While the headliner of the 2012 free-agent class is Drew Brees, these defenders are the guys who are going to lead their teams to championships.
They are the ones who stop the other team from scoring and win the field-position battles. That is where championships are routinely won.
Carlos Rogers, CB, San Francisco 49ers
The difference between the 2010 and 2011 49ers was Rogers. In 2011, their plus-28 turnover margin was best in the league. In 2010, they were minus-one. This season, they allowed all of 14.3 points a game. Last year, it was 21.6.
Rogers is the difference there. He stepped in and intercepted passes and shut down his side of the field. With that, the 49ers were able to load up against the run because they didn't have to worry about dropping two safeties.
The 49ers need to bring Rogers back, but if they can't, Rogers will bring the same kind of punch to his new team. A bad defense will become average, an average defense will be good, a good defense will be great. You get the idea. Rogers' impact on the 2011 49ers can't be overstated, as they were otherwise largely the same team in 2010.
Cliff Avril, DE, Detroit Lions
Take a look at Avril's sack numbers throughout his career:
Notice a nice trend there? There is very little not to like about a 26-year-old whose sack totals have increased every year. Avril belongs on the edge, attacking the quarterback. He put up those numbers last year on a defense that ranked in the bottom-20 in the NFL in both rushing and passing yards allowed.
If he is on a defense that isn't so easy to run or pass on, the sack totals will only get better. The more opposing offenses are off schedule, the more Avril will pin his ears back and attack the passer. Those sack totals can easily be at 15 next year.
Who will have more sacks in 2012?
Mario Williams, OLB, Houston Texans
While we're on the subject of guys who attack the quarterback, let's take a look at Williams. The fact that he sacked the quarterback five times in 2011 despite only playing five games tells you all you need to know.
Williams attacks quarterbacks like few others of this era can do. In a pass-heavy league, you need a guy who can find that quarterback.
The Texans need to do everything they can to bring Williams back. But if they can't land the former No. 1 pick, his new team will get an undeniable stud.