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Free Agent Preview: Defensive Line

Reviewing the offensive positions for free agency 2010 has been like listening to a lame cover band, but over on the defensive side of the ball, there are real rock stars all over, led by Julius Peppers and Richard Seymour. The UFA class is so deep at defensive line, a player as good as Casey Hampton might only be the 4th- or 5th-best free agent at his position. Teams are going to have no problems finding someone to turn their defense around, right? Free agency is gonna rock with defensive linemen!

Well… for the first time in this year’s free agency previews, defensive tackle’s where we’re going to see the franchise tag really come into play. That position’s likely to be heavily depleted before teams like the Rams can even get in the gate. A rash of injuries late last season hurt the defensive end class before it even got started. Aaron Kampman’s an All-Pro but he’s coming off a torn ACL. Jason Taylor’s a future Hall-of-Famer who still got it done last year at 35, but he’s coming off recent shoulder surgery and will be on the shelf till May. Jimmy Wilkerson’s 6 sacks for Tampa last season would have made him one of the sack leaders of this group. Torn ACL.

Sorry to harsh your buzz. The UFA defensive line class looked as good as third row seats for Pearl Jam, but we ended up with bad lawn seats for Styx instead. And as I clearly still have too much time on my hands, let’s sail away into the grand illusion of the 2010 free agent market…

Defensive line

Rams current depth chart:
End: Chris Long, Leonard Little, James Hall, C.J. Ah You, Victor Adeyanju, James Wyche, Sean Conover

Tackle: Cliff Ryan, Darell Scott, LaJuan (WHO?) Ramsey, Leger (DOOZER) Douzable, Gary Gibson, Adam Carriker, Chris Bradwell

Notes: Little and Hall are unrestricted free agents. Adeyanju and Gibson will be restricted free agents with the current CBA in place. Ryan is a RFA no matter what.

The analysis is after the jump!

Analysis: The Ram defensive line was probably short on talent in 2009 and definitely short in results. The Rams were only 27th in the NFL in stopping the run, with 137.6 yards allowed a game, and were even worse at sacking the quarterback, ranking 30th in the league with just 25 sacks. Chris Long came on strong at the end of the season and finished with 5 sacks. Long is on the verge of a breakout season so long as he can turn more of his QB pressures into actual sacks, and he stops getting shut down by tight ends 1-on-1 in the running game. That sprung way too many big runs last year. He’s also the lead culprit on a defense where every player is fooled badly, and way too easily, by play-fakes. Long’s going to need help on the other end of the line, though, which may be problematic. Little led the team with 6.5 sacks, but age (35) and injury are catching up with him to the point he’s considering retirement. And he’s enough of a liability against the run that he’s really only a pass rush specialist at this point of his career. Hall might have been the team’s best all-around lineman. He had 4.5 sacks, drew some holding penalties and is the best run defender of the DEs. He disappears on the field for long stretches, too, though, and just turned 33. Ah You beat out Adeyanju in training camp for his pass rush, and made some nice plays, but only had 1 sack and was a major liability against the run. After spending seemingly forever on the Rams’ inactive list, Adeyanju got extended playing time late in the season, but as with his whole career, wasn’t much of a pass rush threat. Most of the season the Rams had to blitz to get any pass rush going; their 4-man rush posed almost no threat. The Rams are in dire need of players who can get to the quarterback.

The Ram tackles were mostly a ragtag group of late-round draft picks and waiver wire pickups, and tended to play like it. Ryan is a steady player and led the group with 42 tackles, but it almost felt like Ramsey made more key plays like tackles-for-loss that bog down a drive. Rookie Scott came on late in the season and showed nice quickness and pursuit, and possibly potential, at the position. Doozer had his moments, and Gibson flashed some early promise before his leg was broken early in the season, but the Rams are FAR from having a game-changer or a dominator in the middle of the line. They get pushed around too much against the run and provide too little push up the middle on passing downs. If the Rams are as done counting on Carriker as I am, they’ll have him in a similar spot on their depth chart. It’s not altogether certain that he even would have made the team last training camp, and he will probably settle the issue and march straight to the Rams Draft Bust Hall of Fame by injuring himself picking up his suitcase the night he leaves for camp this year. It’s not untimely that this year’s draft shakes out to have major help for the Rams at defensive tackle at the top. As with the ends, these guys can make some plays, and they play hard for sixty minutes. Their ability is just short of what the Rams need to be competitive.

Free agency

Top 5 UFA DEs: 1) Julius Peppers 2) Adewale Ogunleye 3) Chike Okeafor 4) Tyler Brayton 5) Vonnie Holliday

Top 5 UFA DTs: 1) Richard Seymour 2) Vince Wilfork 3) Aubrayo Franklin 4) Ryan Pickett 5) Casey Hampton

Sleepers: Fred Robbins, Jimmy Wilkerson

Thanks, we’ll get back to you: Jason Babin, Justin Bannan, Alfonso Boone, Tim Bulman, Kendrick Clancy, Philip Daniels, Ryan Denney, Marques Douglas, Nick Eason, Dwan Edwards, Jason Ferguson, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Jarvis Green, Vonnie Holliday, William Joseph, Jevon Kearse, Jimmy Kennedy, Travis Kirschke, Rodney Leisle, Anthony Montgomery, Bryan Robinson, Cory Redding, Paul Spicer, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Reynaldo Wynn

The doctor will see you now: Aaron Kampman, Jason Taylor, Jimmy Wilkerson, Reggie Hayward, Jermaine McGhee, Rob Meier, Ian Scott, Rodrique Wright

Gawd no: Tank Johnson, Derrick Burgess

Viewing the field: Defensive tackle has to be the strongest position in free agency this year. It’s the one position the CBA provisions for 2010 managed not to mess up. However, since most of the other positions -have- been messed up by the CBA, defensive tackle’s where we’re likely to see the franchise tag in heaviest use. All of the top 5 are very likely candidates for the tag; Wilfork and Franklin have been tagged already. I have to cop out and just rank a bunch of likely-to-be-franchised DTs, though, because the falloff’s pretty steep after the top 5. For old guys, Jeff Zgonina and Hollis Thomas both have some game still left. Zgonina, 39, had 28 tackles and 2.5 sacks for Houston last year. Thomas started with the Rams, was picked up by Carolina, and ended up with 35 tackles. Each had more tackles last year than any Rams DT other than Ryan. Just sayin. 32-year-old Robbins is a likelier target. He was good for 5.5 sacks a season from 2006-08 before losing his starting job in New York last season to injury and Chris Canty’s big contract. Hmm, ex-Giant, Spagnuolo… Tank Johnson’s about the only young, physically-gifted DT you’re going to see dodge the franchise tag in 2010, but his past off-the-field troubles make him a much more natural fit in Cincinnati than he should be in St. Louis.

2/25/2010 Update: all of my top 5 DTs are in fact effectively off the market now. The first four have all been franchised, Pickett getting tagged yesterday, and the Steelers signed Hampton to a new deal.

Too bad defensive end’s nowhere near as deep, with the falloff beginning after the top… one, really. Elite athlete and sackmaster Peppers may have the best chance of any free agent to make truly funny money this uncapped season. Short of Shahid Khan actually giving Peppers Flex-N-Gate, though, it’s hard to see him coming here, and New England and Philadelphia are rumored to be hot on his trail. Ogunleye has dangerous speed, and 7 sacks last year, but almost all of it against terrible lines (3 vs. Green Bay’s while it was still Swiss cheese) and/or terrible teams (3.5 vs. the Lions and Rams). So is it the player, or the opposition? For Brayton, maybe it’s the team he’s on. He has 10 sacks in 2 years for Carolina; he had 7 the previous 5 years in Oakland. Maybe he’s a late bloomer? Okeafor’s gone from an 8-9 sack player to a 4-5 sack player, and he’s 34. Holliday’s 5 sacks last year were his most since 2006, but he’s also 34. They might be guys the Rams have to look to if Little or Hall don’t return. Aaron Kampman would have been #2 here easily if not for a torn ACL at the end of last season. Very similar story for Wilkerson, who had 6 sacks for Tampa last year. I’ve liked him ever since he came out of Oklahoma in 2003. It would seem a very risky bet that either player would be ready by training camp, though. 2005 NFL sack leader Burgess, 31, might give a team a little more upside. For those like Bernie Miklasz who seem to contend the Rams are too uninteresting not to go after Michael Vick, I’ll go along with it as long as they also sign Burgess.

Link: Neighbor sues NFL player Derrick Burgess over pack of pit bulls

Now that would be interesting.

RamView’s move: In 1997, the downtrodden, rebuilding Rams drafted Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award winner Orlando Pace with the first overall pick in the draft, laying part of the foundation for their 1999-2001 run. So in 2010, the downtrodden, rebuilding Rams will draft the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award winner again, Ndamukong Suh. Steve Spagnuolo gets Billy Devaney to bring in one of his old players in Robbins. Add them to Ryan, Scott, and whoever wins the last spot, now you’ve got some pressure coming up the middle. And that wouldn’t be RamView’s last call to the 201 area code.

In 1999, the downtrodden, rebuilding Rams traded a couple of draft picks for a young, disgruntled Pro Bowler, and he, Marshall Faulk, was another big part of the foundation for the Rams’ winning run. So, let’s repeat history again. Osi Umenyiora wants out of New York; let’s make a deal, Billy. It’s makeable. It shouldn’t cost a ransom in draft picks, and there’s no cap hit for either team to worry about this year, right? Let’s get it done! A d-line of Osi, Suh, Ryan and Long? Fuhgeddaboutit!

Prediction: The Rams draft Suh and Spagnuolo adds Robbins to the middle of his attack. I’ll adjust my predicted draft strategery and say they go DE in the 3rd round and RB in the 4th. Adding Suh and someone like, say, George Selvie, probably isn’t a bad start toward fixing the Rams’ defensive line problems, but if they don’t make a big free agent move or trade at defensive end to go along with the two rookies, they’d better have Little coming back for one more season.

C.J. Ah You can’t do it all by himself, you know.

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8 Responses to “Free Agent Preview: Defensive Line”

  1. Calvin says:

    Aaron Kampman would be a pleasant addition from the other end position

  2. […] over at Ramsgab prefers making a move for Osi Umenyiora rather then going after Aaron Kampman. How about […]

  3. […] The Rams added former Giant DT Fred Robbins to their rotation of defensive tackles over the weekend.  Our own Mike predicted the Rams would sign Robbins in his defensive line preview here. […]

  4. […] The Rams added former Giant DT Fred Robbins to their rotation of defensive tackles over the weekend.  Our own Mike predicted the Rams would sign Robbins in his defensive line preview here. […]

  5. […] The Rams added former Giant DT Fred Robbins to their rotation of defensive tackles over the weekend.  Our own Mike predicted the Rams would sign Robbins in his defensive line preview here. […]

  6. […] The Rams added former Giant DT Fred Robbins to their rotation of defensive tackles over the weekend.  Our own Mike predicted the Rams would sign Robbins in his defensive line preview here. […]

  7. […] The Rams added former Giant DT Fred Robbins to their rotation of defensive tackles over the weekend.  Our own Mike predicted the Rams would sign Robbins in his defensive line preview here. […]

  8. […] The Rams added former Giant DT Fred Robbins to their rotation of defensive tackles over the weekend.  Our own Mike predicted the Rams would sign Robbins in his defensive line preview here. […]

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