Underrated NFL Free Agents Still on the Market Who Can Be Starters in 2022

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVApril 22, 2022

Underrated NFL Free Agents Still on the Market Who Can Be Starters in 2022

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    The NFL offseason is rapidly progressing from the start of free agency to the 2022 draft. Over 320 free agents have signed new contracts thus far, and yet there are handfuls of familiar names still on the market. At this point, veterans are better off waiting until after the draft to see where their best opportunity will be.

    Many of the top household names are past their athletic primes and would likely be stopgap options for contenders. We're looking beyond the big names like Jarvis Landry, Tyrann Mathieu and Jason Pierre-Paul, as some of the less obvious names available can still be starters in 2022. Only one of our top six options is over 30 years old but is playing a position that ages well.

    These free agents may be undervalued after an injury or coming out of a bad situation that didn't let their talent shine. We've found the best fits for these players and will explain why each is a worthwhile addition. Let's jump in and prepare for the final wave of free agency.

Kwon Alexander, LB

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    Linebacker Kwon Alexander has been around since 2015 but will still only turn 28 in August. Once a promising star after racking up 335 total tackles in his first three seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, injuries robbed Alexander's ascension. He suffered a torn ACL in 2018 before signing with the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent and then was traded to New Orleans, where he suffered a torn Achilles in December 2020.

    The good news is Alexander returned to the field for 12 games with the Saints in 2021 and looked closer to his explosive old self. He wasn't as impactful in coverage as his first three years, but he was fast as a pass-rusher and finished solo tackles like we're used to seeing. In total, he had 50 tackles, 3.5 sacks and one interception.

    The cost of versatile linebackers has risen tremendously over the last few offseasons. Alexander could be signed for an incentive-laden deal and be a difference-maker for units lacking an X-factor at the position. The one-time Pro Bowler may be signed as a third-down specialist, but it wouldn't be surprising if he elevates quickly throughout training camp into a full-time starter thanks to his ability to impact the game.

    Best fits: New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks

Will Fuller, WR

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    The Miami Dolphins signing Will Fuller in 2021 was supposed to open up an offense that desperately needed speed and playmaking.

    He was coming off a frustrating but productive five years in Houston, where he dealt with various injuries and earned a suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs in November 2020. Due to his immense skill set and upside, interest was still high in the deep threat even if he hadn't played in more than 11 games since his rookie season.

    Unfortunately, his stint in Miami featured the worst-case scenario. After finishing out his suspension, Fuller caught just four passes for 26 yards in two appearances. He sustained a foot injury in the offseason, then dealt with chest and elbow injuries before a fractured finger ended his season in October.

    Fuller has become a high-upside value at this point in his career on a short-term contract. Even if he misses a few games, he can spark an offense much more drastically than the majority of non-stars. The 28-year-old is an underrated route-runner with elite speed and has a career average of 14.7 yards per catch. 

    Fuller fits best with strong-armed, creative quarterbacks who will keep their eyes downfield even as the pocket breaks down. The league is deeper than ever with passers who fit that description. That includes his former Texans teammate and new Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson.

    Best fits: Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Chargers, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears

A.J. Bouye, CB

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    The veteran cornerback market has been slow despite there being a need for help leaguewide. It's smart for vets to see how the draft plays out so they don't lose playing time to the new hotshot rookie. Guys like A.J. Bouye, Joe Haden and Kyle Fuller can still perform despite being unsigned at this point in the offseason.

    The most versatile option of the aforementioned group is Bouye. Turning 31 in August, he has been effective in zone-based schemes throughout his career. He's also more than capable of holding his own in man assignments. 

    Outside of a 2017 Pro Bowl season where he had six interceptions, Bouye isn't much of a turnover generator. He's a solid performer, though, and he impressed in a bounce-back season in Carolina last year. No one noticed as the Panthers were so bad, but his movement skills are still sharp. 

    Like other aging veterans, durability is a bit of a concern. He's missed 16 games over the last two years and has only played a full season's worth of games once. He makes sense for contenders running a high volume of zone alignments that simply need a CB2 who can competently hold down one side of the field.

    Best fits: Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles, Tennessee Titans, Washington Commanders, Arizona Cardinals

Eddie Goldman, DT

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    Finding massive human beings who can effectively burst through an offensive line and finish sacks is one of the most difficult challenges in the NFL. At times, former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Eddie Goldman has shown the potential to be a pro-level pass-rusher. He never developed into a consistent threat on passing downs but continued to be a rock at nose tackle until the Bears released him this offseason.

    The 28-year-old may not have fit into Chicago's rebuild, but he's an ideal run-stuffing, space-eating force who can make things uncomfortable for opposing offenses. A surprising number of contenders could not only use a rotational body but also an outright starter. Signing Goldman could free up a draft pick for another position.

    Even if some teams are devaluing their efforts to slow the run game, it's important to not completely neglect the tackle position. Teams like Tennessee, Baltimore, Miami and San Francisco will aggressively run the ball even if it's not efficient, and that can be a disastrous matchup in the playoffs if a roster lacks the personnel to adjust its game plan. Adding Goldman would significantly help a run defense in these matchups.

    Goldman's 325-pound frame is capable of demanding the attention of the guard and center alike. His presence frees up lanes for linebackers and blitzing safeties to hit holes at full speed. The difference between Goldman and even a serviceable nose tackle against an elite interior offensive line can swing a key game.

    Best fits: Tennessee Titans, Los Angeles Chargers, Cleveland Browns

Bobby Massie, RT

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    The oldest player on our list, the 6'6", 316-pound Bobby Massie turns 33 in August. The tackle market always has at least a few quality seasoned veterans available though, including Duane Brown and Jason Peters this year. Massie is the lone quality right tackle without a team right now.

    He's coming off a nice season with Denver after spending five good years in Chicago previously. Massie's enormous frame allows him to comfortably control power rushers who try to run through his chest. Pro Football Focus graded Massie below a 70.0 overall mark just once in the last four years, making him a true value compared to what some teams are spending on similar production.

    The negative is Massie has missed 18 games over the last three years. He had missed just four total from 2014 through 2018, so this could be a sign of his body breaking down. Nevertheless, several contenders would benefit from having Massie as a reasonably good value in place to start the year while a younger alternative develops for the future.

    Best fits: Los Angeles Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks

Ereck Flowers, G

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    Former New York Giants first-round pick Ereck Flowers was not cut out to be a tackle, but the eight-year pro has been a solid guard since switching positions. Flowers has good quickness for being 330 pounds, but putting him in the phone booth that is the left guard spot limited his exposure to speedy, more flexible edge-rushers. He had two successful one-year stints in Washington and Miami before his return to the Commanders last season.

    Both franchises allowed Flowers to depart due to financial reasons but got worse at the position after getting rid of him. There are a slew of openings at left guard throughout the league right now that Flowers can step into and serve as an immediate upgrade. This is especially the case if he's sandwiched between quality starters at left tackle and center since both positions can assist him in pass protection.

    The position change has also helped Flowers stay durable. He's averaged 951 offensive snaps over the last three years compared to 904 in the previous four. Turning 28 in April, Flowers' long-term durability isn't quite a concern, but there's upside for him to go from a one-year signing to a more consistent presence in future seasons. 

    Best fits: Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans