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2023 NFL Free Agency: Landing spots for PFF's top 100 free agents

Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David (54) reacts after a play against the Carolina Panthers in the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

PFF has released its top 200 free agents, which includes each player's projected contracts, in-depth analysis and more.

Now, we will try to predict where the top 100 players will be playing in 2023 and beyond.

1. QB Lamar Jackson

2023 team prediction: Baltimore Ravens

Whether it’s Jackson playing on the franchise tag or signing a multi-year deal, the Ravens arguably have too much committed to the rest of this team to start over at the quarterback position. 

That being said, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler shared in his notes from the Senior Bowl that some folks around the league believe the team and Jackson could be apart by up to $100 million in fully guaranteed money. Fellow ESPN insider Chris Mortensen reported in September that Jackson declined an offer including $133 million fully guaranteed at signing. Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson received $230 million fully guaranteed on his extension, so that gap between the two sides seems entirely plausible.

Jackson seemingly makes strides every season in the areas of his game previously identified as weaknesses. In 2022, his 57.1% of passes being charted as accurate was a career high and his 54.8% accuracy rate on balls thrown outside the numbers was more than a 5-percentage-point improvement compared to his previous season high, an area for which he has long received criticism.

With continued growth as a traditional passer — which should only continue if Baltimore can add more receiving weapons and an offensive coordinator with more pass-game prowess  — Jackson can be a walking highlight reel through the air and on the ground for years to come.

2. QB Geno Smith

2023 team prediction: Seattle Seahawks
2023 team: Seattle Seahawks

Dating back to last season, Smith’s 7.5 yards per attempt ranks 10th, his 69.6% adjusted completion percentage ranks second and his 63.2% accurate pass rate, per PFF charting, ranks fifth. Both parties were motivated to get a deal done, and Smith ended up taking a team-friendly deal for $25 million per year — a significantly lower number than our projected three-year, $105 million contract.

3. DI Javon Hargrave

2023 team prediction: Chicago Bears

Hargrave may be the Eagles’ top offseason priority as they continue to emphasize rostering several quality interior defensive linemen. He is a perfect pairing next to 2022 first-round nose tackle Jordan Davis. Should Hargrave make it to unrestricted free agency, the Bears almost certainly will be a suitor, with their interior defensive line earning a 36.3 grade in 2022, more than five points worse than any other interior defensive line in the NFL.

4. S Jessie Bates III

2023 team prediction: Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons have a need at safety, and Bates could be a good fit, especially since they filled their defensive coordinator opening with Ryan Nielsen, the New Orleans Saints‘ co-defensive coordinator in 2022. Richie Grant is a solid safety for Atlanta, and the Falcons move him all around the field, but they could upgrade Jaylinn Hawkins‘ spot, as he has never graded above 60.0 in his career.

Nielsen was part of a Saints coaching staff that always had quality safeties on the roster, such as Marcus Maye, Tyrann Mathieu, Marcus Williams, Vonn Bell and Malcolm Jenkins. Bates can step into Williams' previous role at free safety, and he also has the capability to play in the box and succeed in Atlanta.

5. CB Jamel Dean

2023 team prediction: New England Patriots

New England let J.C. Jackson walk in free agency last offseason, and in this scenario they sign a younger player who can help them play more press-man coverage on the outside, something they deviated from in 2022 compared to prior seasons. 

The Patriots ranked 18th in press coverage grade for their outside cornerbacks last season with a 63.0 mark, whereas Dean's 79.7 grade ranked third among cornerbacks with at least 100 press coverage snaps.

6. LB Lavonte David

2023 team prediction: Las Vegas Raiders

The only Raiders linebackers currently under contract for 2023 are Luke Masterson and Darien Butler, both of whom were undrafted rookies in 2022. There is a massive need to get a leader in the middle of this defense, and there might not be a better player to do so than David, who has been the epitome of consistency for the Buccaneers' defense, stringing together six straight years with a 72.0-plus PFF grade.

He would help rejuvenate the Raiders' linebacker room, which has struggled to find a top-end guy at the position for years. The Raiders fielded a bottom-five defense when opposing offenses threw over the middle of the field, according to expected points added allowed per play and success rate allowed.

7. WR Jakobi Meyers

2023 team prediction: Houston Texans

We have a reunion here between Meyers and Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio, who came from the Patriots organization. The Texans are expected to draft a quarterback early in this year’s draft, and Meyers has proven to be a great receiving option for a rookie signal-caller. Meyers saw 50 more targets than any other Patriots player in 2021 with rookie quarterback Mac Jones and led the team again this past year despite New England trading for veteran DeVante Parker and trading up in the 2022 NFL Draft for Tyquan Thornton.

The Texans arguably need speed, more so than a possession receiver, to make up for the eventual departure of wide receiver Brandin Cooks, but 2022 second-round pick wide receiver John Metchie III, who was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after the draft, could return as early as the offseason program, per Caserio.

Over the past three seasons, Meyers’ 3.1% drop rate ranks ninth among qualifying wide receivers, and he rarely loses in contested situations. The thing is, particularly with a lower average depth of target receiver, you don’t really want to see many contested targets. Nevertheless, Meyers is certainly capable of creating separation with sharp route running. 

8. OT Orlando Brown Jr.

2023 team prediction: New England Patriots

The Patriots are expected to let 2018 first-round pick tackle Isaiah Wynn walk in free agency after a tumultuous 2022 campaign, and Trent Brown is not a long-term solution at either tackle spot but can hypothetically slide back over to the right side.

It’s possible the Chiefs place a second consecutive franchise tag on Brown and/or work out a multi-year deal, but Patrick Mahomes’ elite ability to not let pressures become sacks makes a top-of-market investment on the blindside unnecessary.

Brown didn’t really do much to change his perception this year; he is a good but not great tackle. New England has been aggressive in free agency in recent years and is desperate for help at the position, though. Brown earned a 60.0-plus pass-blocking grade in every 2022 contest from Week 5 on, with 11 grades above 70.0 over the stretch. He’d be a massive addition to this Patriots tackle group.

9. DI Daron Payne

2023 team prediction: Washington Commanders
2023 team: Washington Commanders

Not only did Payne rack up 49 pressures and 11.5 sacks in 2022 — the latter being more than double his previous career high — he earned his first Pro Bowl nod and continued his streak of impressive durability on the inside.

Payne almost never misses games, with his 4,181 snaps played over his five NFL seasons the third most among interior defenders. A player of Payne’s caliber with his record of durability rarely hits the market, hence why Washington inked him to a long-term extension after applying the franchise tag.

10. QB Derek Carr

2023 team prediction: New Orleans Saints
2023 team: New Orleans Saints

While it is unquestionable that Carr had a down 2022 season, he was a top-half-of-the-NFL quarterback for a number of years.

From 2019 to 2021, Carr ranked ninth in passing grade (86.3), ninth in yards per attempt (7.8) and seventh in big-time throw rate (5.4%). While the nine-year veteran has the athleticism to navigate the pocket and the ability to scramble for a first down if necessary, he also tends to leave a few plays on the field that have you scratching your head from time to time.

Nevertheless, it's not often a quarterback of his caliber hits the free-agent market, and that helped him earn a solid four-year, $150 million deal with New Orleans.


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