Early 2019 Free Agency Look: WRs

Updated: February 18th 2019

We see an interesting wide receiver class this offseason.  The free agent group holds lots of variety with everything from smaller slot receivers to big deep threats and much in between.  There is not a player in free agency which most teams would consider as their top receiver, however.  Every available free agent possesses some shortcoming which likely limits the role each will play with a new team.  This fact should not confuse anyone into thinking they will not be paid.  Players including Sammy Watkins and Donte Moncrief received big paydays last year in free agency.  With more teams predominantly playing three or more wide receiver sets, receiver depth becomes more important.  The group is potentially hurt by a deep class of wide receivers entering the NFL draft.

Golden Tate

This is the top receiver available, if based on resume, accumulating four 90 reception seasons to go with three 1,000 yard seasons.  Tate plays with uncommon strength, drive, and short-area movement which combine into one of the most evasive receivers in the game accumulating big yards after the catch.  The main questions entering free agency are his age (31) and the fact that much of his production in Detroit relied on short, gimmicky, manufactured touches.  Will a new team have a plan in place catering to Tate’s strengths or will he be forced into a more traditional receiver role into which he might not have as much success?

John Brown

Brown profiles similarly to T.Y. Hilton athletically as a small receiver with great speed who also displays some good route running with quality cuts into breaks.  Brown has a 1,000 yard season with Arizona and was on pace for a 1,000 yard season this year for Baltimore prior to Joe Flacco’s injury and subsequent benching.  The insertion of Lamar Jackson at quarterback decimated the passing attack for the Ravens and, with it, any meaningful production from receivers.  Brown struggles with health sometimes in part due to his sickle-cell trait.  The diminutive speedster offers a lot of potential for his new team.

Tyrell Williams

Williams boasts a lot of qualities teams covet from wide receivers.  He stands 6’-3” with upper level athleticism, including enviable speed, and a large wingspan to boot.  The former undrafted free agent is at his best stretching defenses as a deep threat and running underneath drag routes to utilize his long strides.  Williams produced a quality 2016 season with Keenan Allen injured.  Unfortunately, the numerous negatives match his positives.  Williams struggles with drops, is a limited route runner, and his thin frame gets taken advantage of by physical corners.  Despite his limitations, Williams’ other strengths make him a good bet for highest paid wide receiver free agent.

Jamison Crowder

Injuries and the Washington quarterback situation diminished what was expected to be a big year for Crowder in 2018.  On the surface, Crowder is a smaller receiver who tested poorly at the NFL combine.  There is more than appears, though.  He plays with a game speed and quickness that makes defensive backs appear silly at times.  Crowder offers a diverse route tree with experience working all levels of the field and lining up inside or out.  A solid market should emerge for Crowder but his size may limit teams’ envisioned role to primarily a slot receiver.

Adam Humphries

The timing just works out sometimes.  Humphries put up his best season as a pro in 2018 racking up 76 receptions on the verge of free agency.  This is the very definition a primary slot receiver in the NFL.  He provides a smart option with very reliable hands for teams in need of underneath help. Humphries knows how to find holes in zone coverage and fights hard for extra yards with the ball.  Humphries does not possess the traits needed to consistently win on the outside.  He can be a productive receiver in the right system.

Donte Moncrief

If one could build an X- receiver in a lab, that player would probably look much like Moncrief.  He possesses a big, thick frame while running extremely well with incredible hops.  Unfortunately Moncrief did not develop as a receiver in Indianapolis where his route running never really progressed.  He is a one-speed player who does not play up to his athleticism.  Moncrief swindled the Jaguars out of $10 million last season.  It is highly unlikely that scenario happens this year but you can bet some team will take a cheaper gamble on his athletic traits again.

Devin Funchess

There were questions about what position Funchess would play in the NFL.  The former college tight end remains somewhat of a “tweener” at the pro level.  He profiles as a big possession receiver but does not have the tools necessary to optimize that role.  His hands have stayed inconsistent and he does not win as many contested catches as someone with his size should.  Funchess displays some great playmaking skills at times but not with the regularity needed to stand out.  Teams will have interest in the very young (24) talented player who might still improve going forward.

Josh Gordon, Martavis Bryant, Robby Anderson

The odds are against each of these players hitting free agency for different reasons.  They showed dynamic deep-threat ability in the past, though, which makes them worth keeping track of.  The league indefinitely suspended Gordon and Bryant for yet another substance abuse infraction and we have no idea when or if they play again.  Gordon and Anderson are also restricted free agents limiting their chances of switching teams this year.  Watch the situations for updates.

Others to Monitor

Cole Beasley fits teams with a pure slot receiver need.  He is a professional receiver who just knows how to get open.  Injuries have taken their toll on Randall Cobb.  He has not looked like the same dynamic player from his early years in a long time.  If healthy, he provides a versatile player capable of filling slot and receiving roles in the slot and out of the backfield.  Buffalo players nicknamed Chris Hogan “7-Eleven” when he played for the Bills because he was always open.  We might need a new nickname after Hogan struggled to find any separation in 2019.  Is Dez Bryant done after an Achilles injury ended his 2018 season before it began?  Injuries and the retirement of Tony Romo sent Bryant’s career into one of the sharpest tailspins in recent memory from a top receiver.  Kelvin Benjamin produced a couple of quality seasons in Carolina to start his career.  He’s probably looking at a part-time role now as a short-yardage or redzone specialist now.  Jordan Matthews started his career with three consecutive 60+ reception seasons for Philadelphia playing considerably as a big slot receiver.  He can be a useful player for teams utilizing a similar role.  Former first-round picks Kevin White, Phillip Dorsett, and Breshad Perriman will look to free agency after disappointing initial contract years.  On the older side, Dontrelle Inman and Rishard Matthews both proved very solid professionals throughout their careers when given ample opportunity.  The Texans recently released Demaryius Thomas after an Achilles tear ended his season.  It will be a tough comeback for 2019 given the late date of his injury.

Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

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