2020 NFL Free Agency: Chris Jones, Yannick Ngakoue and Amari Cooper headline 10 best 25-and-under players


NFL free agency is only a month away, bringing with it the opportunity for teams to improve their rosters by taking calculated risks on players who, for varying reasons, won’t be retained by the team they played for in 2019. Most often, the kinds of players hitting free agency are those who are entering the final few years of their prime or are already well past it, meaning teams are often forced to overpay for players who will likely be cut before the end of their contracts. But every so often, a young player who hasn’t yet peaked or is in the process of peaking, is allowed to hit free agency, and a team strikes gold.

With that in mind, we decided to take a look at the 10 best free agents who are 25 years old or younger.

But first, a few notes about the rankings:

  • Positional value matters. That’s why a number of good running backs missed the cut.
  • Free agent classification also matters. Unrestricted free agents (UFA) were given a bonus over restricted free agents (RFA) for obvious reasons. We’re trying to pick players who are more likely to actually be available to sign in free agency. A ton of players 25 years old or younger who are scheduled to become free agents are actually exclusive restricted free agents (ERFA), which makes their departure unlikely.
  • A ton of notable players missed the cut. These are all players who should contribute for whichever teams they find themselves on in 2020, but weren’t able to crack the top 10 for a variety of reasons. Those players: Bengals DT Andrew Billings (UFA), 49ers CB Emmanuel Moseley (ERFA), Raiders CB Daryl Worley (UFA), Lions DT A’Shawn Robinson (UFA), 49ers RB Matt Breida (RFA), Ravens RB Gus Edwards (ERFA), Eagles RB Jordan Howard (UFA), Saints CB Eli Apple (UFA), Browns TE Ricky Seals-Jones (RFA), 49ers WR Kendrick Bourne (RFA), Browns RB Kareem Hunt (RFA), Chiefs WR Demarcus Robinson (UFA), Cowboys DT Maliek Collins (UFA), Saints SS Vonn Bell (UFA), Bills EDGE Shaq Lawson (UFA), and Texans DT D.J. Reader (UFA) — he’s the player I wanted to include the most.

OK, onto the list. 

All contract data via Spotrac

10. Chiefs DB Kendall Fuller (UFA)

Perhaps this is wishful thinking. For a couple seasons now, Fuller hasn’t been the player he was not too long ago, when he emerged as one of the league’s best slot cornerbacks. Before the 2018 season, after he’d just gotten dealt to Kansas City in the Alex Smith trade, I even ranked him as the 23rd best player under the age of 25 in the entire NFL.

That has not aged well. It’s been mostly downhill for him since then, as he hasn’t been able to replicate the success he found early on in Washington. In 2017 with the Redskins, he notched four interceptions and according to Pro Football Focus, allowed a 56.7 passer rating in coverage — only six cornerbacks finished with a lower passer rating. 

He hasn’t been the same player since, but he’s still only 24 years old. Perhaps he’ll land in the right situation, get plugged into the slot, and re-emerge as a great player. I’m not quite ready to give up on him yet. I think he could be a great buy-low signing with clear upside.

9. Giants DL Leonard Williams (UFA)

Williams hasn’t lived up to the expectations that came attached to being drafted sixth overall by the Jets in 2015, but he’s still a useful player who has, at times, demonstrated the ability to be a dominant force up front. I’m talking about the 2016 season, of course, when Williams racked up a career-high seven sacks and two forced fumbles for an approximate value of 10 (he’s yet to reach double digits since). But Williams is only 25. He’ll be 26 when next season begins. Assuming he doesn’t cost $15 million per year, which is reported to be his asking price, he could be a great buy-low option for someone out there. But if he does cost $15 million per season, someone might be overpaying for his services.

Given the Giants gave up a third- and fifth-round pick for Williams during a lost season, it feels like they’ll probably be the team that pays him. 

8. Falcons TE Austin Hooper (UFA)

Long gone are the days when Hooper was an underrated Fantasy tight end. He’s gone mainstream. 

Over the past three years, Hooper is averaging 65 catches, 657.7 yards, and 4.3 touchdowns per season. He’s been one of the most consistent pass-catching tight ends in all of football, and he’s been rewarded with consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl. Nobody should mistake him for a Gronk-esque star, but he’s capable of consistently chipping in on a good offense as a secondary weapon.

7. Chargers RB Austin Ekeler (RFA)

Ekeler gets dinged because he’s a restricted free agent, making it more likely he’ll return to Los Angeles, and he plays a position that doesn’t hold much value in today’s NFL. But there’s no doubting just how good a running back Ekeler is, and it makes all the sense in the world for the Chargers to let Melvin Gordon walk in free agency and make Ekeler their RB1.

As far as running backs go, he’s perfectly suited for the modern NFL. He’s not just a runner, he’s also adept at catching the ball. He totaled 1,550 yards and 11 touchdowns from scrimmage this past season. Really, the Chargers never should’ve let Gordon steal so many of his touches once he returned from his unsuccessful holdout. With Gordon likely departing in free agency, the stage is finally set for Ekeler to become the Chargers’ full-time RB1.

6. Rams EDGE Dante Fowler (UFA)

Nobody benefited more from a prove-it contract than Fowler, who signed a one-year deal worth $12 million with the Rams last year. He proceeded to explode for 11.5 sacks. His pervious single-season high? Eight, back in 2017. According to ESPN, he also ranked ninth in pass-rush win rate at his position group. Fowler is now poised to cash in big in free agency. 

It’ll be interesting to see if the Rams pay up for his services. They’ve still got to get a Jalen Ramsey deal done, they’re still stuck with Todd Gurley and Jared Goff’s mega deals that already look like bad investments, and they rank 23rd in available cap space. In a perfect world, the Rams would find a way to bring him back, but the Rams aren’t living in a perfect world anymore.

5. Titans RT Jack Conklin (UFA)

The best right tackle available in free agency, Conklin should be wanted by the Titans considering his strength is run-blocking and the team will presumably bring back impending free agent Derrick Henry and lean on their ground game again in 2020. But if they have to pay both Henry and Ryan Tannehill, the Titans might not want to hand a right tackle a massive contract. If he is allowed to hit free agency, he should have plenty of suitors. It’s not every year offensive tackles of his caliber are available on the open market.

4. Chargers TE Hunter Henry (UFA)

Henry is, quite clearly, the best tight end in free agency. After his 2018 season was ruined by a torn ACL, Henry rebounded in 2019 with 55 catches, 652 yards, and five touchdowns in a 12-game season. He’s more than just a pass-catcher, though. He’s also a reliable run-blocker. If he can stay healthy (a huge if so far in his career), he has the potential to reach the upper echelon of NFL tight ends. Every team without an elite tight end (so most teams, really) should be in on him come free agency.

And here’s where we note the Patriots still haven’t replaced Rob Gronkowski. 

3. Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue (UFA)

Like Amari Cooper, it’s unlikely Ngakoue makes it to free agency. More likely is that the Jaguars will franchise tag him. They can’t really afford to let him walk.

Throughout his four-year career, he’s been durable, playing in 63 of 64 possible games. He’s been consistent, averaging 9.4 sacks per season and never finishing with fewer than eight sacks in a single season. Impressively, he’s also racked up 14 forced fumbles across four seasons — only three players have forced more fumbles in that span.

He’s one of the best edge defenders scheduled to hit free agency. And he’s only 24 years old.

2. Cowboys WR Amari Cooper (UFA)

I’m going to go ahead and assume the Cowboys will extend Cooper, but Cooper is technically slated to become an unrestricted free agent next month. Considering the Cowboys gave up a first-round pick for Cooper at the 2018 trade deadline and then watched him immediately transform their offense the rest of the season before posting a 79-catch, 1,189-yard, and eight-touchdown stat line in 2019, it’d be shocking if they didn’t find a way to bring him back on a multi-year deal. He’s 25 years old, a clear WR1, and a huge part of their offense.

If he were to find a way to make it to free agency, he’d be the most coveted receiver on the open market.

1. Chiefs’ DL Chris Jones (UFA)

There was a lot of talk that Damien Williams should’ve won Super Bowl MVP over Patrick Mahomes. But there’s also an argument to be made that Jones deserved some MVP love too. 

Over the course of his career (not just in the Super Bowl), he’s been awesome against the run and a terrorizing pass rusher with 24.5 sacks over the past two seasons. According to PFF, he registered 58 total pressures this past season, the fourth-most among interior defenders.

The Chiefs obviously have to factor Mahomes’ upcoming extension into their budget, but it’s difficult to imagine they’d be willing to let Jones walk for free. He’s their most important defensive player not named Tyrann Mathieu. For a team in the middle of their Super Bowl window — they have a legitimate chance to start a Patriots-esque dynasty — bringing back one of the league’s best defensive linemen is a must.

But if he does hit free agency, expect a bidding war.





Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *