to answer when meeting with teams is why he was relegated to reserve duty by Bill Belichick late in the 2016 season. There are theories that he freelanced once too often in the Seahawks game, and if there’s one thing Belichick doesn’t like, it’s players who go off-script. Still, Sheard is a talented player who will stop the run consistently and provide some pass rush for any four-man front. Based on his disappearing act in Cleveland when the Browns switched schemes, 3-4 teams needing an outside linebacker should look elsewhere.

    Pierre Garcon, WR, Washington Redskins

    NFL1000 Scores

    Route Running: 17.6/25
    Hands: 17.4/25
    Yards After Catch: 13.7/20
    Blocking: 11.3/20
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 68.8/100
    2016 NFL1000 Wide Receiver Rank: 28/155

    While DeSean Jackson was the explosive component of Washington’s passing game in 2016, Garcon was the volume contributor. He caught 79 passes on 110 targets for 1,041 yards and three touchdowns, and his ability to get open on all kinds of short and intermediate routes made him a vital target for Kirk Cousins. Garcon doesn’t really blow you away with any element of his tape, and he’ll be 31 in August, but he’s got a lot of production left. Any quarterback would be lucky to have him.

    Ronald Leary, OG, Dallas Cowboys

    NFL1000 Scores

    Pass Pro: 16.4/25
    Run Block: 17.1/25
    Power: 16.7/20
    Agility: 14.1/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 71.2/100
    2016 NFL1000 Offensive Guard Rank: 23/78

    Leary is a tough, somewhat mobile blocker who isn’t terribly quick, but he gets the job done. He didn’t allow a single sack, and just four quarterback hits, in 871 snaps last season. Teams will wonder, though, how effective he’ll be without Tyron Smith to his left and Travis Frederick to his right—playing on the best offensive line in the NFL without being a key cog in that machine is a factor in his viability as a high-dollar starter elsewhere.

    Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers

    NFL1000 Scores

    Accuracy: 14.6/25
    Arm Talent: 19.2/25
    Decision-Making: 13.5/20
    Under Pressure: 11.8/20
    Positional Value: 10/10
    Overall: 69.1/100
    2016 NFL1000 Quarterback Rank: 20/38

    Lost in the drama of Kaepernick’s national anthem protests was the fact that statistically, he had his best season since the glory days of Jim Harbaugh, and he did it with very little talent around him. However, that doesn’t mean he’ll be overrun with offers, even given the importance of his position. Kaepernick is still a quarterback who struggles with full-field reads, his mechanics are spotty at best, and his efficiency ebbs and flows. He’s a good option as a bridge starter, but at this point in his career, one wonders how much more he’ll be able to develop.

20. Martellus Bennett, TE, New England Patriots

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Route Running: 14.2/25
    Hands: 17.5/25
    Yards After Catch: 13.1/20
    Blocking: 18.2/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 68.9/100
    2016 NFL1000 Tight End Rank: 7/96

    The Patriots acquired Martellus Bennett to pair him with Rob Gronkowski and unleash the best tight end duo in the NFL—possibly the best such duo since the days of Gronk and Aaron Hernandez. Sadly, it didn't work out as planned. Gronkowski continued to struggle with injuries, and Bennett was nicked up through the season as well.

    However, when healthy, Bennett is the best tight end in this free-agency group by a pretty wide margin—he's an outstanding blocker, a tough guy in traffic and with the contested catch, and he's very quick to grasp any offense. He'll get more than his share of offers and should net a big payday from the team that signs him.   

19. Larry Warford, OG, Detroit Lions

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Pass Protection: 16.2/25
    Run Block: 16.6/25
    Power: 17/20
    Agility: 13.8/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 71/100
    2016 NFL1000 Offensive Guard Rank: 27/78

    Larry Warford hasn't ever been able to live up to his incredible rookie year of 2013, when he refused to allow a single sack in 1,158 snaps and proved to be a dynamic run-blocker, but he's been a consistently good player throughout his NFL career. There are times when he'll get overextended and lose power, but any team with a high passing snap count would benefit from his stable base of play.

    Warford is a mobile player who can pull well, gets up to the second level quickly and pulls to block on screens at a high level. His three-sack season in 2016 was mitigated by the fact that he didn't give them up in bunches, and he allowed only two quarterback hits all year.   

18. Dontari Poe, DT, Kansas City Chiefs

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 16.8/25
    Pass Rush: 15.1/25
    Run Defense: 16.9/25
    Tackling: 12/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 67.5/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 25/99

    Dontari Poe has played 4,529 snaps in his five-year career, and it's starting to show on the field—he wasn't as quick as he had been in recent years off the snap, which was always his selling point. At his peak, Poe was amazingly fast in short spaces for a guy weighing 350 pounds, but guys that big tend to run out of gas.

    Poe still has a lot of value as a pass-rusher and interior run-stopper—he had two sacks, seven hits and 23 hurries in 2016, along with 15 stops—but his next team would be wise to give him a few more breathers to keep him fresh and at his best.   

17. Logan Ryan, CB, New England Patriots

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 17.5/30
    Recovery: 17.5/30
    Slot: 15.3/20
    Tackling: 5.6/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 64.8/100
    2016 NFL1000 Cornerback Rank: 43/133

    Only Tampa Bay's Vernon Hargreaves III was targeted more than Logan Ryan last season—and he held up pretty well, considering. He allowed 72 catches on 105 targets for 750 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions and an opponent passer rating of 90.6. Ryan is a decent outside cornerback whose size (5'11”, 191 pounds) sometimes works against him when he's facing bigger receivers to the boundary.

    Where Ryan regressed a bit in 2016 was in the slot. He had been a pretty lockdown guy inside, but he allowed a lot of receptions and struggled at times to keep up with quick angular routes. He's a good zone cornerback with some slot ability—he's generally been better in that regard than he was this past season—and he'll most likely get No. 2 cornerback money.   

16. Morris Claiborne, CB, Dallas Cowboys

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 20/30
    Recovery: 19.1/30
    Slot: 15/20
    Tackling: 6.1/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 69.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 Cornerback Rank: 19/133

    The problem in assessing Morris Claiborne’s value in free agency is the fact that the 2012 first-round pick out of LSU has only had one NFL season in which he was above average, and that was this past year. Otherwise, he has been a wildly inconsistent pass defender whose frequent injuries slowed his development. The consistency came about in 2016, but he still missed half the regular season and only played 432 snaps overall due to a groin injury.

    That said, teams value true lockdown cover men, and at his best in 2016, Claiborne was just that, allowing just 26 catches on 48 targets for 214 yards, one touchdown, one pick and an opponent passer rating of 64.1. He’d be a lot closer to the top of this list, and probably a lot closer to top of mind for league executives, with a cleaner medical history, but he’s got a lot of value when he can get on the field.

15. Duron Harmon, FS, New England Patriots

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 21.6/30
    Recovery: 21.3/30
    Slot: 5/10
    Tackling: 15.8/20
    Positional Value: 8/10 
    Overall: 71.6/100
    2016 NFL1000 Free Safety Rank: 19/50

    In the Patriots' 2016 defense, Duron Harmon played a few roles, and all with aplomb. He could match up top with Devin McCourty when New England wanted to call two-deep looks, and he is good enough against the run to help occasionally. Most notably, when the Pats went to their “big nickel” formation (three safeties on the field), it was Harmon who would be the deep cover man, while McCourty took the assignment of the top receiver and Patrick Chung played the linebacker role.

    Harmon has been a situational player in Bill Belichick's defense—he's not played over 700 snaps in a season—but that's not to say he couldn't be a full-time starter as a deep safety.  

14. Chris Baker, DE, Washington Redskins

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 10.8/15
    Pass Rush: 15.9/25
    Run Defense: 19.6/30
    Tackling: 13.6/20
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 66.5/100
    2016 NFL1000 3-4 Defensive End Rank: 11/53

    One of the most underrated defensive linemen in the NFL today, Chris Baker is a 6'2”, 320-pound player with more quickness—especially when lining up at end—than his size would suggest. He'll be 30 in October, but he's been at his best over the past two seasons. His low snap counts early in his career adds to the correct perception that he's still got a few good years ahead of him.

    In any 3-4 or hybrid base front, Baker is a great pass-rusher and run-stopper who can play the one- or two-gap role. Were a 4-3 team to sign him, he could easily slip into the one-tech role and move outside to three-tech or end. He amassed six sacks, six quarterback hits and 30 hurries last season.   

13. DeSean Jackson, WR, Washington Redskins

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Route Running: 17.7/25
    Hands: 17.2/25
    Yards After Catch: 14.3/20
    Blocking: 10.3/20
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 68.4/100
    2016 NFL1000 Wide Receiver Rank: 32/155

    No other player on the Redskins' roster had a bigger effect on Kirk Cousins' improvement as a deep passer than DeSean Jackson, and if he's allowed to walk, he'll be very tough to replace. Jackson isn't a full-route guy and never really has been, but there are few receivers who are better at creating defined openings downfield in space. He simply has the athleticism and savvy to time his escapes against deep coverage, and only T.Y. Hilton of the Colts caught more passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield than Jackson's 16 in 2016.

    The team that pays Jackson has to have a plan for him, though. You're not going to turn him into a blocker, or a full-on slot guy (though he's pretty decent on certain inside routes). You pay DeSean Jackson money to torch deep defenders in your offense, and he proved last season he's still got every attribute required to make that happen.   

12. Brandon Williams, DT, Baltimore Ravens

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 16.4/25
    Pass Rush: 14.4/25
    Run Defense: 19.4/25
    Tackling: 12.7/15
    Positional Value: 7.0/10 
    Overall: 69.4/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 18/99

    Brandon Williams is not what you'd call a sexy pick as a free agent. He doesn't get after the quarterback on every play, and he can get hidden in the defensive line unless you're focusing on him. He's got a handful of sacks and a decent number of quarterback pressures throughout his career, but what he does better than just about anyone else in the league is hold the line at the point of attack, take double-teams so other linemen can push through to the pocket, and stop the run at a definitive level.

    How much money is that worth?

    It depends on the nature of the defense that has him. The Ravens have always placed a premium on run-stuffing, and given his ability to create negative plays in the run game, Williams' importance is no secret to those in the league. And it's not to say that he's a one-trick pony—just that, as much as he can generate some quarterback disruption, he's at his best when he's wrecking things inside.

11. Andrew Whitworth, OT, Cincinnati Bengals

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Pass Protection: 19.1/25
    Run Block: 18.5/25
    Power: 15.5/20
    Agility: 14.8/20
    Positional Value: 8.0/10
    Overall: 75.9/100
    2016 NFL1000 Offensive Tackle Rank: 11/40

    The only thing that keeps Andrew Whitworth out of the top five on this list is age—he'll be 36 in December, and at some point, he'll start to show a decline. But he's been one of the best blindside tackles in the NFL for a good long time, allowing four sacks, no quarterback hits and 11 quarterback hurries in 2016.

    What allows Whitworth to continue to succeed at an age when a lot of former left tackles are in coaching or broadcasting? Technique.

    He has never been an athletic marvel. In fact, he can be a little slow around the edge, and he doesn't look particularly impressive on the hoof. But I can think of no other offensive tackle in the league who has learned to do all the little things at a higher level. Whitworth has optimal leverage to maximize his strength, and his understanding of angles makes him a lot quicker to square up and block than he should be.

    Ideally, Whitworth will go to a team with a young offensive line. His leadership will be a major help, and his tape shows just how much he can assist less experienced teammates with the things that make good blockers great.

10. Terrelle Pryor, WR, Cleveland Browns

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Route Running: 18.3/25
    Hands: 18.2/25
    Yards After Catch: 12.2/20
    Blocking: 12.1/20
    Positional Value: 9.0/10 
    Overall: 69.7/100
    2016 NFL1000 Wide Receiver Rank: 21/155

    A throwing/running quarterback at Ohio State, Terrelle Pryor had exactly three receptions in college. However, when he was finally given the opportunity to make an impact as a pass-catcher in 2016 on a full-time basis, he did not disappoint, grabbing 77 passes for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns, despite a Browns quarterback situation that could kindly be described as suboptimal.

    Pryor is not a fully developed receiver—he doesn't yet run a full route tree, and drops are a problem at times. However, the 6'4", 223-pounder is a nightmarish size/speed matchup, especially on deep boundary stuff, and he can be dominant in the slot.

    There is no question whatsoever that Pryor has the athletic potential to be one of the NFL's finest receivers, and he's far enough along in the journey to impact an offense while he's putting the finishing touches on his skill set. The team that invests time and coaching into his future could be getting a monster—in a very good way.  

9. Tony Jefferson, SS, Arizona Cardinals

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 18.1/25
    Recovery: 18.9/25
    Slot: 15.6/20
    Tackling: 16.0/20
    Positional Value: 6.0/10 
    Overall: 74.6/100
    2016 NFL1000 Strong Safety Rank: 8/53

    "He changed his body a lot last year, and he came back extremely thin and had a fantastic year. He's always had that chip on his shoulder. Hopefully when he gets paid, he doesn't lose it."

    That's what Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said to the media of Tony Jefferson when asked at the scouting combine about retaining the veteran. Jefferson was an undrafted free agent for the Cardinals out of Oklahoma in 2013, and he took a while to become the player he was in 2016.

    Jefferson had generally been a good run-stopper and blitzer in Arizona's aggressive hybrid defenses, but he really turned a corner as a pass defender last season, especially on underneath and intermediate stuff. He allowed just 24 catches on 44 targets, and though he didn't have an interception in his 930 snaps, the tape tells the tale of a complete box safety who can move to the slot and bring a ton of versatility to any team signing him.

8. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Route Running: 17.6/25
    Hands: 17.7/25
    Yards After Catch: 13.2/20
    Blocking: 11.9/20
    Positional Value: 9.0/10 
    Overall: 69.2/100
    2016 NFL1000 Wide Receiver Rank: 25/155

    There aren't many true No. 1 receivers—the kinds of players who can flip a defense their way on every play—in any free-agent class, which will make Alshon Jeffery a popular guy when the new league year begins March 9.

    His potential issues (an injury-plagued 2015 season and last year's four-game performance-enhancing drug suspension) will be considered when teams are looking to spend the kind of money he'll demand on the open market. Also, the fact that he hasn't had a 1,000-yard season since 2014 is a bit off-putting, but he's got a rare combination of deep speed and the ability to make contested catches with defenders draped all over him.

    There's also the issue that Chicago's quarterback problems over the last few years have negatively affected his statistical output—last year's QB trio of Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer and Jay Cutler wasn't exactly inspiring.

    He did his best work in 2013 and 2014 when Cutler was at his peak in Chicago, and in an offense with a quarterback who can sling it deep and fire it accurately into traffic, Jeffery is still a serious asset. He might not be the best fit for route-precise teams like the Patriots, but most offensive coordinators would be happy to work around whatever route-consistency issues he may have.

7. Nick Perry, OLB, Green Bay Packers

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Pass Rush: 20.3/25
    Run Defense: 16.4/25
    Coverage: 9.1/15
    Tackling: 19.1/25
    Positional Value: 8.0/10 
    Overall: 72.4/100
    2016 NFL1000 3-4 Outside Linebacker Rank: 7/65

    Nick Perry has improved every season as a pass-rusher, and he put it all together in 2016, amassing career highs in sacks (12), hits (6), hurries (33) and stops (42). Injuries slowed his development in prior seasons, but the 2016 version of Perry was a do-it-all guy who was just as effective stopping the run as he was rushing the passer. He's a quick rusher through the gaps, strong enough to beat double-teams, and you can move him to linebacker depth for inside blitzes.

    Perry will be an interesting player for a number of teams because he's not scheme-specific—he can play a hybrid "endbacker" role just as well as he can be a base outside linebacker in a 3-4 or play end in a four-man front. The only possible ding on Perry is his injury history, but his ability to play well late in the season despite a broken left hand speaks to his toughness.

6. A.J. Bouye, CB, Houston Texans

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 19.0/30
    Recovery: 19.8/30
    Slot: 15.9/20
    Tackling: 5.4/10
    Positional Value: 9.0/10 
    Overall: 69.2/100
    2016 NFL1000 Cornerback Rank: 20/133

    A.J. Bouye was a reserve his first three years in the league, and then, he had one of the better, more surprising contract seasons anyone can remember. Injuries to the Texans secondary put him in the starting rotation, and the undrafted free agent from Central Florida responded marvelously in Romeo Crennel's defense. In 670 coverage snaps, Bouye allowed 42 catches on 77 targets for 413 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 73.1 opponent passer rating.

    What makes Bouye such an intriguing player at this stage of his career, and why he'll break the bank wherever he goes, is that he is comfortable in more than one coverage style. He can trail receivers on a third of the field down the boundary, merges well with his batterymates in zone coverage and can kick inside to the slot.

    Some teams will be wary of Bouye's "one-year wonder" status, but it's important to consider that when a player can fit in multiple schemes, as I believe Bouye can, that tends to be less of a factor. The light just happened to come on a bit later for him than it does for some. He's not a fluke, and he's got a bright future.

5. Kevin Zeitler, OG, Cincinnati Bengals

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Pass Protection: 16.9/25
    Run Block: 16.4/25
    Power: 17.1/20
    Agility: 14.4/20
    Positional Value: 7.0/10
    Overall: 72/100
    2016 NFL1000 Offensive Guard Rank: 21/78

    According to at least one well-sourced member of the Cincinnati sports media—the Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr.—the Bengals are not expected to meet Kevin Zeitler's financial demands. It's an interesting decision given his excellent play, but it's also possible that the guard market has been set too high for Zeitler's first team—a franchise that doesn't see the position as worthy of franchise contracts.

    If he does walk to a new location, Zeitler's second NFL team will get a tough, smart and consistent player who's a bit better in run-blocking than pass protection, but he really does everything at a high level. Playing over 2,200 snaps over the last two seasons, he's given up just one quarterback sack in that entire time.

    Moreover, his drive-blocking prowess is evident on tape—Zeitler has had a nasty streak in the run game since his days at Wisconsin. He's an ideal zone player, but he's strong and technically sound enough to play gap schemes, and he could be ideal for the increasing number of teams that prefer hybrid blocking concepts. Regardless, Zeitler is about to get paid, and it's well-deserved.

4. Dont'a Hightower, LB, New England Patriots

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Pass Defense: 17.8/25
    Run Defense: 27.6/35
    Pass Rush: 10.5/15
    Tackling: 11.1/15
    Positional Value: 6.0/10 
    Overall: 73/100
    2016 NFL1000 Inside Linebacker Rank: 12/65

    Dont'a Hightower has been an impactful player since the Patriots took him out of Alabama in the first round of the 2012 draft. However, his transformative effect on the New England defense became clear over the last couple of seasons, as Bill Belichick preferred to run more of a standard four-man front, and he started to deploy Hightower more and more as a multi-gap blitzer.

    In that role, Hightower has shown he possesses all the attributes for it—he's very observant of gap openings, is quick and aggressive to the lane, and has the strength and technique to beat blocks. He's also a high-caliber run-stopper, and he's above-average in coverage. But it's as a moveable chess piece that he's really proved his value.

    And that's what makes Hightower such an intriguing free agent. As a three-down linebacker who has some mobility, he wouldn't have quite the same value, given the nature of the modern NFL defense. It's his versatility that has him this high on our list, and the Patriots have already proved to be the perfect fit. This is one instance in which a player-team reunion makes by far the most sense.

3. Stephon Gilmore, CB, Buffalo Bills

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 19.0/30
    Recovery: 19.2/30
    Slot: 15.1/20
    Tackling: 5.1/10
    Positional Value: 9.0/10 
    Overall: 67.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 Cornerback Rank: 29/133

    A fairly consistent, highly athletic pass defender who's at his best in aggressive press coverage, Stephon Gilmore was caught between, schematically speaking, in Buffalo's 2016 defense. The Bills asked him to play more off-coverage, and giving ground to receivers who could then elude him on quick angular routes has never been his thing.

    Gilmore needs to control the action from the snap and route the receiver where he wants him to go, especially at the boundary.

    That said, Gilmore's 2016 season wasn't a disaster at all—he allowed a 70.6 opponent passer rating and had five picks to two touchdowns allowed. A lot of the yardage he allowed was underneath stuff, and he's susceptible to the occasional coverage bust, but at age 26, he's coming into his prime.

    The question is: Will any team meet his alleged demands for top-five cornerback money, as Sal Capaccio of WGR 550 reported? We'll have to see, but any team that plays a ton of press coverage and has a good safety over the top would benefit enormously from Gilmore's attributes. 

2. T.J. Lang, OG, Green Bay Packers

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Pass Protection: 17.8/25
    Run Block: 17.0/25
    Power: 16.7/20
    Agility: 15.3/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 74.0/100
    2016 NFL1000 Offensive Guard Rank: 8/78

    When Josh Sitton left Green Bay for the Bears before the 2016 season, T.J. Lang became the heart of the Packers offensive line, and he did as much as anyone to maintain the unit's excellence. In 964 snaps last season, Lang didn't allow a sack or quarterback hit, and he gave up just 11 hurries.

    This is especially impressive given that in head coach Mike McCarthy's offensive design, receivers aren't schemed open, Aaron Rodgers often has to wait an extra beat to throw on deeper routes, and the lack of a formative run game put more pressure on the line to pass-block play after play. Lang has been remarkably consistent as a pass-blocker over the last four campaigns as well—this is no one-season wonder.

    The only question regarding Lang's viability as a top-tier free agent is the fact that he suffered a foot injury and has undergone an arthroscopic procedure on his hip, and is expected to be out until training camp. That aside, he'll get a ton of interest from a lot of teams—he's an agile, tough, smart player who will drastically improve any offensive line he joins. 

1. Calais Campbell, DE, Arizona Cardinals

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 12.2/15
    Pass Rush: 16.9/25
    Run Defense: 21.0/30
    Tackling: 15.2/20
    Positional Value: 7.0/10 
    Overall: 71.9/100
    2016 NFL1000 3-4 Defensive End Rank: 2/53

    Calais Campbell will turn 31 in September, but he's bucking age trends for pass-rushers in ways we don't normally see—especially for those who line up inside the guards a lot of the time. The veteran has played at least 777 snaps in each season since 2009, but his production has been remarkably consistent. In 2016, he was good for nine sacks, 15 hits and 32 hurries, along with 34 total stops. Just another day at the office.

    Campbell can do these things at an advanced age because he's so perfectly married his physical attributes to technique. He's a huge guy (6'8", 300 lbs) with great strength and perhaps the most impressive wingspan in the NFL, but he's effective snap after snap because he understands how to beat blockers with gap speed and an array of hand moves.

    It's always risky to hand a massive contract to a player in is early 30s, but Campbell is as sure a bet as there is on the market for any team running a hybrid front in a base defense.

    Advanced statistics provided by Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.