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Top 101 NFL free agents of 2021: The original list

Here is the original Top 101 Free Agents list of 2021 -- courtesy of Gregg Rosenthal -- as it stood before players began to be signed, tagged and/or released:

Rank
1
Dak Prescott
Dak Prescott
QB | Age: 28

It perversely may have taken a major injury for Cowboys brass to fully appreciate Prescott’s value. The longer they wait, the more expensive Dak gets.

Rank
2
Trent Williams
Trent Williams
OT | Age: 33

A Hall of Fame-caliber player like Williams performing near his peak at a premium position will do incredibly well in the open market. (And Williams will get there because the 49ers agreed not to tag him.) Great tackles often play well into their late 30s, which is why I fully expect Williams to become the highest paid player at his position.

Rank
3
Allen Robinson
Allen Robinson
WR | Age: 28

It has never been harder to be a top-10 NFL receiver because the position is so deep. Robinson still belongs in that group, so don’t be surprised if there’s a trade market after the Bears presumably tag him.

Rank
4
Leonard Williams
Leonard Williams
DE | Age: 27

Giants GM Dave Gettleman was right. Unleashed in an attacking scheme, Williams was one of football’s best interior linemen last year and is about to be paid like it.

Rank
5
Justin Simmons
Justin Simmons
S | Age: 27

The Broncos appear ready to go year-to-year with their star safety and locker room leader, just like they are going year-to-year with the head coach who utilizes Simmons’ skill set so well. 

Rank
6
Chris Godwin
Chris Godwin
WR | Age: 24

Like a lot of players near the top of this list, Godwin will almost certainly receive the franchise tag. The Bucs won’t let Tom Brady’s favorite target walk.

Rank
7
J.J. Watt
J.J. Watt
DE | Age: 32

He is still a hoss. Watt played 91.5 percent of the Texans’ defensive snaps last season, the highest of any free agent defensive lineman. His next team could see more explosive plays by giving the 10-year veteran more rest.

Rank
8
Shaquil Barrett
Shaquil Barrett
Edge | Age: 28

While Barrett’s sack total fell in 2020, he was a monster in the playoffs. Anyone believing he’s a one-year wonder should also check out his remarkably steady annual PFF grade, never dipping below 74.0 in six NFL seasons despite increased usage. 

Rank
9
Aaron Jones
Aaron Jones
RB | Age: 26

The 3,017 yards and 30 touchdowns on just 533 touches over the last two seasons speaks to Jones’ explosiveness and efficiency. The projected franchise tag value for running backs is so low that the Packers would be foolish to let him go.

Rank
10
Taylor Moton
Taylor Moton
OT | Age: 27

 A Pro Football Focus top-20 tackle for three seasons running, Moton is highly unlikely to hit the open market.

Rank
11
Brandon Scherff
Brandon Scherff
OG | Age: 29

Scherff is elite in all aspects of guard play. The four-time Pro Bowler would be ranked in the top five here if not for the 16 games he's missed over the last three seasons before turning 30.

Rank
12
Bud Dupree
Bud Dupree
Edge | Age: 28

A late-season torn ACL hurts Dupree’s value, but he’s versatile and strong enough to make a three-year contract worth it.

Rank
13
Trey Hendrickson
Trey Hendrickson
Edge | Age: 26

The 2017 third-rounder always looked like a guy who could explode if given more snaps. In 2020, he was and he did. A Shaq Barrett-like career path is in play, with more production at his second stop.

Rank
14
Carl Lawson
Carl Lawson
Edge | Age: 26

Pass rush in a bottle. I can’t imagine why the Bengals would not tag Lawson, who finished fourth in pressures (64) and second in QB hits (24) among edge rushers, per PFF.

Rank
15
Kenny Golladay
Kenny Golladay
WR | Age: 27

An injury-marred 2020 season won’t erase memories of Golladay skying over defenders and winning 1-on-1 matches on the outside, a difficult skill set to find.

Rank
16
Jadeveon Clowney
Jadeveon Clowney
Edge | Age: 28

His stock is at a low, but I’m still taking Clowney’s snap-to-snap ferocity upside over players like Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon. Still just 28, Clowney remains capable of a strong second phase to his career.

Rank
17
Joe Thuney
Joe Thuney
OG | Age: 28

Above-average starting guards who never miss a snap get paid so much in free agency that Bill Belichick may just use the franchise tag on Thuney for the second year in a row.

Rank
18
Matt Judon
Matt Judon
Edge | Age: 29

Never lacking for effort, Judon is the product of a Ravens system known for strong outside linebacker play that doesn’t always translate to other rosters.

Rank
19
Corey Linsley
Corey Linsley
C | Age: 30

The Packers are probably going to disappoint Aaron Rodgers by allowing Linsley or Aaron Jones to leave. Linsley figures to cost more after seven rock-solid seasons in Green Bay.

Rank
20
Yannick Ngakoue
Yannick Ngakoue
Edge | Age: 26

It’s clear that Ngakoue’s pure outside rush doesn’t work in every scheme after a lost season in Minnesota and Baltimore. He’s a liability against the run, and it’s a red flag that his production has fallen every season since 2017, when he played on a historically good Jags defense.

Rank
21
Will Fuller
Will Fuller
WR | Age: 27

Finally healthy and on his way to a monster season, Fuller’s 2020 campaign was cut short by a PED suspension that will also sideline him for Week 1 of next season. The NFL equivalent of a plus-minus NBA standout, Fuller’s speedy presence on the field has proven to make everyone around him better.

Rank
22
Matt Milano
Matt Milano
LB | Age: 27

Milano isn’t quite a young Lavonte David, but he’s close enough. There aren’t many off-ball linebackers left who can be an asset on all three downs, tracking down runners while holding up in coverage.

Rank
23
Jameis Winston
Jameis Winston
QB | Age: 27

It will take the right coach, but Winston could improve a handful of starting quarterback situations. Don’t be surprised if it happens in New Orleans.

Rank
24
Curtis Samuel
Curtis Samuel
WR | Age: 25

It took Panthers coach Matt Rhule to show Samuel’s full value, helping him to top 1,000 yards from scrimmage with a mix of route trees and surprisingly potent inside runs. He’s a perfect weapon for today’s wide-open offenses.

Rank
25
JuJu Smith-Schuster
JuJu Smith-Schuster
WR | Age: 24

He’s known for his social media, yet JuJu’s game is decidedly old school. A perfect No. 2 receiver who can do all the dirty work with incredible toughness over the middle.

Rank
26
Cam Newton
Cam Newton
QB | Age: 32

Look closer at Newton’s 2020 season and it’s clear he’s not done yet as a starter. His yards per attempt (7.2) was near his career average, and he was still able to rush for 592 yards and 12 scores. Bridge quarterbacks are worth plenty!

Rank
27
Jonnu Smith
Jonnu Smith
TE | Age: 26

Closer to a poor man’s Gronk or Delanie Walker than a Travis Kelce-type, Smith’s value goes beyond the box score. He’s an incredible red-zone weapon.

Rank
28
Hunter Henry
Hunter Henry
TE | Age: 26

It’s OK if Henry doesn’t ever develop into Tony Gonzalez. Putting up more than 600 yards annually with a knack for field-stretching plays up the seam is going to make Henry rich.

Rank
29
Shaquill Griffin
Shaquill Griffin
CB | Age: 26

After four admittedly streaky years in Seattle, Griffin is undeniably an above-average starting cornerback. The thin market at the position could bump up his price tag.

Rank
30
Ryan Fitzpatrick
Ryan Fitzpatrick
QB | Age: 38

You could argue Fitz’s peak started around age 37. Why stop now?

Rank
31
Romeo Okwara
Romeo Okwara
Edge | Age: 26

His pass-rush production spiked in 2020 with 61 pressures, tying him for the fifth-most among edge rushers, according to PFF.

Rank
32
Corey Davis
Corey Davis
WR | Age: 26

Consider it a red flag the Titans thought so little of Davis a year ago that they didn’t exercise his fifth-year option. After he recorded 984 yards in 14 games, they may regret that decision like they regret letting Jack Conklin walk a year ago.

Rank
33
Marcus Maye
Marcus Maye
S | Age: 28

Jamal Adams’ departure to Seattle helped Maye shine in 2020. The Jets have so much cap space they might as well keep Maye with the franchise tag. 

Rank
34
Dalvin Tomlinson
Dalvin Tomlinson
NT | Age: 27

If you need a consistent big body to anchor the middle of your defensive line, Tomlinson is a fine choice. Guys with his size and strength inevitably get huge dollars.

Rank
35
John Johnson
John Johnson
S | Age: 25

The secret back-end weapon in the Rams' defense last year could possibly join his old coach Brandon Staley without changing stadiums.

Rank
36
Lavonte David
Lavonte David
LB | Age: 31

I feel guilty ranking the linebacker this low because he’s a borderline Hall of Famer coming off another steady season. But with David already having logged 9,000-plus snaps in an incredibly durable career, teams could get caught paying for past accomplishments.

Rank
37
Daryl Williams
Daryl Williams
OT | Age: 29

A dislocated kneecap a few years ago ruined Williams’ previous chance to cash in following a second-team All-Pro season. Now fully recovered, Williams proved in Buffalo he can still play right tackle at a high level.

Rank
38
Marcus Williams
Marcus Williams
S | Age: 25

If the Saints can find the cap space, they will try to retain Williams. He’s been a smart, reliable starter since the day he entered the league.

Rank
39
Leonard Floyd
Leonard Floyd
Edge | Age: 29

Playing on the same line as Aaron Donald gave Floyd a bump like it did to Dante Fowler a year ago. Floyd’s longer track record as a workmanlike starter makes him a relatively safe pickup.

Rank
40
William Jackson
William Jackson
CB | Age: 28

Youngish cornerbacks with some terrific highs in their careers are few and far between in this market. Jackson is a prime candidate to get more money than expected.

Rank
41
Shelby Harris
Shelby Harris
DE | Age: 30

If you know, you know. A master shot blocker in the paint, Harris’ game has exceeded his brand name for a while.

Rank
42
Justin Houston
Justin Houston
Edge | Age: 32

Professionalism ages well. One of the most productive pass rushers of the last decade can still get it done, albeit in a reduced role.

Rank
43
Haason Reddick
Haason Reddick
Edge | Age: 26

In one year, Reddick went from a potential roster cut to a contract-year revelation. I’d be wary of expecting 2020 production from Reddick again, but his first-round pedigree will help him get paid.

Rank
44
Jayon Brown
Jayon Brown
LB | Age: 26

Brown just makes plays. After four seasons with Mike Vrabel, the inside linebacker could stay within the extended Bill Belichick coaching tree and land in New England or Miami.

Rank
45
Jason Verrett
Jason Verrett
CB | Age: 30

This is the part of the free agent list where I’m willing to take a chance. Verrett is the type of boom-or-bust signing who is worth a shot on a one-year deal for a contending team.

Rank
46
Ronald Darby
Ronald Darby
CB | Age: 27

It feels like Darby is available in free agency every season. I usually rate him higher than the market does and finally felt justified after he ranked 12th out of 79 qualifiers in PFF’s 2020 cornerback grades.

Rank
47
T.Y. Hilton
T.Y. Hilton
WR | Age: 31

Smaller receivers don’t always age well, but Hilton’s tape last year was a lot more impressive than his final numbers.

Rank
48
Andy Dalton
Andy Dalton
QB | Age: 33

Great backup quarterbacks were weirdly undervalued in last year’s market, receiving less money than mediocre situational pass rushers. Dalton is settling into the phase of his career where he’s one of the best backups in football. 

Rank
49
David Andrews
David Andrews
C | Age: 29

After missing the 2019 season due to career-threatening blood clots, Andrews came back to anchor the Patriots' line in 2020. He’s a quick fix for any team with a center problem.

Rank
50
Anthony Harris
Anthony Harris
S | Age: 29

His play dipped in 2020 after a torrid season and a half in the starting lineup. The depth in the free agent safety class could hurt Harris’ bottom line.

Rank
51
Mike Hilton
Mike Hilton
CB | Age: 27

With flair for days, the Steelers slot corner would bring energy and versatility to any team that knows how to use him.

Rank
52
Melvin Ingram
Melvin Ingram
Edge | Age: 32

There is some concern that Ingram’s ferocious playing style could be compromised by injury (missed 12 games since 2019), but he’s been a force every time he’s stepped on the field and could give any defense a nasty attitude upgrade.

Rank
53
Chris Carson
Chris Carson
RB | Age: 26

It’s not cool to value tackle-breaking running backs like Chris Carson, but it is exceedingly cool to watch Chris Carson play football.

Rank
54
K.J. Wright
K.J. Wright
LB | Age: 32

Wright bounced back from an injured 2018 and down 2019 season to show off his incredible instincts in 2020, but the market for an off-ball linebacker who turns 32 in July still may not be to Wright’s liking.

Rank
55
Rob Gronkowski
Rob Gronkowski
TE | Age: 32

I wanted to rank Gronk lower before realizing he finished in the top 10 among tight ends in yards (623) and touchdowns (7), all while blocking well and rarely leaving the field. He will live forever.

Rank
56
Nelson Agholor
Nelson Agholor
WR | Age: 28

It’s hilarious to think of Agholor's five seasons in Philadelphia, where he was used as a chain-moving slot receiver. He doubled his yards per catch in Las Vegas (18.7 in 2020; 9.3 in 2019) and probably doubled his salary.

Rank
57
Marvin Jones
Marvin Jones
WR | Age: 31

Still flush with mid-air ball skills, Jones pulled off one of the toughest feats in the NFL: He made it to the very end of a five-year free agent contract! (And his 978-yard 2020 campaign could earn him one more nice payday.)

Rank
58
Denico Autry
Denico Autry
DE | Age: 31

I defy you to watch Autry for a few games and not come away thinking, “Nice ballplayer!”

Rank
59
Richard Sherman
Richard Sherman
CB | Age: 33

Sherman is only one year removed from a remarkable late-career second-team All-Pro season. A calf injury in 2020 limited him to 321 snaps, most of them at less than full strength.

Rank
60
Sammy Watkins
Sammy Watkins
WR | Age: 28

Playoff heroics aside, Watkins hasn’t topped 700 yards in a season since 2015. In related news, he has missed at least six games three of the last five years.

Rank
61
Xavier Rhodes
Xavier Rhodes
CB | Age: 31

In the right scheme, Rhodes showed in Indianapolis he still has quality snaps to give. 

Rank
62
Michael Davis
Michael Davis
CB | Age: 26

Undrafted free agents with forgettable names and prominent mustaches tend to get ignored, which is a shame for this solid starting cornerback.

Rank
63
Jacoby Brissett
Jacoby Brissett
QB | Age: 28

See my note on Andy Dalton for the relative value of backup quarterbacks. The last time Brissett played with a healthy shoulder, in the first half of the 2019 season, he played quite well.

Rank
64
Antonio Brown
Antonio Brown
WR | Age: 33

A.B. was more productive than you might remember (483 yards in eight regular-season games), but still wasn’t the old Antonio Brown. The risk-reward ratio now looks out of whack unless your team employs Tom Brady at quarterback.

Rank
65
DaQuan Jones
DaQuan Jones
NT | Age: 29

The Titans’ scheme asked Jones to do a lot that doesn’t show up in the box score, and he did it all well.

Rank
66
Jaquiski Tartt
Jaquiski Tartt
S | Age: 29

I like medium-risk/high-reward free agent signings like Tartt. He’s a devastating tone-setter with explosive skills and significant injury risk.

Rank
67
K'Waun Williams
K'Waun Williams
CB | Age: 30

See above. Williams may have some injury risk like Tartt, but he’s been one of the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL during stretches of his career.

Rank
68
Kenyan Drake
Kenyan Drake
RB | Age: 27

He had to work harder in 2020, but Drake topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the third straight season. His best role would be as a dangerous tag-team partner, rather than as a lead back.

Rank
69
Patrick Peterson
Patrick Peterson
CB | Age: 31

The Cardinals asked a lot of Peterson the last two years, and it did not pay off for the future Hall of Fame candidate. The right coach should still be able to find a role for him. 

Rank
70
Larry Ogunjobi
Larry Ogunjobi
DT | Age: 27

A nice third-round pick by the Browns, Ogunjobi’s play seemed to decline as his rookie contract wore on.

Rank
71
Ndamukong Suh
Ndamukong Suh
DT | Age: 34

Teams will eventually see diminishing returns on these one-year deals for Suh, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Rank
72
Xavier Woods
Xavier Woods
S | Age: 26

Any Cowboys defender associated with last season’s meltdown figures to come at a discount. Woods was quietly an effective player before defensive coordinator Mike Nolan arrived.

Rank
73
Austin Reiter
Austin Reiter
C | Age: 29

The Chiefs have a lot of tricky decisions to make on the offensive line, including whether to bring back their starting center Reiter after two capable years protecting Patrick Mahomes.

Rank
74
Cordarrelle Patterson
Cordarrelle Patterson
WR | Age: 30

Patterson is ranked this high because he’s one of the best special teams players in NFL history, not because of his efficiency as an offensive weapon (no matter how hard coaches still try).

Rank
75
Sheldon Rankins
Sheldon Rankins
DT | Age: 27

The upside here -- his boffo 2018 season -- is significant. Will Rankins be better another year removed from Achilles surgery, or is he just settling in as a useful rotation piece? 

Rank
76
Keanu Neal
Keanu Neal
S | Age: 26

Injuries have taken a toll, but Neal started to show flashes of his physical form down the stretch last year. Would Dan Quinn bring him to Dallas?

Rank
77
Gerald Everett
Gerald Everett
TE | Age: 27

Sean McVay could never fully unlock Everett, but the tight end has the size and speed to carve out a long NFL career.

Rank
78
Duke Johnson
Duke Johnson
RB | Age: 27

 I remain convinced Johnson can be one of the best third-down backs in football, even after landing in two straight tricky situations for running backs. 

Rank
79
Alejandro Villanueva
Alejandro Villanueva
OT | Age: 32

It looks like the Steelers are ready to move on from Villanueva, which is a red flag because the Steelers are nothing if not loyal.

Rank
80
Desmond King
Desmond King
DB | Age: 26

After falling out of favor with the Chargers, King helped the Titans' secondary down the stretch last season. He has special teams value, too. 

Rank
81
Aldon Smith
Aldon Smith
Edge | Age: 31

While Smith’s comeback faded as the season wore on in Dallas, he showed enough to get another contract as a third pass rusher for some team.

Rank
82
Tyrod Taylor
Tyrod Taylor
QB | Age: 32

It’s a shame that the Chargers' medical staff mishap cost Taylor a chance at being a Week 1 starter in 2021. He can still help a team as a backup.

Rank
83
Bashaud Breeland
Bashaud Breeland
CB | Age: 29

Cornerback is a weird position: You can have a name brand and make huge dollars, or you can be a guy like Breeland, going year-to-year while always giving his team creditable starts.

Rank
84
Marlon Mack
Marlon Mack
RB | Age: 25

One of the league’s most underrated running backs would be worth a flier, even coming off a torn Achilles.

Rank
85
Tyrell Williams
Tyrell Williams
WR | Age: 29

While Williams couldn’t stay healthy with the Raiders, there’s a reason he cost $11 million per year just two offseasons ago.

Rank
86
Kelvin Beachum
Kelvin Beachum
OT | Age: 32

Cheap, serviceable snaps from a tackle is hard to find in free agency. Beachum got the job done for the Cardinals last year.

Rank
87
Derek Wolfe
Derek Wolfe
DE | Age: 31

 It was no surprise that Wolfe helped the Ravens as a rotational player last season and should provide a similar boost for some team in 2021. 

Rank
88
Tyson Alualu
Tyson Alualu
NT | Age: 34

It’s pretty rare for a former first-round nose tackle to have his best season at 33 years old, but Alualu made himself some money with the Steelers.

Rank
89
Quinton Dunbar
Quinton Dunbar
CB | Age: 29

Inconsistent play will hurt Dunbar’s market, but there is plenty of upside here.

Rank
90
Kyle Juszczyk
Kyle Juszczyk
FB | Age: 30

This ranking is absolutely my way of saying sorry after clowning John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan for giving Juszczyk a record-breaking deal four years ago. It proved to be a bargain!

Rank
91
Takkarist McKinley
Takkarist McKinley
Edge | Age: 25

 I’d love to see the right organization turn McKinley’s career around because the juice he showed in his first three seasons as a pass rusher was not a fluke.

Rank
92
Malik Hooker
Malik Hooker
S | Age: 25

Players coming off major injuries like Hooker’s torn Achilles can often be underpaid in free agency.

Rank
93
Troy Hill
Troy Hill
CB | Age: 30

There’s a reason Hill kept getting snaps in Los Angeles over the last five years (usually making the most of them): He’s competitive as hell.

Rank
94
Lawrence Guy
Lawrence Guy
DT | Age: 31

Being named to the Patriots’ All-Decade team of the 2010s -- a decade that included five Super Bowl appearances -- should be worth something!

Rank
95
Cairo Santos
Cairo Santos
K | Age: 29

The Tulane legend has been one of the most consistent kickers in the league and is coming off a season in which he hit 30 of 32 field goals and 36 of 37 extra points.

Rank
96
Dan Arnold
Dan Arnold
TE | Age: 26

Arnold's listed at 220 pounds, helping to explain why he's one of the most purely athletic pass-catching tight ends in football.

Rank
97
James Conner
James Conner
RB | Age: 26

The Pittsburgh offensive line didn’t help Conner’s decisiveness over the last two seasons. 

Rank
98
Kawann Short
Kawann Short
DT | Age: 32

One of the better defensive tackles in football over the last decade is worth a flier after two injury-ravaged seasons.

Rank
99
James White
James White
RB | Age: 29

 A reunion with Tom Brady would make a lot of sense after both players appeared to miss one another in 2020.

Rank
100
Breshad Perriman
Breshad Perriman
WR | Age: 27

If you need cheap, capable speed on the outside, Perriman is your guy.

Rank
101
Mitchell Trubisky
Mitchell Trubisky
QB | Age: 27

Remember that week when everyone wondered if the Bears would have to re-sign Trubisky to a big contract? That was weird. 

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