The Most Overlooked Additions of the 2021 NFL Offseason
The big-ticket moves aren't always the ones that make the biggest impact in the NFL.
Look at last year, when the Chicago Bears made Robert Quinn the second-highest-paid free agent in terms of total dollars, only for him to tally two sacks, down from 11.5 the year prior. Emmanuel Ogbah, on the other hand, went to Miami for roughly $55 million less cash in total contract value and posted nine sacks.
Some major moves work wonders (Tom Brady), of course. But moves that don't hog the spotlight and generate many headlines can work just as well. Proper schematic and team fits, value and alignment with team goals make some underrated additions to NFL rosters stick out.
These are the most overlooked additions of the offseason, ranked by value and projected impact.
7. Kyle Rudolph, TE, New York Giants
A 31-year-old Kyle Rudolph didn't make a ton of noise when inking a two-year deal with the New York Giants, especially when compared to bigger names at his position, like Hunter Henry.
But Rudolph is a critical addition for a Giants team going all-in around developmental quarterback Daniel Jones. He'll join a cast of weapons that includes fellow tight end Evan Engram, free-agent prize Kenny Golladay and 2021 first-round receiver Kadarius Toney.
Over 12 games last year, Rudolph had a quiet end to his decade-long stint in Minnesota, recording just 334 yards and one touchdown. But he had scored six or more times in three of the four seasons prior to that while ranking as the thirdish option in a mostly run-based attack.
This isn't to suggest Rudolph will swing the pendulum much in the win column for the Giants. But there's something bigger at stake for New York next season: guaranteeing a proper developmental curve for Jones that leads to reaching a high ceiling.
6. Marvin Jones Jr., WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Marvin Jones Jr. has flown under the proverbial radar for most of his career.
The 2012 fifth-round pick always fell behind A.J. Green in Cincinnati when it came to hype and always had to spar with Golden Tate in Detroit.
But Jones has always been extremely reliable, averaging 14.2 yards per catch for his career with 51 touchdowns in 112 appearances. His nine touchdowns in each of the last two seasons got lost in the blah of a Detroit team that won eight total games over that span.
The 31-year-old Jones didn't make a splash by signing with the rebuilding Jacksonville Jaguars amid a stacked free-agent and rookie class. But that big-play upside and reliability will be key for the development of No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence, never mind fellow wideouts Laviska Shenault Jr. and D.J. Chark.
While Jones isn't finishing off his career with a contender, his impact on the Jaguars could extend for years.
5. Matt Feiler, OT, Los Angeles Chargers
Matt Feiler has never been a household name since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2014.
But those who obsess over snap counts and positional versatility know Feiler provides immense value. He's got experience all over the offensive line and has looked like a worthy starter when called upon. Last year over 848 snaps, he posted a 65.0 Pro Football Focus grade (backup range). The year prior, a 75.9 (starter) over 995 snaps.
Still, Feiler got lost in a sea of both notable free agents and rookies. And he got lost on his own new team too, as the Los Angeles Chargers made much bigger noise adding center Corey Linsley and drafting offensive tackle Rashawn Slater 13th overall.
Given his underrated play and versatility, the Chargers will likely use Feiler at guard. Going into his age-29 season, Feiler's ability, plus joining a better unit than he's played with for years, should have him playing a major role in the continued upward swing for quarterback Justin Herbert.
4. Mike Hilton, CB, Cincinnati Bengals
Another former Steelers free agent overshadowed by the market and on his new team, cornerback Mike Hilton is about to have a major impact on the Cincinnati Bengals.
Hilton's new deal for $24 million over four years pales in comparison to that of Cincinnati corner Trae Waynes, who got a three-year deal worth $42 million last year. One could argue he has less hype than fellow 2021 free-agent signee Chidobe Awuzie, too.
Yet it's Hilton who could have the biggest impact from the slot of the three Bengals corners making their starting debut in the base defense. He's a do-it-all presence who, over 12 games last year, had 51 total tackles, three sacks, six pressures, three interceptions and seven passes defensed for the Steelers. Over the last three seasons, he's never allowed better than a 64.4 completion percentage on a minimum of 45 targets.
When it comes to bargains with upside, it doesn't get much better than Hilton. He brings some much-needed talent, versatility and leadership to a Bengals defense in sore need of all three.
3. Carlos Dunlap, DE, Seattle Seahawks
Carlos Dunlap's journey last year was about as predictable as it gets.
Dunlap, a longtime Bengals veteran, had a messy split with the team and got traded to Seattle at the halfway point. Dunlap was hardly used or used well in Cincinnati, playing 26 percent of the defense's snaps over seven games, recording just one sack and eight pressures.
Over eight games in Seattle within a scheme that better fit his talents, Dunlap played 27 percent of the snaps and had five sacks and 18 pressures, including some key late-game moments to help a contender thrive.
It's easy, then, to predict Dunlap will feast over 17 games in Seattle's defense, extending those half-season numbers to a big impact. We are, after all, talking about one of the game's most underrated edge-rushers who has 87.5 sacks in 163 appearances, including 7.5 or more in every season dating back through 2013 if we don't count last year's oddity.
Considering Seattle has needed a steady edge-rusher for years, Dunlap slots perfectly and only makes the NFC West race more interesting.
2. John Johnson III, S, Cleveland Browns
There was a brief bit of hype for the Cleveland Browns signing John Johnson III in free agency, sure.
But that blip doesn't really do the addition justice.
Johnson, a third-round pick in 2017, has blossomed into one of the league's best safeties. Case in point, his 85.6 PFF grade last year, which ranked third among all players at his position. For context, Browns safeties posted the league-worst cumulative grade at 48.2 last season.
Expanding the numbers only makes it more impressive. Johnson posted an 80.0 PFF grade or better in three of his four seasons, with the exception being an injury-riddled 2019. Last year, while he let up a 69.1 completion percentage on 68 targets, he surrendered no touchdowns and just 4.4 yards per target, plus 105 combined tackles.
Safeties like Johnson don't usually hit the market, and what makes it even more impressive is how he'll impact a Browns defense already loaded with front-seven talent like Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney.
1. Curtis Samuel, WR, Washington Football Team
Curtis Samuel didn't make the biggest headlines in free agency despite inking a deal with the Washington Football Team that offers $34.5 million over three years.
Samuel simply fell behind names like Kenny Golladay and Corey Davis in terms of hype, never mind veterans with name recognition like T.Y. Hilton and A.J. Green.
Part of this was Samuel's under-utilization, if not misuse over four years in Carolina in a stunted passing attack. Despite a second-round investment in 2017, Carolina gave Samuel 100-plus targets just once and only just started using his versatile skill set as a rusher, giving him 41 carries last year after no more than 19 in any season prior. (He averaged 4.9 yards per carry with two scores over those 41.)
Samuel now takes his versatile talents to Washington, will get better quarterback play from under center and gets to work while defenses focus on No. 1 Terry McLaurin and possibly rookie Dyami Brown.
Considering a running mate for McLaurin has been a weakness for Washington but still didn't prevent a playoff berth last year, Samuel's arrival could see him provide a big boost and allow him to reach his immense ceiling.