NFL Free Agency 2018: 5 interesting wideouts not named Landry, Robinson or Watkins
By the time the Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Rams likely apply their franchise tags to Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins, respectively, they’ll join the Miami Dolphins, who already hitched their one-year tender to Jarvis Landry, in effectively removing the top three wideouts from the market.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for clubs seeking veteran WR reinforcements. At this time last season, few expected Marquise Goodwin, Robert Woods and Ted Ginn to provide as much or more production than free-agent headliners such as Alshon Jeffery, Terrelle Pryor and Pierre Garcon.
Yet, just as the draft in recent seasons has yielded better results for clubs selecting receivers on Day 2 than on Day 1, there’s a chance the biggest catches from this year’s free-agent WR market won’t necessarily be the biggest names.
With that in mind, PFW continues its series on the most interesting free agents at every position with a look at 5 wideouts not named Landry, Robinson or Watkins who might be flying under the radar now but en route to banner 2018 campaigns.
1. Terrelle Pryor
Things couldn’t have gone worse in his one-and-done season in Washington, where Pryor managed only 20-240-1 receiving and never entered Jay Gruden’s and Kirk Cousins’ circle of trust. But the soon-to-be 29-year-old didn’t suddenly lose the unique size (6-foot-4) and speed (4.4 40-yard dash) that helped him become a 1,000-yard wideout in his first full season playing the position in 2016 with the Browns, either.
Pryor, who reportedly turned down multi-year offers — including one to remain in Cleveland — for a one-year prove-it deal, might just need another change of scenery to pick up where he left off two years ago. He certainly appears to need an offense that won’t ask him to do much dirty work inside in traffic but instead allows him to use his straight-line speed and leaping ability. If not a return to Cleveland, which many expect, would possibly landing with the Chicago Bears or Baltimore Ravens help unlock Pryor’s vast upside?
2. Donte Moncrief
If you haven’t noticed, this list includes talented player whose light bulbs have not consistently flashed, and that describes Moncrief to a tee. He has prototypical speed and leaping ability, traits we’ve seen him convert on the field only sporadically, but Moncrief has 18 career touchdowns and 29 grabs for 20 or more yards in 27 starts. His field-stretching and red-zone chops aren’t the issues. Rather, Moncrief has been slowed by his own nagging injuries and the more serious ones felling his quarterback, Andrew Luck.
Moncrief doesn’t have a Pro Bowl invite and two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt like Jeffery did when he signed a prove-it deal in Philadelphia last spring. But we can’t escape the feeling there might be a downfield playmaker with some of Jeffery’s qualities buried inside the former Colts’ third-rounder.
The Packers and Seahawks — both teams that drafted wideouts a round before Moncrief in 2014 — and the Patriots — who don’t usually spend top dollar on receivers and have Brandin Cooks on the verge of commanding the moon next offseason — could show some interest in Moncrief.
3. John Brown
Another unique talent, “Smokey” Brown is three seasons removed from his own 1,000-plus-yard breakout but only turns 28 in June. When healthy — which hasn’t been very often — Brown remains one of the more dangerous players in the NFL, boasting blistering speed but also sneaky-good ball skills and route-running ability.
Can Brown overcome the myriad ailments, from possessing the sickle-cell trait to suffering soft-issue injuries, that limited him to 11 starts (and 60-816-5 receiving) from 2016-17? That might require a leap of faith, but it won’t take a great investment to find out.
He was paired ideally with Bruce Arians in an offense to maximize Brown’s downfield abilities. The Panthers and Cowboys both have a pressing need to add speed at the wideout position and the ground games to attract safeties and create opportunities over the top but lack great cap flexibility.
4. Marqise Lee
Like Brown, Lee’s durability issues will prevent him from landing a deal commensurate with his upside. The 26-year-old was actually drafted not only before Brown but Robinson, Landry and Davante Adams. Lee has yet to show the explosive playmaking ability that was regularly on display at USC, but he had a nice 2016 campaign (63-851 receiving) and showed some toughness while fighting through ailments last season despite falling behind rookie Dede Westbrook on Blake Bortles’ No. 1 radar.
Lee isn’t a No. 1, not with his slight frame and inconsistent hands, but he could thrive in a RAC offense playing alongside another big and dynamic wideouts, who were largely absent in Jacksonville last season with Robinson hurt and a regressing Allen Hurns banged up. Perhaps Washington could use a space player like Lee to pair with Alex Smith as Jamison Crowder enters a contract year.
5. Albert Wilson
If teams bent on adding a 25-year-old slot receiver are left wondering what to do now that Landry is out of the picture, Wilson is an interesting fallback plan. As Smith’s fourth option last season, Wilson corralled 42-554-3 in what was his best season. Not exactly Landry-esque, but Landry was also the NFL’s fifth-most targeted player — with 161 shares, or 37 fewer than Wilson has received since entering the NFL.
But Wilson is a gamer. Two of his nine career receiving touchdowns have come in the playoffs, and his career day came vs. Denver’s “No Fly Zone” in a meaningless Week 17 game when he was the No. 1 option in Pat Mahomes’ rookie debut.
Other players on this list have failed to stay on the field and capitalize on their chances. However, Wilson was brought along slowly by the Chiefs coming from Georgia State and seems likely to have his best football in front of him.
The WR-starved Bears, coached by his former offensive coordinator, Matt Nagy, and assistant head coach Brad Childress, almost makes too much sense for Wilson, a smooth and athletic player who can come in on Day 1 and start in an offense that’s going to take time for new players to master.