- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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This list was somewhat of a bear. The gap between No. 1 and No. 12 isn’t so big. There is a huge degree of subjectivity and personal preference.
I wanted my one overriding consideration as I pieced together the top 12 free agents in the AFC South to be production versus potential. If I’m shopping for a player, I want to feel like he’s got potential to produce for me, of course. But I want that feeling rooted in the fact that he already has produced. But few guys with expiring contracts in our division strike the right measure in the production versus potential debate.
You could reshape this in any number of ways and I likely wouldn’t object. So have at me in the comments. It seems quality fodder for some discussion.
My top 12 free agents-to-be in the AFC South:
1) Glover Quin, free safety, Texans. He’s versatile and can cover and hit. He may rank as only the fourth-best safety to get to free agency in the NFL, but he could be a strong addition to a secondary and losing him would hurt the Texans.
2) Dwight Freeney, defensive end, Colts. He’s aging, sure. But for a team needing a pass-rushing boost, he’s got to be intriguing. Put him back in a 4-3, ideally indoors on turf, and he’s going to get some sacks.
3) Daryl Smith, outside linebacker, Jaguars. A durable guy, the timing of his first serious injury was poor and he missed all but two games last year. A very solid player the Jaguars would probably do well to retain.
4) Jared Cook, tight end, Titans. He’s an intriguing physical specimen who’s quite a threat as a pass-catcher. While the Titans didn’t figure out best how to use him, he wasn’t very consistently productive and is limited as a blocker.
5) Derek Cox, cornerback, Jaguars. But for health concerns that have cost him 17 games over the past three seasons, he’d probably be atop this list. When he’s on the field, he can be a high-quality cover corner. Can he stay on the field?
6) Greg Jones, fullback, Jaguars. It’s a position that is increasingly devalued and de-emphasized. But if you need a lead back, he’s a quality guy who’s done some awfully good work paving the way for Maurice Jones-Drew.
7) Terrance Knighton, defensive tackle, Jaguars. He can show great feet for a giant man, and seemed to get his weight under better control. But his best play was early in his time with the Jaguars, not late. That was a big disappointment considering how much of a contract he could have earned.
8) Connor Barwin, outside linebacker, Texans. Had a big year in 2011 and passed on a contract extension before the 2012 season. What he’s going to get now, after a poor season, is unlikely to match up to the deal he passed on. Does he rebound or did he simply flash once?
9) Sen’Derrick Marks, defensive tackle, Titans. Has some ability to penetrate on early downs and has made some progress. But isn’t as far along as suitors would probably like for a second-round pick four years into his career.
10) Jerraud Powers, cornerback, Colts. A smart player who understands how to play. Didn’t have sufficient time to settle into Colts’ new system which has a thin secondary before he was sidelined by a toe injury. His inability to stay healthy is the big issue for him at this point.
11) Rob Bironas, kicker, Titans. Bironas has a strong leg and a clutch history, though he’s not coming off his best season. But in a league where analytics are carrying more weight, more teams will cap what they’ll pay a top guy at the position
12) James Casey, fullback, Texans. I think he’s been somewhat miscast as a lead blocker. He’s got excellent hands, so I think he could do more in an atmosphere where he has more chances to catch passes.