The wide receiver position in free agency has a couple of so-called “can’t-miss” type prospects, then an intriguing mix of ascending players and those that have proven to be capable or potential No. 2 types, followed by myriad oldsters and question marks.
Welcome to free agency, where team-by-team projections are often as important as proven production.
Here is a look at the top candidates:
ALSHON JEFFERY, CHICAGO
Alshon Jeffery is the only free-agent receiver given a five-star rating by Scout.com, meaning he is the only proven one with Pro Bowl production. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound behemoth had his numbers severely cut in 2015 as he missed seven games with injury but still produced 807 yards and four touchdowns. Eventually he was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, but his past production, combined with being only 26 years old, screams a big-dollar deal is forthcoming, either with the franchise tag being applied or a long-term contract with the Chicago Bears or, much less likely, someone else. He had over 1,300 yards each of his two previous seasons, so the Pro Bowl numbers are there.
TRAVIS BENJAMIN, CLEVELAND
Travis Benjamin doesn’t have the height of Jeffery – he’s only 5-10 and 175 pounds – but he is emerging as a potential No. 1 receiver. He became a full-time starter for the first time in 2015 and produced 966 yards with a bad quarterback situation in Cleveland and a team in flux. His forte is deep speed and he is also one of the better punt returners in the NFL, averaging 11.6 yards per return last year, fourth in the NFL. The Cleveland Browns are reportedly leaning toward making him a top priority before free agency hits so, like Jeffery, he might not see the open market.
RISHARD MATTHEWS, MIAMI
A rib injury limited Rishard Matthews’ availability and production in 2015, as he played in 11 games and had 662 yards. He won’t see the big money of Jeffery and Benjamin, and likely even some of the other free-agent receivers, as this is admittedly more of a projection ranking than one for a proven receiver, but he appears to have full-time starting potential written into his future. He’s also likely to reach the open market.
KAMAR AIKEN, BALTIMORE
Kamar Aiken has many of the things coaches love in receivers – height (6-2), youth (26) and production (944 yards in 2015). But he isn’t an unrestricted free agent, meaning the Baltimore Ravens are likely to submit to him a qualifying offer that would allow them to match an offer he might receive from another team. Of course, they could simply sign him to a long-term deal before free agency opens on March 9. Aiken’s 944 yards in 2015 put him in the top 25 for receiving yardage in his first season as a starter.
MARVIN JONES, CINCINNATI
The Cincinnati Bengals have both Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu as pending free agents, so getting at least one of them signed prior to free agency is a priority. Jones has the desired height at 6-foot-2, but he hasn’t yet cracked the 1,000-yard receiving mark, with a career-best 816 last year on 65 catches in 2015. Jones said he is excited to test the free-agent market and he should draw plenty of interest as a proven starter.
In addition to the top five possibilities, starters of various ages, experience and injury history can be found with Anquan Boldin, Rueben Randle, Percy Harvin and Leonard Hankerson. Jeffery is clearly at the top of the class, but a variety of productive receivers remains after him.null