NFL Free Agency 2020: Ranking the 10 Best Unsigned Players Under 30

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2020

NFL Free Agency 2020: Ranking the 10 Best Unsigned Players Under 30

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    While the 2020 edition of NFL free agency kicked off more than three months ago, several quality players remain unsigned.

    The market doesn't only consist of aging veterans and stopgap options either. Many free agents are young enough and talented enough to be considered potential long-term options by contenders and rebuilding teams alike.

    Here, we'll run down the top 10 unsigned free agents who are under 30 years old. Players were ranked based on proven production, impact potential, health and versatility. We also examined teams that make sense for each player based on squads' needs and schemes.

10. S Tony Jefferson

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Our list begins with the 28-year-old Tony Jefferson, a versatile and established starting safety.

    Undrafted out of Oklahoma in 2013, Jefferson emerged as a starter with the Arizona Cardinals before becoming a high-profile player with the Baltimore Ravens. Though never a Pro Bowler, Jefferson regularly produces quality numbers. In 2018, for example, he amassed 74 tackles, six passes defended and an interception.

    Jefferson suffered a torn ACL in October, however, making him an injury risk and leaving him at the bottom of our top 10.

    Otherwise, he is a high-end starter, which is why teams in need of safety help should be interested.

    The Detroit Lions, who ranked 32nd in passing yards allowed in 2019, would be a fit. Head coach Matt Patricia often utilized multiple safeties as defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, and Jefferson could form an intriguing trio with Tracy Walker and Duron Harmon. The New Jets would also make sense if they decide to trade Jamal Adams.

    Best Fits: Detroit Lions, New York Jets

9. RB Theo Riddick

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Running back Theo Riddick might only be a complementary player, but the 29-year-old is one of the better pass-catching backs in the NFL. He's caught at least 53 balls in four of the past five seasons and has 2,238 receiving yards in a seven-year career with the Lions and Denver Broncos.

    Riddick didn't play for Denver last season due to a shoulder injury, which is why he's at the bottom of this list with Jefferson.

    While Riddick doesn't offer a ton as a runner—his career high is 357 rushing yards in a season—he can aid a team looking for an established receiver out of the backfield. The Philadelphia Eagles, who are seeking veteran depth behind Miles Sanders, could be just such a squad.

    "The Eagles don't have that veteran security blanket in the fold yet, but they've been keeping a close eye on the running back market and will probably add to this group," ESPN's Tim McManus wrote.

    Riddick would also be a wonderful checkdown option for Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While Tampa has Ronald Jones II and rookie Ke'Shawn Vaughn at the top of its depth chart, Riddick could fill the James White role as a dangerous underneath target.

    White, for the record, caught at least 40 passes in each of his last five seasons playing with Brady.

    Best Fits: Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

8. CB Darqueze Dennard

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Starting-caliber cornerbacks are always valuable, even when they aren't elite players. The fact that 28-year-old Darqueze Dennard is still available is great for teams in need of veteran secondary depth.

    A first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2014, Dennard has 77 games and 24 starts on his resume. His most productive season was 2017, when he racked up 85 tackles, two interceptions and six passes defended.

    The Las Vegas Raiders are a logical fit for Dennard, as defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has experience with the Michigan State product. Guenther held the same position with the Bengals when Dennard was drafted through 2017.

    Though Las Vegas did add corners Prince Amukamara and rookie Damon Arnette this offseason, it's looking to revamp a secondary that ranked 25th in passing yards allowed.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers also make a lot of sense for Dennard, as they search for depth behind starters Joe Haden and Steven Nelson. Nine of Dennard's 24 career starts came in 2018 when Teryl Austin was Cincinnati's defensive coordinator. Austin is now the secondary coach in Pittsburgh.

    Best Fits: Las Vegas Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers

7. QB Blake Bortles

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Chuckle if you want, but when it comes to available backup quarterbacks, the only one better than the 28-year-old Blake Bortles is the 31-year-old Cam Newton.

    Is Bortles a high-end starter? No. However, he has made 73 regular-season starts. And while backup quarterbacks aren't typically viewed as high-value assets, they can be invaluable to a contender whose starter goes down.

    Just ask the 2019 New Orleans Saints, who went 5-0 without Drew Brees thanks to the efforts of Teddy Bridgewater.

    The Steelers should top the list of teams interested in Bortles, as the backup duo of Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph proved mostly ineffective last season. While starter Ben Roethlisberger is expected to be healthy this year, he's also 38 and coming off a significant elbow injury.

    Bortles has a combination of athleticism, running ability and arm strength that would at least keep the Steelers competitive offensively—provided he isn't asked to carry the team.

    The Tennessee Titans also make some sense, as their top options behind Ryan Tannehill are the unproven Logan Woodside and rookie Cole McDonald. With Derrick Henry leading the offense, Tennessee could allow Bortles to slide into the game-manager role should Tannehill go down.

    Best Fits: Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans

6. RB Devonta Freeman

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    Former Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman oozes versatility, having twice rushed for 1,000 yards and having caught at least 30 passes in five of his six pro seasons. A two-time Pro Bowler, the 28-year-old would be a fantastic complementary back for just about any offense.

    Freeman may not be a starting-caliber back at this point in his career, which is why he didn't crack the top half of this list. After missing all but two games in 2018, Freeman made an underwhelming return last year.

    He finished with 656 rushing yards, 410 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

    Still, teams looking for a dual-threat back should be interested in Freeman. The Steelers, who got a disappointing year out of James Conner in 2019, could view Freeman as an insurance option. The Buccaneers also make sense, as they look to surround new quarterback Tom Brady with talent.

    Freeman, however, will probably have to reduce his asking price if he wants to play with TB12.

    "He's asking for a lot of money, and we don't have a lot of money," Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said, per Pewter Report's Jon Ledyard.

    Best Fits: Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

5. Edge Markus Golden

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    The 29-year-old Markus Golden was bumped up this list for coming off a double-digit sack season. Quality pass-rushers are difficult to find, and Golden has produced at least 10 sacks twice in his five-year career.

    Of course, Golden isn't higher on this list because in his other three seasons he combined for 6.5 sacks.

    Upside is the selling point for Golden, and pass-rusher-needy teams should be interested. The Seattle Seahawks, for example, are a contender but produced just 28 sacks in 2019. Adding Golden to the rotation could help Seattle make another run at the Super Bowl.

    The Baltimore Ravens also make sense, as they look to improve a pass rush that produced just 37 sacks despite regularly playing with a sizable lead last season.

    Of course, it's worth noting the New York Giants have placed the "May 5 tender" on Golden. This means that if another team doesn't sign him before July 22, the Giants will own his exclusive rights at a rate of 110 percent of his 2019 salary.

    For another month, though, Golden is free to sign with any team.

    Best Fits: Seattle Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens

4. CB Logan Ryan

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    As previously mentioned, starting-caliber cornerbacks aren't usually available this late in free agency, but the 29-year-old Logan Ryan is. It's worth noting Ryan is a boom-or-bust player who can make big plays but who also may have lost a step in the speed department—which may be why the Titans let him leave in free agency.

    "I thought he was losing a little bit of vertical speed, and it showed up a couple of times in a couple of games," former Titans safety and current radio broadcaster Blaine Bishop said, per The Athletic's John Glennon.

    Ryan can make those big plays, however, as evidenced by his four interceptions, four forced fumbles and 4.5 sacks in 2019. He's also durable, having missed just three regular-season games in his seven seasons.

    With two Super Bowls on his resume, Ryan would be a fine addition to any secondary, especially a rebuilding one or one lacking depth.

    A reunion with Lions coach Matt Patricia makes sense. So do the Houston Texans, who ranked just 29th in passing yards allowed last season. In Houston, Ryan could provide the type of championship experience that guys like Bradley Roby and Vernon Hargreaves lack.

    Best Fits: Detroit Lions, Houston Texans

3. LB Alec Ogletree

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Linebacker Alec Ogletree has a ton of starting experience for being 28 years old. The 2013 first-round pick out of Georgia has started all 93 regular-season games in which he's appeared.

    Though he has never been a Pro Bowler, Ogletree was a second-team All-Pro in 2016.

    While Ogletree isn't a high-impact defender, he is a tackling machine. He's racked up at least 80 tackles in each of his seasons except 2015, when he played just four games. He has 676 tackles in seven seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants.

    Ogletree would be a valuable addition to any team looking for run support and linebacker depth. The Cleveland Browns, who ranked 30th in rushing yards allowed last season, could add Ogletree to help replace the departed Joe Schobert.

    A return to the Rams would also make sense, as he is familiar with the organization and could help bolster a defense that ranked 19th in rushing yards allowed last season.

    Best Fits: Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams

2. Edge Jadeveon Clowney

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Edge-defender Jadeveon Clowney might not have taken the No. 1 spot on this list, but he's arguably the most recognizable player. Equally dominant against the run and pass, the three-time Pro Bowler can be a fit at defensive end or linebacker, depending on the scheme.

    A combination of productivity and versatility put Clowney this high, but the fact that he is coming off a season hampered by a sports hernia injury kept him from landing at No. 1. Still, plenty of teams would be happy to add the 27-year-old.

    A return to Seattle would make sense, as the Seahawks are looking to improve a pass rush that disappointed in 2019. Cleveland—which leads the league with more than $37 million in remaining cap space—could also use a replacement for Olivier Vernon should it release him.

    ESPN's Adam Schefter told ESPN Cleveland that the Browns had offered Clowney the most money and that the defensive end would be in Cleveland already if he wanted to be there. However, Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot said Clowney could be waiting to see if he can land with a different team first.

    "I believe he probably has a team or two he'd rather play for, and that he's holding out to see if one of those teams ante up and sign him," Cabot wrote.

    If Clowney isn't on a roster before Week 1, it will be one of the biggest surprises of this offseason.

    Best Fits: Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland Browns

1. RG Larry Warford

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Right guard Larry Warford is coming off his third consecutive Pro Bowl season and only turned 29 Thursday. He would be a tremendous pickup for any team—contender or rebuilder—looking to solidify the interior of its line.

    While Warford has the same number of Pro Bowls on his resume as Jadeveon Clowney, he's been more durable. Warford has never missed more than three games in a season and has missed just 11 regular-season contests in his seven-year career with the Lions and Saints.

    Warford was only released by New Orleans after it used a first-round pick on former Michigan interior lineman Cesar Ruiz.

    Cleveland is yet again a team that makes sense. The Browns are loaded with cap space and could round out their new-look line by adding Warford. The Ravens would be a nearly ideal fit, as they look to replace longtime starter Marshal Yanda, who retired.

    By joining Baltimore, Warford would reunite with running back Mark Ingram II and get a prime opportunity to chase a title.

    Best Fits: Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens