When NFL personnel departments prepare, grade and stack their free-agent boards, there are four areas of major concerns when adding players to a roster. This includes both NFL unrestricted free agents and college free agents as well:
Character: Check character history, complete background with all prior teams and any criminal activities, suspensions with the league and how they fit in the locker room and professionals that work hard on their craft (weight room, offseason workouts, punctual to all meetings).
Playtime: The percentage of playtime is huge and could provide a glimpse into the future. It is also extremely important that the player has special teams playtime as well.
Production: It is hard to have good production without playtime.
Injury History: Gather all documented previous injury history from combine data moving forward to most current.
Below I have listed key free agents that will command big dollars and possibly a bidding war from several teams driving up the cost of the contracts. Also others that will be key in the prioritization of many NFL free-agent boards. Any number of these players could help the Rams immediately.
Darren Sproles, RB/KR/PR, Chargers: This player is a triple threat and might be the best fit for the Rams. He is not interested in a starting role and would be a key contributor as both a kickoff and punt return specialist. He is a third-down back that is tough, competitive and plays the game with passion. He is quicker than fast and would be a great complementary back to Steven Jackson. Has a great level of toughness.
Reggie Bush, RB/PR, Saints: All-purpose running back, can string several moves together in a single run, stick and go change of direction with burst and acceleration. Natural receiving skills with home run and game changing skill set. A triple threat as a runner, receiver and punt return man. Injury history is a concern.
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers: Williams, now an unrestricted free agent, becomes a very attractive starter or change of pace running back. I helped draft Williams before taking a front-office job with the Rams. He is a class act off the field and an excellent all-purpose running back on the field. Medical is the only concern for me, as he has soft tissue injury history the past several seasons.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants: He should be re-signed by the Giants, but if not he fits as a great one/two punch. He’s an all-purpose dual threat. Despite some ball protection issues in 2010, he rushed for 1,235 yards (4.5 per attempt) and eight touchdowns. He has a natural receiving skill set with 47 receptions for 314 yards. Has some injury history but they all do.
Tim Hightower, RB, Cardinals: An NFC West divisional threat, Hightower always had good games against the Rams. I liked this player coming out of college, but the Rams’ brain trust turned their heads when he was still on the board. He is a classic change-of-pace running back. He has pick and slide running skills to bounce to open space with big-play ability and solid receiving skills. Player that is restricted, but extremely interesting.
Barry Cofield, DT, Giants: Cofield has developed into one of the league’s best interior defensive linemen. He has explosive use of his hands with quickness out of stance and plays behind pads. Good run stopper with football instincts and a nose for the ball. Solid lateral movement over and around trash, a dominant interior lineman with some nasty in his play. Pass rush is adequate, but reacts well to screens and hustles to second level.
Brandon Mebane, DT, Seahawks: Mebane went public saying he isn’t feeling the love from the Seahawks’ organization and coaching staff. A short fire plug that is aggressive and competitive. His quickness and ability to stop the run inside is very good. A three-down defender that is equally competitive against the run and the pass with solid production.
Cullen Jenkins, DE/DT, Packers: While Jenkins is not as athletic and lacks the girth like his brother Kris, he dominates the interior line with quickness out of his stance and a motor that doesn’t stop until the whistle. Inside pass rush skills are off the charts, has the skill set to get skinny in hole, defeat single and double teams with burst to the quarterback with good sack and tackle for loss production. While injury history is a concern, as is borderline age, this player would bring depth and big play ability. With the Rams drafting a much needed pass rusher in Robert Quinn, securing an interior defensive lineman is the key for the Steve Spagnuolo defense to bulk up against the run. The time is now for this very important centerpiece of the defense to be added.
The Rams have one of the best young elite quarterbacks in the NFL in Sam Bradford, a Pro-Bowl running back in Steven Jackson and the most consistent receiver on the team is Danny Amendola. After that the list of names on the Rams’ roster is long. These players either haven’t been able to stay healthy (Donnie Avery, Danario Alexander) or are coming off knee injuries (Avery and Mark Clayton). The team drafted two possession receivers (Greg Salas, Austin Pettis) with high ceiling and upside to stretch a defense laterally. There are a few players that lack consistency (Laurent Robinson, Brandon Gibson) along with a second-year player that struggled to find his way as a rookie and stay healthy despite some very good special teams play (Mardy Gilyard).
Adding a receiver with size and length, not to mention vertical speed to stretch the secondary and develop into a red-zone threat brings immediate value to any offense, especially the Josh McDaniels spread offense. The question is whether the Rams should groom the picks for the future or add a top-flight receiver to the mix that will take a roster spot and reps away from young players.
Sidney Rice, WR, Vkings: When you look for a big-ime receiver in the NFL you look for size, speed, the ability to catch the ball outside the frame with soft hands. Has good route running skills deep, toughness across the middle, both of which are very important and this player has all those attributes. Rice has good production when the ball was thrown his way. The Vikings franchised linebacker Chad Greenway and should make Rice theietop priority, if not the list of teams is long for his services. All teams will give him a ysical on his hip. A perfect fit for the Rams, but unless the Vikings lose theieminds, he should remain in the Twin Cities wearing the purple and gold.
Braylon Edwards, WR, Jets: Good size and wing span. A vertical receiver with big-play ability. Slight stiff in hips to breakdown to get in and out of cuts but really not a negative based off playtime and past production. Soft hands and toughness to compete for balls at the highest point. Has a nose for the goal line and is competitive to leave feet and make plays diving for balls. Good awareness and ability to track balls over shoulder with tap shoe concentration.
Plaxico Burress, WR, Giants: A tall possession receiver that is a threat with short to intermediate production. He was a playmaker and difference-maker with the knack for making the big catch in prime-time games, and dominating the red zone. The big question is that he has not played football in two seasons after being incarcerated for gun charges. Has he lost a step? He wasn’t fast to begin with. Route-running skills are like riding a bike but regaining your football balance and quickness takes a while. Just ask Michael Vick, who didn’t get his back until last season, a year later. Good toughness across the middle.
With the departure of team captain and the bell cow of the secondary Oshiomogho Atowge, there is a hole in the secondary of the Rams defense when it comes to play-making ability as well as leadership and knowledge of the game. The following defensive backs would add youth and juice to a secondary that needs some spark.
Eric Weddle, S, Chargers: Weddle is a jack of all trades, and has developed into a master of opportunistic production. Football instincts put him into position to make plays. While coverage skills are adequate and he is not a thumper safety, you can’t argue with his overall production.
Dawan Landry, SS, Ravens: Landry has an excellent combination of size and speed. A downhill safety with collision tackling skills in both open and tight space. While coverage skills need improvement, he brings aggression to a secondary that lacks thumpers.
Gerald Sensabaugh, SS, Cowboys: Sensabaugh is extremely athletic with good skill set and ability to cover since he was a collegiate player at North Carolina. He tracks balls in flight and has strong tackling skills in space. This player will upgrade the starting position and help as a core player on special teams.
Danieal Manning, SS, Bears: Manning is a versatile player that aligns at strong safety. He is not only productive as a defender; he contributes on special teams as a kickoff man with production. He is the kind of returner the Rams are looking for, who looks to hit the crease on returns.
NFL roster have been expanded to a 90-man limit for training camp. With the large influx of players, look for all teams to scramble for college free agents signing while working to sign their 2011 draftees as well, along with their own restricted free agents. Teams can negotiate and sign their own drafted rookies and any undrafted rookie starting Tuesday. Clubs may have such players report to the club’s facilities for physical examinations prior to signing.
The college free agents listed below have been whittled down from the 200 players I took a peek at during 2011 draft preparation. These players will be heavily targeted by all teams in my opinion, because of their skill set and athletic ability along with other positional attributes that make them attractive. While these players fell through the cracks and went undrafted for several reasons (injuries, size, speed, medical conditions etc), this is their chance to prove teams wrong with a strong preseason performance. The players listed in bold type are the ones I feel could contribute.
Alexander Linnenkohl C 6’2″ 304 Oregon St.
Ryan Bartholomew C 6’1″ 302 Syracuse
Deunta Williams CB 6’2″ 205 North Carolina
Andrew McGee DB 5’11” 195 Oklahoma St.
David Sims DB 5’9″ 200 Iowa St.
Devon Torrence DB 6’0″ 199 Ohio St.
Joe Lefeged DB 6’0″ 210 Rutgers
Kendric Burney DB 5’9″ 186 North Carolina
Kevin Rutland DB 6’0″ 190 Missouri
Mario Butler DB 6’0″ 182 Georgia Tech
Niles Brinkley DB 5’10” 193 Wisconsin
Vance Cuff DB 5’10” 178 Georgia
Wayne Daniels DE 6’0″ 260 TCU
Adrian Taylor DL 6’3″ 311 Oklahoma
Brandon Bair DL 6’6″ 276 Oregon
Cedric Thornton DL 6’3″ 309 Southern Arkansas
Colby Whitlock DL 6’2″ 302 Texas Tech
Demarcus Dobbs DL 6’2″ 281 Georgia
Ian Williams DL 6’1″ 319 Notre Dame
Kentrell Lockett DL 6’5″ 241 Mississippi
Ladi Ajiboye DL 6’1″ 297 South Carolina
Martin Parker DL 6’2″ 303 Richmond
Pierre Allen DL 6’4″ 273 Nebraska
Ryan Winterswyk DL 6’4″ 268 Boise St.
Ugo Chinasa DL 6’5″ 264 Oklahoma St.
John Graves DT 6’3″ 286 Virginia Tech
Sealver Siliga DT 6’2″ 305 Utah
Henry Hynoski FB 6’0″ 257 Pittsburgh
Jerrard Tarrant FS 6’0″ 204 Georgia Tech
Will Hill FS 6’1″ 202 Florida
Justin Boren G 6’3″ 309 Ohio St.
Dan Bailey K 6’0″ 193 Oklahoma St.
Jacob Rogers K 6’2″ 213 Cincinnati
Joshua Jasper K 5’10” 174 LSU
Kai Forbath K 5’11” 197 UCLA
Reid Forrest K 6’0″ 189 Washington St.
Ryan Donahue K 6’2″ 193 Iowa
Adrian Moten LB 6’2″ 228 Maryland
Derrell Smith LB 6’0″ 243 Syracuse
Elijah Joseph LB 6’1″ 243 Temple
Jeremiha Hunter LB 6’1″ 239 Iowa
Mark Herzlich LB 6’4″ 244 Boston College
Nick Bellore LB 6’1″ 245 Central Michigan
Orie Lemon LB 6’1″ 242 Oklahoma St.
Scott Lutrus LB 6’2″ 241 Connecticut
Adam Grant OL 6’6″ 325 Arizona
Carl Johnson OL 6’5″ 361 Florida
Daniel Aiken OL 6’4″ 244 Virginia
Garrett Chisolm OL 6’5″ 312 South Carolina
Isaiah Thompson OL 6’3″ 300 Houston
Jarriel King OL 6’5″ 317 South Carolina
Joshua Davis OL 6’7″ 313 Georgia
Kevin Hughes OL 6’4″ 302 Southeast Louisiana
Kristofer O’Dowd OL 6’4″ 304 USC
Kyle Hix OL 6’7″ 318 Texas
Ray Dominguez OL 6’4″ 334 Arkansas
Richard Lapham OL 6’8″ 315 Boston College
Willie Smith OL 6’5″ 310 East Carolina
Zachary Hurd OL 6’7″ 316 Connecticut
Zane Taylor OL 6’3″ 309 Utah
Chas Henry P 6’3″ 215 Florida
Jeff Van Camp QB 6’5″ 218 Florida Atlantic
Jerrod Johnson QB 6’5″ 251 Texas A&M
Joshua Nesbitt QB 6’1″ 217 Georgia Tech
Patrick Devlin QB 6’3″ 225 Delaware
Ryan Colburn QB 6’3″ 223 Fresno St.
Scott Tolzien QB 6’2″ 212 Wisconsin
Armando Allen RB 5’8″ 199 Notre Dame
Brandon Saine RB 5’11” 220 Ohio St.
Damien Berry RB 5’10” 211 Miami
Darren Evans RB 6’0″ 227 Virginia Tech
Derrick Locke RB 5’8″ 188 Kentucky
Graig Cooper RB 5’10” 205 Miami
John Clay FB/Hbac 6’1″ 230 Wisconsin
Matt Asiata RB 5’11” 229 Utah
Noel Devine RB/RS 5’8″ 179 West Virginia
Shaun Draughn RB 5’11” 213 North Carolina
Vai Taua RB 5’10” 213 Nevada
Deandre McDaniel SS 6’0″ 217 Clemson
Jeron Johnson SS 5’10” 212 Boise St.
Nate Williams SS 6’0″ 211 Washington
Allen Reisner TE 6’2″ 248 Iowa
Cameron Graham TE 6’3″ 244 Louisville
Charlie Gantt TE 6’4″ 252 Michigan St.
Schuylar Oordt TE 6’6″ 261 Northern Iowa
Weslye Saunders TE 6’5″ 270 South Carolina
Zack Pianalto TE 6’3″ 256 North Carolina
Andre Holmes WR 6’4″ 210 Hillsdale
Armon Binns WR 6’3″ 209 Cincinnati
Dane Sanzenbacher WR 5’11” 182 Ohio St.
Darvin Adams WR 6’2″ 190 Auburn
DeAndre Brown WR/TE 6’6″ 233 Southern Miss
Jamar Newsome WR 6’1″ 200 Central Florida
Jamel Hamler WR 6’1″ 193 Fresno St.
Jeffrey Maehl WR 6’1″ 190 Oregon
Jimmy Young WR 6’0″ 204 TCU
Joe Morgan WR 6’1″ 189 Walsh
Keith Smith WR 6’2″ 214 Purdue
Lestar Jean WR 6’3″ 215 Florida Atlantic
Mark Dell WR 6’0″ 193 Michigan St.
Marshall Williams WR 6’1″ 188 Wake Forest
O.J. Murdock WR 5’11” 197 Fort Hays St.
Owen Spencer WR 6’2″ 195 N.C. State
Ricardo Lockette WR 6’2″ 211 Fort Valley St.
Terrance Turner WR 6’2″ 220 Indiana
Terrence Toliver WR 6’4″ 212 LSU
Tori Gurley WR 6’4″ 216 South Carolina