The Top 50 Players on the 2020 NFL Free-Agent Market

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2020

The Top 50 Players on the 2020 NFL Free-Agent Market

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    Nailing free agency is vital to becoming a Super Bowl contender—or even a champion. Just look at the Kansas City Chiefs. 

    Sure, Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce were all drafted, but they couldn't have won the Lombardi Trophy without the likes of Mitchell Schwartz, Sammy Watkins and Tyrann Mathieu, all of whom were signed in free agency. 

    The 2020 class is full of players capable of helping teams become contenders. It's an especially interesting group given the number of quarterbacks set to hit the market, but there's also plenty of talent elsewhere. 

    Here's a look at the 50 best players available. Potential impact on the 2020 season based on age and recent production were the primary factors in these rankings, but a player's long-term potential was also heavily considered. 

    For instance, Drew Brees is likely to be a better quarterback than Dak Prescott in 2020. But if you're an NFL GM, you'd be better off trying to lock up Prescott to a long-term deal, thus making him the better free-agent investment. 


    Player ages are based on the start of the 2020 season.

Nos. 50-41

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    50. Blake Martinez, LB, 26 years old

    Martinez does a lot of things that GMs should like. He has coverage skills, can occasionally rush the passer (eight sacks over the past two seasons) and is a tackling machine (512 total in his first four seasons). However, he struggled in run fits this season and isn't as talented as some of the other inside linebackers on this list. 


    49. Logan Ryan, CB, 29 years old

    Ryan won't transform your defense, but he will offer consistent coverage skills in the slot. He's coming off a highly productive season with four interceptions and 18 passes defended on the Titans defense. He doesn't offer a ton of upside at 29 years old, but he should have some productive seasons ahead of him. 


    48. Trae Waynes, CB, 28 years old

    Waynes is the Logan Ryan of outside corners. He won't kill your starting lineup, but he isn't all that exciting either. His 56 solo tackles in 2019 highlight his ability in the run game. He's had just two interceptions over the past two seasons, but he's a sure tackler for a corner and won't hurt you in that regard. 


    47. Shelby Harris, DL, 29 years old

    Harris has continued to expand his role and improve his production year over year. He's stout against the run, versatile enough to play multiple alignments and even added some pass-rushing for the Denver Broncos with six sacks this season. 


    46. Jarran Reed, DL, 27 years old

    If this list were being made in 2019, when Reed was coming off a 10.5-sack breakout season, he would be much higher. As it stands, that season looks much more like an aberration than an expectation. 

    Reed was suspended for six games this season and was also coming off of sports-hernia surgery. In 10 games this season, he had just two sacks and 27 tackles, bumping his total sack number outside of 2018 to five in three seasons. The upside is there, but the team signing him is gambling on him getting back to numbers he may never repeat. 


    45. Kenyan Drake, RB, 26 years old

    After three-and-a-half frustrating seasons in Miami, Kenyan Drake finally got a chance to shine in a more functional environment in Arizona. He responded by surpassing David Johnson as the preferred back and averaging 5.2 yards per carry. 

    Drake is the ideal do-it-all back that teams are looking for, and he has relatively little wear on the tires for a back his age. He's only racked up 456 carries in Miami and Arizona to go with 233 in four years at Alabama. 


    44. Marcus Mariota, QB, 26 years old

    Mariota was pushed out of the spotlight in Tennessee after Ryan Tannehill took over and led the Titans to the AFC Championship Game this season, but there's still hope for Mariota. The Hawaiian went 29-32 as the starter in Tennessee with 76 touchdowns to 44 interceptions. 

    Even this season, he had seven touchdowns and two interceptions before getting benched. There are a lot of teams who would have taken his play over the last five seasons. He would be a much hotter commodity if this weren't an unprecedented free-agent quarterback class. 


    43. Jason Peters, OT, 38 years old

    The only thing Jason Peters is winning against more than opposing defensive ends is Father Time. He somehow just keeps playing his position at a high level despite rapidly approaching 40. Peters was ranked Pro Football Focus' sixth-ranked tackle while logging over 900 snaps. 

    Peters offers little to no long-term value and does have an injury history, but as far as plug-and-play options for one year, it doesn't get much better than the longtime Eagle. 


    42. Everson Griffen, EDGE, 32 years old

    Griffen has been a staple of the Minnesota Vikings pass rush for years. After missing a chunk of 2018 for personal reasons, he came back in 2019 and proved he's still effective even if just as a pass-rush specialist. He chalked up eight total sacks while sustaining a workload of nearly 80 percent of defensive snaps. 


    41. Tre Boston, S, 28 years old

    Boston just can't seem to find a permanent home. He's been on three teams in the past three seasons, but he's also had 28 passes defended and 11 interceptions in that span. He may not offer a ton in run support, but his playmaking ability in coverage should make some team happy in 2020. 

Nos. 40-31

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    40. Bryan Bulaga, OT, 31 years old

    When Bulaga is playing, he's still a solid starting tackle. He's been a mainstay in a strong Green Bay Packers offensive line since 2010. The problem is that he's played all 16 games just three times in his career, and as he moves deeper into his 30s, it isn't likely he gets healthier. He's a great option for 2020, but his questionable progression should give teams pause for the long term. 


    39. Kyle Van Noy, EDGE, 29 years old

    Van Noy has great potential as a versatile rush-coverage guy. He can play a little bit of off-ball linebacker and excels coming off the edge, but he needs to be paired with the right system, one that isn't going to ask him to be a color-inside-the-lines type of player. His time with the Detroit Lions showed that, but the New England Patriots were able to unlock his potential.


    38. Joe Schobert, LB, 26 years old

    Schobert is a good-to-great coverage linebacker, but his inability to play the run consistently can make him a liability on early downs. His pass-rushing skills give him versatility that could be extremely valuable in the hands of the right defensive coordinator. 


    37. Robert Quinn, EDGE, 30 years old

    Quinn isn't the complete defender he once was. He's still explosive as a pass-rusher off the edge, as evidenced by his 11.5 sacks in 2019, but that was his first season with a double-digit count since 2014. He also only played in 60 percent of Dallas' defensive snaps this season, suggesting he may not be suited to defend the run as well as he once was. 


    36. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, 27 years old

    Bridgewater's career is a big "what if?" at this point. After struggling with injuries and a lack of protection in Minnesota, he provided solid backup play for the New Orleans Saints when Drew Brees went down this season, contributing nine touchdowns to just two interceptions. At the very least, he is a quality backup quarterback who still has upside, even at 27.


    35. Kareem Hunt, RB, 25 years old

    It seems like a lifetime ago Kareem Hunt was third in the league in yards from scrimmage behind Todd Gurley and Le'Veon Bell, but it wasn't. It was only three years ago. Unlike Bell and Gurley, who have been hindered by aging and injuries, Hunt's progress has been slowed by off-the-field issues. 

    Hunt still showed his all-purpose skill set with the Cleveland Browns this season. After serving an eight-game suspension, he was featured in both the run and pass game with 179 yards on 43 carries and 285 receiving yards on 37 catches. 


    34. Melvin Gordon III, RB, 27 years old

    Looking back, Gordon's decision to hold out in Los Angeles seems ill-advised. Instead of getting paid, his value took a big hit. When he returned to the lineup for the Chargers, he had been effectively replaced by Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson. Gordon averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in 12 games and made little difference to the Chargers' bottom line. 

    Gordon's nose for the end zone is his most marketable trait at this point. He has 47 total touchdowns over the last four seasons. 


    33. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, 27 years old

    Clinton-Dix went to Chicago on a one-year deal to prove his worth before hitting the open market again. He once again proved to be a consistent contributor capable of holding down a starting spot. He has a clean bill of health and has not missed a single game in his career thus far. He won't be a home run signing, but he'll definitely get you on base.   


    32. James Bradberry, CB, 27 years old

    Bradberry's numbers don't jump off the page with three interceptions and 12 passes defended in 2019. His role in the Panthers defense does, though. Bradberry was a man-to-man corner tasked with defending the best receivers in the NFC South, which means seeing Julio Jones, Michael Thomas and either Mike Evans or Chris Godwin six weeks out of the season. 

    At 6'1", 212 pounds, Bradberry has the physicality and size to stick with some of the league's most imposing receivers. That's a skill set worth spending some money on in free agency, even if it isn't quite the $15 million he's reportedly looking for. 


    31. Austin Hooper, TE, 25 years old

    There's plenty to like about Austin Hooper, and he would be an upgrade at tight end for most teams in the league. At 25 years old, he's just entering his prime, and his numbers have been better every season. In 2019, he earned his second consecutive Pro Bowl nod with 787 yards and six touchdowns. 

    Whether Hooper can become one of the league's game-changing tight ends remains to be seen. His touchdown production leaves a lot to be desired considering his six scores is a career-high. He was just 13th among tight ends in yards per target and is more of an underneath receiving threat than a vertical mismatch.

Nos. 30-21

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    30. Jimmie Ward, S, 29 years old

    Ward's NFL career has been hampered by an injury history that has limited him to 64 games in six seasons. However, we saw what he can do when healthy in 2019, and it was impressive. Ward can comfortably play in the box, as a slot corner or as a true free safety. His raw stats don't show it with no interceptions and just eight passes defended in 2019, but he was a linchpin for the 49ers secondary, grading out as PFF's No. 6 safety overall.


    29. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, 33 years old

    Sanders showed exactly what he can do for a contending team when the Niners traded for him midseason. He responded with 502 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games and an additional 71 yards in their run to the Super Bowl. At 33, he's probably closer to retirement than his prime, but he can still offer valuable production, and there aren't many quality receivers available on the market. 


    28. Javon Hargrave, DL, 27 years old

    With Stephon Tuitt out for much of the season, Hargrave took on a bigger role for the Pittsburgh Steelers and lived up to expectations. He saw nearly 200 more snaps in 2019 than his previous career high, and he continued to show improvement just as he has every season. Anyone looking to add a nose tackle who can offer more than just stuffing a gap should be in the Javon Hargrave business. 


    27. Matt Judon, EDGE, 28 years old

    Judon had a big year production-wise. He had a career-high 9.5 sacks, but it's tough to determine how much of that was due to his skills as a pure pass-rusher. Baltimore blitzed a league-high 54.9 percent of the time, so some of that production could be chalked up to scheme. The team that bids on Judon's services is going to need to separate skills from situation. 


    26. Bud Dupree, EDGE, 27 years old

    Guys like Dupree always put their team in a bind. He was just mediocre in his first four seasons, then broke out in a major way in his contract year with 11.5 sacks. He provides strong play as an outside linebacker, but banking on that kind of pass-rush production long-term is a gamble. 


    25.  Dante Fowler, EDGE, 26 years old

    Fowler is in a situation similar to Dupree's. He's another pass-rusher with a first-round pedigree and lackluster results who found his way when there was real money on the line. He responded on a one-year "prove it" deal with the Los Angeles Rams, but were his 11.5 sacks due to a breakout or because he was on a defensive line with Aaron Donald?


    24. Leonard Williams, DL, 26 years old

    Williams is another first-round disappointment. After his second season, in which he recorded seven sacks, he looked like he had the ability to become one of the league's most dominant interior defensive linemen. That hasn't materialized, and his pass-rushing numbers just aren't what they need to be to command big money. 

    Still, that potential he flashed in 2016 and his age make him worth a shot.


    23. D.J. Reader, DL, 26 years old

    Reader has emerged as one of the top nose tackles in the league. Unlike most behemoths who play a limited role, the 26-year-old was on the field for 691 total snaps this season and offered a little help in the way of pass-rushing while allowing J.J. Watt and company to get after the quarterback. 


    22. Robby Anderson, WR, 27 years old

    There are few receivers on the market who can be game-changers, but Robby Anderson is one of them. He's 11th among active receivers in yards per catch and was 16th in yards before catch per reception last season, which means that when he's targeted, it's usually downfield. 


    21. Devin McCourty, S, 33 years old

    McCourty is everything you want out of a free safety. Ball-hawking? He was tied for second in the league in interceptions last season with five. Surefire tackler? McCourty has 10 missed tackles over the last two seasons. Versatility? Playing with the Patriots over the course of his 10-year career, he's been asked to play all over the field and has been serviceable everywhere. 

    The only thing working against McCourty is his age. If you're looking for a short-term solution at free safety, he's the guy. 

Nos. 20-11

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    20. Derrick Henry, RB, 26 years old

    Henry has the question of running back value reopened for debate (if it was ever closed). Sure, there's a lot more to rushing production than the guy carrying the ball, but after watching Henry get the Titans to the AFC Championship Game with 446 yards in the postseason alone, it's a topic worth discussing. 

    Other running backs might not be worth the investment. But Henry's size, running style and ability to impact games as they go on makes him different. 


    19. Philip Rivers, QB, 38 years old

    The narrative on Rivers is that he can't push the ball deep anymore. There may be some validity to that, but he was still 13th in the league in completed air yards per completion. So he can still get the ball downfield when he needs to, but what he really brings is experience, leadership and production that most teams could use in the quarterback room. 

    His 20 interceptions in 2019 are concerning, but that's the third time in his career he's done that. That's just who Rivers is, not necessarily a sign of aging.  


    18. Anthony Castonzo, OT, 32 years old

    Castonzo has been one of the best values in the league for the Indianapolis Colts. For an average salary of $10.9 million per year, they have received solid play from the left tackle spot. He was PFF's seventh-rated tackle last season and played 100 percent of the snaps there. He's a little older than the offensive linemen ahead of him on this list, but at 32 years old, it's conceivable he has enough gas in the tank for multiple strong seasons ahead.


    17. Arik Armstead, EDGE, 26 years old

    There's a lot to like about Armstead. He's just 26 years old, so he could be signed to a long-term deal that expires before he even turns 30. There are also some red flags, like minimal production until his contract year. He had 10 sacks this season, but only had nine in the previous four campaigns combined. 

    Some of that can be chalked up to injuries. He only played six games in 2017 and eight in 2016. Still, the former first-round pick can play the run well and handle multiple roles along the front. That versatility and upside should get him paid. 


    16. Jack Conklin, OT, 26 years old

    Good help at tackle is hard to find, but the team who signs Conklin is getting it. Unlike most of the tackles on the market, Conklin is young enough to be a foundational piece for years to come. PFF noted that Conklin was graded sixth in zone run-blocking and 14th in gap-blocking this season, so he is suited to play in any scheme. 


    15. Cory Littleton, LB, 26 years old

    Littleton went from largely being a special-teamer in his first two seasons to being a cornerstone of the Rams defense over the last two. He played more than 1,000 defensive snaps in 2019, and in those snaps, he proved to be a capable coverage linebacker with solid skills against the run. At 26 years old with only two seasons as a starter under his belt, he could still have a higher ceiling. 


    14. Chris Harris Jr., CB, 31 years old

    Harris' numbers don't look great. He allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 67.1 percent of their passes and gave up 10.0 yards per target. But that belies the fact that Broncos head coach Vic Fangio often tasked Harris with shadowing the opponent's No. 1 receiver. In 2018, those numbers were 64.8 percent and 7.0 yards per target. His coverage ability still makes him a top free agent, but at 31 years old, it's fair to wonder how long he can keep it up. 


    13. Jameis Winston, QB, 26 years old

    Winston has had five seasons to prove he's a franchise quarterback, and the results still feel inconclusive. He started his own club in 2019 as the only quarterback in NFL history to throw 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in a single season.

    Of course, he did have LASIK eye surgery this offseason. "Jameis Winston drastically cuts interceptions after having surgery to actually see the field" feels like the 2020 season's funniest storyline already.


    12. Hunter Henry, TE, 25 years old

    Hunter Henry and Austin Hooper are clearly the class of the tight end group this season. Much like Hooper, Henry is young enough to play a full long-term contract before turning 30, so the timing is right for a team to lock him up. The thing that separates him from Hooper is his work as a deep threat.

    Only Jared Cook and O.J. Howard had a higher average of yards before the catch per reception last season. Henry offers the versatility to play as an in-line tight end, in the slot or even as outside receiver. 


    11. Brandon Scherff, OG, 28 years old

    When it comes to pure performance on the field, Scherff is just as good as any of the offensive linemen on the list. Injuries have become a concern, though. He missed eight games in 2018 and an additional five this past season. At 28 years old, those injury concerns aren't going away. 

    Still, Scherff is an instant upgrade for anyone looking to bolster the offensive line, especially in the run game.

Nos. 10-6

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    10. Anthony Harris, S, 29 years old

    Anthony Harris was targeted only 23 times last season but tied for the league lead in interceptions with six. That's domination at the safety position. He does have the "buyer beware" label as a contract-year star, but 2019 marked the first time he broke into the starting lineup for a whole season.


    9. Joe Thuney, LG, 27 years old

    Joe Thuney is a rock for the middle of an offensive line. That's both because of his play as a foundational piece—he allowed only 16 pressures last season, per Pro Football Focusand his consistency. He is also durable. Thuney has played at least 99.2 percent of the snaps in every one of his four seasons.


    8. Tom Brady, QB, 43 years old

    It's a surreal thought that Tom Brady could suit up for someone other than the Patriots in 2020, but here we are. Brady will play two years beyond the age at which Brett Favre retired, but he's still productive. He's declined some physically, but his football IQ, accuracy and leadership will make whatever team he is on a contender next season if it isn't already.


    7. Byron Jones, CB, 27 years old

    Byron Jones is a unique talent on the free-agent market. The former safety brings versatility in coverage with experience facing No. 1 wideouts as well as slot receivers and tight ends. He was targeted 64 times last season and allowed a catch only 53.1 percent of the time. Great cornerback play is extremely valuable, and Jones is the best on the market.


    6. Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE, 27 years old

    The raw production doesn't always show it, but Jadeveon Clowney is still one of the most explosive and athletic pass-rushers in the league. He tied for sixth in pressures in 2018 with 48 before falling off last season with 30 (tied for 27th). It didn't help that the Seattle Seahawks had one of the least effective pass rushes in the league. He's also great against the run, and that ability made him the 11th-highest-graded edge-defender over the past three seasons, per PFF.

5. Ryan Tannehill, QB, 32 Years Old

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    Nobody did more for their bank account in the 2019 season than Ryan Tannehill.

    Tannehill's success with the Titans was one of the NFL's most fun storylines. His rise from Marcus Mariota's backup to the lifeblood of the biggest in-season turnaround was a transformation story. The former Dolphins signal-caller changed the Titans offense with his ability to make throws downfield.

    Yes, Derrick Henry played a role, but Tannehill led the league in passer rating and yards per completion.

    He's set to get paid regardless of whether the Titans choose to pony up the money or another team does.

    There is some risk in being a buyer in the Tannehill market, though. For the one season of magic, there are six that say he's just an average quarterback at best. There could be regression to the mean. Age could also be a concern since he'll be 32. Not everyone plays well into their 40s like Drew Brees and Tom Brady.

4. Shaquil Barrett, EDGE, 27 Years Old

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    There's a reason edge-rushers command the second-highest franchise tag figure in the NFL. Building an elite pass rush is imperative to building a Super Bowl contender.

    Few edge-rushers were more successful last season than Shaquil Barrett.

    Barrett led the NFL with 19.5 sacks in his first year as a full-time starter. That lack of experience could play one of two ways in free agency: It could be seen as a benefit that he's logged only 2,745 career snaps, or teams could wonder why he's had just one monstrous season.

    His 51 pressures indicate he is built to sustain his success. It isn't as though he had a high sack-to-pressure rate; he got to the quarterback with regularity.

    Barrett is finding his ceiling, and he couldn't have picked a better time.

3. Amari Cooper, WR, 26 Years Old

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    Teams can't usually find No. 1 receivers on the free-agent market, but that's exactly what Amari Cooper is.

    The Alabama product has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in four of his five NFL seasons and tied for ninth in receiving touchdowns in 2019. Perhaps most telling with Cooper is the impact he's had on Dak Prescott.

    The Cowboys quarterback had a career year in 2019, Cooper's first full season in Dallas after a midseason trade from the Raiders in 2018. Cooper gave Prescott a deep threat and finished with 911 of his 1,189 yards before the catch.

    The only receivers with more yards before the catch were Michael Thomas, Julio Jones and DeVante Parker. That's a good crew to be associated with. Cooper is not only a No. 1 receiver now, but at 26 years old during the 2020 season, he figures to be one for as long as any contract he's likely to get.

2. Drew Brees, QB, 41 Years Old

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    Drew Brees isn't likely to go anywhere, but if he did, he would be worth his weight in gold.

    The New Orleans Saints quarterback is 41, yes, but he could sign with just about any team and make it a playoff squad. He led the league in completion percentage last season (74.3 percent) for the third straight time and owned the lowest sack percentage.

    Brees missed five games with a thumb injury and would have been among the league leaders in some other categories if he had played the whole season. He had an incredibly high touchdown-to-interception ratio of 27-to-4.

    It won't be surprising if he is one of the elite players at his position for another season or more. His abilities to get the ball out quick, make the right reads and throw accurately are traits that generally age well.

1. Dak Prescott, QB, 27 Years Old

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    Prescott made No. 1 on this list for one reason: He's the only guy whom a team can sign to be its franchise quarterback for the next five years and be confident he can do it.

    That's as good a value as any club could hope for in free agency.

    As long as Prescott doesn't play under the franchise tag in 2020, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and maybe even Ryan Tannehill will be retired before Prescott is done with his next contract. Jane Slater of NFL Network reported the length of the contract has been a sticking point for the quarterback. He would like to sign a four-year deal, but Dallas wants an even longer commitment.

    That's because Dallas understands the long-term impact Prescott can have. He'll be 27 years old next season and coming off the best campaign of his career by a wide margin.

    He took a step forward with 4,902 yards passing and 30 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. He offers the playmaking that is coveted across the league with his athleticism and passing abilities.

    This year's free-agent class has the most accomplished group of quarterbacks who could change teams. Prescott is the biggest catch of all.


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