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NFC North Grades and Needs: Interior Defenders

The next stop for the NFC North Grades and Needs train is interior defenders. Interior defenders include 4-3 DTS, 3-4 NTs and 3-4 DEs. Let’s take a look how each team stacks up.

Chicago Bears: C

The Bears had some solid play in their relatively new 3-4 defense. Eddie Goldman is a solid nose tackle but dealt with injuries in 2016 and only played 197 snaps. The Bears have a good nose tackle but Goldman must prove he can stay on the field. Akiem Hicks was a nice free agent pick up and had 7.5 sacks for the Bears with consistent pressure. Hicks earned an 83.1 grade which was 15th out 127 qualified interior defenders. Hicks was a great addition by GM Ryan Pace.

Mitch Unrein, rookie 3rd round pick Jonathan Bullard and Cornelius Washington did not perform well in 436, 364 and 296 snaps. All were below average to poor and Bullard was especially bad. Will Sutton also had a poor grade for the Bears. These players are young and provide depth but the Bears need one more starting caliber 3-4 DE and a better backup nose tackle for the oft injured Goldman.

Minnesota Vikings: B-

Linval Joseph had a great year at nose tackle for the Vikings. The free agent pick up from 2015 is paying big dividends for the Vikings defense. Joseph had an 83.3 grade which was 14th out of 127 qualified interior defenders. Joseph was a great run defender and got good pressure as well and added 4 sacks for Minnesota.

Tom Johnson was average in 476 snaps. Johnson was poor in run defense but a solid pass rusher. Shariff Floyd only played 25 snaps on the season. He is a good pass rusher and the Vikings missed his presence. The Vikings defense can be better with Floyd back in 2017 which is scary for other North teams.

Shamar Stephen struggled in 551 snaps. Minnesota needs to update their 4th DT spot for 2017.

Green Bay Packers: C+

Mike Daniels is a beast. Daniels was the 9th ranked interior defender. He plays the run well and is a very consistent pass rusher. Daniels is a key cog in the Packers defense.

Letroy Guion struggled in 525 snaps with a 50.1 grade. Guion was solid in run defense but really struggled rushing the passer in 2016 to lower his grade. Guion has been better in the past for the Packers. Kenny Clark had a nice rookie season as a 1st round pick. Clark played 410 snaps and earned an average 72.1 grade. Clark is a young talented player and should grow in year 2 for Green Bay.

Dean Lowry was also average as a 4th round rookie. Lowry earned a 71.4 grade in 210 snaps in 2016. Lowry could develop into a starting 3-4 DE and battle Guion for more playing time in 2017. Christian Ringo and Brian Price only played 77 and 10 snaps respectively. The Packers really only use 4 Dlinemen consistently. Mike Pennel had suspensions and was let go by Ted Thompson. Green Bay really doesn’t need any defensive linemen unless they want to try

Detroit Lions: C-

Ngata good season for the Lions at defensive tackle. Haloti Ngata missed 3 games with a shoulder injury and wasn’t the same strong player as 2015 and prior. Ngata played well in run defense but his pass rush he provided from 2015 was almost completely gone. Ngata played 577 snaps and was well below average in 2016. Age may be finally catching up to Ngata. The Lions will keep Ngata because he still has the potential to play better but they could save 5 million by cutting or trading him.

Tyrunn Walker finally got his chance at three-technique but he failed and offered almost no pass rush in 2016. Rookie A’Shawn Robinson showed some nice flashes as a 2nd round pick and earned more playing time. Robinson was solid against the run but didn’t provide much pass rush as a nose tackle. Robinson did knock down a high number of passes as well. Stefan Charles was a free agent pickup but earned a 45.5 grade in 254 snaps. Kyri Thornton was terrible earning a 39.9 grade in 328 snaps.

The Lions should still be set at nose tackle with Robinson and Ngata in a more reduced role. However, the Lions badly need a pass rushing 3-techinque and a better backup at DT over Charles and Thornton. Suh’s absence was felt way more in 2016 than 2015.

Free Agency

http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/free-agents/defensive-tackle/

Kawann Short is the top free agent available at DT. He should be franchised by Carolina though. If Short hits the market, Detroit should throw money at him. He would be a huge pick up for the Lions as a 3-tech.

Calais Campbell is the top 3-4 DE available. He is a great pass rusher and run stopper. Campbell is 30 years old but still has a few good years left of upper tier play. The Bears and Campbell would be a great match to bolster their pass rush.

Karl Klug, Jonathan Hankins are young players with some talent. Klug is coming off an injury and Hankins had a decent season in the revamped Giants defense.

Earl Mitchell was a cap cut by the Dolphins. He is an average nose tackle. Bennie Logan and Brandon Williams are both good young nose tackles available in free agency. Both of these players are more run stuffers and Williams is from a 3-4 defense for the Ravens. Dontarie Poe is a huge run stuffer for the Chiefs defense. I would be surprised if the Chiefs let Poe hit the market. A 3-4 team could get a good nose tackle with Poe. Alan Branch is another nose tackle that is hitting the market. Branch finally lived up to his potential with a good season for the champion Patriots. Branch is 32 and could have a good year in 2017 on the right short term contract.

Nick Fairley was a productive pass rusher for the Saints in 2016. Fairley doesn’t have the motor you want but has the talent. Detroit already had four years of Fairley as a first round pick with some underrated solid to good years despite his weight and motor. It would be interesting if Bob Quinn brought him back.

Johnathan Babineaux, Domata Peko, Paul Solai and Frostee Rucker are older DTs available. They might have one solid year to give a team.

Draft

The DT class is pretty weak on talent.

http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/prospectrankings/2017/DT

Jonathan Allen, Malik McDowell and Caleb Brantley are the top 3 DTs. Solomon Thomas could be a DE/DT and may be a top 10 or top 15 pick. Carlos Watkins, Chris Wormely and Elijah Qualls are solid day 2 picks.

Summary

The Lions need two pass rushing 3-tech DTs to pair with Ngata and Robinson at nose tackle. The Bears could use a starting 3-4 DE and better depth at NT/DE. The Packers could possible upgrade one 3-4 DE over Guion/Lowry but it is not a high priority given they use 2 linemen often. The Vikings could use a better 4th DT over Stephen and hope Shariff Floyd gets healthy in 2017.