Potential NFL Free-Agent Steals in 2020

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistFebruary 25, 2020

Potential NFL Free-Agent Steals in 2020

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    The 2020 NFL free-agent class has its obvious headliners, especially considering Tom Brady leads the way.

    But just below surface level lurks some incredible-looking opportunities for teams to unearth steals. The prime example isn't hard to summon up—last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers inked edge defender Shaquil Barrett to a one-year deal worth $4 million, and he responded with 19.5 sacks. 

    Barrett is a master class in the steal territory all teams look to emulate. He had a so-so start to his career, got a change of scenery, remained healthy and erupted while outproducing his meager contract. 

    Some of these players are coming off strong seasons but are simply underappreciated. Others were underutilized or misused. And a few have injury track records that could factor into their contract negotiations.   

    They all have a chance of becoming the biggest steals of the 2020 free-agent class. 


CB James Bradberry

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    Among this year's free-agent cornerbacks, James Bradberry isn't known as well as Byron Jones or Chris Harris Jr.

    But Bradberry could end up being the most value-oriented signing at his position. 

    A second-round pick in 2016, Bradberry quietly spent four seasons in Carolina putting in quality work. Some of the numbers might not agree: Pro Football Focus graded him at 59.8 last season, for example. But consider that the Panthers asked him to go head-to-head with Julio Jones, Michael Thomas and Mike Evans twice a year. 

    When it comes right down to it, Bradberry is a bigger (6'1") corner with positional versatility who allowed a completion percentage of just 59.8 last year on 97 targets, surrendering just one touchdown in the process with three picks. 

    Viewing Bradberry's resume at certain angles doesn't do him justice. But he's a battle-hardened, modern corner who probably isn't going to get a massive deal. He's bound to outplay whatever deal comes his way.

DT D.J. Reader

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    It's hard for most defensive linemen to assume the spotlight when a free-agent class boasts Jadeveon Clowney, Everson Griffen and others. 

    But D.J. Reader is subject No. 1 in the potential steal category for his group. The 2016 fifth-round pick has steadily improved his game over four seasons in Houston. While NFL groupthink tends to scoff at bigger interior players these days, Reader is more of a modern 6'3", 347-pound nose tackle. 

    Meaning, he does it all. Reader doesn't just bully opposing offensive lines against the running game. He's surprisingly efficient at getting after passers. He tallied 2.5 sacks a season ago with 12 pressures over 15 games, his all-around impact earning him an 86.7 grade at Pro Football Focus. 

    Even so, Reader has gone through his upswing in a quiet manner. He's not going to get the big-money contract he deserves, so he might ink a short-term deal to prove he can keep it going at this level—which would make him a massive steal. 

S Tre Boston

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    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    Tre Boston seems like a steal every year. 

    The veteran safety always seems to only get one-year deals with teams at the last minute. He's played with three different teams over the last three seasons. 

    And at each stop, Boston has outplayed the one-year deal. In 2017 with the Los Angeles Chargers, for example, he put up a 80.6 grade at Pro Football Focus. In 2018 with Arizona, 74.1. Last year in Carolina, 76.4

    It's easy to see this trend continuing. Safety is a deep position, and besides another influx of talent via the draft, Boston will have to compete with free agents like Devin McCourty and Anthony Harris. Yet he's not only strong against the run, but his completion percentage allowed has been 61.1 percent or lower over the last two seasons. 

    Expect him to be a bargain starter again. 

S Jimmie Ward

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Versatility is the name of the game when it comes to Jimmie Ward. 

    Ward, like Tre Boston, likely won't stand out in this free-agent class, especially with another draft class adding more talent to the NFL pool. 

    But Ward is a Swiss Army knife of sorts thanks to his ability to play safety and move to the slot.

    It's been a bumpy ride for Ward. The 2014 first-round pick has had plenty of injury issues over the years. 

    And yet, the 28-year-old got in 13 regular-season games last year and three playoff games, nabbing an 84.2 grade at Pro Football Focus while allowing a 58.1 completion percentage on 31 targets. 

    While Ward isn't without embedded risk, the likely value of his market deal and upshot of his all-over-the-place production classifies him as a potential steal. 

LB Joe Schobert

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Joe Schobert is a second-wave free agent who won't stand out above a stellar coverage name like Cory Littleton. 

    And the team grabbing him on a value deal probably won't complain. 

    Schobert, a fourth-round pick in 2016, had a quiet four years in Cleveland, tying for the league lead in tackles in 2017 and making the Pro Bowl that year. But his real value comes as a coverage artist, as he's held up well in that role over the past two seasons while allowing just five touchdowns on more than 100 targets. 

    While undoubtedly a bargain buy, Schobert is a modern linebacker who covers well and has 22 pressures too over his last two seasons. He's an all-around workhorse who could blossom elsewhere under adjusted schematic usage. 

    Granted, Schobert isn't going to have a Shaquil Barrett-type breakout in a flashy stat like sacks. But if he's winning matchups in coverage and enabling others, he'll probably be outplaying his contract. 

TE Eric Ebron

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    Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

    Eric Ebron seems like a big name. He is, after all, the tight end who caught 13 touchdown passes in 2018 with Indianapolis after spending his first four years with Detroit. 

    But Ebron had just three scores in 2019. 

    Ebron regressed in a big way without Andrew Luck under center. Besides a 10-touchdown differential, he managed just 375 yards (down from 750), and his drop percentage jumped to 9.6 percent. It got to the point where Colts general manager Chris Ballard already confirmed the team probably won't bring him back. 

    That screams "one-year-prove-it deal" for Ebron. And it's all about fit. The 2014 first-round pick isn't going to outshine Hunter Henry and Austin Hooper on the market. But if he lands in a locale with a potent passing attack willing to use him farther down the field and more often in the red zone (like the 2018 Colts, not 2019), he could easily outperform his prove-it deal.

OL Graham Glasgow

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Graham Glasgow doesn't rank highly in name recognition pretty much ever, but especially in a free-agent class with offensive linemen Anthony Castonzo and Brandon Scherff, among others. 

    Yet Glasgow is the sort of guy teams love. He's a gritty veteran in the middle of his prime who will put in some solid work in all phases with the upshot of massively outperforming his contract. 

    Glasgow is a 2016 third-round pick who spent the last four seasons moving around the line in Detroit, settling in at center last year and earning a 74.1 grade at Pro Football Focus. Smooth in all facets, he played 81 percent of the offense's snaps and committed just three penalties in the process. In 2017 and '18, he played nearly every snap. 

    It's fair to say Glasgow isn't a high-end starter and might've hit his ceiling as he heads into his age-28 season. But while other teams fight over the market's biggest names, one team figures to swoop in and solidify a spot on its interior offensive line with a quality starter at a fair price. 

OL Daryl Williams

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    It's easy to forget about Daryl Williams, who played in just one game in 2018 before Carolina gave him a prove-it deal last March. 

    Williams then found himself relegated to this weird pinch-hitter role in which he chipped in wherever the Panthers needed help up front during a lost season with Cam Newton injured. 

    The numbers don't look great as a result. Pro Football Focus slapped him with a 56.1 grade, and he's now flying well under the radar as far as this free-agent class goes. 

    But for the savvy team with an eye for details, Williams is an incredible value. It wasn't too long ago he was one of the league's better right tackles. He's a mauler of a presence on the right edge (which makes sense for a 6'6", 330-pound workhorse), and he's turning just 28 in August. Despite playing all over the place for an erratic team, Williams committed just one penalty in 2019—and he's never committed more than two in a season. 

    The team that signs Williams will secure a surefire starter at right tackle and one of the offseason's top steals.