This week we dive into the NFC South IDP free agent targets. This is the land of no money, so the changing of power should hang solely on completing the rosters and reaching potential.
The NFC South has the potential to be a very powerful conference with the Saints, Panthers, Falcons, and Buccaneers. The Saints were robbed of a Super Bowl. The Panthers always employ a great defense behind Ron Rivera. They also have an offense now looking to breakout with the tools all coming together. The Falcons still have Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Keanu Neal and Deion Jones. The Buccaneers signed on Bruce Arains as head coach and Todd Bowles as the new Defensive Coordinator. The Saints look to be the favorite, can the others get some new weapons to challenge the top?
Needs: Defensive Tackle, Cornerback, Defensive End
Notable Free Agents: Grady Jarrett, Terrell McClain, Brian Poole (RFA), Blidi Wreh-Wilson
Cap Space: $28,659,598 (17th most in the NFL)
The Falcons were a surprise team last season coming in at 7-9 and missing the playoffs. Many saw this team as a team that could make some noise in the NFC. Key injuries to the likes of Deion Jones , Keanu Neal and Devonta Freeman put a hold on those plans. The defense actually played well ranking 8th in total rush defense and 6th in pass defense. This team has the staff to make it to the next level but need a couple additions.
Who Will They Sign?
1) Grady Jarrett- Defensive Tackle
Grady Jarrett has emerged as one of the better defensive tackles in the NFL. In his four year NFL career he has totaled 179 tackles (95 solo), 31 tackles for a loss, 14 sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 40 QB hits in 46 starts. He has shown great ability to get in the backfield to disrupt an offense.
Unfortunately for the Falcons he is now an unrestricted free agent. He can get an astronomical contract and is well worth it considering his age as well. Good thing for the Falcons is the team has promise and a strong defense as well as the cap room to retain him. Jarrett will most likely be in the Kawann Short range around $16 million per year. This will still leave the Falcons with $12 million of cap to spare.
Grady Jarrett has a very strong pair of hands as he out duels many lineman when it comes to hand fighting. Watch here as he wins with the hand slap and literally throws the lineman out of the way while still having the athleticism to take down Cam Newton:
grady jarrett vs aminu pic.twitter.com/KEqTynI3R0
— charles (#1 lebron fan) mcdonald (@FourVerts) May 10, 2018
During the same game he gets the lineman heading to his right ever so slightly to then put a little juke on and head up the middle to get to Newton again. Another display of his great athleticism:
Grady Jarrett vs Amini Silatolu is verging on bullying at this point pic.twitter.com/wFVnVQkjbs
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) December 31, 2017
I believe Grady Jarrett can be put into the tier of elite defensive tackles. It will cost a big buck to retain him and with defensive tackle being one of the weaker spots on the Falcons, it should be top of their list.
2) Brian Poole- Cornerback
Brian Poole had a career year in 2018 and is also at the end of his rookie contract and is in need of an extension. Poole has proven to be a valuable asset to the Falcons defense. In 2018 he had 74 tackles (53 solo), four tackles for a loss, three sacks, six passes defended, three interceptions, and two fumble recoveries. Big play potential was showcased with Poole as the clot corner position is becoming a bigger part of teams schemes these days.
Poole is a fantastic blitzer as shown by his three sacks in 2018 and five for his career. He has a nasty demeanor about him out of the field. Watch here as he goes right through the running backs attempt to block and pick up the sack:
Big hits do not just happen while Poole is blitzing as he often lays down the hammer in coverage as well. Here are two instances where he prevented the first down by making beautiful tackles. The first is after the catch following Tyreek Hill across the middle:
The second is him breaking off his man once he sees the play has collapsed and he stops Jameis Winston trying to scramble for the first down:
Poole also had three interceptions last season being a big part of the Falcons 6th ranked pass defense. Signing Poole to a decent extension would be smart for the Falcons as it would keep another one of their key pieces around and the core of the defense together.
3) David Amerson– Cornerback
David Amerson is still only 27 years old, I think people forget how young he still is. It was as recent as 2015-2016 where Amerson had a stellar stretch of play. In those two seasons he totaled 125 tackles, 42 passes defensed, and six interceptions. Those are Pro Bowl type numbers there.
After those two great seasons he has spent time on Oakland and Arizona and looked like he was getting back to form with the Cardinals. Then towards the end of the 2018 he was injured and that was that. Amerson should come cheap and would be a solid addition as a number two corner on any team.
Amerson is good at reading the QB. Here you see him break on the route before the ball is released to make the interception:
David Amerson with the takeaway! pic.twitter.com/RWAVgrTIPz
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) December 30, 2018
Here he reads the play well again and making a sound tackle to pick up the big stop on 3rd down:
Amerson runs a 4.40 sec. 40 yard dash and has multiple four interception seasons. Throw him on the other side of Desmond Trufant and the Falcons secondary gets even stronger.
Needs: Defensive End, Safety, Linebacker
Notable Free Agents: Julius Peppers (retired), Wes Horton, Kyle Love, Thomas Davis, Eric Reid, Mike Adams
Cap Space: $16,025,184 (24th most in the NFL)
The Panthers have always had a solid defense under Ron Rivera. They have two solid linebackers in Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson as well as great corners in Donte Jackson and James Bradberry. Some infusion in the pass rush is needed. They long time future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers has finally retired and outside of Mario Addison the team is thin. Both Starting safeties from 2018 are free agents to be and I do not see either resigning.
Who Will They Sign?
1) Brandon Graham– Defensive End
Brandon Graham had a bit of a down year in 2018 and may be running out of steam. He has played 127 games in his career up to this point. In his seven years as a full time starter with Philly he averaged 43 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 10 tackles for a loss, and two forced fumbles per season. Last year he only had four sacks but took on most of the pass rushing load with Derek Barnett going on I.R.
With Graham heading into Carolina he will be the secondary pass rusher behind Mario Addison. This should benefit him with the miles on his legs being matched against the weaker side. Here you can see him win the hand fighting with the lineman to come up with the strip sack of Tom Brady:
Brandon Graham for President #2020 https://t.co/UwcTO2bzW2
— 360°FantasyFootball (@360FFB) February 5, 2018
Adding Brandon Graham would be a lovely addition to the Panthers. It helps bolster the strongest part of the team, it’s defense. With the offense making strides, unless Cam Newton sits 2019 out, this could become a very complete team.
2) George Iloka– Safety
George Iloka is a real solid option at safety. He played and started in 74 games 2013-2017. In those seasons he averaged 69 tackles, 6.5 passes defensed, and almost two interceptions per season. He has two separate seasons of over 70 total tackles and three interceptions. With both starting safety positions now vacant he has a chance to regain a starting role in the NFL and it is something he deserves.
Even though Iloka only played on 11.2% of the teams snaps he still graded out solid per Pro Football Focus:
On limited snaps for Minnesota – George Iloka still put up some impressive numbers. pic.twitter.com/k08k2GELMH
— PFF (@PFF) February 4, 2019
His tackling, run defense and blitzing is what Iloka is known for. Watch here though as he makes a very nice play on the ball, tipping it to his teammate for the interception:
— NFL (@NFL) August 25, 2018
Iloka is only 28 years old and still has life to play in this league. Throw him on the Panthers and he now has a chance to start and make an impact in 2019.
3)Chris Conte– Safety
Conte is a very sound safety. He will not be the best in the league but if you need to sign a veteran cheap for a year or two and still see close to 70 tackles than he is your man. During his best season in 2013 he had 90 combined tackles and three interceptions. In 2017 he had 76 combined tackles and and interception but 2018 was lost to a all but three games on I.R.
As long as Conte can return from his injury healthy he should still be able to make an impact. Chris Conte has made some highlight reel plays in his career. Watch here how he lays himself out for the beautiful pick:
Here is another pick where he jumps the route and takes it to the house:
— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) November 13, 2016
A combination of Chris Conte and George Iloka seems legit from a few seasons ago but still holds weight today. If either can come back to their 2017 form than the Panthers should not have an issue in the secondary.
New Orleans Saints
Needs: Linebacker, Defensive Tackle
Notable Free Agents: Alex Okafor, Craig Robertson, Manti Te’o, Josh Robinson, Ken Crawley, P.J. Williams
Cap Space: $9,178,653 (29th most in the NFL)
The Saints are one of the best organizations in the NFL period. They are coached well, they draft excellent, free agents love coming here when cap space allows. Demario Davis was the best linebacker for the Saints last year which may be a problem. They could also use a big body tackle in the middle of the defense as well.
Cap space is not not overabundant for the Saints unfortunately. There are some seasoned veterans out on the market that could fill some roles. There are also some intriguing free agents at the linebacker position as well.
Who Will They Sign?
1) Denzel Perryman– Linebacker
Everybody knows Perryman has had issues with staying healthy so far in his career. When he does play though he is a wrecking ball in the middle of the defense. Perryman has never eclipsed the 100 tackle mark in a season but has also never started more than 11 games in a season.
His best year came in 2016, his second season in the league where he played in 12 games and started 11. During this season he finished with 71 tackles (55 solo), eight tackles for a loss, two sacks, two passes defended, and an interception. If he was able to play in the last four games of the season I could easily have seen him eclipse the 100 tackle mark.
Some say Perryman is only a run thumper, as he is a ferocious tackler. They also say he is suspect in coverage. Perryman is not a linebacker that you put on a tight end or running back in man coverage, that is just not his thing. What he does real well is zone coverage. Watch here as he reads the play well dropping back in the middle and picking off Matt Ryan:
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) October 23, 2016
What he does truly thrive in though is playing the run. Having somebody able to plug the running gaps on the Saints only will make this defense on the rise even better. Watch here a he sees where the run is going, finds the gap and delivers the big hit:
Denzel Perryman's hip mobility and ability to come to balance prior to contact lends itself to some killer hits. One of my favorites. pic.twitter.com/0HI2dbdIli
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) November 2, 2016
Also here in the game against Kansas City shows a couple of clips of him clogging the holes and making plays:
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) December 15, 2015
Denzel Peryman is one of my breakout candidates on the if he can stay healthy. With the Saints defense thin at linebacker throwing Perryman in the middle allowing Demario Davis to stay at the weakside. Perryman would be a welcomed addition to the team.
2) Earl Mitchell– Defensive Tackle
Earl Mitchell is a savvy veteran and big body guy in the middle of the defense. He will be turning 32 in 2019 but was still a productive body in the middle for the 49ers the past two seasons. In those seasons he started 28 of the 30 games he played in. Also racking up 61 tackles (31 solo), five tackles for a loss, one sack, four passes defended, and one fumble recovery while playing 44.5% of the teams snaps.
Mitchell is not a sexy add but a solid add. Putting him next to Sheldon Rankins would smart allowing him to mentor the youngster a bit. He would also take off a lot of the run game pressure as Mitchell is body that clogs the middle.
Dating back a couple years when he was a bit player with Miami he did show some good power in the pass rush. Watch here as he uses one arm to force the lineman back and come up with the sack:
BIG EARL MITCHELL WITH THE SACK!!! pic.twitter.com/UUW8fCmhcf
— Dolfans NJ (@DolfansNJ) August 29, 2015
Then here again forcing the lineman to his back and almost getting another sack:
I see you Earl Mitchell pic.twitter.com/N8Yf12tH0c
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) September 17, 2015
Earl Mitchell is well beyond his prime but still able to make a limited impact. The Saints have a young stud in Rankins in the middle but and an up and comer in David Onyemata. It would be smart to add a seasoned veteran like Mitchell to teach a bit, plus he is cheap.
3) Bryce Hager– Linebacker
Hager is more of a safety valve signing if Perryman cannot make a complete go of it. Hager has never been able to crack the lineup for the Rams but he may just need a change of scenery. He had a very productive college career at Baylor. His totals were 35 games, 322 tackles (202 solo), 24 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, five passes defended, one interception, five forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and a Touchdown.
Changing scenery to a team with a need at the position will at least allow Hager to compete for a spot on the roster. With Perryman coming off an injury he may be slow to get back to form and extra bodies are always a plus. Hager has athletic upside and is decent in coverage but tackling is what he needs to be assigned to do. Watch here as he fights of the tight end block to make a nice play on the running back:
Rams Rookie LB IDP Bryce Hager #54 fights off ace blocker Clive Walford, and takes out the speedy Taiwan Jones w ease pic.twitter.com/neZzeFJ9ky
— fantasyfootballmetrics (@FFMetrics) August 15, 2015
A chance may be all Bryce Hager needs and on a competitive squad with needs at the position, this may be the change he needs. Although he most likely will not become a star, he could provide some solid depth at the position and maybe some good special teams play. He was active on almost 80% of the Rams special teams plays.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Needs: Cornerback, Linebacker, Defensive End
Notable Free Agents: Adarius Glanton, Devante Bond, Kwon Alexander, Kevin Minter, Brent Grimes, Andrew Adams (RFA), Chris Conte
Cap Space: $5,061,449 (30th most in the NFL)
The Buccaneers are in a cap space conundrum. They only have enough to sign second and third tier free agents. With the addition of Todd Bowles as the defensive coordinator the team is shifting to a hybrid 3-4 base defense. This does not effect Jason Pierre-Paul as he is quite versatile but they do not have anybody else to play outside linebacker. They also need to sign some cornerback help, the team was torched last year in the secondary.
Who Will They Sign?
1) Shareece Wright– Cornerback
Shareece Wright is by no means the answer at cornerback for the Buccaneers. He is more or less added for competition with the possibility to become a number two starter or rotation guy. I fully expect the Buccaneers to attack the position via the draft. Wright has been productive in his part time roles though as he has had this role ever since he left the Chargers.
With the Chargers Wright started every game he played. In 2015 he left the Chargers by the way of free agency and has been a part time player since. During the 47 games he played in he started only 26 and played 49.55% of those teams defensive snaps. Playing limited time though he has been quite productive.
Though only playing about half the snaps, his four year totals are 164 tackles (136 solo), nine tackles for a loss, 21 passes defended, one interception, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. His tackle numbers are what jump out as he averaged 41 tackles per season in just under 50% of the teams snaps. That puts him on pace for 82 tackles a season if playing a full compliment of snaps.
Wright had a few down years in coverage but 2018 looked a little better. Here you can see him attack the catch point well forcing the incompletion:
One area Shareece Wright has been great this year is attacking the catch point. Breaks up big play to Courtland Sutton after he gets beat pic.twitter.com/LfMzNXNKm3
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) November 4, 2018
Wright will not be the answer for the Buccaneers at cornerback but could provide some excellent depth and even play as the extra defensive back in passing situations.
2) Kevin Minter- Linebacker
Kevin Minter played some for the Buccaneers last year filling in late in the season. Bowles should be moving to a 3-4 base scheme and Lavonte David needs somebody to man the middle with him. Minter is a nice buy low candidate for this position as he has only been a part time player for the past two seasons. People tend to forget what he was able to do in Arizona though as a full time starter.
During his third and fourth seasons in the league he started all 32 games. In those games he totaled 175 tackles (131 solo), 17 tackles for a loss, four sacks, four passes defended and a forced fumble. There is not one thing that he does great but does all things good. Watch here as he times his blitz well and goese right up the middle for the sack:
Who?!? With that sack! Kevin Minter with the sack on Cam Newton, his first of the season. pic.twitter.com/8zOFmrxg7Y
— Still NFAC (Mike Osborne) (@stillnfac) December 2, 2018
Minter is not a slouch in coverage either. He may give up some plays but is also capable of reading defenses well. Watch in this clip as he drops back in coverage to make a nice play on the ball to force the incompletion:
Cardinals free agent linebacker Kevin Minter (51) has decent anticipation in the passing game. pic.twitter.com/lqYDQcbwzl
— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) March 1, 2017
Here you can see Minter locate the running back flanking out wide from the backfield and beat the ball to him:
— All 22 film clips (@Fumblecia32) May 20, 2017
For the amount of cap space that the Buccaneers have Minter is their best option. Although he too may be too expensive, his name does not call too much attention on the market and may be the best deal he gets.
3) Eli Harold– Linebacker
I feel for Eli Harold a bit as I believe he was drafted into a situation that did not cater to his strengths. In San Francisco Eli Harold has been used primarily as a 4-3 defensive end. Harold has tried bulking up but he does not quite have the size to perform well. His best spot would be as a 3-4 outside linebacker where he can showcase his athleticism a little more.
The Buccaneers are now employing a 3-4 scheme and Harold could show what he can do and maybe jump start his career. Harold’s college career was very solid putting up totals of 36 games, 141 tackles, 36.5 tackles for a loss, 17.5 sacks, three passes defended, two interceptions, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
In college his size was doable on the defensive line but in the NFL you need a little more size and strength and a move to outside linebacker could be a huge move for Eli Harold. Again this would be a low risk high reward move for the Buccaneers.
The NFC South does not change much impact player wise in free agency. The Falcons retain two big free agents and add a proven corner on the opposite side of Desmand Trufont. The Panthers land Julius Peppers replacement and add two proven safeties to fill in for the secondary. The Saints take a flier on often injured but productive Denzel Perryman. The Buccaneers add some low key and possible high reward talent. There does not seem to be a shift in power from a defensive standpoint here, lets see where the season takes us.
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