7 Boom-or-Bust NFL Free Agents Who Are Worth the Risk in 2022

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2022

7 Boom-or-Bust NFL Free Agents Who Are Worth the Risk in 2022

0 of 7

    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The first wave of NFL free agency has ended, but several quality players remain unsigned. Many of them simply haven't found the right fit or a deal to their liking. Some free agents, however, represent enough of a risk that teams haven't been quick to move on them.

    Here, you'll find a look at seven unsigned free agents who—whether because of age, injury or other player-specific factors—carry a fair bit of risk for the 2022 season. However, these players also have the potential to help a team that is willing to take a chance.

    We'll dive into each player, why they're a boom-or-bust option and what they can bring to the proverbial table below.

    Players are listed in alphabetical order.

Odell Beckham Jr., WR

1 of 7

    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    There are a couple of reasons why Odell Beckham Jr. is a boom-or-bust option. He busted with the Cleveland Browns, failing to produce Pro Bowl numbers and showing a serious lack of chemistry with quarterback Baker Mayfield.

    A team will have to ensure that Beckham is the right fit for its scheme and its locker room.

    Beckham also tore his ACL in Super Bowl LVI, which means he is facing a lengthy recovery and might not be available early in the year.

    However, Beckham also proved that he can still be a playmaker during his time with the Los Angeles Rams. After forcing his way out of Cleveland, he joined L.A. and emerged as a weapon during the postseason. He caught 21 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns in just over three playoff games before suffering the injury in the fourth.

    "If O could've kept going that game, O probably would've been Super Bowl MVP," Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey said of Beckham on The Pivot Podcast (h/t Cameron DaSilva of Rams Wire).

    If a team believes that Beckham is the right fit and is willing to wait until late in the season and/or the playoffs to have him, he's worth a flier this late in free agency.

Duane Brown, OT

2 of 7

    Matt Patterson/Associated Press

    Last season, 40-year-old Andrew Whitworth became the oldest player in NFL history to start at left tackle. While Duane Brown isn't at that point yet, he'll turn 37 in August, and it's fair to wonder how much he has left.

    Brown wasn't great with the Seattle Seahawks in 2021. He was responsible for five penalties and eight sacks allowed, according to Pro Football Focus. He may already be at the dreaded cliff, and that represents a risk for teams eying him as a starter.

    Yet, starting-caliber left tackles are hard to find at this stage in free agency, and Brown can be that. He started all 17 games in 2021 and played 98 percent of the offensive snaps. He hasn't missed a start over the past two seasons, and if he cannot provide high-level play, he can at least provide reliability.

    Brown is not a fit for teams seeking a long-term starter. However, he's a viable stopgap or bridge option who is worth signing on a short-term deal.

Calais Campbell, DL

3 of 7

    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Defensive lineman Calais Campbell was once among the league's most feared pass-rushers. Between 2009 and 2019, he had at least five sacks every single season, and he had a whopping 25 sacks between 2017 and 2018.

    However, Campbell's best edge-rushing days are behind him, and he's logged only 5.5 sacks over the last two seasons combined. He'll turn 36 in September and is almost certainly nearing the back end of his career.

    He isn't done just yet, though, and has explored his options this offseason—including a return to the Baltimore Ravens.

    "I love the Ravens. I feel very comfortable there. At the same time, I'm going to explore what's out there," he said, per Josina Anderson of CBS Sports and USA Today.

    While Campbell may be more of an edge-setter and run-stopper at this point in his career, he can still be valuable to a defense. He had just 1.5 sacks in 2021 but logged 16 quarterback pressures and 49 tackles. He can't be viewed as a long-term contributor, but he can be a valuable short-term addition.

Eric Fisher, OT

4 of 7

    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    While not as old as Brown, Eric Fisher is still a 31-year-old tackle who isn't going to fit every situation. As the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Fisher was a serviceable starter for the Kansas City Chiefs and a two-time Pro Bowler.

    However, he suffered a torn Achilles during the 2020-21 playoffs and failed to return to form with the Indianapolis Colts this past season.

    Fisher was responsible for eight penalties and seven sacks allowed in 2021, according to Pro Football Focus. He started 15 games and played 89 percent of the offensive snaps.

    Can he return to being a Pro Bowl left tackle, or is he destined to struggle as he did with Indianapolis? This is the question teams will face. There's no clear-cut answer, either. While Fisher did have a couple of strong seasons with the Chiefs, he never quite lived up to his draft status.

    We're not talking about a perennial All-Pro with one injury-impacted season.

    Eying Fisher as a long-term blindside protector is risky, but he's worth signing as a stopgap or insurance policy ahead of the 2022 draft.

Will Fuller, WR

5 of 7

    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Wide receiver Will Fuller might be the biggest boom-or-bust player remaining in free agency. He's an explosive deep threat who can take the top off a defense in just about any situation. However, he also has an extensive injury history that has prevented him from becoming a true star.

    Injuries have limited Fuller to 52 games in six seasons, and he appeared in only two contests because of a broken finger in 2021.

    Any team that signs Fuller must know that he'll probably only be available for part of the season. He hasn't played more than 11 games in a season since his rookie year in 2016.

    Yet, he will only turn 28 in April and could have several prime years remaining. If he can get and stay healthy, he still has Pro Bowl potential. At worst, he could be a difference-maker for part of the 2022 season.

    Fuller has averaged 14.7 yards per catch in his career and topped 500 yards four times. In 2020, he tallied 879 yards and eight touchdowns on just 53 receptions in 11 games. He can be a contributor if only on a part-time basis.

Stephon Gilmore, CB

6 of 7

    Brian Westerholt/Associated Press

    Back in 2019, cornerback Stephon Gilmore was the Defensive Player of the Year. Injuries hampered him in 2020, and the Patriots traded him to the Carolina Panthers midway through the 2021 season. Now, he is an aging corner who carries questions about his ceiling.

    Gilmore, who will turn 32 in September, was more than serviceable for Carolina, but he wasn't the playmaker fans have come to know.

    He appeared in eight games and allowed an opposing passer rating of just 78.6. However, he only made three starts and logged a mere two passes defended and two interceptions. His opposing passer rating was the highest it has been in the past four years.

    It's fair to wonder if Gilmore can ever be the defensive centerpiece he was in New England and how much longer he can play at a high level. Unless he is willing to sign a short-term, "prove it" deal, there's a lot of risk in signing him—and he wanted a new contract from the Patriots last offseason.

    "I just want what I'm worth, however that plays out," he told Anderson.

    Still, Gilmore is arguably the best cornerback remaining on the open market. If a team is willing to accept that his best years are behind him, he is worth the risk.

Takkarist McKinley, Edge

7 of 7

    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Like other players on this list, pass-rusher Takkarist McKinley carries injury concerns. He suffered a torn Achilles in Week 15 and probably won't be ready to start the 2022 regular season. 

    He may also not be ready to settle on a new team right away. According to Camryn Justice of News 5 Cleveland, McKinley is currently concentrating on his health.

    "McKinley is said to be considering making a decision about signing, with Cleveland or elsewhere, while continuing to focus on his health," Justice wrote. "The decision may come further along in recovery, sources said."

    Like Beckham, McKinley may not be able to contribute until late in the year or in the postseason. However, he can be a valuable rotational player once healthy. Despite playing only 43 percent of the defensive snaps last year, he logged 2.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and 14 quarterback pressures. 

    Teams eyeing McKinley risk not having him available early or perhaps at all during the regular season. The reward, though, could be having a difference-maker in the games that matter most.


    Contract information via Spotrac. Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.