NFL Rumors: Ranking the Top 25 2023 NFL Free Agents
NFL RUMORS: RANKING THE TOP 25 2023 NFL FREE AGENTS
NFL general managers have increasingly adapted a two-pronged approach to managing their roster in recent years. For example, general managers like Les Snead of the Los Angeles Rams went viral for his quote surrounding his indifference towards acquiring and using draft picks. He pulled off the blockbuster trade of Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford in 2021 and recently utilized the same approach to sign wide receiver Allen Robinson to bolster their wide receiving corps.
Other teams, like the Cincinnati Bengals, won the AFC last year under Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase's rookie contracts. However, even teams that win with a lot of their significant personnel playing on cheaper rookie contracts cannot resist paying up for a proven veteran commodity. Conversely, Jacksonville's new regime spent approximately $250 million in free agency earlier this year to address many of its glaring weaknesses.
Whichever method a team's general manager prefers when managing and improving their roster, there will always be elite free agent prospects worthy of signing their second or third contract. Salary cap availability is highly flexible and allows general managers to allocate a lot of guaranteed money to signing bonuses. It's a popular loophole that allows teams with lower salary cap availability to still compete for their preferred free agent prospects. Developing draft picks takes time and can become an issue in an increasingly win-now era of football. That's why free agency is such a commodity and an integral part of the offseason.
NFL free agency was relentlessly busy in 2022. Whether it was the lucrative contracts awarded to veteran defensive players, like Von Miller and J.C. Jackson, Allen Robinson inking a three-year deal with Matthew Stafford in a Super Bowl-caliber offense, or Tyran Mathieu and Jarvis Landry returning home to New Orleans, there were significant signings made by all 32 teams. So what about 2023?
Matt MacKay is here to preview and rank the top 25 NFL free agent prospects in the upcoming 2023 free agent class.
RANKING THE TOP 25 2023 NFL FREE AGENTS
1. SAQUON BARKLEY, RB, NEW YORK GIANTS
After a down year in 2021, Saquon Barkley appears fully healthy and ready to return to dominance in 2022. The 25-year-old running back has two 1,000-yard rushing seasons and also caught at least 50 receptions and 437 receiving yards in consecutive years to start his career. Barkley is a generational talent who possesses the burst, strength, and elusiveness to attract most general managers during 2023 free agency.
2. MARCUS PETERS, CB, BALTIMORE RAVENS
Marcus Peters is one of the most explosive defensive backs in the NFL. His upcoming UFA designation in 2023 will tempt numerous general managers to try and match the current $14 million AAV that he's earning. Peters is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list after suffering a torn ACL in 2021 but he's a dynamic playmaker stopping the run and playing coverage. The 29-year-old cornerback is a four-time Pro-Bowler and two-time All-Pro who should field plenty of offers next offseason.
3. TOM BRADY, QB, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Brady just turned 45 years old but he's continuing to succeed in Tampa Bay, attempting 719 passes in 2021. He's a legendary quarterback with seven Super Bowl wins and his mental agility, big arm, and accuracy will continue to attract suitors next offseason. Barring another retirement announcement, Brady remains one of the top 12 quarterbacks in the league moving forward.
4. DALTON SCHULTZ, TE, DALLAS COWBOYS
Schultz emerged as one of Dak Prescott's favorite targets in 2021, closing the season with three consecutive games recording at least six receptions. The 26-year-old tight end is entering his fifth year with the Cowboys after attempting to leverage a contract "holdout" that ended back in June. He's 6-5, 244 pounds, and has a nose for the end zone, scoring eight touchdowns. Schultz is projected to surpass 100 targets for the second consecutive season in 2022 and should be a hot name atop the 2023 free agent market.
5. JACK CONKLIN, RT, CLEVELAND BROWNS
Offensive linemen aren't attractive to watch on Sundays but they're integral to the success of an offense. Jack Conklin is a two-time All-Pro right tackle who has spent the past two years protecting Baker Mayfield in Cleveland. He benefits from playing alongside other talented linemen for the Browns but Conklin is just 27 years old and has proven to be a commodity at a difficult position.
6. JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER, WR, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
We haven't even seen Smith-Schuster take a meaningful rep with Patrick Mahomes but he's currently signed to a one-year prove-it deal in Kansas City. The 25-year-old wideout has suffered durability concerns throughout his career but when he's healthy, Smith-Schuster frequently delivers production. He finished with 1,400 receiving yards back in 2018 and racked up nine touchdowns alongside 97 receptions for 831 yards in 2020. Smith-Schuster could return to Pro-Bowl form in 2022 since he's got an opportunity to become the WR1 in an explosive offense with one of the league's best quarterbacks.
7. KAREEM HUNT, RB, CLEVELAND BROWNS
Hunt recently requested a trade from the Browns and could land in several fortuitous situations. The 27-year-old running back has been a dynamic playmaker in Kansas City and Cleveland, producing in 2021 until an injury impeded his progress mid-season. Regardless of his landing spot in 2022, his stock will remain high due to his physicality and dual-ability as a legitimate receiving option.
8. MIKE GESICKI, TE, MIAMI DOLPHINS
Miami has leaned on Mike Gesicki for several seasons and he's produced at a high rate, showcasing his athleticism to look like more of a wide receiver than a tight end. The 26-year-old has finished consecutive seasons with over 700 receiving yards and saw a career-high 112 targets in 2021. The Dolphins' new regime could unlock Gesicki's full potential, launching him up GM leaderboards.
9. FLETCHER COX, DT, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Philadelphia has benefitted from Fletcher Cox's presence for a decade. He's a brute force on the interior of the defensive line, resulting in six consecutive Pro-Bowl nominations from 2015-2020. He's currently earning $14 million AAV but there are several general managers who are willing to pay up for his disruption in the backfield in 2023.
10. JESSIE BATES III, S, CINCINNATI BENGALS
Bates was a key piece of the Bengals' Super Bowl run in 2021, finishing as the leading tackler with 67 solo tackles and 88 total across 15 regular season games. He's only 25 years old but just inked a one-year deal worth $12.9 million to stay with the Bengals in 2022. Safeties are the enforcers on defense and also insurance for preventing blown coverage, so expect a talented player like Bates to receive a few lucrative offers next free agency.
11. QUENTON NELSON, G, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Offensive linemen with grit, strength, and physicality are always top targets for general managers during free agency. They will be salivating at the chance to sign Nelson, who has been making a name for himself since entering the league as the sixth overall pick out of Notre Dame in 2018. Nelson has been an All-Pro or Pro-Bowl nominee every year of his career and will be among the top free agent prospects available in the 2023 market.
12. ALLEN LAZARD, WR, GREEN BAY PACKERS
Lazard will finally get an opportunity to be the WR1 with Aaron Rodgers in 2022 but he's already proven to be a reliable weapon in the offense. Back in 2021, the 6-5 wideout emerged in Lambeau, setting career-highs in receptions (40), receiving yards (513), and touchdowns (8) while seeing only 60 targets. He's a huge target on the perimeter with the strength and experience to counter smaller defenders in the red zone.
13. RASHAAD PENNY, RB, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
A late-season breakout rekindled the spark beneath Rashaad Penny. He's entering his fifth year in the league and has dealt with a lot of durability concerns, missing nearly all of 2020 and only earning double-digit carries in the latter half of 2021. He's ranked in the 93rd percentile in PlayerProfiler's speed score index while staring down a massive workload on an underrated roster in 2022. If he can replicate 80 percent of his late-season stretch from 2021, Penny will earn himself a nice contract in 2023.
14. A.J. GREEN, WR, ARIZONA CARDINALS
Green's first year with the Cardinals was mediocre but he showed flashes of the greatness he once possessed. Standing at 6-4, 210 pounds, Green has ample opportunity to be a red-zone threat and an elite deep threat with Marquise "Hollywood" Brown joining Arizona's wide receiving corps in 2022. Without Hopkins for the first six games and Rondale Moore coming off of a slow rookie campaign, Green could exceed expectations this year with Kyler Murray and wind up improving his stock as a UFA in 2023.
15. BAKER MAYFIELD, QB, CAROLINA PANTHERS
Mayfield has been scrutinized heavily since he arrived in the league as a former No. 1 overall draft pick. While he led the Browns to a playoff win and nearly defeated Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs afterward, he is coming off of a lackluster 2021 season. Whether it was a collarbone injury or regression, Mayfield will get another opportunity to revive his career and image with Christian McCaffery and D.J. Moore in Carolina after being traded from Cleveland a few weeks ago. As long as Mayfield throws over 20 touchdowns and limits his interceptions, he could land a sizable contract in 2023.
16. JIMMMY GAROPPOLO, QB, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Technically, Garoppolo is barely on the 49ers roster. He is waiting for a quarterback-needy team, such as the Browns or the Giants, to reach out via phone call. Until this happens, he'll be the clear-cut back-up to Trey Lance in the Bay Area. The 31-year-old Garoppolo led the 49ers to a Super Bowl in 2019 and an NFC Championship game in 2021, keeping both games competitive but never quite sealing the deal. He's a proven winner who limits his mistakes, making him a safe prospect to sign for any team with a roster built to contend.
17. KENYAN DRAKE, RB, LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
Drake was buried behind Josh Jacobs in 2021, limited to only 35 percent of the snaps and a meager 15.2 percent rushing share. However, with Josh Jacobs playing preseason snaps under new head coach Josh McDaniels, speculation has emerged surrounding an increased role for Drake within the new coaching regime. He came up just short of a 1,000-yard rushing campaign in Arizona (955) and produced double-digit touchdowns as an imposing 6-1, 211-pound running back. Drake's unique build and underrated skill set will keep teams interested in him regardless of what happens in 2022.
18. JADEVEON CLOWNEY, DE, CLEVELAND BROWNS
Clowney had quite a resurgent year with the Browns in 2021, finishing with nine sacks and 37 combined tackles. His strength, length, and motor off of the edge is a coveted skill set to possess, so expect plenty of general managers to formulate deals in the proximity of Clowney's current $10 million contract next offseason.
19. BRADLEY CHUBB, OLB, DENVER BRONCOS
Injuries have marked the duration of Bradley Chubb's career but he's a force to be reckoned with off the edge or dropping into coverage. The 25-year-old outside linebacker can also line up as an edge rusher, showcasing his versatility at a position where such a premium is placed. Chubb racked up 12 sacks during his rookie campaign and 7.5 sacks in 14 games during 2020, while tackling with a purpose.
20. MARVIN JONES, WR, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Jones was the veteran leader and a reliable target for Trevor Lawrence during a dreadful rookie season in 2021. The 31-year-old wideout drew a whopping 120 targets, setting a career-high while hauling in a 73-832-4 stat line. He's bigger than he appears, measuring 6-2, 200 pounds, and has finished with over 750 receiving yards in three consecutive seasons. Quality, reliable receivers typically earn lucrative contracts in free agency, which will be the same scenario for Jones in 2023.
21. AUSTIN HOOPER, TE, TENNESSEE TITANS
The Titans made a great signing this offseason with Austin Hooper. He's only 27 years old but proved to be a great target in the passing game for Atlanta and Cleveland the past six seasons, finishing 2021 with 38 receptions, 345 receiving yards, and three touchdowns. There is ample opportunity for Hooper to produce with the Titans, who still have Derrick Henry to use as a decoy on play-action passes, resulting in Ryan Tannehill frequently linking up with Hooper for chunk plays and touchdowns.
22. JAKOBI MEYERS, WR, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
It's been a frustrating start to Meyers' career in New England but he finally broke through with a couple of touchdowns in 2021, while also securing 83 receptions for 866 yards. Mac Jones is a quality quarterback for Meyers to thrive alongside in 2022 and he could wind up increasing his statistics to land a lucrative deal in a more pass-friendly offense in 2023.
23. MELVIN GORDON III, RB, DENVER BRONCOS
It looked like it was going to be Javonte Williams' time in Denver after Gordon became a free agent this offseason but new head coach Nathaniel Hackett sought to re-sign Melvin Gordon to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. Gordon still has a lot of talent left in the tank, producing over 1,100 scrimmage yards for the Broncos in 2021. He's also a touchdown machine, which exemplifies how strong he is at the point of contact during goal-line touches. He's only 28 years old and could elevate his 2023 free agency stock with improved offensive personnel this season.
24. JOSH JACOBS, RB, LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
Jacobs could be on the move sooner than anyone anticipated. After playing a lot of snaps in the Hall of Fame game last week, new head coach Josh McDaniels may be looking to move off of the 23-year-old Jacobs in favor of rookie Zamir White or veteran Kenyan Drake. It's an odd situation, especially considering Jacobs has been a quality ball carrier, producing consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons and adding over 1,200 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns in 2021. He's an aggressive runner, which occasionally results in durability concerns, however, Jacobs is too talented and will receive a generous contract in 2023.
25. ROBERT TONYAN JR., TE, GREEN BAY PACKERS
We've only seen Tonyan produce at an elite-caliber pace in 2020, where he snagged 11 touchdowns on just 59 targets. He displayed reliable hands, catching 52 receptions and finishing the season with a ridiculous 88.1 catch rate percentage. A torn ACL in Week 8 last season derailed Tonyan's progress and development but he should draw a lot of targets in an offense that no longer has Davante Adams.
Matt is an avid writer, editor, and researcher. He enjoys analyzing the game within the game which is fantasy sports and sports betting. Music is another constant in his daily life. Matt loves spending time with his wife and three pets. He likes to read, listen to podcasts, and is constantly motivated to create the most accurate and engaging content in the sports betting industry.