Ranking the Free Agents: Defensive Tackles and 3-4 Ends

| February 26, 2011

There’s nothing harder for a quarterback than not being able to step up into your throws, so finding guys who can get some push and penetration is very much at a premium.

Then again, there’s nothing more frustrating for an offensive coordinator than having your run game taken away, so finding guys who can burst through gaps or eat up blockers is rather handy.

Finding both? Well that would be extremely nice, and what GMs will be hoping to find from our list of the top defensive tackles and 3-4 ends about to hit the open market.

1. Aubrayo Franklin, San Francisco 49ers

Age as of 1st September 2011: 31

2010 Grade: +15.5

Key Stat: 37 defensive stops. Third most of all defensive tackles.

Behind The Numbers: Let’s be honest, there are not enough quality nose tackles in the league right now, so good ones are all the more valuable. Franklin isn’t a one gap nose tackle that is all the rage, but a true prototypical, run stuffing, gobble up running backs two gapper. He’s not going to get after the passer, but when you can anchor a line like Franklin you really don’t need to.

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2. Brandon Mebane, Seattle Seahawks

Age as of 1st September 2011: 26

2010 Grade: +10.3

Key Stat: Has finished in our top twenty for defensive tackles in the last three years.

Behind The Numbers: He’s never quite replicated his excellent 2008, but Mebane has always played well for the Seahawks. Capable of getting to the quarterback and blowing up run plays, Mebane is good enough to start for pretty much any team running a 4-3. Factor his production with his age and he could be in line for a big payday.

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3. Shaun Ellis, New York Jets

Age as of 1st September 2011: 34

2010 Grade: +18.9

Key Stat: Ended up with 38 QB disruptions in 2010.

Behind The Numbers: Ellis caught the eye with his sacks against New England in the playoffs, but his season was about so much more than that. Bringing regular pressure and penetrating in the run game, it’s easy to see why Ellis thinks he has one more year left in him. Seems a great fit in the Jets defense so staying makes logical sense — if only things were that simple.

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4. Barry Cofield, New York Giants

Age as of 1st September 2011: 27

2010 Grade: +16.3

Key Stat: Had more QB hits (10) than any DT not named Shaun Rogers.

Behind The Numbers: After his 2009 we didn’t have much faith in Cofield. He showed us. A real turnaround season, the defensive tackle got plenty of pressure but was even more of a nuisance defending the run. Second half of the season lacked consistency, but the whole year was enough to suggest Cofield is back.

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5. Cullen Jenkins, Green Bay Packers

Age as of 1st September 2011: 30

2010 Grade: +20.3

Key Stat: His 46 QB disruptions (including post season) were second of all 3-4 ends.

Behind The Numbers: The problem with Jenkins is an injury never seems to be that far away. But he plays through it and is always productive, so is it a real problem? Jenkins has excelled in the Packers scheme, doing most of his damage in pass rushing situations. Given how well he played in the 4-3 before Dom Capers came in, you know Jenkins could succeed in multiple systems, and will be highly sought after.

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6. John Henderson, Oakland Raiders

Age as of 1st September 2011: 32

2010 Grade: +22.6

Key Stat: Only played 272 snaps.

Behind The Numbers: A real interesting year from Henderson. He looked better than he had in his last few years in Jacksonville, but missed a lot of time injured. At his age that’s a concern, but my word was he good when he was on the field. There are plenty of teams who will look at a guy who is going to physically manhandle offensive linemen, and if they manage his snaps and health, Henderson is that guy. One of the quieter stories of redemption this year.

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7. Stephen Bowen, Dallas Cowboys

Age as of 1st September 2011: 27

2010 Grade: +15.0

Key Stat: Finished third in our 2010 3-4 end rankings.

Behind The Numbers: When someone goes down on IR it means someone needs to step up. Stephen Bowen was that guy. He didn’t just step up when Marcus Spears’ season ended, he surpassed anything Spears had done, and built on his own success in nickel situations. Having proven he can start in the NFL, Bowen just needs an opportunity now.

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8. Shaun Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

Age as of 1st September 2011: 29

2010 Grade: +9.3

Key Stat: Had as many touchdowns as sacks in 2010.

Behind The Numbers: If player reports are to be believed, he’s more of a threat to an offensive lineman’s genitals than he is the quarterback. But the Chief defensive end was a big part of their success in winning the AFC West, showing a particular knack for stopping ball carriers before they could get past the markers. His 28 defensive stops are a big indicator of how disruptive he can be.

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9. Tony McDaniel, Miami Dolphins

Age as of 1st September 2011: 26

2010 Grade: +6.5

Key Stat: Had 24 defensive stops on the year.

Behind The Numbers: McDaniel really came of age this year. Looking out of place in ’09, McDaniel transformed himself into an (at times) destructive pass rusher. He still has some consistency issues, but in a league overflowing with 3-4 defenses he would at least add some depth, and possibly fight for a starting spot.

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10. Trevor Pryce, New York Jets

Age as of 1st September 2011: 36

2010 Grade: +8.2

Key Stat: Averaged a QB pressure on 12.4% of all pass rushes.

Behind The Numbers: He may be approaching 36, but Pryce still has plenty of burst. If you don’t believe me re-watch the 18 snaps he played for the Jets in the AFC Championship game. He ripped through that Steeler line on more than one occasion. The problem for Pryce this year was finding playing time, and it may stay that way if he’s playing second fiddle to the super durable Shaun Ellis. For a team needing some pass rush he could provide a short-term, but immediate injection of it.

  • http://www.profootballfocus.com Khaled Elsayed

    Since writing this John Henderson has resigned with the Raiders (who seem to be the only team tying down their players).

    • jakuvious

      I think it will be interesting, after everything is resolved, whether that turns out helping or hindering the Raiders.

  • Ben24626

    You state Shaun Smith got a grade 0f 9.3 last year, when it says he got a 6 point something on the 3-4 DE rankings page.

    • Rick Drummond

      Hey Ben, Smith’s grade here includes two games where he qualified first as a NT (+0.3) and the Wild Card game (+2.5) on top of his regular season games that counted for him as a 3-4 DE (+6.5).