With the NFL Draft fast approaching attention is switching away from veteran acquisitions to rookies. To wind up free agency it is time to look back and see which defensive additions will have the biggest impact on their new team. I have not just limited this to free agent acquisitions but have also included players traded this offseason.
Two players to narrowly miss this list were two New England Patriots acquisitions, Danny Shelton and Adrian Claybourn. The Patriots defensive line was awful last year and the addition of those two pieces should change that. However, neither are dominant players and are more gambles by New England than anything. For that reason, they just missed out on the top six.
Defensive tackle – Star Lotulelei – to Buffalo Bills
One of the best ways to beat the Patriots is to get pressure in Tom Brady’s face. Lotulelei has not been particularly successful so far with just 11.5 sacks and 88 tackles in five years. He struggled last year, despite starting 16 games, but as a first-round pick, he has the pedigree to turn it around. Lotulelei and Kyle Williams both have the ability to cause disruption up the middle against the best offensive lines. That will open more opportunities for Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy off the edge as well. The strategy of a dominant defensive front is becoming more popular in the NFL and now Buffalo have their version.
Safety – Morgan Burnett – Pittsburgh Steelers
The one thing that never seems to scare people about the Pittsburgh teams is the pass defense. One of the reasons is that since Troy Polamalu retired they have lacked a leader. Now they have that leader in Burnett who has been the rock of the Packers secondary for seven years. Burnett will be the centerpiece and leader of a secondary that is much improved. If they can be competent in the defensive backfield then the Steelers have a real chance at knocking the Patriots off their throne and returning to the Super Bowl.
Safety – Tyrann Mathieu – to Houston Texans
Coming off his first full season in the NFL it was somewhat of a surprise when Mathieu was released. The Texans were quick to get Mathieu signed to a one year contract and he will be their starting strong safety. This will be Mathieu’s first year playing strong safety full-time having been a free safety mostly in Arizona. Despite being just 26, Mathieu is extremely experienced and will provide leadership in that secondary. I expect the Texans to draft a safety and Mathieu can be a mentor to whoever they draft. The Texans needed to improve their pass defense having been better against the run in 2017 and the addition of Mathieu will do just that.
Cornerback – Richard Sherman – to San Francisco 49ers
I am actually not sure what Sherman has left after his injuries. However, even if he is not his old self on the field he is still extremely valuable to the 49ers. The defense in San Francisco is young and Sherman will bring some much-needed experience. In fact, that whole team is young and needs a vocal leader, well they just signed one. This is a no lose situation for the 49ers. If Sherman is good, they have got themselves a great player. If he is bad, they will benefit from his locker room presence and leadership. As for the money, well they have so much cap space it is essentially negligible what they have paid him.
Linebacker – Alec Ogletree – to New York Giants
The Rams trading Ogletree came as somewhat of a surprise given that he was the centerpiece of the defense. For the Giants, it is an extremely shrewd move. They got a great price because Ogletree had a bit of a down year in 2017 with just 68 tackles. However, in the other three years which Ogletree has played 16 games, he has recorded 84-plus tackles in each. The Giants were the 7th worst team against the run in 2017 and will hope Ogletree can help change that. Ogletree will quickly become a leader of that defense and could be the centerpiece the next great Giants defense is built around.
Defensive tackle – Ndamukong Suh – to Los Angeles Rams
Suh’s release sent the NFL into a tailspin. Nearly every team must have considered signing him and Suh definitely took his time to pick the best spot. When he decided to sign at the Rams his decision will have sent shivers through all NFL quarterbacks. That Rams defensive front is now Suh, Aaron Donald, and Michael Brockers. Alone all of them have the ability to cause chaos on any given play. Together they could absolutely destroy NFL offensive lines. With Jimmy Garoppolo and Russell Wilson in the division, the Rams needed to be able to disrupt teams. The Seahawks will now be seriously concerned about an already weak offensive line and the 49ers will have some worries about how Garoppolo will cope with the pressure against this group.
Suh and Donald both often command double teams meaning teams will need to use extra blockers when the Rams rush just four, let alone when they blitz. The Rams have a great offense but this defensive line is now the most exciting element of this team