The NFC North Grades and Needs series turns to the defensive side of the ball. In this article, we will take a look at edge defenders. This will include 4-3 defensive ends (Vikings and Lions) and 3-4 OLBs (Packers, Bears).
Chicago Bears: D+
The Bears got some pressure from their 3-4 OLBs but the pressure wasn’t very consistent. Willie Young was average with a 73.0 grade in 715 snaps. Leonard Floyd was a 1st round rookie pick that earned a below average 65.1 grade in 537 snaps. Floyd was a solid pass rusher but struggled in run defense as a rookie.
Stud free agent pick-up from 2015, Pernell McPhee, only played 273 snaps and was average with a 74.9 grade. Sam Acho was supposed to be low depth but played 500 snaps and was well below average with a 44.7 score struggling in pass rush and run defense. Finally, Lamar Houston only played 31 snaps on defense for the Bears this season.
Young had 7.5 sacks, Floyd had 7.0 sacks and McPhee had 4.0 sacks in 2016. Sam Acho only had 1 sack and Houston did not record a sack due to injury. Chicago expected a lot of pass rush but Floyd, Young and Acho were not consistent enough.
Floyd came on stronger as the year progressed and McPhee was injured most of the year. McPhee, Floyd, Young and Houston are under contract and the Bears should roll with those players for 2017. They could provide a good pass rush given their talent and potential. Chicago hopes McPhee can be healthy and Floyd will develop as pass rusher in year 2. The Bears need one OLB for depth and could replace Houston as well if he doesn’t recover from his injury. The McPhee/Floyd/Young experiment will get one more year to try and succeed.
The Lions had trouble rushing the passer in 2016. A bad ankle injury in early Week 2 for Ziggy Ansah was a huge reason why they slumped. Ansah missed 3 games and was limited in snaps for over half the year and only played 540 snaps on the season. Ziggy earned an average 75.5 grade during the 2016 season after very good 2014 and 2015 seasons. The Ghana native was not the same player until the end of the 2016 season.
Ansah had 2 sacks on the season (Week 15 vs Flowers and 16 vs Smith) and 2 sacks in the playoff game at Seattle. It was disappointing due to injury for the Lions. The Lions need Ansah to rebound to 2014/2015 form and provide a pass rush for Detroit.
Backup Kerry Hyder played well in 709 snaps with a 77.4 grade and 8 sacks. Devin Taylor was a huge disappointment as the starting left end in his fourth year. Taylor played 715 snaps but was a terrible 39.1 grade. Taylor was one of the worst DEs in the league in 2016 after showing promise in 2015.
Anthony Zettel was a 6th round rookie and forced to play way too many snaps than he should have. Zettlel had a 47.1 grade in 224 snaps. Armonty Bryant played only 104 snaps as a mid-season pickup off the waiver wire. Bryant had a suspension and an injury limiting his snaps but did have 3 sacks in 5 games for Detroit. Taylor had 4.5 sacks but offered almost no hits and hurries. Taylor, Bryant and Zettel really struggled in run defense. Ansah and Hyder were downgraded for run defense as well.
Taylor and Bryant are free agents that Detroit should let walk this offseason unless they are league minimum for depth re-signs. Hyder is an exclusive rights free agent and should be kept at a cheap price.
The Lions need to add two defensive ends this offseason. Detroit needs one starting left end (closed end) to pair with Ansah and one other good backup to pair with Hyder and keep Zettel off the field.
Green Bay Packers: B
Green Bay was above average in pressure during the regular season. The pass rush slowed down in the playoffs and cost them in the NFC Championship game.
Nick Perry played well in a contract year. Perry had an 11 sack season and 82.2 grade per PFF. Perry earned a lot of money despite playing with a club hand for most of the season. Perry was above average in pass rush and good in run defense.
Clay Matthews had some more injury issues and played 632 snaps. Matthews was very poor with a 43.6 grade but did have 5.0 sacks on the season. Matthews struggled a lot in run defense as well. Julius Peppers defied his age with 7.5 sacks on the last year of his three year contract with Green Bay. Peppers earned a 78.8 pass rush grade and 65.8 run defense grade. Green Bay could use Peppers back but his age is a factor at 38.
Datone Jones switched from 3-4 end to OLB. Jones was below average overall but average in pass rush. Jones notched only 1 sack on the season though but did generate some pressure. Rookie Kyle Fackrell found 2 sacks and was average with a 70.1 grade in only 171 snaps. Jayrone Elliot was poor with a 48.8 grade in 136 snaps. Elliott battled an injury in 2016 as well.
Green Bay had an above average pass rush that fell off at the wrong time of the year. The OLBs struggled in run defense except for Perry.
Green Bay could have huge OLB free agency needs with Perry, Datone Jones and Peppers as free agents. Perry will be costly on the open market after an 11 sack season and decent 2015 season. Clay must find a way to return to his old form or Green Bay could be in trouble in 2017. Clay has a huge cap hit and the Packers would be tempted to cut him (or have him take a pay cut) if not for the other holes due to free agency and ample cap space. Fackrell showed some flashes and may be counted on more next season. Green Bay needs at least two OLBs if they don’t re-sign two of Perry, Peppers and Jones.
Minnesota Vikings: A-
Everson Griffen is a beast and earned an 81.3 grade. Brian Robison was average in pass rush but struggled in run defense. Danielle Hunter had a great second season with 80.6 grade. Hunter and Griffen provide a good pass rush and Robison is an experienced complimentary player. The Vikings didn’t really play a 4th DE much as they got good health from Griffen, Hunter and Robison. Minnesota should add one a 4th DE for better depth or let rookie Stephen Weatherly develop for 2017.
Griffen had 8 sacks, Hunter had 12.5 sacks in a great second season and Robison notched 7.5 sacks. Minnesota has a strong 3 man pass rush at DE. Hunter is signed through 2018.
Jason Pierre Paul, Mario Williams, Charles Johnson, Jabaal Sheard, Jared Odrick are the top DEs available. Calais Campbell is a 3-4 DE but offers a lot of pass rush upside.
Nick Perry, Julius Peppers, Melvin Ingram, Jarvis Jones, Datone Jones, Demarcus Ware, Erik Walden, Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo are the top OLB free agents. Chandler Jones is also available but will most likely be franchised by the Cardinals.
Myles Garrett (DE) and Soloman Thomas(DE/DT) should be top 10 picks. The Bears could grab one of these players at pick 3. Derek Barnett (DE), Taco Charlton(DE), Charles Harris(DE), Takkarist McKinley (OLB), Tim Williams(OLB), Zach Cunningham (OLB), Hasson Redick (OLB) and Carl Lawson(DE) should be day 1 or early day 2 picks at DE. There is plenty of talent to add pass rush for NFC North teams in need.
The Packers need two OLBs or two re-sign Perry. The Bears need a 4th OLB. The Lions need two DEs including one starting closed end. The Vikings could upgrade their 4th DE and look for a replacement for the aged Robison.