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Plenty of Quality Defensive Talent for 2nd Wave of Free Agency

A lot of defensive activity on the first day of NFL free agency, led by the New York Giants, who inked cornerback Janoris Jenkins, defensive end Olivier Vernon, and nose tackle Damon Harrison. Another team making an early big splash was Jacksonville, locking up defensive tackle Malik Jackson and safety Tashaun Gipson.

But after the first waive of signings, plenty of quality defensive talent remains on street. Let’s take a closer look .. .

Defensive End

Robert Ayers, Giants 6-3, 275 • 30

Ayers had a career-high 9.5 sacks this season, even though he missed four games with an injury. With so many teams looking for pass rushers, he’s going to make some decent money. However, he has had a number of injuries over the years, so teams need to be careful with the contract length.

Kendall Reyes, Chargers 6-4, 300 • 26

Reyes is a durable end who hasn’t missed an NFL game. The versatile lineman has a good motor and could play 3-4 end or 4-3 tackle with his next team. In 2015, he compiled 11 quarterback hits.

Jared Crick, Texans 6-4, 285 • 26

Crick plays the end opposite J.J. Watt, and while Watt is a sack machine, Crick did the lion’s share of his work against the run. The super-tough Nebraskan plays through injuries, and is a very instinctive player with a good motor. He can play 3-4 or 4-3 end.

Nose Tackle

B.J. Raji, Packers 6-2, 337 • 29

The Packers recently re-signed nose tackle Letroy Guion, so they are likely going to move on from Raji, who has had trouble staying healthy, including a lingering groin injury last year. When healthy, he’s a good 3-4 nose tackle who is hard to move.

Terrance Knighton, Redskins 6-3, 354 • 29

The massive nose tackle makes it tough for opponents to run up the middle. He is ideal for teams playing the 3-4 defense because he’s so good at taking up blockers, allowing others to make plays. Team management needs to stay on him about his weight, but when in shape, Knighton is a terrific football player.

Sammie Lee Hill, Titans 6-4, 328 • 29

Another massive nose tackle, Hill has decent foot quickness and long arms. He was banged up last year and started just five games, but had a good year in 2014 with three sacks and six passes defensed. He is versatile, with experience in both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts.

Outside Linebacker

Junior Galette, Redskins 6-2, 258 • 27

A skillful edge pass rusher who accumulated 22 sacks in 2013-14 with the New Orleans Saints, Galette signed with Washington in 2015, but blew his Achilles tendon in training camp and missed the season. He has had some legal issues which might scare some teams.

Nick Perry, Packers 6-3, 265 • 25

Perry never lived up to his first-round billing, with just 12.5 sacks in four years. Injuries were part of the problem, as he missed 18 games. He flashed his huge potential with two sacks against Washington in the playoffs, and is still only 25. If he finally stays healthy, Perry could be a steal in free agency.

Andre Branch, Jaguars 6-5, 265 • 26

Branch has just 14 sacks in four years, but as a senior at Clemson he had 10.5, so more production was expected from him. Though he disappointed as a pass rusher in Jacksonville, he was solid against the run. He played 4-3 end in Jacksonville, but might be better off as a 3-4 outside linebacker.

Inside Linebacker

Demario Davis, Jets 6-2, 239 • 27

A terrific run-stuffer, Davis amassed 313 tackles over the last three season. He is a very hard worker with great character and leadership ability. The durable linebacker also didn’t miss a game those three seasons. However, Davis sometimes struggles in coverage due to hip stiffness.

Sean Weatherspoon, Cardinals 6-2, 244 • 28

Weatherspoon enjoyed two good years in Atlanta followed by two injury-riddled campaigns. He signed with Arizona last offseason for $3.85 million for one year, but missed most of camp with a hamstring injury and was relegated to a backup role. The speedy linebacker shows good range and athleticism.

James Laurinaitis, Rams 6-2, 248 • 29

Laurinaitis was released in a recent cap purge, but is actually coming off a pretty good season, finishing with 109 tackles. He has tallied more than 100 tackles in all seven of his NFL seasons. He has not missed one pro start, but has limitations in coverage.

Cornerback

Morris Claiborne, Cowboys 5-11, 192 • 26

Claiborne never lived up to his high draft status, in part due to myriad injuries; perhaps the pressure of being picked 6th overall made him press. A change of scenery is probably best for him, as there’s no question this speedy corner has talent and can help a team. However, he probably will never be a shutdown corner.

Prince Amukamara, Giants 6-0, 207 • 26

Amukamara is a good but not great cornerback who has flashed big-time ability on occasion and has had some durability issues. He isn’t a shutdown corner, but is a solid one who will garner a lot of attention in free agency due to the dearth of talent at the position. He is a very tough CB and willing in run support.

Jerraud Powers, Cardinals 5-10, 197 • 28

Powers has 82 career starts with 11 picks and 69 PDs over a seven-year career. He has 4.4 speed and is very willing in run support.

Safety

Eric Weddle, Chargers 5-11, 200 • 31

The instinctive safety has been durable — from 2010-15, he started 93 straight games, and has 19 career picks to go along with 71 PDs. Weddle wants to still be among the highest-paid safeties, but after nine years in the league, teams will hesitate to write a big check. Even though signing older safeties can be a mistake, this guy might be an exception.

Rashad Johnson, Cardinals 5-11, 204 • 30

Johnson had nine interceptions the last two seasons, including two pick-sixes in 2014. He is a smart player with good leadership skills and was considered the glue of the Cardinals secondary. The former walk-on at the University of Alabama turned into an All-SEC player and team captain.

Reggie Nelson, Bengals 5-11, 210 • 32

Nelson is coming off an excellent season with eight picks and 14 PDs. He is a very durable player who only missed three starts in the last five seasons. A speedy safety, Nelson covers like a cornerback and is very willing in run support.

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