NFL1000: Free-Agency Rankings for the 2017 DT Market

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 22, 2017

NFL1000: Free-Agency Rankings for the 2017 DT 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 tackle scout Charles McDonald dive into the defensive tackle class.   

    The NFL of 2017 presents more defensive line fronts, concepts and responsibilities than ever. Correspondingly, there are more kinds of pure defensive tackles than we've ever seen. Want a 290-pound tackle perfectly suited for a 4- or 5-technique role on passing downs in a four-man front? There's more than a handful. Want a 340-pound run-stuffer who was dominant in one- and two-gap fronts? They're out there.

    Still, the most prominent defensive tackle is the 3-technique who resides between the guard and tackle and can upend double-teams on his way to multiple sacks and a host of pressures. Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox, Ndamukong Suh, Grady Jarrett…the list goes on. These are the masters of flash. However, those 3-techs may also be asked to kick inside to 1-tech or 0-tech with their head over the center, and some (like Jarrett) will excel in that role even more.

    The other primary adjustment smart teams are increasingly making is to have their tackles in rotations—three- and four-man sub-outs to keep everyone fresh. Thus, the specialists are more in demand than ever, and just because you're not a starter at the position doesn't mean you can't make a serious impact.

    Look no further than New England's Alan Branch, who dominated against the run and provided occasional pressure. The Patriots played 1,232 defensive snaps in 2016, and Branch was on the field for 61.7 percent of them—760 total. The Patriots took him off the field not because he couldn't do multiple things, but because they had the right rotation of players and wanted to keep everyone fresh and ready to wreak havoc.

    Branch is one of the free-agent tackles on our list, and he's one of the best. There are a handful of every-down wreckers in the class, but there are more specialists and situational guys. The right teams will be able to pick out those players as relative bargains and fit them into their scheme. And in today's NFL, that's the most important evaluative asset of all.

                 

    Previous Installments

    NFL1000 Free-Agent Quarterback Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Tight End Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Fullback Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Kicker/Punter Rankings
    N
    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

21. Tyrunn Walker

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 14.2/25
    Pass Rush: 13.9/25
    Run Defense: 14.2/25
    Tackling: 10.6/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 59.6/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 79/99

                    

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Tyrunn Walker will have a chance to make a 53-man roster in 2017, but his 2016 performance wasn't impressive. He was a problem for the Lions' porous run defense as he played with poor gap discipline and leverage at times. He was also ineffective at rushing the passer.

    At this point, he'll have an uphill climb to secure a spot on Week 1 rosters.

                     

    Doug's Quick Take

    Walker was a good player his first two years in the NFL (2012-13), with competent run defense and some pass pressure. But he hasn't had a sack since Week 17 of the 2014 season, and his run-stopping has regressed. 

                    

    Potential Suitors: Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles

20. Courtney Upshaw

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 14.4/25
    Pass Rush: 13.5/25
    Run Defense: 14.2/25
    Tackling: 11/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 59.8/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 78/99

                  

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Of the bargain-bin defensive tackle options, Courtney Upshaw might be the most intriguing. Atlanta signed him as a defensive tackle in 2016 after he played defensive end and strong-side linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens from 2012 to 2015.

    If this list were just based on his performance in the postseason, Upshaw would be much higher here. He showed a growth in pass rushing as the campaign progressed and became a key cog for Atlanta on its run to the Super Bowl.

    Upshaw brings a lot of value as a low-risk, high-upside signing. Don't be surprised if someone pulls the trigger on him for more than the veteran's minimum.

               

    Doug's Quick Take

    A second-round pick in 2012, Upshaw has never been the great pass-rusher some expected him to be, but he's an above-average run-stopper and a good player who will apply some pressure. He's a good rotational piece in an aggressive four-man front.

                  

    Potential Suitors: Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins

19. Cam Thomas

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 13.9/25
    Pass Rush: 13.5/25
    Run Defense: 14.7/25
    Tackling: 11.1/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 60.1/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 76/99

             

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Cam Thomas had a mixed performance in 2016. He played a large role in the Rams defense behind Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Dom Easley. He wasn't impressive during his playing time, but he shows decent movement for a 335-pounder.

    Thomas never developed to be an anchor versus the run coming out of North Carolina, but he's a solid option as the fourth defensive tackle in a rotation. It would make sense for Los Angeles to keep him as it adds pieces to Wade Phillips' defense.

            

    Doug's Quick Take

    Thomas had his best seasons for the Chargers in 2011 and 2012, and he's been an average rotational tackle since then. At this point, he's a gap-plugging nose tackle without much push to pressure quarterbacks.

             

    Potential Suitors: Los Angeles Rams, Cincinnati Bengals

18. Sylvester Williams

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 14.7/25
    Pass Rush: 13.4/25
    Run Defense: 14.7/25
    Tackling: 10.8/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 60.2/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 73/99

            

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    The entire Broncos defense missed Malik Jackson last season, but Sylvester Williams may have missed him the most. He handled double-teams poorly and was a huge part of Denver's massive regression against the run.

    Expect the team to move on from its former first-round pick. It can find a better replacement in free agency or the draft. A heavy nose tackle who can't anchor versus double-teams or shoot A-gaps versus zone runs doesn't hold much valuable in today's NFL.

         

    Doug's Quick Take

    Williams has struggled to be special, and given his first-round status and the fact that he's had incredible talent all around him and one of the best defensive coordinators in NFL history in Wade Phillips, that's a damning indictment. It's also why he'll have an uphill battle in free agency.

             

    Potential Suitors: San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans, Washington Redskins

17. Akeem Spence

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 14.1/25
    Pass Rush: 13.3/25
    Run Defense: 15.3/25
    Tackling: 11.1/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 60.4/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 71/99

             

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Akeem Spence is a solid run-defending defensive tackle who lacks that second gear to be a punishing pass-rusher. He did a decent job of keeping linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David clean in Tampa Bay last year.

    His return to the Buccaneers on a one- or two-year deal makes sense for both parties, so the team can divert its attention to the secondary or getting Jameis Winston and Mike Evans help on offense.

    Teams looking to find a stopgap solution for their run defense might take a flier on Spence.

         

    Doug's Quick Take

    Spence doesn't show the kind of leverage wins you'd expect from someone his size (6'1", 307 lbs), and he doesn't blast off the ball with the kind of speed required for interior pass-rushers. He's a decent option as a 4-3 gap-plugger, but that's about it.

                   

    Potential Suitors: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals

16. Jonathan Babineaux

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 14.8/25
    Pass Rush: 13.7/25
    Run Defense: 14.4/25
    Tackling: 11.2/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 60.6/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 70/99

                

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Jonathan Babineaux's best days are behind him. He was once an underrated, explosive 3-technique for Atlanta. But Father Time is undefeated, and Babineaux is a shell of the player he once was. He had flashes in the Falcons' postseason run, but the totality of his season was underwhelming.

    Babineaux may not have many suitors in free agency. It feels like he'll get a chance to make Atlanta's final 53-man roster, or he'll retire.

            

    Doug's Quick Take

    Babineaux had a nice, long run as one of the better, most underrated 4-3 interior linemen in the NFL, combining pass rushing and run-stopping in a formidable package. He's still got a bit left in the tank as long as his snaps are kept to a minimum, but his starting days are most likely behind him.

             

    Potential Suitors: Atlanta Falcons

15. Stacy McGee

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 15.1/25
    Pass Rush: 14.1/25
    Run Defense: 14.8/25
    Tackling: 11.3/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 61.5/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 63/99

           

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Stacy McGee quietly had a solid season for the Oakland Raiders. He played in nine games and registered two-and-a-half sacks and two forced fumbles to go with 17 tackles.

    His grade may not be as high as some of the other players on this list due to time missed to lower body injuries, but he's a high-level backup when his game is on. Considering Oakland's weak interior defense, re-signing him on a one-year deal would make the most sense. If he walks in free agency, the Seahawks would be an intriguing fit as they continue to strengthen their defensive front.

                

    Doug's Quick Take

    McGee has overcome off-field issues and a disappointing start to his career to play well in what was his contract year. He's a good-sized player (6'3", 310 lbs) who will play the run more than the pass, but he did have a two-sack game against the Chargers in Week 5, and he has shown the kind of potential that gets you more snaps over time.

             

    Potential Suitors: Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins

14. Khyri Thornton

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 15.1/25
    Pass Rush: 14.1/25
    Run Defense: 14.7/25
    Tackling: 11.1/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 62/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 59/99

           

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Khyri Thornton is a jack-of-all-trades defensive tackle. He doesn't do anything particularly well, but he provides solid depth. He's not the flashiest or most explosive player, but there is value to having a defensive tackle who can hold his gap and keep up with his run fits.

    A team looking for a cheap, veteran rotational player might be interested in Thornton. He might be a guy who has to wait a bit for a franchise to come calling for him, though.

    Doug's Quick Take

    Thornton dropped 30 pounds before the 2016 season to establish a quickness he never showed in his time with the Patriots, and he was an asset in Detroit's defensive line at times. More a rotational run defender than anything, he'll get a lot of looks around training camp.

             

    Potential Suitors: Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins

13. Tony McDaniel

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 14.8/25
    Pass Rush: 13.8/25
    Run Defense: 16.1/25
    Tackling: 11.4/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 62.8/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 53/99

          

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Tony McDaniel is the typical two-down, run-stuffing defensive tackle who's a liability with his pass rush. He was a key cog in Seattle's stifling run defense but didn't offer much as a pass-rusher throughout the season.

    A team looking for rotational depth will most likely bring in McDaniel. He's not an ideal starter in today's NFL, but his archetype still holds value. A reunion with Seattle makes the most sense; he and Jarran Reed had nice chemistry to close the season.

              

    Doug's Quick Take

    McDaniel is a long, athletic player who best fits a four-man front as a run-stopping 3-technique tackle. He's been underwhelming in that regard of late, but perhaps suitors will remember his peak with the Seahawks in 2013, when he grabbed a Super Bowl ring and forced a lot of double-teams.

                 

    Potential Suitors: Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons, Washington Redskins, Cincinnati Bengals

12. Stephen Paea

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 16.2/25
    Pass Rush: 14/25
    Run Defense: 14.8/25
    Tackling: 11/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 63/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 52/99

            

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Stephen Paea is cut from the same cloth as Dominique Easley. He's an explosive player but doesn't always make an impact after his initial get-off. This leads to wild peaks and valleys in his game.

    Paea is a versatile defender who's been miscast as a two-gapper throughout portions of his career. He'd be best served being a 3-technique in nickel and dime sets to capitalize upon his explosion and ability to get up the field. Teams that like to move up front and play around with defensive line techniques would be a nice fit for Paea.

             

    Doug's Quick Take

    A workout monster who impressed at his scouting combine in 2011, Paea has indeed surprised some with his ability to get upfield and pressure quarterbacks. He could be a real bargain for any team looking to add to its defensive line depth with a versatile player who's got a couple of good recent seasons under his belt.

             

    Potential Suitors: Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns

11. Earl Mitchell

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 15.2/25
    Pass Rush: 15/25
    Run Defense: 15.6/25
    Tackling: 10.9/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 63.6/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 46/99

              

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Earl Mitchell was a Miami Dolphins cap casualty, but that's not necessarily indicative of his talent level. Like Grady Jarrett and Bennie Logan, Mitchell is a smaller nose tackle (6'3", 310 lbs) who translates well to where NFL offenses have evolved over the past few years.

    When he's healthy, he can be an explosive presence at 1-technique with the ability to play 3-technique in a pinch. Ndamukong Suh played the vast majority of the 3-technique reps when he was on the field with Mitchell, so Mitchell played that "light" nose tackle role.

    Mitchell makes a lot of sense for the Philadelphia Eagles, who might lose Bennie Logan to free agency. He's not as effective as Logan, but he could slide right into the 1-technique role next to Fletcher Cox and keep the defense schematically fluid.

                 

    Doug's Quick Take

    Mitchell would be best in a quick, aggressive one-gap defense where he can use his quickness to explode past blockers instead of taking them on in waves. He's not always been tasked to do that, but he's shown up well when the scheme meets his specific talents.

             

    Potential Suitors: Philadelphia Eagles, Cincinnati Bengals, Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons

10. Bennie Logan

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 15.8/25
    Pass Rush: 15.1/25
    Run Defense: 17.1/25
    Tackling: 11.8/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 66.5/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 30/99

                

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Bennie Logan is the new-age nose tackle. He's only 6'2" and 315 pounds, but in a league that heavily uses outside zone, the ability to dominate the back-side A-gaps has become a must. This requires nose tackles to be stout and agile—two areas where Logan shows his ability.

    He may have played himself out of Philadelphia's price range with his performance the past few seasons, but an injury-plagued 2016 campaign could drive his price down for a team needing a starting nose tackle.

    The Raiders make a ton of sense as a potential landing spot for Logan. They have the cap space necessary to front-load a contract for immediate impact before they have to sign quarterback Derek Carr and star defender Khalil Mack to extensions. For Oakland's need at defensive tackle, the 27-year-old Logan is worth it.

           

    Doug's Quick Take

    Logan has been one of the better run-stopping tackles in the NFL for a while now, though he didn't show it as much when the Eagles moved to a base 4-3 under Jim Schwartz in 2016. Any two-gap team with hybrid fronts will love him as a pace-setter against the run, and his schematic regression last season could mean he's a real bargain.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders, New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins

9. Terrell McClain

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 15.9/25
    Pass Rush: 15.1/25
    Run Defense: 17.1/25
    Tackling: 12.1/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 66.8/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 29/99

             

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Terrell McClain was one of the unsung heroes of the Dallas Cowboys defense. Dallas' defensive line didn't have much consistent talent outside of McClain and Maliek Collins to close the season.

    McClain was a force against the run, though. He wasn't the most consistent pass-rusher, but he did enough in that regard to not be a complete liability on passing downs. Teams looking for an affordable starter in free agency should have McClain high on their list.

    He played all over Dallas' line. He was competent at 1-technique, 3-technique and 0-technique in its "Bear" fronts (a nose tackle with two 3-techniques). If teams can convince him to be a rotational defensive lineman in 2017, he'll be one of the bargains of the offseason.

             

    Doug's Quick Take

    McClain was streaky in 2016, the first NFL season in which he logged 500 snaps. He's a physical tweener (6'2", 302 lbs) who explodes well off the snap and has good power for his size. McClain is the kind of payer who will occasionally flash, but his overall tape shows a rotational player who makes his teammates better. 

                        

    Potential Suitors: Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants, Detroit Lions

8. Dominique Easley

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 17.8/25
    Pass Rush: 15.9/25
    Run Defense: 15.6/25
    Tackling: 11.4/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 67.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 26/99

             

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Dominique Easley lives and dies off his first step. His snap-quickness score was one of the tops in the league, but he wasn't always productive after his first step. Easley's game is still in the adolescent phases. His athletic ability will allow him to make splash plays that made it look as though the Rams had two versions of Aaron Donald at times. His technique and hand placement was lacking quite a bit at other times, though.

    However, for a team that already has some established defensive line depth and needs a big-play threat from the 3-technique, Easley makes a lot of sense. His reunion with New England would be logical as the third or fourth defensive tackle rotating in with Alan Branch and Vincent Valentine.

    If the Eagles lose Bennie Logan to free agency, Easley and Fletcher Cox would become a dynamic duo on obvious passing downs with a high upside for the twist and stunt games. Oakland could also use an explosive presence inside next to Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and Mario Edwards.

    Doug's Quick Take

    Easley's injury history has negated his massive potential to a degree—he's no longer the player he was at Florida, where he could destroy multiple blockers from just about any gap. But he will show stretches of dominance, and he's developed into a decent overall player. He can play well in one-gap and two-gap schemes, which will add to his appeal.

             

    Potential Suitors: Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Rams

7. Dontari Poe

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 16.8/25
    Pass Rush: 15.1/25
    Run Defense: 16.9/25
    Tackling: 12/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 67.5/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 25/99

            

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    If there was a player to label as "buyer beware," it's Dontari Poe. Poe has played an absurd amount of snaps over his career. The wear and tear really started to show in his game this past season. He didn't flash the same freakish athleticism that made him a top-11 pick in 2012 and his pass rush got worse as the campaign progressed.

    It's fair to wonder if the back issues from the early portion of Poe's career have caught up with him. He's carrying a lot of weight (346 lbs) week in and week out; even though he'll only be 27 at the start of the season, his best football is probably behind him.

    He still offers solid two-down ability as a run-stopper. For a team to get the most out of Poe, his snap count will have to be decreased as a part of a rotation. Nailing down a location for Poe is difficult, but Atlanta and Indianapolis having former Kansas City personnel people in their front office could be an advantage for him.

              

    Doug's Quick Take

    Last season was the first time since Poe's rookie campaign of 2012 that he wasn't an every-down, every-play factor, and it's indeed possible that he's just gassed after a bunch of high-rep years. However, he still had seven quarterback hits and 23 quarterback hurries in 2016, so there's a chance that, perhaps with a little weight lost and a little more wisdom applied to his snap count, he can be a highly impactful player. There's also a good chance that he won't get the free-agent money he seeks.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts

6. Alan Branch

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    Billie Weiss/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 16.1/25
    Pass Rush: 15.1/25
    Run Defense: 17.9/25
    Tackling: 12.3/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 67.9/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 22/99

            

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Alan Branch is a tremendous run-stuffer. The Patriots ran a ton of "Bear" fronts last season (a nose tackle with two 3-techniques), and Branch played all three positions well against the run. It's difficult to find a player who can thrive as a two-gapper over the center, 3-technique on the strong side and a 3-technique on the weak side, but Branch managed to play well in a Super Bowl season for the Patriots.

    He played a key role on a line with Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine, two young defensive tackles. It may be in the Patriots' best interests to bring him back for a season before completely passing the reins to the young guns.

    If Branch does move on, he should be able to latch on to a contender looking for help along the defensive line.

              

    Doug's Quick Take

    Branch was one of the most important—and most underrated—elements of New England's front-seven turnaround in 2016. Yes, he's a powerful run-stuffer, but he can also hustle upfield and get pressure when required. He's still got a ton left in the tank, and he'd be an asset for any defense. 

             

    Potential Suitors: New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks

5. Corbin Bryant

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 16.4/25
    Pass Rush: 15.9/25
    Run Defense: 17.1/25
    Tackling: 12.6/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 68/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 21/99

              

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Corbin Bryant is a talented, oft-injured defensive tackle. He fell under the radar playing on the same defensive line as stars Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, but Bryant has been a productive player for the Bills when healthy.

    He only has 2.5 sacks in his career, but that's not indicative of how disruptive he is. Bryant plays the run well with discipline and penetration while causing disruption as a pass-rusher. Coming off a shoulder injury, he probably won't cash in during free agency. Teams that need a starter in an odd or even front should be heavily interested in Bryant.

             

    Doug's Quick Take

    Bryant's best season was 2015, when he amassed 20 quarterback hurries in 653 snaps and proved to be effective against the run. The injury history is the "buyer beware" factor here, but teams will be interested in his versatility if he can stay on the field.

             

    Potential Suitors: Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos

4. Brandon Williams

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    Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 16.4/25
    Pass Rush: 14.4/25
    Run Defense: 19.4/25
    Tackling: 12.7/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 69.4/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 18/99

              

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Brandon Williams is one of the premier nose guard talents in the league. Williams has anchored the Ravens run defense since becoming a third-round pick in the 2013 draft. The Ravens run a hybrid front, and Williams has played almost exclusively 1-technique and 0-technique for Baltimore. As a 6'1", 340-pound defensive tackle, his primary role will be dominating the A-gaps.

    Williams is in an interesting situation with the Ravens. This past offseason, Baltimore found a gem at nose tackle in undrafted rookie free-agent Michael Pierce out of Samford. He was almost on par with Williams as a run-stopper for the season (18.5 run defense grade). Pierce's emergence could make Williams expendable for Baltimore, and if it does let him walk, he shouldn't last long on the open market.

    With Earl Mitchell being released from Miami, Williams could be an intriguing option for the Dolphins next to Ndamukong Suh and in front of Jordan Phillips. Indianapolis needs to get much stronger up front with unacceptable play from David Parry as the nose tackle last season.

    The Colts run a similar system to Baltimore, so Williams would be an instant starter there. The 49ers have a boatload of cap space, and Williams would definitely help ease the transition for Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner into a new defense.

               

    Doug's Quick Take

    The fact that Pierce was able to be successful in Baltimore's fronts will have some wondering if Williams has been successful over the years due to the system he's in. There may be an element of truth to that, but there are also few players in the NFL who can consistently upend guards and centers like he does, and that alone will be worth big money in the 2017 offseason. When you factor in his ability to generate occasional pass pressure, Williams will be highly sought.

             

    Potential Suitors: San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts

3. Johnathan Hankins

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 16.9/25
    Pass Rush: 15.9/25
    Run Defense: 17.8/25
    Tackling: 12.5/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 69.7/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 17/99

            

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Johnathan Hankins has been a slam dunk second-round draft pick for the New York Giants. Hankins paired with Damon Harrison this season to anchor the Giants' defensive resurgence en route to a wild-card berth against the Green Bay Packers. It is time for Hankins to cash in after massively outplaying his rookie deal.

    Hankins isn't an explosive game-breaker. He will never be the player who whizzes past opposing offensive linemen, but he has a nice array of pass-rush moves that allow him to get solid pressure on the quarterback.

    Where Hankins shines is with his work against the run.

    Harrison typically took on the responsibilities of the nose tackle, leaving Hankins as a heavy 3-technique, which was difficult to run against. A team that already has speed at defensive tackle would be smart to put in a bid for Hankins to mix and match along its defensive line.

    If Atlanta combined Hankins with Grady Jarrett and Ra'Shede Hageman for the foreseeable future, it would shore up the middle of that defense. Hankins would also fit well next to explosive players like Philadelphia's Fletcher Cox, New Orleans' Sheldon Rankins and Cincinnati's Geno Atkins.

             

    Doug's Quick Take

    Hankins would be a splendid addition to any heavy front looking for a killer combination of strength against double-teams and surprising explosiveness to pressure. His ability to rip through guards and centers to get consistent pressure is Hankins' most unique feature for his size—you simply don't see too many 6'2", 320-pound men who can get through the pocket as quickly as he can.

    Hankins' best bet would be to stay with Big Blue and the awesome Harrison, but the Giants may price themselves out of the equation after Olivier Vernon and Harrison's deals, and Jason Pierre-Paul's free-agent status. 

             

    Potential Suitors: Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, Cincinnati Bengals

2. Nick Fairley

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 18.3/25
    Pass Rush: 16.8/25
    Run Defense: 17.8/25
    Tackling: 12.7/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 72.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 10/99

             

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Nick Fairley has always flashed big-time potential and talent, but he's never had the consistency needed to vault himself into the upper echelon of defensive tackles. Fairley was finally able to put together a (mostly) consistent season, finishing as NFL1000's No. 10 defensive tackle.

    When Fairley is locked in, he can be one of the most dominating players in the game behind Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins and Fletcher Cox. He still has the rare athleticism that made him coveted as a first-round pick in 2011 by the Detroit Lions, but also much fewer mental lapses than in the past.

    Once rookie Sheldon Rankins returned from a leg injury midseason, he and Fairley immediately combined to be one of the best defensive tackle duos in the NFL. They interchanged between the 1-technique and the 3-technique, and both did a phenomenal job of stuffing the run. New Orleans was extremely difficult to run on when both Fairley and Rankins were in the game, and the Saints may be interested in keeping that chemistry together.

    If Fairley does end up hitting the market, there are plenty of teams that will be lining up to sign him. Atlanta, Oakland, New Orleans and Cincinnati make the most sense for Fairley from an organizational standpoint and a needs perspective.

             

    Doug's Quick Take

    Every NFL team will be interested in Fairley because of his freakish combination of power and athleticism, and every team will be just as cautious when analyzing him because, for every snap in which he looks like a world-beater, there's another snap where he disappears. That he's been on three teams in the last three seasons tells the latter story well, but Fairley will land somewhere, and he'll be an exciting player. The question always is, how consistently?

             

    Potential Suitors: Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals

1. Kawann Short

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Snap Explosion: 18.1/25
    Pass Rush: 16.9/25
    Run Defense: 19.1/25
    Tackling: 13.1/15
    Positional Value: 7/10 
    Overall: 73.9/100
    2016 NFL1000 Defensive Tackle Rank: 5/99

             

    NFL1000 DT scout Charles McDonald

    Kawann Short is the top defensive tackle on the market after he turned in another stellar season for the Carolina Panthers. Short's stats weren't as gaudy as his 2015 campaign when he notched double-digit sacks, but he was still extremely productive for the Panthers.

    Short was a key cog in the Panthers' tough run defense, as he routinely clogged rushing lanes from the 1- and 3-technique. His pass rushing wasn't quite as devastatingly consistent as 2015; however, he was still able to turn in monster performances on occasion. Short's game against the San Diego Chargers reminded everyone how dominant he can be rushing the passer, as he terrorized Philip Rivers and the Chargers' interior offensive line.

    Don't expect the Panthers to let Short hit free agency. Defensive tackles who can dominate the 1- and 3-techniques don't grow on trees; it's important to keep homegrown talent in these situations. If the Panthers can't lock him up to a long-term deal worth north of $15 million per year, Short will get hit with the franchise tag.

    The Panthers have a nice defensive tackle rotation with Star Lotulelei, Vernon Butler and Short. Short is easily the most talented of the three, and Carolina would be foolish to let him walk.

          

    Doug's Quick Take

    Short's 14-sack season in 2015 was a bit of an outlier, but that's not a reflection on the player. It's simply that such campaigns are so rare for defensive tackles who consistently demand double-teams. Carolina's defense saw some regression last year, but Short still put up seven sacks, 11 hits and 31 hurries, and he was perhaps better against the run than ever. Short will demand a ton of money on the open market if he gets there, and in any one-gap aggressive front, he'll earn all of it. 

                     

    Potential Suitors: Carolina Panthers

                

    All advanced statistics courtesy of Pro Football FocusSalary-cap info provided by Over the Cap.