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Footloose, Fancy ... Free!

Feb. 15, 2016
Feb. 15, 2016

Table of Contents
Feb. 15, 2016

SI NOW
INBOX
SUPER BOWL 50 2016
OFF-SEASON PREVIEW
BASEBALL 2016
FIFA 2016
  • WHOEVER WINS THE ELECTION TO REPLACE DISGRACED PRESIDENT SEPP BLATTER IN THE MOST IMPORTANT DECISION IN FIFA'S CORRUPT HISTORY WILL BE FACED WITH THIS QUESTION: DO THE VOTERS REALLY WANT CHANGE?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL 2016
NBA 2016
COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016
  • By Chris Johnson

    AFTER FIVE YEARS IN THE RECRUITING CROSSHAIRS, NO. 1 PROSPECT RASHAN GARY FINALLY PICKED A SCHOOL. NOW THE REAL BATTLE CAN BEGIN

  • The best way to stop the rash of decommitments and pulled scholarships is to let players sign as soon as they get an offer

  • By Gabe Baumgaertner

    How did the last 10 No. 1 recruits turn out?

  • Ten players who can make a difference next fall

NASCAR 2016
BUSHWACKER
  • Kent Cox turned Bushwacker into the greatest bucking bull in history—and their bond was as deep as that between any trainer and human athlete. So why did Cox make the bull a witness to his ultimate act of violence?

POINT AFTER
Departments

Footloose, Fancy ... Free!

PEYTON MANNING ... EMMANUEL SANDERS ... DEMARCUS WARE ... MOST OF THE PANTHERS' RECEIVING CORPS AND DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD—ALL WERE ACQUIRED ON THE OPEN MARKET. HOWEVER YOU FEEL ABOUT FREE AGENCY, THE FACT IS, YOUR TEAM'S CHANCES OF REACHING SUPER BOWL 51 WILL BE SHAPED BY HOW IT APPROACHES THE TOP 40 FOOTBALLERS FOR HIRE

LIKELY TO RECEIVE CURRENT TEAM'S FRANCHISE TAG

This is an article from the Feb. 15, 2016 issue

1 MUHAMMAD WILKERSON DE JETS

He's the only player at this position who's visible in J.J. Watt's rearview mirror. Long arms, brute strength and multidirectional explosiveness make the 26-year-old a fit in any scheme. Match game: Jets, Raiders, Bears

2 VON MILLER OLB BRONCOS

Miller's explosiveness and body control are as deft as any edge defender of his generation. His AFC title game torturing of Tom Brady (2½ sacks, one INT) earned him a few extra bucks. Match game: Broncos, Titans, Browns

3 ALSHON JEFFERY WR BEARS

Few with his stride (he's 6'3") and wingspan (80 inches) can separate so well at the top of routes. Thanks to his strong hands and NBA-quality vertical, he often doesn't need to separate. Match game: Bears, Browns, Giants

4 JOSH NORMAN CB PANTHERS

He hasn't been asked to play much man coverage in Carolina's scheme, so some teams might be hesitant to offer him Revis money. But given his proficiency playing matchup zone in 2015, he's worth the gamble. Match game: Panthers, Raiders, Jaguars

5 ERIC BERRY FS CHIEFS

Voted an All-Pro upon returning from a cancer battle that sidelined him in 2014, he can play centerfield or in the box and can cover most tight ends man-to-man. Match game: Chiefs, Chargers, Giants

6 OLIVIER VERNON DE DOLPHINS

Playing opposite Cameron Wake, he's been known widely as "the other defensive end" in Miami—but opposing coaches know better. He's a double-digit sack threat who also plays the run extremely well, despite weighing only 261 pounds. Match game: Giants, Falcons, Buccaneers

7 KELECHI OSEMELE OG RAVENS

An outstanding combination of size (6'5", 330 pounds) and mobility (5.36-second 40-yard dash) makes him ideal for a zone-heavy running scheme. He could prosper as a pull blocker in a man-blocking scheme, too. Match game: Ravens, 49ers, Texans

8 DOUG MARTIN RB BUCCANEERS

Even if you think backs are interchangeable, you have to admit: Very few have Martin's ability to squeeze through small cracks inside. Match game: Bucs, Titans, Browns

9 MITCHELL SCHWARTZ OT BROWNS

There's something to be said for a sturdy 6'5", 320-pound right tackle who rarely gets noticed in pass protection. Several teams would pay big money for that. Match game: Seahawks, Colts, Lions

10 GEORGE ILOKA SS BENGALS

Long and rangy—that's a rare combination for the position. With that kind of body, he's a free agent on the rise at both free and strong safety. Match game: Bengals, Giants, Jaguars

11 MALIK JACKSON DE BRONCOS

Light feet and agility in confined spaces make for super gap-shooting prowess. Jackson's a better run defender than widely recognized, but he'll make his money as an interior pass rusher. Match game: Raiders, Giants, Panthers

12 JAYE HOWARD DL CHIEFS

An underrated run stopper as a 3--4 defensive end in K.C. (with the potential to be a 4--3 defensive tackle elsewhere), he came on very strong over the last two years. Match game: Chiefs, 49ers, Chargers

13 CASEY HAYWARD CB PACKERS

Yes, he's effective playing outside, but he's outstanding when he moves into the slot, which many feel is the hardest defensive position in football. Match game: Titans, Eagles, Packers

14 ALEX MACK C BROWNS

One of the quickest ways to improve an O-line is to hire a fundamentally sound center with a high football IQ. And while this one is technically not a free agent, he has an opt-out clause in his contract that he's expected to activate. Match game: Jaguars, Buccaneers, Browns

15 REGGIE NELSON FS BENGALS

The NFL's interception co-leader in 2015 (eight) is also one of the game's better edge blitzers. Match game: Bengals, Bears, Giants

16 KIRK COUSINS QB REDSKINS

He'll be deemed more valuable than most players on this list because of the position he plays (and the limited number of starting-caliber QBs out there), but here's the reality: His arm limitations make him a system guy. Match game: Redskins

17 CORDY GLENN OT BILLS

He's been steady and sound for four years in Buffalo, particularly in pass protection. Stability at left tackle comes at a high price. Match game: Bills, Chiefs, Jaguars

18 MARK BARRON LB/SS RAMS

More and more teams these days play a strong safety at linebacker, especially on passing downs. The hard-hitting Barron fits the prototype. Match game: Raiders, Rams, Chiefs

19 DERRICK JOHNSON ILB CHIEFS

Sure, he's much older than most guys on this list, but neither age (33) nor his 2014 Achilles injury hindered him in '15. He maintains a high football IQ and outstanding fluidity, and he can play on all three downs. Match game: Chiefs, Bears, Falcons

20 ALDON SMITH OLB RAIDERS

That he's on this list despite having at least 10 games left in a suspension for repeated violations of the NFL's substance-abuse policy tells you the immensity of his talent. Match game: Raiders, Bears, Colts

21 SEAN SMITH CB CHIEFS

Smith is long, strong and physical when he needs to be. Ultimately, he must play along the boundary, where he can use the sideline, but plenty of matchup-zone schemes feature that type of corner. Match game: Jaguars, Buccaneers, Chiefs

22 MARVIN JONES WR BENGALS

Jones has very good body control, plus better speed and quickness than you'd guess. He can't be a No. 1 receiver, but he's capable of occasional explosions as a No. 2, as he showed behind A.J. Green. Match game: 49ers, Browns, Bengals

23 GREG HARDY DE COWBOYS

Hardy's dripping with talent, but concerns about his character are off the charts at this point. Match game: Raiders, Buccaneers, Seahawks

24 DAMON HARRISON NT JETS

He plays with natural strength and leverage. Factor in his rangy lateral-movement ability and you're looking at a sturdy run stopper. Match game: Jets, Texans, Raiders

25 TERRANCE KNIGHTON NT REDSKINS

Even with those oak-tree thighs, Pot Roast moves nimbly. Downside: His snaps must often be limited to first and second downs. Match game: Chargers, Packers, Redskins

26 RICHIE INCOGNITO OG BILLS

A very good pull blocker who's also reliable in pass protection, he should have been voted first-team All-Pro in 2015. Match game: Bills, 49ers, Buccaneers

27 KELVIN BEACHUM OT STEELERS

Assuming no major ill effects from last October's left ACL injury, this 2012 seventh-rounder has the light feet and upper-body control to continue blossoming into a very fine NFL left tackle. Match game: Raiders, Jaguars, Browns

28 CEDRIC THORNTON DT EAGLES

He's a domineering run defender who, like defensive linemate Vinny Curry, was not fully appreciated during his time in Philadelphia. Match game: Chargers, Eagles, Lions

29 JASON PIERRE-PAUL DE GIANTS

We still need to see a larger sample size to know how he performs without half of his right fingers. Last season brought ups and downs in this regard. Match game: Giants, Jaguars, Buccaneers

30 LAMAR MILLER RB DOLPHINS

Miller's a finesse runner who surprises at times with his ability to reach the perimeter. But can he be the Guy? Or is he best served as part of a one-two punch? He's hoping a team gambles on the former. Match game: Bears, Browns, Titans

31 TRUMAINE JOHNSON CB RAMS

This '12 third-round pick has a very good feel for routes and timing when playing off coverage. If you're thinking of signing him, your highlight reel starts with his game-long battle against Megatron last season. Match game: Rams, Panthers, Vikings

32 DANNY TREVATHAN ILB BRONCOS

A three-down contributor in Wade Phillips's attacking Denver defense, he plays fast against both the run (109 tackles in 2015) and pass (two INTs). Match game: Bears, Giants, Browns

33 TASHAUN GIPSON FS BROWNS

While Gipson's not quite the ball hawk that his 13 INTs since 2013 suggest, he's an intelligent impact player who will improve some suitor's secondary. Match game: Jaguars, Giants, Browns

34 PRINCE AMUKAMARA CB GIANTS

A solid boundary cover corner, he showed steady improvements over the five years since New York used a first-rounder on him. Match game: Buccaneers, Titans, Giants

35 RUSSELL OKUNG OT SEAHAWKS

He may be one of the league's more physically gifted left tackles, but durability is a concern. In six seasons he's missed 24 games due to injury. Match game: Seahawks, Eagles, Chiefs

36 NICK FAIRLEY DT RAMS

The 6'4" 300-pounder took a humbling one-year, $5 million contract as a free agent last year and went on to play with outstanding energy and burst off the Rams' bench. He earned himself some bucks. Match game: Raiders, Giants, Lions

37 ERIC WEDDLE FS CHARGERS

Even at 31, he still has enough in the tank. Someone will splash cash on him if for no other reason than that he's as multitalented as any safety in the league. Match game: Giants, Falcons, Eagles

38 BRUCE IRVIN DE/OLB SEAHAWKS

He's got an explosive first step off the edge and is versatile enough to survive in coverage as a strongside linebacker in a base 4--3. Match game: Falcons, Buccaneers, Seahawks

39 MATT FORTE RB BEARS

He's at that age—he turned 30 in December—where most running backs wash up, but he's shown little signs of this. Forte remains a smooth, laterally agile runner who would thrive getting 15 touches per game in a complementary role. Match game: Bears, Colts, Lions

40 ANTONIO GATES TE CHARGERS

The old man (35) hasn't been able to run in about three years, but his production has remained strong thanks to sheer savvy. You have to wonder how he would fare without his careerlong QB, Philip Rivers. Match game: Chargers, Packers, Falcons

PHOTOPETER MORGAN/APWILKERSON PHOTOJOE ROBBINS/GETTY IMAGESHAYWARD PHOTOSIMON BRUTY FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATEDCOUSINS PHOTOSCOTT BOEHM/APJOHNSON PHOTOAARON M. SPRECHER/APOKUNG PHOTOCHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGESFORTE PHOTOTOM DIPACE/APWEDDLE SEVEN ILLUSTRATIONS