With 2022 Free Agency looming, we’ve already seen some blockbuster trades and even one future Hall of Famer released (Bobby Wagner). Let’s take a look at some of the notable defenders who will be hitting the market.
NOTE: Players are loosely ranked based on talent, age, plus previous and expected future fantasy relevance. Players are Unrestricted Free Agents unless otherwise noted.
Notable Defensive Linemen/Edge Rushers
Chandler Jones (Ari, 32) — Jones has been one of the most dominant edge rushers of the past 10 years, hitting double-digit sacks in each healthy season since his sophomore year. He rebounded from an injury-shortened 2021 to post 41 tackles and 10.5 sacks in 15 games last season. As he reaches the twilight of his career, he should be moving into the typical veteran pass rusher role. That usually results in fewer snaps to save those 32-year-old legs. Look for Jones to still be effective as a pass-rusher, but 50 tackles and 13-15 sacks of his prime are likely out of his reach now. His best landing spots will be 4-3 teams desperate for D-line help.
Haason Reddick (Car, 28) — Reddick’s 2021 coming-out party as an EDGE (he was a more traditional off-ball LB in previous years) earned him a “prove it” deal in Carolina. Well, he proved it, alright. Reddick had 11 sacks and 68 tackles last season to follow his 12.5 sacks and 63 tackles from 2021. He’s now set up for a long-term contract and if finally gets the DE designation on his new team, Reddick will have DE1 upside as he enters his age-28 season.
Emmanuel Ogbah (Mia, 28) — Ogbah nearly duplicated his 2021 production in 2022, as he posted 9 sacks and 42 tackles this season after posting 9 sacks and 41 tackles in the previous season. While sacks are harder to predict, it’s important to note that Ogbah’s QB Hits were also consistent over the last two seasons (21 and 24, respectively). He worked in as a rotational player in Miami, which served him and the club well, so if he finds a home where he can climb above his 67% snap share of last season, he might finally hit that double-digit sack mark and sneak into DL1 territory.
Akiem Hicks (Chi, 32) — Hicks is on the wrong side of his career and hasn’t played more than 10 games in two in his last three seasons. He also has never been a big-play guy, but Hicks is still playing at a high level. He’s always been a high-tackle producer and last year was no different. In just 9 games last season, Hicks tallied 25 tackles and and 5 TFL, which matches his 50-tackle/10-TFL career averages. Interior linemen tend to last longer than edge rushers - who tend to fall off a cliff - so I’m not as concerned about Hicks’ age as I am about his availability. If Hicks ends up on a team that will use him as essentially a full-time starter, he’ll still be an asset in tackle-heavy and/or DT-required leagues.
Von Miller (LAR, 33) — Miller’s hands are getting heavier as he added his second Super Bowl ring, this time with the Rams. He’ll be hunting for his third ring this year and is most likely transitioning to the part-time pass-rusher role. Throughout Miller’s career, he’s hovered around 80% usage (including 76% with Denver last season and 79% with the Rams last season). In 15 games, the former Super Bowl MVP racked up 50 tackles and 9.5 sacks which is perfectly in line with his career arc. Miller’s fantasy value has always been handicapped by being an OLB instead of a DE. If he happens to land on a team that designates him as DE, he’ll be a DL2 instantly. If not, he’ll still be an EDGE2/3 assuming he can maintain that 70%+ usage.
Bobby Wagner (Sea, 32) — The news of Wagner being cut by Seattle seemed to shock the NFL universe. But I’m not sure why. Wagner was the highest-paid LB (and rightly so) on a team that needs to rebuild. He was the last man standing from the “Legion of Boom” Super Bowl-caliber defense, and the team has two capable LBs to fill his shoes in Jordyn Brooks and Jamal Adams (let’s face it, he’s a blitzing LB at this point). In other words, this move is contract-related, not talent-related. Wagner finished as the 2nd-highest graded LB per PFF (min. 750 snaps). He’s been a top-10 LB for fantasy in each of the last six years. We’ve seen plenty of top-10 LBs vanish into thin air and be out of the league the next year. That’s not happening to Wagner and with so many teams desperate for ILB help, Wagz should continue to be an LB1 for the next few years.
Foye Oluokun (Atl, 27) — Oluokun flashed in his sophomore season back in 2019. The converted safety made it easy for the Falcons to let the talented De’Vondre Campbell go, moving Oluokun into the starting spot next to Deion Jones. Oluokun followed his strong 117-tackle campaign in 2021 with a 192-tackle 2022 season. He’s not just a tackle-machine though, as he’s posted 5 INTs, 5 forced fumbles, and 5 sacks in his last two seasons.
De’Vondre Campbell (GB, 29) — Campbell turned a corner last season. While he flashed next to Deion Jones in Atlanta, Campbell’s alpha-dog play and production blossomed as the primary LB in Green Bay. After hovering around the 100-tackle mark the previous four seasons, Campbell tallied 146 tackles (102 solo) last season. If Campbell lands on a team where he’s the primary LB, he could continue to be an LB1. If he’s part of a tandem, he should still settle into an LB2 role.
Anthony Walker, Jr. (Cle, 27) — Walker thrived in his first year as the primary LB, posting 113 tackles in 12 games (9.4 tackles per game). He was a strong #2 next to Darius Leonard in Indianapolis before getting his own defense to run in Cleveland. He averaged 107 tackles as the secondary LB in Indy, so his landing spot would make him either an LB2+ as a primary LB or an LB3+ as a secondary LB.
Alex Singleton (Phi, 29) — As a Restricted Free Agent, Singleton is a fascinating case. If you go by PFF grades, he was abysmal last season. But the man racked up 137 tackles after posting 120 tackles the previous year. His tackle rate hovers around 20%, which is almost unheard of. So will teams look at him and see the hyper-efficient tackler? A bend-don’t-break defensive coordinate might love that. Or do they see an LB who gets targeted too often? Or does he stay in Philly, where he’s part of an LB rotation? He wasn’t a starter last season, but also broke the franchise record for tackles. No UFA or RFA LB has a wider range of outcomes.
Notable Defensive Backs
Tyrann Mathieu (Ari, 29) — This will be the third time Mathieu ventures into the free agent market. After back-to-back seasons of testing free agency in 2017-18, Mathieu settled on Kansas City for the past three seasons. He not only earned a Super Bowl ring in 2021, he earned an All-Pro or Pro Bowl selection in each of his seasons with the Chiefs. While Mathieu is only 29, this will be his tenth season in the NFL. He has posted 60 or more total tackles and double-digit big plays in five straight seasons. His fantasy value relies heavily on his landing spot, but we are confident he will improve the secondary of whatever team he signs with.
J.C. Jackson (NE, 26) — New England chose not to franchise tag Jackson. Ergo, he hits free agency as arguably the best available cornerback. His 2021 stats were impressive as Jackson had eight interceptions and a league-leading 23 passes defended. He posted 54 total tackles last year as he produced 40 solos and 14 assists. Those are solid numbers for a cornerback. Jackson is young and just getting started in the NFL. He is a ballhawk as evidenced in his 17 picks along with 37 passes defended while starting in 28 of a possible 33 games over the past two seasons.
Marcus Williams (NO, 25) — Williams tied a career high in total tackles last year with 72 as he tallied 50 solos and 22 assists. He posted double-digit big plays for the third straight year in 2021. If these numbers are not good enough to warrant a big contract, then knowing that opposing quarterbacks struggled completing passes thrown at Williams last season should put him in the top five available DB discussions. His ability to cover the deep back end as a free safety and the fact he will be just 26 years old on opening day has many a general manager trying to find cap space to sign him.
Tracy Walker (Det, 27) — Walker has missed six games and only started 34 of a possible 43 games over the past three seasons. The way Detroit utilized his services during this time was extremely frustrating for fantasy owners. Yet when you look at his numbers, they pop out at you. Walker has posted 83 or more total tackles and collected 23 big plays since 2019. He did take over 77% of the defensive snaps for Detroit in 2021 and that ranked third on the team. If Walker re-signs with the Lions, you can expect his numbers to about the same. Yet, he could see more playing time on a team needing a solid safety.
Quandre Diggs (Sea, 29) — Diggs hits the open market after posting career highs last year in total tackles (82) and assists (28) while tying a career high in interceptions (5). He also has double-digit big plays in back-to-back seasons and fell one short in 2019 or it would be three straight years. Diggs is a deep cover free safety that started all 33 possible games with the Seahawks the past two seasons. Since coming into the league in 2015, Diggs has posted 40 or more solos in five of his eight seasons.
Fantasy Points IDP analyst Tom Simons contributed to this article.