Golden Tate leads list of top free-agent pickups

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Every week, Chris Wesseling will roll out the power rankings for one specific NFL position or attribute. So far, we have covered running backs, safeties, red-zone threats, throwing arms, quarter-pole surprises, disappointments, franchise cornerstones and players deserving of Pro Bowl consideration.

Now that we have reached midseason, we are turning our attention to the top 10 offseason free-agent acquisitions:

1. Golden Tate, Detroit Lions wide receiver: On the rare occasions in which Calvin Johnson has missed games in the past, the Lions offense has gone in the tank. That's exactly what has happened again this year, only Tate has almost single-handedly pulled them back out. Gregg Rosenthal highlighted Tate's penchant for game-changing plays in this week's midseason "Making the Leap" roundup. Among the most sure-handed receivers in the league, Tate ranks third in both receptions and yards and second only to Demaryius Thomas in yards after the catch. If this was a list of midseason MVP candidates, Tate would still merit a spot in the top 10.

2. Steve Smith, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver: NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks' midseason report examines the early-season MVPs of each division, with Smith earning AFC North honors. Off to the best start of any wide receiver age 35 or above, Smith is on pace for 1,350 yards and eight touchdowns while resurfacing as a dangerous deep threat. That would rank as the third-best season in a career that should someday be recognized with a bust in Canton.

3. DeMarcus Ware, Denver Broncos defensive end: The Broncos rank second in Football Outsiders' defensive DVOA, bolstered by the NFL's most lethal pass-rushing duo in Ware and Von Miller. At 32 years old, Ware still possesses the explosive first step that has allowed him to maintain the sack-a-game pace from the prime of his career from 2007 to 2011.

4. Branden Albert, Miami Dolphins tackle: Nobody needs to be reminded that Miami's offensive line was a trainwreck last year. The play up front got so bad that Ryan Tannehill regressed down the stretch while leading the league in sacks absorbed. Albert has been one of the NFL's elite blindside protectors this season, allowing Tannehill to stay upright long enough to post two of the best performances of his career over the past month.

5. Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos wide receiver: More than compensating for the loss of Eric Decker, Sanders has added a deep speed element to Peyton Manning's high-flying aerial attack. Before arriving in Denver, he had never recorded a 100-yard performance in his five-year career. Now he has four such games. The Broncos are lucky he's not lining up across from them this week.

6. Darrelle Revis, New England Patriots cornerback: Revis has made a strong case for NFL's top cornerback since Dwayne Bowe won their Week 4 matchup. Revis went on to frustrate A.J. Green, erase Sammy Watkins and turn the Bears' dynamic duo into a non-factor. The Pats boast the NFL's second-stingiest pass defense despite the injuries to pass rusher Chandler Jones and linebacker Jerod Mayo.

7. Julius Peppers, Green Bay Packers pass rusher: Written off by many as past his prime, Peppers has joined Mike Daniels as the best players on an upgraded Green Bay's defense this season. He leads the team in sacks and quarterback hits and is second in quarterback hurries, per Pro Football Focus. He has even thrown in a pick-six for good measure.

8. Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos cornerback: Denver's defense leads the NFL in yards per play and is near the top of the list in opponent's passer rating, thanks in large part to Talib, fellow free-agent acquisition T.J. Ward and the healthy return of Chris Harris in a revamped secondary. Talib has not only excelled in coverage but has also shut down the screen-pass game as well as any cornerback.

9. Justin Forsett, Baltimore Ravens running back: An afterthought at the time of his signing in April, Forsett is fourth in rushing yards, first in yards per carry (minimum 100 attempts) and second in rushes over 20 yards. The dynamic guard duo of Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele deserve a share of the credit, but Forsett has been a key cog in the NFL's most improved ground attack.

10. Jared Veldheer, Arizona Cardinals tackle: The Cardinals were counting on Veldheer and 2013 first-round guard Jonathan Cooper to solidify Carson Palmer's blindside after getting the league-worst pass protection for two straight years. Cooper has played just four snaps, yet the offensive line has protected well enough for Palmer and Stanton to lead Arizona to the NFC's best record.

Honorable mention: Jason Hatcher, DeSean Jackson, Antoine Bethea, Malcolm Jenkins, T.J. Ward, Karlos Dansby, Andrew Hawkins, Willie Young, Kyle Orton, Antonio Cromartie, Brandon LaFell, Mike Adams, James Ihedigbo, Earl Mitchell

The latest Around The NFL Podcast breaks down the league at the midway point and previews Saints-Panthers. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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