An Early Look at the 2019 NFL Free-Agent Class

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJuly 2, 2018

An Early Look at the 2019 NFL Free-Agent Class

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    NFL organizations should already be slobbering over a bumper crop of potential 2019 free agents.

    Granted, next year's class won't feature a quarterback of Kirk Cousins' caliber, but the projected group is loaded along the defensive front and at wide receiver and safety.

    Many of the players about to be mentioned will agree to extensions between now and the next league year. But teams—both the players' current squads and those interested—must prepare for the possibility of each becoming available.

        

Quarterback

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    1. Tyrod Taylor, Cleveland Browns
    2. Teddy Bridgewater, New York Jets
    3. Brett Hundley, Green Bay Packers
    4. Trevor Siemian, Minnesota Vikings
    5. Josh McCown, New York Jets

    This group is far from flashy, yet a few potential starters could be available. Their value will depend on how Taylor and Bridgewater perform. The Browns traded for Taylor to provide stability and expect him to start even after they selected Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick in the April draft.

    Bridgewater and McCown, meanwhile, will compete for the starting job until No. 3 pick Sam Darnold is ready. Bridgewater's health will directly affect interest, though.

    Finally, Hundley is the wild card because of his potential as a 25-year-old veteran with some starting experience.

Running Back

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    1. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
    2. Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
    3. Jay Ajayi, Philadelphia Eagles
    4. Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons
    5. Ty Montgomery, Green Bay Packers

    How could Johnson top Bell as the No. 1 running back when the Cardinals back is coming off a season-ending injury and the Steelers workhorse is arguably the best at the position? Bell's workload is a concern after 406 touches last season, and he's expected to be used in a similar fashion this fall. There's no denying either of their skill sets, but Johnson might be a slightly safer bet next offseason.

    Plenty of talent exists beyond the top two options with Ajayi capable of serving as a hammer, Coleman ready to break out as a lead back and Montgomery's versatility.

    Mark Ingram II, Latavius Murray, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Grant, C.J. Anderson and T.J. Yeldon add to the available options.

Wide Receiver

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    1. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
    2. Brandin Cooks, Los Angeles Rams
    3. Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings
    4. Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
    5. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

    The top five free-agent wide receivers only scratch the surface of potential movement. Beckham, Cooks and Diggs are 25 years old or younger and established No. 1 targets. Tate is the game's best after the catch. Fitzgerald will again consider retirement next offseason, but three straight 100-reception seasons say he's far from done.

    Randall Cobb, Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Martavis Bryant, Jermaine Kearse, Rishard Matthews, Donte Moncrief, Cole Beasley, Tyler Lockett and Tyrell Williams are wonderful second-tier options. Whatever skill a team lacks in its passing game, it can find in free agency next year.

Tight End

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    1. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
    2. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
    3. Tyler Kroft, Cincinnati Bengals
    4. Jesse James, Pittsburgh Steelers
    5. Jared Cook, Oakland Raiders

    The Bengals will be in a difficult position since both of their tight ends will be available after this season. Eifert is a Pro Bowl-caliber player when healthy. His return to the field this fall after back surgery is vital because almost every team is searching for a mismatch at the position. Kroft developed into more than a blocking tight end last season with 42 receptions and seven touchdowns.

    Walker is better than both, but the 33-year-old is in the latter stages of his career.

    James and Cook can serve as security blankets for any quarterback.

Offensive Line

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    Tackle

    1. Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans
    2. Jake Matthews, Atlanta Falcons
    3. Duane Brown, Seattle Seahawks
    4. Daryl Williams, Carolina Panthers
    5. Rob Havenstein, Los Angeles Rams

    The emphasis placed on established veterans over promising prospects is greater than ever as the collegiate game struggles to produce ready-made offensive linemen. As such, contracts for blockers have skyrocketed the last few years, and the growth should continue with two of the game's better young left tackles, Lewan and Matthews, potentially available in 2019.

    Duane Brown, on the other hand, can still land a massive payday—Andrew Whitworth and Nate Solder did despite their ages.

    Williams and Havenstein are right tackles.

       

    Guard

    1. Ali Marpet, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    2. Shaq Mason, New England Patriots
    3. Quinton Spain, Tennessee Titans
    4. Mike Iupati, Arizona Cardinals
    5. Jack Mewhort, Indianapolis Colts

    Guard isn't as glamorous as tackle, but the price tags for some of the league's best interior blockers rival their counterparts. Marpet should be the next to receive a large check because he can excel at both guard spots and center.

    Mason is one of the game's best run-blockers, while Spain is 26 years old with 27 starts over the last two seasons.

    Iupati and Mewhort could be higher on the list if not for their injury histories.

       

    Center

    1. Matt Paradis, Denver Broncos
    2. Mitch Morse, Kansas City Chiefs
    3. Brett Jones, New York Giants
    4. Travis Swanson, New York Jets
    5. Nick Easton, Minnesota Vikings

    Center doesn't present the same depth as guard and tackle, but Paradis is an underappreciated and reliable option with 48 starts over the last three seasons

    Morse is younger and more physically gifted, yet he dealt with a foot injury in 2017 and needs to return to form.

    Jones, Swanson and Easton have all started and have enough flexibility to play guard.

Defensive End

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    1. Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders
    2. Demarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys
    3. Frank Clark, Seattle Seahawks
    4. Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit Lions
    5. Brandon Graham, Philadelphia Eagles

    Of the five defensive ends listed, odds are not a single one will become a free agent. Elite pass-rushers rarely do. Mack was the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, and Lawrence was franchised by the Cowboys.

    Clark and Ansah are their teams' top sack artists. And Graham is one of the league's best all-around ends.

    The next tier may be more attainable with Trey Flowers, Carlos Dunlap, Cameron Wake, Muhammad Wilkerson, Dante Fowler Jr. and Dion Jordan. That group is quite impressive and will draw plenty of suitors next offseason.

Defensive Tackle

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    1. Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals
    2. Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons
    3. Sheldon Richardson, Minnesota Vikings
    4. Ndamukong Suh, Los Angeles Rams
    5. David Irving, Dallas Cowboys

    Two of the biggest names at defensive tackle along with two premier 3-techniques could be available. Atkins is a half-step behind Aaron Donald as the game's best interior defender; his explosiveness and raw power overwhelm blockers. Suh is still as powerful at the point of attack as anyone. And Jarrett and Richardson are disruptive and constantly play in opponents' backfields.

    Irving could be the best of them all if he could stay on the field.

    Like the defensive end class, the interior class is deep. Eddie Goldman, Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton, Carl Davis, Bennie Logan, Haloti Ngata and Kyle Williams missed the cut.

Linebacker

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    Outside Linebacker

    1. Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans
    2. K.J. Wright, Seattle Seahawks
    3. Anthony Barr, Minnesota Vikings
    4. Markus Golden, Arizona Cardinals
    5. Mychal Kendricks, Cleveland Browns

    Two designations exist in this position. Clowney, for example, is an edge-rusher disguised as a linebacker. Yes, he can drop into coverage and play in space, but his value is derived from setting the edge and getting after quarterbacks.

    Barr and Golden present similar skill sets, though Barr is the best of the three in coverage. Wright and Kendricks are off-ball linebackers who can play anywhere.

    Four aging stars—Terrell Suggs, Clay Matthews, Brian Orakpo and Thomas Davis—could test the market as well.

       

    Inside Linebacker

    1. C.J. Mosley, Baltimore Ravens
    2. Deone Bucannon, Arizona Cardinals
    3. Avery Williamson, New York Jets
    4. Preston Brown, Cincinnati Bengals
    5. Vince Williams, Pittsburgh Steelers

    "Mike" backer used to be the cornerstone position for the game's best defenses. Now, it's much further down the totem pole unless a team has a standout. Mosley is one. The Ravens linebacker has made three Pro Bowls in four seasons as a three-down defender.

    Bucannon, meanwhile, fits as a converted safety who excels with his speed and athleticism. 

    Williamson and Brown are far better working downhill against the run. The latter tied for the league lead last season with 144 total tackles. Williams, on the other hand, took over for Ryan Shazier as the Steelers' play-caller. 

Cornerback

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    1. Ronald Darby, Philadelphia Eagles
    2. Bradley Roby, Denver Broncos
    3. Jason Verrett, Los Angeles Chargers
    4. Rashaan Melvin, Oakland Raiders
    5. Vontae Davis, Buffalo Bills

    Every team is looking for cornerbacks because a roster can't have too many good cover men. As such, young defensive backs who can start on the outside are more valuable than ever. The Eagles have one of the league's deepest secondaries and may allow Darby to walk despite a stellar start to his career.

    Roby will finally become a starter this fall after Aqib Talib's departure—he's been the Broncos' third corner for four seasons. Verrett may be the league's best pure cover corner when healthy. And Both Melvin and Davis are solid starting options.

    Brent Grimes, E.J. Gaines, Justin Coleman, Morris Claiborne, Buster Skrine, Jason McCourty and Darqueze Dennard are also due for new contracts.

Safety

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    1. Landon Collins, New York Giants
    2. Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
    3. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers
    4. Lamarcus Joyner, Los Angeles Rams
    5. Tyrann Mathieu, Houston Texans

    The deck is stacked with talented safeties. The fact four are ahead of Mathieu is mind-boggling, but they deserve to be.

    The 24-year-old Collins has improved each year and made 341 total tackles in his first three seasons. Thomas is the game's best sideline-to-sideline safety, while Clinton-Dix has started 58 straight contests. And Joyner found a home at free safety last year in Wade Phillips' scheme.

    Mathieu is just as good as everyone mentioned, but he's played a full slate only once (last year).

    Organizations will also consider Adrian Amos, Ricardo Allen, Jimmie Ward and Quandre Diggs.