This offseason, about 150 defensive free agents signed new contracts. One hundred twenty-nine players were drafted in the NFL Draft this past week. There are going to be a bunch of new starters on defense. Not only are there new players coming in, but there are veteran backups who are going to step up to replace the free agents who departed.
I did a review of some projected incoming starters in the NFC. Now I will do the same for the AFC.
Dax Hill, S CIN
This is an incredible interception from Dax Hill. Tremendous focus displayed to control this to the ground to secure the turnover.— Willie Lutz (@willie_lutz) August 21, 2022
Seems like the #Bengals found something special. pic.twitter.com/mi4sOXOBj3
The Bengals knew they would lose a safety in the 2023 free agency period. They hoped they wouldn’t be losing two. They had already drafted Daxton Hill in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft to prepare. In his three-year career at Michigan, Hill made a total of 149 tackles, 15 pass defenses, and four interceptions. He improved every season and made the top ten in the Big Ten for passes defended in his final season. In his rookie season, he only played 130 snaps and did not grade well in pass coverage, being assessed at 54.4 by PFF, but his run defense grade was 71.5. In the one game he started, he allowed four completions, one going for a touchdown, on five targets while trying to cover Tampa Bay’s talented receivers.
Nick Scott, S CIN
The Bengals didn’t just lose Jesse Bates. They also lost Vonn Bell. So the Bengals need two new safeties in the backfield. Enter former L.A. Ram Nick Scott. Scott became a starter for the Rams for the first time last season and made 86 combined tackles, two forced fumbles, five pass defenses, and two interceptions. PFF gave him poor marks for his pass defense. He allowed a 78.9% completion percentage in his past two seasons. He also allowed three touchdowns last season. Scott could fill a roster spot at safety in deep position-specific leagues, but he’s probably not useful in casual Sleeper leagues.
Terrel Bernard, LB BUF
The Bills selected Terrel Bernard in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. In four years at Baylor, he made triple-digit tackles twice and made double-digit tackles for loss his senior year. He set career highs in solo tackles, TFL, sacks, and passes defended as a senior. He finished in the top three in the Big 12 for assisted tackles twice. As a rookie, he only made 16 tackles on 111 snaps. Now he’ll have to step up as he steps into the role Tremaine Edmunds vacated.
Matt Henningsen, DE DEN
The loss of defensive end Dre’mont Jones means the Broncos will have to get more production out of second-year sixth-round pick Matt Henningsen. Henningsen made 8.5 sacks in four years at Wisconsin University. In his first year as a Bronco, he only played 229 of the team’s defensive snaps and made 1.0 sacks, two tackles for losses, and one quarterback hit. He will probably not be a fantasy producer, except perhaps in very deep leagues.
Charles Omenihu, DE KC
This free agent addition the Chiefs signed from the 49ers looks poised to take over the spot Frank Clark’s release opened up at defensive tackle. Omeninhu set career highs with 4.5 sacks and 20 tackles last season while playing just over half of San Fran’s defensive snaps. The Chiefs also drafted defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah, the 2022 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year from Kansas State, in the first round of this year’s draft. He might earn a starting job.
Elandon Roberts, LB PIT
elandon roberts vs nick chubb pic.twitter.com/Ic8UKg1vWA— josh houtz (@houtz) November 13, 2022
Devin Bush’s departure to Seattle opens up this spot at inside linebacker for former Dolphin Elandon Roberts to take over. Roberts had his first season with over 100 combined tackles, as he played 680 defensive snaps, his highest total yet. He split his sacks between the right, left, and middle inside linebacker positions. Now in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense, there will usually be no middle linebacker and only two inside linebackers, so Roberts, who made 40 tackles on run plays last season, might be able to make an even share of tackles on run plays.
David Long Jr, LB MIA
David Long has improved every season. He had his best season yet with the Titans last year, grading at 76.2 in PFF’s score and setting career highs for tackles, TFLs, and quarterback hits. Unfortunately, he got injured in Week 13, but he’ll be ready for this season as he replaces Elandon Roberts in Miami. He’s good at making tackles, averaging 7.2 per game last season and only missing one in ten. But he doesn’t make sacks–having 0.0 in his career–and rarely makes other impact plays.
Isaiah Rodgers, CB IND
After Stephon Gilmore’s departure to Dallas, the starting spot at right cornerback could come down to a battle between Isaiah Rodgers and Julius Brents. Rodgers has the inside track. He was the best-graded cornerback on the Colts last season and is currently ahead of Brents on the depth chart. In his career, Rodgers has allowed a 64.5% completion percentage when targeted and allowed five touchdown passes while making three interceptions.