NFL1000: Free-Agency Rankings for the 2017 3-4 DE Market

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2017

NFL1000: Free-Agency Rankings for the 2017 3-4 DE Market

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    Welcome to Bleacher Report's NFL1000 free-agency preview, a series where we'll use the power of the 17-man NFL1000 scouting department to bring you in-depth analysis of every NFL free agent this offseason. In this installment, lead scout Doug Farrar and defensive end scouts Justis Mosqueda and Joe Goodberry dive into this year's inside 3-4 DE class.  

    As much as any position in the NFL, the 3-4 end has seen his role change drastically in the last 10 years. You don't see guys making Pro Bowls simply by blowing things up between the tackle and the guard on every snap. In today's hybrid fronts, the "3-4 end" classifier is almost a misnomer.

    First, base 3-4 fronts don't exist in the ways they used to. They are far more variable, and teams that used to line up in the same ways are throwing all kinds of things at their opponents. Now, fronts with two down linemen are standard, and four-man nickel fronts, in which the ends kick inside to tackle, are de rigueur.

    That means the modern 3-4 end has to do a little bit of everything, and the best of them do that. The position requires more versatile talent than it used to, from careening off the edge or using an inside countermove to disrupt a quarterback to taking on double-teams against the run.

    And the old paradigms for the position—teams wanted guys to be at least 6'3" and 290 pounds—have similarly gone out the window. The standards for the position have widened, and players such as Mike Daniels of the Green Bay Packers and Jurrell Casey of the Tennessee Titans are able to succeed in those multiple roles despite their atypical body types.

    The 2017 free-agent class of 3-4 ends isn't particularly impressive (mostly depth and rotational players) until you get to the top, where there is one massively underrated run-mauler and one age-defying game-wrecker ready to get paid handsomely for the second time in his estimable career.

                 

    Previous Installments

    NFL1000 Free-Agent Quarterback Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Tight End Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Fullback Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Kicker/Punter Rankings
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    FL1000 Free-Agent Left Tackle Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Offensive Guard Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Center Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Right Tackle Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Inside Linebacker Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 3-4 Defensive End Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 4-3 Defensive End Rankings
    NFL1000 Free Agent Defensive Tackle Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 3-4 Outside Linebacker Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 4-3 Outside Linebacker Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Running Back Rankings

    All advanced statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

Billy Winn

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    Brian Blanco/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 9.1/15
    Pass Rush: 12.3/25
    Run Defense: 17.4/30
    Tackling: 12.3/20
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 57.6/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 50/53

    NFL1000 DE scout Joe Goodberry

    Billy Winn had a chance to make an impact with the Denver Broncos as Derek Wolfe dealt with injuries and Jared Crick adjusted to his new team, but he didn't do much in his 342 snaps. He had just 19 combined tackles and zero sacks.

    Winn hasn't recorded a QB sack since 2013. He'll be 28 years old when the 2017 season begins, and at this point, he's a depth player for any interested team.

    Doug's Quick Take: Winn's inability to create pressure in a great defense with quality personnel around him will no doubt be a mitigating factor in how much teams look at him as a free agent. Outside of an above-average season for the Cleveland Browns in 2013, he's struggled to play at a league-average level.

             

    Potential Suitors: Denver Broncos

Antonio Smith

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 9.7/15
    Pass Rush: 13.8/25
    Run Defense: 16.9/30
    Tackling: 12.2/20
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 59.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 46/53

    NFL1000 DE scout Joe Goodberry

    Antonio Smith finished his 13th season in the NFL as a situational player for a good Texans defense. He's likely at the end of his career, and it showed. At one time, he was a serviceable player who could start and provide some pass rush. But Smith hasn't started a game in two years, and despite playing 244 snaps in 13 regular-season contests this past year, he only recorded four tackles and 0.5 sacks. If Smith decides to keep playing, it's hard to imagine he will garner much attention around the league. 

     

    Doug's Quick Take: Life comes at you fast. Just a few years ago, Smith was one of the most dominant linemen in the league regardless of gap responsibility, and his destruction of opposing offenses against the pass and the run was a thing to behold. Now, he's a situation-specific player at best. If you have a ton of depth on your line and want a veteran to help wrestle guards, he might be worth a look. 

            

    Potential Suitors: Houston Texans

Kendall Reyes

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 9.2/15
    Pass Rush: 13.2/25
    Run Defense: 16.9/30
    Tackling: 12.8/20
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 59/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 47/53

    NFL1000 DE scout Joe Goodberry 

    Kendall Reyes started the year with the Washington Redskins, but they released him after two games. After signing with the Kansas City Chiefs, Reyes filled in for injured starter Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard while rotating with rookie Chris Jones and Rakeem Nunez-Roches.

    Reyes played 11 games with the Chiefs (one in the playoffs) and ended with 15 combined tackles and one sack in K.C. He's only a year removed from San Diego. There, he started 50 games in four years after the Chargers selected him in the second round of the 2012 draft. Reyes flashed some of that talent last season and could be a cheap, low-risk signing for many teams as a 3-4 DE or even a 4-3 DT.

    Doug's Quick Take: The Redskins dumped Reyes in part because he couldn't stay healthy and other linemen were usurping him on the depth chart. He found his way to Kansas City as an injury replacement and played unspectacularly for the most part. Reyes is a decent pressure player who comes up short against the run, and he's a situational guy at best.

      

    Potential Suitors: Kansas City Chiefs

Ricardo Mathews

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 9.3/15
    Pass Rush: 12.6/25
    Run Defense: 17.5/30
    Tackling: 12.4/20
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 58.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 49/53

          

    NFL1000 DE scout Joe Goodberry

    After the Pittsburgh Steelers lost stud defensive lineman Cameron Heyward to injury, they went to a 2-4 defensive front. Mathews didn't see as much time as I expected, as Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave got those snaps. The team relegated Mathews to substitution duty, and he ended up with only 311 defensive snaps for the season. Then, toward the end of the campaign, Mathews lost snaps to L.T. Walton. He ended the year with 14 combined tackles and one sack. He would be a depth signing for any team interested.

    Doug's Quick Take: A seventh-round pick in the 2010 draft, Mathews has done well to last this long in the NFL as a rotational player. He's played decently in both 4-3 and 3-4 base defenses, and that versatility makes him a quality depth signing.

         

    Potential Suitors: Pittsburgh Steelers

Leger Douzable

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 9.9/15
    Pass Rush: 13.6/25
    Run Defense: 17.7/30
    Tackling: 13.5/20
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 61.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 38/53

            

    NFL1000 DE scout Joe Goodberry

    Leger Douzable probably doesn't get you excited as a potential free-agent signing, but he was a key contributor for the Buffalo Bills defense as a run defender. In his 482 total snaps, he routinely displayed a good first step, quick hands and a wide tackle radius.

    He received less attention than everyone else on the Bills front, but he handled what was in front of him. He often sat out on passing downs, and his 1.5 total sacks on the season reflect that. But registering over 40 tackles is impressive for a situational interior defender. If a team needs a run-defending 3-4 end who'll come off on third downs, Douzable may be its guy. He could come cheap and offer good value.

    Doug's Quick Take: Douzable is the kind of player who excites coaches and potential teammates more than fans. He's not a sack artist, but he's a smart guy who plays his assignments well. And he has always been able to stop the run. That will get him some good looks on a low-level contract basis, and he could be a real bargain in this free-agent market.

      

    Potential Suitors: None

Frostee Rucker

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 10.2/15
    Pass Rush: 14.8/25
    Run Defense: 18.5/30
    Tackling: 13.4/20
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 63.6/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 22/53

    NFL1000 DE scout Justis Mosqueda

    Frostee Rucker has been around the block a few times.

    The 33-year-old is heading into his 12th year in the NFL, potentially with his fourth franchise. However, he may not have many suitors at this point other than the Cardinals, who could retain him. In 2006, the former USC Trojan was a top-100 pick, leading to a six-year run with the Cincinnati Bengals. From there, he had a cup of tea with the Cleveland Browns before signing with the Arizona Cardinals, where he's played since 2013.

    Rucker was a starter for the majority of his 2014 and 2015 campaigns, but in 2016, he only started one game. He recorded seven total tackles all season. At 6'3" and 280 pounds, he's a little on the small side to play as a defensive tacklewhere 3-4 defensive ends tend to play in 4-3 defenses—in most schemes.

    The Bills franchise thought its defensive line lacked talent to the point it drafted Robert Nkemdiche, who infamously missed a bowl game after falling out of a hotel window, in the first round. The fact Rucker couldn't secure a starting role in that situation, at his age nonetheless, is a bit concerning. Rucker is nearing the end of his career, and if Arizona doesn't call him back, he may not have many other options.

    With teams like the San Francisco 49ers transitioning out of a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense under new defensive leadership, the market for a true 3-4 style defensive end is going out the window. Rucker is a remnant of 2006-style football in 2017.

         

    Doug's Quick Take: At this point in his career, Rucker will have to land with a team that sees him as a scheme-specific asset. He has some traction as a run-stopping end in multiple fronts, but the window is closing quickly.

         

    Potential Suitors: Arizona Cardinals

Karl Klug

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 11.4/15
    Pass Rush: 14.5/25
    Run Defense: 17.3/30
    Tackling: 12.5/20
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 62.2/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 31/53

    NFL1000 DE scout Joe Goodberry

    Karl Klug played 398 snaps for Tennessee and continued to be the same situational defender for the Titans that he's been during his six-year career. Despite posting only 1.5 sacks in 2016, he was a solid pass-rusher due to his athleticism and leverage. Klug consistently applied pressure from the inside, and as a run-defending end, he displayed the athleticism to be a nuisance for offenses. There was a good stretch of games where Klug was outplaying teammate Jurrell Casey, but he eventually cooled off and finished as our 31st-ranked 3-4 defensive end.

    He ended the season with an Achilles injury, which will likely cost him opportunities to sign elsewhere. But if healthy, I like Klug as an interior rusher for 3-4 and 4-3 teams in their nickel defense. He could end up being a bargain free-agent pickup.

    Doug's Quick Take: It was fun to see Klug and Casey wreaking havoc on opposing offensive lines in the Titans' multiple fronts. Klug is a success as a rotational pass-rusher—in fewer than 400 snaps last season, he had 25 quarterback hurries—and he's a good enough run defender to get more snaps in other defenses.

    Potential Suitors: Tennessee Titans

Chris Baker

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 10.8/15
    Pass Rush: 15.9/25
    Run Defense: 19.6/30
    Tackling: 13.6/20
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 66.5/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 11/53

    NFL1000 DE scout Justis Mosqueda

    When we started grading for the NFL1000 project, we quickly realized there was no 3-4 defensive end in the league more underrated than Chris Baker. Heading into the season, no one had high expectations for Baker, but a month later, it was very apparent Baker was one of the most consistently talented players at the position.

    You'll be hard-pressed to find a weekly ranking in which Baker wasn't among the top 10 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL. Baker was an undrafted player in 2009, but he only had two NFL games under his belt heading into the 2012 season. Before then, he spent time bouncing around Denver, Miami and even the UFL's Hartford Colonials before landing in Washington. After proving himself in 2012 and 2013, Baker earned a three-year deal with the Redskins, worth an affordable $9 million in total money.

    Now, at the age of 29, Baker has the potential to do whatever he wants. Does he want to chase a large contract? Does he want to establish himself with the franchise that took the longest look at him? Does he want to go after a ring? Baker is in an odd spot where all options should be considered. In some ways, he could be looked at as a backup plan for teams who lose out on the Calais Campbell sweepstakes, so expect Campbell to be the first domino to fall in the 3-4 defensive end sequence. They don't totally fit the same mold, though. While Campbell is a taller player—a traditional 5-technique—Baker is listed at 6'2” and 320 pounds, closer to a traditional defensive tackle.

    If a team wants to run a Carolina Panthers-style 4-3 defense, where their defensive tackles play both the under tackle and nose tackle positions, Baker—who can play both roles with his body type and skill set—could get a solid look by an even front squad too. Carolina's packed with tackle talent right now, as are the Buffalo Bills, who just hired former Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott as their head coach. But in a copycat league, you don't have to assume ideology stems from a direct coaching tree.

    Doug's Quick Take: Baker isn't terrifically explosive, but he's a great technician with impressive strength and an obvious understanding of gap principles and line games. He's also the perfect type of lineman for today's hybrid fronts—strong enough to play tackle anywhere and versatile enough to be a base end in a 3-4 scheme, or even kick out to run-stopping end in a four-man front. He'll be a major asset to any team that signs him, and if the Redskins lose him, their defense will show the loss right away.

    Potential Suitors: Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Oakland Raiders

Calais Campbell

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 12.2/15
    Pass Rush: 16.9/25
    Run Defense: 21/30
    Tackling: 15.2/20
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 71.9/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 2/53

    NFL1000 DE scout Justis Mosqueda

    At this point, it would be hard to imagine someone who follows the sport of football not knowing who Calais Campbell is. Defensive linemen, particularly non-pass-rushers, don't often get thrown into the limelight, but Campbell's career is one that transcends the position. If nothing else, he's a player who was highlighted for his 6'8” height in every Arizona Cardinals prime-time and/or playoff game.

    Campbell is the prototypical 3-4 defensive end in a league that is losing more and more true 3-4 defensive looks, even on early downs, because they can't find enough talented bodies to run that scheme. If Campbell does hit the open market, he could be the most coveted line-of-scrimmage defender in the entire talent pool.

    Since Campbell was drafted by Arizona in the second round of the 2008 draft, he's recorded 501 combined tackles and 56.5 sacks at a position that doesn't often see statistics of that volume. He's tallied 50 or more tackles and five or more sacks in each of the last seven seasons, and he shows no sign of slowing down.

    Last year, at 30 years old, Campbell posted an eight-sack season, tied for the second-best mark of his nine NFL seasons. Campbell is the type of player who can turn an entire defense around. If he leaves Arizona after playing out his $55 million contract, look to see him land with a Super Bowl contender. A team like the New England Patriots—who always seem to land veterans who are chasing that one last ring, who always adapt to their talent on the defensive side of the ball and who somehow have more free cap space than any other playoff team heading into the offseason—would be an incredible fit.

     

    Doug's Quick Take: Campbell is going into his 10th season in 2017, but he shows no decline in his overall game. He might not be as quick as he was a half-decade ago, but he makes up for it with a virtually unblockable combination of massive strength and leverage and an inhuman wingspan. He's a quarterback-pressure machine, and the best run-stopper at his position. Throw away all the alerts about defensive linemen going into their 30s—Campbell is going to get paid, and if he stays healthy, he'll earn every penny.

    Potential Suitors: Arizona Cardinals, New England Patriots