279 free agents changed teams this past offseason, but some will have more of an impact than others, writes Nathan Janke of ESPN.com. Jahnke has highlighted five players who have a chance to come in and immediately transform their team.
The list seems to be missing key contributors at first glance, as big name players such as Darrelle Revis (Patriots), DeMarcus Ware (Broncos), Aqib Talib (Broncos), and Julius Peppers (Packers) fail to garner even a mention. When looking at impactful free agent pickups, even Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Giants) and Hakeem Nicks (Colts) could have been considered, as both have a chance to come in and prove their worth immediately.
However Jahnke justifies his selections by pointing out how each of the five teams he highlighted struggled in 2013, and how these five free agents were brought in specifically to turn that particular need around quickly. His reasoning pairs a statistic the team was at the bottom of the league in, with a free agent was near the top:
- The Dolphins, for example, had a mess at left tackle with Jonathan Martin and Bryant McKinnie on the field, creating a revolving door for pass rushers to fly through. Albert ranks third in the NFL in pressures allowed per game since 2011.
- Byrd was brought in to turn around a Saints defense that led the league in passing yards allowed by the safeties. Byrd’s specialty is eliminating plays of more than ten yards over the middle of the field, and turning the mistakes in that area into interceptions.
- Decker was the fifth-best receiver in the NFL in terms of yards accumulated on passes 20 yards or deeper down the field. The Jets quarterbacks were last in the league in passer rating when targeting receivers in 2013.
- Johnson is fourth in the league in pressures as a right defensive end since the beginning of the 2012 season. The Buccaneers defensive ends have missed more than twice as many tackles than the NFL average for the position.
- The Browns were third worst in the NFL in passer rating allowed by inside linebackers in 2013, and dead last in yards after catch allowed. Dansby led the league in passes defended at the position the past two season.
Jahnke ranks them in that order, but there are other free agents to consider as well. Every team hopes the players they sign in the offseason will be able to close up the biggest weaknesses on their roster, and not all of them can live up to expectations.