Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Rating the NFL free agents

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - It's not quite "Supermarket Sweep," but NFL teams are certainly tweaking their shopping lists this week.

When the clock strikes midnight on Friday, clubs will be permitted to start contract negotiations with the agents of players who will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the current league year, which culminates at 4 p.m. ET on March 12.

Following is a look at the top 50 unrestricted free agents available. No franchise tags and no restricted guys here, these are players who can sign on the dotted line next week and never look back.

You won't see big names like Charles Woodson, Ed Reed or Osi Umenyiora on the list because age is a big factor -- perhaps the biggest -- in weighing how NFL teams value potential targets.

Other veterans like John Abraham, Dwight Freeney and Richard Seymour made the cut because their games translate a little better toward situational football, upping their values in a one- or two-year window.

So here it is -- The NFL's Top 50 NFL Free Agents:

1. Mike Wallace, WR, Pittsburgh - True home run threats rarely hit the open
market. Wallace, a 2011 Pro Bowl selection, is coming off a down year and is
regarded as a bit of an underachiever in Western Pennsylvania. That said,
he'll only be 27 when the 2013 season opens and he still has blazing 4.33-
second speed in the 40-yard dash.

2. Andre Smith, RT, Cincinnati - Smith's work ethic has always been questioned
and his weight is a constant concern, but the former sixth overall pick in
2009 developed into one of the best two or three right tackles in football
last season.

3. Jake Long, LT, Miami - When the Dolphins tagged defensive tackle Randy
Starks, it meant that Long, a former No. 1 overall pick, would hit the market.
Once regarded as one of the premier players at one of the game's most
important positions, injury concerns and another potential huge outlay has
Miami contemplating life after Long. While he's probably not as good as he
once was, Long is hardly ready for the clearance aisle. He's still a top-10
left tackle and that means something.

4. Michael Bennett, DE, Tampa Bay -- Bennett looks like the best all-around
defensive end out there. He has the requisite motor, plays the run hard and
can get after the quarterback. Bennett may never be elite, but he had nine
sacks in 2012 and he's just 27.

5. Cliff Avril, DE, Detroit - Avril is only 26 and is the best pure pass
rusher available, amassing 39 1/2 sacks over the past five seasons. He's not
as well-rounded as you would like and he's actually a perfect fit for the
Lions' wide-9 scheme, but a massive price tag has seemingly scared Detroit
away.

6. Greg Jennings, WR, Green Bay - Jennings has proven to be an elite receiver,
but injuries and age (he'll be 30 in September) knock him down a bit. The
Western Michigan product is certainly the best route runner available and the
rare receiver these days who can move from the outside to the slot and back
again all while being a difference maker.

7. Dannell Ellerbe, ILB, Baltimore - Super Bowl rings tend to up the price tag
on players, but in Ellerbe's case, it's deserved. For all the talk surrounding
Ray Lewis during the Ravens' championship run, it was Ellerbe who was the
team's best linebacker, and at 26, he's about to enter his prime years.

8 Dashon Goldson, S, San Francisco - The NFC champion 49ers decided to let
Goldson hear from other suitors and while Jim Harbaugh almost certainly wants
his Pro Bowl safety back in the Bay Area, Goldson should command a huge
payday, cause for concern for a player whose greatest attribute is run
support, not coverage.

9. Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee - Cook is more of a glorified slot receiver and
not really an in-line option, but, boy, can he cause a Jimmy Graham-like
matchup headache.

10. Sebastian Vollmer, RT, New England - A balky back pushes Vollmer down a
bit, but he's a very good right tackle, just a notch below elite. Vollmer
mirrors well in pass protection and is solid if unspectacular while run
blocking.

11. Sean Smith, CB, Miami - The best man-coverage corner available. Smith has
consistency issues and seems to be more highly regarded outside South Florida.

12. Aqib Talib, CB, New England - As fare as pure ability goes, Talib is
certainly in the elite category, but his off-the-field issues have been well-
documented and will certainly affect his value.

13. Connor Barwin, OLB, Houston - A real effort guy coming off a down season,
but he's just one year removed from 11 1/2 sacks.

14. Paul Kruger, OLB, Baltimore - Kruger is a one-trick pony, but it's an
impressive trick, a very good edge pass-rusher. That said, he's a situational
type and only a fit for teams that use a 3-4 defensive alignment.

15. Louis Delmas, S, Detroit - Delmas would certainly be in the top 10 if he
could stay healthy, but you are talking about a guy who has started only 18 of
36 games over the past two seasons.

16. Reggie Bush, RB, Miami - Running backs certainly aren't valued these days,
but Bush's versatility will find him a home rather quickly.

17. Keenan Lewis, CB, Pittsburgh - Lewis had a bit of a breakout season
with the Steelers, turning out to be their best cover corner. At just 26, he
is poised to become a long-term starter.

18. Danny Amendola, WR, St. Louis - One of the best pure slot receivers in the
NFL, but does he take a beating at times.

19. Martellus Bennett, TE, N.Y. Giants - Bennett turned the corner during his
first year with the Giants and is one of the better all-around players at a
position which is quickly becoming very specialized. He'll be just 26 when
September rolls around, but his time as an underachiever in Dallas may
make others leery of cutting a big check.

20. Phil Loadholt, RT, Minnesota - Perhaps the best run-blocking right tackle
in football, the massive Loadholt would be a star if he could clean up the
pre-snap penalties and figure out a way to slow down elite speed rushers.

21. Andy Levitre, G, Buffalo - Levitre is the best pure offensive guard
available, generally a lighter paying position. He's not all that athletic,
but is strong and nasty, two desirous traits in an O-lineman.

22. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Philadelphia - Rodgers-Cromartie has Pro
Bowl-caliber ability, but is hitting the street because of the effort he
showed during the Eagles' disappointing 2012 season. Someone will fall in love
with DRC's skill-set, but the key is getting in to translate on the field.

23. William Moore, S, Atlanta - Moore has the range to be a better coverage
safety, but it doesn't always show up on Sundays.

24. Glover Quin, S, Houston - A former cornerback, Quin lined up all over the
field for Wade Phillips, but the Texans didn't bite with the franchise tag.
That tells you something.

25. Brandon Myers, TE, Oakland - If you are looking for a pure receiving
tight end, you could do worse than the 27-year-old Myers, who can get down
the seam with consistency.

26. Louis Vasquez, G, San Diego - Was the best player on a bad line. In other
words, he might be like a 20-point scorer on the Charlotte Bobcats.

27. Kenny Phillips, S, N.Y. Giants - Much like Delmas in that he can't stay
healthy, but when on the field, he has been able to produce.

28. Brad Jones, ILB-OLB, Green Bay - Jones won't knock your socks off, but
he's a versatile guy who can fit just about any scheme and play at an above-
average level.

29. Phillip Wheeler, OLB, Oakland - A speedy linebacker coming off his best
season, Wheeler needs help up front to excel. If opposing offensive linemen
get to the second level, he's gets caught in the wash far too easily.

30. Alan Branch, DT, Seattle - Branch is one-dimensional, a two-down, run-
anchor, but a darn good one.

31. Dustin Keller, TE, NY Jets - Keller has limited blocking skills, but can
get separation and catch the football.

32. Matt Shaughnessy, DE, Oakland - A young, talented guy who never lived up
to expectations in Oakland. Somebody will blame the lack of production of the
dysfunctional Raiders franchise and give Shaughnessy a fresh start.

33. Gosder Cherilus, RT, Detroit - Cherilus has been a solid starter in a low-
profile situation.

34. Jerome Felton, FB, Minnesota - Few teams use pure fullbacks for
significant snaps, but for those who do, Felton is the best lead-isolation guy
in the business.

35. Cary Williams, CB, Baltimore - Williams might be the guy who gets the
biggest Super Bowl bump. He is coming off a nice season after being pressed
into action, but he strikes many as a nickel corner moving forward.

36. Brandon Moore, G, N.Y. Jets - Moore has been an above average guard for
the Jets over the past few seasons. He's never going to remind you of Randall
McDaniel or Larry Allen, but you can certainly win with him.

37. Richard Seymour, DT, Oakland - Yeah, Seymour is 33, but he still has the
versatility to play inside or outside and could be rejuvenated by getting
out of Oak-town.

38. Brian Hartline, WR, Miami - The Dolphins complain about not having a legit
outside the numbers threat and probably undervalue Hartline, a solid
complimentary piece.

39. Desmond Bryant, DT, Oakland - An arrest for criminal mischief won't help,
but Bryant is only 27, has nice size and is a smart guy.

40. Erin Henderson, LB, Minnesota - The knock on Henderson is in coverage, but
the Vikings' antiquated Cover-2 scheme often asks too much of nickel
linebackers. In the run game, Henderson is as instinctive as they come.

41. Jermon Bushrod, LT, New Orleans - Consistency is a problem for Bushrod,
and at the end of the day, he's just an average left tackle.

42. Sam Baker, LT, Atlanta - Baker is not as athletic as you would like, but
he's a scrapper who will fight to the whistle.

43. John Abraham, DE, Atlanta - Yeah, he's getting up there, but Abraham has
19 1/2 sacks the past two seasons. It's probably time to start limiting his
reps, but he can still bring significant heat off the edge, especially against
lesser competition.

44. Wes Welker, WR, New England - Big drops and the fact that Welker will turn
32 over the summer hurts his stock. It's also very unlikely he leaves Foxboro.

45. Dwight Freeney, DE, Indianapolis - Needs to get back to a 4-3 situation in
which he can be a contributor as a situational pass rusher. Freeney is
probably best-suited for 20 to 30 snaps a game at this point.

46. Derek Cox, CB, Jacksonville - Another injury-plagued player with the
talent to succeed if he stays on the field.

47. William Hayes, DE, St. Louis Rams - A versatile lineman with some juice on
the pass rush.

48. Pat Sims, DT, Cincinnati - This is what free agency is for: A 26-year-old
backup who now has a chance to secure a starting job.

49. Ricky Jean-Francois, DT, San Francisco - Solid backup with the NFC champs,
but not sure he has the athleticism to stand out as a starter.

50. Victor Butler, OLB, Dallas - Time to sink or swim for the 26-year-old who
has been stuck behind DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.
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