2021 Free Agent Positional Preview: EDGE/Pass rushers
I researched the available free agent lists in late-Feb./early March in order to get a feel for the marketplace and identify key players likely on the move; players that could shift teams fortunes under-the-radar if a team landed/grabbed a bunch of them. We have the obvious names, the under-the-radar, and the trap doors to look at.
Here’s my take on 2021 NFL free agency…the players I’m really watching for fantasy, handicapping, etc., on where they might land.
The Top 3 Available According To NFL Analysts:
1) Shaq Barrett, TB – Huge 2019 season followed by a somewhat down 2020…but won a Super Bowl. He is the most respected name among the EDGE rushers. No way Tampa Bay lets him get away, whether they do a deal or slap a franchise tag. I assume they do a deal.
2) Jadeveon Clowney, TEN – Always underproductive but always on the tip of the football media’s tongues in love with him. He’s available to the highest bidder once against his season. Only a desperate, poorly run team that cannot attract free agents due to geography and/or poor franchise culture will waste their money here. So, like the Jets or Bengals.
3) Melvin Ingram, LAC – Always good of late, but not as great as the perception of him. He’ll be 32+ years old this season. His best days are behind him. I’m guessing he’ll take a low one-year deal with a contender to try and get a title before he departs the NFL.
The Top 3 Talents Available/To Target If I Were an NFL GM:
1) Shaq Barrett, TB – The one front line guy you can count on to be a pass game wrecker and plays 70-80%+ of the snaps in games. He’s not just a rotational pass rush specialist. However, there is almost no chance he truly hits free agency without the Bucs retaining him.
2) Von Miller, DEN – This will be like the J.J. Watt signing…it’s more a message to other free agents that your team is ‘going for it’ and the team becomes ‘acceptable by the cool kids/players/free agents’. Miller will be 32+ years old this season but might have another year or two in the tank. This is more name than cost effective, but if it leads to other signings a team wouldn’t normally make…then it makes economic sense in a twisted way.
Denver has an option on him, but they might not want him back/he might not want to be back.
3a) Trey Hendrickson, NO – 13.5 sacks, 25 QB hits as a somewhat rotational player…and after being ignored, somewhat, for the prior few seasons. The Saints are in a giant hole for the 2021 salary cap, so there’s potential of Hendrickson hitting the market. With Barrett really not in the market (in theory), Hendrickson is going to be hotly pursued.
Hendrickson will turn 27 years old late 2021.
3b) Carl Lawson, CIN – A ton of metrics pointing to him as a great pass rusher, but then he never has any sacks. Look at the QB hits per sack…Lawson is getting to the QB, just not sacking him.
4.15 QB hits per sack = Lawson
2.15 = Hendrickson
2.12 = Barrett
13.5 = Hendrickson (16 QB hits)
8.0 = Barrett (25 QB hits)
5.5 = Lawson (32 QB hits)
Lawson is getting to the backfield/the QB, but he is not making the sack tallies…is this good or bad? On one hand, Lawson is out of the spotlight due to the lack of sacks…but in reality, he’s one of the best (in 2020) to get into the backfield (32 QB hits).
The problem is – Lawson has flashed, never been a finisher…never put it all together. However, there are signs that he could be on the verge of being something (Shaq Barrett was a bit of a late bloomer). Lawson will be just 26.5 years old this season.
On the other hand, Lawson offers the least (among these 3) ‘other’ stuff…not much of a run stopper, etc. He’s focused on the QB and gives up a lot of space for other things otherwise. But he is gifted getting to the QB.
And quite honestly…I fear how good he’s going to be if he does get paid a big contract. He’s that kind of player to me…I fear.
Maybe, I should’ve put Haason Reddick here…but he is an undersized erratic pass rusher too. Not a true pass rush force, but a sneaky/speed gets to the QB guy.
In the end, I’d not spend for Lawson or Reddick…but if I had to choose, I’d go Lawson and pray my coaches got through to him going forward. Maybe ‘out of Cincinnati’ will help him.
The Top 3 Values/Sleepers According to FFM:
1) Jeremiah Attaochu, DEN -- If he could ever stay healthy…
4.0 sacks, 7 QB hits his final 5 games with more playing time for Denver last year. 8.5 sacks in 25 games with Denver the past two seasons as a part-time player. Had 6.0 sacks/7 QB hits in his 2015 season.
Instead of spending big money on a major pass rush specialist, you could go cheap with Attaochu and some other veteran and hope of the two of them, one hits or both can rotate in and out.
He’s got talent but his best attribute here is ‘affordability’/cost.
2) Romeo Okwara, DET – Led the Lions in sacks last season (10.0 sacks/18 QB hits, 3 forced fumbles) and is just 26+ years old this season. He’s not a super talent but is determined and been productive two of his last three seasons (7.5, 1.5, 10.0 sacks in his last three seasons playing most all the games).
If he comes cheap, it’s worth a look…but he might get bid up by the desperate NFL teams missing out on the bigger names.
3) Solomon Thomas, SF – One of the biggest bust top 3 picks in recent years. His athleticism numbers say he should be a star, but he’s been anything but that in the NFL…6.0 sacks in four seasons and missed most of last year with an injury. He’s so athletic and had such hope coming into the league, you have to consider taking a chance if the price is low.
The Top 3 Problems According to FFM:
1) Jadeveon Clowney, TEN – The overpriced sucker’s bet…Houston didn’t want him, Seattle didn’t want him back, now Tennessee will not want him back. If he’s so great, why can’t he find a home? Because he’s not great…not even really that good. He’s better in TV/night games and a nightmare/ghost in regular non-solo night TV games.
2) Leonard Floyd, LAR – You could find a hundred guys to rush the passer situationally, who don’t do or provide anything else of value…and NOT have to pay them millions of dollars to do it. Just because the Bears were idiots and drafted him highly a few years ago…doesn’t mean he’s a legacy of greatness waiting to happen (as the Rams just expensively learned…as most recent Rams lessons are).
3) Yannick Ngakoue, BAL – The Jags said ‘no, thanks’ and then Minnesota had enough of him after a few weeks before dumping him on the Ravens, who don’t want him back. Notice a pattern? Just because you get to the QB about 8 times a season and then are useless/empty/a hole the other 1,000 snaps played per year – it doesn’t mean you’re a great talent. Sacks can be totally overrated, like interceptions…but we love us some headline stats!
-- Bud Dupree was never mentioned above, oddly. He’s solid…but was always ending up the #4 on the top 3 things being discussed, which says a lot about his perception – he’s respected/known but people aren’t super excited or clamoring for him (outside of Pittsburgh fans).
-- Haason Reddick is an interesting case – is he a pass rushing force…or just a really quick player allowed to blitz the backfield a lot by need in 2020 (once Chandler Jones went down) and timed a nice production spike heading into free agency? I mean, no one cared about Reddick’s existence for the past few years – and then all the sudden a flurry of sacks in the 2nd-half of 2020.
Is Reddick really that good? Is he a creator of havoc…or just a beneficiary of how he was allowed to play for Arizona for a few games late in the season? His career has been mostly all disappointment and then a small spike at the end – I don’t want to pay a lot for him to find out.
-- Two guys I would take a minimum contract shot on…two guys who jumped off the screen at times in 2020, but two guys with issues…
1) Steven Means looked like ‘wow’ for Atlanta in a few spots last year, but never got more playing time. His issue is he will be 31+ years old in-season…but for a small/bare minimum 1-year deal, why not? He’s a great humanitarian type presence ( I think he was Atlanta’s Walter Payton Man of the Year) and he can play – he deserves a shot. Some smart team could grab a shocking, cheap find here.
2) Takk McKinley has mental issues, not a joke. He’s fragile, but he was also a fantastic pass rusher early 2020 season…then got hurt, then got sideways with Atlanta management and was released. Signed with Cincy but failed a physical. The 49ers took a look…he might go back there cheap. He’s worth a bare minimum/easily cut-able contract look.
College Football Metrics (CFM) 2021 Season – For Dynasty Rookie Drafts, NFL Drafts, Handicapping, etc.
It’s going to be a scouting NFL Draft season like no other – some top prospects opting out of their final college season, a unique schedule for CFB teams to have played, a different type of bowl season…a whole new backdrop to scout against. An experienced, talented scouting eye is going to rule. I have 10+ years of successful CFM scouting and analytics to lean on – I’m ready for the challenge.
I know the mainstream football analysis is going to butcher this year’s class even worse than normal – because they are going to blindly favor big school prospects more than ever, because those schools will have the only names they are truly familiar with, and it’s just the ‘name’ they are familiar with not their ‘game’. They’ll ‘hive mind’ run with whatever names the collective seems to be buzzing about – because they don’t put in the work, they just echo things they’ve heard. I’m not saying that to be a jerk – it’s the open window of opportunity (their failure) that I was able to build my career/business upon.
I spend many hours each offseason day/week/month researching the current class of top 100+ prospects individually as well as all the smaller school and ‘lesser named’ prospects our computer models start to identify. I study and compare prospect’s tape, and I input the performance data (weighted with our secret, proprietary scouting formulas) to get a firsthand feel for it so I can analyze and test/challenge all our analytics. I get to know these prospects on the field, statistically, and do character background research as well -- so I can boil it down to reports so my private clients and subscribers (from serious fantasy players, to professional handicappers, to agents, to NFL war room personnel) can know these prospects by description and statistically – for NFL purposes, for Dynasty Rookie Draft purposes, for Fantasy Best Ball/Redraft purposes in the preseason, and for handicapping and prop betting purposes.
If you love Fantasy Football, if you love the NFL Draft process – I guarantee you’ll never look at the process the same way again with a CFM subscription.
As the regular season football ends, a whole new season of football discovery begins with our ‘CFM’ subscription and study or current and past rookies (offense and defense) – and material flows daily all offseason January to September (NFL season start), leading us to using the material to our advantage for the NFL regular season.
Go to our College Football Metrics or Fantasy Football Metrics subscription pages for more information.
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