The 2023 NFL free agent class will be an interesting one, especially with the surplus of good running backs set to hit the open market. It’s still a valuable position in the NFL, evidenced by the increase in rushing yards around the league as teams combat zone defenses and five-man defensive backfields.
Will those running backs get paid? We’ll find out this offseason. There will be plenty of good ones available.
This free agent class has plenty of quarterbacks available, even if there are questions behind the one franchise quarterback who’s clearly at the top of the list. There isn’t many cornerbacks and wide receivers to hit the open market this year, and the list of good offensive linemen shrunk after Elgton Jenkins (Packers) and Jack Conklin (Browns) re-signed with their current teams last month.
There are going to be plenty of value signings in free agency, even if those players will make a bit more than their market value suggests. Which of these free agents are worth the contracts they will be getting? These are the top-50 free agents set to hit the open market, determined by their productivity and their impact on the field.
1. Lamar Jackson (QB)
Are the Ravens really going to let Jackson hit the free agent market? They could just franchise tag Jackson and give themselves more time to work out a long-term deal with him. Until that tag comes, Jackson is a free agent. Any quarterback-needy team will covet him.
A true difference-maker in the backfield, Barkley played all 16 games so far and set a career high in rushing yards in a Pro Bowl season. Put Barkley in an offense with playmakers at wide receiver, and those receiving numbers will significantly increase as a receiver out of the backfield. Running backs are a risk on a second contract, but Barkley is the best player in this class not named Lamar Jackson.
Smith made an instant impact in the Ravens defense since Baltimore acquired him prior to the trade deadline. Smith and Patrick Willis are the only players to have 150-plus tackles, four-plus sacks and three-plus interceptions in a season. This is the best defensive player in free agency.
Opposing quarterbacks targeting Bradberry have completed just 42.5% of their passes and have a 43.3 passer rating this season. Bradberry and Darius Slay formed the top cornerback duo in the NFL this season, as the Eagles cornerback showed he’s still a No. 1 corner in the league. Teams will line up to pay him a premium deal this offseason.
Hargrave has been a force on the interior since he’s arrived in Philadelphia, yet somehow still didn’t make the Pro Bowl despite 54 pressures and 11 sacks this season. His pressure percentage of 13.4% is pretty good as well.
There’s some debate on whether Brown should be a left tackle or not, but he’s a very good tackle in this league. Brown has allowed four sacks and 38 pressures this season while playing on the franchise tag. He’s allowed just 11 pressures and two sacks over his last eight games and is a vital part of protecting Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City.
Brady can still sling a football despite not being the same quarterback he was the first two seasons in Tampa Bay. Put Brady behind a strong offensive line and he can still produce at a high level. When a team adds Brady, other free agents will be joining him. It’s the whole package.
Bates played on the franchise tag this year, yet was still productive in the Bengals defense. Opposing quarterbacks targeting Bates have just a 58.7 passer rating even though the tackle numbers dropped to 64 this season (yet his missed tackles are in the single digits for the first time). Bates got his coverage numbers back up in 2022 to bolster his free agency case.
Pollard’s value on the Cowboys has been understated, as he’s reached a career high in rushing yards (988) and rushing touchdowns (9) this season. Having 1,000 scrimmage yards in consecutive seasons, Pollard is explosive carrying and catching passes out of the backfield. Best part about Pollard? He’s averaging just 156 touches per season in his first four years. There’s plenty of tread left on his tires.
Smith had a career resurgence in Seattle, leading the league in completion percentage (70.2%). Not only is Smith a 4,000-yard passer, but he is a Pro Bowler and also fifth in the league in passer rating. The Seahawks would be wise to bring back Smith, yet quarterback-needy teams will vie for his services — and there’s plenty of teams that could use a good starter.
The impact Gardner-Johnson made since converting to safety in the Eagles defense has been astounding. Gardner-Johnson hasn’t played in five weeks yet is still tied for the league lead in interceptions (six). Opposing quarterbacks have a 66.3 passer rating targeting Gardner-Johnson, who can line up in the slot and play safety. In a passing league, Gardner-Johnson’s versatility is extremely valuable.
Dean probably should be higher on this list since he is the second-best cornerback on the market. While he’s allowed a career high in pass touchdowns (five), Dean is a very good starting cornerback in the league. Opposing quarterbacks have just a 67.0 passer rating targeting Dean this year. He’ll get an opportunity to prove himself as a No. 1 cornerback.
Payne didn’t make the Pro Bowl despite notching a career-high 11.5 sacks this year. He also has 18 tackles for loss and 18 quarterback hits, easily career highs for the former first-round pick playing on his fifth-year option. Can Payne keep this up after landing a huge contract? He’s missed just one game in five seasons.
The turnovers have decreased for Jones each season and his mobility is a tremendous asset in today’s NFL. Jones leads the league in interception rate (1.1%) and has a career high in rushing yards (708) and rushing touchdowns (seven). Whether Jones is a franchise quarterback or not will be determined in 2023, but there’s no denying the improvements he’s made this year.
Jacobs is having a career year in the final year of his rookie contract with the Raiders, as he can become the first player in franchise history to win rushing the title since Marcus Allen in 1985. Jacobs leads the NFL with 1,608 rushing yards, and his 2,003 total yards from scrimmage also leads the league. He has three 1,000-yard campaigns in his four seasons.
McGlinchey doesn’t get the accolades Trent Williams gets on the 49ers‘ offensive line, but he’s a very good right tackle. He’s allowed just 23 pressures and five sacks on the season — and will be tough for San Francisco to keep. The beat percentage of 5.2% is a career high for McGlinchey, but he’s still a good run blocker. There’s a lot of value in signing McGlinchey in the right system.
Put Meyers in another system other than one coached by Matt Patricia and the productivity immediately increases. While the touchdown numbers haven’t been great, Meyers does have 1,637 receiving yards and seven touchdowns over his last two seasons. Meyers is a great route runner and lethal in the slot. He’s the best wideout in this class.
The sack numbers (0.5) and quarterback hits (eight) have been extremely disappointing in 2022, yet Davenport still has 32 pressures. He can get to the quarterback and teams will find excellent value from Davenport without paying top dollar.
Hard to envision Garoppolo returning to San Francisco with Trey Lance and Brock Purdy on the roster. Teams will covet Garoppolo and his 40-17 career record — even if he may be a product of Kyle Shanahan’s system. Doesn’t hurt he has a career 99.6 passer rating either.
The Bills just win games whenever Poyer is on the field and he’s a productive player in his 30s as well. Poyer has 54 tackles and four interceptions in 11 games (nine interceptions over the last two seasons). The 62.5 passer rating in coverage isn’t bad either.
Engram has the most catches (69) and receiving yards (739) by a tight end in Jaguars history. Only on a one-year deal, he’s the best tight end available on the market — but can be a star in Doug Pederson’s offense if he remains in Jacksonville.
A Pro Bowler for the first time, Sanders is fifth in the NFL in rushing yards (1,236) and averages 5.0 yards per carry for his career. While Sanders has shown at times he’s a threat in the passing game, it’s hard to ignore he’s fifth amongst running backs in yards per touch (5.42) over the last four years. Sanders is a valuable back for any offense.
David is still productive in his 30s, having 115-plus tackles for the fourth time in the last five years. His three sacks are the most since 2018 and still can cover ground in the middle of the field. David’s leadership ability is worth the price anyway.
Ngakoue isn’t great against the run, but he can put up the sack numbers. He’s had eight-plus sacks in all seven years he’s played, including 9.5 in 2022. The forced fumble numbers are down (one), but Ngakoue still has a knack for finding the football. The pressures (44) are down as well, but he’s still a good pass rusher in any scheme.
Edmunds doesn’t get enough credit outside of Buffalo for how valuable he is to that defense. On his way to his fifth 100-tackle season in five years, Edmunds is one of the better MIKE linebackers in the league. He’s also excellent defending the pass, part of the reason why the Bills have been a top-five pass defense over the past few years.
An ascending cornerback in the league, Sutton is getting better every year. Opposing quarterbacks have just a 54.0 passer rating targeting Sutton this season, who has three interceptions and allowed a 45.9% completion rate. Sutton is a good starting corner.
Edwards has bolstered his free agency status with a monster season for the Eagles at middle linebacker, totaling 149 tackles, two sacks and seven passes defensed — all career highs. This is coming off the heels of a 130-tackle season. The 90 solo tackles and 10 tackles for loss are also impressive.
A career-high 56 catches for 747 yards in 14 games is enough for teams to take a look at Lazard as a No. 2 wide receiver. The wide receiver market isn’t great, but Lazard is a solid pass catcher. He can certainly help a contending team.
Graham is having a comeback season at age 34, notching a career-high 11 sacks to go with 16 quarterback hits and 11 tackles for loss. He wants to finish his career with the Eagles, but does Philadelphia give Graham another year? Hard to replicate this productive of a season in the mid-30s.
Jones tied a career high with 6.5 sacks in just 13 games while reaching a career-high 45 pressures. Jones is scratching the surface of his potential and could end up being a huge bargain for any team that pursues him. The 10.6% pressure rate for an interior defensive lineman is impressive.
Smith-Schuster took advantage of his one year with the Chiefs, notching 76 catches for 898 yards in 15 games. Excellent from the slot, Smith-Schuster can be explosive at times but hasn’t been the same receiver he was early in his career with the Steelers. His best fit may be Kansas City.
Allen has a career-high 5.5 sacks, 20 quarterback hits and 35 pressures this season, showcasing how far he’s come as a pass rusher over the past few years. He can thrive in a 3-4 scheme, lining up on the edge and the interior.
Long has a career-high 86 tackles this season, standing out in an injured Titans defense. He is an excellent off-ball linebacker and can play all three downs. This is a good class for MIKE linebackers, but Long shouldn’t be excluded.
Moseley has only played five games, yet opposing quarterbacks are wise not to target him. He allowed a 43.6 passer rating when targeted this year, this is coming off a year which he allowed a rating of 57.0. How Moseley recovers from his torn ACL in 2023 will affect his free agency, or he’d be much higher on this list.
Penny had 57 carries for 346 yards and two touchdowns (6.1 yards per carry) before going down with a fractured tibia — and being lost for the season. In Penny’s last 10 games, he has 149 carries for 1,017 yards and eight touchdowns — an astonishing 6.8 yards per carry. Injured often, Penny is worth taking a flyer on based on his productivity.
Schultz isn’t having as productive of a year as he did last year, but he’s still a good security blanket for any quarterback. He’s not one of the elite pass-catching tight ends, yet he’s above average.
Tomlinson has a career high in pressures (28) and pressure rate (9.9%) this season. Add that to the 325 pounds of strength he brings on the interior and he can be a very disruptive force on a defense.
A deep threat in the right offense, Chark averaged 18.1 yards per catch in 10 games with the Lions. Chark has been productive despite the injury history with his ankle, proving to be a viable No. 2 option. He has 18 catches for 374 yards (20.8 yards per catch) in his last five games.
Bell has a career-high four interceptions playing next to Jessie Bates III in the Bengals secondary. This is Bell’s best season in coverage, as opposing quarterbacks have just a 41.7 passer rating targeting him. Is this just a one-season mirage?
McGary has started every game at right tackle for the Falcons this season, allowing five sacks and 15 pressures. This year is easily McGary’s best (allowed 27 sacks in his first three seasons), which will make him a prime tackle in a lackluster market.
One of the best guards available in free agency, the versatile Seumalo can play both guard positions, center and even started a game at right tackle in his career. He’s allowed just one sack and 17 pressures this year, even though his beat rate of 2.8% is a career high. Seumalo is one of the best interior linemen in this class.
Injuries have affected Murphy’s season, as he was placed on injured reserve in December after missing time since Week 9 due to a back issue. Murphy wasn’t having a great season in coverage (allowed 90.6 passer rating when targeted), but he still is a good man corner.
No matter where he goes, Ingram is still productive as he heads into his mid 30s. Ingram has 34 pressures and six sacks with a pressure rate of 12.4%. He’d be an excellent rotation piece in a pass rush, which is his role now.
Misused in Mike McDaniel’s offense, Gesicki needs to find a team that will use his pass-catching ability where he’s a mismatch in the slot. Gesicki is more of the tight end who had 73 catches for 780 yards in 2021 than the player the Dolphins use him for in 2022.
Productive on the 49ers, Ebukam has a career-high 39 pressures to go with his 4.5 sacks. In two seasons with San Francisco, Ebukam has 73 pressures and 9.5 sacks in 31 games. He can thrive as an outside rusher in multiple fronts.
Hardman has been a bright spot for the Chiefs in 2022, even if he’s played just eight games. he has six touchdowns this season (four receiving, two rushing) and is an elite return man when utilized. Used mostly has a gadget player, Hardman can be a deep-ball receiver in an offense that needs one.
Houston’s productivity has disappeared of late, yet he still has nine sacks and 36 pressures in his age-33 season. He’s still a productive pass rusher, but would be better served on third downs at this stage in his career.
Cox isn’t the dominant defensive tackle he once was, yet he’s still good. Cox has 32 pressures and 12 quarterback hits with seven sacks on an Eagles defense that has 68 this year. Philadelphia may be ready to move on, but some team would benefit from having Cox on its defensive line.
Opposing quarterbacks have a 63.2 passer rating targeting Ya-Sin this season, his first in Patrick Graham’s defense. Ya-Sin has allowed 51.7% of the passes thrown his way to be caught in the 11 games he’s played. A knee injury has ended Ya-Sin’s season, but he’s a good cover corner.
Ford has struggled transitioning to Pete Carroll’s 3-4 scheme. The pass rush numbers are up (22 pressures and three sacks), yet Ford is one of the better run-stopping defensive tackles in the league. Ford is having a career-low 8.5% of run defensive snaps ending with a tackle, far below the 11.3% he had last year.