Teams that get it know what you’re really looking for in free agency. Those teams are looking to find players that are still young veterans at the end of their first contracts, who are still improving and have the ability to anchor an offense or defense for at least four or five seasons to come.
To that end, here are 10 players fans may not be focused, but should be.
OG Andrew Norwell: At 6-6, 320 pounds, Norwell was arguably the best guard in the NFL last season. He has started 35 consecutive games, and Norwell will not turn 27 until halfway through the coming season. It is possible Norwell is still improving, and could very well anchor an offensive line for the next five or six seasons.
WR Allen Robinson: There is certainly a risk here with Robinson trying to rebound from a 2017 season lost to a torn ACL, but if healthy, Robinson has elite tendencies after piling up 201 catches, 2,841 yards and 22 touchdowns his first 3 years in the league, including 80 catches for 1,400 yards, 17.5 yards per catch and 14 touchdowns his second year in the league. Plus, Robinson will not turn 25 until the end of training camp.
TE Trey Burton: Burton was number three in Philadelphia behind Zach Ertz and veteran Brent Celek, and at just 6-3, 230, he’s not for everybody.
But Burton is a classic number two at the move position who can split a seam and take the top off a defense while creating matchup nightmares in two tight end sets. Burton will be 27 on November 1.
RB Jerick McKinnon Mckinnon is a converted quarterback out of Georgia Southern with the size, speed, quickness and rushing and receiving skills to be a classic third-down back in the NFL and possibly the next Darren Sproles, and he doesn’t turn 26 until May.
CB Kyle Fuller Fuller is riskier than the rest of the players on my list because of questions about his ability to play through pain and why he didn’t emerge as one of the top cover corners in the league until his fourth season. But he was all that in 2017, and appears to be still getting better while he’s just turned 26 in February.
WR Sammy Watkins Like Fuller, Watkins has been an under-achiever his first four seasons in the league but coming out of Clemson 4 years ago he was one of the best prospects in the draft, and he did have 1,047 yards, a 17.5 average and nine TDs his second year in Buffalo. He played in 15 games last season, and he won’t turn 25 until June.
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins Seferian-Jenkins was a troubled young man coming out of the University of Washington, but he seemed to find himself the last season and a half with the Jets. He is massive at 6-6, 262 pounds, and remarkably athletic for his size, and he is only 25 years old.
S Eric Reid A former number one pick of the 49ers, Reid has shown flashes of being an elite safety. He seemed to hit a wall after his first two seasons in the league, about the time the 49ers fell on hard times. He is 6-1, 215 pounds, still just 26 years old, and if he stays healthy, a fresh start could be exactly what he needs to excel.
S Kenny Vaccaro Vaccaro was tabbed three spots ahead of Reid in the 2014 NFL Draft, and many thought they’d be the next Eric Berry and Earl Thomas. Like Reid, he’s shown real flashes, but now will need a clean medical after missing the last four games of 2017 with a torn abductor muscle and having both groin and wrist surgery this offseason. He is still only 27
OLB/ER Trent Murphy Murphy was developing into an outstanding pass rusher with a nine-sack season in 2016 before missing all of last year with a torn ACL. At 6-6, 260, he is a true load coming off the edge, has had a full year to rehab his knee and is still just 27 years old.