NFL free agency has slowed down given it's April, aka Draft Month. Many of the offseason's top free agency targets have found their 2023 season homes. While the draft is where most teams build their foundation, free agency can be the cherry on top that pushes teams over the finish line into the world of Super Bowl contention.
There are several starting caliber defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs looking for new deals and places to make an impact. Below are the top three free agents at each defensive position, leading up to the 2023 NFL Draft.
Free agents taken from OverTheCap.com.
There's still a solid starter whose sack totals have him in the company of all-time greats out on the market. Yannick Ngakoue, who turned 28 in March, has recorded eight or more sacks in each of his first seven seasons, including 9.5 in 2022, his only season with the Indianapolis Colts.
Only four others have done that since individual sacks have been recorded (in 1982): three Hall of Famers (DeMarcus Ware, Derrick Thomas, Reggie White) and Los Angeles Rams defensive Aaron Donald, a future Hall of Famer. If a team needs at least eight sacks and more juice for its pass rush, Ngakoue should be the first call among all the remaining defensive free agents.
Players with 8+ sacks in each of first seven seasons of career (since 1982):
* Pro Football Hall of Famer
Frank Clark comes to play when the lights shine brightest: His 13.5 career playoff sacks are the third-most ever behind three-time Super Bowl champion Willie McGinest (16.0) and Hall of Famer Bruce Smith (14.5). Any contender who wants a proven playoff pass-rusher should be blowing up Clark's phone.
Floyd has racked up 29 sacks and 157 pressures since 2020 the past three seasons, and he's shown an ability to perform without Aaron Donald. He racked up four sacks and 28 quarterback pressures in the six games Donald missed with injury last season. He's also played in every game since 2018, showing phenomenal health for a player entering his age-31 season.
With the proliferation of Vic Fangio's two-high safety defense designed to stop the pass in the NFL, teams more than ever need defensive linemen who can be significant factors against the run. A'Shawn Robinson plays the run as well as any defensive lineman in the NFL. The 28-year-old had a torn meniscus that cut his 2022 short, but in the first 11 weeks of the season, he ranked right alongside Aaron Donald and DeForest Buckner as one of the best run-stopping defensive linemen in the entire league.
Most tackles on designed run plays, Weeks 1-11 (2022 season)
|Player||Tackles on designed rush plays|
LV Maxx Crosby
IND Grover Stewart
CAR Derrick Brown
IND DeForest Buckner
LAR A'Shawn Robinson*
LAR Aaron Donald
* Tore meniscus in Week 11
Shelby Harris was a cap casualty in Seattle after coming over as part of the Russell Wilson trade. He's solid in run defense, and even though Harris declined a touch rushing the passer last season (two sacks, 28 pressures) in comparison to 2021 (six sacks, 32 pressures), he should still bring value as a key cog in a pass-rushing rotation for a playoff-caliber team.
The 29-year-old, like Harris, is a nice rotation player. He had his fewest sacks since his rookie season in 2016 with only one in 2022, but Ioannidis was just about as much of a factor in the quarterback pressures department (35) as ascending, young defensive tackle Derrick Brown (40).
Jones totaled 44 total tackles, six tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble while playing in the 2022 season's final 11 games. He missed the first six games with a shoulder injury. Jones hasn't been the same from a speed perspective since breaking his foot in the 2018 season, but he's still a serviceable depth piece at this stage of his career. Jones, 28, has garnered interest from the New York Giants, visiting them Monday, according to NFL Media.
Nagging injuries like the groin ailment Myles Jack dealt with in 2022 have hampered the speedster's ability to produce. However, when healthy, he is one of the better athletes at the position and is a solid player in coverage. Jack will be 28 by the time the 2023 season rolls around, and he could be a nice add for a team looking to utilize a rangy linebacker in sub-coverage packages.
Rashaan Evans, a former first-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in the 2018 NFL Draft, followed his longtime defensive coordinator Dean Pees to Atlanta, and he totaled a career-high 159 tackles. That tied for the sixth most in the entire NFL last season. The player he was tied with, linebacker T.J. Edwards, signed a three-year, 19.5 million contract in the first wave of free agency with the Chicago Bears. Evans, 27 years old, is only nine months older. He hasn't been the star many would have hoped coming out of Alabama, but he's a serviceable player who could fit a number of defenses.
Marcus Peters' 32 career interceptions are tied for the third most among active players as only Harrison Smith and Patrick Peterson have more (34 each). Peters appeared to be a step slower in 2022 following a torn ACL that cost him his entire 2021 season. There's a chance he could look more like his Pro Bowl-caliber level he has showed for most career the further he gets away from that injury. Only 30 years old, Peters probably has enough gas in the tank to be a nice veteran role player on a contender.
Rock Ya-Sin dealt with knee injuries that caused him to miss six games, including the final five of the season. However, he'll only be 27 years old entering the 2023 season, and his 51.7% completion percentage against in coverage last season with the 16th best in the NFL among players with 60 or more pass attempts targeted their direction. There should be a starting opportunity out there for him somewhere, considering he's at least a No. 2-caliber cornerback.
Darby is in the buy-low, prove-it deal zone, thanks to a torn ACL he suffered five games into the 2022 season. Darby has allowed a solid 69.7 passer rating in coverage since 2019 despite not recording an interception in that time If he's healthy, he could be a nice depth addition.
Adrian Amos was one of the best safeties in football in 2020, but his play has declined in each season since. The soon-to-be 30-year-old allowed a 102.8 passer rating in coverage as the primary defender, the 17th highest in the NFL among defensive backs to play in at least 10 games. He can still provide value in the run game, evidenced by a career-high 102 tackles in 2022, but his coverage has been sliding in the wrong direction for a couple seasons.
Rodney McLeod is 33 years old, an age in which no one is lining up to give a defensive back a significant, long-term commitment. However, McLeod showed he still has plenty left to contribute on the gridiron with career highs in passes defended (eight) and tackles for loss (eight). Only Stephon Gilmore (11) had more passes defended in the Colts secondary in 2022.
Duron Harmon had a nice season at 31 years old, becoming a surprise starter after the release of former first-round pick Johnathan Abram. A couple interceptions and five passes defended is solid work. Although, now entering his age-32 season, Harmon isn't as consistent in coverage as he once was during the Patriots' Super Bowl runs in the 2010s. He probably has more value to the Raiders or the Patriots considering his ability to thrive in a "Patriots Way" type of environment.