The Most Overrated and Underrated NFL Free Agents Still Available

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVMarch 13, 2019

The Most Overrated and Underrated NFL Free Agents Still Available

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    The NFL free-agency period went off the rails before it officially began.

    Teams have been spending freely, as the cap increases over the past few years are finally rewarding those on the open market. The explosion has left the market much less populated at Wednesday's opening bell.

    We know about all the big names who have already agreed to sign, but it's time to peel back a layer and look at the rest of the field. Many household names—some overrated, others underrated—are still looking for their next destinations.

    We've dug through those still available to compile the five players who fall into each category. Age, dipping production, usage and the potential contracts they'll receive all factored into the evaluation. While their fits will also help determine how their signings are viewed, we can use their past performances to project their future play.


Overrated: Golden Tate, WR

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    Acquired at the trade deadline to bolster the Philadelphia Eagles' chances of defending their Super Bowl crown, wide receiver Golden Tate was a massive disappointment during his short time with the team.

    Despite his placement in one of the league's friendliest offensive systems, Tate needed to be schemed open more than expected after the Eagles parted with a third-round pick for his services. His brief stint, during which he averaged just 9.3 yards per catch and 34.8 yards per game, is reason enough to believe he's overrated.

    Tate, who will turn 31 in August, has always been a unique player. Pro Football Focus grants him 58 broken tackles over the last three years, which leads all receivers. While that brings value in the screen game and on short routes, an offense must prioritize creating space for him instead of equally distributing targets.

    A team looking for a short-term, durable slot option will be happy with Tate. But the early free-agency deals hint at him being overrated and overvalued. He's a complementary piece for a healthy offense, not a focal point who can elevate a unit much higher.  

Underrated: Shaquil Barrett, LB

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    How a team uses a player and maximizes his skill set goes a long way into how the individual performs. The wrong scheme or responsibilities can limit production and skew the evaluation phase.

    Along those lines, former Denver Broncos linebacker Shaquil Barrett is looking to prove he's more than what his previous team asked of him.

    A starter for most of 2017 and a role player in other seasons, Barrett's been a respectable contributor in all phases. All but 37 of his 137 total tackles are of the solo variety, and he's established himself as a quality run defender. His 14 sacks and 25 tackles for loss in only 61 career games also highlight his ability to make impactful plays when given the opportunity.

    Capable of functioning as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme or a stand-up rusher off the edge, Barrett has the potential to be an absolute steal in this market. The 26-year-old has elite change-of-direction ability for his 250-pound frame and can flourish in his prime.

Overrated: Tyrell Williams, WR

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    The receiver dominoes have begun to fall. Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. have both been traded, John Brown signed with the Buffalo Bills, Adam Humphries joined the Tennessee Titans and Jamison Crowder landed with the New York Jets.

    But the receiver who figures to land the biggest deal of them all is Tyrell Williams.

    The former Los Angeles Chargers playmaker was underutilized as a fourth option and should be an upgrade elsewhere. At 6'4", 205 pounds, Williams has the potential to be a starter right away for a new team.

    But he's not a sure thing. His numbers have declined for three consecutive years as he's faded out of the offense, leading to only 84 receptions and nine touchdowns in the last two seasons combined.

    That production doesn't warrant $10 million per year.

    If Williams were expected to receive the contract of a No. 3 receiver, he could be an excellent value for the right offense. He finished No. 32 among qualified receivers in defense-adjusted yards above replacement, per Football Outsiders. Expecting him to be more than the third target in a healthy offense will lead to disappointing results.

Underrated: Morris Claiborne. CB

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    Finding consistency at cornerback can be difficult.

    While some teams will desire the higher potential of Ronald Darby, a squad that covets a press-man corner could swoop in on Morris Claiborne and see solid results for less money. The 29-year-old is coming off his second season with the New York Jets.

    Though he's never been a threat to create turnovers (seven career interceptions), Claiborne uses his strength and quick feet to mirror receivers to the catch point. He's uncomfortable in zone, but he was able to set career highs with 57 tackles, two interceptions and 14 pass breakups due to his scheme fit in 2018. A smart defensive coordinator could replicate that role and create great value.

    A short-term deal to plug a hole as a second corner is perfect for Claiborne. He needs safety help due to limited top-end speed, but a good pass rush could also provide protection. Think of him as a complementary piece for a fraction of the cost presented by high-dollar alternatives.

Overrated: K.J. Wright, LB

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    Up until 2018, K.J. Wright had been one of the NFL's most reliable off-ball linebackers. He posted four straight years over 100 tackles and missed just one game during that stretch. However, he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery this past season and sat out all but five contests.

    As Wright turns 30 this summer, he's a prime candidate to receive a contract for what he once was, not for what he'll be contributing in the future.

    Though a tackling machine, he's only forced more than one fumble in two of his eight seasons and logged just two interceptions and 11.5 sacks throughout his career. He's rarely been a player who creates impact plays.

    At best, Wright will be a short-term stopgap for teams that need size at outside linebacker. He'll be worth a flier for contenders who want a potential boost in the immediate future. But if his athleticism is zapped, he'll be a non-factor.

Underrated: Adrian Phillips, S

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    Mostly a special teams star until he earned the chance to start on defense in 2018, safety Adrian Phillips is the unknown name who'll help swing a defense's play in 2019. His stint filling in for Denzel Perryman as the dime linebacker and third safety for the Los Angeles Chargers led to a breakout season.

    The versatile defender is a new-age fit for multiple-look units.

    With 94 tackles and nine passes defensed, Phillips is more than comfortable in the middle of the field or close to the line of scrimmage. The 5'11", 210-pounder helped revamp the defense; it became faster with him zipping around at linebacker and safety, depending on the positioning of Derwin James. Another creative defensive coordinator can continue to unleash Phillips...if he leaves the Chargers.

    The not-so-hidden value of acquiring Phillips? His contributions on special teams after he earned first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl recognition for his league-leading 19 tackles in that phase of the game.

    The 27-year-old would be a shrewd signing for defenses in need of speed.

Overrated: Ezekiel Ansah, DE

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    After he spent six years with the Detroit Lions and amassed 48 sacks in 80 career games, Ezekiel Ansah is on the market for what could be his last significant payday.

    He turns 30 this offseason and has already struggled with a shoulder injury that landed him on injured reserve in 2018. Health and availability will be key factors in his success moving forward.

    Ansah's ability to finish sacks is his best quality, but he's not a reliable creator for his teammates. He hasn't hit 50 quarterback pressures since 2015, according to Pro Football Focus. Any hope he'll be more than a rotational rusher or complementary piece to other creators are too optimistic.

    His fragile nature and advancing age give massive reason to exercise caution.

Underrated: Tre Boston, S

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    The 2018 safety market produced a dramatically different field than what we've seen, thus far, from the robust 2019 crop. Teams didn't want to spend, despite the availability of quality talent for next to nothing. That led to safety Tre Boston signing with the Arizona Cardinals for one year and $1.5 million, then providing tremendous value.

    Boston shouldn't have the same issue this year if the early safety signings are any indication.

    He turns 27 this summer and is a capable playmaker. Though he won't be confused with Earl Thomas, he allows a defense to become more diverse and sell different pre-snap action due to his range.

    He tied a career high with 79 tackles (66 solo) and set a new one with nine passes defensed in 2018. Boston also accumulated eight interceptions over the last two years—a mark that shows his upside in the turnover-creation department.


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