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NFL teams shouldn't overpay for run-stoppers when the draft's middle rounds are rich in talent

Run the ball, stop the run.

The old adage has been used to fuel NFL decision-making, but in a pass-first NFL, the run game has become less important each year.

However, NFL teams still love finding a good run-stopper, as evidenced by multiple free-agent deals this week.

What do these five players have in common?

They are all better run defenders than pass-rushers, with their run-stopping skills ranging from good to excellent. As pass-rushers, this group has ranked average or below average throughout most of their respective careers, despite a few peaks in sack totals along the way.

PFF Grades 2015-2019
Name Signing Team Run-D Grade Pass-Rush Grade
Michael Brockers Rams 87.8 56.7
Michael Pierce Vikings 91.1 67.0
A’Shawn Robinson Rams 76.4 58.6
Quinton Jefferson Bills 74.1 60.1
Jarran Reed Seahawks 67.5 61.7
  • Brockers is a former first-rounder who developed into a strong run defender, but he’s never topped a middling 66.0 pass-rush grade to go with a career-high of only 42 pressures.
  • Pierce is as stout as any interior defensive lineman against the run, but he rarely rushes the passer and has never had more than 21 pressures in a season.
  • Robinson was an outstanding run defender at Alabama in college, but he’s had three OK years to go with one excellent season in the run game in 2018. The concern is that a 65.8 pass-rush grade in 2018 sits as his career-high and that he has a meager 65 total pressures in his four-year career.
  • Jefferson is coming off his best year that saw him total 44 pressures, but his pass-rush grade was only 63.0 — and that’s his peak season.
  • Reed had an 11-sack season in 2018, but that was inflated by opportunity. His career-best 66.4 pass-rush grade is more indicative of his mid-tier rushing ability.

All five players on the list are best described as “solid,” a valuable commodity in the NFL, but perhaps not at the level that their hefty contracts might suggest.

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