The summer months can be slow for NFL fans as the draft is concluded and training camp is still several weeks away. Teams are finalizing practice plans, prepping for camp and at the early stages of building a championship culture. What makes a championship culture is the job of NFL head coaches and staff, identifying the key players and systems to maximize talented teams. The wide receiver position carries its own set of skills and some free agents could provide missing pieces on some rosters depth charts. Gridiron Heroics takes a look at several big name pass-catchers still waiting on a contract for 2022 and issues some predictions on where some of the remaining free agents could wind up.
Royal – Jones being available is still puzzling to me. His lack of priority in the Titans’ offense was a new experience and playing second fiddle to A.J. Brown could have been frustrating. Jones handled it like a seasoned veteran with a decade of route running under his belt. Now he tests the market for the first time in his career and his first encounter has not gone as expected. A few teams are interested in the Alabama product with the Packers being linked to wanting a veteran presence. However, a reunion with a former quarterback would be a smart play in my opinion. Hooking back up with Matt Ryan in Indianapolis would not only bolster the Colts talented but young receiving group, it would allow the roster to gain another veteran personality that can teach and mentor their own teammates. I would love to see Jones wind up in Indianapolis. – COLTS
Miller, I. – Julio Jones is a consistent receiver whenever he is healthy. Consistency is exactly what the Green Bay Packers need after having a near complete overhaul of its wide receiver room this offseason. If healthy, Jones could provide that consistency factor and be a valuable receiver for Aaron Rodgers as Christian Watson develops in his rookie year. Factor in that Jones deserves a ring, and probably should have one (sorry, Falcons fans) before he retires, teaming up with Aaron Rodgers makes sense for the veteran pass catcher. – PACKERS
Miller, W. – Everyone seems to be expecting a reunion between Julio Jones and Matt Ryan in Indianapolis and it’s hard to disagree. The Colts need some veteran presence in that receiver room, as their oldest projected starter is 24-year-old Paris Campbell. Jones and Ryan have that rapport already and I’m sure Jones will accept his backseat role to Michael Pittman, the Colts’ exciting young star who is coming off 1,082 yards and 6 scores in his sophomore season. Jones seems like the only thing missing from a team with proven identities on both sides of the ball. Singing the quarterback’s old friend, a guy who was once the best receiver in football, can never hurt. – COLTS
Odell Beckham Jr.
Royal – The talented Beckham Junior finds himself looking for a new team again. Potentially onto team number-four, Beckham brings talent and a highlight reel no matter where he goes, but an unfortunate knee injury could alter his career timeline. After a dysfunctional departure from Cleveland, Beckham caught five touchdowns in a brief stint with the Rams to wrap up 2021. Now, the soon-to-be 30-year-old will be looking for a new home in 2022. A veteran quarterback and proven leader will be crucial for Beckham to blossom. One quarterback comes to mind and his first-year head coach loves to throw the football. Russell Wilson could use a weapon in Denver and coach Nathaniel Hackett aired it out in Green Bay. Beckham Junior sounds like a good fit in Denver and I would love to see Hackett’s energy rub off on OBJ. Health is a major factor in this one however. – BRONCOS
Miller, I.- Odell Beckham Jr. is a tricky one since no one truly knows when he will be back after tearing his ACL in the Super Bowl. However, the Rams have remained consistent in saying that he will be back. Until that stance changes, odds are OBJ goes back to Los Angeles. – RAMS
Miller, W. – The Chiefs need another playmaker and Odell just got a taste of that Super Bowl lifestyle – he’s not likely to give it up. After a resurgence with the Rams last season, Odell capped it all off by a stellar playoff run – 28 catches, 221 yards and two scores – before tearing his ACL again in the first half of the Super Bowl. It’s the same knee he tore a few years ago, so there’s lots of concern about whether he can be the same player he was. Regardless, Andy Reid and Eric Bienemy could do wonders with half an Odell Beckham Jr. So, even if he comes back with dulled athleticism, his hands, route running and football IQ will be just as valuable as before. Odell would be a fantastic addition to a receiving core with no elite real route runners and a big body counterpart in Juju Smith-Schuster. – CHIEFS
Royal – Who’s next to try out the sauce? Cole Beasley didn’t light up the scoring side of the stat sheet in 2021. The former Bill only scored once and closed out his three-year stint in Buffalo with 11 touchdowns. Beasley showed off strong chemistry with Josh Allen and was a favorite target of both Tony Romo and Dak Prescott in Dallas. His departure from Buffalo wasn’t the prettiest but his play on the field still is. His landing spot is tricky but a handful of teams could use the talent of the pass-catcher. The Ravens don’t have a veteran presence at the position but I am not sure if Beasley is the right fit. Not to sound repetitive, but another reunion seems smart here. Dallas is gambling on second-year receiver CeeDee Lamb to carry the load. A similar gamble is on the return of Michael Gallup from a torn ACL. Dallas could use Beasley as insurance on the offensive side of the ball. – COWBOYS
Miller, I. – Cole Beasley is not the flashiest receiver around, but that is not his forte. Beasley has made a career out of, largely, playing underneath in the slot as evidenced by his 7.4 career yards per target. A team that has a lot of big bodied receivers is the Atlanta Falcons with players such as Bryan Edwards and Auden Tate. Additionally, rookie Drake London could use a mentor. So mix in what Beasley has been throughout his career and that the Falcons wide receiver room is young, and it makes sense for them to want a veteran like Beasley. – FALCONS
Miller, W. – The Titans constructed a brand-new receiving core this offseason, but they are lacking versatility. Beasley is possibly the slottiest receiver in all of football. However, the Titans have been known to run lots of two-receiver sets in order to stack the line for Derrick Henry. That offense won’t work for this team. AJ Brown kept defenses at bay, but the Titans have nobody intimidating enough on the outside to warrant an unstacked box. Opponents will be keying heavily on the run as the Bengals displayed brilliantly in the playoffs last season. Beasley would allow them to have a consistent check-down option with Henry on the field. He could be Tannehill’s new best friend if they just commit to more three-receiver sets, freeing up the box for Henry and providing Tannehill with more play-action targets. – TITANS
Royal – Hilton is an established veteran who spent a decade running down the sideline in Indy. His production has fallen off drastically, failing to surpass 60 catches over his last three seasons. His previous and final season with the Colts was by far his worst, collecting just 23 catches and finishing with a career-low three scores. The injured reserve played a role in the output but a lot of teams aren’t banking on T.Y. to bounce back. The low-stress of a Titans offense could be a good fit for Hilton. Tennessee could use a veteran receiver after losing Jones to free agency and A.J. Brown to the Eagles. Hilton could serve a vital role in an offense that led the league in rushing attempts. The Titans keep Hilton in the AFC South. – TITANS
Miller, I. – Despite reports linking him to the Baltimore Ravens popping up, it seems as if it is Indianapolis Colts or retirement for T.Y. Hilton. Seeing as he is just 309 yards away from 10,000 receiving yards (all as a Colt) it seems fitting that Hilton returns for one more run. – COLTS
Miller, W. – The Cowboys could use some veteran help at wideout after losing Cedric Wilson and Amari Cooper to free agency just after Michael Gallup tore his ACL in week 17 of last season. His status is up in the air for week one and every game counts for Dallas in an improved NFC East. T.Y. Hilton is a former receiving yards leader who specializes in the deep ball. Their receiver depth is incredibly young and they don’t have a ton of speed, which Hilton could certainly help with. He could also fill a vital role in that receiver room: veteran presence. Gallup and James Washington are the oldest receivers on the team at 26. Dallas needs someone who can mentor those young route technicians now that Cooper is gone. It shouldn’t take a massive contract offer to lure Hilton out of free agency to a team with title aspirations, and he would be a great deep threat for Kellen Moore’s offense. – COWBOYS
Royal – I’ve been a huge Will Fuller fan ever since the Texans took him in the first round of 2016. His big play ability and deep ball threat could help numerous offenses around the league. The 28-year-old dazzled during his time in Houston before being limited to just two games with Miami in 2021. Fuller is a strong candidate for a big comeback campaign, but the right offense will be important. Fuller needs a quarterback with a big arm and an offense that will free him up down the field. One NFC team comes to mind who is going through a change at the wideout position. Green Bay could use someone on the other end of some big time throws from Aaron Rodgers. The Packers receiving core will have a different feel and a veteran presence could be a final puzzle piece. Fuller is looking for a fresh start and Rodgers could utilize his big play ability. – PACKERS
Miller, I. – Most reports have linked Will Fuller to the Cleveland Browns due to his connection with Deshaun Watson. However, I like Fuller going elsewhere in the AFC North. The Baltimore Ravens traded away the team deep threat, Marquise Brown, during the draft. Fuller could be a good replacement for Brown as he possesses elite speed. – RAVENS
Miller, W. – After Lamar Jackson lost his No. 1 speedster and close friend Marquise Brown, he’s in the market for a wideout who can stretch the field. Will Fuller would fit the Marquise Brown role to a tee. He has elite speed as a deep threat but is also dangerous after the catch. Brown was twitter famous for his wide-open drops, but Fuller is much more seasoned with better hands (although they aren’t great). Fuller could even be an upgrade from Brown if he manages to stay on the field, but that risk is part of why he hasn’t been signed. Fuller hasn’t played in 12+ games since his rookie year and has never gone over 1,000 yards. However, he could be the perfect fit to revitalize the Ravens’ offense, a team with less than 1,000 career receiving yards from their two projected starting wideouts combined. – RAVENS
Royal – Mohammed Sanu again finds himself in need of a new uniform. If a team signs him during this off-season, he will be 33-years-old before week one. Sanu could also be playing for his sixth team since his debut in 2012. The third-round pick has struggled to replicate the success he showed during his time with the Falcons. His 2021 season was also a downer as he was limited to just eight games after appearing in 10 the previous season. Health is a big factor for Sanu entering this season and most teams could struggle to roll the dice. Due to this, I could see Sanu landing on a roster that’s not going to be contending this season. The Bears receiving core is young and will also feature rookie Velus Jones Jr. out of Tennessee. The addition of Sanu would be cheap, provide experience, and give young quarterback Justin Fields some reassurance among his pass catchers as Chicago continues its development. – BEARS
Miller, I. – With rookie Treylon Burks dealing with asthma that is keeping him out of practice and Robert Woods still working his way back from a torn ACL, Ryan Tannehill will need someone to throw to. Mohamed Sanu might not be the sexiest pick for that job, but he has experience starting experience and can play a complimentary role in the offense. Imagine him as an Adam Humphries type of player from back in 2019. He’s not a starter, per se, but can come in and make plays when needed. – TITANS
Miller, W. – Sanu can do two things for the Browns: Mentor Donavan Peoples-Jones and serve as a backup QB when Jacoby Brisset ends up the starter. In all seriousness, the Browns will likely not have Deshaun Watson this season, so they should look to fortify their receiving core as much as possible. Sanu will likely sign a one-year deal and he could teach Peoples-Jones as well as Amari Cooper and Anthony Schwartz a lot about body control and making contested catches. Sanu has always run solid routes and made tough receptions look easy. A veteran with that skill set would be huge for a Browns offense with lots of new faces. – BROWNS
Some players above could be waiting on an injury or similar scenario before inking a contract for this season. Others may just need to prove their health to some coaches around the league. Whatever the case, the free agent market is still stacked with talent and players who can impact the game and roster in which they sign.
Special thanks to Ian Miller and Wyatt Miller (no relation) for their inside analysis.
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