Free agent targets: Defensive tackle

Free agent fits: Defensive tackle

Zach Adams

The Chargers have lacked a suppiror presence on the interior part of the defensive line for some time now and the situation needs to be addressed. The team already has two elite edge rushers in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa along with young linebackers with a lot of potential. Yet the team always seems to struggle in the run department. In Gus Bradley’s system (which does not blitz a lot) works as is when there is a body capable of occupying two gaps. This basically forces the center and guard to double team one guy leaving the other three to get after the ball carrier and or quarterback. This also helps to free up the linebackers as there is one less blocker able to make it to the second level. This position is not one that will put up big numbers or even flash very much but when this particular players job is done effectively the whole system runs to its potential. Please do not use Aaron Donald as an example as defensive tackles ripping up the stat sheets like him are unheard of and quite frankly he is one of a kind. For our system the two gap nose tackle will more than likely be the unsung hero as the common fans usually only look to the stat sheet. If the team really wants to get the most out of what could be a monstrous front seven of epic proportions than the team needs to find an elite level run stuffer gap clogger.

 Brandon Mebane used to be that guy in the Bradley system in Seattle but his production and effectiveness has really tampered off. It just so happen’s this year’s free agent class is fairly deep in defensive tackles. While the team waits for Jerry Tillery and Justin Jones to mature and continue to improve someone who is already producing at a high level should be exchanged with Mebane. The team can cut Mebane and essentially give his money to an upgrade or they could elect to have both Mebane and whomever they bring in trying to take reps off Mebane and doing the Niners move and stacking the line as much as possible. Either way the players that I’m targeting are the ones who would make sense schematically and financially.

Danny Shelton:

The former first round pick is already on his second team after being traded to the Patriots two seasons ago as the team saw him as a guy who could be a Vince Wilfork type of player. Someone who won’t put up a lot of pass rushing stats but someone who will clog the running hole and free up linebackers along with stuffing the run. Shelton isn’t very athletic but is a very, very strong man who put up 35 reps on the bench press the year he was drafted and would be the type of player who could do Mebanes job of occupying two gaps probably better than him at his stage of his career. In fact Shelton put up a defensive grade of 70.0 according to Pro football focus which was higher than anyone on the Chargers roster last season. The highest graded interior lineman on the team was Slyvester Williams with a 64.7. Not only would Shelton be an upgrade but he is still only 27 and it is still very likely he could still be improving. Not to mention he would come at a cheap price as he only made 1 million last year with New England so more than likely he wouldn’t require more than 2.5 – 3 to acquire since he is limited in his pass rush abilities. With the price tag Shelton would come at the team could also keep Mebane.

A’Shawn Robinson:

Robinson is yet again another player who is still very young at the age of 24 and will be 25 to start the next season. This type of youth is worth the addition just based on the fact that he more than likely still hasn’t hit his prime yet and hasn’t had a supporting cast around him like the one he would have with the Bolts. It is unknown if he will even hit the open market as Detroit has a defensive minded coach and would probably like to retain as much defensive help he can get. He is coming off of a down year and this isn’t the same regime that drafted him so it’s possible they could let him walk. Because of the fact that he is coming off a down year he could be had at a lower price than originally thought but he is so young it likely won’t come super cheap. Not to mention he has had much more productive years. While he only had an overall grade of 57 according to pro football focus, the year before he had an eye popping 89.7 so the high production potential is defiantly there.

Ndamukong Suh:

Jul 26, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers nose tackle Ndamukong Suh (93) looks on at AdventHealth Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

While Suh is one of the older guys on this list he is still very productive and specifically in the run stopping department. It is also of note that his pass rushing grade had dropped off  yet his run defense hasn’t and the Chargers are in need of a run clogger. While he had the lowest overall grade of his career this past season at 69.7 his run defense grade was still a 75.4. I honestly don’t put too much stock into his overall grade being down because this was also the first time in his career that he was asked to play in a 3-4 defense when he is much more suited for a 4-3 which is what the Bolts run and what Suh is more comfortable and familiar with. Entering last offseason Suh had made a comment that even if he leaves the Rams that he would want to stay in California. This leads me to believe that this could be more of a fit than most people would think as he obviously prefers the beautiful weather of so-cal but being able to play in between Bosa and Ingram would intrigue him as he wouldn’t be tasked with pass rushing as much as he would elsewhere.  Also at this stage he would require as much money as previous years and more likely even less than Mebane and his overpaid contract.

D.J. Reader:

D.J. Reader has been very consistent throughout his young career. I say young because he is still only 25 years old. With the age factor paired with the fact he was a 5th round pick he will likely be looking for a big pay day as it would be his first. This past season he finished with an 85.5 overall grade 76.5 the season prior and a 79.2 the season prior to that. It is hard to imagine that the Texans let this guy get away but they also traded Clowney because they weren’t going to be able to afford to pay him so this could be the case here as well. If he does hit the open market he is versatile enough to play any technique asked of him and in the Chargers case it would be the 1 or 3 tech as a nose tackle. Again the theme here is to occupy two gaps and with his stature it shouldn’t be a problem as he we comes in at 6’3” 345 pounds.

Michael Pierce:

Pierce is another guy coming off a down year however this would be his first. At the young age of 27 Pierce has been known for being a dominate force in the run department, as he had a 92 run defense grade and an 87.9 the year prior. Coming from a notorious defensive minded organization it’s likely that pierce would bring a fighters mentality and a much needed run stuffing counterpart to the existing elite pass rush already installed. Coming off a down year could help to balance out the payday he would require but after the first defensive tackle comes off the board in free agency we will get a better idea of what the market could look like.

Michael Brockers:

Dec 17, 2015 St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers (90) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams won 31-23. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Brockers is much like Shelton and Suh in the sense that he won’t offer much in the pass rush department however would be a much needed run stopper. The Rams went with the “all in” approach and because of this may not be able to afford to resign him. Brockers has been able to avoid any major injuries which is a plus and always seems to have a good defensive grade against the run.

Any one of these candidates would not only bring a presence much needed in the middle of the Chargers defense it would also help the young linebackers already on the roster reach their potential. A lot of people are clamoring for the team to draft another linebacker however I think defensive tackle is the real issue here. I would be more than happy with anyone of these candidates.

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