Many players will be switching teams in the coming weeks via the 2019 NFL free agency signing period. For different reasons players will sign in specific markets and one aspect that cannot be underestimated is systems.
Highlighted below are a few of this year’s top free agency targets, along with their strengths and system fits. By taking a look at the tape, we’ll examine what these players do well and narrow down potential landing spots. Let’s kick things off with the defensive side of the ball since it dominated the most recent NFL action in Super Bowl LIII.
TREY FLOWERS – EDGE DEFENDER
The 101st selection of the 2015 NFL Draft may have outplayed his welcome. The New England Patriots are notorious for letting potentially expensive players walk. This is what Flowers has accomplished. His 21 sacks over 45 contests will not wow you, but Flowers has started just 37 of those games. New England also used him on the interior for much of 2016 and 2017 before giving him a full-time home as an edge defender in 2018.
Below, you’ll see Flowers is lined up at left end in the ‘C’ gap before the snap. When the play begins, the flow forces him to maintain his gap responsibility by crashing down. With a tight end reversing field as the kick out blocker, it’s evident that this is a designed counter run. When the video pauses, you’ll see why leverage is so significant in football.
The New York Jets right tackle will lose his outside leverage during his down block. Flowers, who has sustained his gap responsibility to this point, can now play inside-out. Once he makes the running back choose a lane, Flowers pushes the right tackle into the ‘C’ gap and makes the stop. Flowers’ technique and play recognition give him an advantage.
On passing downs, Flowers has improved every season. His 7.5 sacks in 2018 were a career high. According to Pro Football Focus, he was ranked 9th among all defensive ends in pass rush productivity (minimum 300 pass plays). His versatility was on display, as well.
In the following clip, Flowers is playing on the interior. By swatting the guard’s left arm, he’s able to get outside the lineman’s hips. After that, what Flowers does with his left hand will lead to a quarterback sack.
With his left hand, Flowers prevents the guard from recovering. You’ll see the slight grabbing of the Green Bay offensive lineman’s forearm, propelling him to the quarterback.
- Hand placement
- Elite run defender
- 25 years old
Best Fit: Detroit Lions
With defensive end Ezekiel Ansah on the cusp of 30 years old, Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia may elect to move on. Familiarity with one another and more than $35 million in cap space makes this move possible. Additionally, Patricia will know how to get the most out of Flowers.
LANDON COLLINS – STRONG SAFETY
On February 2, Collins cleared out his locker at the New York Giants facility. After promising back to back seasons in 2016 and 2017, injuries derailed his 2018 campaign. After missing only one game in his first three seasons, Collins missed four games last year. His physical play style has been his undoing.
Collins plays inside the box on a majority of his defensive snaps. He’s a physical safety who shows a notable upside for teams looking for help stuffing the run. Below you will see the hard-nosed safety shift to the motion for run support. It’s obvious that teams will need more than a wide receiver to block Collins.
As an NFL safety, Collins has an elite ability to shake off contact and make tackles. In 2018, Collins recorded 8 or more tackles in 7 of the 12 games he played. According to Pro Football Focus, he was graded the top run stopping safety in the NFL.
His value shows up in the passing game, as well. While giving you the presence of an additional linebacker, he’s also able to recognize the pass efficiently. Watch the speed at which he diagnoses the quick pass, sprints to the ball and finishes the play.
When asked to cover, Collins has been more than serviceable. Against the Houston Texans, quarterback Deshaun Watson tests Collins in man-to-man coverage in the end zone.
In his rookie season, the Giants weren’t entirely sure where he belonged. But, in the past three seasons, Collins has found a home at strong safety. He’s been voted to the pro bowl three times, as well as First Team All-Pro in 2016.
- Downhill attacker
- Versatile in run support/coverage
- 25 years old
Best Fit: Green Bay Packers
With plenty of cash to pay him, the Green Bay Packers need some safety help. Adding Collins will not only give them a pro bowl player in the secondary, but they can also expect to shore up their run defense at the same time.
BRYCE CALLAHAN – NICKEL CORNERBACK
Another 2015 rookie set to hit free agency is Chicago Bears defensive back Bryce Callahan. The undrafted free agent out of Rice University will be looking for a contract that extends him through his prime. His greatest asset is how productive he is in passing situations. According to Pro Football Focus, Callahan was a top-10 cover cornerback in 2018.
He’s shown an ability to recover on short and intermediate breaks. Below, he’ll begin the play giving the receiver a lot of space to work. At the snap, Callahan continues to backpedal and gain depth. At the top of the receiver’s break, Callahan does not immediately attack. Instead, he slows down and comes to balance. By doing this, Callahan has put himself in a position to defend the inside or anything off script.
Once the quarterback commits, we see his reaction speed on full display. Also, the defended pass is equally laudable. Callahan flashes finesse that’s beneficial in today’s game. He’s able to maneuver his body to get his hands in position but doesn’t draw contact before tipping the pass.
Callahan doesn’t just affect the passing game with his quickness, cover savvy, and body control. In many instances this past season, the Bears used Callahan to pressure the quarterback. While intercepting two passes, he also registered two sacks, five quarterback hits and multiple hurries.
In many cases, Callahan isn’t recognized as a pass rusher. Week in-and-out, he’s able to disguise his intentions and get open lanes to the quarterback. Watch below as the Lions receiver cracks down to protect the edge and leaves Callahan unblocked.
Callahan sees his man looking to block and reacts to the play as if he knew the quarterback was going to pull the ball on this RPO (run-pass option) play. His assumption proves true.
- Great balance
- Technician with fluid hips
- Drives on the ball
- Above average coverage and balls skills
- Blitz experience
Best Fit: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts have more cap space than any other team in the NFL. However, the current front office would prefer to build through the draft but will be forced to spend. While the defense improved in 2018, there are holes all over the secondary. Therefore, I expect them to use draft picks and cap space to upgrade the position since Callahan would serve primarily in the slot.