Yes, we are all riveted by the questions of where quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr, and Lamar Jackson will end up. But if your team is playing against them, shouldn’t you be equally anticipatory regarding your defensive line?
Defensive linemen who can get to the quarterback and stop the run game before it hits the line of scrimmage are necessary. Players who are athletic and relentless are the goals when searching for defensive linemen. And the teams that excelled in that this year may not be so fortunate next season.
The Philadelphia Eagles have at least three players from their defensive line, which collected a league-leading 70 sacks going into free agency. The Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons, and Las Vegas Raiders will need to think about bolstering a defensive line that collected only 20,21, and 27 sacks, respectively.
Who will be the most sought-after defensive linemen in the 2023 free agency pool? Here are nine to consider.
Brandon Graham, Edge, Philadelphia Eagles
Graham’s first 13 seasons have been with the Eagles. This year he had a career-best 11 sacks, 32 quarterback pressures, and the sixth-best pass-rush win rate (22.9%) for edge defenders.
He also added eight-run stuffs, 35 total tackles, and a 13th-best 11 tackles for loss.
After the Super Bowl, Graham stated he was not retiring and would like to play for the Eagles next season.
The Eagles currently have 18 other unrestricted free agents and are $-3,257,840 under the salary cap.
Sheldon Rankings, Defensive Tackle, New York Jets
Rankings posted a career-high 43 total tackles, even though he only logged 15 games this season. His three sacks, eight quarterback pressures, seven quarterback hits, four tackles for loss, and a forced fumble exemplify a steady presence as opposed to an elite player in any particular area.
Rankings had his second-best Pro Football Focus overall grade this season with a 73.1.
Fletcher Cox, Defensive Tackle, Philadelphia Eagles
Cox is a six-time Pro Bowler who finished the season with seven sacks, 30 quarterback pressures, and 14 quarterback hits. He was 17th ranked in tackles for loss, with seven to go along with his 42 total tackles.
Remember, the Eagles released Cox last season. They then re-signed him to a one-year deal worth $14 million.
Dre’Mont Jones, Defensive End, Denver Broncos
Jones will make his money with his interior pass-rushing skills. He had a career-high 21 quarterback pressures to go along with his 6.5 sacks. Jones also had 44 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and 11 run stuffs.
Zach Allen, Defensive End, Arizona Cardinals
Allen posted 24 quarterback pressures with an 8.3% pressure rate. His 5.5 sacks were second-best on the Cardinals, and his nine tackles for loss were combined with 46 total tackles. He also collected 13 run stuffs (#5).
Dalvin Tomlinson, Defensive Tackle, Minnesota Vikings
Tomlinson is superior at stopping the run. Per Pro Football Focus, “since 2017, he has had 55 tackles for loss or no gain, and his 83.0 run-defense grade in that span is a top-16 mark at his position”.
This season he missed Weeks 9-12 playing on a career-low 523 defensive snaps. He finished with a pedestrian 42 total tackles, three tackles for loss, one fumble recovery, and nine-run stuffs. Tomlinson also added 18 quarterback pressures and 2.5 sacks.
Yannick Ngakoue, Edge, Indianapolis Colts
What Ngakoue lacks against the run, he makes up with his pass-rushing skills. Ngakoue finished the season with a team-high 9.5 sacks and 23 quarterback pressures.
He added a team-leading seven quarterback hits and 19 quarterback hurries. To fill the rest of his resume out, he had 29 total tackles, seven tackles for loss, and five run stuffs.
Da’Ron Payne, Defensive Tackle, Washington
Payne finished with the third-best 11.5 sacks this season, adding 31 quarterback pressures. His total of 64 tackles has him in the top 10, and his 17 tackles for loss ranked him number one.
Javon Hargrave, Defensive Tackle, Philadelphia Eagles
This season Hargrave ranked in the top five in solo tackles (37), had 60 total tackles, was top-10 in tackles for loss (10), and was the top five in both quarterback pressures (34) and career-high 11 sacks.
Since the 2020 season, he has ranked third among defensive tackles in both pass the rushing grade and pass rushing rate per Pro Football Focus.
TOP 5 TEAMS IN NEED OF DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
The Bears were 31st in sack percentage (3.99%), averaging 1.2 sacks per game.
They currently have the first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and the most cap space with $98,656,266.
The Texans were 13th in sack percentage (6.95%), averaging 2.3 sacks per game.
The Texans (in dire need of a quarterback) have the second pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and the fifth most cap space with $37,121,466 at their disposal.
The Cardinals were 24th in sack percentage (5.72%), averaging 2.1 sacks per game.
The Cardinals have the third pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. They have $13,467,247 in cap space.
The Seahawks were 10th in sack percentage (7.38%), averaging 2.6 sacks per game.
The Seahawks have the fifth and the 20th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. They are seventh in salary cap space with $31,343,071 to spend.
The Falcons had the lowest sack percentage (3.6%), averaging 1.2 sacks per game. And the second-lowest quarterback pressure rate (22%).
The Falcons have the second most salary cap space with $51,158,608 to spend. They also have the eighth pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.