If you haven’t seen it already, we’ve revealed the top 25 free agents in the 2015 NFL class. Now we’re breaking the crop down by positions.
There is a wealth of talented defensive linemen in this year’s crop of free agents, including the player sitting atop our overall rankings. Here are the top five options for 2015:
1. Ndamukong Suh
Not only the top defensive lineman, Suh is the best free agent overall this offseason. Unstoppable in the trenches, Suh is a rare breed of player that commands a double — and sometimes — triple-team when defending the run and also can rush the passer from an interior spot.
Suh seems likely to stay put in the Motor City, as he and Jim Caldwell have developed a strong relationship. Suh is going to set the market for defensive linemen at his position and should earn a contract worth as much as or more than $100 million.
2. Jason Pierre-Paul
The top 4-3 defensive end, Pierre-Paul proved in 2014 that when healthy he’s still among the top pass-rushers in the league. Pierre-Paul will turn 26 at the end of the month and is a wildly intriguing player given his abilities and age.
Still, he’s coming off 2012 and 2013 seasons plagued by injuries, so that’s one stigma interested teams will have to look past. Those years could be aberrations or legitimate concerns. I lean toward the former.
3. Jerry Hughes
Hughes, who could also be considered an outside linebacker, found a niche in Buffalo the past two seasons. In 2013 as a stand-up linebacker, he recorded 10 sacks in Mike Pettine’s defense. Then followed it up with 10 more as a true 4-3 end under Jim Schwartz.
Buffalo has a number of holes to fill and Hughes may be on his way out of Northwestern New York. Given Hughes’ versatility and recent production, he may be in line to become a top pass-rusher elsewhere.
4. Terrance Knighton
Affectionately known as “Pot Roast,” Knighton is the next-best interior defensive lineman on the market besides Suh. Over the past two years playing nose tackle for the Broncos, Knighton has ranked among Pro Football Focus’ top run-stopping tackles. In 2014, he finished 10th against the run and 23rd at rushing the quarterback.
Given Knighton’s success under Jack Del Rio and the plethora of free agents Denver has to try and re-sign, it’s highly likely the 28-year-old could be on the move. Consider Del Rio’s new team, the Raiders, as a top landing spot.
5. Greg Hardy
One of the more intriguing free agents that will hit the market this offseason, Hardy spent most of 2014 on the Commissioner’s Exempt List. Before that, he was making a name for himself as one of the best true edge rushers in the NFL.
Hardy totaled 26 sacks from 2012 and 2013 with the Panthers, but interested teams will have to look past his recent off-the-field trouble in order to add them to their defensive front. Like Pierre-Paul, he’s a true 4-3 end and only 26 years old.
*Just Missed The Cut: Nick Fairley
Fairley is a high-potential player, but weight and off-the-field issues remain a very high concern for interested teams. He’s expected to be on his way out of Detroit, but perhaps will have to settle for one of those one-year “prove it” kind of deals.