26. Tarell Brown- It feels like I’m a lot higher on Tarell Brown than most other writers, and it’s because I’ve watched him extremely closely over the past couple of seasons and feel like he has asserted himself as a true No. 1 corner in this league. If he didn’t suffer a nasty chest injury last year, then he would have had a better chance to shine down the stretch. Brown has great coverage skills, is physical, and he can succeed in a variety of set-ups. The San Francisco 49ers should do whatever they can to keep him, and he might be an even bigger priority than Whitner. Whenever I watched the 49ers in 2012, I was always amazed by just how little help Brown received from Goldson, who blew more assignments than he should have at free safety.
27. Golden Tate- While I think the Seattle Seahawks will be able to re-sign him, I also think that Tate could be a breakout star on another team. If he receives more targets from Russell Wilson in 2014 then the same thing should happen, but I would love to watch Tate in a more pass-happy offense. He is great at getting yards after the catch, he is a quality route-runner, he has some of the best hands in the NFL, and his leaping ability makes him play much taller than his short frame.
28. Rodger Saffold- Saffold’s versatility makes him an incredibly appealing free agent target, and it will be interesting to see if the St. Louis Rams will be able to keep him. A quality run blocker and pass protector, Saffold can play at every starting position on the offensive line except for center. And unlike Adam Snyder, Saffold is actually really good at those four spots.
29. Charles Tillman- The fact that he is 33 and coming off of an injury hurts him, but there’s no doubt that “Peanut” is a top corner when he’s fully healthy. I mean, he had 16 passes defended and ten fumbles forced in 2012, and there’s little doubt in my mind that his injuries caused his down year in 2013. That said, injuries are a big factor, and they could cause Tillman to be a free agent theft if his value falls hard enough.
30. Walter Thurmond III- One of the game’s best slot corner, Thurmond can also excel on the outside and is able to bring it as a run defender. He can make plays and has a great deal of upside, but he’s just not good enough right now to rank above the likes of Tillman and Brown.
31. Anthony Collins- A very solid starting offensive tackle, Collins could become a household name soon. Whether or not this occurs in Cincy remains to be seen.
32. Zach Strief- I think Strief gets underrated on quite a bit of free agent ranking lists, and I don’t think he should be undervalued just because he’s a right tackle and not a left tackle. Strief is one of the best RTs in the business, as he rarely gives anything up in pass protection and can certainly pave the road in the running game.
33. Arthur Jones- After recording 52 tackles and four sacks last season, Arthur Jones is poised for a big contract this offseason from a team high on his ability to rush the passer and plug up holes in the running game. Jones is 27 and hitting the prime of his career, but he could still use some more polish as a pass rusher.
34. Jon Asamoah- Although he’s not as good as Geoff Schwartz due to Schwartz’s superior run blocking, Asamoah is a very good starting guard in his own right and is more likely to be re-signed by the Kansas City Chiefs due to his lower price tag.
35. Brandon Spikes- His coverage skills may be poor, but Brandon Spikes is still a great starting linebacker in this league and fits as a 3-4 ILB more than a 4-3 MLB due to his weakness in coverage. Spikes is one of the league’s most vicious run defenders, and his elite explosiveness and strength allow him to dominate at the point of attack and get downhill in a hurry. He’s an elite run defender in every sense, and he was an absolute catalyst for the Patriots over the past couple of seasons. Attitude isn’t a concern, but injuries are.
36. Justin Tuck- Another 4-3 defensive end who excels as a run defender, Tuck’s experience and leadership make up for his declining pass rushing skills. He can still put the quarterback on the ground, though, and he would be a very good signing if his price tag isn’t bloated. I hope Tuck ends up staying with the New York Giants, but it might not be in the cards.
37. Julian Edelman- A lot of people want to see a team like the Cleveland Browns or Houston Texans pick up Julian Edelman, and I think any team in need of a consistent pass-catcher should jump on him. After it initially looked like he would continue to stay with Tom Brady and the Patriots, it now looks like Edelman will be a nice catch on the open market. He has the ability to play in the slot or on the outside, and he has underrated long speed. Edelman’s primary goal will be to move the chains, but he has underrated athleticism and is one of the league’s best and most consistent punt returners.
38. Brian De La Puente- The best center on the market, De La Puente is ridiculously consistent and barely gives up pressure in the passing game. Hopefully the New Orleans Saints can find a way to keep him, because he’s a solidifying presence on the inside.
39. James Jones- I’ve never been a big fan of James Jones’s, as I could see him being the guy who finds life without the best quarterback in the NFL extremely hard. Even though his hands are poor, Jones is a fast, athletic receiver who can rack up touchdowns and knows how to get open. I question his ball skills and consistency, but I don’t question his ability to be a solid WR2.
40. Anthony Spencer- There are serious questions regarding Spencer’s ability to produce coming off of a major knee surgery, but there shouldn’t be any questions regarding his top-notch talent as a pass rusher. Before the injury, Spencer was extremely explosive and possessed a beautiful first step, so hopefully he can still play at a high level following his injury.
41. Jermichael Finley- There are a few players hitting the free agent market with injury concerns, but nobody has more concerns than Jermichael Finley, whose career is still in doubt following last season’s nasty neck injury. It was a scary moment for Finley, who is an equally scary proposition for linebackers and safeties when healthy. Although he has trouble with the dropsies, Finley is a matchup nightmare and a massive weapon in anyone’s arsenal.
42. Tony McDaniel- An incredibly underrated player, Tony McDaniel was an unsung hero on the Seahawks defense last season. While his days with the ‘Hawks are over after winning a ring, he could help out a contender in dire need of a top-notch run-stuffer to anchor the defensive line.
43. Antonio Smith- Overshadowed by the best defensive player in the NFL, Antonio Smith is a talented 3-4 defensive end in his own right and could be the steal of the offseason; he looks like a very strong bounce-back candidate.
44. Red Bryant- You know how I said Ninkovich and Houston are the best 4-3 DEs in the NFL at stopping the run? I take that back, the answer is Red Bryant, who showed more scheme versatility than most by being a run-stuffer succeeding as a 4-3 DE. He can’t rush the passer, but he sets the edge in the running game, can contain running QBs, has elite leadership, and is an incredibly good run defender. He won’t get much money and isn’t generating much interest, but he’s a very solid option.
45. Jared Allen- I’d love to see Jared Allen as a No.3 DE on a team like the New England Patriots, as the veteran deserves to play for a top contender in order to finish his Hall of Fame career with a ring. Allen wants to play for a top organization, and signing on as the third defensive end would enable him to have a key impact on a top team while also prolonging his career. He isn’t the most consistent pass rusher in the world, but he still knows how to rack up stacks and would be perfect in a more situational role.
46. Ben Tate- There are questions regarding his ability to hold up as a feature back, but he has all the tools to lead a team’s rushing attack. His time with the Houston Texans is up, but I could see a team like the Cleveland Browns signing him on as their top back. I would also be in favor of the Tennessee Titans replacing Chris Johnson with Tate and drafting a running back like Tre Mason in this year’s draft.
47. Everson Griffen- Logjammed behind Brian Robison and Jared Allen on the Minnesota Vikings, the explosive, athletic, and talented Griffen is about to be unleashed as an edge rusher somewhere. I should probably rank him higher than this, but I worry about his ability to consistently rush the passer. But if he can become a more well-rounded player and step into the right situation, then he could have a monster 2014 season.
48 Knowshon Moreno- Moreno clearly benefited from wider running lanes created by the Denver Broncos elite offensive line and elite passing attack, but he’s a solid RB in his own right and could be a nice option for a few teams- like the Titans- out there. There aren’t many backs with his all-purpose ability either, as he is a terrific pass blocker who knows how to catch passes out of the backfield.
49. Travelle Wharton- The veteran left guard always does his best work with the Carolina Panthers, and he is a very good pass blocker and run blocker. If the Panthers can’t keep him around, then he should still be a solid starter elsewhere.
50. Austin Howard- Watching Howard’s rise in 2012 was a wonder to behold, and I don’t even think the New York Jets could have envisioned him playing that well after essentially being a flier signing to replace the horrendous Wayne Hunter at right tackle. Since then, Howard has been a revelation, and he was a no-brainer for the Jets to tender in restricted free agency last year. The Jets should be able to keep Howard around, but he would be a hot commodity if he hits the free agent market due to his disciplined play, solid pass protection, and excellent run blocking. He’s one of the most athletic tackles in the game, and he and D’Brickashaw Ferguson form one of the league’s better tackle bookends.
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