Doug Farrar's Top 50 Players on the 2018 NFL Free-Agent Market

Doug Farrar@@BR_DougFarrar NFL Lead ScoutMarch 13, 2018

Doug Farrar's Top 50 Players on the 2018 NFL Free-Agent Market

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    You never know just how big-ticket free-agent signings will work out. When the 2017 league year started, the biggest signing was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers three-year, $33.5 million gamble on former Washington Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson. It was thought that Jackson would take the Bucs offense to a different level with his deep speed, but he caught just 50 passes for 668 yards and three touchdowns. 

    Tampa Bay head coach Koetter said in late February that his staff is now working on concepts that are more favorable to Jackson's talents, which tells you all you need to know about why that particular signing didn't work out.

    No matter the player and team, coaches must be ready for the free agents they're signing. It does no good to give an enormous contract to a deep receiver if you have a conservative offense, or break the bank for a disruptive one-gap pass-rusher if you want that pass-rusher to play a more passive two-gap role—you can ask Albert Haynesworth and Ndamukong Suh about that.

    To that end, the players on this list—the cream of the 2018 free-agent crop—are all hypotheticals at this point. Most of them will find new homes, and some will be fortunate enough to work with coaches who understand their strengths and weakness and adjust accordingly. Without that in the equation, the money doled out on them will be ill-spent. 

    Here are the top 50 free agents of the 2018 league year.

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    50. Donte Moncrief, WR

    Moncrief has the potential to be a No. 1 receiver with a quarterback who can get him the ball consistently—at 6'2" and 221 pounds, he brings great physicality and speed to the table. He was just starting to develop his game when Andrew Luck's injury situation got complicated, and he couldn't measure up with a cadre of questionable backups.

    Editor's note: Per ESPN, Moncrief intends to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

    49. Tahir Whitehead, LB

    Whitehead has been one of the league's better outside linebackers against the run and in coverage over the past few seasons. However, 2017 was a bit of an off year for him because of injuries and the Detroit Lions coaching staff's decision to move him between inside and weak-side linebacker. Ideally, Whitehead is a run-and-cover linebacker in a 4-2-5 heavy nickel defense. As long as he's healthy, he's an excellent and versatile player.

    48. Jerick McKinnon, RB

    More a space player in the Tarik Cohen or Reggie Bush mold than a traditional running back, McKinnon added a lot of explosiveness to Minnesota's offense last season as a breakaway runner and consistent receiver. He's not a feature back in the traditional sense, but he'd be a great addition to any offense willing to be creative with its backfield—this is a player a team can split out wide and put in motion pre-snap more than has been the case.

    Editor's note: Per ESPN, McKinnon intends to sign a four-year deal worth $30 million with the San Francisco 49ers. 

    47. Isaiah Crowell, RB

    It's hard to make a name for yourself when your Cleveland Browns team has won just one game in the last two seasons, which is why Crowell doesn't get more praise as an offensive weapon—the Browns don't make it easy. But even with an underdeveloped cast around him, Crowell has shown the ability to create explosive plays after contact. He's come near 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons and proved valuable as a receiver despite Cleveland's disastrous quarterback decisions, which makes one wonder what he could accomplish in a functional offense.

    Editor's note: Per ESPN, Crowell intends to sign a three-year deal with the New York Jets.

    46. Bennie Logan, DT

    Logan isn't the best-known defensive tackle in the NFL because what he does isn't glamorous at all—he has seven sacks in his five-year career. With the Philadelphia Eagles from 2013-16 and the Kansas City Chiefs last season, his specialty was stopping the run and allowing other defenders to make the splash plays. He'll be an outstanding addition to any hybrid defense that requires a nose tackle to establish strength in the middle of the line.

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    45. Prince Amukamara, CB

    The former New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback had a solid, under-the-radar season for the Bears' underrated defense in 2017. Amukamara hasn't picked off a pass since 2015, but he provides excellent veteran depth with starter potential, especially as a zone-coverage cornerback.

    44. Carlos Hyde, RB

    Hyde placed 21st in NFL1000's running back rankings for the 2017 season, rushing for 938 yards and catching 59 passes in Kyle Shanahan's varied offense in San Francisco. Hyde did most of his work before Jimmy Garoppolo hit the field, which meant that he was a power back facing a ton of loaded fronts as no defense had anything to fear from the 49ers' other quarterbacks. Hyde isn't a fancy player, but he's versatile and tough.

    Editor's note: Per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Hyde intends to sign a three-year contract with the Cleveland Browns worth more than $15 million.

    43. T.J. Carrie, CB

    Carrie has been lost in the Oakland Raiders' dumpster fire of a secondary over the last couple seasons, but he's an adept slot cornerback who can follow inside receivers through option and deep seam routes. He's not an ideal outside cover man, which could limit his interest from teams who prefer more traditional cornerback roles, but he does have a place in the league as an above-average interior pass defender.

    42. Muhammad Wilkerson, DL

    Wilkerson was one of several New York Jets defensive linemen who got lost in the schematic shuffle as the coaching staff played mix-and-match with a massive talent base and kept coming up short. At 6'4" and 315 pounds, Wilkerson projects as an ideal big end in any hybrid or 3-4 base front, and while he may never match his 12-sack season in 2015, there's still enough talent here to provide a ton of disruption and quality run defense.

    41. William Hayes, DE

    Hayes played just 10 games for the Dolphins before a hamstring injury ended his 2017 season prematurely, but he's been one of the most underrated 4-3 pass-rushers of the last half-decade, putting up 26.5 sacks and a ton of pressures with the Rams from 2012-16 despite relatively limited reps for most of that span. In any four-man front that likes to rotate its linemen frequently, Hayes would add a lot.

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    40. E.J. Gaines, CB

    Traded from the Rams to Buffalo in the Sammy Watkins deal, Gaines proved to be valuable to the Bills secondary as an outside cornerback who can trail speed receivers downfield and close quickly to the ball. He's not ideally sized for a boundary corner at 5'11" and 185 pounds, but he plays bigger than he is, and he has the skill set to slip inside to the slot as well.

    39. Anthony Hitchens, LB

    Hitchens missed four games in 2017 with a groin injury, but when he was on the field, he proved to be one of the league's best run-stopping linebackers by containing his manic energy and diagnosing how to stop the play quickly. In addition, he can flare out to cover short and intermediate receivers and tight ends in the slot. Hitchens is the ideal run-and-chase defender for the modern NFL, in which nickel linebackers are often tasked to cover their half of the field.

    Editor's note: Per Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star, Hitchens intends to sign with the Chiefs.

    38. Eric Reid, S

    The 49ers temporarily moved Reid to linebacker from safety halfway through the 2017 season, but don't be fooled by that designation—this wasn't a case of a former defensive back being put out to pasture because he's lost a step. Instead, Reid played a roving safety/linebacker hybrid position, much like Malcolm Jenkins did for the Eagles. Reid can still cover deep, but it's the versatility he showed in the 2017 season that could have teams looking at him as an indispensable moving piece in any nickel or dime base defense.

    37. Patrick Robinson, CB

    It could be said that the Super Bowl champion Eagles saved the careers of two players in 2017 by moving them to the slot on a full-time basis—receiver Nelson Agholor and Robinson. The cornerback placed fourth in NFL1000's slot defender rankings for the 2017 season, intercepting four passes in the regular season and grabbing another one in the NFC Championship Game. A natural man-coverage cornerback, Robinson also has the easy agility to follow smaller receivers on option routes, and he's become a dynamite player at a position that has grown exponentially in importance over the last decade.

    36. Star Lotulelei, DL

    Lotulelei had preseason shoulder surgery and then proceeded to take a step back in performance and productivity in 2017, with six solo tackles and 1.5 sacks. At times, Lotulelei showed formidable speed and agility to get through gaps and disrupt, but he also seemed to regress in his ability to split double-teams with his hands and upper-body strength—kind of an important skill for a one-gap nose tackle. More potential than production in 2017, Lotulelei could be a relative bargain in his next contract if his issues were injury-related.

    Editor's note: Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, Lotulelei intends to sign a five-year deal with the Buffalo Bills.

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    35. Demario Davis, LB

    If you want to know how to have a contract year, ask Davis, the Jets linebacker who set career highs in 2017 with 97 solo tackles and five sacks. He was excellent in New York's hybrid fronts, but Davis could play well in any scheme—he's an outstanding pass-rusher who uses speed and timing to crash through open gaps, he closes aggressively to the run and he's an underrated pass defender in short and intermediate coverage. One of the more unheralded players on this list, Davis does just about everything well. 

    34. Tre Boston, S

    Boston picked the right year to put up a career-high five interceptions, which he did with the Los Angeles Chargers in his only year with the team after three seasons with the Panthers. Though a couple of those picks were jump-balls and the result of being in the right place at the right time, Boston also proved to be a valuable deep safety, covering quickly to either side as the center fielder and sharing coverage responsibilities with aplomb in two-deep looks. With aggressive deep safeties at a premium in today's NFL, Boston could get a formidable new contract.

    33. Josh McCown, QB

    A journeyman for most of his career, McCown has been in the league since 2002, and 2017 was without question his most impressive season. Tied to a Jets team that had undergone two separate salary dumps in the last few seasons, McCown took an offense with Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse as his primary receivers and did more than most quarterbacks could have: He completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 2,926 yards, 18 touchdowns and nine picks through 13 games before a broken left hand ended his season. At age 38, McCown proved to have the arm, intelligence, toughness and mobility to lead a young team. A franchise that needs a bridge quarterback should consider him.

    Editor's note: Per McCown's agent, the veteran has agreed to return to the Jets on a one-year deal.

    32. Julius Peppers, DE

    Most 37-year-old edge-rushers are former edge-rushers, as the need for pure speed and physical dominance takes its toll by a player's early 30s. Peppers has been one of the most outrageous exceptions to that rule for the last several seasons, amassing 11 sacks for the Panthers as a 37-year-old last season. Even more impressively, he did that with a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery. If Peppers decides to return for a 17th NFL season, he'll likely continue to beat Father Time.

    31. Adrian Clayborn, DE

    Accentuated as his 9.5-sack season was by a six-sack game over a Dallas Cowboys offense missing Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott, Clayborn showed impressive ability at times to bring pressure with pure strength. He also stopped the run effectively and consistently. Clayborn isn't a flashy player who will put up double-digit sacks in a season, but he's a good-sized defender who can make things happen as an end in just about any scheme.

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    30. Kenny Vaccaro, S

    At times, Vaccaro's daredevil style of play provides great benefit to New Orleans' defense—his instincts combine with a formidable natural athleticism to blow up plays everywhere from the slot to the deep third of the defense. If he always played in a disciplined fashion, Vaccaro would be one of the best safeties in the NFL, and a top-10 player on this list. His next team will have to hope that consistent coaching and ideal scheme fit will help him cut down on his random tendencies—especially in coverage—and use his skills far more efficiently. No guarantees there, but as a pure athlete, Vaccaro is worth the relative risk.

    29. Nigel Bradham, LB

    Tackle statistics can be misleading when it comes to linebackers—some guys just rack up ridiculous numbers because they're always around the play, while they don't provide above-average disruptive ability. Bradham, who has had 130 solo tackles over the last two regular seasons, is a different story. As the Eagles went to more of a dime base defense throughout the season, Bradham would often find himself as the only true linebacker on the field, and his combination of run stopping, pass coverage and on-field intelligence made him the perfect player for that role. Any team looking to expand its defensive looks would do well to make him a part of its team.

    Editor's Note: Per ESPN, the Eagles will re-sign Bradham to a new five-year deal.

    28. Morgan Burnett, S

    Over the last few years, Burnett has been the Packers' most versatile (and possibly most valuable) defensive back, playing a hybrid role that's had him everywhere from blitzing linebacker, to slot cornerback to cover safety. As a slot defender alone, Burnett's ability to trail and pattern-match with receivers makes him a starter-level player; add in his versatility, and he's a perfect fit for any team in need of a jack-of-all-trades who has mastered many of his responsibilities over time.

    27. Teddy Bridgewater, QB

    The need for a franchise quarterback never goes away in the NFL, and if Bridgewater hadn't lost two full seasons to a gruesome knee injury, he wouldn't be on this list—he'd be the Vikings' top man. Bridgewater did see just a bit of action near the end of the 2017 season, which gives potential suitors encouraging news about his future, but durability questions will hound him until and unless he's able to put them to rest over time. If healthy, he's a great short-to-intermediate passer with outstanding mobility and a decent deep arm.

    26. Nickell Robey-Coleman, CB

    It's indicative of the importance of the slot defender position that Robey-Coleman has been able to establish his value in the league as a purely inside defender as opposed to one with boundary cornerback potential. After four good seasons with the Bills, he signed a one-year deal with the Rams and proved to be an ideal slot man in Wade Phillips' defense. Robey-Coleman is a quick defender with a nifty backpedal and ability to turn and adjust quickly against fast receivers on option routes, and he'd be a true difference-maker for any team looking to put three cornerbacks on the field most of the time.

    Editor's Note: Per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Robey-Coleman has agreed to a three-year deal worth more than $15.57 million with $8 million guaranteed. 

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    25. Sam Bradford, QB

    Sam Bradford's potential is always tantalizing. In Week 1 against the Saints, Bradford outdueled Drew Brees and looked to all the world like the NFL's best quarterback, making ridiculous throw after ridiculous throw and riddling New Orleans' defense for an 84.4 percent completion rate, 346 yards and three touchdowns. It was further proof that when healthy, Bradford combines accuracy and mobility in a package rarely seen.

    Of course, "when healthy" is the major caveat. Bradford suffered through knee issues last season and played just a handful of snaps after that one unforgettable performance. Given his injury history over time, there will always be a hesitation to give him the keys to a franchise—but oh, that talent. Bradford makes himself an acceptable risk with his abilities, but that risk will always be present.

    Editor's Note: Per ESPN, Bradford has committed to sign with the Arizona Cardinals.

    24. Malcolm Butler, CB

    Butler's inexplicable absence from Super Bowl LII probably put a dent in his free-agent prospects—Bill Belichick's decision not to play him during the most important game of the season requires some damage control. As I pointed out in a tape piece the day after the game, Butler does have his faults—he was responsible for Tennessee's two passing touchdowns in the Patriots' divisional-round win—but overall, he's more than the sum of that benching, and he's more than a flash in the pan who made the deciding play in Super Bowl XLIX. Butler's somewhere in the middle, a quick outside defender who plays at a starter level as an outside cornerback.  

    Editor's Note: Per ESPN, Butler intends to sign with the Tennessee Titans.

    23. Jack Mewhort, OT

    Mewhort missed 11 games in the 2017 season with a knee injury, which was one of several reasons why the Colts offensive line was a relative disaster. Mewhort is capable of franchise-level play at right guard—he's a nasty technician who can physically dominate interior linemen once he latches on and gets rolling. As a pass protector, Mewhort has a smooth kick-step and will use his hands and upper-body strength to negate pass-rushers to either side. He's not a big name, but he's better than most guards you'll see.

    22. Dion Lewis, RB

    Why is a back who gained 896 yards and scored six touchdowns on 180 regular-season carries ranked this low on our free-agent list? For that matter, why would the same back be listed fourth overall in NFL1000's season-ending running back rankings? With Lewis, it's not about the stats as much as what he can do on the field. More and more through the 2017 season, he emerged from New England's cadre of backs to become the workhorse, as evidenced by his 398 rushing yards in December and 135 more in the playoffs. Lewis is a tough, shifty runner with a low center of gravity and outstanding ability to create yards after contact. Whether he can take a 280-carry workload in a season will determine his value as a free agent, but Lewis has already proved a ton about his overall value.

    Editor's Note: Per ESPN, Lewis intends to sign a four-year contract with the Tennessee Titans.

    21. Avery Williamson, LB

    Versatility is the key for the modern linebacker. No longer will one stay on the field if all he can do is slam through gaps to stop the run. Now, such players are expected to also cover slot receivers and tight ends, as well as apply pressure in blitz packages. Williamson does all of these things well—he's very adept in short-area coverage, and he's proven to be outstanding in Dick LeBeau's A-gap pressures for the Titans. A true half-field cover man who can stop the run and blitz from different gaps has value in any era, which is what Williamson presents to interested teams.

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    20. Bashaud Breeland, CB

    Breeland's splash play in 2017 was a 96-yard interception return touchdown against the Chargers in Week 14, and it was his only interception of the season after posting three in 2016. Further proof that interception totals tell you very little about a defensive back—that pick came off a muffed catch, while Breeland allowed an opponent passer rating of 75.6 on throws in which he was the target, and a 49.3 percent completion rate overall, per Pro Football Focus. Breeland can play outside and in the slot, and while he doesn't have ideal size at 5'11", 195 pounds, he's an agile, quick defender who can cause problems for most receivers he matches up against.

    Editor's Note: Per Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer, Breeland intends to sign with the Carolina Panthers.

    19. Sammy Watkins, WR

    There's no questioning Sammy Watkins' physical abilities—there simply aren't many receivers in the NFL who combine his size, speed and pure agility. When those skills align, as they did during his first two seasons in Buffalo, Watkins can be as tough to cover as any receiver in the league. However, his one season with the Rams proved problematic, as Watkins appeared to be out of sync with Jared Goff on multiple throws, and he caught just 39 passes on 70 targets for 593 yards. His eight receiving touchdowns give a tantalizing taste of what a wrecking machine he can be in the red zone—especially with a creative play designer like Rams head coach Sean McVay—but things haven't really come together for Watkins over the last two seasons as his physical abilities haven't resulted in optimal production.

    Editor's note: Sammy Watkins intends to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs, per ESPN.

    18. Marqise Lee, WR

    Forced into the No. 1 receiver position for the Jaguars last year after Allen Robinson suffered a torn ACL in Week 1, Lee tried his best to take that role on. In truth, he's best as an ideal No. 2 receiver who can win with speed and shiftiness outside and in the slot, and he shouldn't be penalized for his relative lack of production at Robinson's level. While Robinson is a top-notch technician, Lee is a good, fast receiver who would benefit from a creative passing game in which three- and four-receiver sets were the order of the day.

    Editor's Note: Per ESPN, the Jaguars are re-signing Lee to a four-year deal with a maximum value of $38 million, including $18 million guaranteed. 

    17. Rashaan Melvin, CB

    Melvin isn't exactly a household name—the 2013 undrafted free agent from Northern Illinois bounced from team to team in 2014 and 2015, finally landing with the Colts in 2016. Still, it wasn't until last season when Melvin really turned on the jets, intercepting three passes and allowing the 10th-lowest opponent passer rating (60.3) when targeted, per Pro Football Focus. This all happened before Melvin was placed on injured reserve in December with a hand injury. Now, the question for interested teams is whether Melvin is a one-year wonder, or whether he finally put it all together in a contract year. Based on his tape, I'd bet that Melvin simply aligned his skill set at the perfect time from a financial perspective.

    16. Josh Sitton, OG

    A fourth-round afterthought for the Packers in 2008, Sitton turned himself into one of the NFL's best guards over the next few seasons and parlayed that into a lucrative contract with the Bears in 2016. Though he's struggled with injuries over the last couple of seasons, Sitton is still one of the league's better guards when healthy—an agile run-blocker and pass protector who uses technique to overcome any strength concerns against bigger defensive tackles.

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    15. Paul Richardson, WR

    The Seahawks selected Richardson in the second round of the 2014 draft out of Colorado, hoping that he'd be the deep speed threat Percy Harvin never proved to be. Injuries derailed Richardson's potential over his first few seasons, but he was relatively healthy in 2017 and finally put together a campaign worthy of his talents, catching 44 passes on 80 targets for 703 yards and six touchdowns in an offense that was affected by subpar blocking and an invisible run game. Richardson could stand to work on his route running, but he looks primed to become one of the NFL's better deep receivers.

    Editor's Note: Per Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network, Richardson intends to sign a five-year, $40 million contract with the Washington Redskins with $20 million in guarantees.

    14. Justin Pugh OT

    Pugh tried to gut it out in 2017 through a back injury that eventually put him on injured reserve in December—just one of a series of injuries that left the Giants front five with precious little talent on the field. When healthy, Pugh provides excellent value at both the guard and right tackle positions, and though he's probably better in a phone booth than outside at this point in his career, his ability to slide around the line will add value for a tough, consistent blocker who would look good in just about any scheme.

    13. Dontari Poe, DT

    After five seasons in Kansas City's hybrid fronts, Poe signed with the Falcons for the 2017 season and became more of a stationary attacking one-gap nose tackle in Dan Quinn's aggressive line schemes. Long known as one of the more athletic players in the NFL for his size, Poe is still a true dancing bear who can beat double-teams with speed or power, and when his technique is solid, it's very hard to block this agile 346-pounder one-on-one. And that's Poe's value beyond his tackle and sack stats—he presents impossible problems for offensive lines, forcing the focus on himself and away from other defenders who will then zoom in to make plays.

    12. Aaron Colvin, CB

    Jacksonville's defense is built on the cornerback duo of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, who proved to be the best and most effective clampdown boundary defenders in the league. Colvin was the hidden factor in that equation, as he proved to be a highly valuable chess piece who could move around the field and negate inside receivers. Given the value of the slot cornerback in today's NFL, Colvin should expect to receive near-starter money in free agency, because he was of starter importance to the most ruthless defense in the NFL.

    Editor's Note: Per ESPN, Colvin intends to sign a four-year deal with the Houston Texans.

    11. Mike Wallace, WR

    For years in Pittsburgh and Miami, Wallace was dinged as a fast, one-dimensional receiver without much route sense. That prevailing narrative no longer holds weight based on his tape over the last two seasons for the Ravens with an inconsistent quarterback in Joe Flacco and a passing offense designed to feature short gains over explosiveness. Wallace has put up two of his best seasons under those constraints, totaling 124 catches for 1,765 yards and eight touchdowns. In an offense more aligned to the big play, and adding in Wallace's improved route development, he could have several great years still ahead.

10. Case Keenum, QB

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    Nobody outside of Case Keenum's immediate family expected him to do what he did in 2017.

    After injuries to Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford threw the Vikings' quarterback situation into chaos, Keenum—an unimpressive journeyman—held it all together and helped guide Minnesota to within one game of the Super Bowl.

    Keenum completed 67.6 percent of his passes last season, throwing for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in the regular season. Though his limitations became clear in the Vikings' NFC Championship Game loss to the Eagles, he's a perfectly functional quarterback in a system where he can use his mobility to create easy reads and with receivers who have the skills to get open in space.

    Keenum isn't the most accomplished quarterback in the NFL by any means, but if you're looking for a Kirk Cousins-style passer who understands his limitations and will work within them, teams could do a lot worse. Especially since he isn't likely to command anywhere near the amount of money Cousins does. 

    Editor's note: Case Keenum is expected to sign with the Denver Broncos, per ESPN.

9. Weston Richburg, C

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    Richburg missing the final 12 games of the 2017 season with a concussion that landed him on injured reserve was one of the biggest hits to a Giants offense that completely fell apart.

    One of the most talented interior linemen in the league, Richburg combines agility, intelligence and power at the center position in ways that make him irreplaceable. The fact that he also has experience at guard is likely to boost his value to teams, but at heart, he's a potentially dominant center for any team in need.

    In January, Richburg told ESPN.com's Jordan Ranaan that he had been cleared to return to action a while ago. If he does check out medically, he should command serious money over the coming days.

    Few centers can drastically improve an offensive line on their own, but Richburg has proved to be one of the rare exceptions.

    Editor's Note: Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, Richburg intends to sign a five-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers.

8. Nate Solder, LT

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    Part of Nate Solder's high ranking here has to do with positional value. He's a left tackle in a passing league, and there isn't much available at either tackle position in free agency or the draft this year.

    Solder always has been an athletic and powerful run-blocker, but he showed some development in his technique in 2017 as the Patriots went to more of a deep passing game after receiver Julian Edelman suffered a torn ACL. The deeper the quarterback's drops, the tougher it is to protect that quarterback, but Solder did well enough to place 23rd in NFL1000's season-ending rankings for left tackles.

    At times, Solder will get too high in his stance and lose power battles as a pass protector—this is where his 6'8" frame comes back to bite him. When he aligns himself to the target and uses his wingspan to catch rushers trying to get by, he can be effective, but the height and leverage disadvantage presents one "buyer beware" factor.

    Solder also could be more efficient and accurate when moving to the linebacker level to take out defenders in space.

7. Sheldon Richardson, DT

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    Sheldon Richardson must have been relieved when the Seahawks traded receiver Jermaine Kearse and draft considerations to acquire him on Sept. 1.

    In 2016, the Jets weirdly tried him at defensive end and outside linebacker more than defensive tackle, which doesn't fit his skill set. At 6'3" and 295 pounds, the Missouri product always has been at his best when he's playing the role of attacking one-gap defensive tackle, either at the nose or three-tech position.

    Seattle let Richardson do what he does best in a defensive line full of stars, and he made an immediate effect. While he had only one sack, that has never been the primary focus of his game outside of his 2014 Pro Bowl season when he notched eight.

    Richardson will get a bunch of quarterback hits and pressures throughout the season, but his real value lies in his ability to stop the run and blast through double-teams. He has the play strength of someone 30 pounds heavier without losing a bit of explosiveness.

    Any team with a four-man front and the desire to put its interior linemen in attack mode on every play should be lining up to secure Richardson's services.

6. Jimmy Graham, TE

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    Throughout his three years in Seattle, Jimmy Graham became one of the league's poster children for players who are traded to franchises that don't understand their skill sets.

    The Seahawks traded a first-round pick and starting center Max Unger to the Saints for Graham and a fourth-rounder before the 2015 season, but they insisted on treating him as though he were a traditional tight end. Graham is a matchup nightmare in the open field, so Seattle's insistence on his deficiencies as a blocker speaks far more to its coaching staff at the time than it does to Graham's skill set.

    Graham finally exploded for 10 touchdowns in his final year in Seattle, but he was generally underutilized. That's especially true in the red zone, where he uses his basketball skills and 6'7", 265-pound frame to sky over anyone covering him.

    Graham is likely to get big money in free agency, as a slew of teams will believe his relative lack of production in Seattle wasn't all his fault.

    Editor's Note: Per ESPN, Graham intends to sign a three-year deal with the Green Bay Packers.

5. Kirk Cousins, QB

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    Cousins has thrown for over 4,000 yards in each of his last three seasons, and he has improved his throwing efficiency, his mechanics and his deep arm tremendously throughout his six-year career.

    ESPN's Adam Schefter recently reported that the derby for Cousins' services comes down to the Vikings, Broncos, Cardinals and Jets. Given his position and what the market will bear, Cousins' next contract is likely to be one of the richest in NFL history.

    Whether you believe he's worth that kind of money is another story.

    Cousins is a relatively low-ceiling quarterback who has done a lot to maximize his potential, and he should be commended for that. But the tape shows a quarterback who still needs defined reads to make consistent big plays.

    The extent to which he struggles with second and third reads and tight-window throws should be of serious concern to any team eager to give him a record deal.

    Editor's Note: Per ESPN, Cousins intends to sign a three-year, fully-guaranteed deal with the Minnesota Vikings.

4. Allen Robinson, WR

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    Allen Robinson missed all but one game in 2017 due to a torn ACL, but he's made the case over the past few years that he's one of the NFL's top receivers.

    Robinson led the league with 14 receiving touchdowns in 2015, adding 1,400 receiving yards with the developmental version of Blake Bortles as his quarterback. He wasn't quite as impressive in 2016, catching 73 passes for 883 yards and six touchdowns, but those stats are still noteworthy considering the Jaguars' passing offense at the time.

    No matter the quality of his quarterback, Robinson is able to win battles with defenders because he's such an outstanding route technician. He is able to get open quickly in zone coverages, and his sharp route cuts frequently leave cornerbacks far behind as he's catching the ball.

    Robinson doesn't claim deep downfield speed, but he has every other attribute teams should want in a receiver. He's likely to be paid accordingly.

    Editor's note: Allen Robinson intends to sign with the Chicago Bears, per ESPN.

3. Andrew Norwell, OG

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    Over his first four NFL seasons, Norwell clawed his way up from undrafted free agent to his current status as one of the few best guards in the league.

    He finished second behind Pittsburgh's David DeCastro in the NFL1000 rankings for guards in the 2017 season, and the tape makes it clear why. It's also why Norwell could be even more valuable to a team that centers its offense around the passing game.

    At 6'6" and 325 pounds, Norwell isn't the power-blocker you'd expect in Carolina's offense, though he's a decent drive-blocker when he needs to be. Where he excels is in the nuances of the game. He's an agile technician who uses leverage to maintain protection when he does get beaten back, and he's brutal to deal with at the second level.

    More efficient in his movements than most offensive tackles, Norwell is about to get big money wherever he goes. In the right offense, he has the potential to be the NFL's best player at his position.

    Editor's note: Andrew Norwell intends to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars, per ESPN.

2. Trumaine Johnson, CB

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    When the Rams went all-in on Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib as the future tentpoles of their cornerback battery, that left Trumaine Johnson as the odd man out.

    The Rams gave Johnson the franchise tag each of the past two seasons, which gives an approximate idea of how they valued him even as long-term contract negotiations proved troublesome.

    You might look at Johnson's three total interceptions across 2016 and 2017 after his seven-pick season in 2015 and wonder whether his game has fallen off. The tape shows that it hasn't, especially when he's playing press coverage.

    Able to lock up with the best receiver on any team, Johnson is an aggressive and fluid defender who relishes the challenges of "island" coverage. He struggled a bit in zone concepts in 2017, and receivers can beat him with quick, angular routes, but that's common among defensive backs who go after their targets instead of hanging back.

    If your team needs a boundary corner, Johnson is the place to start.

    Editor's Note: Per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the New York Jets intend to sign Johnson to a deal worth roughly $15 million per year. 

1. Drew Brees, QB

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Most 39-year-old quarterbacks heading into free agency are looking for contractual table scraps just to extend their careers a bit before they go into, say, broadcasting.

    Drew Brees is not your average 39-year-old quarterback.

    His 2017 stats declined a bit relative to previous years, but in Brees' case, that was a positive. He led the league in passing yards in five of the previous six seasons, which often had as much to do with the Saints' imbalance as a team as it did with Brees' own incandescent talent.

    He still managed to led the league with 386 completions last season while posted the best single-season completion rate in NFL history (72.0 percent). Moreover, this wasn't an old guy junkballing his way to easy completions. Brees looked better with the deep ball than he had in the last few years, and he still has all of his key attributes: fierce intelligence, outstanding mobility to throw and an amazing ability to create plays outside of structure in subtle ways. He's been the face of the Saints franchise for over a decade.

    As ESPN.com's Field Yates noted, if the Saints don't re-sign Brees before the new league year begins, they'll have $18 million in dead cap on their books for the 2018 season. That gives New Orleans 18 million reasons to get something done quickly, and the Saints' turnaround to a team with a better defense and running game in 2017 should be more attractive to Brees.

    But if Brees hits the open market for any length of time, it would radically alter the 2018 free-agent market.

    Editor's Note: Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, Brees and the Saints have agreed to a new two-year deal worth $50 million, with $27 million guaranteed.