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5 NFL Free Agents Who Could Help Fuel 2022 Playoff Runs

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 19: Linebacker Dont'a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots reacts after making a defensive play in the second quarter of the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on September 19, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

    Elsa/Getty Images

    Attrition is starting to take its toll on the 2022 NFL
    season. Plenty of projected contenders are slumping because of injuries, and areas
    that lacked depth on these rosters are starting to be exposed.

    While some clubs will try to swing deals to reinforce their
    lineups before the upcoming trade deadline passes, others will be reaching out
    to free agents who can patch holes without costing much.

    Although there aren’t any superstars on the open market and
    most of the veterans without a deal are limited in some form, there are several
    notable options available who could jump in and help in a big way.

    With that in mind, here are five free agents we could see
    fuel a postseason run.

Odell Beckham Jr., WR

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    INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 13: Odell Beckham Jr. #3 of the Los Angeles Rams runs with the ball during Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium on February 13, 2022 in Inglewood, California. The Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Odell Beckham Jr. is a textbook example of a free agent who
    sparked a playoff run because of his efforts last season with the Los Angeles Rams.

    After languishing with the Cleveland Browns for two-and-a-half
    seasons, the disgruntled wideout forced his way out shortly after the trade
    deadline passed. The Rams capitalized on this sudden availability, scooping
    Beckham up on a cheap one-year deal.

    The low-risk, high-reward transaction paid off in a big way
    after Beckham experienced a resurgence in a Rams uniform. He finished with 305
    yards and five scores on 27 catches in eight regular-season games and added
    another 21 catches for 288 yards and a pair of scores—including Super Bowl LVI’s
    opening touchdown—during L.A.’s four-game run to the Lombardi Trophy.

    Unfortunately, OBJ suffered a torn ACL in the first half of
    the Super Bowl. He’s been rehabilitating since, but it remains to be seen when
    he’ll be able to take the field again and how effective he will be once he’s
    back.

    While Beckham has been aiming
    for a mid-November return, ESPN’s Dan
    Graziano found that some team executives believe Beckham won’t realistically
    be ready until mid-December.

    Even if the 29-year-old is only able to contribute for a
    handful of regular-season games, his presence could be the difference between a
    postseason victory and going home early.

    The Rams offense has been struggling without OBJ in the
    lineup and should be aggressively pursuing a reunion with the wideout. A pair
    of NFC North contenders—the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings—could also
    benefit heavily from a receiver of Beckham’s caliber and have both reportedly engaged
    in discussions
    or expressed interest in signing him.

    Potential Fits: Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams,
    Minnesota Vikings

Dee Ford, EDGE

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    SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 19: Dee Ford #55 of the San Francisco 49ers is introduced before the NFC Championship football game against the Green Bay Packers on January 19, 2020, in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    There aren’t too many impact pass-rushers without an NFL
    contract right now, but Dee Ford should be on the short list of targets for squads
    needing some help on the edge.

    Ford is one of the more proven options because of the time he
    spent with both the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. He was a first-round
    pick by the former in 2014, spending five seasons with the club before a
    three-year stint in the Bay Area.

    In eight NFL seasons, Ford accumulated 159 tackles, 79
    quarterback hits, 44 tackles for a loss, 40 sacks and 12 forced fumbles. He
    appeared in eight playoff games as well, notching 17 tackles, seven QB hits, five
    tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble in those contests.

    While his production declined because of injuries during his
    tenure with the Niners, Ford was still a serviceable edge-rusher when he was
    available in recent years. After coming back from neck and back injuries that
    limited him to just one game in 2020, Ford suited up for six contests last year
    and tallied five tackles, three sacks, four quarterback hits, two tackles for a
    loss and a forced fumble.

    Ford should be ready to go if he’s tapped by a contender. Per
    49ers Webzone’s David
    Bonilla, San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan revealed that the pass-rusher
    was given a “good bill of health” before his release this offseason.

    Since Ford elected not to officially retire, the 31-year-old
    could still catch on with a club lacking rotational firepower on the edge.

    The Cincinnati Bengals, Las Vegas Raiders and Cleveland
    Browns are among the teams with some of the lowest sack totals in the league at
    this juncture and could all benefit from Ford’s skill set as they attempt to
    push into the playoffs following mediocre starts.

    Potential Fits: Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns,
    Las Vegas Raiders

Dont’a Hightower, LB

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    New England Patriots outside linebacker Dont'a Hightower warms up before an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong )

    AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

    Few free agents possess the pedigree and experience of
    former New England Patriots star Dont’a Hightower. While his incumbent club
    elected to forge ahead without the linebacker, another organization could
    capitalize on his surprising availability nearly midway through the 2022
    campaign.

    Hightower spent a decade terrorizing opposing offenses in
    New England. In 117 games between 2012 and 2021, the linebacker amassed 569
    tackles, 27 sacks, five fumble recoveries, a pair of forced fumbles and an
    interception.

    While Hightower was great for the Pats during the regular
    season, he was arguably at his best when the games mattered the most. He
    notched 81 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception
    in 17 career playoff games while leading New England’s defense to three Super
    Bowl victories.

    The 32-year-old may be best remembered around Foxborough for
    two heroic plays on the biggest stage. He made the game-saving tackle on Marshawn
    Lynch at the goal line in Super Bowl XLIX—setting up a stunning interception
    that gave the Patriots the win over the Seattle Seahawks—and forced a key
    fumble on Matt Ryan that was instrumental in New England’s record 25-point
    comeback against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.

    Teams lacking an experienced and instinctual veteran in the
    middle of their defense will want to keep Hightower in mind as they gear up for
    a playoff run. While the 32-year-old may have lost a step in recent years, he’s
    still a brilliant player who can alter a game by making a clutch tackle or
    forcing a momentum-swinging turnover.

    A few teams in the hunt should give serious consideration to
    signing Hightower. A return to the New England Patriots—where he clearly fits
    the system and has so much experience—would be sensible, but heading out west
    to help guide the Arizona Cardinals or Los Angeles Chargers back to the
    postseason could be a fitting ending to Hightower’s Hall of Fame career.

    Potential Fits: Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles
    Chargers, New England Patriots

David Johnson, RB

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    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 07: David Johnson #31 of the Houston Texans runs with the ball after making a catch against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on November 07, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    Teams wishing to bolster their backfield depth will find
    plenty of available options on the scrap heap, but a true contender will want
    to choose one with veteran savvy who still might have a little tread left on
    the tires.

    David Johnson could fit the bill as the back looks to find a
    new home in 2022. The 30-year-old wasn’t picked up in the offseason following a
    disappointing two-year run with the Houston Texans but could revitalize his
    career with a change of scenery.

    The Northern Iowa running back came out of seemingly nowhere to put
    together a scintillating sophomore campaign in 2016, racking up 1,239 yards and
    16 touchdowns on the ground while adding 879 yards and four scores on 80
    receptions.

    Unfortunately, Johnson was never able to reach those lofty
    numbers—or even eclipse 1,000 rushing yards again—after suffering a major injury
    in the 2017 season opener. Johnson struggled to live up to expectations in
    Houston after he came over as part of a deal that sent superstar wideout
    DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona, admitting
    he felt pressure because of the trade.

    Now free to get a fresh start, Johnson could still be an
    impact contributor for a contender. He’s an especially potent pass-catching
    back—he drew at least 42 targets and reeled in at least 32 catches in each of
    the last four seasons—who could make for an ideal third-down option.

    The New York Giants would be a logical place for Johnson to end
    up. The team has been relying heavily on Saquon Barkley and could use Johnson to
    take some heat off the resurgent running back. Backups Matt Breida and Gary
    Brightwell are both limited receivers, so Johnson fills a need while providing
    depth for one of the most key areas of Big Blue’s offense.

    If the Giants don’t land Johnson, the New York Jets—who have
    also been riding a hot hand in Breece Hall and could benefit from a proven
    backup to complement Michael Carter—and banged-up Baltimore Ravens would be good
    fits.

    Potential Fits: Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants, New
    York Jets

Daryl Williams, OL

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    ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 09: Daryl Williams #75 of the Buffalo Bills waits for the snap during the fourth quarter against the New York Jets at Highmark Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images)

    Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

    Offensive line injuries can quickly end the title dreams of a Super Bowl
    contender. Several championship hopefuls are struggling right now because of injuries and other issues in the
    offensive trenches, which could make the handful of proven O-linemen still
    available hot commodities.

    Daryl Williams’ phone could be ringing off the hook as clubs
    try to patch up their offensive line midway through the 2022 season. The former
    Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills offensive lineman hasn’t landed on a roster
    yet, but it seems it is only a matter of time before he’s back on the field.

    The 30-year-old was last seen starting all 17 games for
    Buffalo last season, playing both right guard and right tackle. He also drew 16
    starts for the club at right tackle in 2020.

    While he didn’t perform as well as he did two years ago when
    he earned an impressive 79.4 PFF
    grade and allowed only three sacks across 1,050 snaps, Williams was still a
    highly serviceable starter this past season. He displayed good versatility and scored
    a 67.5
    PFF grade while giving up four sacks on 1,172 snaps.

    The New York Jets should be courting their old divisional
    rival after their shockingly hot start to the season. The team lost Mekhi
    Becton and George Fant for the season, and the thin offensive line is currently
    relying on 37-year-old Duane Brown to man the left tackle spot.

    Gang Green could sign Williams to immediately upgrade a suspect
    right guard spot while providing injury insurance and depth at tackle. If the
    Jets don’t land Williams, expect a team like the Denver Broncos or the Los
    Angeles Rams—both are woefully underperforming in the offensive trenches right
    now and need help if they are going to make playoff runs—to snap him up.

    Potential Fits: Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Rams, New
    York Jets



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