By now, you should know that projecting where coveted free agents land is about as accurate as a NFL mock draft. Recently, it was suggested that the New Orleans Saints should look at filling their interior defensive lineman needs with Brandon Williams, not Nick Fairley.
The column, which requires ESPN Insider access, was run under Pro Football Focus to come up with a free agent that every NFL team should sign during the offseason. Here’s what they had to say about Williams, and a positional ranking is also included based on their grading system.
Brandon Williams, DT | Position rank: 39th
The Saints have talent on their defensive line, with Cameron Jordan racking up 79 total pressures in 2016. What they lack, though, is a defensive tackle who can be stout against the run in the middle, and this free-agent class offers the perfect fit in Williams. He is not a do-it-all playmaker on the defensive line, and with 55 total pressures the past three years, he's really only going to chip in with some pressure as a pass-rusher. What Williams is, though, is one of the most dominant forces in the NFL against the run. In each of the past three seasons with the Ravens, he has ranked among the top seven defensive tackles in the NFL in run-stop percentage.
What doesn’t make much sense and somewhat contradicts the whole premise for getting Williams is the fact that the Saints run defense ranked 14th in the league, surrendering 101.6 yards per game on the ground. Sean Payton’s defenses have been absolutely atrocious in that area, giving up an average of 130.5 yards/game on the ground over the last four seasons prior to 2016.
The combination of Fairley, Sheldon Rankins, Tyeler Davison, and David Onyemata all had a hand in the team’s vast improvement last season. So, why not just bring back Fairley?
Speaking of Fairley, the column also likes the Atlanta Falcons targeting him because of his ability to generate quarterback pressure.
Nick Fairley, DT | Position rank: 34th
Lost in the prowess of Tom Brady during the Patriots' stunning comeback win in Super Bowl LI was just how much the tiring Atlanta defense struggled to generate pressure as the game went on. The Falcons got pressure on Brady on 60.0 percent of passing plays in the first quarter, but that dropped as each quarter went on, all the way to getting no pressure at all on him in overtime. The ideal fix to prevent that happening in the future is more depth on the defensive line, and that's where Fairley comes in. Fairley's ideal role is a player who plays 500 or so snaps per season, and he registered 47 total QB pressures for the Saints last season.