Now that the franchise tags have been handed out and the list of remaining free agents is clear, it’s a fine time to see just what’s available out there. Individual Defensive Player (IDP) owners will be waiting anxiously for players to ink new deals and settle into their new (or old) roles on NFL teams in order to begin draft preparations in earnest.
NFL teams continue to trim numbers off of their salary cap by restructuring contracts or releasing players in anticipation of going after the big fish on the market. Landing the perfect free agent fit for an NFL team is one thing and determining whether or not it is a fit for IDP fantasy purposes is another.
Here is a look at an 11-man defensive unit made up of some of the best possible IDP fantasy players that are unrestricted free agents.
For the purposes of this article we will assume (I know … a very bad word) a 4-3-4 base defensive alignment. There may be a player or two listed that has yet to have his position set for the 2013 season as some outside linebacker/defensive end designations may be changing later in the summer.
Richard Seymour, Oakland:
I’m torn on this guy for 2013 fantasy purposes as he was pretty productive in the eight games he played last season with 15 total tackles and three sacks. However, he is 33 years old and coming off a season in which he was shut down in December due to a hamstring injury.
That being said, he was playing very well up until suffering the injury and is perhaps the most talented defensive tackle left on the free agent market. Seymour isn’t going to produce above-average tackle numbers at this stage of his career but he can still be a disruptive force from the interior of a defensive front.
A one or two year deal is the best Seymour can hope for in 2013 which will bring a ‘prove yourself’ type of edge to his game and that could mean a very productive fantasy season, providing he is 100 percent recovered from the hamstring injury and can remain healthy for the majority of the year.
Dwan Edwards, Carolina:
Edwards signed last September with the Panthers and had a productive fantasy campaign that saw him finish the season with 52 total tackles and a career best six sacks. In his previous seven seasons he had amassed a total of 5� 1/2 sacks while lining up for the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills.
He has averaged just more than 35 combined tackles a season for his career and added three forced fumbles and an interception. Those are very solid statistics from an interior lineman, and the boost in sack numbers last season adds to his fantasy value.
Edwards has proven effective from a fantasy standpoint in both 3-4 and 4-3 systems throughout his career, and, while he’s not the sexiest name on the free agent market, he is a solid fantasy point producer at the defensive tackle position.
Cliff Avril, Detroit:
Avril’s final numbers last season were respectable as he totaled 9� 1/2 sacks, 35 combined stops and one pass defended. Numbers can be deceiving, though, as his play was very inconsistent. Missing were the big plays he had put up in 2011 when he forced six fumbles, intercepted a pass and scored a pair of defensive touchdowns.
He is arguably the biggest potential fantasy producer at the position remaining on the market and will only be 27 years old in April. An impressive physical specimen at 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, Avril can play with his hand in the dirt or standing up and will absolutely improve any team he signs with pass rush. Ideally, he gets to line up opposite another pass rushing specialist to deflect the number of double teams he faces.
Avril will never wow anyone with his tackle numbers (his single season career high is 41 back in 2009-10), but he is capable of double digit sacks on a consistent basis, which is what fantasy owners want to see.
Michael Bennett, Tampa Bay:
With Adrian Clayborn looking to return from an ACL injury and Da’Quan Bowers facing a bit of a legal snafu, it surprised me when the Buccaneers passed on placing the franchise tag on Bennett. He emerged last season as their best edge defender posting career highs in both sacks with nine and total tackles with 41.
In contrast to the aforementioned Avril, Bennett is an accomplished defender against the run who looks to be getting stronger as a pass rushing threat. He’s a three down player that has shown the versatility to kick inside and play defensive tackle if need be and that adds to his fantasy value.
Bennett played 985 snaps last season, which bested his previous number by more than 350. He has shown a level of inconsistency as a pass rusher but the jump from four sacks in 2011 to the nine he posted last season is an excellent harbinger of things to come.
He is an ascending talent as a fantasy defensive end, and look for the Buccaneers to do all they can to keep him in the fold. Should he move on to another team, he has shown solid tackling skills and an emerging pass rushing presence that will keep him fantasy relevant wherever he ends up in 2013.
Philip Wheeler, Oakland:
After spending his first four seasons as a part time player with the Indianapolis Colts, Wheeler signed a one-year deal with the Raiders last season and had the chance to be an every down player. To say he stepped up big time is a gross understatement.
Wheeler played 1,043 defensive snaps as the SLB for Oakland and finished the season with 109 total tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and was credited with six passes defended. He firmly announced his arrival as a fantasy force moving forward, and the Raiders will do everything they can to bring him back in 2013, as he was a top performer on their struggling defense.
Wheeler’s performance last season will have other NFL teams interested as well because he proved himself a surprisingly effective pass rushing threat from the SLB position. According to
Pro Football Focus, he was credited with 13 quarterback hurries and another 14 quarterback hits to go along with the three sacks he accumulated.
While he was just an average run defender, he did manage to keep his missed tackles number to single digits (nine) and was credited with 78 solo tackles. He was far and away the Raiders’ best linebacker in 2013, and playing solid against the pass in both coverage and as a threat to get to the quarterback increases his fantasy value.
He’s been decent enough against the run for his career, totaling 330 combined stops in five seasons that he’ll secure an every down role wherever he signs for 2013. In that every down role he will be a solid LB3 with low-end LB2 upside due to his ability to rush the passer.
Nick Barnett, Buffalo:
Barnett has manned the WLB position in Buffalo the past two seasons and amassed 242 total tackles, five sacks, three interceptions, had four forced fumbles and scored a defensive touchdown. Very nice fantasy production from the 10-year veteran and he showed no signs of slowing down as he racked up 30 combined stops in the final four games of 2012.
He is a versatile player that played both inside and outside linebacker during his eight year stint with the Green Bay Packers, finishing with at least 105 tackles in each season that he played at least 15 games.
Barnett will probably be forced to sign a one- or two-year deal again wherever he lands next and will continue to provide solid run support while posting two or three sacks and holding his own in coverage as a three down WLB. He will also offer veteran leadership to any defense that brings him on board while mentoring the young linebackers on their roster.
Barnett is a solid LB3 with upside as a later round fantasy draft selection with the potential to finish the season among the Top 30 scorers at the linebacker position.
Dannell Ellerbe, Baltimore:
Ellerbe is the hottest inside linebacker name currently slated to hit free agency, and the Ravens will do everything they can to resign the heir apparent to Ray Lewis. He stepped in for the injured Lewis last season and emerged as a productive linebacker for fantasy purposes by posting 69 solos and 92 combined tackles.
Ellerbe also proved to be an excellent pass rushing threat from the middle and racked up 4� 1/2 sacks and was credited with 13 quarterback hurries and another seven quarterback hits.
Ellerbe shows a great initial burst off the snap, which accounts for his ability to put pressure on the quarterback from the middle and is a solid tackler that was credited with missing only six tackles during the regular season in 2012. He is a fantasy stud in waiting wherever he signs in 2013 as he can man the middle in a 4-3 scheme as well as excel at either right or left inside linebacker position in a 3-4 defense.
Ellerbe is only 27 years old and is coming into his own after being given the snaps to prove himself and is a solid candidate to finish 2013 as a LB2 for fantasy purposes.