Most improved position groups from 2023 NFL free agency

Lake Forest, IL, USA; Chicago Bears linebacker Tremaine Edmunds speaks during a press conference at Halas Hall. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

NFL free agency has been underway for a number of days, and some huge moves have been made that completely change the league landscape as teams look to remake their rosters and take aim at a new league year.

Here are some of the most improved position groups after that flurry of activity.

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Chicago Bears linebackers

The Bears traded away Roquan Smith during last season, leaving them with little at the linebacker position on a roster that had been stripped back to bare metal. Jack Sanborn — an undrafted rookie — flashed some ability late in the season, finishing with back-to-back 80.0-plus PFF game grades, and now he can develop in a group that includes T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds. Both players earned overall PFF grades that ranked top 10 last season among all off-the-ball linebackers, and each plays a very different style that could complement each other in the same defense. Edmunds is an incredible athlete who has the size and athleticism that looks like it came from a lab while Edwards has always been a better football player than athlete throughout his football career.

Denver Broncos offensive line

Apparently, Sean Payton’s reclamation project in Denver starts with the offensive line, so the Broncos added a pair of starters up front for a combined $139.5 million. Guard Ben Powers and tackle Mike McGlinchey represent two of the best linemen available this offseason and will help to propel forward an offensive line that was below average last year and made to look even worse by Wilson’s play style. Denver’s line ranked 19th in PFF pass-blocking efficiency, allowing 167 total pressures over the year. Powers had an outstanding season in pass protection, allowing just 13 pressures all year, and McGlinchey was a good starting right tackle during his time in San Francisco. We can quibble with the cost, but Denver’s line is a lot better after these two signings than it was before free agency began

Dallas Cowboys secondary

Bringing back safety Donovan Wilson can be viewed as an improvement due to the alternative of letting him sign elsewhere, but the big upgrade here is trading for Stephon Gilmore to man the cornerback spot opposite Trevon Diggs. Gilmore may not be quite the same player he was with the New England Patriots, but he played well for both the Carolina Panthers or Indianapolis Colts since New England traded him. He has allowed a sub-82.6 passer rating since leaving the Patriots, and it also enables DaRon Bland to stay in the slot, where he did his best work last season as a rookie.

Detroit Lions secondary

Detroit’s moves to build the secondary through the draft have been a mixed bag, but rather than pigeonhole themselves into needing to get an impact corner in the first round, they added a pair of veterans in Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley to ensure that the baseline of play from the group is dramatically higher in 2023. Moseley has allowed a passer rating of 82.8 into his coverage for his entire career and Sutton has multiple seasons with an above-average PFF coverage grade playing both outside and in the slot. Between those two players, the Lions know their cornerbacks are capable, and now can truly draft the best player available rather than chase the need to fill a weak spot.

Cleveland Browns defensive line

For too many years now, the Browns defensive line has been Myles Garrett while no one else makes an impact. Reasonable attempts to address that in the past or gamble on upside have almost all come out badly, but their investments on that line this year appear to be very good moves. Dalvin Tomlinson has been excellent as a run-stuffing nose tackle earlier in his career and showed he can offer something as a pass-rusher as well. He has over 20 defensive stops in every season of his career while Jordan Elliott led the Browns defensive tackles with 13 last season. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo showed he could be a force on the edge once the Texans actually started him last season. All five of his sacks came in the second half of the season when he was starting, and he registered 24 total pressures in his final six starts.

Atlanta Falcons defense

Am I stretching the definition of a ‘unit’ too far here? Perhaps, but the Falcons had a disastrous defense last season. They ranked 30th in EPA per play against and recorded the second-worst pressure rate in the league (22.9%), trailing only Chicago. They didn’t necessarily concentrate their spending on any particular group in free agency but added quality players to every level. David Onyemata isn’t coming off his finest season, but in the two years prior, he recorded back-to-back 80.0-plus PFF grades. Jessie Bates III has been one of the league’s better safeties over the last several seasons, and Kaden Elliss is a fascinating hybrid type of outside linebacker who accumulated 20 pressures and 36 defensive stops last season for the New Orleans Saints. The Falcons still have plenty of work to do, but the Falcons defense should already be vastly improved from a season ago.


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