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Best Available Free Agent LB’s

The woes at LB are well-documented. Let’s get to work.

Super Bowl LI - New England Patriots v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

With the amount of upper-echelon potential DE free agents getting tagged by their respective teams (Chandler Jones, Jason Pierre-Paul, Melvin Ingram), the Miami Dolphins might have to make their defensive “splash” at LB.

We’ll discuss LB’s in the draft at great length, but free agency comes first, so let’s take a quick glance at 5 of the top free agent LB’s (in no particular order). I will provide PFF rankings, but that doesn’t mean I “S PFF’s D”, just providing a little more context than my conjecture. Here we go:

Dont’a Hightower, 6’3”, 265 - PFF #12

The New England Patriots chose not to tag Hightower, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to keep him. The injuries are the real concern with paying Hightower big bucks, but when he’s on the field, he is a high quality LB.

The Patriots lined him up all over the field, both at traditional MLB, while also coming off the edges. If the Dolphins were to sign him, he could easily play MLB or SLB. He is one of the best blitzing LB’s in the NFL, and above average at pass coverage and run defense. I noticed he can be a bit flat-footed in coverage, but makes up for it with instincts.

(Spotrac market value: $10.1 million)

Zach Brown, 6’1”, 248 - PFF #17

A bit of a one-hit wonder (the Buffalo Bills were able to sign him for 1 year/$1.25 million last year), and missed almost the entire 2014 NFL season, but aside from that, has played in every game in his 5-year NFL career. Has he turned a new leaf? Or produced in a contract year, only to reduce back to obscurity? That’s the question the Miami Dolphins will have to ask themselves if they pursue Zach Brown.

I’ve watched the most tape of Zach Brown of all the free agent LB’s, and he was on my IDP fantasy football team last year. I’ll admit my slight bias because he helped me win some cash with a ridiculously productive statistical year, but there’s still a lot to like about his play.

He’s aggressive, physical, has a high motor, and reads the QB’s eyes well in coverage. He doesn’t have a glaring weakness - his appeal is his well-roundedness.

(Spotrac market value: $4.5 million) - Editor’s note: I think this is underselling him just a bit.

Gerald Hodges, 6’2”, 236 - PFF #21

A young guy (just turned 26), and has shown some serious flashes, especially last year in the absence of NaVorro Bowman. My concern would be how his skill set transitions from the 3-4 of the San Francisco 49ers to a 4-3.

From the minimal tape I’ve seen on him, Hodges appears to have above average skills blitzing the QB and in run defense, but may be a potential liability in pass coverage. He could be a younger, less expensive “under-the-radar” type of signing that the Miami Dolphins are willing to gamble on.

(Hodges is #51, who times the blitz well, runs all over the field, and then forces the fumble.)

(Spotrac market value: N/A)

Perry Riley, 6’0”, 240 - PFF #15

Struggled with the Washington Redskins, but seemed rejuvenated coming back to the Oakland Raiders - with the premise that switching from the 3-4 to 4-3 helped maximize his skill set. This would explain his inconsistent production over the last few years. In addition, there are some injury concerns over the last 3 years.

He’ll be turning 29 before the season starts, so this would be a stop-gap solution in all likelihood, but the LB unit needs bodies and he does some things well on tape. He’s an excellent run defender, but might be a liability in coverage. Riley blitzes the QB at an above average level.

(#54) sifts through traffic, gets the TFL and forced fumble. Makes a huge play for his team.

(Spotrac market value: N/A)

Kevin Minter, 6’0”, 246 - PFF #25

Another young guy (he’ll turn 27 midway towards the end of 2017 regular season) who has shown inconsistent production: amazing tape and horrible tape. Missed tackles are a concern (PFF had him at 20 missed tackles last year), but his pass coverage is excellent.

Again, transition from 3-4 to 4-3 should be considered in pursuing him. But his “on” tape is impressive. Run defense is subpar, but a solid blitzer and real strength is in pass coverage.

(Spotrac market value: N/A)

Anyone have under-the-radar LB’s (there were quite a few “honorable mentions”: AJ Klein, etc...) worth pursuing or someone else not mentioned in the article? Send it to the Comments Section! Fins Up!