The Indianapolis Colts' plan to shift to a 3-4 defense, demands a nose tackle to anchor the new look front. There are several promising candidates on the market and the position is sure to receive more attention during free agency's second week.
Antonio Garay is arguable the best fit for the Colts in free agency, having played for new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky in the past.
Both new head coach Chuck Pagano and Manusky have favoured 1-gap, hybrid versions of the 3-4 in their careers. This means the Colts can make room for more active players over the center, even those whose background has been a 4-3.
Cincinnati Bengals youngster Pat Sims and recently released veteran Anthony Adams headline this group. With Cory Redding added to the line at defensive end, the Colts must quickly identify their preferred choice for the most important position on their new look defense.
Here are the five best free-agent nose tackle options for the Colts to consider.
Thirty-one-year-old Aubrayo Franklin proved to be a poor fit for the New Orleans Saints 4-3 schemes. However, he is a natural focal point for a 3-4 defense.
Franklin has plenty of experience with the three man front, having excelled as a nose tackle for the San Francisco 49ers for four seasons, prior to to his move to the NFC South.
Franklin has good size, strength and natural leverage for the position. The 6'1" 317 pounder can absorb double teams and use raw power and brute force to move the pocket.
Franklin is a prototype 2-gap tackle. What he lacks in explosion and penetration, he compensates for with his ability to hold the point and create lanes of attack for the linebackers.
Pat Sims may have spent his short career in the Bengals' 4-3 front, but that shouldn't deter the Colts from strongly considering him for the middle of their three man line.
Sims has the physical attributes of a classic nose tackle. At 6'2" and 330 pounds, he is a big body able to plug the middle and not be driven back off the ball.
A powerful force inside, Sims could be the focal point of the Colts defense and signal a revival in this traditionally weak area for the team. The 26-year-old is young enough to learn and quickly adapt to the nuances of the 3-4.
Sims' injury history does rate as a concern. He was limited to only a single start in 2011, after falling victim to an ankle injury.
Having already lost Frostee Rucker and Jonathan Fanene in free agency, the Bengals would be loathed to see another valuable member of their impressive line rotation leave.
However, if a deal could be struck, there is certainly plenty to recommend Sims moving to Indianapolis.
In many ways Brandon McKinney makes the most sense for the Colts. He played under Chuck Pagano in Baltimore and is familiar with the type of defense the rookie head coach will implement.
McKinney also offers excellent size for the position at 6'2" and 345 pounds. He is a big body in the middle of the defense and his ability to clog the middle would create plenty of rush opportunities on the outside for Robert Mathis.
The 28-year-old has not been a regular starter with the Ravens. However, he has the physical attributes and system knowledge to flourish with more responsibility in Indianapolis.
Adams played in a 3-4 earlier in his career with San Francisco 49ers and subsequently operated as the nose tackle in the Bears' "under" front schemes. He is a stout force at the interior and his efforts key the run defense.
The 6'0" 310 pounder plays with good leverage and possesses above-average upper body strength. Adams can occupy blockers and free space for inside linebackers to attack aggressively downhill.
Signing Adams would certainly not generate a lot of headlines, but it would give the Colts a reliable and experienced presence at the heart of their new look defense. The team could then add a player like Clemson's Brandon Thompson in the draft, to learn behind Adams and eventually succeed him.
Garay is one of the most underrated defensive tackles in the league. He is a powerful and aggressive force inside and his signing would make the Colts transition to a 3-4 a lot easier.
Garay knows the schemes favoured by Greg Manusky and would immediately solidify the middle. The 6'4" 320 pounder is more of a pass rush threat than most nose tackles, having recorded 7.5 sacks in the past two seasons.
Garay plays with outstanding natural leverage and his technique is surprisingly refined. He can sometimes struggle to hold his ground against power running teams.
However, the penetration he can generate inside is better suited to Pagano's 1-gap system. The push Garay can create will ensure consistent pressure on the pocket.
While his cost may be high now that Paul Soliai is off the market, the money spent on a player as potentially dominant as Garay, would be well worth it.
Before the Colts decide how the likes of Dwight Freeney will fit their new defense, they must identify a suitable option for the scheme's most important position.
The players on this list are all cost effective, an important consideration given the team's many other needs. They all offer the size and skills Pagano and Manusky will need to make their version of the 3-4 a success.