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Best fits for free-agent defensive linemen

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This year's defensive line class is top-heavy with Ndamukong Suh on the marquee, as All-Pro players of his caliber rarely make it to the open market. Beyond Suh, though, the list is littered with part-time players, specialized run stuffers, rotational pocket pushers, teases and discarded veterans.

While the quality is suspect, the quantity is noteworthy. Teams in need of a starter can pick up intriguing bounceback candidates such as Barry Cofield, Kendall Langford, B.J. Raji or Darnell Dockett.

Because "4-3" defensive ends and "3-4" outside linebackers are categorized under "pass rushers," this list includes only defensive tackles and "3-4" defensive ends.

Below are our top free agent defensive linemen, including best fits for the top 5:

The top five


1. Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions

Suh will become the most highly sought after defensive lineman to hit the open market since Reggie White, who is widely considered the best free-agent signing in NFL history (with Drew Brees a close second). One of his prime directives is to become the highest-paid defensive player in the league, in terms of annual salary and guarantees. Although he has been a three-time All-Pro as a three-technique defensive tackle, we expect teams with 3-4 defenses to be intrigued by the idea of moving him to defensive end in a role similar to J.J. Watt or Justin Smith. The Raiders, Bears, Jaguars and Dolphins are four teams we've heard will be in heavy pursuit. Miami has emerged as the clear front runner for Suh, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday.

Free-agent fit: Raiders: Suh has made it clear that his agent controls his destiny, which puts the organization with the most salary-cap space in the catbird seat. If Suh has his sights on a contender, though, he could use the Raiders to drive up the price on an aggressive general manager like Ryan Grigson of the Colts.

2. Nick Fairley, Detroit Lions

Fairley isn't for the risk averse. He has battled weight problems, off-the-field issues, bouts with inconsistency and ill-timed penalties. On the positive side, he's still in his prime and is among the NFL's most effective interior pass rushers when properly motivated.

Free-agent fit: Lions: General manager Martin Mayhew doesn't want to get left holding the bag if Suh bolts for the highest offer.

3. Jared Odrick, Miami Dolphins

Odrick was drafted to play "five technique" in a 3-4 defense, but turned in his best season as a "three technique" 4-3 defensive tackle in 2014. That versatility, a first-round pedigree, leadership and young legs (27) will attractive plenty of interest on the open market.

Free-agent fit: Dolphins: Odrick is the closest the Dolphins have to a team leader. They've been clearing cap space, ostensibly for a run at an impact player such as Suh. If they strike out there, perhaps they will get a chance to match Odrick's offers.

4. Terrance Knighton, Denver Broncos

Capable of playing nose tackle in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme, Knighton has been a premier run stuffer. He thoroughly outplayed the two-year, $4.5 million contract he signed with Denver in 2013, emerging as one of the Broncos' most valuable defenders. Still just 28, he should maintain his effectiveness for at least another 2 to 3 years.

Free-agent fit: Raiders: For the second consecutive offseason, general manager Reggie McKenzie has the most money to spend. Let's see if he can do a better job this time around. Knighton has played under new Raiders coach Jack Del Rio every season of his six-year NFL career.

5. Dan Williams, Arizona Cardinals

The No. 26 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft finally lived up to expectations in 2014, emerging as a key run plugger on a surprisingly stout Arizona defensive line. He comes off the field on passing downs, which should keep his price tag reasonable.

Free-agent fit: Redskins: New general manager Scot McCloughan is familiar with Williams' game after spending the majority of the past half-decade in the front offices of the 49ers and Seahawks. The Redskins need a nose tackle after dumping Barry Cofield.

The best of the rest


6. B.J. Raji, Green Bay Packers: Back in 2013, Raji reportedly rejected a contract worth $8 million annually, only to settle for a one-year, $4 million deal last offseason. His market won't be any better this year after missing the entire 2014 season with a torn biceps. It's been nearly three years since we've seen Raji play at a consistently high level.

7. Stephen Paea, Chicago Bears: Paea is coming off a career year as a interior pocket pusher, but he has also been a culprit in the Bears' declining run defense.

8. Henry Melton, Dallas Cowboys: Coming off ACL surgery, Melton was limited to a rotational role in his first season with the Cowboys. He was effective at pressuring the passer for most of the season, but never fully trusted his knee. There were also reports that he was nearly deactivated twice due to tension with the coaching staff.

9. Cory Redding, Indianapolis Colts: Redding has been one of the few reliable Colts defenders over the past three years, but is contemplating retirement at age 34. He led the Indy defensive line in snaps last season.

10. Kendall Langford, St. Louis Rams: Langford lost his job to Defensive Rookie of the Year Aaron Donald after starting 90 games from 2008 through the beginning of last season. He was released because his $6 million salary was no longer suitable for a backup. Langford visited the Lions on Monday.

Supporting cast


11. Jarvis Jenkins, Washington Redskins
12. Barry Cofield, Washington Redskins
13. Darnell Dockett, Arizona Cardinals
14. Ahtyba Rubin, Cleveland Browns
15. C.J. Mosley, Detroit Lions
16. Tommy Kelly, Arizona Cardinals
17. Kevin Williams, Seattle Seahawks
18. Kenrick Ellis, New York Jets
19. Pat Sims, Oakland Raiders
20. Chris Canty, Baltimore Ravens

Jenkins was billed as a prototype 3-4 end, but never lived up to his second-round pedigree. ... Cofield was one of the few impact defenders on the Redskins in 2013, but a season-long high-ankle sprain limited his effectiveness last season. Even though he's now on the wrong side of age 30, he should draw plenty of interest. ... Dockett might be a household name, but he's also 34 and coming off ACL surgery. ... Rubin is no longer the stout run defender that he was a couple of years ago. ... A 10-year journeyman, Mosley turned his best season in 2014.

Kelly made up for the loss of Dockett with a solid bounceback season at age 34. ... Williams, also 34, held his own at nose guard after Brandon Mebane went down with a season-ending injury in November. ... Ellis is a monster at 350 pounds, but never got his job back after losing it to Damon "Snacks" Harrison in 2013. ... Sims is a designated run stuffer. ... Canty, 32, wants to continue his career after mulling retirement in January.

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