2015 Top Free Agents: Defensive Interior
While this year's class is highlighted by a marquee player Steve Palazzolo shows how deep the free agent class of defensive interior players is at the top.
2015 Top Free Agents: Defensive Interior
You’ve surely had a flip through the PFF Free Agent Tracker by this point, so this set of articles will build nicely on what you’ve already seen. This, our yearly effort to sort the top free agent options at each position, will present a position a day and offer a Top-10 of what’s available.
It’s more than just looking at our grades, but factoring in longevity, age, injuries and so much more in order to tell you who we think are the best gets out there.
1. Ndamukong Suh – Signed with Miami
2014 Grade: +31.4
2014 Snaps: 926
Perhaps the top prize of the entire free agent class, Suh is one of the premier defensive linemen in the league and he’ll be highly coveted if allowed to hit the open market. He had the second-highest overall grade in 2014 at +31.4 with a near-even distribution as a pass rusher (+17.0) as he did as a run stopper (+19.6). It’s the second part of that equation that makes him as coveted as any defensive tackle in years as he’s always excelled at affecting the quarterback, but his ability to defeat blocks and make plays in the running game has steadily improved throughout his career. His Run Stop Percentage of 9.7 percent was a career-high and ranked sixth among defensive tackles, a perfect indicator of his growth in his fifth year in the league.
As with any major free agent contract, the price tag will almost certainly outweigh the production, but at 28 years of age, Suh is one of the few players that may be worth the money given his all-around game at a position of immense value.
2. Terrance Knighton – Signed with Washington
2014 Grade: +15.3
2014 Snaps: 578
Since signing with the Broncos in 2013, Knighton has been one of the best defensive tackles in the league. His +15.3 grade ranked 12th at the position in 2014 after posting the sixth-highest grade in 2013 (+26.4). He’s been very good against the run at +13.0 while providing 18 hurries on 317 pass rushes. Still just 29 years old, Knighton will be a coveted commodity to fill a hole in the middle of a team’s defensive line.
3. Nick Fairley – Signed with St. Louis
2014 Grade: +9.8
2014 Snaps: 297
Perhaps the most boom or bust prospect on the list, Fairley has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career, including a +9.8 effort on only 297 snaps last season. Whether rushing the passer (+8.1) or playing the run (+5.7), Fairley has excelled throughout his career, with injuries and a bit of undisciplined play the only drawbacks. His best overall season came in 2012 when he graded at +15.1 and if his next team can get him to play up to his potential, Fairley has a chance to become one of the better defensive tackles in the league.
4. Jared Odrick – Signed with Jacksonville
2014 Grade: +9.0
2014 Snaps: 817
After a couple of early-career position switches. Odrick seems to have found a home as a defensive tackle in Miami’s 4-3 scheme. Despite only one sack, he still finished with 28 hurries, after posting 46 hurries to pair with a +11.8 pass rush grade in 2013. He’s been a little less consistent against the run, grading around average the last couple years. Perhaps a decreased workload could help in that area after playing 874 and 817 snaps in each of the last two years respectively. If prospective teams want to see him in more of a 3-4 defensive end role, they can go back to see his 2011 tape when he graded at -5.2. Chances are he’ll be a candidate for both schemes, but allowing Odrick to rush the passer from the interior seems like the best fit to this point in his career.
5. Stephen Paea – Signed with Washington
2014 Grade: +14.4
2014 Snaps: 709
Paea may be the classic career-year free agent, but given his only being 27 years of age, it may just be the case of his arrow pointing up. He posted a career-high +14.4 grade, including a +18.2 mark as a pass rusher that ranked fourth among defensive tackles last season. He finished with 47 pressures on 418 rushes for a Pass Rush Productivity of 8.7 that also ranked fourth. The caveats come in the run game where Paea has never grade positively in his career, combined with the fact that much of his pass rushing production came from a late-season surge. It will be up to teams to determine if he’s an ascending player or merely another case of a free agent year push.
6. Dan Williams – Signed with Oakland
2014 Grade: +14.4
2014 Snaps: 475
Although Williams is a one-dimensional run-stopping nose tackle, he may be the safest of the free agents as you should get exactly what you pay for. He posted a +13.7 grade against the run on his 475 snaps last season and two-down nose tackle is likely to be his best role on prospective teams. He’s not completely useless as a pass rusher (+0.8), but he’s it’s still not likely that he’s a good fit as an every-down player. If used properly, Williams should provide good value in the proper role.
7. Corey Peters – Signed with Arizona
2014 Grade: +0.9
2014 Snaps: 535
Summary: Peters has become a useful player against the run the last couple years, grading at +2.3 in that department in 2014, including a Run Stop Percentage of 8.3 that ranked 14th among defensive tackles. He was less productive as a pass rusher where he notched 21 pressures on 348 rushes to finish at -2.9 after posting a -6.6 mark in 2013. Peters has continued to improve throughout his career and he should fit in as a rotational player with starting ability.
8. C.J. Mosley
2014 Grade: +5.4
2014 Snaps: 541
Summary: Always productive in his limited roles, Mosley has done a nice job as a backup defensive tackle and a spot starter in recent years. He graded at +2.6 against the run last season while also posting a +1.1 pass rush grade to go with 15 pressures on his 314 pass rushes. It’s unlikely that a starting job awaits Mosley on the open market but teams looking for a player that can fit into multiple schemes while providing a solid 300-400 snaps will look to Mosley as a bargain free agent pickup.
9. Karl Klug – Re-signed with Tennessee
2014 Grade: +1.9
2014 Snaps: 338
Summary: Klug may not be starting material but he’s graded positively as a pass rusher every year of his career and he should latch onto a team as a situational pass rusher. He graded at +4.1 as a rusher last year after posting a +10.1 grade in 2013. Klug is only 27-years-old, and like other players on the list, if he finds the proper role, he’ll be a valuable part of a defensive line rotation.
10. Kenrick Ellis – Signed with New York Giants
2014 Grade: +1.1
2014 Snaps: 158
Summary: Just as Klug is a pass rushing specialist, Ellis fits the bill as a run stopper. He’s played in the shadow of one of the league’s best run stopping nose tackles in Damon Harrison the last couple years, but Ellis always showed well when given an opportunity. He graded at +2.3 against the run on 158 snaps in 2014 after posting an impressive +14.0 run-stopping grade on only 210 snaps in 2013. He’s similar to Dan Williams as two-down nose tackle appears to be his best and only fit, but it’s a valuable role to fill and Ellis appears ready to step into a bigger role as he hits free agency.
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