Top 15 Free Agents to Watch in Sunday’s playoff games

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K.D. Drummond
·11 min read
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The NFL Divisional Round continues on Sunday with two more games on tap. After victories by No. 1 NFC seed Green Bay and No. 2 AFC seed Buffalo, home teams prevailed to restore order to a funky road-team-rules 2020 campaign and align half of the NFL’s Final Four bracket.

Squaring off to finalize the affair will be defending champion Kansas City looking to fend off the upstart Cleveland Browns, with the New Orleans Saints hosting their division rivals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the nightcap. While fans of these four organizations watch with bated breath, the rest of the league’s followers are hoping for good, competitive games. They also should be watching to see the performances of players who could make their way to the fans’ favorite team. The free agent market will once again be on display.

Here’s a guide as to which higher-profile players who will be unrestricted free agents come March and the new league year, are playing in the two Sunday contests. We’re using Pro Football Focus’ Top 100 free agents list to compile this collection and for the writeups. Some of these targets may even be of interest to the Cowboys.

Afternoon Game

No. 60 - Wide receiver Sammy Watkins - Kansas City Chiefs

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Once looking like a future star, Watkins has leveled off as a complementary receiver over the past few years. He’s never gotten back to his career-high 89.8 grade in 2015, though he posted solid grades between 69.0 and 74.0 from 2016 to 2019 across three different teams. Watkins’ 64.4 overall grade in 2020 is the lowest of his career, though he always seems good for a couple of dominant games per season, and last year it showed up at the right time during the Chiefs’ Super Bowl run.

No. 72 - Center Austin Reiter - Kansas City Chiefs

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Austin Reiter flashed ability in limited playing time early in his career before getting a chance to start in Kansas City, where he has become a quality starter for a championship-caliber team. Reiter is a better pass blocker than he is in the run game, with PFF grades of at least 78.0 in every season of significant playing time in that facet. In 2020, he allowed just seven total pressures and wasn’t flagged for a penalty all season.

No. 86 - Running back Le'Veon Bell - Kansas City Chiefs

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The great Le’Veon Bell that was once arguably the best back in the NFL is long gone, but he is still a capable player in the backfield with a well-rounded skill set. His trademark “patient” rushing style that was so successful in Pittsburgh seems to have morphed into a general lack of explosion over time, and he hasn’t had a carry longer than 20 yards since he was playing for the Steelers. This season, Bell ended with a 73.9 overall PFF grade and averaged more than three yards per carry after contact in addition to dropping just one pass. He won’t break the bank anymore and could be a useful addition to a backfield lacking in talent.

No. 90 - Cornerback Bashaud Breeland - Kansas City Chiefs

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Breeland’s play at cornerback is something of a roller-coaster ride. In the right game, he can play well and hold his own on the outside against even decent receivers, but when the wheels come off, they tend to do so spectacularly. The veteran cornerback had three games with a PFF coverage grade above 80.0 this past season, but he also one of 32.2 and another of 43.1 as well as two games in the 50s. Overall, he was beaten for a passer rating of 90.3 and earned a solid coverage grade, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Breeland will be 29 by the time free agency hits, and though he can certainly play and start in this league, he represents the kind of starter that teams will always have an eye out to upgrade upon.

No. 100 - Wide receiver Rashard Higgins - Cleveland Browns

A lack of blazing speed and elite measurables means that Higgins is typically overlooked for superior athletes, but he’s a player who has typically produced well when given an opportunity for a bigger role within an offense. And he has a knack for getting open. With Odell Beckham Jr. getting hurt this season, Higgins earned more playing time for the Browns and responded with new career-high marks in yards and yards per reception. When throwing the ball in the direction of Higgins, Baker Mayfield had a passer rating of 126.1 despite badly missing him in the end zone for a touchdown on one occasion. At 26, Higgins represents an interesting option after the top receivers in the market are gone, though citations for drag racing will raise questions over maturity.

Evening Game

No. 2 - Wide receiver Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 season showed the ceiling that Chris Godwin can reach. He finished the year with a 90.7 overall PFF grade and was one of the very best receivers in football. Given his impressive grades over the first two seasons of his NFL career before that, it seemed like a natural breakout point. Injuries slowed him down in 2020, but Godwin finished with a strong 80.2 receiving grade and a passer rating of 131.9 when targeted. Godwin is an exceptionally talented and versatile receiver who has great hands — dropping just four passes in his first three seasons— and he has excelled from both an outside and slot alignment. Godwin’s projection will likely depend on what the second half of the 2020 season holds for him. If he can get back to the form he showed in 2019, he may be one of the best receiver free agents to hit the open market in years.

No. 8 - Linebacker Lavonte David - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One of the best linebackers of his generation, Lavonte David is still playing at an incredibly high level past the age of 30. In many ways, he has been the archetype for the modern linebacker that counters the league’s shift in offensive philosophy away from smash-mouth football and toward speed and efficiency. David has been able to counter that with speed and efficiency of his own, in addition to exceptional coverage skills. He has four seasons in his career with a PFF coverage grade above 83.0 and has never graded lower than 64.6 in that area. Those coverage skills will be what teams covet most because even if he begins to lose half a step as he ages, his ability to read the game and be in the right place at the right time will stand the test of time.

No. 15 - Edge defender Shaquil Barrett - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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One of the more efficient pass-rushers in the league over the past few years, Barrett has put up solid production whether in a part-time or full-time role. He’s graded “in the green” as both a run defender and as a pass-rusher in all five years of his career, as he sets a hard edge in the run game and wins with good hands and a variety of moves when attacking the pocket. Barrett had a 20-sack season in 2019, but don’t be fooled by the gaudy total — he was only slightly more effective that year than previous seasons. He’s spent most of his career playing in more of a classic 3-4 outside linebacker role, dropping into coverage at least 50 times a year and playing mostly from a standup role. Barrett’s best bet is in a similar system, as that’s what he’s been most familiar with in his six years in the league.

No. 16 - Safety Marcus Williams - New Orleans Saints

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Since entering the league in 2017, Williams has ranked near the top of the league in every significant category for safeties. He has a coverage grade that ranks in the 90th percentile to go with the highest rate of forced incompletions. Williams is also a solid run defender and with the skills to fit as a free safety in any scheme.

No. 29 - Quarterback Jameis Winston - New Orleans Saints

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While Winston has been a backup this season, he still has starter potential. He’s graded between 67.0 and 74.0 in every year as a starter, but it’s a roller coaster of emotions that leads to that false sense of consistency. Winston’s volatility is legendary, but that’s the exact type of style that leads to high-end seasons if a team is willing to buy in. At worst, he’s one of the league’s best backups a year from now, but Winston’s aggressive playing style is worth another look to see if that top-end year is in there.

No. 56 - Tight end Rob Gronkowski - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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It’s deceiving to have Gronkowski on any free agent list, as he’s made it clear he wants to play with Tom Brady alone, so expect a Bucs reunion if Gronkowski returns in 2021. He’s no longer the Hall of Fame-caliber tight end he once was, but Gronkowski is still a versatile blocker and a capable receiving threat. He has enough tools to threaten the defense up the seam or in the red zone, and he’s a necessary complementary threat that pairs well with the Bucs’ strong receiving corps.

No. 59 - Defensive lineman Trey Hendrickson - New Orleans Saints

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Of all the players in the free-agent pool, Hendrickson may have made himself the most money here in 2020. His career started with three years of average grades, but he’s getting after the quarterback at a high rate — and the NFL is noticing. Hendrickson was an outstanding player in college at Florida Atlantic, posting back-to-back years of 90.0-plus pass-rush grades. He then showed off his athleticism with above-average marks in the 40-yard dash, three-cone drill and broad jump at the NFL combine, giving him an intriguing profile of production and movement skills. It’s important not to completely overrate his sack totals this season, but Hendrickson has ranked as a mid-level pass-rusher and run defender in his four years in the league.

No. 78 - Tight end Jared Cook - New Orleans Saints

A 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end who can run a 40-yard dash in the 4.4s, Jared Cook has always been a player with the potential for monster production in the passing game. And while he’s never quite put up that kind of production, he has been a consistently productive weapon. Cook has a PFF receiving grade of at least 72.8 in each of the past three seasons, generating a 100.0-plus passer rating when targeted each year, too. There are teams out there for which Cook would represent a significant upgrade.

No. 98 - Defensive lineman N'Damakong Suh - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Suh certainly isn’t the force he once was, but he is still able to maintain an absurd workload for as many snaps as he’s logged over his NFL career. The 788 snaps he played this season was the lowest total of his career, yet it was still the 11th-most among all interior defenders. Suh racked up 50 total pressures and 25 defensive stops and can still be a very solid member of a defensive line. At this point, he is a mercenary for hire on a short-term contract. If a team has a problem spot up front, Suh can fix it.

No. 99 - Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins - New Orleans Saints

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Injuries have become an issue for Rankins, but he hits free agency at 27 years old with some high-level play on his resume, albeit all the way back in 2018. That year was Rankins’ best season, seeing him post a PFF grade of at least 67.0 in every facet of play. Outside of that, he has been a plus run defender who has struggled to offer much as a pass-rusher. Over the past two seasons combined, Rankins has generated just 43 total pressures on 738 snaps, including the playoffs. He exceeded that total in 2018 on fewer snaps. Teams will have to determine which player they are signing.

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