The Diary of an Illinois Boston Fan
All-Free Agency Team
The first three quarters of the season are now in the books and it feels like we can accurately assess all the signings, trades, and values of all players in the league. So I’d like to start off today’s piece with my All-Free Agency team for the season. It’s no secret that free agents rarely pan out the way people expect them to but it’s not a horrible list like last year’s was…even if most players on this list are either on bad teams therefore not seeing their impact indelibly.
QB: Brock Osweiler
The choices were Osweiler, Fitzpatrick, and Griffin. If Cousins wasn’t franchised then he would’ve been a lock here, however the tag doesn’t put you in actual free agency. This is my biggest oof spot. Osweiler is far from the 75 million dollar man that he’s paid to be but he still has the Texans in the playoff race, even if they’re quickly falling apart especially without Watt. This Sunday is going to be a huge game that feels like momentum will shift depending on the winner and loser between the Texans and Colts. Brock’s inability to throw deep with one of the best receivers in the league has been a startling development this season and makes you wonder about the future of DeAndre Hopkins if he’s not getting the ball enough.
RB: Matt Forte
It’s not Forte’s fault that the Jets stink. Forte has been a revelation past 30 years old and without a good offensive line. He’s still as shifty and elusive as he’s ever been and makes you wonder what could have been if he had gone to the contender team he was rumored to have been on the way to meeting in the offseason. He’s still a dynamic threat as a 3 down player and has put together a huge Pro Bowl caliber season. I just hope he gets a real shot at the playoffs again before his career ends.
RB: Lamar Miller
The Texans knew they were getting a stud by signing Miller away from the Dolphins. Miller was critically misused in Miami and Bill O’Brien jumped on the chance to add an electric playmaker to help lift a lot of the pressure off their newly minted signal caller. Now, with their upcoming schedule and the lack of confidence in Osweiler, Miller may have to turn on another booster to put the team on his back in this playoff stretch.
OL: Kelechi Osemele, Donald Penn, Alex Mack, Russell Okung, Alex Boone
Talent-wise, this is a deep and talented group of players. On the field it has been a mixed bag.
Osemele and Penn have formed one of the deadliest left sides in all of football, elevating the Raiders from a good offense to a great offense by protecting Carr and allowing Oakland’s three backs (including the ever-emerging Latavius Murray) to produce.
Alex Mack has been nothing short of a revelation for Atlanta except in recent weeks he’s fallen off slightly. That Falcons line is much improved but they need Mack back at the top of his game, especially with starting left tackle Matthews hurting, if they have real playoff aspirations.
Those last two have been the biggest up and downs on this line. They’ve both shown flashes of quality play, they just aren’t consistent.
For Boone, he’s suffering from having the rest of his line drop like flies this year. When the Vikings run to the left, they’re averaging 2 more yards per carry and that’s heavily reliant upon Boone, the man just can’t do it alone. Before he lost his teammates, this was a top shelf offensive line.
Okung has done a great job of protecting Trevor Simian but his ability in the run game has been lackluster and turned one of the best run games of the last two seasons into a bottom tier unit. The Broncos will need him to step up more than ever as the weather changes.
TE: Vernon Davis
It’s crazy to think a backup TE has warranted this spot, but it wasn’t 100% due to the lack of value from the other free agent TEs. They haven’t been great but players like Fleener, Zach Miller, and Ladarius Green (at least as of late) have put up solid numbers for their teams in a year where the tight end position has felt like a let down. Davis has come in when Reed has been stricken with injuries (someone that plays as loose as he does, you just have to expect that to happen). The Redskins have employed a two TE set and Davis still has some explosiveness left in his legs. While the Redskins’ playoff chances continue to dwindle, Davis has the most veteran experience on this team and can help lead them to the postseason by way of setting a standard.
WR: Rishard Mathews, Mike Wallace
Typically, WR is the position you see way overhyped and end up incredibly dissapointed in after they sign with new teams in free agency. This year hasn’t been much different, however we’ve seen some serious uptick in play from players on postseason potentials.
Mike Wallace is the perfect compliment to Joe Flacco and has seemingly rejuvenated his career in Baltimore. He’s showcasing his elite speed and he’s lowered his drop totals, a good sign come the winter if the Ravens make it to the playoffs.
My second spot was a three way battle between Mathews, Chris Hogan, and Travis Benjamin. Neither has been outstanding but Mathews has proven far more valuable to the Titans than Hogan or Benjamin have to their respective teams. Mathews has worked a lot in the slot, which has opened him up for plenty of run after catch opportunities (the best aspect of his game) and has continued growing in the deep passing game as he and Marcus Mariotta have developed a great chemistry. He also serves as one of the most underrated blocking receivers in the game, having sealed blocks to open up big runs for Murray, Henry, and Mariotta frequently. If I had waited a few more weeks, maybe Hogan would have made this a more competitive battle but I’ve seen enough from Mathews to give him this (such an illustrious award).
DL: Olivier Vernon, Nick Fairley, Haloti Ngata, JPP
All four have been impact players on teams that surprised on the defensive line.
Sure, signing in Vernon and getting JPP back made the Giants think they could improve, I just don’t think they expected to significantly bolster that pass rush in the way they have. The Giants have had really talented offenses for the last 4 seasons with Titanic-levels leaky defenses that kept them from competing in January. This season (along with secondary improvements) the Giants have become the rare team that spent heavily in free agency and won. Pierre-Paul is a comeback player of the year candidate and Vernon is a great run setter which has helped leap the Giants from bottom ten to top 15 against the run this season.
Ngata and Fairley are experiencing similar seasons. Both on unspectacular defenses but creating crucial impact plays especially against the run. Their teams’ hopes are pointing in opposite directions after they met up this past weekend, with Ngata playing a crucial role in limiting Drew Brees throwing the ball and Fairley being double teamed to hamper his roughshod block shedding but they’re both experiencing revived seasons after looking like they were both headed towards the ends of their careers.
LB: Bruce Irvin, Chad Greenway, Mark Barron.
A tale of three linebackers in strange stages of the season. Greenway started as a monster on what looked like the league’s best defense with Minnesota. The Vikings as a whole have recently fallen off but Greenway continues to keep plugging away and trying to win games on his side of the ball.
Irvin left Seattle pissed off and it shows in Oakland. The Raiders defense isn’t great, however they’re steadily improving thanks to the outside play of Irvin and teammate Khalil Mack. Irvin doesn’t set the edge against the run as well as he should but he promotes an incredibly tough pass rush as he is top ten in the league in QB hurries. The efficient effort he puts forth is partially responsible for the Raiders being first in the AFC.
Then there’s Mark Barron. Originally drafted as a safety, Barron leads the way as the new hybrid LB/S position develops. The Rams as a whole are not a very good team…at one point looking like potential playoff contenders because of their defense. The offense has since imploded but they still boast a really excellent defense, especially against the pass. Barron runs all around the field to lead all linebackers in tackles for loss and rates as one of the top 5 LBs in pass coverage. If the Rams could ever get their offense in order, this deadly roster and their captain in Barron could make real noise soon.
CB: Josh Norman and Jannoris Jenkins
The NFC East really improved in lots of ways with cornerbacks. Some of them homegrown products and the others with players like Norman and Jenkins falling into their laps. I don’t think Norman has lived up to his contract thus far, but he’s been very good this season. He doesn’t get the short time to lock someone up like he did because of Carolina’s pass rush anymore, it’s his speed that let’s him make good defensive plays when stretched. Almost every top corner has had some bad plays against them. That’s just the NFL now.
Jenkins was a guy that was expected to be fantastic and he still is seemingly underrated. He benefits from a terrific set of DBs around him but he’s the glue that makes it work. He’s showcased his range and wingspan often, especially on special teams, and helped the Giants change phenomenally from a weak defense to a top ten unit.
S: Eric Weddle, Tashaun Gipson
Weddle’s ability to play really hasn’t been in question. He’s had a lot of fire and plenty of fuel left in his tank to get after it in the pass game. Last year’s Ravens were terrible in their secondary and he’s injected them with life as he’s as strong a playmaker in Baltimore as he was in San Diego. He has the 2nd most passes defensed amongst safeties this year and he has infused some new veteran leadership into a revived Ravens team fighting for the playoffs.
Do. Not. Let. Jacksonville’s. Record. Confuse. You.
Gipson, amongst other players on that defense, have been nothing short of amazing. He’s a hard hitter, learned from T.J. Ward, and he’s unbelievably expanded his coverage skills. Same with Barron, if Jacksonville could stop sucking on offense, this defense could give them real future aspirations.
K: Justin Tucker
For the last few years it’s been a debate as to which kicker was better. Tucker has shut up all notions that it’s anyone else. He’s nailed all of his FGs and XPs so far and generally from deep range. He might be the most valuable player for Baltimore.
P: Marquette King
The Raiders seem to understand the value of punters better than anyone else. From Ray Guy, to Shane Lechler, to Marquette King…they constantly have top 5 punters. King is 5th in the league in “coffin corner” (kicks landing within the 20 yard line) punts and has helped the Raiders defense start at 4th best field positions.
It’s one of the better Free Agency classes in recent memory, with 2017 set to have some top names coming up. Right now the NFL is littered with talent that will only earn players more money from teams that have to meet the ever increasing cap floor goals. Perhaps the parity we get soon will become better than a bunch of muddied 6–6 teams.