News & Analysis

2021 NFL Free Agency: Updated landing spots for PFF's top 50 free agents

We are now just over a week away from the franchise-tag window opening and nearly a month away from the official start of the 2021 free agency period.

Back in December, PFF presented its top 50 free agents — a list that has since expanded to 150 — and gave landing-spot predictions for each one. But since the NFL is ever-changing, some of these predictions have had to change along with the times. Below are the updated predictions, along with some analysis on the fit.

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1. QB DAK PRESCOTT

Prediction: Dallas Cowboysfour years, $158 million ($115 million guaranteed)

The long-lasting debate of “should the Cowboys pay Dak” is likely (and thankfully) going to come to an end in the coming weeks. Prescott deserves to receive a decent-sized long-term deal from Dallas, even if he is coming off a gruesome ankle injury. 

Prescott shined with first-time playcaller Kellen Moore back in 2019, producing a top-10 PFF grade at the position while ranking as the third-most valuable quarterback in the NFL per PFF wins above replacement (WAR). He followed that up with a fiery start in 2020 before going down with that season-ending injury in Week 5, too, ranking seventh among quarterbacks in PFF grade through the first five weeks of the season (85.2) and leading the league in deep passing yards with 507.

He has proved to be more than capable of performing at a high level in any given year, and that’s not something a lot of NFL teams can say they have at quarterback.

2. WR CHRIS GODWIN

Prediction: Tampa Bay Buccaneersfranchise tag ($15.8 million for 2021)

“Your ass ain’t going nowhere!” — Bucs head coach Bruce Arians to Godwin during their Super Bowl celebration

Whether it comes via a long-term deal or the tag, Godwin will very likely be staying put in Tampa Bay for 2021. He may not have had an outstanding 2020 campaign — a bad case of the drops in the Bucs' postseason run certainly didn't help matters — but let’s not forget it was an injury-riddled year for the fourth-year wideout.

Godwin still earned an 80.2 receiving grade over the regular season, a top-20 mark at the position, and he came in at sixth in passer rating generated when targeted (131.9). This, of course, came just one year after he led all players at his position in both PFF receiving grade (90.7) and PFF WAR.

With a clean bill of health, we should see the same explosive Godwin return as the Buccaneers look to run it back in 2021. 

3. WR ALLEN ROBINSON II

Prediction: Chicago Bearsfranchise tag ($18 million for 2021)

Robinson’s future in Chicago is a little bit murky at this point. Both parties are open to a return, but they have failed to come to terms on a long-term deal after several attempts. And given that the fate of the Bears’ front office likely hinges on the success of their passing offense in 2021, a tag here is the most likely scenario — they just cannot afford to lose their most valuable player of the 2020 season.

Robinson's 88.3 PFF grade placed him among the NFL's five highest-graded wide receivers. Meanwhile, one of his two quarterbacks, Mitchell Trubisky, was among the five-lowest-graded passers in the NFL, marked just the fourth time in the last 10 years that a receiver has ranked in the top five at his position in PFF grade with a quarterback ranking in the bottom five.

Robinson has yet to enjoy the benefit of having a quality quarterback throw him the ball at the NFL level, and Robinson has still managed to be the 13th-most valuable receiver since entering the league in 2014 (remember, he also missed all of 2017 due to injury).

4. WR KENNY GOLLADAY

Prediction: Detroit Lionsfranchise tag ($15.8 million for 2021)

Kenny Golladay the franchise-tag candidate has recently emerged as a product of the NFL rumor mill. And this would be a wise move for the Lions, given that the only wide receivers they would otherwise have on the roster for 2021 are Geronimo Allison, Quintez Cephus, Victor Bolden and Tom Kennedy.

Before his injury-riddled 2020 campaign, Golladay established himself as one of the best deep threats and contested-catch specialists in the entire league. In 2018 and 2019 combined, Golladay racked up the third-most deep (20-plus yard target) receiving yards, with 930, and he tied for first in contested catches with 43.

Golladay would receive a lot of interest on the open market. The Lions, with their lack of receiving prowess and a brand-new quarterback under center, should do everything they can to secure his services for the 2021 season.

5. T TRENT WILLIAMS

Prediction: San Francisco 49ersfour years, $80 million ($62.5 million guaranteed)

San Francisco is going to have to work some magic this offseason. They are projected to have just around $13.5 million in cap space available, but star tackle Trent Williams is set to hit free agency along with every single important defensive back outside of safety Jimmie Ward.

Williams played for nine years in Washington before sitting out in 2019 and then subsequently being traded to the Niners during the 2020 NFL Draft. And Williams looked as good as ever in his return this past season, showing no signs of rust while earning the highest PFF grade of any tackle in the NFL (91.9).

6. S JUSTIN SIMMONS

Prediction: Denver Broncosfive years, $82.5 million ($45 million guaranteed)

Simmons has found a perfect marriage in Vic Fangio’s defense, and he isn’t likely to divorce from that after playing 2020 on the franchise tag. He has gone from executing a more diverse safety role to playing the bulk of his snaps at deep safety in two-high looks that feature a boatload of coverage rotations. And it’s quite clear that Simmons has executed to near perfection within this scheme. Simmons ranked just 73rd of 93 qualifying safeties in PFF grade in 2018, but he comes in at No. 1 over the last two seasons. 

7. S ANTHONY HARRIS

Prediction: Cleveland Brownsfour years, $56 million ($27.5 million guaranteed)

The Cleveland Browns have transformed from a league-wide laughing stock into one of the best rosters from top to bottom in the NFL. However, they still need improvement in some areas, with the most notable being at the safety position. The good news is that the free-agent safety market is littered with talent, and they have the cap space to make a play for a guy like Harris, who looks capable of playing in any scheme.

Harris emerged back in 2018 after three years of limited snaps as a former UDFA and has since been one of the five most valuable safeties in the NFL. With Harris and the return of 2020 second-round safety Grant Delpit from injury, Cleveland’s coverage unit would take another big step forward.

8. LB LAVONTE DAVID

Prediction: Tampa Bay Buccaneersthree years, $40 million ($23.5 million guaranteed)

During Tampa’s Super Bowl celebration, David said publicly that he “wanted to be back.” Arians, in turn, said to the nine-year Buccaneer precisely the same thing mentioned earlier with Godwin: “Your ass ain’t going nowhere!”

David has been one of the league’s best off-ball linebackers since he was taken in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft and has shown no signs of slowing down over the last couple of seasons in Todd Bowles’ defense. He ranks first at the position in coverage grade and passing stops — 57, 14 more than the next-closest linebacker — since 2019. 

9. G BRANDON SCHERFF

Prediction: Washington Football Teamfour years, $60 million ($37.5 million guaranteed)

Scherff played the 2020 season on the franchise tag and had a career year.

The Washington guard was great in his first five seasons in the NFL, never ranking lower than 12th among right guards in PFF grade, but he took his play to new heights in Year 6. Scherff joined Quenton Nelson and Joel Bitonio as the only three guards in the entire league to produce a grade above 80.0 in both pass protection and run blocking for the 2020 season, which led him to a career-best 86.3 PFF overall grade.

It would be shocking to see the Football Team let him walk away, especially since the team ranks in the top five in available cap space. 

Paradise, Nevada, USA; Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry (86) against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

10. TE HUNTER HENRY

Prediction: Los Angeles Chargersfour years, $48 million ($23.5 million guaranteed)

Henry has been with the Chargers since 2016, and that likely isn’t changing any time soon. However, this move comes with some slight risk for L.A. considering the injury history the former second-round pick carries.

Henry solidified himself as one of the best receivers at the position back in his first two seasons in the NFL, trailing only Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce for the highest two-year receiving grade among all tight ends. But then the injuries began to bite; he missed all of 2018 and hasn’t been nearly the same player ever since. Henry’s receiving grade over the last two years ranks 12th at the position — still good, but a marked step away from the path to elite he was on to start his career.

Henry’s ceiling is more than deserving of a contract that makes him one of the three highest-paid tight ends in the NFL, as PFF's projected contract would make him. The only question is, can he remain healthy and reclaim that high-end play we once knew?

11. WR WILL FULLER V

Prediction: Houston Texansfranchise tag ($15.8 million for 2021)

Houston’s offseason plans are fluid with the ongoing dilemma with Deshaun Watson. But as of now, it looks like they will use the franchise tag on Fuller.

Fuller is a true speedster who has proven to be one of the most dangerous deep threats at the position when healthy. Over 26% of Fuller’s targets since 2018 have resulted in a 15-plus-yard gain, the eighth-highest percentage among wide receivers over that span. Despite missing significant time in each of those three seasons, Fuller came in at No. 8 in total receiving yards on vertical targets on which he had separation on his coverage defender (641). 

12. T TAYLOR MOTON

Prediction: Carolina Panthersfive years, $82.5 million ($45 million guaranteed)

Four of the Panthers' five starters along the offensive line from the 2020 season are set to be a free agent this March, and they can’t re-sign them all. Still, it would be an utter shock if Moton was the one they let walk away.

Moton has been Carolina’s clear-cut best offensive lineman ever since he was named the starting right tackle back in 2018. He has been one of the 10 highest-graded right tackles in the league in each of those three seasons and has been the 10th-most valuable tackle overall in that span, according to PFF WAR.

13. G JOE THUNEY

Prediction: Cincinnati Bengalsfour years, $57 million ($35 million guaranteed)

It’s no secret that Cincinnati’s offensive line has been among the worst in the NFL for quite some time now — they have ranked in the bottom five in PFF grade in each of the last four years. Last season, they came in at No. 30 in combined offensive line PFF grade.

Left tackle Jonah Williams and center Trey Hopkins performed quite well relative to their counterparts, but the rest of the line was a downright liability. And following the season-ending injury to Joe Burrow last year, they know they can’t afford to ignore the line in free agency.

They have the cap space to make a massive move in free agency to address that fact, and Thuney — who grew up just outside the Cincinnati area — could well be that big signing. Thuney ranks sixth among left guards in PFF grade since entering the league in 2016. He also has never ranked lower than 13th in a single season among all guards in WAR generated.

14. EDGE SHAQ BARRETT

Prediction: Tampa Bay Buccaneersfour years, $68 million ($40 million guaranteed) 

Jason Licht is going to have to get creative this offseason with Godwin, David, Barrett, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski and Ndamukong Suh in need of a new contract, but Arians has stated that he is “very, very confident” that the general manager will find a way to retain the group this offseason. And Barrett himself has also said that he wants to come back.

Barrett has recorded the 11th-best pass-rush grade and third-highest pressure rate among edge defenders since joining the ranks in Tampa. Taking stunts and Bowles’ infamous blitzes out of the equation, Barrett ranks in the top 10 in both pass-rush grade and pressure rate generated. 

15. S MARCUS WILLIAMS

Prediction: Las Vegas Raidersfour years, $57 million ($30 million guaranteed)

The Raiders will be in the market for a fresh new safety to play the single-high role in Gus Bradley’s defense, and Williams — a West Coast native — is a prime candidate for that job.

Williams has established himself as one of the top cover safeties in the game since he entered the league as a second-round pick out of Utah in 2017. He has earned the fourth-best PFF grade at the position over the last four years, and the total WAR Williams has accumulated in that span is the fourth-most among all defenders.

16. CB WILLIAM JACKSON III

Prediction: Cincinnati Bengalsthree years, $40 million ($22.5 million guaranteed)

Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor has been on record saying he wants Jackson to remain a Bengal, and the franchise has the funds to make that possible while making a move for a star offensive lineman like Thuney.

While Jackson hasn’t been able to replicate his success as a sophomore in 2017, he still has been one of the top outside cornerbacks in the game. He has finished as one of the 25 most valuable players at the position in three of his four seasons and is 12th among outside corners in coverage grade since 2017.

17. QB RYAN FITZPATRICK

Prediction: Miami Dolphinsone year, $10 million (fully guaranteed)

Keeping Fitzpatrick around for another year to help guide Tua Tagovailoa is a sensible step for the Dolphins to take. And in the event Fitzpatrick is needed on the field for Miami, he has proven he can make the team competitive. Over the past two years, he ranks 18th in passing grade and seventh in positively graded throw rate. Considering the Dolphins' lowly offensive line and average-at-best receiving unit, that’s quite impressive.

Tagovailoa still has a lot to prove before we can confidently say he is going to be a franchise quarterback. He finished his rookie year with a 63.9 passing grade, well below the marks of fellow first-round quarterbacks Joe Burrow (74.3) and Justin Herbert (78.6). He struggled to hit shots downfield, producing a league-low big-time throw rate (2.1%). Again, it’s too early to write Tagovailoa off from being a quality starter, but Year 1 did not go as expected.

18. CB RICHARD SHERMAN

Prediction: Las Vegas Raiderstwo years, $28 million ($18 million guaranteed)

“Richard Sherman, if you are a free agent, which there is a rumor you are, we are looking for an alpha presence in our secondary. Somebody that could play this Hawk 3 press technique with the read step. If you're available and interested, maybe you and I can get together at some point off-air.” — Jon Gruden on PFF’s Cris Collinsworth Podcast with Richard Sherman

Las Vegas could very well try to make a run at Sherman — one of the best cornerbacks of this century — to play in Gus Bradley's defense, a defense that the veteran cornerback has found a lot of success in.

Just a couple of years ago, Sherman was PFF’s highest-graded and most valuable cornerback in the NFL. He was limited to only five games in 2020 but gave up just 87 yards across 210 coverage snaps.

The Raiders have ranked in the bottom half of the league in expected points added (EPA) allowed per pass play in each of the last three seasons. Sherman is still one of the smartest cornerbacks in the game and would surely help bring the Raiders out of the coverage rut.

19. DI LEONARD WILLIAMS

Prediction: New York Giantsfour years, $80 million ($47.5 million guaranteed)

Pure run-stuffing interior defensive linemen aren’t the most valuable on the field, but they carry more weight — literally and figuratively speaking — than originally thought.

Williams certainly fits that bill. He was one of the best run defenders in the league in 2020, while his work as a pass-rusher was good, not great (remember, sack totals are noisy). He finished fifth in run-defense grade and 32nd in pass-rush grade in his first full season with the Giants in 2020, finishing the year as one of the five most valuable players at his position.

Cincinnati, OH, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) lines up against the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

20. EDGE J.J. WATT

Prediction: Cleveland Brownstwo years, $25 million ($20 million guaranteed)

Over a third of the league is reportedly interested in Watt, and among those teams are the Browns. Cleveland is looking for another effective pass-rusher to add to their defensive front that already boasts one of the league’s best edge defenders, Myles Garrett, and bringing on Watt would give them one of the most formidable duos in the NFL. They are also financially more than capable of doing so even if they were to sign Anthony Harris.

Watt isn’t quite that same elite player that we all came to know early on in his career, but the 32-year-old is still one of the best in the business. In fact, Watt still managed to finish 2020 as one of the three most valuable edge defenders despite being a part of a porous defensive front, coming off a torn pectoral injury from 2019 and posting his lowest PFF grade (excluding 2016 when he was limited to only 157 snaps) since his rookie campaign. He’s been that good throughout his career.

21. CB DESMOND KING II

Prediction: Tennessee Titansthree years, $17.5 million ($10 million guaranteed)

Tennessee traded for King during the 2020 season and is more than capable of locking him up for a few more seasons in the coming weeks. King didn’t really have the best season of his career in 2020, but we shouldn't forget what he did before arriving in Tennessee. Since entering the league as a fifth-round pick out of Iowa in 2017, King ranks first among defensive backs in slot coverage grade. 

King may have had some hiccups in his first few games as a Titan, but remember that he was thrown into the fire and tasked with learning a new defense. It’s no guarantee that King reclaims the same level of success that he had in Gus Bradley’s system predicated on Seattle Cover-3 in L.A., but he’s worth betting on.

22. S MARCUS MAYE

Prediction: New York Jetsfour years, $60 million ($28.5 million guaranteed)

New York's secondary has struggled over the past couple of seasons, ranking 25th in team coverage grade. Maye, however, is far from the reason why. He has been one of the best safeties in the league in coverage during that span. As a matter of fact, Maye ranks fourth at the position in coverage grade since 2019. At deep safety, in particular, Maye jumps to first. He has been responsible for only four first downs allowed at the alignment while intercepting three, forcing seven incompletions and racking up six passing stops. 

General manager Joe Douglas has publicly stated that re-signing Maye is “an offseason priority,” and the Jets easily have the cap space to do that along with several other moves.

23. S JOHN JOHNSON III

Prediction: Jacksonville Jaguarsfour years, $52 million ($25 million guaranteed)

Jacksonville can make more significant moves than any other franchise this offseason with their league-leading $77 million in open cap space, and the secondary should be a starting point. Johnson will almost certainly be hitting the open market, given the Rams' lack of cap space, and the Jaguars are one of a few teams that could swoop in to sign the safety.

He has proven to be capable of playing in any role in any scheme throughout his NFL career, recording PFF grades above 80.0 in three of his four seasons — all of which ranked 11th or higher at the position — and the one season he didn’t was in 2019 when he was limited to only six games due to injury. 

24. WR JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER

Prediction: New York Jetsfour years, $68 million ($35 million guaranteed)

Smith-Schuster is one of the riskiest bets in this free agent class, but the Jets have been rumored to have significant interest in the wide receiver.

He produced the 16th-best receiving grade in the NFL playing primarily in the slot alongside Antonio Brown back in 2017 and 2018 — his first two seasons in the league. Once Brown departed prior to the 2019 season, Smith-Schuster was expected to become the focal point of the offense and have no issue. That, however, was not the case. He struggled with the extra attention and battled injuries throughout the year, recording a lowly 63.1 PFF grade. Things were marginally better in 2020 with a PFF grade of 70.0 that ranked in the bottom half of the league.

Smith-Schuster doesn’t have to be a primary outside receiver to become a WR1, but the fact that he failed to win there following the departure of AB does him no favors.

25. WR COREY DAVIS

Prediction: Baltimore Ravensfour years, $65 million ($32 million guaranteed)

Baltimore needs a true WR1. John Harbaugh has mentioned it, PFF has written about it countless times and it seems inevitable that it will happen this offseason. Obviously, receivers like Allen Robinson II and Kenny Golladay would be the first preference, but if they get tagged as expected, four-year Titan Corey Davis might be the best option available. That would be a pretty good consolation prize for the Ravens considering they finished with one of the five lowest-graded receiving units in 2020 and Davis was a top-10-graded wide receiver. Against single coverage in particular, Davis sat at the 85th percentile in receiving grade in 2020.

26. C COREY LINSLEY

Prediction: Los Angeles Chargersthree years, $33 million ($16.5 million guaranteed)

The Chargers had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL this past season, and a lot of the lowly performers are set to hit the open market in March. As a group, they ranked fourth-to-last among the 32 offensive lines in pass-block grade. The good news is that they have the capital to bring in a couple of marquee players, like Corey Linsley at center, to help fix that. Over his seven years in the NFL, Linsley has generated the sixth-best PFF grade at the position. Linsley came in at No. 1 among centers in PFF grade this past season in particular. Dan Feeney, who started all 16 games at center for L.A. in 2020 and is also a free agent, ranked second-to-last in PFF grade at the position.

27. CB MIKE HILTON

Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelersthree years, $12 million ($4 million guaranteed)

The Steelers are limited in what they can do in free agency this March considering their current cap situation (-$30 million projected). Their own big-name free agents — JuJu Smith-Schuster, Alejandro Villanueva and Bud Dupree — are likely to find new homes as a result. Pittsburgh might, however, be able to retain one of the most important and underrated players on their team in Mike Hilton.

Over the last three years, Hilton ranks third in slot coverage grade behind only Desmond King II and Bryce Callahan. Hilton has actually generated more WAR over the last two years than Smith-Schuster and Dupree combined. Yet he is likely to receive a deal that pays him less than half of those two players in 2021. 

28. EDGE CARL LAWSON

Prediction: Cincinnati Bengalsfour years, $55 million ($30 million guaranteed)

Like he did with William Jackson III, head coach Zac Taylor made it known that he’d prefer if Lawson remained a Bengal for 2021 and beyond. That makes sense considering he was the only formidable pass-rusher on the roster last season. Lawson produced an 84.9 pass-rush grade in 2020 that ranked ninth among qualifying edge rushers, yet Cincinnati still ranked second-to-last as a team in pass-rush grade.

29. QB JAMEIS WINSTON

Prediction: New Orleans Saintsone year, $5 million (fully guaranteed)

Winston re-signing with New Orleans for another dirt-cheap (relative to his position) one-year deal is the best and most likely scenario for the franchise. The 2015 No. 1 overall pick is quite easily the most volatile quarterback PFF has ever charted. In his five years starting for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Winston never ranked worse than fourth in percentage of throws earning a positive grade and never ranked better than 25th in percentage of throws earning a negative grade.

Taking Dak Prescott out of the equation, no quarterback on the free agent market can come remotely close to Winston’s high end — for as many negatives as Winston has produced, he’s nearly doubled the output with positives. The decision-making has been a liability at times, but there is no question that he has the arm talent necessary to succeed at the NFL level. With the right play-caller and supporting cast, as well as some turnover luck, Winston can help lead a successful passing offense. 

Tennessee Titans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (99) smiles after the team’s 42-16 win over the Buffalo Bills. Credit: Imagn Content Services

30. EDGE JADEVEON CLOWNEY

Prediction: Tennessee Titansone year, $13 million (fully guaranteed)

Clowney has reportedly made it known that he is “open” to a return to Tennessee for 2021. Considering the lack of quality edge defenders the Titans have on the roster, it’s hard to imagine them not feeling the same way.

Clowney only played half of the 2020 season due to injury and was as expected: above-average at-best. He ranked 19th at the position in PFF grade at 74.9, and there were no “dominant” pass-rush outings to really speak of. That’s really been the story of Clowney’s whole career. His run-defense is the key reason why he ranks No. 8 at his position in total WAR generated over the last six years.

31. WR ANTONIO BROWN

Prediction: Tampa Bay Buccaneersone year, $2 million (fully guaranteed, incentives can raise value to $4 million)

Brown’s contract value will be interesting to monitor given his current off-the-field issues, but it seems highly likely that it’ll be another cheap, one-year deal back in Tampa for the wide receiver. It will have to be low-cost if he wants to remain a Buccaneer, and Brown has said he wants to return.

All things considered, Brown performed quite well in 2020 after playing in just one game in nearly two years. He earned an 82.6 receiving grade on the year, including the Bucs’ postseason run, and did it in an unorthodox manner relative to the rest of his career. Brown was utilized on more underneath concepts than in any other season of his career and posted a career-low 9.4 average depth of target. He added value after the catch with 5.2 additional yards on average and eight total broken tackles, while also displaying surefire hands (caught 98% of his catchable targets) and being strong at the catch point (caught eight of 11 contested targets).

32. TE JONNU SMITH

Prediction: Arizona Cardinalsfour years, $38 million ($20.5 million guaranteed)

With or without Larry Fitzgerald in 2021, Kyler Murray needs more receiving threats to go along with DeAndre Hopkins — especially at tight end, as the Cardinals didn’t really get consistent production out of that group in 2020. Smith’s ability to extend plays after the catch would surely help. The four-year Titan is likely to hit the open market with Tennessee lacking cap space and looking at other marquee players in need of new contracts. Over the last two years, Smith ranks sixth in receiving grade, third in yards after the catch per reception (6.8) and sixth in broken tackles (17).

33. T RUSSELL OKUNG

Prediction: Washington Football Teamthree years, $50 million ($32.5 million guaranteed)

Okung has ties to Washington: Marty Hurney, who traded for Okung as general manager for the Carolina Panthers back in 2020, is now the executive vice president of football of player personnel for the Football Team (in other words, he has some say in the shaping of the roster). Washington is in need of a left tackle and has the money to afford a guy like Okung.

Okung has played just over 650 snaps over the last couple of years for the Chargers and Panthers. He was average at best on those reps, earning a PFF grade that ranked 46th among 90 qualifying tackles, and he turns 34 years old in the middle of next season. Needless to say, this would be an extremely risky bet for Washington.

34. T ALEJANDRO VILLANUEVA

Prediction: Los Angeles Chargersthree years, $45 million ($30 million guaranteed)

In addition to Corey Linsley, the Chargers could also look to bolster their left tackle starting spot, and Villanueva would certainly do that. Over the last three years, Villanueva ranks 12th among all left tackles in pass-block grade and has routinely done his job in the ground game with a negatively graded run-block rate that sits at the 82nd percentile at the position.

35. QB CAM NEWTON

Prediction: Washington Football Teamone year, $5 million (fully guaranteed)

The interest for Newton isn’t likely to be strong after how his one-year “prove-it” deal went with New England in 2020. He brought value to the run game in short-yardage situations and in the red zone, but the downfield passing was wildly inconsistent. Newton completed four or fewer passes on throws of 10-plus yards downfield in 11 of his 15 starts in 2020 and completed only 14 deep passes over 20 yards downfield on the year. Overall, the accuracy was poor from Newton, as he ranked just 28th in percentage of accurate passes thrown beyond the line of scrimmage.

Washington is in the veteran quarterback market this offseason and Football Team head coach Ron Rivera, who also coached Newton in Carolina, could reunite with the 2015 MVP and give him a shot to compete with Taylor Heinicke.

36. QB ANDY DALTON

Prediction: Denver Broncostwo years, $10 million ($8 million guaranteed)

Denver's dream scenario is landing Deshaun Watson, who apparently is “intrigued” with the idea of coming to the Mile High City. If that doesn’t happen, though, the Broncos are in a real tough situation at the most important position in football.

They may want to give Drew Lock another shot, but he obviously hasn’t lived up to expectations and they know they can’t enter 2021 without a Plan B if the 2019 second-round pick continues to underperform. That's especially true because they don’t really have a “tankable” roster outside of quarterback. That second option could be a rookie, such as Trey Lance, or an established veteran, such as Andy Dalton (or it also could be both).

Dalton ranked 23rd in PFF grade in 2020 with Dallas. He failed to make many big-time throws (32nd by rate), but he limited bad throws, too. He posted the 10th-best negatively graded throw rate and delivered an accurate ball on passes beyond the line of scrimmage at the fifth-highest rate. The veteran is a short-term solution at-best; he won't produce at an elite level, nor will he singlehandedly carry a team to the postseason. 

37. CB SHAQUIL GRIFFIN

Prediction: Seattle Seahawksthree years, $28.5 million ($15.5 million guaranteed)

With around $6 million in the bank and no notable cut candidates on the roster, the Seahawks can't do much this free agency period. However, they can retain cornerback Shaquil Griffin, as that position would become an extreme vulnerability if they choose not to.

Despite nagging injuries this past year, Griffin managed to sustain a quality level of play and has been the 17th-most valuable corner in the NFL since 2019. Seattle plays zone coverage at one of the highest rates in the league, a scheme in which Griffin has thrived. He ranks in the top 10 among cornerbacks in zone coverage grade over the past two years.

38. LB MATT MILANO

Prediction: Detroit Lionsfour years, $45 million ($20 million guaranteed)

Buffalo has some tough decisions to make this offseason, and one of them could be letting Milano walk in free agency. Detroit doesn't have much cap space, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team do everything in its power to create room for a Golladay tag and an upgrade at off-ball linebacker. The Lions’ linebacker room outside of Jamie Collins Sr. struggled mightily in 2020, with Reggie Ragland and Jahlani Tavai each posting 35.7 coverage grades.

Milano has been rather inconsistent but has looked like one of the top coverage linebackers in the league at times. Back in 2018 and 2019, he ranked 14th and fourth, respectively, in coverage grade. Yet, his run defense and tackling have underwhelmed. Milano posted sub-60.0 grades against the run, in coverage and as a tackler in 2020, leading him to a PFF WAR rank of 37th at the position.

T.Y. Hilton (13) of the Indianapolis Colts up as he runs off the field following a key division win, Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans. Credit: Imagn Content Services

39. WR TY HILTON

Prediction: Jacksonville Jaguarsthree years, $28.5 million ($18 million guaranteed)

If Hilton and Indianapolis decide to part ways, him moving back to his home state of Florida and partnering up with projected first overall pick Trevor Lawrence is certainly in the cards. 

Hilton was once considered a top deep threat in the NFL, but that production has tailed off in the years since Andrew Luck‘s retirement. With Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers running the offense, Hilton brought in only 190 yards from vertical targets over the past two seasons, which is less than half of his 397 yards in 2018 that ranked seventh in the NFL. 

Sure, Hilton has lost a step and may not possess the 4.34 speed he once boasted. However, it’s also worth considering that injury, quarterback play and usage got in the way in 2019, in addition to the offense being a bit limited with Rivers' declining arm in 2020. Hilton still posted a top-15 receiving grade on targets at the intermediate level in 2020, so it wouldn’t be crazy to say he can add value as a vertical threat if paired with the right quarterback.

40. DI DALVIN TOMLINSON

Prediction: Jacksonville Jaguarsfour years, $52.5 million ($26.5 million guaranteed)

There is a world in which New York retains both Leonard Williams and Tomlinson, but that’d be an extremely difficult scenario for the cap-strung Giants to pull off. Jacksonville will be in the market to bolster its below-average interior defensive line, and the franchise has the money to make a push for one of the best on the open market. After Williams, that player is Tomlinson.

Up until this past season, Tomlinson was the same player as Williams — a great run defender and a subpar pass rusher. This year, Tomlinson was solid in both facets, as he notched a 70.0-plus grade in each area. Only 11 other interior defensive linemen accomplished that in 2020. And at nose tackle, in particular, Tomlinson was one of the most productive pass-rushers in the league, putting together the second-best such grade at the alignment. 

41. T DARYL WILLIAMS

Prediction: Buffalo Billsthree years, $31.5 million ($18.75 million guaranteed)

Buffalo needs to pull some strings to make this work, but considering the season Williams just had, I imagine the team will. 

After an up-and-down five-year stint with Carolina to begin his NFL career that was plagued by injuries, Williams came to the Bills prior to the 2020 season to be their starting right tackle. Not only did Williams play in all 19 games in 2020, but he also played that load of snaps at an extremely high level. His 80.0 pass-block grade ranked fourth among all right tackles.

42. CB TROY HILL

Prediction: Los Angeles Ramstwo years, $10.5 million ($7.25 million guaranteed)

The Rams have virtually no cap flexibility — they're roughly $27 million over the limit — and two of their marquee defensive backs are set to hit the open market in safety John Johnson III and cornerback Troy Hill. The bad news is that Johnson will fetch around $13 million per year on his next contract, putting Los Angeles out of the running. The good news is that Hill will be cheap enough for the Rams to retain him if they are able to open up just a little bit of cap space.

Hill has emerged as one of the best slot corners in the NFL over the past few seasons. An increased role has resulted in the best slot coverage grade in the league since 2019. Despite projecting to receive such a cheap deal (mostly due to the league still undervaluing slot corners), Hill was Los Angeles' fifth-most valuable non-quarterback in 2020 and the NFL’s 36th-most valuable defensive player, per PFF WAR.

43. CB CHIDOBE AWUZIE

Prediction: Indianapolis Coltsthree years, $27 million ($15.5 million guaranteed)

Awuzie is a pure zone corner by nature, which means he’s not necessarily a fit for new Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. He has ties to Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, as they were both with the Cowboys in Awuzie’s rookie 2017 campaign. Plus, Indy is in the market for a zone corner because 2019 second-rounder Rock Ya-Sin hasn’t shown the requisite growth. They aren’t going to completely abandon Ya-Sin, as he still has some time to right the ship, but starting him would be a risky bet.

Eberflus’ usage of zone coverage this past season was the second-highest in the NFL, behind only Brandon Staley’s Los Angeles Rams, at 76.6%. We pegged Awuzie as a great fit for a zone-heavy scheme coming out of college, and his data in the NFL backs that up. Since entering the NFL, he ranks 48th of 70 cornerbacks in coverage grade when in single coverage. When in zone, he jumps all the way to 19th.

44. WR CURTIS SAMUEL

Prediction: New York Giantsthree years, $25 million ($15 million guaranteed)

While Daniel Jones showed some growth as a passer in 2020, the Giants still fielded one of the NFL's least efficient passing offenses — a unit that ranked 28th in expected points added per pass play. Part of that was due to a lack of reliable receivers. The Giants need to provide Jones with more weapons, both in free agency and the draft. With Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson both set to hit the open market, they’ll likely be looking for cheaper options, which is where Curtis Samuel comes into play.

Samuel had the best season of his NFL career this past season in Joe Brady’s Carolina Panthers offense, posting a 77.0 PFF grade. Brady dialed up over 40 designed runs for Samuel and slashed his average depth of target nearly in half down to 7.5 yards from 14.8 yards. He can win underneath, separate against single coverage when given the opportunity and — with the right quarterback — add value vertically with his speed.

There is an argument to be made that Samuel has some untapped potential considering his quarterback room has produced the lowest passing grade on throws over 10 yards downfield throughout his NFL career.

Jan 16, 2021; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) against the Los Angeles Rams during the NFC Divisional Round at Lambeau Field. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

45. RB AARON JONES

Prediction: Miami Dolphinsfour years, $46 million ($25 million guaranteed)

Jones will likely encounter a slim market due to more NFL front offices recognizing the value — or lack thereof — of the running back position. This is no disrespect to Jones, who is a great athlete and an NFL running back, but his position simply doesn't stack up in terms of wins and losses on the football field.

Jones was the 10th-most valuable running back of the 2020 season, generating 0.13 WAR. That made him just the ninth-most valuable player in Green Bay's offense. 

Miami is just one of a few teams that will have the cap space and be willing to sign Jones to a deal of this magnitude. They fielded one of the least efficient rushing attacks of the 2020 season, producing -0.1 EPA per run, which ranked 28th in the NFL. It’s worth noting that Tampa Bay — the Super Bowl 55 champions — ranked 29th in regular-season play.

46. EDGE YANNICK NGAKOUE

Prediction: Buffalo Billsfour years, $70 million ($40 million guaranteed)

Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott mentioned how his team's pass rush is a “critical area” of improvement this offseason, and the Bills could be looking for a complete overhaul along the defensive front. They can open up $20 million with cuts that include Quinton Jefferson, Mario Addison and Vernon Butler, all of whom finished with sub-61.0 PFF grades in 2020. In turn, they could use that cash for a quality pass rusher — such as Ngakoue.

Ngakoue, who is tied for ninth among edge rushers in pass-rush grade over the past four seasons, would bolster the Bills’ pass rush and could slide right into Addison’s role. Ngakoue admittedly provides little impact in run defense, grading below 60.0 in all five of his NFL seasons in that facet, but he and Jerry Hughes would immediately form one of the NFL's better pass-rushing tandems.

47. DI SHELBY HARRIS

Prediction: Arizona Cardinalsthree years, $33.38 million ($16.5 million guaranteed)

Arizona’s interior defensive line ranked second-to-last in PFF grade in 2020, proving to be a non-factor both against the run and when rushing the quarterback. There’s a clear need at the position, and Harris would certainly help patch that.

Harris didn’t emerge in the NFL ranks until his fourth NFL season — and first with Denver — back in 2017. He has logged at least 390 snaps in each of his four years with the Broncos, providing uber-productive play when on the field. As a matter of fact, he is tied for 10th among interior defensive linemen over that span in PFF grade.

Harris is more than capable of playing 0- or 3-technique along Arizona’s defensive front. He primarily played defensive tackle in Denver (84.8 PFF grade at that alignment) but found immense success at nose, where he earned an elite 91.3 PFF grade across 313 such snaps.

48. WR MARVIN JONES JR.

Prediction: Indianapolis Coltsthree years, $27 million ($16.5 million guaranteed)

If T.Y. Hilton does end up leaving the Colts, the team will be in the market for another wide receiver. And Jones’ price tag is fairly reasonable given his output as of late. Over the past two seasons, Jones ranks 23rd among wide receivers in PFF WAR generated and sits at the 85th percentile in receiving grade against single coverage.

He has never been a separation-getter, but he still remains a strong receiver at the catch point. Whether from the slot or on the outside, he is still capable of producing at a semi-high level despite getting ready to turn 31.

49. TE GERALD EVERETT

Prediction: Carolina Panthersthree years, $15 million ($9.5 million guaranteed)

Quarterback is priority No. 1 for Carolina this offseason, but tight end is right up there, too. The Panthers’ tight end room ranked dead last in receiving grade and was responsible for only three 15-plus-yard receptions (four fewer than any other team) in 2020.

Everett is coming off a down year in 2019, but he more than proved he is capable of producing at a top-10 level in his two prior seasons. In fact, he ranked seventh at the position in receiving grade in 2018 and 2019 combined. He is your classic move tight end who adds value after the catch with his athleticism.

50. CB BRIAN POOLE

Prediction: New York Jetsthree years, $18 million ($11.5 million guaranteed)

Poole turned his career around with the Jets, whom he joined in 2019 after three middling years with Atlanta. The former undrafted free agent has produced the seventh-best slot coverage grade over the past two seasons in New York. He has allowed the fewest yards per coverage snap in the slot in that span by a significant margin, at 0.75, while producing the fourth-best slot forced incompletion rate (12%).

That has helped Poole generate the 13th-most PFF WAR among all cornerbacks since 2019. Considering his cheap contract and the fact that the Jets having the third-most cap space available this offseason, it’d be a shock if Poole didn’t return. 

Know tomorrow, today. Western Southern Financial Group.
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