• QB Jimmy Garoppolo: The signal-caller finished the 2022 campaign on injured reserve but produced 70.0-plus PFF grades in each of the past two seasons.
• WR Michael Thomas: Injuries have derailed Thomas' two seasons, but he was one of the most productive receivers in football from 2016-2019.
• EDGE Jadeveon Clowney: The veteran edge rusher seems destined for another one-year deal. He has produced PFF pass-rushing grades of 69.0 or higher every season since 2016.
Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins
With 2023 NFL free agency looming, we will soon see plenty of big-money deals handed out. Sometimes, though, the best thing a team can do is find a reclamation project or a player flying under the radar at a position for a variety of reasons. Here, we take a look at one buy-low candidate for each position.
Quarterback: Jimmy Garoppolo
- 2022 Team: San Francisco 49ers
- 2022 PFF Grade: 71.4
At the time of writing, Garoppolo is the No. 5 quarterback in PFF's free agency rankings, but by the time free agency opens, there’s a realistic chance that he could be the top quarterback left. And should he be available for his current contract projection, he could be an excellent fit for fringe playoff teams from 2022, such as the Las Vegas Raiders or New York Jets if they are unable to land Aaron Rodgers via trade.
Having recorded 15 or fewer big-time throws in every NFL season, Garoppolo might not elevate an offense. But he has earned a 70.0-plus PFF grade in each of the past two seasons, so he can raise a team's floor.
Running Back: Rashaad Penny
- 2022 Team: Seattle Seahawks
- 2022 PFF Grade: 70.2
Penny has averaged at least 3.1 yards after contact per carry in every NFL season where he has handled at least 50 carries. He also averaged 6.3 and 6.1 yards per carry in 2021 and 2022, respectively. A season-ending injury in 2022, and the diminishing contracts of running backs, will impact his value this offseason, but he can be a complementary player in almost any backfield.
Wide Receiver: Michael Thomas
- 2022 Team: New Orleans Saints
- 2022 PFF Grade: 77.3
It would've been unheard of for Thomas to be a buy-low candidate following 2019, but two injury-ridden campaigns make him a prime candidate for a one-year deal to prove that he can stay healthy. Thomas has produced a 77.0 or higher PFF grade every season in the NFL and has never dropped more than 5.9% of his passes in a single year.
Tight End: Austin Hooper
- 2022 Team: Tennessee Titans
- 2022 PFF Grade: 68.8
Hooper delivered in his lone season in Tennessee, recording a career-low 2.4% drop rate. His current contract projection is a two-year, $8.5 million deal, which feels like good value when considering he is a very solid player who has never earned a season-long PFF grade lower than 60.0. Still, Hooper likely sees his interest hindered by a strong tight end group headed for free agency.
Offensive Tackle: Isaiah Wynn
- 2022 Team: New England Patriots
- 2022 PFF Grade: 54.6
Wynn produced 70.0-plus PFF grades in every season between 2019 and 2021, but the biggest concern for a prospective team will be whether he can stay healthy. His career is littered with injuries, and he is coming off his only season in the league with a PFF pass-blocking grade lower than 70.0.
If Wynn stays healthy and performs at his 2019-2021 level, he is a starting-caliber offensive tackle who can be had for less money due to the injury concerns.
Interior Offensive Line: Will Hernandez
- 2022 Team: Arizona Cardinals
- 2022 PFF Grade: 65.4
Hernandez is currently projected to earn a three-year, $4 million contract this offseason, and while it’s unlikely that he'll be a top-five guard in football anytime soon, he does have PFF pass-blocking grades of 72.0 or higher in three of his five NFL seasons. In the right scheme, and for the right price, he can be a solid starter.
Interior Defensive Line: David Onyemata
- 2022 Team: New Orleans Saints
- 2022 PFF Grade: 64.0
Coming off his lowest-graded season of the past three years as he hits free agency isn’t ideal, but Onyemata has racked up at least 30 pressures in every season since his 2016 rookie year as a fourth-rounder out of Manitoba in Canada. He missed the first six games of the 2022 season due to a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
Edge Defender: Jadeveon Clowney
- 2022 Team: Cleveland Browns
- 2022 PFF Grade: 75.8
It's reasonable to expect yet another one-year deal for Clowney, who has yet to receive a long-term contract since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2014. The 30-year-old's contract projection and the fact that he continues to flash high-level play, with 50-plus pressures in five of the past seven seasons, will make him a short-term option for a lot of teams around the league.
Linebacker: Leighton Vander Esch
- 2022 Team: Dallas Cowboys
- 2022 PFF Grade: 73.1
Vander Esch is fresh off his best season in the NFL since his 2018 rookie year, but he finds himself in a deep linebacker class that will likely push his value down some. He missed a career-best 6.0% of the tackles he attempted in 2022, and if a team could guarantee that level of play going forward after Vander-Esch's tough three seasons between 2019-2021, he would be good value at his current contract projection.
Cornerback: Patrick Peterson
- 2022 Team: Minnesota Vikings
- 2022 PFF Grade: 77.8
Age means that Peterson is currently projected to land a one-year, $5 million contract in free agency. While a team would be gambling a little given that he is now 33 years old, this is also the player who ranked eighth among cornerbacks with a 79.7 PFF coverage grade and tied for second at the position with five interceptions this past season.
Safety: Adrian Amos
- 2022 Team: Green Bay Packers
- 2022 PFF Grade: 53.4
Amos hits free agency coming off not just the lowest-graded season of his NFL career, but the only season where his PFF grade has been below 69.0. Amid an impressive free-agent safety class, buying low on Amos and hoping he can raise his floor to pre-2022 levels could be smart business. Amos has registered at least 20 tackles resulting in a defensive stop in six of his eight NFL seasons.