The NFL combine is now in the past with teams looking at free agency. Players officially hit the market on March 9, with plenty of bargains not generating all the buzz.
Who are the biggest potential steals in free agency?
1. Rishard Matthews -- Matthews held off first-round pick DeVante Parker for a starting job before a late-season rib injury last year, shining as an intermediate complement to Jarvis Landry's slot-possession game. While inferior talents like Mohamed Sanu have been propped up by the media, Matthews is flying under the radar even in a thin wideout class. Still only 26 years old, Matthews' average of 10.85 yards per target paced last year's Dolphins, besting Parker (9.88), Kenny Stills (6.98), Landry (6.97), and Greg Jennings (5.78). In fact, Matthews' 10.85 yards-per-target average is the highest in this year's free agent wide receiver crop.
2. Ian Williams -- A 26-year-old nose tackle, Williams was quietly the most consistent player on San Francisco's defense last season, stamping out the run and creating backfield havoc while logging 58% of the 49ers' defensive snaps. A fire hydrant at 6-foot-1 and 319 pounds, Williams is an overachieving former undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame who's generated surprisingly little buzz as free agency draws near. He's a zero-technique nose in 3-4 defenses and would probably also excel as a one-technique tackle in 4-3 fronts.
[MAIOCCO: 49ers do not use franchise tag for fourth straight year]
3. William Hayes -- Primarily a rotational defensive end, Hayes has at least four sacks in four straight seasons and broke out last year playing in place of injured LE Chris Long, posting 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles as an 11-game starter. Hayes excelled as both a run stuffer and pass rusher, earning Pro Football Focus' No. 6 overall grade among 48 qualifying 4-3 defensive ends. Turning 31 in May, Hayes' price tag should be lowered by his age. The Rams reportedly want Hayes back to replace Long full time in 2016.
4. Patrick Robinson -- Drafted 32nd overall in 2010, Robinson had all the appearances of a first-round bust across five seasons with the Saints, missing time with a high ankle sprain, arthroscopic knee surgery, and a devastating ruptured patellar tendon in 2013. Signed to a one-year, "prove-it" deal with San Diego last offseason, Robinson turned his career around as a quality bookend for Jason Verrett. Down the stretch, Robinson replaced Brandon Flowers in the Chargers' base defense. Robinson can play slot and outside, and he doesn't turn 29 until September. He's seemingly gotten lost in a cornerback market where Josh Norman, Trumaine Johnson, Janoris Jenkins, Prince Amukamara, and Sean Smith are hogging headlines.
[BAIR: Raiders don't use franchise tag; impacted by other teams' moves]
5. Tyvon Branch -- Branch appeared to be developing into a premier NFL safety when the Raiders franchise tagged him in 2012, before signing Branch to a four-year, $26.6 million deal. Plagued by hard-luck leg and foot injuries, Branch played just five games for Oakland in 2013-2014, getting released two Februaries ago. In 2015 free agency, Branch settled for a one-year, $2 million prove-it deal with Kansas City and reemerged as a playmaking third safety in the second half of the season. Coming out of UConn in 2008, Branch blazed a 4.31 forty time at 5-foot-11, 204. Now 29 years old, Branch should land a starting job on the open market.
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