2023 NFL Free Agency: Top Free Agents Available (Fantasy Football)
The NFL free agency period is an important time for teams as they look to upgrade their rosters and build for the upcoming season. During free agency, teams have the opportunity to sign unrestricted free agents, who are free to sign with any team, as well as restricted free agents, who may receive an offer sheet from another team but whose current team has the right to match the offer. Teams also have the option to use the franchise or transition tag on a player to retain their rights.
Today we will preview the top 20 potential free agents for 2023. The quarterback market has a chance to be robust, with former MVP Lamar Jackson set to potentially be on the market. Jackson leaving Baltimore could really shape how the landscape of the league will change, although it does look likely that Baltimore will place a franchise tag on him.
There is also a strong pool of potential free-agent running backs, led by Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, and Tony Pollard. With the NFL bumping the projected salary cap for next year by $17 million, there will be plenty of money to throw around.
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Top NFL Free Agents Available for 2023 (Fantasy Football)
It isn’t often that a former MVP quarterback has the potential to hit the market, but this offseason will see two. Lamar Jackson could break the bank this offseason and change the fortunes of an NFL franchise in the process. He is reportedly looking for a Deshaun Watson-type deal which makes his return to Baltimore questionable. Whoever signs Jackson will have to contend with the fact he has missed a combined 10 games the last two seasons. They may also need to design their offense around his ample talents, though that is probably not a concern for any QB-needy team. Jackson immediately raises the offensive profile of whatever team he eventually signs with.
There were stretches this year where Saquon Barkley looked like the best running back in football. While the Giants limited his touches down the stretch, the biggest takeaway from this year is that Barkley played a full season. He finished with over 1,300 yards rushing, and his 57 receptions were the second-highest total of his career. He turns 26 this week, but he has more tread left due to two injury-shortened seasons that cost him 18 combined games in 2020 and 2021. Barkley reportedly turned down a $12 million per year deal with the Giants, but I have a hard time believing he will sign elsewhere. He is the face of the franchise, and New York needs all the offensive weapons it can get.
3. Josh Jacobs
Las Vegas did not exercise Josh Jacobs‘s fifth-year option, something that looks like one of the more egregious decisions made by the Raiders this year. Jacobs led the NFL in rushing, including a 229-yard effort against Seattle in Week 12. Jacobs also finished this season with a career-high in receiving yards (400), proving he can be a three-down back. While the league is valuing running backs differently than it did a decade ago, Jacobs should have plenty of suitors this spring.
4. Tony Pollard
Dallas let Tony Pollard off the leash this year, and he didn’t disappoint, setting career highs with 1,007 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. Pollard also added 371 yards receiving and three touchdowns through the air, making him arguably the most dynamic weapon Dallas had. He is set to turn 26 this offseason but has just 510 carries so far in his career, making him an attractive option for a team looking for a lead back. Ironically, the Cowboys may need Ezekiel Elliott to take a pay cut to get Pollard back in the fold.
5. Geno Smith
Geno Smith was one of the NFL’s best stories this year, making Seattle fans forget about Russell Wilson in the process. The 10-year veteran led the league in completion percentage and tossed 30 touchdowns, making himself one of fantasy’s best waiver pickups of 2023. The Seahawks have plenty of young talent offensively, so they are set up to be in the NFC playoff picture for the foreseeable future. Smith is the type of steady hand Pete Carroll craves at quarterback, too, so it would be surprising to see him leave Seattle.
6. Daniel Jones
There are a couple of reclamation projects on this list, but Daniel Jones might be the biggest one. New York chose not to pick up his 5th-year option, and 2022 was going to determine his future there. He finished as a top-10 fantasy QB and led the Giants to the playoffs, which is a remarkable turnaround. Brian Daboll worked wonders for Jones, putting him in good situations as a passer and capitalizing on his ability as a runner. Jones only threw five interceptions this season and rushed for over 700 yards. With the other quarterbacks who will potentially be on the market, his best bet is to stay in New York on a sensible deal for both sides.
On paper, this was a down year for Dalton Schultz, but he missed two games and only played parts of two others. Once he was back to full health, he balled out for the Cowboys scoring five touchdowns in their last four games. He was a fantasy league winner, too, as his 7/56/2 line in Week 17 led a lot of teams to titles. Schultz won’t wow you, but he is steady in the passing game and is a capable run blocker as well. He should have a robust market this offseason, and a return to Dallas is highly unlikely.
A former undrafted free agent, Jakobi Meyers finds himself as the top free agent wide receiver this offseason. Meyers has never eclipsed 1,000 yards in a season, but he has been steady as the number-one option in New England’s passing game. Trouble is, Meyers would do well to find a landing spot where he can be a second option as opposed to being the alpha receiver because he lacks those traits. He is a terrific route runner who lacks the speed to take the top off coverages, but he would do well on a team like Minnesota as a compliment to Justin Jefferson. While New England could bring him back, he is better suited for a situation where he doesn’t need to be the top option.
Miles Sanders is another intriguing back on this list who is coming off a career year. He finished with over 1,200 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns in 2022, marking his finest season as a pro. Sanders finished as an RB1 despite ceding passing down work to Kenny Gainwell and Boston Scott, a curious development considering he caught 50 passes as a rookie in 2019. Philadelphia turned Sanders into a two-down hammer, but he flourished, which should give him a nice market this offseason. I wouldn’t rule out a return to the Eagles, but his asking price might be too rich for their liking.
10. Evan Engram
Last offseason, Evan Engram bet on himself when he signed a one-year deal with Jacksonville. His work for the Jaguars last season puts him in a position to cash in on that bet. Engram was one of the top tight ends in football, finishing with 73 catches for 766 yards and four touchdowns. A return to the Jaguars seems unlikely, allowing Engram to hit the open market in a vastly different situation from last year at this time. Like Dalton Schultz, Engram’s market should be a healthy one as there aren’t many above-average tight ends available.
It might be surprising to see JuJu Smith-Schuster outside of the top 10 on this list, but it shouldn’t. The fact with Smith-Schuster is that he isn’t a WR1 and is on shaky ground to be considered a WR2 for fantasy purposes. In real life, it has become obvious his 1,400-yard season in 2018 was a function of Antonio Brown drawing multiple defenders on most plays, leaving Smith-Schuster to eat up single coverage. In the four seasons since, he hasn’t cracked 1,000 yards, and though he will only be entering his age-27 season next fall, he is a better complimentary piece than he is the alpha dog. The receiver market is well below average, so Smith-Schuster may still get a hefty payday, but anything over his current $8 million salary is an overpay.
The free-agent class of running backs is deep, but Alexander Mattison presents an opportunity for a team to get a starter at a discount. Mattison has been behind Dalvin Cook on the Minnesota depth chart, but he has been one of the top handcuffs in football the last three seasons. Mattison has three 100-yard games for the Vikings since 2020 and has proven to be a capable starter when called upon. If he is looking for the opportunity to be a starter somewhere, he should have plenty of suitors.
13. Jimmy Garoppolo
There is virtually no chance Jimmy Garappolo will be back in San Francisco next year, meaning he will finally hit the market. He ranks a distant fifth behind the other eligible free-agent quarterbacks on this list, but ironically he might be the most available. Garappolo has a Super Bowl appearance and 57 starts on his resume, so several teams will have an interest here. Carolina, Washington, and even Las Vegas all come to mind as potential landing spots for the 10-year veteran.
14. David Montgomery
With Khalil Herbert waiting in the wings, it is hard to see Chicago bringing back David Montgomery next year. Montgomery has proven himself to be a solid, if unspectacular, option in the backfield, and he’s logged 200 or more carries in each of his first four years in the league. He only has one 1,000-yard season to show for that, however, showcasing his limited ceiling as a rusher. Montgomery has less big play ability than his free-agent counterparts, Alexander Mattison and Tony Pollard. Still, he can be a serviceable backup and short-yardage back for a team who needs a solid secondary option.
15. Allen Lazard
The chances of Allen Lazard returning to Green Bay are slim and none, and he is a classic example of the type of player a team will ante up for. Lazard hit 100 targets for the first time in 2022 as he took over as the top option in Green Bay’s passing game. He only managed to reel in 60 of those targets for 788 yards, however. His overall production gives me some pause, but he has the size (6’5/225) and increased yearly production to reel in a huge contract from a WR-needy team.
16. DJ Chark
After an injury-shortened 2021 season, DJ Chark bounced back reasonably well in Detroit. He finished with 502 yards receiving on just 30 catches, as he was used mostly as a deep threat. Chark doesn’t turn 27 until September, so he is in the prime of his career, and a return to the Lions seems likely. Detroit looks set to take the next step in 2023, and bringing Chark back would make a lot of sense. However, in a depressed receiver market, they may not be able to afford that. Chark could see an inflated offer once free agency begins that would land him elsewhere.
17. Mecole Hardman
Despite not topping 700 yards in his career, I think it is far more likely the Chiefs bring back Mecole Hardman before they do JuJu Smith-Schuster. Hardman has the game-breaking ability Andy Reid covets. He was edging his way into a more prominent role in the Kansas City passing game before an injury cut short his regular season. Hardman has legitimate 4.3 speed, and that is an attribute that will be weighed heavily by some teams.
18. Kareem Hunt
Kareem Hunt fell out of favor late in the season for Cleveland, getting just 21 carries over their last five games. The Browns have depth pieces behind Nick Chubb that they seem to like, so Hunt is unlikely to be back unless he takes a massive pay cut. Hunt is in a tough spot coming into free agency as he will turn 28 this offseason, and he is coming off a season where he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. It would be a shock to see a team bring him in as anything more than a timeshare candidate.
19. Michael Thomas
The year 2019 seems like a lifetime ago for Mike Thomas, who is coming off another injury-plagued season. It has been a precipitous fall for Thomas, who averaged over 117 receptions and almost 1,400 yards per season in his first four years in the league. At age 30, it is unlikely Thomas will generate much interest, but for a team in need of a proven chain-mover, he could be a solid secondary option in the passing game. He would need a lot to go right to be more than a fantasy dart throw, however, so I won’t be looking to add him in any format.
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Jason Kamlowsky is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jason, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter @JasonKamlowsky.