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NFL Free Agency: Ranking the Top 5 Free Agent Defensive Tackles in 2022

An elite defensive tackle is a game-changer in today's NFL. But with most of the top-level talents locked up, which names should we expect to rise to the top of teams' offseason big boards?
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NFL Free Agency: Ranking the Top 5 Free Agent Defensive Tackles in 2022

An elite defensive tackle is a game-changer in today's NFL. Which names should we expect to rise to the top of teams' offseason big boards during 2022 Free Agency?

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Top 5 Free Agent Defensive Tackles in 2022

5. Sheldon Richardson, Minnesota Vikings

Richardson is now far removed from the prime of his career, back when he was a Pro Bowler for the Jets back in 2014. Since then, it's been an up and down road across three teams, and most recently the 31-year-old had a solid -- albeit uneventful -- season for the Vikings. He was only a part-time starter and saw his snap share dip from 74% a year ago to 57% this year. A production line of 39 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 13 quarterback hits earned him a 62.1 player grade from Pro Football Focus.

The veteran tackle earned about $3 million on this year's deal, and we could expect something similar in 2022. It's likely he ends up on a contender that will allow him to do what he does best in a shared role on the line. Among a number of teams, the Dolphins, Packers, and Chargers could use him to better their defensive effort against the run.

4. Maliek Collins, Houston Texans

It was a year of going rather unnoticed for Collins. Playing on a 4-13 Texans team, the sixth-year player started and appeared in 15 games for Houston, turning in 29 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, as well as 7 quarterback hits and 2.5 sacks. His 64 PFF grade is indicative of his good but less than stellar quality of play.

Collins could be an upgrade for a number of teams. He's not yet 27 and has two seasons of double-digit quarterback hits to his credit going into this offseason. More than likely, he's looking at another one- or two-year prove-it deal, though he could draw interest from any and all teams (with cap space) to look to add depth at the position. That could include a team like the Bengals, who -- in a worst-case scenario -- could lose two of their key cogs in the middle to larger contracts.

3. Larry Ogunjobi, Cincinnati Bengals

Ogunjobi made a name for himself in a three-year run with Cleveland before opting to stay inside the division and signing a one-year deal with Cincinnati. Making north of $6 million this season, the 6'4", 305-pound tackle made 16 starts, with which he produced 7 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, and 12 tackles for loss. PFF's 50.4 grade is not at all indicative of his production, nor his impact for an improved Bengals defensive unit.

Unfortunately, Ogunjobi injured his foot in the team's first playoff game against the Raiders, and he was placed on injured reserve shortly after. If all checks out with his health, we could see him sign a two- or three-year deal given his ability to get to the quarterback from the inside. Cincinnati is projected to have the fourth-highest cap space to start the new season, and only the Dolphins, Chargers, or Jaguars could outbid them. All three teams could make a run at the 27-year-old Ogunjobi, but the Chargers and Jaguars need a pass-rush presence even more, as each of them ranked in the bottom half of the league in adjusted sack rate, according to Pro Football Outsiders.

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2. Harrison Phillips, Buffalo Bills

Primarily a part-time player on the line, Phillips showed out this season for a really good Buffalo defense. The Bills ended the year with the best marks in defensive DVOA, proving themselves the most efficient pass defense and second-most efficient rush defense. Individually, the Stanford alum contributed 51 tackles (4 for loss), 6 quarterback hits, and a sack. That might not sound all that great, but he did so in only 8 starts and on a 55% snap rate (though the highest of his career).

Phillips could fly a little under the radar as a top defensive target up front, but he really shouldn't. Spotrac puts his market value around $5 million a year for a two- or three-year deal, and while he could come back to Buffalo, the Bills head into the offseason strapped for cash. One of the aforementioned teams could swoop in and pay him more money to contend elsewhere. If I had to pick one team, I'd say the Chargers seem like the most direct fit given their weakness against the run.

1. B.J. Hill, Cincinnati Bengals

Hill is the other stud defensive tackle that silently but surely showed out for the Bengals -- a Bengals defense that improved to 19th in efficiency compared to 27th a year ago. The 26-year-old played an especially big role in them being a top-half team against the run. In tallying a total of 50 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 12 quarterback hits, and 5.5 sacks, Hill earned a 70.4 grade from PFF. He also has added 10 tackles, 3 quarterback hits, 1.5 sacks, and an interception in three playoff contests to date.

Again, Cincy's flexible cap situation should allow them to re-sign Hill if they so wish. And, really, there's no reason they shouldn't because of what he brings on the field as well as his age. Hill could be a key cog for the next two-to-five years there, or somewhere else. The usual teams will vie for his services, though we could throw the Giants and Lions into the mix. They rated last and next-to-last, respectively, in rushing DVOA in 2021.

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