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updated: 3/13/2018 12:29 PM

Arkush: 10 NFL free agents that should make a difference next year

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  • Former Carolina Panthers offensive guard Andrew Norwell is considered one of the top offensive linemen available among NFL free agents.

    Former Carolina Panthers offensive guard Andrew Norwell is considered one of the top offensive linemen available among NFL free agents.
    Associated Press/2017 file

 
By Hub Arkush
harkush@profootballweekly.com

Teams that get it understand that what you're really seeking in NFL free agency are still-improving young veterans -- at the end of their first contracts -- with the ability to anchor an offense or defense for at least four or five more seasons.

To that end, here are 10 free agents that should make a difference for new teams next season:

OG Andrew Norwell:

At 6-feet-6, 320 pounds, Norwell arguably was the best guard in the NFL last season.

He has started 35 consecutive games and will not turn 27 until halfway through this season. It is possible Norwell still is improving and could very well anchor an offensive line for the next five or six seasons.

WR Allen Robinson:

The Bears are certainly taking 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 for 2,841 yards and 22 touchdowns his first three years in the league, including a 80-1,400-14 second year. Robinson will not turn 25 until the end of training camp.

TE Trey Burton:

He was No. 3 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 No. 2 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 Nov. 1.

RB Jerick McKinnon:

A converted quarterback out of Georgia Southern with the size, speed, quickness and rushing and receiving skills to be the classic third-down back in the NFL and possibly the next Darren Sproles, and he doesn't turn 26 until May.

CB Kyle Fuller:

He 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 NFL's top cover corners until his fourth season. But he was all that in 2017 and appears to still be getting better while he just turned 26 in February.

WR Sammy Watkins:

Like Fuller, Watkins has been an underachiever his first four seasons in the league, but coming out of Clemson four years ago he was one of the best prospects in the draft. And he did have 1,047 yards, a 17.5 average and 9 TDs his second year in Buffalo, and he did play in 15 games last season and won't turn 25 until June.

TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins:

This 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 New York Jets, is massive at 6-6, 262 and remarkably athletic for his size. And he is only 25.

S Eric Reid:

A former No. 1 pick of the San Francisco 49ers, Reid has shown flashes of being an elite safety, but 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, still just 26, and if he stays healthy a fresh start could be exactly what he needs to excel.

S Kenny Vaccaro:

He was tabbed three spots ahead of Reid in the 2014 draft, and many thought they'd be the next Eric Berry and Earl Thomas. Like Reid, Vaccaro has 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 groin and wrist surgery this off-season. He is only 27.

OLB/ER Trent Murphy:

He was developing into an outstanding pass rusher with a 9-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 still is just 27.

• Hub Arkush, the executive editor of Pro Football Weekly, can be reached at harkush@profootballweekly.com or on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.

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