The 2023 NFL free agent market isn't littered with too many big names. Derek Carr (signed with Saints), Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard (franchise tagged) are no longer available, but players like wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., defensive tackle Javon Hargave and safety Jessie Bates III are among the many proven veterans to choose from this offseason. But sometimes the best additions are the ones that fly under the radar.
Super Bowl LVII was such a reminder. The champion Chiefs landed JuJu Smith-Schuster on a modest one-year deal last offseason, only for the ex-Steelers pass catcher to play a timely role in Kansas City's latest title run. The runner-up Eagles, meanwhile, advanced to the big game in part because of later signings -- such as a one-year deal for James Bradberry in May.
With that in mind, which veterans could prove to be great values in 2023? Here's a look at seven underrated free agents:
The perception of Minshew has been slightly but negatively colored by his 0-2 stretch filling in for Jalen Hurts late in 2022, specifically a lackluster outing against the Saints. But this is a young quarterback (turns 27 in May) with lots of starting experience (24 games) and a hair-above-average passing production (44 TDs, 15 INTs, 93.1 rating for his career). That counts for a lot in a league perpetually in need of premium insurance under center. He may have physical limitations, but he doesn't lack for locker-room presence and play-making spirit, making him one of the most intriguing backups available.
You might argue that the Chiefs connection actually inflates his value rather than suppresses it. But he was an invisible man during K.C.'s recent title run due to injury, and the Bears' unwise bet on Byron Pringle following his own flashes in Andy Reid's offense could keep teams wary of Hardman. All that said, when he's been healthy, he's a virtual lock for 500-600 receiving yards and boasts the speed and versatility to move around formations. He's also got lots of experience as a return specialist and will only turn 25 this month. If you're looking for an athletic utility man to fill a No. 3 WR role, you could do a whole lot worse.
Injuries have kept Pocic, 27, from playing more than a single full season at the NFL level, but he's still racked up 53 starts in six years. Best of all, he's fresh off a sterling run as the anchor of the Browns' front, emerging off the bench as arguably Cleveland's steadiest blocker -- even next to All-Pros Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller. Pocic wasn't a heralded starter during his first five seasons in Seattle, and he doesn't have the name recognition of fellow free agents like Garrett Bradbury and Dalton Risner. But his presence was instrumental to Cleveland's Nick Chubb-heavy ground game, and he's proven he can also play guard.
Graham is a big name who still doesn't get quite the love he deserves; nothing backs this up like his omission from the 2022 Comeback Player of the Year race, despite his logging a career-high 11 sacks after missing most of the previous year with a torn Achilles. Going on 35, he's definitely more of a rotational piece than an every-down defender these days. He also tends to get more pressures than actual sacks. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a better total package at what figures to be a reasonable price. Graham is stout, tough against the run and an absolutely beloved locker-room leader.
An unsung hero of Dennis Allen's stingy Saints defense down the stretch, Elliss' name is overshadowed in New Orleans by familiar Pro Bowlers like Cameron Jordan, Marshon Lattimore and fellow linebacker Demario Davis. But he's got the athleticism and natural pass-rushing gifts to warrant a permanent full-time gig, logging seven sacks and 10 QB hits despite only coming off the bench halfway through the year. He's also got lots of special teams experience, starring on that unit prior to his defensive ascent in 2022. He may not be Trey Hendrickson, a traditional edge who shined after leaving town, but he's got potential.
For a 25-year-old starting cornerback, who four years ago was one pick away from being a first-rounder, Murphy has been surprisingly anonymous approaching the market. That's probably because he missed half of 2022 with a back injury, and because he hails from a generally shoddy Arizona secondary. When healthy, however, the Washington product has proven pretty sturdy both inside and outside, making him a potential steal for a team looking to land longer-term secondary help.
There are lots of splashier, higher-upside bets at the safety position, including the Eagles' C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Giants' Julian Love. Going on 33, missing time in three of his last five seasons, McLeod does profile as more of a rental type on the back end. But he was a model of consistency during an otherwise down year for the Colts defense, and he's long been a sound fundamental player -- and aggressive tackler -- at a relatively volatile position. He'd fit in just nicely on a contender, especially in a rotational/mentorship role.