As the NFL offseason chugs along, teams are beginning to either sign or cut their players who are at or near the end of their contracts. That means of course that we are getting a clear eye on the pool of potential free agents that teams will have an opportunity to make a play for once free agency begins on March 9th. Some of the most exciting free agents are the offensive playmakers that become available. Everyone is always eager for their team to acquire a big time weapon to add to their arsenal. Although many of the free agents on hand are not stars, teams look for potential and hidden value in players who may be trapped in the wrong scheme, stuck behind a bigger star, or just in need of a change of scenery. Then again, there are usually a couple of stars as well, which are always tempting to front offices and fans. This year’s crop of rushers and receivers has some Pro-Bowlers, a future Hall of Famer, and some up and coming talents that could truly make a difference with a team that is willing to take a chance with them. Here are the top eight rushers and top eight receivers in free agency and where they might sign.
16 DeAngelo Williams, RB: Dallas Cowboys
As the secondary back to Le’Veon Bell with the Pittsburgh Steelers, DeAngelo Williams has filled in admirably over the past two seasons when Bell has been out of action. As an 11 year veteran, any new opportunity will probably be similar to the one in Pittsburgh as a backup runner. Most likely Williams would not fare as well as the number one option, and with his mileage, it would be a risky proposition for a team to depend on him in that regard. One interesting option could be the Dallas Cowboys. With the best offensive line in football, Williams could be a solid choice to spell Ezekiel Elliot from time to time, and would most certainly be eager for the opportunity to take advantage of the gaping holes the Cowboys offense generates.
15 Alshon Jeffery, WR: Indianapolis Colts
The Bears number one receiver has been Alshon Jeffery since his second year out of the University of South Carolina in 2013 when he compiled over 1400 yards receiving. Jeffery has the prototypical measurables of a number one receiver but has not had the greatest quarterbacks getting him the ball during his time in Chicago. Without a lot of clarity on who will be behind center for the Bears next year, if Jeffery has a chance to go somewhere else, he might want to make a move. The Colts number one receiver is the speedy T.Y. Hilton but Andrew Luck does not really have another great second or third option in Indianapolis. Although offensive linemen are the most important thing for the Colts, adding another big bodied wideout like Jeffery would be a big help as well.
14 Andre Ellington, RB: San Francisco 49ers
With newly installed head coach Kyle Shanahan taking over in San Francisco, the 49ers will probably be interested in some versatile running backs that can run and catch like Devonte Freeman and Tevin Coleman who Shanahan used with such success in Atlanta. One back that is available and who is known for both his running and receiving is Andre Ellington of the Arizona Cardinals. With David Johnson entrenched as the Cardinals’ all purpose, number one back, Ellington will probably look to find an opportunity for a bigger role elsewhere. Over four seasons with the Cardinals, Ellington has compiled over 1600 rushing yards and a yard less than 1000 receiving yards. With that skill set, he might be an ideal match for the Kyle Shanahan offense.
13 Kenny Stills, WR: Baltimore Ravens
One team that has always had success when with a speedy deep threat at their disposal is the Baltimore Ravens. In 2012 they made it to Super Bowl XLVII thanks to two huge catches for 32 and 59 yards in the AFC Championship game by Torrey Smith against the Broncos. Known for his great deep throw, Joe Flacco is most effective when he has a speedy receiver on the outside to take the top off of the defense. One of the top deep threats available in free agency is Kenny Stills who has spent two years in Miami after two years in New Orleans. Stills has averaged 16.7 yards per catch in his four seasons including 20 yards per catch as a rookie. With the addition of Stills catching passes down the sideline, Flacco could get back into his Super Bowl winning form and get the Ravens back to the top of the AFC Central.
12 Latavius Murray, RB: Washington Redskins
As a part of one of the top offenses in the league, with a great quarterback, two outstanding wideouts, and the second best offensive line in football, Latavius Murray should have had an incredible season. Somehow however he finished with less than 800 yards. Now part of that was the fact that Derek Carr and the passing game was dominant and Murray was not necessarily needed for much. Usually when a team has a strong passing game however, that opens things up for the running back. Based on his performance, it would not be a surprise if the Raiders let Murray go and try to find another option. If he does depart, he would probably go to a team where he could compete for the starting job. The Redskins have a relatively anonymous backfield and will probably be looking for some more high profile options to fight for the number one spot.
11 Victor Cruz, WR: Cincinnati Bengals
Although it was just a few years ago that Victor Cruz was among the best slot receivers in the NFL, some think he may be about finished as a star in the league and possibly done for good. After suffering injuries that kept him out for most of 2014 and all of 2015, Cruz finally returned to the Giants in 2016. With Odell Beckham Jr. firmly established as the number one option, Cruz did not look as impressive, finishing the season with 586 yards receiving. If the Giants really move on from him there are probably teams out there who have a need for an exciting slot guy that would be willing to take a chance on him. One interesting option could be the Cincinnati Bengals. With AJ Green and Tyler Eifert as the foundation of one of the top receiving corps in the league, the addition of a rejuvenated Victor Cruz could provide Andy Dalton with one more weapon in the passing game.
10 Eddie Lacy, RB: New York Giants
In an ideal world for the Green Bay Packers, Eddie Lacy would continue with his healthy eating, get his ankle fully healed, and re-sign with the Packers for a reasonable amount. If the world is not ideal, and Lacy decides to depart the frozen tundra, one team that always likes a big bruising back is the New York Giants. This year’s version, Rashad Jennings had less than 600 yards rushing on the season which the Giants would certainly like to improve upon. Lacy has four years in the league with over 1100 yards in his first two seasons and over 700 in his third. Injuries in 2016 limited him to five games and 360 yards rushing. With his size, power, and speed, Lacy would fit in well with the Giants, providing them a strong presence on the ground to take the pressure off of Eli and Odell Beckham Jr to do everything.
9 Josh Gordon, WR: Los Angeles Rams
The poster boy for high risk-high reward in this year’s crop of free agent receivers is Josh Gordon. When he has stayed on the field he has shown himself to be a true number one receiver. He had over 800 yards as a rookie and over 1600 yards receiving in his second year in the league and that was with stiffs like Brandon Weedon, Brian Hoyer, and Jason Campbell throwing to him. Of course he has also been suspended from the league numerous times for various drug violations and has not played since 2014. If he can get passed his substance abuse issues he could become a solid contributor somewhere. One team that has a big need for receivers is the Los Angeles Rams. With number one pick Jared Goff ready to take over at quarterback, he will need all the help he can get and with Gordon’s experience catching lots of passes from below average QBs he could be a big help for the Rams, especially if Goff turns out to be good.
8 LeGarrette Blount, RB: Kansas City Chiefs
If the Patriots do not retain LeGarrette Blount, it will be the second time they have released him in his career. The first time lead to 11 games with the Steelers in 2014 before he returned to New England and was then completely unaffected by possibly under-inflated balls, as he ran for three touchdowns and 148 rushing yards against the Colts in the AFC Championship game. Another AFC contender that would seem to be an ideal fit for Blount would be the Kansas City Chiefs. As a big punishing back, Blount is the type of runner Andy Reid would love. Although if Blount does not perform as well as they are hoping, and the Chiefs were to let him go before the end of the season, he would probably just end up back in New England in time to help the Patriots make their way through the playoffs one more time.
7 Jermaine Gresham, TE: Green Bay Packers
One pass catcher who has had a productive yet relatively anonymous career is Jermaine Gresham. After five seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, Gresham was overshadowed by Tyler Eifert who became the Bengals top tight end. Gresham has spent the past two seasons in Arizona. As a consistent veteran, Gresham could be a great upgrade to any team who is needs a solid tight end to round out their receiving corps. With the best quarterback in the league, the Packers have been without a top end TE since injuries forced Jermichael Finley out in 2013. They have done fine with run of the mill guys for the past few years, but if they were able to grab someone like Gresham on the cheap, he could round out their excellent receiving group, making Aaron Rodgers that much more impossible to defend.
6 Denard Robinson, RB: New Orleans Saints
Although they are pretty much set with their number one back Mark Ingram, the New Orleans Saints offense has traditionally found success with the smaller, speedy running backs who they can move around the formation and use as a secondary option and a receiver out of the backfield, a prime example being Darren Sproles. If the Saints wanted to find a similar version of that player to add to their offense, one option could be the electric Denard Robinson. Originally a quarterback at the University of Michigan, he has been an all-purpose back with the Jacksonville Jaguars during his four years in the NFL. With speed, shiftiness, and the ability to make explosive plays, he could become a dangerous additional weapon in the Drew Brees and Sean Payton offense.
5 Martellus Bennett, TE: New England Patriots
Another pass catching tight end that is available is Martellus Bennett, who just had a great season in New England with over 700 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. Although he is a free agent, Bennett’s best option might be to return to New England. It could be the Patriots best option as well, especially if Rob Gronkowski continues to have injury issues next season. Even if Gronk does come back fully operational, the Patriots have had a lot of success over the years while using two pass catching tight ends. It was assumed when Bennett was signed this year that New England would use them both together a lot. Gronk’s injury prevented that, but if they get Gronkowski back and retain Bennett, the Patriots offense could wreck havoc with two big bodied receiving threats at their disposal.
4 Jamaal Charles, RB: Seattle Seahawks
Despite always being one of the top running teams in the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks no longer have any of the top backs in the NFL. With Marshawn Lynch retired, the Seahawks dropped to the 25th ranked rushing offense in the league with Christine Michael, who they released in mid-season, as their leading rusher. With Russell Wilson established as a franchise quarterback, he took over the offense last year. But the running game is a big part of the Seahawks identity so they would love to get another top of the line running back to plug into their system. One of the best options out there, despite a little shaky injury history is Jamaal Charles. If the Seahawks could grab Charles, and get to work on improving their O-Line, they could get their running game back on track.
3 Terrelle Pryor, WR: Tennessee Titans
The former Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback started his career as a backup but managed to start nine games in 2013 with the Oakland Raiders. After riding the bench in 2014, Terrelle Pryor decided to give wide receiver a shot and was signed by the Cleveland Browns. He played minimally in 2015 but in 2016 established himself as a starter for the Browns and now seems on the verge of developing into a great receiver. After hauling in over 1000 yards receiving with the Browns and their less than stellar quarterbacks, Pryor should be a hot commodity if Cleveland does not hold onto him. The Tennessee Titans and their exotic smash-mouth running game was a success last year, but adding a solid receiver like Terrell Pryor for Marcus Mariota to throw to, on what should be very effective play action passes, would be a great addition to the system.
2 Adrian Peterson, RB: Los Angeles Raiders
As he steadily approaches the inevitable end of his fantastic career, Adrian Peterson may be thinking about joining up with a playoff caliber team in hopes of making a run at a Super Bowl. One team that could use a running back, and that does have a history of signing big name free agents, is the Oakland Raiders. With one of the league’s top offensive lines providing gaping holes for him, and a stellar passing game keeping the safeties and corners honest, Peterson could have lots of space to work his magic in. Even if he has a lost step, or is a bit worn down after ten seasons in the NFL, with the Raiders offense only needing him as a complementary option, he could be a very exciting piece, and provide solid production for Oakland.
1 DeSean Jackson, WR: Philadelphia Eagles
After being let go by the Philadelphia Eagles when Chip Kelly took over in 2014 DeSean Jackson ended up in the same division with the Washington Redskins. Jackson has been an important weapon for Kirk Cousins in his three seasons in the nation’s capital going over 1000 yards receiving twice. With Kelly long gong however, there is talk of Jackson returning to the city of brotherly love, where he played for six seasons gaining almost 6000 receiving yards. Jackson is much more productive than any of the current Eagles receivers and would be a solid improvement for the offense. With Carson Wentz entering his second year, a high quality target will be very important in continuing his development. Jackson would be returning to a similar Eagles system to the one he left with Doug Peterson, who was an offensive coach for the Eagles during Jackson’s first stint, now the head coach in Philly.
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