Chicago Bears: Home and AwayLance Briggs
After 12 seasons playing in the NFL, Briggs may finally be showing signs of wear and tear. He has been a dominating force on the Bears’ defense for years, and the 2014 season could be listed as a disappointing one due to the fact that he had to miss multiple games because of injury. Briggs played in eight games last season and totaled 461 defensive snaps. During his time on the field he was able to record 34 tackles, one quarterback hit, one quarterback hurry, one forced fumble, one interception and three passes defended. Briggs is a free agent this offseason and there is the possibility that he plays somewhere besides Chicago for the first time in his career.
Detroit Lions: Home and AwayDeAndre Levy
By all accounts Levy had a very good 2014 season. It was his sixth season in the NFL after the Lions drafted him in the third round of the 2009 draft and he finished ranked as the third-best outside linebacker in a 4-3 system, according to Pro Football Focus. He was rated 23.9 overall, and only had one game where he was rated below -1.0. In his 1,072 regular-season defensive snaps, Levy recorded a team-high 151 tackles, 2½ sacks, one quarterback hit, nine quarterback hurries, one interception and five passes defended. At the age of 27, Levy is still in the prime of his career and should be a force to be reckoned with for at least a few more years.
Green Bay Packers: Home and AwayJulius Peppers
Last year was Peppers’ first season playing with the Green Bay Packers, and he had to make the adjustment changing from defensive end in a 4-3 defense to an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. During the season he recorded 44 tackles, seven sacks, 12 quarterback hits, 33 quarterback hurries, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, two interceptions, a career-high two touchdowns, and a career-high 11 passes defended. Those stats helped him ranked as the No. 7 outside linebacker in a 3-4 system by PFF. At the end of the regular season he had a 16.9 rating.
Seattle Seahawks: HomeK.J. Wright
Last year, Wright led his team with 107 regular-season tackles while also recording two sacks, one quarterback hit, six quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and four passes defended. Even though he ended the season with a 13.5 rating by PFF he had an up-and-down season. In his 16 regular season games, he was given a positive rating eight times, a negative rating six times, and a rating of 0.0 twice. Wright is still a young player as he has only been in the league for four years and will continue to be an important piece to the Seahawks No. 1-rated defense for years – as long as he does not leave in free agency.
Arizona Cardinals: AwaySam Acho
Ancho was the only Cardinals outside linebacker to be rated positively by PFF at the end of the season. Even though he only played in 483 games he still saw time in every game, with his fewest snaps coming in Week 16, when he only played five snaps. He played on both the right and the left side and recorded 31 tackles, one sack, one quarterback hit, 23 quarterback hurries, one interception and three passes defended. The ability that Acho showed to play both sides of the defense should help him moving forward because he is a free agent this year – along with two other outside linebackers on the Cardinals’ roster. So his versatility will make him more attractive to other teams or could get him a new contract with Arizona next season.
St. Louis Rams: HomeAlec Ogletree
The beginning of the 2014 season was rough for Ogletree, as he did not have a game where he was rated positively by PFF until Week 9, when he was rated at 4.8. At the end of the season he had a -3.9 rating, but what that doesn’t show is the good second half of the season he had. He had a rating of 2.0 or higher in five of his final nine games. There were very few times when Ogletree came off the field – in fact, he was on the field for all but five of the Rams’ defensive snaps during the 2014 season. He ended up leading his team in tackles with 111, along with recording three quarterback hits, 11 quarterback hurries, four forced fumbles, two interceptions, and 12 passes defended. Ogletree has only been in the NFL for three years, so as he gains more experience his play should continue to improve.
San Francisco 49ers: AwayAldon Smith
In 2012 Smith was chasing the all-time sacks record but has seemingly fallen off since then. He was suspended for a majority of last season and was only able to play in the final seven games. In that amount of time, though, he still showed that he has the ability to impact games. He recorded 15 tackles, two sacks, six quarterback hits and 24 quarterback hurries. PFF gave him a 5.8 rating at the end of the 2014 season, and if he can stay out of trouble and play in all 16 games in 2015 he should be able to improve on that rating. Smith will be entering into his fifth season of the NFL, and at the age of 25 he still has a lot of football left in him.
Kansas City Chiefs: HomeJustin Houston
In his fourth season in the NFL, Houston was just a half sack away from making history and tying the all-time sack record. He actually would have beaten the record but there was a penalty on the defense when he sacked Russell Wilson in Week 11, so the sack did not count. Instead he had to settle for second-best with 22.0 sacks. Along with those sacks, Houston also recorded 68 tackles, eight quarterback hits, 56 quarterback hurries, four forced fumbles and five passes defended. Houston is not only a good pass rusher, but a good all-around player. There were only two games all season – Week 2 and Week 10 – when PFF gave him a negative rating. He ended the year with a 51.1 overall rating, making him the highest-rated outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, and the third highest-ranked outside linebacker in the NFL. This offseason Houston is a free agent, and after the season he had last year he will fetch a very hefty price.
Denver Broncos: AwayVon Miller
Miller has shown year in and year out that he is one of the most dynamic pass rushers in the NFL, and 2014 was no different. He finished the season with 59 tackles, 14.0 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, 47 quarterback hurries, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and two passes defended. Those stats helped lead to his PFF rating of 54.0, which made him the second-highest rated outside linebacker in the NFL. Not only did Miller excel rushing the passer – he received a 33.7 rating – but he is also very good at playing the run, receiving a 24.9 rating, and that is not something you always see with players who excel rushing the passer. At 25 years of age, Miller is still a very young player and will be around for years to come.
San Diego Chargers: HomeDwight Freeney
After 13 years in the NFL, Freeney may have just had one of his worst. He played in 590 defensive snaps, spanning through all 16 games and only recorded 10 tackles, 3½ sacks, nine quarterback hits, 40 quarterback hurries, one fumble recovery and one pass defended. PFF had him rated 4.8 at the end of the season and a big part of that was because he was able to hurry the quarterbacks, but at 34 years old it appears that he may have lost a step. Freeney is a free agent this offseason and it is possible that he opts to go for retirement, but there is also a chance that he decides to give it another go and signs with a team in hopes of getting another Super Bowl ring.
Oakland Raiders: AwayKhalil Mack
There was a lot of hype surrounding Mack during the 2013 offseason leading up the draft, and it appears it was all well-deserved. Throughout his rookie season Mack was one of the lone bright spots on a dismal Raiders team as he recorded 75 tackles, four sacks, 10 quarterback hits, 40 quarterback hurries, one forced fumble, and three passes defended. He was able to get to the quarterbacks plenty, but not always able to bring them down, which could attribute to the fact that he just finished his rookie season and still needs to learn the game and gain experience. At the end of the season PFF had Mack rated 55.3, which made him the highest-rated outside linebacker in the NFL. As he continues to get more comfortable playing at the professional level he should only get better.
New York Giants: HomeDevon Kennard
Kennard only played in 12 of the Giants’ 16 games during the 2014 regular season, but he was the highest-rated outside linebacker on their defense at the end of the season, according to PFF. The primary reason is because he was really able to pick his game up at the end of the season, after competing at a satisfactory level for the first half of the season – he finished the season with a 4.7 rating. Kennard recorded 43 tackles, 4½ sacks, four quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and one pass defended. He just finished his rookie season, and showed that he has the ability to play at the professional level and should only get better with the more reps he gets.
Atlanta Falcons: AwayPrince Shembo
Much like the rest of the Falcons’ defense, there was not an outside linebacker that really excelled in the 2014 season. At the end of his rookie year, Shembo was the highest-rated outside linebacker on the Falcons, according to PFF, with a 0.5 rating. For a majority of the year he was used primarily as a rotational player but did get the opportunity to start on occasion. He totaled 347 defensive snaps and recorded 59 tackles, one quarterback hit and three quarterback hurries. It is still too early in Shembo’s career to tell if he will be successful or not, but he will need to continue to develop or he could be in danger of losing his job, especially since it is likely that the Falcons will try to bring in more talent in the offseason to try and improve their defense.