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Ranking the free agents: Wide receivers

Posted Mar 4, 2016

Versatile Jordan Norwood and Andre Caldwell are among the names in a free-agent wide receiver class that has potential, but lacks No. 1 receivers in their prime.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The free-agent wide receivers coming from the Broncos are not unlike the receivers in the free-agent class as a whole: they're not No. 1 options, but they can be helpful in the right spots.

Andre Caldwell and Jordan Norwood are set to hit the unrestricted market when the new league year begins next week. In the Broncos' receiving corps, they were complementary parts who proved crucial at times. Both were used on returns, and Norwood ended up working on the first team as the slot receiver when it went into three-wide receiver sets.

If you're looking for a No. 1 receiver, the market isn't going to provide that, unless you want to give up two first-round picks to try and procure franchise-tagged standout Alshon Jeffery from Chicago.

But for complementary options, there are plenty of choices, including some big names looking to extend their careers.

Travis Benjamin

1. Travis Benjamin, Cleveland: The speedy Benjamin had by far the best season of his career in 2015; his 68 catches and 966 yards exceeded his combined three-year total.

Having Josh McCown to bring some stability to the Browns' quarterback position helped, but he might become a perennial 1,000-yarder with a better offense.

2. Marvin Jones, Cincinnati: The 2015 season saw Jones rebound nicely, posting career highs in yardage and receptions last year working opposite A.J. Green. He has the physical skills to become a potential No. 1 option.

3. Rueben Randle, N.Y. Giants: It's unlikely he could step up to be a No. 1 receiver, but as a second option, he's productive: 1,735 yards and 11 touchdowns on 128 receptions the last two seasons.

Anquan Boldin

4. Anquan Boldin, San Francisco: Still steady, still productive. Boldin did not crack 1,000 yards last year, but the 35-yard-old overcame the 49ers' issues to post a respectable 69 catches for 789 yards and four touchdowns.

His ability to make plays in traffic and adjust to the football remains strong, and as long as he stays healthy, he could have another two productive seasons as a No. 2 or No. 3 option.

5. Jermaine Kearse, Seattle: It wasn't his numbers, but when he made his catches; Kearse had a knack for coming up big in the highest-leverage moments for the Seahawks.

In four seasons, he had 10 touchdowns in 53 regular-season games -- and six in eight postseason games, including one in Super Bowl XLVIII. Two of his three 100-yard games in his career came in the postseason. Like Emmanuel Sanders two years ago, Kearse could be in line to take the next step and turn those flashes of brilliance into consistent performance with more use.

6. Rishard Matthews, Miami: Coming off a season in which he established career highs in receptions (43), yards (662) and touchdowns (four), Matthews will have some options. He's also one of the best at moving the chains; of the 48 wide receivers with at least 100 receptions, only one had a better first-down rate than Matthews, who got to the line to gain or beyond once every 1.39 receptions.

Roddy White

7. Roddy White, ex-Atlanta: Declining production opposite Julio Jones led to the Falcons' decision to release their all-time leading receiver after 11 seasons. White hasn't had a 1,000-yard season since 2012, scored just one touchdown last year and has averaged 11.5 yards per reception the last three years after averaging 14.0 yards per catch from 2005-12.

White doesn't get the separation he once did, and his inability to make plays despite the presence of Jones to draw coverage is a cause for concern, but he can still contribute, although the 1,000-catch milestone (he's at 808 now) might be out of his reach.

8. James Jones, Green Bay: Called back to the Packers after injuries decimated their receiving corps, Jones had a nice renaissance, grabbing 50 passes for 890 yards and eight touchdowns while moving the chains once every 1.28 receptions, the third-best rate in the league among wide receivers with at least 50 receptions.

Although his per-catch average dropped to 9.1 yards in his one season with the Raiders, he proved he could still be a viable target even without Aaron Rodgers.

9. Kamar Aiken, Baltimore (RFA): Aiken finished just 56 yards short of 1,000 yards last year despite the Ravens' quarterback instability that stemmed from injuries, and turned in some of his best games toward the end of the season, particularly an eight-catch, 128-yard performance against the Chiefs in Week 15. Aiken is on the rise, and if the Ravens don't give him a second-round tender, he should have plenty of teams bidding for his services.

10. Leonard Hankerson, Buffalo: A strange season saw him finish up with Buffalo after a brief stint with the Patriots that followed being waived from injured reserve by the Falcons following a hamstring injury. Until his injury, he was on pace for his best season; while with the Falcons, he was on a 52-catch, 654-yard, six-touchdown pace. Among free-agent wide receivers, only James Jones and Marc Mariani moved the chains at a higher rate last year than Hankerson (one every 1.37 receptions).

Others of note:

Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville
Marques Colston, ex-New Orleans
Riley Cooper, ex-Philadelphia
Chris Givens, Baltimore
Percy Harvin, Buffalo
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Pittsburgh
Andre Holmes, Oakland
Marc Mariani, Chicago
Hakeem Nicks, N.Y. Giants
Brian Quick, Los Angeles
Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati
Rod Streater, Oakland
Nick Toon, Los Angeles
Nate Washington, Houston
Wes Welker, Los Angeles

Restricted free agents:

Jason Brown, Arizona
Chris Hogan, Buffalo
Marlon Brown, Baltimore
Brenton Bersin, Carolina
Russell Shepherd, Tampa Bay

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