NFL Free Agency 2014: Top Defensive Players

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Billy Davis could be getting some upgrades on defense.

The Eagles obviously have work to do on defense this offseason. The secondary is likely the top target for fans, but the Eagles could stand to add depth to the front seven. Billy Davis will be better off with a solid pass rusher and possibly a more traditional nose tackle to go along with cornerback and safety depth. Below is a list of the top players by position on defense in this free agency class (based on the Eagles scheme and size/skill requirements):

Defense Line

1. Lamarr Houston

2. Arthur Jones

3. Tyson Jackson

4. Linval Joseph

5. B.J. Raji

What could happen: If the Eagles are looking for a tradition nose tackle with experience and youth, B.J. Raji is a former Pro Bowl player with a Super Bowl ring. He may be worth the investment if he makes the open market, which is a huge possibility as the Packers are known for not overpaying players. If the Eagles are looking (for some reason) to upgrade over Cedric Thornton, Arthur Jones and Lamarr Houston could lineup across from Fletcher Cox. Both Houston and Jones are better pass rushers than Thornton.

What will happen: The Eagles should and likely will add a more tradition nose tackle to the fold. However, it may not be with a splash signing like Raji. Joseph would be an interesting add, but I think the Eagles are over adding former Giants to the roster. Philadelphia is likely to bring in a veteran presence to their young defensive line, but may not spend a ton on that addition.

Outside Linebackers/Pass Rushers

1. Michael Bennett

2. Everson Griffen

3. Brian Orakpo

4. Jason Worilds

5. Matt Shaughnessy

What could happen: The Eagles need to have a premium pass rusher this season, but they will likely draft that player. However, young pass rushers like Michael Bennett and Everson Griffen have little wear on their tires and could be key parts of their defense for the next 5-7 years. They will likely flirt with those options before settling for a cheaper option like Matt Shaughnessy, who has played well with the Raiders and Cardinals but in a depth role.

What will happen: While the Eagles will likely target a pass rusher early in the draft, they won't overlook a cost-effective veteran if they can get one. The Eagles rolled with just three outside linebackers last season, but that will likely change, no matter what happens to Brandon Graham and/or Trent Cole. The position likely needs to be rebuilt moving forward.

Inside Linebackers

1. Donald Butler

2. Karlos Dansby

3. Daryl Smith

4. Wesley Woodyard

5. Brandon Spikes

What could happen: The big question for inside linebacker will be: Will DeMeco Ryans take a pay cut and return? The answer to this question will likely come early in the offseason. Either way, the Eagles could upgrade the depth at the position. If the Eagles decide to move on from Ryans, Chargers inside linebacker Donald Butler would be a young and talented player to replace him.

What will happen: The Eagles are likely to keep Ryans for one more year and get ready to replace him with a draft pick in May. His veteran leadership and overall quarterbacking of the defense is valuable to Billy Davis. He would be wise to take a smaller salary if he is approached about it.

Cornerback

1. Aqib Talib

2. Vontae Davis

3. Alterraun Verner

4. Corey Graham

5. Chris Cook

What could happen: The Eagles need to make a decision on Cary Williams this offseason and could replace him in free agency. Aqib Talib and Vontae Davis are likely to re-sign with their teams and Alterraun Verner will look to sign a big deal that the Eagles will likely avoid. Corey Graham is an interesting option even if the Eagles keep Williams. The two could compete for a starting job with the loser possibly headed to safety.

What will happen: I remain convinced that the Eagles will sign a hybrid cornerback/safety to compete for a starting spot at both positions. Graham makes a ton of sense and could serve as depth with starter experience and special teams talent. He could also be a play-maker at free safety if the Eagles were to go that route. Walter Thurmond and Josh Wilson could be other guys the Eagles target.

Safety

1. T.J. Ward

2. Jairus Byrd

3. Chris Clemons

4. Antoine Bethea

5. Nate Allen

What could happen: The Eagles need to figure out their relationship with Nate Allen and then find one or two players to fill the starting spots at safety. T.J. Ward is likely to be Franchise tagged and Jairus Byrd will probably be out of the Eagles price range. Veterans like Chris Clemons and Antoine Bethea could be cheaper options with starting experience to start next to Allen or Earl Wolff or an early-round rookie.

What will happen: The Eagles will likely move on from Allen if he gets a solid offer, so finding two starters will likely be the task for the front office. One of those starters will almost certainly need to be a veteran. The Eagles will likely take a safety in the draft compete with Wolff for a starting job but they will likely sign a guy like Clemons to play opposite the younger player.

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