Training Camp

The 10 Best Players Available At Every Position: Sign, Draft, or Trade?

As the heat of free agency simmers down, NFL teams are still on the mend, looking for ways to bolster their rosters. The biggest free agency moves have mostly been made, and teams are left looking to fill in whatever holes they have left on their rosters with the remaining players on the market. Looming in the background, the NFL Draft (beginning Thursday, April 28) provides teams another opportunity to address critical needs.

At this point in the season, teams weight their NFL Draft boards, potential trade opportunities, and the remaining free agents against each other to compose a list of “Best Players Available” to strategize how they’ll optimally distribute their cap space and draft assets.

Organizing players this way allows for a holistic roster-building strategy that includes each facet of the offseason rather than relying on independent decisions that do not account for other avenues of improvement.  This board of “Best Players Available” acknowledges cap capabilities, positional needs, and draft picks. Below is an overarching perspective on the best football has to offer at each position, including the draft, free agency, and potential trade candidates based on the 33rd Team’s Composite Rankings.

Quarterback

Ranking Player Status PFF Grade
1 Baker Mayfield Trade Candidate 63.6
2 Kenny Pickett Draft Prospect 92.2
3 Malik Willis Draft Prospect 91.6
4 Jimmy Garoppolo Trade Candidate 71.2
5 Sam Howell Draft Prospect 91.1
6 Desmond Ridder Draft Prospect 90.7
7 Matt Corral Draft Prospect 86.1
8 Gardner Minshew Trade Candidate 61.7
9 Jordan Love Trade Candidate 36.2
10 Ryan Fitzpatrick UFA 38.9

Mayfield made it known that he wanted out before the Browns even acquired Deshaun Watson in a blockbuster trade. Despite a down year, he tops our list due to the  lack of high-end talent in the draft. His struggles also could be chalked up to playing through a torn labrum.

Pickett, Willis, Garoppolo, and Howell round out the top five. Garoppolo is in an interesting situation in San Francisco, completely expendable for a team that seemingly has their future figured out at the position with Trey Lance. Garoppolo led the 49ers to their second NFC Championship game in three years, and a team might be able to sell themselves on his winning ways translating into their building.

Unheralded backups Minshew and Love fill out the list of interesting trade candidates. They are in precarious situations with their current teams, with neither having a legitimate path to a permanent gig.

Running Back

Ranking Player Status PFF Grade
1 Breece Hall Draft Prospect 86
2 Melvin Gordon III UFA 77.8
3 Kenneth Walker Draft Prospect 89.3
4 Isaiah Spiller Draft Prospect 83.2
5 Sony Michel UFA 63.1
6 Justin Jackson UFA 63.1
7 Marlon Mack UFA 56.4
8 Darrel Williams UFA 66.8
9 David Johnson UFA 60.4
10 Alex Collins UFA 66

Three out of the top four on his list are upcoming draft prospects, and chief among them is Iowa State’s Breece Hall. Hall has been one of CFB’s top producers for several years, topping 1,400 yards and 20 touchdowns in each of the past two seasons.

Melvin Gordon is second on our list after producing 918 yards, and eight touchdowns on 218 carries last season despite splitting carries with 2020 second-round pick Javonte Williams.

Walker, Spiller, and Michel round out the top five. Walker burst on the scene for Michigan State this past season, winning the Doak Walker Award for college football’s best running back and the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. Spiller has topped 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons, putting him in the mix for top running back available in this year’s draft.

Michel played well while filling in for Darrell Henderson in LA. After a Super Bowl win, Michel’s services as an early-down back warrants attention. Just outside the top five, Justin Jackson—a former seventh-round pick—hits the market after serving under Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler at the beginning of his career. Jackson has shown flashes of potential in limited playing time, averaging 5 yards a carry.

Coming in at No. 7, Marlon Mack seemed to be one of the league’s more productive backs in 2018 and 2019. In both of those seasons, Mack topped 1,000 yards with the colts. The emergence of Johnathan Taylor surely spelled the end of his tenure in Indianapolis.

Darrel Williams is still a free agent despite playing a pivotal role in the Chiefs’ 2021 campaign. Williams stepped in when Clyde Edwards-Helaire went down with an ankle injury. Between Week 6 and Week 9, Williams toted the rock 69 times for 201 yards, adding 125 yards through the air.

Wide Receiver

Ranking Player Status PFF Grade
1 Garrett Wilson Draft Prospect 84.1
2 Drake London Draft Prospect 91.3
3 Jameson Williams Draft Prospect 81.6
4 Odell Beckham Jr. UFA 74.8
5 Chris Olave Draft Prospect 79.3
6 Julio Jones SFA 76.5
7 Jarvis Landry SFA 66.3
8 Treylon Burks Draft Prospect 85.8
9 Jahan Dotson Draft Prospect 87.5
10 Christian Watson Draft Prospect 87.8

Draft prospects dominate our composite rankings for the best players available at this stage of the offseason with a very strong class incoming. Christian Kirk, Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson, Zay Jones, and D.J. Chark have already found homes for the 2022 NFL Season among others. Some teams may have help out from adding an impact receiver, but this class give teams another bite at the apple.

Odell Beckham Jr. is still on the market. The main concern is the knee injury he suffered during Super Bowl LVI. Nonetheless, Beckham Jr. resurged during the back half of the season with the Rams, scoring five touchdowns between Week 12 and Week 17.

Julio Jones, a recently elite receiving option, remains on the open market as well. Jones missed seven regular-season games, garnering only 434 yards and one touchdown in 10 games. He still provides value on the boundary.

Jarvis Landry is still looking for a landing spot after his relationship with Cleveland dissolved following the Amari Cooper acquisition.

Tight End

Ranking Player Status PFF Grade
1 Rob Gronkowski UFA 76.5
2 Trey McBride Draft Prospect 94.7
3 Tyler Higbee UFA 69.1
4 Blake Jarwin SFA 57.8
5 Isaiah Likely Draft Prospect 93.3
6 Jared Cook UFA 61.9
7 Cameron Brate Potential Cap Casualty 57.2
8 Anthony Firkser UFA 54.3
9 Eric Ebron UFA 48.4
10 Jordan Akins UFA 52.5

The tight end position is veteran-heavy compared to other spots, with only two draft prospects making the top 10. At the top of the list, Rob Gronkowski is still a free agent. One can only imagine that Gronk will either continue his career with long-time teammate Tom Brady or follow through on retirement rumors. Currently, Gronk is “undecided,” but that could change quickly.

McBride, Higbee, Jarwin, and Likely flesh out the top five. McBride and Likely figure to be at the top of the position in the draft after stellar seasons from both. Higbee may move on from the Rams after their successful season that saw him accumulate 675 yards and five touchdowns this past season in 13 games. He provides teams with receiving and blocking value, finishing with an above-average PFF grade in both categories this past season.

Blake Jarwin is an interesting player at the position after the Cowboys cut him on March 11. Jarwin had productive seasons in 2018 and 2019, but after Dalton Schultz filled in for him in 2020, it has been Schultz’s job. Jarwin is a starting-caliber tight end, and he could come at a good value.

Another intriguing choice is former Steeler, Eric Ebron. The Detroit Lions selected Ebron 10th overall draft pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Although Ebron was not an utter failure, many feel that he did not live up to expectations. Still, he had a career-high 827 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2018 with the Colts. Last year, he could not remain healthy, appearing in only eight games. Nevertheless, his receiving prowess has not evaporated.

Interior Offensive Line

Ranking Player Status PFF Grade
1 Tyler Linderbaum Draft Prospect 95.4
2 Kenyon Green Draft Prospect 79.8
3 Zion Johnson Draft Prospect 84.4
4 J.C. Tretter SFA 78.7
5 Darryl Williams ERFA 66.8
6 Trai Turner UFA 68.1
7 Matt Paradis UFA 66.9
8 Luke Fortner Draft Prospect 85.1
9 Ereck Flowers UFA 72
10 Jaramee Salyer Draft Prospect 68.3

The Interior Offensive Line group has a healthy mix of veteran options and draft prospects at this stage. However, the top three choices are all prospects and potential first-round picks.

Tyler Linderbaum is a highly touted center prospect, and both Kenyon Green and Zion Johnson project as day one starters on the interior.

Tretter and Darryl Williams are the veteran options that fill the top five. The Browns recently released Tretter after he contributed to arguably the NFL’s most potent rushing attack. Williams is a restricted free agent, opening the door for the Chiefs to match any offer sheet that comes his way. Williams is another center, and he has been a pleasant surprise in KC, beginning as an undrafted free agent for the Chiefs in 2020. In 2021, he served as their starting center and has yet to turn 25.

G Trai Turner, C Matt Paradis, and G Ereck Flowers are also on the market. Overall, there are still many quality options available for teams in need of interior offensive line help.

Offensive Tackle

Ranking Players Status PFF Grade
1 Evan Neal Draft Prospect 85.8
2 Ikem Ekwonu Draft Prospect 91.6
3 Charles Cross Draft Prospect 86.7
4 Duane Brown UFA 71.5
5 Eric Fisher UFA 68.2
6 Trevor Penning Draft Prospect 97.3
7 Riley Reiff UFA 67.3
8 Bobby Massie UFA 70
9 David Quessenberry UFA 79.1
10 Thayer Munford Draft Prospect 73.7

Like the interior prospects, draft prospects claim the top three spots here. Evan Neal is the next iteration of a dominant Alabama lineman; Ikem “Ickey” Ekwonu is a mauler in the run game, posting the fourth-best run-blocking PFF grade in the FBS; and Charles Cross allowed only two sacks on 719 pass-protection snaps. Each project as starters next year at tackle.

In terms of veterans, Former Seahawk Duane Brown and Former Colt Eric Fisher provide the best options on the market as it stands. With Terron Armstead signing with the Dolphins and La’el Collins choosing the Bengals, free agency options have dwindled. Still, there are starting-caliber players left on the table.

Interior Defensive Line

Ranking Player Status PFF Grade
1 Grady Jarrett Trade Candidate 67.2
2 Akiem Hicks UFA 72.3
3 Calais Campbell UFA 80.8
4 Jordan Davis Draft Prospect 79.8
5 Devonte Wyatt Draft Prospect 89.8
6 Travis Jones Draft Prospect 87.6
7 Ndamukong Suh UFA 52.4
8 Sheldon Richardson UFA 62.1
9 Larry Ogunjobi UFA 47.5
10 Linval Joseph UFA 63.1

Interior defensive line options are filled with veteran players. Atop the list is the Falcons’ Grady Jarrett. It does not appear that the Falcons and Jarrett can agree on an extension, thus possibly opening the door for the Falcons to dish him. They made it clear with Matt Ryan’s trade that they will not be shy in the trade market as sellers.

Another option is Akiem Hicks. He has enjoyed success with the Bears during the Matt Nagy era, but the Bears will likely let him walk as they undergo a regime change and defensive scheme overhaul. Hicks’s major problem was staying on the field, playing in only 28 of 49 possible games over the past three seasons.

Six-time Pro-Bowler Calais Campbell is also looking for his next stint after spending time in Baltimore for the past two years. The following three options are potential first-round picks Jordan Davis (who performed astoundingly at the combine), his teammate Devonte Wyatt, and UConn’s Travis Jones.

Larry Ogunjobi also presents an interesting option after his contract fell through with Chicago due to a failed physical.

Edge Rusher

Ranking Player Status PFF Grade
1 Aidan Hutchinson Draft Prospect 94.5
2 Kayvon Thibodeaux Draft Prospect 92.2
3 Danielle Hunter Trade Candidate 80.8
4 George Karlaftis Draft Prospect 87.2
5 Travon Walker Draft Prospect 71.4
6 Jadeveon Clowney UFA 66.5
7 Bradley Chubb Trade Candidate 45
8 Jermaine Johnson II Draft Prospect 81
9 Melvin Ingram III UFA 80.9
10 David Ojabo Draft Prospect 79.4

The edge rusher position is chock-full of draft talent. Veteran talents such as Von Miller, Randy Gregory, Chandler Jones, Haason Reddick, and Za’Darius Smith have been scooped up by now. Four out of the top five options remaining are all draft prospects: Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux, George Karlaftis, and Travon Walker, respectively.

All four of the top prospects may go in the top half of the first round come April 28. Alternatively, teams can inquire about Danielle Hunter. Although the Vikings restructured Hunter’s contract so that his $18M roster bonus hits the books sooner, that move can be viewed two ways. Either (a) they will hold onto him and pair him with recent signee Za’Darius Smith or (b) Smith is a possible replacement for Hunter as they look to move him while also clearing out his dead money. Either way, Hunter is an impact player at edge rusher, but he has struggled to stay on the field, playing in only seven games this past season after missing all of 2020.

Jadeveon Clowney, Bradley Chubb, and Melvin Ingram remain free agents as well

Linebacker

Ranking Player Status PFF Grade
1 Devin Lloyd Draft Prospect 90.2
2 Nakobe Dean Draft Prospect 91.7
3 Quay Walker Draft Prospect 72.1
4 Troy Andersen Draft Prospect 86.3
5 Anthony Barr UFA 63.0
6 Chad Muma Draft Prospect 90.3
7 Dont’a Hightower UFA 49.6
8 Christian Harris Draft Prospect 61.6
9 Keanu Neal UFA 35.9
10 KJ Wright UFA 63.7

Linebacker has a nice blend of veteran options and draft prospects. Devin Lloyd was the AP’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2021 and will likely be the first linebacker chosen in the NFL Draft.

The rest of the top five includes draft prospects such as Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker, and Troy Andersen, respectively.

Anthony Barr and Dont’a Hightower further flesh out the linebacker market. Barr has spent all eight seasons of his career with the Vikings, but his tenure in the Twin Cities could potentially end. Hightower similarly has spent his entire career with the New England Patriots as a mainstay at ILB. Both Hightower and Barr provide coverage and run support versatility, which teams may bite on in the coming weeks.

Cornerback

Ranking Player Status PFF Grade
1 Ahmad Gardner Draft Prospect 87.1
2 Derek Stingley Jr. Draft Prospect 66.6
3 Stephon Gilmore UFA 77.1
4 Andrew Booth Jr. Draft Prospect 78.4
5 Jason Verrett UFA 67.6
6 Trent McDuffie Draft Prospect 86.8
7 Bryce Callahan UFA 60
8 Kaiir Elam Draft Prospect 61.8
9 Chris Harris Jr. UFA 62.4
10 Roger McCreary Draft Prospect 89.9

In recent years, the cornerback position has grown even more critical as one of football’s “premium positions.” So far, J.C. Jackson, Charvarius Ward, Donte Jackson, Darious Williams, and Casey Hayward have all matched with their 2022 team. This leaves former Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, Jason Verrett, and nickel corner Bryce Callahan as the best veteran options on the market.

Gilmore missed the first half of last season before suiting up for the Panthers. Gilmore may not be the same player he once was with the Patriots, but he provides coverage upside—especially in man coverage.

Verrett is a talented player but has consistently dealt with injuries. He played in 12 games in 2020, but only in one last year. If he can stay on the field, he is a valuable asset in the secondary.

Callahan is a great slot cornerback but cannot remain on the field for an entire season, playing only 11 games each of the last two seasons.

Prospects Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Derek Stingley Jr., and Andrew Booth are the best draft options, with the latter two have injury concerns of their own. Overall, there is still an adequate cornerback market for teams striving to fill out their secondary.

Safety

Ranking Player Status PFF Grade
1 Kyle Hamilton Draft Prospect 76.1
2 Tyrann Mathieu UFA 67.4
3 Kareem Jackson UFA 52
4 Landon Collins SFA 54.7
5 Jaquan Brisker Draft Prospect 82.4
6 Jaquiski Tartt UFA 57.5
7 Kerby Joseph Draft Prospect 90.4
8 Lewis Cine Draft Prospect 82.4
9 Terrell Edmunds UFA 58
10 DeShon Elliott UFA 65.6

The safety position has its fair share of talent available. Kyle Hamilton sits atop the composite rankings as a draft prospect and potential top-five pick. Hamilton has excellent size for the position and contributes in many ways, justifying his position on the list.

Tyrann Mathieu has yet to find a suitable deal for his services in 2022. Mathieu has nine interceptions over the last two seasons and has consistently made plays for the Kansas City defense.

Veteran Kareem Jackson remains a free agent. Jackson enjoyed two excellent seasons with the Broncos in 2019 and 2020 but stumbled a bit in 2020, tying his career-low in pass breakups and tying his career-high in NFL passer rating allowed.

Landon Collins is also looking for a new team after his untimely release from the Commanders. Meanwhile, another intriguing option here is former Raven DeShon Elliott. Elliott broke through for the Ravens in 2020 after playing only 40 snaps in his sophomore campaign. Elliott allowed a career-low 47.9 NFL passer rating and no touchdowns in six games this past year.