2013 NFL Free Agents: Top 5 Defensive Tackles On The Market

  on February 12 2013 7:02 AM

Every defense relies on its tackles. Whether it's a big body to plug gaps and stuff running lanes, or quick, hustling gap penetrators to create pressure. The 2013 NFL free-agent market offers both.

The top five is headlined by a rising young Chicago Bears star. He is joined by a journeyman who surprised many with a stellar campaign in 2012. Here are the best defensive tackles on the 2013 market.

5. Dwan Edwards, Carolina Panthers

Eight-year-veteran Dwan Edwards was a revelation for the Carolina Panthers in 2012. He keyed an impressive defensive revival with some outstanding play in the middle. Edwards' ability for disrupting the line of scrimmage and pressuring the pass pocket, was the key to the Panthers' 4-3 schemes.

The 6'3", 300-pounder logged 52 tackles and forced a fumble. More importantly, the 31-year-old managed to produce a career-high six sacks. Previously only a solid 3-4 end, Edwards flourished when moved to a more attacking, 3-technique role in a 4-3.

The Panthers should work hard to retain this key building block for their defensive front.

4. Chris Canty, New York Giants

He may have been consigned to the league's scrapheap, but Chris Canty remains  a stout force against the run. The 30-year-old former New York Giant is a powerful tackle, capable of occupying blockers as a 2-gap lineman.

Canty is also adept at creating plenty of push up the middle. Canty won't ever be a prolific pass-rusher, evidenced by his 19 sacks in eight pro seasons. However, he can force offensive linemen back into the face of a quarterback.

Canty would be an excellent addition for any defensive front that struggles to repel the run.

3. Alan Branch, Seattle Seahawks

Alan Branch is an under-the-radar tackle who can plug rushing lanes along any defensive front. He plays with a natural aggression that only makes his naturally huge frame more of a force.

At 6'6" and 325 pounds, Branch is a powerful run stuffer. He excelled in the Seattle Seahawks Wild Card Round victory over the Washington Redskins. Branch was too much to handle for the interior of the Redskins' O-line and frequently disrupted Washington's prolific ground game.

Branch hasn't always played to his talent level during six pro seasons. However, the 28-year-old has the natural ability to dominate in the right scheme.

2. Randy Starks, Miami Dolphins

Randy Starks is one of the more intriguing defensive tackles on the 2013 free-agency market. He has demonstrated excellence in both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes. Starks is versatile enough to suffocate a running game and also apply quick pressure on a quarterback.

Starks became one of the most significant members of the Miami Dolphins' switch to a 4-3 scheme in 2012. He displayed a previously unknown knack as a pass-rusher, collecting 4.5 sacks during the season. He also played a vital role in drawing double teams inside, helping ensure one-on-one matchups for rush end Cameron Wake.

Although Starks' performances tallied off during the season, he is still an imposing and productive interior lineman.

1. Henry Melton, Chicago Bears

Aside from Cincinnati Bengals star Geno Atkins, there is no better interior pass-rusher in the NFL than Henry Melton. He has recorded 13 sacks in the past two seasons, including six in 2012. A cat-quick tackle with elite-level agility, Melton is a classic 3-technique in the mould of former greats Warren Sapp and La'Roi Glover.

Melton has become the vital member of the Chicago Bears' Tampa-2 schemes. His pressure from the inside has forced more than one quarterback into an ill-advised throw into coverage. He is nimble-footed enough to execute stunts and twists at great speed.

A tackle as athletic as Melton gives a four-man rush tremendous flexibility. He should command the highest fee of all the tackles on the market.

Defensive ends and outside pass-rushers benefit from the attributes of the players on this list. Defensive tackle is not always a position that commands major fees in free agency. However, recruiting talent along the interior should be a part of every team's offseason plans.