Predicting the NFL's biggest free-agent busts this year

Predicting the NFL's biggest free-agent busts this year

NFL

Predicting the NFL's biggest free-agent busts this year

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<![CDATA[The NFL's Black Thursday is less than a week away. Free agency officially begins on March 9, and teams are lining up outside the free agent market waiting to bust the doors open.

Every year there are some free agents who aren't as good as advertised. These eight players have shown signs that they could turn into free agent duds.

Morris Claiborne, CB, Cowboys

Once upon a time, Morris Claiborne was the sixth overall pick in the draft. Since the Cowboys traded up to take him in 2012, he’s missed 33 games with various injuries. That’s more than two full seasons in the five years Claiborne has been in the NFL.

Claiborne seemed to be putting it all together in 2016, but he suffered a groin injury and missed the final nine games of the regular season. He returned for the Cowboys’ divisional-round playoff game against the Packers, but left that game with a knee injury.

Some team will bite on Claiborne based on his performance before getting hurt in 2016 as well as his pedigree as a No. 6 draft pick. But the 27-year-old never has intercepted more than one pass in a season and he’s never had more than eight passes defended, and that total came in his rookie year.

Claiborne could be a good free-agent pickup if he stays healthy. But that’s a big “if.”

Johnathan Cyprien, S, Jaguars

The Jaguars chose Johnathan Cyprien in the second round of the 2013 draft. It’s hard to tell if the light suddenly went on in his fourth season or if he just flipped the switch because it was a contract year.

Cyprien posted a career-high 126 tackles in 2016, but his impact as a safety is limited to stopping the run. He has just two interceptions and 15 passes defended in his four seasons. Cyprien would be a good signing as long as a team doesn’t expect too much from him and keeps him close to the line of scrimmage.

Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears

Alshon Jeffery has been touted as the top wide receiver expected to hit the free agent market, but buyer beware.

Jeffery made his only Pro Bowl in 2013, catching 89 passes. Since then, his reception totals have gone from 85 to 54 to 52 last season. Part of that is because he hasn’t played a full season since 2014, suffering hamstring injuries and serving a four-game PED suspension last season.

The 27-year-old Jeffery caught just 56.5 percent of the passes thrown his way last season and dropped a career-high five passes, according to Pro Football Focus. Perhaps all Jeffery needs is a better quarterback than the ones who threw to him in Chicago. The best-case scenario is that Jeffery isn’t a total bust but is still overpaid for his services.

Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers

Eddie Lacy will be a cheap signing whether he stays with the Packers or goes to another team.

Even at a reduced price point, however, Lacy won’t be a value unless he reduces his waist line.

Lacy ran for more than 1,100 yards in each of his first two seasons, but since then his yardage has gone down while his weight has gone up. He played in just five games in 2016 before an ankle injury ended his season.

If Lacy stays in Green Bay, he’ll have to earn his carries. If he signs elsewhere and turns out to be a free-agent bust because he can’t burn calories, at least he won’t burn much money.

Latavius Murray, RB, Raiders

Latavius Murray could be the top running back on the market who’s not on the wrong side of 30 or the wrong side of 250 pounds.

The problem is that Murray is little more than an average running back. The 27-year-old has run for a pedestrian 4.0 yards per carry in each of the last two seasons. Murray gained 1,066 yards, scored six touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl in 2015. But despite doubling that touchdown total in 2016, his yardage dipped to 788 as DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard saw increased roles.

Murray benefited from running behind an offensive line that Pro Football Focus ranked fourth in the league. The Steelers, Cowboys and Titans, the three teams with lines ranked higher than the Raiders, don’t need a starting running back. So if Murray signs somewhere else, he might not get the blocking that helped make him a serviceable running back in Oakland.

Dontari Poe, NT, Chiefs

The Chiefs probably can’t afford to keep Dontari Poe around after paying up for Eric Berry.

Poe made the Pro Bowl in 2013 and 2014. He had 10.5 sacks in those two seasons combined. He hasn’t returned to the Pro Bowl since then, however, and he’s had just 2.5 sacks over the last two seasons.

Getting to the quarterback isn’t at the top of Poe’s job description. The 346-pounder’s main function is to stuff the run, but after recording 52 total tackles in 2013 and 46 in 2014, Poe made just 39 in 2015 and 27 in 2016.

Even though Poe will be just 27 next season, there’s a nagging concern that his prime already has come and gone.

Kenny Stills, WR, Dolphins

Kenny Stills is among the receivers who want to play for Carson Wentz in Philadelphia, and he’s seeking $12 million a year.

Wentz didn’t provide much evidence in his rookie season that he’ll be any better than Ryan Tannehill. Just because Stills would be wearing Eagles green, it doesn’t mean the grass would be any greener. Furthermore, for $12 million, Stills would be expected to perform as a No. 1 receiver.

A fifth-round draft pick by the Saints in 2015, Stills was traded to the Dolphins after catching a career-high 63 passes in 2014. He caught just 42 passes in 2016, but was third in the NFL with 17.3 yards per reception and sixth with nine touchdowns. He caught just 51.9 percent of his targets, however.

Stills can take the top off a defense with his speed, but there aren’t enough of those opportunities to justify No. 1 receiver money.

Terrance Williams, WR, Cowboys

History could be repeating itself here, sort of.

In 1994, Alvin Harper was the Cowboys’ second-fiddle receiver to Michael Irvin. Harper signed with the Buccaneers in 1995, and although he caught a career-high 46 passes that year, he caught just 21 more in his career.

In 2016, Terrance Williams isn’t even the second option among Cowboys receivers. The closest he came was 2015, when he was tied with Cole Beasley for second on the team with a career-high 52 receptions. Williams’ size (6’2″) could tempt teams to sign him and see if he can take on an expanded role, but getting covered by a starting cornerback every week could make Williams irrelevant.]]>

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