The highest-rated free agent signing in 2022 for each AFC South team

Houston Texans

EDGE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo: 75.1 Defensive Grade, 517 Defensive Snaps

Okoronkwo signed with Houston last offseason on a one-year deal with a base value of just $2,125,000. The former fifth-round pick of the Los Angeles Rams vastly outplayed that contract, setting career highs in quarterback pressures (36), stops (27) and snaps played (517). His 81.9 pass-rush grade ended up a top-15 mark at the position — ahead of Von Miller, Josh Allen and T.J. Watt, among others.

Before joining the Texans, Okoronkwo settled for a part-time role in Los Angeles, never playing more than 315 snaps in his three seasons with the Rams. And through Week 10 of 2022, it was looking like much of the same for the Oklahoma product — average production on a lighter workload. But he ended the season on a tear, one during which he racked up 27 of his 36 pressures. From Weeks 11 through 18, Okoronkwo was, simply put, a top edge defender in the NFL. His 87.4 pass-rushing grade ranked seventh at the position, and his 22.6% pass-rush win rate placed eighth. And now he’s set to cash in as a free agent again this offseason.

Indianapolis Colts

CB Stephon Gilmore: 79.1 PFF grade, 1,064 defensive snaps

Gilmore may have enjoyed the best stretch of his career between 2017 and 2019. During that span, he played lockdown man coverage. Gilmore recorded a 90.5 man coverage grade (first). He was targeted 70 times (second most) but allowed only a 47.1% completion rate. His combined first down and touchdown rate also ranked 11th best (28.6%). The list goes on for Gilmore in man coverage during that stretch, with him ranking first in interceptions (five) and forced incompletions (12). Overall, quarterbacks had a 44.0 passer rating when targeting him (fourth).

The 2020 campaign marked the beginning of the end for Gilmore in New England, though. He finished with his worst coverage grade as a Patriot (67.1) and didn’t play for any team to start 2021 as he dealt with injuries.

The Patriots opted to trade Gilmore to Carolina at the trade deadline, and it spurred something of a bounce-back year for him. He earned an 85.6 man coverage grade, albeit on the lowest season-long snap total of his career, allowing just five catches for 35 yards. Gilmore then signed with Indianapolis in 2022 and looked more like his old self. He finished the year ranked sixth in overall coverage grade (81.1) and seventh in combined first down and touchdown rate (26.8%). Gilmore also tied for third in forced incompletions (10) and picked off two passes. Overall, he allowed just a 66.6 passer rating when targeted (12th best).

Gilmore may no longer be in his prime, turning 33 in September, but he showed that he is still more than capable of limiting big plays.

Jacksonville Jaguars

EDGE Arden Key: 75.7 PFF grade, 541 defensive snaps

Key struggled to find his footing early in his career. During his time with the Raiders (2018-2020), he recorded the fourth-worst overall grade among edge defenders (54.7). He graded poorly as both a run defender (58.3) and a pass rusher (59.7). Key recorded just three sacks in three seasons (tied for fewest) and generated pressure at a 9.1% clip (79th). He also struggled to beat blockers, as he only posted a 12.7% win rate (56th).

Everything changed for Key once he joined the 49ers in 2021. There, he was used primarily as a situational pass rusher, playing 102 pass-rush snaps on third and fourth downs, and he thrived in that role. He earned an elite 90.6 pass-rush grade (third) on third and fourth downs, recording six sacks (tied ninth) and 24 total pressures (tied 17th). Whereas Key struggled to make an impact on “money” downs with the Raiders (13.7% win rate, 9.3% pressure rate), he became nearly unstoppable in San Francisco (24.5% win rate, 23.5% pressure rate).

Key subsequently earned a career-best 75.7 defensive grade in 2022. He remained in a situational role, and his production did take a slight dip. Key recorded fewer pressures (15 total, one sack) on nearly the same number of snaps (106). His win rate also dropped to 17.0% (22nd). Despite the dip, Key maintained a 74.5 pass-rush grade as a situational rusher (16th) and still seemed to be most effective in such a role.

Tennessee Titans

DI Teair Tart: 73.1 PFF grade, 520 defensive snaps

Tart, who has spent all three of his NFL seasons in Tennessee, was an exclusive rights free agent heading into the 2022 offseason. The Titans opted to extend an offer to him for the 2022 season, and the Florida International product took full advantage despite earning only $895,000 on the one-year deal. He played in 16 games this past season, earning a career-high overall grade while racking up 26 pressures and 23 stops. All three figures ranked behind only Jeffery Simmons among the team’s interior defenders — and Simmons earned three first-team All-Pro votes.

An undrafted free agent in 2020, Tart hadn’t made much of an impact in Tennessee prior to this past year. He combined for just 10 quarterback pressures in 2020 and 2021, earning sub-60.0 overall grades in each season. The Titans clearly still saw something in Tart to keep him around for 2022, and it paid clear dividends.

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