With the NFL Draft two days away, I thought of doing a Mock Fantasy Draft, but decided to do a free agency piece to help readers gauge where their teams are at respective positions. I will commence the rankings with AFC this week, and finish up with the AFC next week. These rankings are for fantasy purposes, not real-life. Some of the rankings will not surprise you, and a few names on this list will. These rankings are based upon opportunity, team needs, player production history, and gut instinct on what each player will do this season. I hope these rankings help you better understand your NFL team’s needs in the draft, and give you an added edge in your fantasy drafts this season.
1.) Jimmy Graham (Franchised) (TE) – Don’t worry Saints fans, Graham isn’t going any place. The Saints are just waiting to hear from the league on whether Graham is tagged as a WR or TE. The former pays him a ton more, and he should be qualified as WR as a majority of his snaps were from the wide receiver lineup spot.
2.) Riley Cooper (UFA) (WR) – Eagles fans are going to be chanting “Coo-per Coop-er Coop-er” after he stepped up in a major way last season for the Eagles (835 yards, 8 TDs). With DJax gone, Cooper is the WR1 by far with Maclin returning from injury. Big things could be forthcoming from Coop.
3.) Anquan Boldin (UFA) (WR) – Michael Crabtree may become Kaepernick’s favorite target one day, but for now it’s Boldin, and it should remain that way for this coming season. With 1179 yards and 7 scores last season, there’s no reason to think his numbers couldn’t increase more in a second season with Kaepernick at the helm.
4.) DeSean Jackson (Cut) (WR) – The Redskins needed a big play receiver opposite Garçon, and they got one in DJax. Now the only question is will Jackson buy into the team philosophy. Reports out of Philly say he didn’t really want to play for the Eagles. If Jackson buys into the Washington offense, granted a healthy RGIII, DJax could have a very rich season on minimal passes, as he’s one of the premier deep threats in the NFL. Even if Kirk Cousins needs to start, if Jackson buys in, he could be in for a nice season.
5.) Golden Tate (UFA) (WR) – This is one of the most interesting receiver signings this off-season. Tate was consistently overshadowed by bigger name receivers in Seattle (Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin) but when he was given the chance to be the WR1, he fell on his face and didn’t produce much. Now standing in the shadows of the best receiver in the NFL, Calvin Johnson, the potential for Tate to re-make himself as a WR2 in a pass-heavy offense is there. The revolving door for the Lions WR2 continues. We’ll see if Tate sticks.
6.) Antoine Bethea (UFA) (S) – Seahawks fans should be cringing at the thought of this linebacker-type safety heading to ‘Cisco. Bethea was a tackling machine in Indianapolis, and now in the 49ers über-aggressive defense, Bethea should be free to roam, tackle, and pick off passes. He may not lead the team in picks, but you can bank on another 100+ tackles from Bethea. The 49ers D just got scarier.
7.) Greg Hardy (Franchised) (DE) – The Panthers retained a key cog in their defense, and Hardy is entering his prime. After amassing 15 sacks last season, Hardy may eclipse those numbers with a new contract in hand. He won’t ever be drafted as the DE1 like J.J. Watt, but he’s nearly the sack machine Watt can be, and comes at a fraction of the cost. Invest. Life in the NFC South is going to be rough going for QBs this season.
8.) Perry Riley (UFA) (LB) – Washington made a wise decision here. Riley is starting to come into his own a little later than expected, but he is instrumental to the Redskins defense. Another 100+ tackle, 3 sack season should be chalked up here.
9.) Jeremy Maclin (UFA) (WR) – Maclin (torn ACL) was signed to a one year contract as a “feeler” for the Eagles. Slated to play out of the slot, Maclin will assume the role of WR2 in Philly. Assuming he stays healthy, Maclin could surprise with a 7 score season. Draft him late and see what happens, as Foles seems to create magic with receivers.
10.) Jairus Byrd (UFA) (S) – The Byrd hath landed in New Orleans, meaning the Saints are bolstering their defense as they try to keep pace with the Panthers, Seahawks, and 49ers defenses. Byrd, an interception specialist until last season, should rebound nicely this season as he is given the green light to roam in N’Awlins secondary.
11.) Jared Allen (UFA) (DE) – Allen did to the Vikings what Favre did to the Packers: left the Vikings for their arch-rival, Da Bears. In the latter years of his career, Allen is still going to rack up double digit sacks, but may never approach the 20 sack plateau again (22 in 2011). The Bears upgrade their defensive line, and you should invest as you know what you will get here.
12.) Alterraun Verner (UFA) (CB) – Last season, Verner turned into a shutdown corner (22 passes defensed), and now the Buccaneers nabbed him. So errybody in the NFC South except the Falcons bolstered their defense in a major way. Yeah, go figure! If your league counts PDs, Verner is your man, as he’ll net those as well as 5 interceptions.
13.) Rashad Jennings (UFA) (RB) – I liked this signing…2-3 seasons ago. Now 29, Jennings is on the edge of the RB decline curve. With that said, given David Wilson has fumbling problems and that Jennings can hit holes hard, Jennings could end up starting for the G-Men this season. He isn’t RB1 material, but as your RB2 or flex play, you could do worse. Th GMen’s offensive line is horrible, so holes might be hard coming by, so beware.
14.) Brian Orakpo (Franchised) (LB/DE) – Orakpo is a defensive end playing linebacker, and the Redskins should move him there this season. He may never fit the bill he was hyped to be coming out of Texas, but he can still net you 10+ sacks at the OLB/DE position. The Redskins decided he was worth franchising, meaning he is going to be a big part of the defense going forward. I smell an uptick in production.
15.) Thomas DeCoud (Cut) (S) – The Falcons let their best safety go, and they may pay for that, as DeCoud is headed to Carolina. Chalk last season up as a down year, and expect rebound in a more aggressive, well-disciplined defense in Carolina. DeCoud can hit hard and is underrated as a pick man. I’m gambling, are you?
16.) Devin Hester (UFA) (WR) – Hester upgrades the Falcons horrible return game, and gives them another deep weapon. The problem is, Atlanta needs to focus more on defense. Hester’s presence in the return and receiving game helps, and he could provide sneaky fantasy production for those leagues counting punt and kick return yards, as Hester is the all-time leading TD return man. Hey, at least in the passing game, he should have a QB upgrade over Jay Cutler in Matt Ryan, who is due for a rebound after the Falcons lost season last year.
Thank you for tuning in for Part 1 of NFL Free Agency. Next week is AFC free agency fantasy rankings. In the mean time, please comment, like, or whatever you want with this piece…feed it to your dog if you so desire. I just want to hear feedback to better myself and the fantasy community. Remember, the only fool is the person who is unable to see another’s point of view/opinion.