Top three 2024 NFL free agents at every defensive position: Justin Simmons, Stephon Gilmore best available

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A month into NFL free agency has come and gone as the league is past its second wave of the offseason signings. The top players have already signed, and the next crop of free agents have found a home for 2024. There are still some good players available, but the market has significantly dried up over the past few weeks. 

Teams are focusing on the draft before free agency ramps up in its third wave, when compensatory picks no longer factor into the equation. Players who should be rostered are still available for the taking, if any team can’t wait until after the draft. 

These are the top three free agents available at every position on defense. To see the top offensive players still available, click here

Edge rusher

The best pass rusher available, Ngakoue is coming off a down season by his standards. He finished with career lows in sacks (4.0), pressures (34) and pressure rate (8.7%), snapping a streak of seven consecutive seasons with 8+ sacks.

Ngakoue signed later in the summer last season, so perhaps signing earlier could get him back to his 2016-2022 form. 

Ogbah had just 19 pressures and 5.0 sacks last season, but the numbers were deceiving as he had a 13.9% pressure rate. He played just 240 snaps in 15 games and still can get to the quarterback as a rotational pass rusher. 

An Achilles tear limited Lawson’s productivity in New York in terms of games played, but he rebounded from that with 49 pressures and 7.0 sacks in 2022 (11.9% pressure rate). The Jets essentially relegated Lawson to a backup role after a back injury last August, as he didn’t record a sack and played just 98 snaps.

A healthy Lawson would be a good find for a team needing pass-rushing help. 

Interior defensive lineman

While Campbell lines up on the edge and in the interior, the 37-year-old’s ability to play both makes him the top interior defender in a weak crop of free agents left. Campbell had 42 pressures and 6.5 sacks last season with a 10.8% pressure rate, playing most of his snaps off the edge. 

Still strong against the run, this is where Campbell makes his presence in the A and B gaps. 

A former starter in San Francisco, Ridgeway played just three games in Houston before a torn Achilles ended his season. Ridgeway had a calf injury prior to the torn Achilles, having just one pressure in 27 snaps played.

If healthy, Ridgeway provides valuable interior depth. 

Mone sat out the entire 2023 season due to a knee injury, and Seattle released him in March. He’s more than a year removed from the torn ACL, suffered after a 2022 season which he started three games. 

If healthy, Mone is worth taking a flyer on. He’s still only 28 years old. 

Off-ball linebacker

Cunningham was a surprise at linebacker for Philadelphia last season after signing in August, finishing with 85 tackles and four passes defended in 13 games (10 starts). Still a starter in the league at 29, Cunningham’s biggest issue is staying on the field. 

The former Pro Bowl linebacker played in just nine games for Pittsburgh last season, having 41 tackles (five for loss) and a sack as a No. 3 linebacker. Alexander is a solid reserve Mike linebacker at this stage if he can stay on the field. 

Woods started seven games for Arizona last season and had 61 tackles, showing he’s more than a good special teamer. While Woods provides excellent play on special teams, he also showed he can get regular snaps on a defense. 

Cornerback

Howard isn’t the cornerback who had 23 interceptions in a four-year stretch from 2018-2021, but the 30-year-old only allowed two passing touchdowns and a 64.2 passer rating in coverage last season. 

Still a starter in the league, Howard can still line up against the game’s top wideouts. 

The 33-year-old Gilmore had another strong season in coverage, allowing just four pass touchdowns and a 60.3 rating while notching two interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks had just a 49% completion rate targeting Gilmore. 

Gilmore has been on four teams in three years, yet is still a starter. 

Nelson had his best season in coverage in 2023, a perfect time to get looks in free agency. He allowed just one passing touchdown and a 40.4 passer rating when being targeted, while earning four interceptions. 

Being 31 could be a reason why Nelson has not signed with a team yet. He might wait until after the draft. 

Safety

The best free agent left on the market, the 30-year-old Simmons is coming off a season which he finished with 70 tackles, three interceptions and eight passes defended. He earned his third straight Second Team All-Pro selection as opposing quarterbacks targeting Simmons had just a 58.4 passer rating. 

Simmons is the best safety in a deep crop of free agents at the position. 

Hyde’s coverage skills have declined over the past two seasons (87.2 rating), yet the 33-year-old has started 128 games in 11 seasons. A neck injury limited Hyde in 2022, but he returned to have 54 tackles and two interceptions in 14 games. 

Hyde is still a good starter in the league and a natural leader on a defense. 

Just 28 years old, Adams has played in only 10 games over the past two seasons, thanks to a torn quad tendon and lingering knee issues. Adams had 48 tackles in nine games last season, playing primarily as strong safety. 

Injuries have significantly limited Adams, who can still attack the run. He also hasn’t had a sack in three years after setting a record for defensive backs in 2020 (9.5). 

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