Free agency is finally here as the new league year is ready to commence. Teams will spend the next several months trying to upgrade their rosters so that they can potentially take down the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs next year.
With that in mind, we're going to be taking a look at the players available to be signed this offseason. We're going position by position, beginning this week on the offensive side of the ball. We've already covered the running backs, and will continue below with the wide receiver position. Instead of ranking the players, though, we're going to break them down into different categories, depending on what teams might be looking for on the open market.
Before we begin, we do have three players who don't really fit into any of the categories: Jakobi Meyers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Julio Jones. Meyers is a slot guy, but he can also win on the outside. He's not really a "second-draft" guy (which I will explain in a minute) because he wasn't drafted and also because he was pretty damn productive in New England. He's 26 years old, and he's probably the best wideout available this offseason. Beckham didn't play at all last season as he rehabbed his torn ACL. At his peak, he is one of the very best players at the position. We haven't seen that peak in a while, though, and we don't know how close to it he can get in the wake of his injury. Jones, meanwhile, is just Julio Freaking Jones. Or at least, he used to be. You have no idea what you're going to get if you sign him, other than that you're not likely to get a whole lot of it due to his persistent health issues.
I'm stealing an idea from the NBA with the "second-draft" concept. What it basically means is there's a player who plays out his rookie contract, but for whatever reason, didn't find as much success as expected with his original team. That leads to him being available at a relative discount on the free agent market, where other teams can potentially roll the dice and try to take advantage of the skill set that made them sought-after prospects in the first place.
In the case of Hardman, he was stuck behind Tyreek Hill and/or injured for a lot of his time with the Chiefs. But he still has elite speed and can be a playmaker in the red zone on designed touches. Campbell has elite speed as well, but has been injured far too often. Slayton wasn't an early-round pick, but played his way into the lineup early in his career before being inexplicably buried behind other guys on the depth chart, only to succeed again once he got another opportunity. There's something there.
Do you want a guy to work the underneath areas of the field against zone coverage? There are plenty of options available for you, and in varying age ranges. Some of these guys have had more success than others, and some of them bring varying levels of concern for one reason or another. This group of players mostly does not possess high-level talent, but they can fill a role that most offenses need a player to fill -- especially given how opposing defenses are prioritizing taking away the deep pass and forcing quarterbacks to work the ball down the field in shorter chunks.
Here's where you can target a player whose straight-line speed can force defenses to account for them whenever they're on the field, even if they are not typically thrown the ball all that often. Having a guy who can "take the top off the defense" has a lot of value, especially in terms of opening up the aforementioned underneath throws for the players in the section above.
These players typically fall into one of two buckets: Big, physical receivers who can win on the perimeter on routes like hitches and curls, or shiftier guys who do their work closer to the line of scrimmage because they don't have a ton of speed. A lot of them add value as blockers in the run game (and some of them don't add much more than that), making them good guys to have when you want to rotate your top wideout to the sideline for a snap or two to make sure he doesn't get too tired late in the game. Again, there's not a ton of high-level talent here (with the exception of perhaps Thomas, if he can rediscover pre-injury form), but there are some good role players to be had.
This last group of players is typically targeted deep down the field. They aren't just speed threats, but they do have some speed, and some of them can win in contested-catch situations as well. They're probably best-suited as your No. 3 or 4 (or 5) wideout, but the role they play is valuable for offensive construction.