Pete Prisco's Top 30 NFL free agents: Jadeveon Clowney, Demarcus Lawrence top defense-heavy list

When the NFL free-agency period begins in March, it should have a defensive feel to it.

The offensive class doesn't offer a lot, but teams can get help on the defensive side of the ball, although many of the top defenders could be off the market by the time the period opens.

With teams having franchise tags at their luxury, I would expect some of the top players to land those -- on my list of top-30 free agents, I expect several to be given the franchise tag.

That includes my top free agent, Houston Texans pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney. He leads an impressive group of edge rushers in the class right now, although many won't hit the market as free-agent players.

For now, they remain a big part of my top-20 free agents. Even if some of them do get tagged, defense will still be the focal point for free agency come March.

One player I didn't put in my top-10 is Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell. I think he's a good player, but he hasn't played in a long time, he's a year older and he plays a position that is being decreased in value by the year. He checks in at No. 11 on my list.

Here are the rest of my top-30 NFL free agents:

Jadeveon Clowney Houston Texans OLB
He turns 26 this week, which is the target age for a free agent. He's an elite pass rusher who can move around and disrupt from a variety of spots. The Texans are expected to use the franchise tag on Clowney.
Demarcus Lawrence Dallas Cowboys DE
He has 25 sacks the past two seasons, which is why the Cowboys will do everything they can to keep him. If they can't extend him, they would place the franchise tag on him for $20.5 million. He turns 27 in April, so the age is perfect for a free agent.
Trey Flowers New England Patriots DE
He doesn't have great sack numbers, getting just 7.5 this season, but he is a force as a pass rusher. His versatility is what makes him so attractive. The Patriots would be wise to keep him.
Grady Jarrett Atlanta Falcons DT
As a penetrating, power player this former fifth-round pick has made himself one of the best interior players in the league. He had a career-best six sacks last season. The Falcons are working to try and get him signed to a long-term deal before free agency.
Frank Clark Seattle Seahawks DE
He has 32 sacks the past three seasons, with a career-best 13 in 2018. He came into the league with some character questions, but he's become a force on the Seattle defense. The Seahawks could use the franchise tag on him, something they haven't done for a player in a decade.
Dee Ford Kansas City Chiefs OLB
He had 13 sacks in his fifth season in 2018 to cement himself as a big-time edge rusher. The Chiefs will make keeping this 27-year-old a top priority.
Brandon Graham Philadelphia Eagles DE
At 31, he's an older player on my list. But he remains a pass-rush force on the edge and would be a nice addition for any team. His age might make his contract different from some of the others on this list.
Landon Collins New York Giants SS
He looked like a future Hall of Fame player in 2016, but his play has tailed off some and he ended last season on injured reserve with a partially torn labrum. Even so, he's 25 and he's a quality starter in a league where good safety play is imperative.
Trent Brown New England Patriots T
The Patriots traded with San Francisco to get him last spring and he became their starting left tackle. He played well – especially in the playoffs – and now this massive 25-year-old is about to get paid.
C.J. Mosley Baltimore Ravens ILB
His position isn't one of the value positions, but he's been a playmaker on a good defense who is good against the run and the pass. At 26, he's the right age.
Le'Veon Bell Pittsburgh Steelers RB
When Bell finally does play for a team, it will be for the first time since January of 2018, after sitting out last season in a contract dispute. Some will say that's a good thing for a back. I beg to differ. And he's a year older. That's not a good thing for a back. There is risk signing him to a mega-deal, but some team will do it.
Matt Paradis Denver Broncos C
He is coming off a season cut short by a broken leg. He has 57 starts in four seasons and has been a good interior player in Denver's offense.
Anthony Barr Minnesota Vikings OLB
He started slowly in 2018, missed some time with a hamstring injury, but bounced back to play well down the stretch. Given more chances to rush the passer, he flashed. That could help his value on the market.
Tyrann Mathieu Houston Texans FS
He had a nice first season with the Texans playing on a one-year deal. His ability to play all over the field could really help a defense. He's good against the run and the pass.
Donovan Smith Tampa Bay Buccaneers T
He's 25 and he has 64 starts the past four seasons, which means he brings great value. He isn't an elite tackle, but that kind of experience matters.
Earl Thomas Seattle Seahawks FS
Injuries are why he's down this list some, and he isn't a kid anymore – he'll turn 30 in May. But he can be a nice addition in the middle of the field for a defense in need of a playmaker. The question is how much does he have left.
Bryce Callahan Chicago Bears CB
He's one of the better nickel corners in the league. With teams playing so much nickel now, that means he's a quality starter. That will get him paid.
Ja'Wuan James Miami Dolphins T
This 26-year-old has 62 starts in five seasons, including 15 at right tackle in 2018. He is a solid right tackle who has a lot of good football in front of him.
Preston Smith Washington Redskins OLB
This 26-year-old is coming off his best season. He has 24.5 sacks the past four seasons, four in 2018. But he's much more disruptive than that number would indicate.
Za'Darius Smith Baltimore Ravens OLB
This is a player who should be getting more attention heading into the market. He's emerged as a quality pass rusher inside and outside – getting 8.5 sacks last season – and his versatility would have great value for a team.
Nick Foles Philadelphia Eagles QB
It looks like he's going to hit the market if the Eagles don't franchise tag him. If he does, he will be the top quarterback available. The price tag will be interesting.
Adrian Amos Chicago Bears SS
He's been a quality player on the back end for the Bears. He is good against the run and the pass, although he isn't as good as Eddie Jackson, who played next to him.
Tyrell Williams Los Angeles Chargers WR
He said he could be a No. 1 receiver for a team if given the chance. I think he's more of a high-end No.2 receiver, but his size and speed are enticing.
Rodger Saffold Los Angeles Rams G
He will be 31 this year, so age is a bit of a concern. But teams looking for a good run-blocking guard would be wise to take a look at Saffold.
Ndamukong Suh Los Angeles Rams NT
He wasn't great during the regular season for the Rams, but he picked it up in the playoffs to remind personnel people that he can still play at a high level. Motivation remains an issue.
Daryl Williams Carolina Panthers T
He was a force in 2017, but missed almost the entire season in 2018 with a knee injury. If that checks out, he could be a nice addition for a team looking for line help.
Ronald Darby Philadelphia Eagles CB
When he's on the field, he's a good corner. The problem is he's missed too much time the past two years. Even so, he's only 25.
Golden Tate Philadelphia Eagles WR
In a lean group of receivers, he's going to get a decent deal. He's not a No. 1 receiver, but he would be a nice No. 2 for a lot of teams.
Lamarcus Joyner Los Angeles Rams FS
He played under the franchise tag last season and wasn't as good as he was the year before. But he's still a good safety who can also play the nickel if needed.
Mitch Morse Kansas City Chiefs C
He's a nice, solid starter who excels in pass protection. He is 26, so he is still a young player. He has had some concussion issues.
CBS Sports Senior Writer

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an... Full Bio

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