Ranking the NFL's Top 2020 Free Agents at Every Position

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2020

Ranking the NFL's Top 2020 Free Agents at Every Position

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    NFL free agency provides the first sign of hope for the next season as teams consider top available players to fill voids. 

    Last year, the Green Bay Packers signed multiple defensive free agents, and Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Adrian Amos changed the complexion of the group.

    On the flip side, the Jacksonville Jaguars swung and missed on their high-profile investment. Quarterback Nick Foles broke his collarbone in the season opener, lost all four of his starts and took a back seat to rookie sixth-rounder Gardner Minshew II late last year.

    Although free-agent investments can help or set a team back quickly, front offices should still try to fast-track improvement with quality pickups that may lead to a big leap in 2020.

    We'll take a look at the top five free agents at each position group and rank them based on past production, open-market value (potential salary vs. projected contributions) and whether these veterans provide short- or long-term solutions for needy teams. Restricted free agents are also included because clubs can send them offer sheets.



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    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady
    New England Patriots quarterback Tom BradyMaddie Meyer/Getty Images

    5. Jameis Winston

    Jameis Winston, 26, edged Teddy Bridgewater for the No. 5 spot because, despite his flaws, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner started the entire season and posted career highs in touchdown passes (33) and yards (5,109).

    Winston became the first to throw for at least 30 scores and 30 picks in a campaign this year, but he can push the ball downfield in a league that favors passing offenses. With a strong defense and ground attack, the one-time Pro Bowl signal-caller could lead a team to the playoffs.


    4. Tom Brady

    Tom Brady's 2019 season ended with a pick-six at Gillette Stadium in a wild-card playoff loss to the Titans. Throughout the campaign, we saw erosion in his game, as he recorded a 60.8 percent completion rate and just an 88.0 quarterback rating

    Brady deserves a one-year pass because of his subpar receiving group, which included two rookies (N'Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers), veteran Mohamed Sanu Sr., who joined the team midseason, and 39-year-old tight end Ben Watson. The 42-year-old signal-caller needs more than one capable wideout (Julian Edelman). If Brady gets a better supporting cast, we could see him make another playoff run.


    3. Drew Brees

    Over the last two seasons, Drew Brees played well through the regular season but ran out of gas in the playoffs. In his last three postseason games, his passing-yard totals have declined in each contest. He's thrown five touchdown passes and three interceptions in that stretch. 

    Brees will turn 41 in January, which puts him right behind Brady in age. He's slightly above the Patriots quarterback in rank because of his strong regular-season performances. The 13-time Pro Bowler may need to yield more snaps to a backup for preservation, though.


    2. Ryan Tannehill

    Ryan Tannehill ranks ahead of a mistake-prone quarterback at No. 5 and two Hall of Fame signal-callers close to retirement. At 31 years old, he's a potential short-term solution under center—still a few years away from a possible decline.

    After taking over for Marcus Mariota and leading the Tennessee Titans to a 7-3 record, a playoff berth and a win over the Patriots, Tannehill will likely sign a two- or three-year extension with his club. We're seeing the best of him, but the eighth-year veteran isn't likely to see much growth at his age. 


    1. Dak Prescott

    Unlike Tannehill, Dak Prescott didn't lead his team to the postseason, but he's yet to reach his ceiling. In 2019, the fourth-year pro posted career numbers, throwing for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. At 26 years old, he's still moving toward his peak, which puts him in the franchise quarterback category.

    Among the five quarterbacks, Prescott provides the biggest threat with his legs. He's recorded 1,221 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns in four seasons. When a play breaks down, a coaching staff can count on him to pick up a first down or score as a ball-carrier.

Running Backs

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    Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon III
    Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon IIIDavid Eulitt/Getty Images

    5. Melvin Gordon III

    Among the running backs listed, Melvin Gordon III has the best track record. He's played five seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, logging 6,113 yards and 47 touchdowns from scrimmage. The two-time Pro Bowler held out last offseason, pushing for and failing to get a new deal. The 26-year-old might still command a big contract at a replaceable position.

    Gordon has averaged more than four yards per carry in one season, which is concerning, since he doesn't have the top-end speed to break big open-field gains. Of course, his pass-catching ability makes up for unimpressive ground performances. 


    4. Kenyan Drake 

    In Miami, Kenyan Drake took a back seat to Jay Ajayi and Frank Gore. But he immediately showed what he could do with a bigger share of the workload following a move to Arizona via an October trade.

    With the Cardinals, Drake ran for 110-plus yards three times. He's also a reliable receiver, logging at least 50 catches in each of the previous two seasons. The 25-year-old ranks one spot above Gordon because his likely asking price may be more palatable for teams on a tighter budget. 


    3. Austin Ekeler

    In 2019, we saw the rise of Austin Ekeler. He held the lead role in the Chargers backfield during Gordon's holdout. In three of the first four weeks, the 24-year-old eclipsed 100 yards from scrimmage.

    After Gordon's return, Ekeler continued to play at a high level, logging 100 receiving yards in three games and hitting the century mark on the ground in one of those outings. Because of the third-year back's production, Gordon may be expendable. Ekeler is a restricted free agent, which likely means a manageable short-term salary. 


    2. Kareem Hunt

    Kareem Hunt only suited up for half of the 2019 season in primarily a reserve role behind Nick Chubb. He served an eight-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy after he shoved and kicked a woman at a Cleveland hotel. Upon return, the 24-year-old logged 464 yards from scrimmage. 

    Coming off his least productive year, Hunt won't cost anywhere near top dollar, so his rank receives a significant boost over those of Gordon, Drake and Ekeler, who either have more miles on them or had their best season in 2019. Remember, Hunt led the league in rushing yards (1,327) as a rookie. He could be a dominant lead tailback.


    1. Derrick Henry

    Tannehill has a good comeback story, but Derrick Henry deserves the bulk of the credit for the Titans' successful playoff push. He led the league in carries (303), rushing yards (1,540) and touchdowns on the ground (16). At 6'3", 247 pounds, he's a locomotive.

    In all likelihood, the Titans will extend Henry with a long-term deal. He provides a physical identity to the offense, and his mere presence forces opponents to put an extra defender in the box. The 26-year-old isn't a consistent receiving threat out of the backfield, but he's the best pure ball-carrier in this group by a decent margin.

Wide Receivers

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    Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper
    Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari CooperAssociated Press

    5. Robby Anderson

    According to SNY's Ralph Vacchiano, Robby Anderson wants more than $10 million annually on his next deal, which would slot him in the top 21 at his position, per Spotrac. That's a steep price for a wideout who's not a high-end or even a middle-tier No. 1 option. 

    Although Anderson led the New York Jets in receiving yards in 2017 and 2018, he hasn't finished with a catch rate above 56 percent in any of his four seasons. This year, the 26-year-old recorded fewer than 40 receiving yards in nine games. He'll have upside if he gets a better supporting cast, but be mindful of his inconsistencies. 


    4. Emmanuel Sanders

    Emmanuel Sanders has earned more trust than Anderson as a No. 2 option for most of his career. The Denver Broncos traded him to the San Francisco 49ers in October, and he provided an early spark with a 100-yard game in his second outing with the team.

    Sanders' production tapered off with the 49ers, though, who rely heavily on their second-ranked ground attack. He'll likely accept less than Anderson during free agency. Going into his age-33 season, the 5'11", 180-pounder projects as a high-end complementary target. He's logged 65-plus receptions in six of the last seven seasons. 


    3. Randall Cobb

    Randall Cobb experienced somewhat of a career resurgence in Dallas next to Prescott. He recorded 828 receiving yards—his most in a season since 2015—and a career-high 15.1 yards per catch.

    Cobb isn't a consistent red-zone threat, but he's a bona fide chain-mover between the 20-yard lines. The 29-year-old is also a reliable receiver with a career 69.3 percent catch rate. He's younger than Sanders and one of the league's best slot receivers.


    2. A.J. Green

    A.J. Green's rank comes with a caveat. We don't know how his ankle will respond after he underwent surgery last offseason. Nonetheless, if Green returns to his pre-injury form, the seven-time Pro Bowler could still serve as a No. 1 target.

    Turning 32 years old in July, he may be slightly past his prime. Yet, his 6'4", 210-pound stature and body control will continue to frustrate defenders. After sitting out a full season while recovering, he should be ready to remind doubters of his top-notch capabilities.


    1. Amari Cooper

    One can argue Green at his best can outperform Amari Cooper, but we haven't seen the former play at an optimal level since 2017. The latter battled through injuries throughout 2019 and may sign a lucrative top-dollar contract in the offseason. 

    While Green missed 23 games over the last two seasons, Cooper came on strong in Dallas. In 2019, Cooper logged career highs in receiving yards (1,189) and touchdowns (eight). Despite his tendency to disappear in some games and struggle against physical cover defenders, Cooper deserves top-10 wide receiver money as a game-changing player.

Tight Ends

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    Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper
    Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin HooperJonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    5. Tyler Eifert

    Throughout his seven-year career, Tyler Eifert's skill hasn't been in question. Unfortunately, injuries have ruined several of his seasons. But for the first time, he suited up for all 16 games, logging 43 receptions for 436 yards and three touchdowns in 2019.

    Eifert didn't get the best quarterback play from Andy Dalton, who was in a down year, and rookie fourth-rounder Ryan Finley. Yet, the 29-year-old had a decent season as the Bengals' second-best target for a good portion of the year. If he's healthy, the 2015 Pro Bowl tight end is a viable asset.


    4. Jacob Hollister

    In October, Jacob Hollister became a key cog in the Seattle Seahawks' aerial attack once tight end Will Dissly tore his Achilles. Hollister logged 41 receptions for 349 yards and three touchdowns in by far his best year.

    Before 2019, Hollister logged eight catches for 94 yards, so he doesn't have an extensive resume. Still, his arrow points up. If given opportunities in the passing game, the 26-year-old could produce, and Hollister doesn't have a long injury history like Eifert. 


    3. Eric Ebron

    Apparently, quarterback Andrew Luck took Eric Ebron's upside as a pass-catcher with him when he retired in August. With Luck under center, the athletic tight end had a breakout 2018, logging 750 yards and 13 touchdowns. This season, those numbers dropped to 375 yards and three touchdowns with Jacoby Brissett pulling the strings.

    In 2019, Ebron missed five contests and landed on injured reserve with injuries to both ankles. He left some yards on the field because of drops—which have plagued him throughout his career. The 26-year-old failed to reel in 14 catchable passes over the last two seasons. With an accurate quarterback, Ebron could be an excellent target. However, he struggles with red-zone production, logging five or fewer touchdowns in five of his six seasons.


    2. Hunter Henry

    Over the last two years, Hunter Henry has battled knee ailments—a torn ACL two years ago and a tibial plateau fracture this season. Although his injury history doesn't match Eifert's, durability will be a factor in negotiating a deal. Still, he's a reliable target who shows up in the red zone. 

    Henry has a career 71.2 percent catch rate with 17 touchdowns. Like a majority of the names on this list, he doesn't provide much as an inline blocker, but the 25-year-old has a quarterback-friendly catch radius. The 6'5", 250-pound tight end could be a No. 2 target. 


    1. Austin Hooper 

    Austin Hooper carved a significant role in the Atlanta Falcons' aerial attack alongside wideouts Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. That says a lot about the trust quarterback Matt Ryan has in the Pro Bowl tight end.

    Hooper's receiving numbers have improved every year since he entered the league in 2016. Even though he missed three games with a sprained MCL, the 25-year-old registered career highs in receptions (75), yards (787) and touchdowns (six). He's not a strong blocker but puts in the effort with help-out chips on edge-rushers. Hooper's hands are more reliable than Ebron's, and he's more durable than Henry.

Offensive Linemen

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    Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Jack Conklin
    Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Jack ConklinBrett Carlsen/Getty Images

    5. Anthony Castonzo (OT)

    Anthony Castonzo, 31, will consider retirement because of "personal reasons," according to Jim Ayello of the Indianapolis Star. If he continues playing, the nine-year pro should hit the market as one of the top five available offensive linemen. Over the last two seasons, the veteran tackle has allowed just 4.5 sacks, per STATs (via the Washington Post).

    Castonzo had a rough start to his career in pass blocking but settled into a groove as a major part of the Indianapolis Colts offensive line, which ranked second and seventh in pass protection in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Because of his uncertain future, general managers shouldn't offer him a long-term deal. Nevertheless, he's a solid short-term option at a premium position. 


    4. Bryan Bulaga (OT)

    Since 2010, Bryan Bulaga has been a fixture on the Green Bay Packers offensive line—primarily at right tackle. Over the last four seasons, he's allowed fewer than five sacks each year, per STATs (via the Washington Post).

    In seven out of nine seasons, Bulaga has played at least 12 games, and unlike Castonzo, he hasn't publicly discussed retirement. Perhaps the 30-year-old will take time to contemplate his future once the Packers' season ends. Going into his 10th season, he has a wealth of starting experience (111 out of 115 games), which becomes even more valuable when playing next to a young right guard who may need guidance in pass and run block sets.


    3. Jack Conklin (OT)

    At 25 years old, Jack Conklin's best playing days may be ahead of him. As a rookie, he earned All-Pro honors. Although the Michigan State product hasn't matched that campaign in terms of accolades, he keeps trouble away from his quarterback. 

    Aside from a subpar 2018, Conklin has allowed three sacks or fewer in three out of four seasons, per STATs (via the Washington Post). He's also a solid run-blocker, who showed some of his best work in clearing lanes for ball-carriers this season. In the prime of his career, coming off another solid year, Conklin should generate a lot of open-market buzz.


    2. Joe Thuney (OG)

    Joe Thuney has a resume distinction that sets him apart from the other four players listed in this group. He's yet to miss a game, playing in all 64 contests since he entered the league as a third-rounder in 2016.

    At left guard, Thuney had minor pass-protection issues on the interior. Over the last two campaigns, though, he's allowed just one sack, per STATs (via the Washington Post). The New England Patriots needed better run blocking from him, but he's no pushover in the trenches and provides a decent push at the line.


    1. Brandon Scherff (OG) 

    Despite missing 15 games over the last three years, Brandon Scherff has three Pro Bowls to show for his exceptional play at right guard. He's a strong blocker in run and pass sets, which allows him to handle the influx of defensive tackles capable of penetrating the pocket. 

    Since 2018, Scherff has surrendered just 2.5 sacks, per STATs (via the Washington Post). Also, running back Adrian Peterson has remained a viable threat on the ground because he's carrying the ball behind the 6'5", 315-pound right guard, who leads blocks beyond the line of scrimmage.

Interior Defensive Linemen

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    Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones
    Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris JonesDavid Eulitt/Getty Images

    5. Javon Hargrave

    Quietly, Javon Hargrave carved out a role in the middle of the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line. This season, he saw an uptick in snaps because of his ability to stop the run and push the pocket.

    Hargrave isn't the most versatile interior defender in terms of where he lines up. He's a gap-stuffer with just enough quickness to surprise offensive linemen if they're unaware of his developing pass-rushing skills. Over the last two seasons, the fourth-year pro logged 10.5 sacks. 


    4. Ndamukong Suh

    Ndamukong Suh isn't the same player of years ago, breaking down protections to reach quarterbacks. Still, the 10th-year veteran could elevate a team's run defense or occupy blocks to create opportunities for his teammates.

    Keep in mind, Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald had his best season (20.5 sacks and 25 tackles for loss) while playing alongside Suh. It's no surprise Shaquil Barrett broke out for 19.5 sacks with the 6'4", 313-pounder eating up blocks. Suh also helped strengthen the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive front. This season, the NFC South club fielded the No. 1 run defense with him clogging the lanes. 


    3. Leonard Williams

    In today's league, interior defenders must be able to rush the passer for an expanded workload against spread offenses. Leonard Williams has recorded at least five sacks and 11 tackles for loss in two seasons. At his best, he can line up on every down. The USC product played at least 77 percent of defensive snaps in four out of five terms.

    The New York Jets traded Williams to the New York Giants, which may have caused him some hardship, acclimating to a new system, but he still has tremendous upside. We already saw what the 25-year-old can do with a decent role and time to pick up a coordinator's schemes. More importantly, he's a versatile ascending asset capable of playing in different spots across the front line. 


    2. Arik Armstead

    Arik Armstead lists one spot above Williams because of his standout 2019 season. After injury-riddled 2016 and 2017 terms, he showed flashes during the 2018 campaign and experienced a breakthrough this year, logging 10 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. 

    Armstead's development may entice the San Francisco 49ers—enough to draw the franchise tag. The Oregon product doesn't have a resume showing a string of high-end years of production. However, the 26-year-old may be an interior defender on the rise with multiple Pro Bowl campaigns in his future.


    1. Chris Jones 

    Chris Jones lists head and shoulders above the rest of the interior defensive linemen. He checks all the boxes that make him worthy of the top spot. The Mississippi State product can play run and pass situations, possesses position versatility with experience in even- and odd-man fronts, and provides constant pocket pressure. 

    In 2018, Jones recorded 15.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss, showing off his ability to break into the backfield. Although his numbers took a slight dip under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, he's still wreaking havoc at the line of scrimmage with nine sacks, eight tackles for loss and 27 quarterback pressures.


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    Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue
    Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick NgakoueMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    5. Jadeveon Clowney

    Jadeveon Clowney made the list over some notable names like Vic Beasley Jr., Bruce Irvin, Robert Quinn and Mario Addison because he's capable of putting together a dominant performance without sacking the quarterback. Between the 2016-18 terms, he frequently sniffed out the run game, logging 53 tackles for loss. 

    Clowney can play in space because of his athleticism—that's a valuable trait in the modern league as offensive coordinators look to spread and pick apart defenses. The 26-year-old has 14 pass breakups and snagged his first interception this year. Clowney must work on his pass-rushing consistency, but he's one of the few who can change the complexion of a game during his best outings.


    4. Jason Pierre-Paul

    In 2019, Jason Pierre-Paul opened the season on the non-football injury list after he suffered a neck injury in a car accident during the offseason. Remember, the 31-year-old also had a fireworks incident that cost him a finger and half of another on his right hand. Despite those obstacles, he put together another strong year, notching 8.5 sacks in 10 games. 

    Pierre-Paul has obvious limitations in any type of coverage situation, but he's someone to unleash on the quarterback on passing downs. Going into his age-31 term, he's not going to command top dollar but lists as one of best pure pass-rushers available. 


    3. Dante Fowler Jr.

    Coming off his best campaign, Dante Fowler Jr. should be in line for a lucrative deal close to $20 million annually. He etched his name in the double-digit sack club with 11.5 in 2019. As Pierre-Paul continues to play on the older side of 30 years old, the Rams edge-rusher reaches toward his peak, heading into his sixth season. 

    This year, Fowler flashed a little more to his game, tallying the second-most tackles for loss (16) on the team behind Aaron Donald. Now that he's shown the quickness to take down ball-carriers for a loss, teams may start to view him as a complete player off the edge. 


    2. Shaquil Barrett

    Shaquil Barrett broke out in an impressive way. He served as a reserve edge-rusher with the Denver Broncos for four seasons (2015-18). In 2019, he holds the sack title. Behind that flashy accolade, he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in tackles for loss (19).

    The Buccaneers will likely use the franchise tag on Barrett, hoping he shows consistency in his transition into a featured role. Yet, the 27-year-old made enough strides to vault over Fowler because of his gaudy sack number (19.5). Perhaps the sixth-year veteran just needed more opportunities to show off a Pro-Bowl-caliber skill set.


    1. Yannick Ngakoue

    Yannick Ngakoue didn't steadily climb his way to high-quality production in the pass rush like Fowler. He's not a flash in the pan, which may be the case for Barrett. The Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end has posted big sack numbers since coming into the league four years ago.

    Since 2016, Ngakoue has logged 37.5 sacks—at least eight per year. Unless the Jaguars franchise tag or extend him, he'll likely command more than $20 million annually on the open market. The 24-year-old deserves a salary in the top-five range at his position. Beyond the sacks, he's registered double-digit totals in tackles for loss in each of the last three terms.

Off-Ball Linebackers

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    Cleveland Browns linebacker Joe Schobert
    Cleveland Browns linebacker Joe SchobertDavid Richard/Associated Press

    5. Kyle Van Noy

    Kyle Van Noy gets the nod over New Orleans Saints linebacker A.J. Klein because of his pronounced ability to provide pocket pressure. In New England, the coaching staff utilized him as a supplemental component to the pass rush. He logged 15.5 sacks over the last three seasons, which is a number that sets him apart from the four players listed below.

    Van Noy experienced his fair share of struggles early in his career, but the Patriots coaching staff turned him into a playmaker who brings a versatile flair to the front seven. Along with his impressive sack numbers for a second-level defender, he's also able to stop plays in the backfield, logging 19 tackles for loss since taking over a full-time starting role during the 2017 campaign.


    4. Blake Martinez

    In 2017, Blake Martinez took over one of the starting inside linebacker roles with the Green Bay Packers, and he's become a tackling machine ever since. The Stanford product led the league in takedowns (144) three years ago. The 2016 fourth-rounder matched and then topped that number in the 2018 and 2019 terms, respectively. 

    Martinez rarely steps off the field, which puts him a step above Van Noy. Over the last two seasons, he has played 99 percent of the defensive snaps. With that volume, you'd like to see more impact plays in coverage because he's capable of disrupting the passing lanes. The 26-year-old logged eight breakups during the 2017 term.


    3. Joe Schobert

    The top three players at this position fit the mold of the modern-day off-ball linebacker—one who's comfortable playing in space. Joe Schobert showed improvement in that area every year. In 2019, he snagged four interceptions and broke up nine passes—both career highs.

    On top of his coverage skills, Schobert racks up stops in close quarters and the open field like Martinez. They also share a common trait as effective blitzers. The Browns linebacker's ability to cover running backs out of the backfield and shadow tight ends sets him apart.


    2. Jamie Collins

    Jamie Collins provides pure athleticism to the linebacker position. The Patriots coaching staff tapped into his potential and reeled in the veteran's freelancing tendencies. After a brief stint with the Browns (2016-18), the seventh-year pro put together arguably his best campaign. 

    This season, Collins logged three interceptions, seven pass breakups and seven sacks, contributing in every possible way as a key component to a strong group. At 30 years old, he may not land a massive deal, but recent production will boost his value on the open market. Because of uneven performances in previous years, teams may be able to sign him at a modest rate compared to Schobert.


    1. Cory Littleton

    Cory Littleton has the exact skill set of a modern-day linebacker. At 6'3", 228 pounds, he's not a big thumper. Former Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips trusted the fourth-year pro in coverage, blitzes and on early downs against the run, and the Washington product didn't disappoint anywhere.

    In 2018, he claimed a starting role and earned Pro Bowl honors, logging 125 tackles, nine for loss, four sacks, 13 pass breakups and three interceptions. The 26-year-old didn't receive a nod for the January All-Star game this year, though his numbers remained relatively consistent across the board. He'll be rewarded on the market if the Rams allow him to walk.


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    Carolina Panthers cornerback James Bradberry
    Carolina Panthers cornerback James BradberryMike McCarn/Associated Press

    5. Byron Jones

    Byron Jones' versatility elevates his standing over a solid talent like Trae Waynes. The former's experience at safety could help a team that's battling injuries at the position. More importantly, the Cowboys defender has played at a high level as a safety and cornerback, earning a Pro Bowl invite at the latter position.

    Jones comes up short in the takeaways category, which holds him to the No. 5 spot among cornerbacks. In 79 games, he's logged two interceptions—the most recent dates back to the 2017 campaign. Secondly, the 27-year-old had an average 2019 term, registering just six pass breakups.


    4. Mike Hilton

    Last year, Detroit Lions cornerback Justin Coleman generated buzz as one of the top free-agent slot cornerbacks available. He signed a four-year, $36 million contract and then went on to have an uneven 2019 season. Mike Hilton should be able to command a similar deal on the open market.

    At 5'9", 184 pounds, Hilton plays with a fearless demeanor. He'll come downhill and clean up a play with a solid tackle or bring quarterback pressure on a slot blitz. In three seasons, the Ole Miss product has logged 6.5 sacks. Most importantly, his ball-tracking skill shines in coverage. In 2019, he logged 11 pass breakups as a tough matchup in the slot. 


    3. Chris Harris Jr. 

    Chris Harris Jr. can line up on the inside or outside in pass coverage. Although he's 5'10", 199 pounds, the ninth-year veteran can go stride for stride with bigger wide receivers as well. Since 2014, the Denver Broncos' cover man has alternated single- and double-digit totals in pass breakups.

    Before last year's trade deadline, a couple of teams called the Broncos about Harris, per Mike Klis of 9News, so he'll likely draw interest from multiple suitors on the open market. The 30-year-old can use his versatility and production over the years to drive up the asking price. He hasn't shown a sharp decline, which makes him a solid free-agent target in March.


    2. Logan Ryan 

    Similar to Harris, Logan Ryan can line up on the perimeter or in the slot and plays well in both spots, though he's two years younger and coming off his best season. The versatile cornerback has a recent playoff highlight with his pick-six off Tom Brady to seal the Tennessee Titans' Wild Card Round victory.

    Ryan has displayed a little more consistency than Harris in his ball-tracking skills as well, recording at least 10 pass breakups in five out of seven seasons. Furthermore, he's a viable threat to take down the quarterback. Since the 2018 campaign, he has 8.5 sacks. If the Titans choose not to extend him, expect another team to spend big money for his services.


    1. James Bradberry

    James Bradberry isn't a shutdown cornerback, but he comes close with his ability to limit wide receivers on the perimeter. The Carolina Panthers may choose to save cap space and acquire a less costly talent at the position via free agency or the draft. However, the front office should consider the franchise tag for a player who's 12th in pass breakups (47) since 2016.

    Bradberry knows how to use hand technique, quickness and some athleticism to win early in routes and disrupt the connection between quarterbacks and their wide receivers. Although he lacks the proven versatility that elevates Jones, Harris and Ryan, the Samford product has the tools of a 10-year lead cover man.


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    Cleveland Browns safety Damarious Randall
    Cleveland Browns safety Damarious RandallJason Miller/Getty Images

    5. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

    In recent years, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has dealt with knocks on his man-coverage skills and physicality, which limited him to free safety duties in center field. Despite four-and-half solid years with the Green Bay Packers and a decent showing with the Washington Redskins, he had to settle for a one-year, $3 million prove-it deal in Chicago. 

    Clinton-Dix didn't show us anything new with the Bears this season. Typically, he plays more center field than in the box. As a result, he rarely makes stops for loss. Yet, Clinton-Dix remains steady in off-man coverage, logging five pass breakups and two interceptions this season. He'll likely sign a decent salary to patch up a secondary in need of help over the top. 


    4. Tre Boston

    For whatever reason, Tre Boston has signed late in the free-agency process in recent offseasons. He didn't ink a deal with the Carolina Panthers until July last year, similar to the timing of his 2018 agreement with the Arizona Cardinals. Perhaps that's a personal preference, but teams should be lining up to sign him in the coming months. 

    Wherever Boston played, he's been an effective coverage safety. Since 2017, the sixth-year veteran has suited up for three teams (Los Angeles Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers) and recorded at least three interceptions and eight pass breakups at each stop. Going into his age-28 term, he's worth a long-term deal to solidify or patch up a porous pass defense.


    3. Damarious Randall

    In 2019, Damarious Randall had a season to forget. Dating back to his days with the Packers, he developed a reputation for playing with sticky hands, knocking down passes and forcing turnovers in coverage. This season, he finished without an interception and a season-low six pass breakups. 

    Randall missed five games, four because of a concussion and a hamstring injury. The coaching staff opted not to dress him for the Week 13 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and teams will likely use his down season to negotiate for a lower price tag on the open market. Wherever he lands, that club will have a defensive back who can play both safety positions and help out in the slot. 


    2. Anthony Harris 

    In 2015, Anthony Harris went undrafted out of Virginia. He spent three seasons in mostly a backup role and emerged as a starter last year. It seems as though the Minnesota Vikings found a gem at safety. During the 2019 term, the 28-year-old tied for the most interceptions (six) and added 11 pass breakups.

    With Jayron Kearse also slated to become an unrestricted free agent, the Vikings should toss big money at Harris—an unheralded contributor who's still in the prime of his career. This year, he lined up mostly at free safety but also handled responsibilities moving toward the line of scrimmage and in the slot. He's worth a sizeable financial investment—perhaps a top-eight salary at his position.


    1. Justin Simmons 

    Justin Simmons is a ball hawk. In four seasons, he's logged 28 pass breakups and 11 interceptions. When opposing quarterbacks drop back to throw downfield, he's ready to make a play.

    Simmons has a longer track record than Harris, which sets them apart in the rankings. As is the case with any player who rises from obscurity, there's a question about sustainability, but Simmons has steadily improved over time. In 2019, he finished with a team-best 15 pass breakups. Expect Denver to lock him into a new long-term deal in the coming weeks.