Ranking the NFL's Top 10 Defensive Additions This Offseason

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IApril 3, 2016

Ranking the NFL's Top 10 Defensive Additions This Offseason

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    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    Time to put the other foot down.

    Previously, the subject was the league’s 10 top offensive additions this offseason.

    In the interest of equal time, here are the defensive equivalents, as well as a few performers who just missed making the list.

    The reasoning here is the same as before. The following players will make a strong impression on their new teams this season in the most positive of ways.

Honorable Mentions

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

    The following five players (listed in alphabetical order) fell just short of the top 10.

    CB Brandon Boykin (Carolina Panthers): The four-year pro finds himself with his third team in as many years. The defending NFC champions add a young (25 years old) and quality cornerback to their roster, as well as an insurance policy should the Panthers not get All-Pro Josh Norman under contract anytime soon.

    ILB James Laurinaitis (New Orleans Saints): The numbers via Pro Football Focus say that the hard-nosed linebacker comes off a subpar year. In seven seasons, Laurinaitis never missed a game, totaled 100-plus tackles each year and amassed 16.5 sacks and 18 takeaways. He’s an immediate upgrade for the Saints’ porous defense. 

    DE Chris Long (New England Patriots): Long is another member of the Rams who was given a pink slip when the team relocated to Los Angeles. The second overall pick in 2008 didn’t miss a game in his first six seasons with the club, totaling 50.5 sacks. The last two years added up to a combined 18 contests and four sacks, but he’ll bounce back big time under head coach Bill Belichick

    FS Rodney McLeod (Philadelphia Eagles): It was a bit of a surprise that the Eagles didn’t bring back Walter Thurmond to pair with fellow safety Malcolm Jenkins. But this former Rams defender is more suited for Jim Schwartz’s defense. The rangy McLeod racked up a combined five interceptions, six fumble recoveries and seven forced fumbles the past three seasons.

    DE Mario Williams (Miami Dolphins): After a disappointing year in Orchard Park (five sacks), the 31-year-old defender was cut loose by the Buffalo Bills. He takes his 96 career sacks to South Florida, where he will line up with the likes of Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake. It will be fun when Williams lines up against Rex Ryan’s club this fall.

10. DT Brandon Mebane (San Diego Chargers)

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    One of the San Diego Chargers’ key defensive additions is preparing to make some noise with his new team.

    Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane told Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune last month: 

    I grew into a verbal (leadership) style. When I first got to Seattle, I didn’t do a lot of talking. But as the years went by, I was like, ‘Oh man, I’m the oldest guy on the team so I’ve got to say something.’ I’m comfortable talking to the guys before a game. If anybody needs advice, I’m here from them, whatever they need and want to talk about.

    The 31-year-old defender enters his 10th season, and the main topic of discussion is the Chargers’ troubled run defense. Only five teams in the league gave up more yards on the ground in 2015. The previous year, the Bolts ranked 26th in the same category.

    After a slow start in 2015, Mebane played his best football later in the year. His performance enabled the Seattle Seahawks to finish first in the NFL in rushing defense.

9. CB Brent Grimes (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

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    Evan Vucci/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins have been one of the league’s bigger disappointments in recent years. Offseason promise has resulted in disaster time and time again. The franchise hasn’t made a playoff appearance since 2008.

    Now, the team’s decision to cut loose cornerback Brent Grimes will benefit another club from the Sunshine State.

    In three years in South Florida, he totaled 13 interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and knocked down 43 passes. The former Atlanta Falcons standout earned positive grades and Pro Bowl honors following each season with the Dolphins.

    Grimes will help a Tampa Bay defense that has allowed 30 or more touchdown passes in four of the past five years. And his familiarity with defensive coordinator Mike Smith (his head coach in Atlanta) is another positive.

8. DE Chandler Jones (Arizona Cardinals)

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    In one of the most significant trades of the year, the Arizona Cardinals boosted their pass rush with the addition of defensive end Chandler Jones.

    In 55 regular-season contests with the New England Patriots, the 2012 first-round pick from Syracuse University totaled 36 sacks and 10 forced fumbles. He joins the defending NFC West champions, who were looking to improve a pass rush that dropped opposing quarterbacks just 36 times this past season. Nine of those sacks came in a Week 16 thumping of the Green Bay Packers.

    In 2015, head coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator James Bettcher got a team-high eight sacks from free-agent addition Dwight Freeney. He played in only 11 games after joining the Cards in mid-October but remains unsigned to date. Jones more than fits the bill for the club.

7. OLB Bruce Irvin (Oakland Raiders)

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    You can expect big things from the Silver and Black this season. The Oakland Raiders made significant strides on offense a year ago, and it’s time for the defense to do the same.

    One reason is the addition of Bruce Irvin, who reunites in the Bay Area with defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. The three-time Super Bowl champion Norton was the 28-year-old’s linebackers coach from 2012 to 2014 with the Seattle Seahawks.

    “He’s a great guy,” said Irvin to Eddie Paskal of Raiders.com in March, “one of the main reasons that I decided to get here. I wanted to get back with him. Like I said before, that guy, he’s done a lot for me, not only on the field, but off the field. He saved my career by bringing me from defensive end to a linebacker, so I have the utmost respect for that guy.”

    That tutelage resulted in 19 sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles during the duo’s tenure in the Pacific Northwest (51 games, including playoffs). Irvin comes off a 5.5-sack season in 2015—a number that will increase significantly now that he'll play alongside All-Pro defender Khalil Mack.

6. CB Janoris Jenkins (New York Giants)

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    The New York Giants and cornerback Janoris Jenkins unfortunately have something in common.

    Neither has been to the playoffs the past four seasons.

    But that could change for both parties now that the 27-year-old defender signed a five-year, $62.5 million contract with the club last month.

    In four seasons with the Rams, Jenkins showed an uncanny knack for the big play. He totaled a dozen takeaways in 60 contests (10 interceptions, two fumble recoveries) and returned six of those miscues for touchdowns.

    With Jenkins and two-time Pro Bowler Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Giants boast a potent duo at cornerback, which immediately upgrades the league’s worst pass defense in 2015.

5. ILB Jerrell Freeman (Chicago Bears)

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Only Carolina’s Luke Kuechly earned a higher overall grade at inside linebacker in 2015 than Indianapolis’ Jerrell Freeman.

    While the Panthers finished sixth in total defense and spent early February in Santa Clara, California, the Colts ranked 26th in the league in yards allowed and finished 8-8.

    Freeman finished second on his team with 112 tackles this past season, along with three sacks and one interception. He’s totaled at least 100 stops in three of his four years in the league, amassing 12 sacks, four interceptions and 16 passes defensed along the way.

    So, why isn’t he ranked higher on this list? It’s just a matter of the 29-year-old defender (who turns 30 on May 1) getting acclimated with Vic Fangio’s defense. With Freeman and Danny Trevathan playing together in Chicago, the Bears are definite winners.

4. FS Eric Weddle (Baltimore Ravens)

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The Baltimore Ravens are traditionally a franchise that does not sign a lot of veteran free agents.

    This offseason, general manager Ozzie Newsome has added pass-catchers such as wide receiver Mike Wallace and tight end Benjamin Watson. The duo should enable 2015 rookies Breshad Perriman (who missed all of last season) and Maxx Williams to develop and learn.

    The signing of three-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle is a different matter. The Ravens look to help a defense that was a top-10 unit in terms of fewest passing yards allowed. But Baltimore allowed 30 touchdown passes this past season while racking up only six interceptions.

    Ironically, Weddle comes off a year in which he totaled zero interceptions for the first time in his nine-year career. The two-time All-Pro also missed action for the first time since 2009. He’ll prove to be a vital pickup for a team that is looking to make up for a surprising 5-11 showing in 2015.

3. DT Damon Harrison (New York Giants)

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    Call it a domino effect.

    Along with allowing the most total yards and passing yards in the league in 2015, the New York Giants were a dismal 24th in the NFL against the run.

    It’s hard to tee off on opposing quarterbacks when teams can control the tempo of the game. It’s no wonder that Big Blue racked up just 23 sacks this past season.

    The addition of defensive tackle Damon Harrison will prove to be the team’s biggest pickup of the offseason. He helped the New York Jets give up the second-fewest rushing yards in the league this past year. Teamed with Johnathan Hankins inside, he will make life better for ends Jason Pierre-Paul and newcomer Olivier Vernon—the latter signed a five-year, $85 million deal in March.

2. CB Sean Smith (Oakland Raiders)

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    Associated Press

    In seven seasons with the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs, 28-year-old cornerback Sean Smith has amassed a modest 10 interceptions.

    That doesn’t mean he rarely gets his hands on the football. The veteran has knocked down 87 passes in 108 regular-season contests. He’s totaled 12 or more deflections in five of those seasons—including all three with the Chiefs.

    Now, he’s a member of the Silver and Black. John Breitenbach of Pro Football Focus evaluated the impact Smith will have not only on the team but on the other Raiders cornerbacks.

    Of course, the cherry on the sundae here is that Kansas City’s loss is Oakland’s gain. And with the Raiders' bolstered pass rush thanks to the addition of outside linebacker Bruce Irvin, Smith will finally total more than two interceptions in a season.

1. ILB Danny Trevathan (Chicago Bears)

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Combine the fact that head coach John Fox is familiar with the player and that the Chicago Bears are in dire need of help at inside linebacker, and that's why Super Bowl 50 champion Danny Trevathan ranks as the top defensive addition in the league this offseason.

    In 2015, the Bears finished 14th in the league in total defense. That was quite an improvement for a club that gave up the third-most yards in the NFL each of the previous two seasons. Kudos to Fox and new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

    Now, it is time to take it a step further. No doubt the additions of fellow inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks are big upgrades as well. But Trevathan’s three years with Fox as his head coach in Denver is one intangible that can’t be overvalued.

    Unless otherwise noted, all player and team statistics come from Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com. All player ratings courtesy of Pro Football Focus. All 2016 free-agent and salary-cap information, contract terms and 2016 transactions are courtesy of Spotrac. Depth charts via Ourlads.


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