Ranking the 2012 Free Agents: Interior Defensive Line

| February 25, 2012

When it comes to analyzing talent and performance, standard NFL stats like tackles, sacks, and interceptions tell a partial and often misleading story. This is even more true when it comes to interior defensive lineman. For these guys, the typical stats just aren’t all that relevant. A successful play for them doesn’t normally result in a statbook entry. Instead, it’s often their job to eat up blockers while other defenders clean up. This is why we at PFF do what we do. By grading every player, on every play, we determine what impact (negative, positive, or neutral) lineman have on any given play–even if nothing shows up in player’s stat-line.

In today’s look at the top interior defensive line free agents, we will be leaning heavily on our grading system to rank players and identify their strengths and weaknesses. We will also be using two of our Signature Stats for further comparison. Run Stop Percentage (RSP) shows you how often a defender tackles an opponent that results in an offensive failure relative to how many running plays that player had the opportunity to defend. To compare pass rushing ability, we look at our Pass Rush Productivity rating (PRP) which measures pressure (hurries, hits and sacks) created on a per snap basis with weighting toward sacks.

The results are 10 free agents that should be on the radar of any team looking to shore up a soft run defense or generate that elusive inside pass rush. The Top 3 on this list are among the elite at their positions and will have many suitors if their current teams don’t place the franchise tag on them. The rest will need to find teams that are the right fit for their strengths and who are willing to overlook some of their deficiencies and question marks.

 

1) Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals

Age as of September 2011: 26

2011 Grade: +34.1

Key Stat: Earned nine sacks and nine batted passes both of which led NFL interior defensive linemen.

Behind The Numbers: Reports indicate that Arizona’s front office has no intention of letting their primary defensive standout test the market and the franchise tag seems to be a likely scenario. Only the 49ers’ Justin Smith graded higher among interior linemen. Campbell only had two games all season in which he did not log a defensive stop, had seven games of four or more, and his total of 47 were also highest for his position. Campbell’s raw numbers certainly look great but should be taken in the context of his extremely high snap count (1,033). Our signature stats do just that, with a PRP (6.6) and RSP (8.1%) dropping him down to rankings just inside the Top 20.

 

2) Sione Pouha, New York Jets

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 33

2011 Grade: +30.0

Key Stat: Hasn’t missed a game due to injury since taking over the starting role in 2009.

Behind The Numbers: Unlike Campbell, the latest reports have Pouha escaping the franchise tag with the salary cap-troubled Jets. They are still likely to make a play for his continued services, but they will have to battle other teams keen on the league’s second-ranked run-stuffing lineman (+27.2). His RSP (10.2%) is was second best for an interior DL in 2011. Pouha has been a durable, consistent force for the Jets since he began starting in 2009. Since then he’s logged 27 out of 48 regular season games with PFF grades in the green compared to just two games with a red grade.

 

3) Broderick Bunkley, Denver Broncos

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 28

2011 Grade: +24.1

Key Stat: +28.4 run defense grade was best among NFL defensive linemen.

Behind The Numbers: We liked the Broncos’ move of picking up Bunkley in a trade with the Eagles last offseason. Injuries had slowed him during the 2010 campaign, but we predicted a big upgrade for the Broncos’ run defense. Bunkley apparently didn’t mind proving us right. His +28.4 rating against the run topped Pouha for best in the NFL and his 11.3% RSP ranked third in the league.

 

4) Jason Jones, Tennessee Titans

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 26

2011 Grade: -9.3

Key Stat: 7.5 PRP as a 3-4 end in 2010. 4.7 PRP as a 4-3 end in 2011.

Behind The Numbers: Jones was miscast at the 4-3 end position last year for the Titans, and he’s made it clear that his next contract will be with a team who’s willing to move him back inside. Jones’ 2011 numbers aren’t much to look at (-10.9 pass rush grade, 3 sacks, 19 TPs, 4.7 PRP) but no doubt, teams will be looking at his breakout 2010 campaign as a 3-4 end for a better gauge of his value (+17.3, 4 sacks, 36 TPs, 7.5 PRP). That PRP rating placed him as one of the Top 10 interior pass rushers in the league during 2010.

 

5) Paul Soliai, Miami Dolphins

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 28

2011 Grade: +2.5

Key Stat: +16.9 run grade in 2010.

Behind The Numbers: Soliai made the Pro Bowl this year at NT and appears to be in line for a big payday. The Dolphins used the franchise tag on him last offseason, but the latest reports out of Miami have him hitting the market as an unrestricted free agent and likely ending up with another team. Soliai finished in the Top 10 for RSP in 2009 and 2010 but this year’s +5.2 grade against the run and 6.4% RSP represent a considerable drop off.

 

6) Antonio Garay, San Diego Chargers

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 32

2011 Grade: +4.0

Key Stat: His 29 Total Pressures and 8.9 PRP were the best among league nose tackles.

Behind The Numbers: Garay is another player who probably would’ve been better off had he hit free agency after the 2010 season (+15.8 run grade, +12.3 pass rush grade) as he, like much of the Chargers defense, dipped in 2011 (+1.5 run grade, +7.3 pass rush grade.) Consistency against the run was a problem this year where really impressive performances against the Patriots, Bears, and Raiders in the finale (+8.7 combined in those three games) were offset by stinkers against the Dolphins, Jets and Ravens (-8.5 combined).

 

7) Shaun Rogers, New Orleans Saints

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 32

2011 Grade: +2.2

Key Stat: Has averaged only 440 snaps per season over the last 3 years.

Behind The Numbers: After getting released by the Browns last offseason, Rogers signed a $4 million, one-year contract with the Saints. He showed enough to set things up for perhaps an even better deal this year. Averaging only 20 snaps per game, he was the Saints’ highest-rated defensive player (+5.9 overall) and was at his best playing the run (+6.4). With low mileage over the last three years, his age may be less of a concern for teams looking for an early-down lineman.

 

8 ) Kendall Langford, Miami Dolphins

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 26

2011 Grade: +1.7

Key Stat: PRP of 7.5 was good for top 10 among interior DLs even though he did not log single sack.

Behind The Numbers: Langford’s 2011 season was marred by poor performances in run defense (-6.8), especially early in the year. Potential suitors will certainly take into account more productive seasons against the run from 2008-2010, and may be willing to look past run deficiencies for what he brings to the table as a pass rusher (+7.7). No, we’re not crazy. Yes, we do know that he didn’t notch a single sack last year. His impact came from his ability to collapse the pocket and create pressure.

 

9) Derek Landri, Philadelphia Eagles

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 28

2011 Grade: +22.0

Key Stat: Averaged 20 snaps per game through his first six games, and 37 per game over the final six.

Behind The Numbers: After being cut by the Eagles during the preseason, he was resigned by the club in October and surprised with a very productive year. His raw numbers (two sacks, 20 total pressures, 17 stops) may not catch the attention of the rest of the league, but the Eagles certainly knew what they had. By the end of the season, Landri was getting more snaps in the rotation than starter, Cullen Jenkins. His +14.0 run defense rating led the team while both his RSP (9.7%) and PRP (8.6) were good for Top 10 rankings among the league’s interior defensive linemen.

 

10) Aubrayo Franklin, New Orleans Saints

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 32

2011 Grade: -1.4

Key Stat: Earned a +24.3 run defense grade as a nose tackle in 2010.

Behind The Numbers: Franklin had a great 2010 season playing NT in San Francisco’s 3-4 defense (11.8% RSP). The fact that production only garnered him a one-year contract with the Saints for 2011, had to be a major disappointment. Equally disappointing had to be his drop off in play as a 4-3 DT (+3.8 run defense, 8.1% RSP). Franklin was out-performed by Shaun Rogers, and saw limited snaps (18 per game). That said, we expect a few teams that miss out on Bunkley and Pouha to be intrigued by the thought of Franklin lining up over center again.

 

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