Best Available Wide Receivers in NFL Free Agency – Part 1

By Ha Kung Wong

Twitter: @FBGarbageTime

Sometimes retreads are a good thing.  And sometimes, not so much.

Take, for instance, the J.J. Abrams Star Trek films.  Prior to Abrams, it was impossible to talk about Star Trek with non-Trek fans without immediately getting yawns, mocking laughter, or perhaps even being outright ignored for the rest of the evening.  But now, post Abrams, not only is it acceptable to talk about Star Trek in mixed company, but it can at times even be cool.  In limited doses, of course.  No one wants to get into a technical discussion concerning transporter beams or phasers, but if you want to talk about how kick ass Chris Pine is as Captain Kirk, have at it.

Captain-Kirk-chris-pine-as-james-t-kirk

Then you have the remakes that weren’t so good, like Footloose.  Didn’t everyone understand that Kevin Bacon makes most things awesome, but if you remove him from a movie, you’re basically asking for trouble?  I mean Kevin Bacon punch dancing and doing gymnastics in an empty warehouse?  Totally awesome, and only something that Kevin Bacon can pull off.

Heck, the only other successful angry punch dance scene I’ve ever seen was Andy Sandberg in the classic film, Hot Rod:

Suffice to say, it’s not easy to pull off.

So now we’re faced with another remake, and this time of another 1984 favorite, Ghostbusters.  With the trailer just coming out, it’s been getting a lot of press.

Looks promising, but I can’t tell you how worried I am that they screw up the group chemistry.  The combination of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson (not to mention supporting cast members Rick Moranis, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts) had some serious on-screen chemistry.  The camaraderie, and the squabbling, was all part of what made the original Ghostbusters great.

Ghostbusters

Which brings me to NFL free agency.

Like having good on-screen chemistry in a movie, having good on-field chemistry on the field is absolutely essential for football.  Picking up a superstar WR and plunking him down in any old team with any old QB is not guaranteed to work.  Just look at what the Miami Dolphins did to Brandon Marshall and Mike Wallace, for instance.  Both were high profile free agent WR acquisitions that totally flamed out in Miami due to poor on-field chemistry (among other things).

Brandon Marshall in Miami - Getty Images

Brandon Marshall in Miami – Getty Images

So it’s not as simple as taking the “best available” free agent WR and adding him to a team.  There’s a lot more that needs to be considered, including the offensive system the WR came from, who the QB was and will be, and even what kind of player you need in the locker room (e.g. veteran leadership, youthful spirited inspiration, etc.).

This year, the free agent WR class is a bit weak.  Most of the higher profile WRs are still under contract, and those who were free agents, like Alshon Jeffery, have already been franchised.  So, in part, we’re left with a who’s “best of the rest” approach.  But I think there are still some good targets out there for WR needy teams, which fall into three categories: (1) solid acquisitions that can upgrade your WR core right now, (2) risky acquisitions with upside and (3) veteran leaders mostly past their prime.  Let’s turn to the solid acquisitions first, in order of preference.

Tier 1 – Solid Acquisitions

Marvin Jones
Marvin Jones - USA Today Sports Photo NFL Free Agency

Marvin Jones – USA Today Sports Photo

  • Age: 26
  • Previous Team: Cincinnati Bengals
  • 2015 Season Stats
    • 994 snaps
    • 65 receptions
    • 816 yards
    • 4 TDs

Marvin Jones has good speed and decent height (6′ 2″) with excellent hands.  He managed to snag about 65% of his targets last year running opposite AJ Green.  This is only his fifth season, but he missed the entirety of 2014 due to injury.  Prior to injury, though, he had 51 receptions for 712 yards and a whopping 10 TDs, so his production last year, if anything, is not a fluke and the upside is still there.  Any team looking to build with a proven young WR2 won’t be able to do much better.

Rishard Matthews
Rishard Matthews - SWR Photo NFL Free Agency

Rishard Matthews – SWR Photo

  • Age: 26
  • Previous Team: Miami Dolphins
  • 2015 Season Stats
    • 533 snaps
    • 43 receptions
    • 662 yards
    • 4 TDs

The athleticism, the age and the hands are there (he caught over 70% of his targets in 2015), but injury is a bit of a concern.  He was cruising until his injury in Week 12 (multiple cracked ribs) eventually landed him on IR.  In addition, there are concerns of consistency and off field issues, as a promising 2013 was followed by a 2014 that was inexplicably weak (only 135 yards and 2 TDs) and capped by a suspension for the last game of the season for off field issues.  Wherever he lands, he doesn’t want to be lower than a WR2, which I think is entirely reasonable, but that attitude may limit his suitors.  It’s also unclear if Matthews wants to leave Miami because he thinks he’s better suited to another system, or he’s upset about DeVante Parker sliding in as the WR2.  There’s some significant risk here, but the upside certainly exists.

Travis Benjamin
Travis Benjamin - USA Today Sports Photo NFL Free Agency

Travis Benjamin – USA Today Sports Photo

  • Age: 26
  • Previous Team: Cleveland Browns
  • 2015 Season Stats
    • 875 snaps
    • 68 receptions
    • 966 yards
    • 5 TDs

Honestly, although we’ve gotten a few hints along the way, Benjamin’s breakout 2015 was practically out of nowhere.  He did have a few drops during the season, but that could be in part due to the fact that he had to work with three very different QBs, none of which were really that good.  He also effectively returned punts in 2015, averaging 18 yards per return in which he did not signal for a fair catch, and returning one for a TD.  Consistency is obviously an issue, as he had less than 50 yards receiving in half the games he played, but also had three 100+ yard games.  But I think his versatility and speed makes him someone the Browns should look to keep, and would make a decent WR1/WR2 on a receiver needy team.

Anquan Boldin
Anquan Boldin - Getty Images NFL Free Agency

Anquan Boldin – Getty Images

  • Age: 35
  • Previous Team: San Francisco 49ers
  • 2015 Seasons Stats
    • 776 snaps
    • 69 receptions
    • 789 yards
    • 4 TDs

Perhaps Boldin’s best years are behind him as he enters his 14th NFL season, but he’s still a solid contributor.  He had his lowest total yards since 2004, but keep in mind that he only played 14 games and the underwhelming combo of Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert were throwing him the ball.  He’s had seven 1000+ yard seasons and has set numerous records over the years.  The stats appear to be slowly trending down, but Boldin is as durable as they come, missing only 6 games over the last 7 seasons.  While most mid-30’s WRs may be better used primarily for their veteran experience, Boldin still has a lot to offer as a WR1.  The question is when will that production cliff come where he goes the route of Reggie Wayne.  Regardless of production, though, teams should consider Boldin’s influence in the locker room.  Not only is he generally a good person, he won the Walter Peyton Man of the Year award this year for his community service.  He may not be the WR he once was, but I think he’s still at least a year away from dropping off on production and could be a good addition to teams with younger receiving cores.

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Now that we’ve looked at the best WRs in NFL free agency, check out or discussion of potential risky upside and veteran WR acquisitions!

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