Now that the NFL Combine is behind us, we’re racing into the new NFL calendar year as teams get set to reconfigure their rosters to try and make a playoff run in the upcoming season. With free agency opening on March 9th, there will be a frenzy surrounding the top players as usual. With your team attempting to fill the holes they need to in order to make that Super Bowl run you’ve been dreaming of, we here at CBS Local Sports are compiling lists, by position group, of the top five guys that are available on the market this spring.
Today we focus on the wide receivers class which is star-studded this offseason and as such, it was difficult to limit it to just five. So, the following five guys are our Top 5, but there are plenty more big names also available that could make an impact for your team.
Alshon Jeffery, Former Team: Chicago Bears, 27 years old
The Bears decided not to franchise tag Jeffery who is uber-talented, but has struggled with one of the biggest aspects of the game: availability. In the past two seasons Jeffery has missed a total of 11 games. In 2015, it was due to nagging hamstring, groin and ankle injuries. In 2016, Jeffery missed four games due to a failed PED test, leading to a suspension.
Injury questions aside, Jeffery, when he’s on the field, has proven to be a legit number one option as a receiver. Showcasing a combination of speed and size, Jeffery has reeled in 304 catches for 4,549 yards and 26 touchdowns in his five seasons in the league. That’s high level production from the receiver spot and any team looking for a top receiver option. His age, 27, makes for another intriguing factor as he’s likely got a good three to four year window of similar production ahead of him as long as he stays healthy. The health is a key risk as is his catch percentage, which, at 55.3 percent, isn’t ideal. However, Jeffery’s big play ability and what he offers as a red zone threat should allow him to command big bucks this offseason.
Terrelle Pryor, Former Team: Cleveland Browns, 27 years old
The former quarterback has orchestrated quite the career revival since moving to wide receiver just a couple of years ago. After appearing in just 3 games for the Browns in 2015 following the switch from QB, Pryor broke out in a big way in his first full year with the Browns as a wide receiver.
Pryor was thrust into the lead receiver role after the new Browns regime gutted the roster in pressing the reset button to begin a rebuild. Pryor responded with a 77 catch, 1,007-yard season with four touchdowns. His 13.1 yards per reception ranked just outside the Top 50 in the league, but, like Jeffery, his catch percentage was on the lower end of the spectrum at 55 percent. The other negative against Pryor is the fact that he’s played just one full season at receiver and is still learning the position. However, you can also look at that in a positive light when considering he posted a 1,000-yard season without fully understanding all the intricacies of the position. Plus, he put up those numbers for a God-awful Browns team that rotated through six different quarterbacks this season.
Kenny Stills, Former Team: Miami Dolphins, 24 years old
It’s not often that a 24-year-old wide receiver with Stills’ profile becomes available as a free agent in the NFL. Stills career yards per catch average is 16.7(!) which gives you an idea of the kind of big play ability he brings to a team. Stills has also proven to be durable in his career playing in all but one game over the course of his four years in the league so far.
He has struggled with some inconsistency and he has yet to post a 1,000-yard season or a year with more than 83 catches. He’s shown to be more likely to thrive in an offense where he isn’t the number one option on the outside as his best years have come in Miami this past year (with Jarvis Landry opposite) and New Orleans in 2014 (with Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham). So, teams looking to sign him should already have an established number one guy in place, but, Stills can bring explosiveness to a team that otherwise has possession-type receivers.
DeSean Jackson, Former Team: Washington Redskins, 30 years old
Jackson is the elder statesman on this list, but by no means does that mean he’s suffering a drop in production. Jackson posted his fifth career 1,000 yard season in 2016 and it came on just 55 catches. That works out to a 17.9 yards per catch average, so the speed and explosiveness that Jackson was known for when he came into the league with the Eagles back in 2008 is still there.
Despite his small stature, Jackson has been surprisingly durable. The 2012 and 2015 seasons are the only ones in which he’s missed more than two games and he’s played six seasons in which he’s played in 15 or 16 games. Age is always a concern, particularly when it comes to smaller, faster players, so a long-term deal with a ton of guaranteed money wouldn’t necessarily make sense here. But, a front-loaded contract that holds all the guaranteed money in the first two years? Probably a good bet that you’ll get some good production from Jackson.
Kenny Britt, Former Team: Los Angeles Rams, 28 years old
Britt is coming off the best season of his career, which is surprising considering he played in the anemic Rams offense last season. Los Angeles ranked last in yards per game (262.7), points per game (14), passing touchdowns (14) and second to last in passing yards per game (184.4). Yet, somehow, in that environment, Britt posted career highs in catches (68), yards (1,002) and his second best touchdown total with five.
Over his last three years with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, Britt has averaged 50 catches, 810 yards and about 3 touchdowns per season with a yards per catch average of 15.4. That’s solid production made more impressive by the ghastly list of quarterbacks that have started for that franchise in the last three seasons. Better yet, Britt has missed just one game in the last three seasons.