10 Best NFL Defensive Coordinators Available This Offseason

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2012

10 Best NFL Defensive Coordinators Available This Offseason

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    After a season where defenses have routinely been torn apart by the pass, struggling franchises will be doing all they can to improve their ability to limit points.

    That makes experienced defensive gurus hot commodities during the offseason, and there are several prime candidates for defensively challenged teams to choose from.

    There are a number of former head coaches whose expertise on the defensive side of the ball make a return to a coordinator's role a logical career move.

    But there are also some shrews position coaches, young and old, who could work wonders if given the chance to direct an entire defense.

    Here's a list of the 10 best potential defensive coordinators available to NFL teams this offseason, along with the most suitable landing spots for each candidate.

10. John Marshall

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    The Oakland Raiders paid the price for foolishly dismissing veteran defensive schemer John Marshall at the end of the 2010 season.

    With Chuck Bresnahan in charge, the Raiders' talented but underachieving defense regressed and contributed to the team missing out on the AFC West crown.

    Plenty of teams should give Marshall a long look. He's a bold play-caller who produces aggressive units known for their ability to get to the quarterback.

    In 2007, Marshall directed a Seattle Seahawks defense which finished fourth in sacks and carried the team to the divisional round of the playoffs.

    His Raiders defense ended 2010 second only to the Steelers with 47 sacks and was the main reason the Silver and Black went unbeaten in the AFC West.

    Marshall will take risks with a steady diet of heavy blitzes and man coverage. But his defense will consistently produce pressure and big plays.

    Best Landing Spot: Jacksonville Jaguars

    Marshall would work wonders for a Jaguars team that notoriously finds it difficult to consistently get to the quarterback.

    If the Jaguars continue to pursue offensive coordinators to be their next head coach—an experienced defensive mind like Marshall's will be invaluable.

9. Greg Manusky

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    Dismissed after only one season by the San Diego Chargers, Greg Manusky deserves another shot at coordinating his own defense.

    The former Washington Redskins linebacker is a smart, young play-caller who crafts a hybrid 3-4 scheme built on strength and pressure.

    Manusky constructed much of the current San Francisco 49ers defense and developed their physical dominance against the run.

    He did not enjoy the same success in San Diego, where his Chargers unit often found it difficult to match opponents at the point of attack.

    But Manusky is still a solid defensive coach, with plenty of ideas and is still refining his craft. He would be ideal for a team possessing hybrid personnel.

    Best Landing Spot: Carolina Panthers

    The Panthers have experimented with 3-4 fronts throughout the season and need defensive help.

    Manusky would work well with head coach Ron Rivera and construct a unit able to handle both three and four man alignments.

8. Pepper Johnson

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    Former New York Giants defensive stalwart Pepper Johnson has worked hard to create an aggressive and opportunistic defensive line for the New England Patriots this season.

    Johnson has been involved in the most important area of the Patriots transition to a 4-3 front. Although New England's defense has been poor for most of the season, the front four has rarely let them down.

    Johnson has overseen the career revivals of Andre Carter and Mark Anderson and developed youngsters like Kyle Love.

    Having been a member of the Patriots coaching staff since 2007, Johnson has had the benefit of learning from renowned defensive genius Bill Belichick.

    Given that most of the play-calling responsibilities for New England's defense still reside with Belichick and safeties coach Matt Patricia, now might be the time for Johnson to take the next step up.

    The physical aggression and fiery demeanour he had as a player would make Johnson the ideal man to bring some passion to a defense lacking enthusiasm and determination.

    Best Landing Spot: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    No defense lacked aggression and played as flat as the Buccaneers did to close out the season.

    Johnson's aggressive style and pedigree as a former player would command respect from the Buccaneers players.

    Tampa also need somebody to develop their young and talented defensive linemen, making Johnson the ideal man for the job. 

7. Emmitt Thomas

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    Respected secondary guru Emmitt Thomas would be a steal for any team able to convince the 69-year-old to once again take on a coordinator's workload.

    Thomas is as shrewd as any defensive coach in the game and excels at crafting aggressive and opportunistic defensive backfields.

    He would bring a wealth of experience and scheme knowledge to a struggling team, and his reputation would immediately command respect.

    During his time as a coordinator Thomas has shown himself to be a smart and balanced play-caller. He's not afraid to attack and designed some great blitz packages while with the Philadelphia Eagles in the mid to late 90s.

    Best Landing Spot: St. Louis Rams

    Thomas would revitalise a Rams' secondary decimated by injuries in 2011.

    He would also design some daring blitz packages that would suit a unit used to the schemes of former coach Steve Spagnuolo.

6. Dave Campo

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    Another secondary coach makes the list, in the form of long-time Dallas Cowboys' assistant Dave Campo.

    A renowned secondary expert with experience coaching multiple schemes, Campo has a lot left to offer as a coordinator.

    On Thursday, Pro Football Weekly reported that the Cowboys are considering not bringing Campo back for 2012. If so, there are plenty of teams who should pounce for his services.

    During his time as defensive coordinator in Dallas during the mid to late 90s, Campo added an extra dimension to the Cowboys' college-style 4-3 front.

    He was a much more aggressive play-caller than previous coordinators Dave Wannstedt and Butch Davis.

    Campo would routinely have his corners lock up receivers in man-to-man, bump-and-run coverage. He would then take advantage of the speed of his lightweight linebackers and safeties, frequently using them as additional blitzers to supplement the Cowboys cat-quick, four-man line.

    Campo's defenses were daring, successful and fun to watch. Given the re-emergence of man coverage as a counter to the pass-happy approach of NFL offenses, Campo could be a useful fit for many teams.

    Best Landing Spot: Indianapolis Colts

    Campo would finally rid the Colts of their reliance on the Tampa 2 and utilise their speedy personnel in a more dynamic and attacking scheme.

5. Mel Tucker

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    If, as seems likely, the Jacksonville Jaguars choose not to offer the permanent job to interim head coach Mel Tucker, many teams could pursue the 40--ld as defensive coordinator.

    Jacksonville's defense was the lone bright spot in a hugely disappointing season. Tucker's unit was aggressive, technically disciplined and fundamentally sound throughout the campaign.

    Tucker operates a 2-gap style 4-3 similar to the one favoured by the man he replaced, Jack Del Rio. The Jaguars' defensive line is a solid and underrated unit, thanks largely to Tucker's development of interior duo Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton.

    Jacksonville's secondary also made great strides under Tucker's direction and went from a team weakness to a rare strength this season.

    Tucker is an intelligent, measured and conservative coordinator who would easily solidify a unit guilty of giving up too many big plays.

    Best Landing Spot: Oakland Raiders

    Tucker would craft a defense that would finally rid the Raiders of their penchant for surrendering big gains.

    He would work well with Oakland's powerful front four and ensure that coverages become more disciplined and sound.

4. Keith Butler

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    If presented with an outside offer, Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler may finally give up waiting to replace the legendary Dick LeBeau.

    If Butler chose to test interest elsewhere, he would surely draw heavy interest from any 3-4 team seeking a new coordinator.

    Butler has crafted and overseen the best coached group of linebackers in the league. No team plays the 3-4 as well as the Steelers, and that's because all of their linebackers can adequately perform the multiple responsibilities of the scheme.

    Butler was sought after a season ago by the Arizona Cardinals. But he chose to remain and bide his time behind LeBeau. He may not be so patient this time around.

    Best Landing Spot: Kansas City Chiefs

    If Romeo Crennel is promoted to head coach or leaves, the Chiefs will need somebody to run their 3-4 defense.

    Butler would be the ideal choice to work with rising stars Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson.

3. Todd Bowles

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    Interim Miami Dolphins head coach Todd Bowles has the potential to be an excellent defensive coordinator.

    The 48-year-old is a former Super Bowl-winning safety for the Washington Redskins, who played for defensive genius Richie Petitbon.

    Bowles has proved his worth as the Dolphins' secondary coach and is a young assistant on the rise. He needs to be the given chance to show what he can do with an entire defense.

    His experience with both 4-3 and 3-4 alignments would make him an invaluable resource of defensive knowledge and an excellent scheme designer.

    Best Landing Spot: Minnesota Vikings

    Assuming ex-Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris doesn't beat him to it, Bowles would be an excellent choice to run the Minnesota Vikings defense.

    He would fix a Vikings' secondary, guilty of giving up too many big pass plays and add some more scheme to an often too predictable defensive system.

2. Jack Del Rio

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    He may have flopped as a head coach, but Jack Del Rio remains an excellent defensive coordinator.

    Del Rio has tended to favour a 2-gap 4-3 during his career.

    This may not be the most fashionable scheme in the NFL, but Del Rio's units have always been tough, savvy and solid.

    He calls plays designed to take away the big-play capability of an offense and prefers to confuse quarterbacks with a wide mixture of coverages.

    Best Landing Spot: Atlanta Falcons

    If he would be prepared to work under his former defensive coordinator, Del Rio would be a great hire for the Falcons.

    Atlanta's defense has let the team down more than once this season and should be better than it is.

    It would be fascinating to see Del Rio's schemes giving Drew Brees and Cam Newton fits twice a season.

1. Steve Spagnuolo

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    Despite a dismal end to his stint as head coach of the St. Louis Rams, Steve Spagnuolo is set to be the most sought after defensive coordinator candidate in this offseason.

    Spagnuolo's reputation as a defensive guru will always be assured thanks to his masterful game plan that allowed the New York Giants to batter Tom Brady into submission in Super Bowl 42.

    Spagnuolo is an innovative schemer who was responsible for proving that coaches can still do plenty with a 4-3 front.

    He learnt his trade under the late great Jim Johnson and has since developed an intricate package of firey zone pressures.

    Having created a fearsome pass rush wherever he has been and designed schemes capable of stifling the best quarterbacks in the game, there will be no shortage of suitors for Spagnuolo's services.

    Best Landing Spot: Washington Redskins

    The Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants are often mentioned, but it would be great to see if Spagnuolo could provide the final push to turn the Redskins into an elite defense.

    Spagnuolo seems to have a better grasp of the zone blitz scheme than current coordinator Jim Haslett, and he would design pressures that offered more protection to the secondary.

    The Redskins defense improved but was still guilty of letting the team down at crucial moments this season.

    It would be fascinating to have Spagnuolo run a 3-4 and see how he would utilise Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.