The League

Rob Rang
Draft Guru

Rob Rang

Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com and CBSSports.com

Rookies Hurt Free Agents

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The vast majority of the top free agents have already either re-signed with their old clubs or have moved on to others. Many of the big names still remaining are battling age, injuries or off-field concerns and despite their relative success (Jason Taylor, Gerald Sensabaugh, Chris McAlister, etc.) have sunk to the level of after-thoughts for many clubs.

Two relatively young players that have demonstrated legitimate starting ability at valued positions are offensive tackle Khalif Barnes and tight end L.J. Smith.

Unfortunately for these two players, the closer we get to the NFL draft, the weaker their stock will become in the eyes of many clubs. Barnes is particularly in trouble, as this year's offensive tackle class, like last year's, is special. Scouts tell me to expect four offensive tackles to be among the first ten players drafted and for as many as seven tackles to go in the first round. Former Jacksonville starting left tackle Barnes has the size and legitimate athleticism for the blind side position and at only 26-years-old, still has a lot left in the tank. He remains available largely due to his off-field concerns and this oncoming rookie class of tackles.

Though Smith doesn't share Barnes' off-field issues, his struggles with durability and consistency, even when healthy, are significant. Still, at 28-years-old, Smith has the experience and straight-line speed to challenge down the seam. Considering the value of such receiving specialist tight ends, he remains a talent to watch. Just as with Barnes, however, this year's rookie class of tight ends is allowing pro teams to tread lightly. Only one tight end -- Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew -- is considered a likely first round pick, at this time, but there are several prospects with a similar combination of size and athleticism as Smith, who will be available in the second to third rounds.

It is easy to understand why teams might be tempted to go with the younger, cheaper alternatives. Hope springs eternal with incoming prospects after all. The reality, however, is that some of the incoming rookies will be disappointments, making established starters like Barnes and Smith (among the many others) increasingly logical options for teams looking to hedge their bets.

By Rob Rang  |  March 10, 2009; 2:11 PM ET  | Category:  Draft , Free Agency Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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