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9 First-Round Picks in NFL's Top Free Agent LBs & DBs

The Vikings.com 2017 Free Agency Primer series uses *NFL.com's Top 101 Free Agents list to break down this year's class. We will count down the player position groups until March 9 when free agency is scheduled to open.*

Note: The rankings may end up changing prior to free agency opening as players re-sign or are released, but this breakdown is updated to the time of post.

Schedule:

LB, DB – Thursday, March 9

OL, DL –Click here

WR, TE –Click here

QB, RB –Click here

There were 13 linebackers and 21 defensive backs in NFL.com's list of 101 top free agents, including nine former first-round picks.

The group features household names like Julius Peppers, the NFL's active sacks leader, and DeMarcus Ware, who ranks second in the category. It also includes several players who are at the end of their rookie deals like Dont'a Hightower and Logan Ryan, who have helped the Patriots win two of the past three Super Bowls.

Stats are from regular-season games, unless noted, and pulled from pro-football-reference.com.

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Linebackers

ILB Dont'a Hightower, New England Patriots | No. 5

67 games/64 starts, 404 tackles (251 solo), 17 sacks, 13 passes defended, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, one defensive score

Hightower, the 25th pick in 2012, also has significant postseason experience with 12 games under his belt and two Super Bowl rings for his hand.

OLB Nick Perry, Green Bay Packers | No. 16

60 games/28 starts, 166 tackles (111 solo), 23.5 sacks, eight passes defended, one interception, five forced fumbles, one fumble recovery

The 28th pick of the 2012 NFL Draft recorded a career-best 11 sacks in 2016, starting 12 of the 14 games he played.

LB Zach Brown, Buffalo Bills | No. 21

65 games/49 starts, 409 tackles (292 solo), 14 sacks, 17 passes defended, seven interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries

With Tennessee (2012-15): 49 games/33 starts, 260 tackles (195 solo), 10 sacks, 13 passes defended, six interceptions (two scores), two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries

With Buffalo (2016): 16 games/16 starts, 149 tackles (97 solo), 4.0 sacks, four passes defended, one interception, two forced fumbles

A second-round pick in 2012, Brown made the most of his time with the Bills and his first appearance in the Pro Bowl. 

LB Kevin Minter, Arizona Cardinals | No. 39

61 games/37 starts, 224 tackles (175 solo), 5.0 sacks, six passes defended, one forced fumble

Minter has only missed three games and started all 16 in each of the past two seasons. He set a career-high with 3.5 sacks in 2016.

OLB/DE Julius Peppers, Green Bay Packers | No. 47

234 games/227 starts, 669 tackles (522 solo), 143.5 sacks, 78 passes defended, 11 interceptions, 50 forced fumbles, 18 fumble recoveries

With Carolina (2002-09): 122 games/120 starts, 381 tackles (309 solo), 81 sacks, 46 passes defended, six interceptions, 30 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries

With Chicago (2010-13): 64 games/64 starts, 175 tackles (139 solo), 18 passes defended, three interceptions, 10 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries

With Green Bay (2014-16): 48 games/43 starts, 113 tackles (74 solo), 14 passes defended, two interceptions, 10 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries

The second-overall pick of 2002 has missed just six games in 15 seasons and recently announced he plans to play a 16. Nine of his seasons so far have resulted in double-digit sack totals, and Peppers has been effective in 4-3 and 3-4 defensive fronts.

OLB/DE DeMarcus Ware, Denver Broncos | No. 49

178 games/173 starts, 659 tackles (505 solo), 138.5 sacks, 26 passes defended, three interceptions, 35 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries

With Dallas (2005-13): 141 games/140 starts, 574 tackles (442 solo), 117 sacks, 24 passes defended, two interceptions, 32 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries

With Denver (2014-16): 37 games/33 starts, 85 tackles (63 solo), 21.5 sacks, two passed defended, one interception, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery

Ware is another prolific player who transitioned from a 4-3 to a 3-4, but he has missed 11 games in the past two seasons. He is second among active players in career sacks, trailing Peppers by 5.0.

LB Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh Steelers | No. 51

158 games/126 starts, 988 tackles (680 solo), 35.5 sacks, 45 passes defended, 12 interceptions, 13 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries

Timmons, the 15th pick of the 2007 NFL Draft, has recorded 56 or more solo tackles in eight straight seasons and has gone seven straight seasons without missing a game.

LB John Simon, Houston Texans | No. 64

45 games/12 starts, 116 tackles (79 solo), 10 sacks, three passes defended, one forced fumble

After beginning his career with limited action (four tackles in seven games) in Baltimore as a fourth-round pick, Simon started 12 of the 27 games he's played in the past two seasons for Houston. Simon posted 5.0 sacks for the Texans in 2015 and followed with 3.5 in 2016.

OLB/DE Datone Jones, Green Bay Packers | No. 69

59 games/seven starts, 80 tackles (58 solo), 9.0 sacks, one interception, seven passes defended, two fumble recoveries

A first-round pick in 2013, Jones is at the end of his rookie deal. He started a career-high four games in 2016 and has only missed five games in four seasons. Teams must consider if Jones is best suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 or defensive end in a 4-3.

LB Lorenzo Alexander, Buffalo Bills | No. 71

143 games/32 starts, 249 tackles (176 solo), 21.5 sacks, 12 passes defended, six forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and an interception

With Washington (2007-12): 92 games/13 starts, 162 tackles (106 solo), 8.0 sacks, five passes defended, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries

With Arizona (2013-14): 19 games/three starts, 17 tackles (15 solo), 1.0 sack, one pass defended

With Oakland (2015): 16 games, six tackles (five solo)

With Buffalo (2016): 16 games/16 starts, 64 tackles (50 solo), 12.5 sacks, six passes defended, three forced fumbles

Alexander became the oldest player to record 10 or more sacks in a season when he posted 12.5 at age 33 in his first year in Buffalo, where he started all 16 games for the first time in 10 pro seasons. He recorded his lone interception and a career-best 64 tackles as a member of his fourth team in a five-season span (Washington, Arizona, Oakland, Buffalo).

LB Erik Walden, Indianapolis Colts | No. 84

129 games played/86 starts, 329 tackles (223 solo), 31 sacks, 13 passes defended, seven forced fumbles, one fumble recovery returned for a touchdown and two interceptions

Walden's 11 sacks in 2016 tied for eighth in the league.

LB Malcolm Smith, Oakland Raiders | No. 92

88 games/46 starts, 358 tackles (269 solo), 6.0 sacks, 18 passes defended, four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), nine forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries (one for a score)

With Seattle (2011-14): 57 games/16 starts, 132 tackles (83 solo), 2.0 sacks, nine passes defended, two interceptions (one score), four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries

With Oakland (2015-16): 31 games/30 starts, 226 tackles (186 solo), 4.0 sacks, nine passes defended, five forced fumbles, one fumble recovery

Smith surged from seventh-round pick to Super Bowl MVP, helping the Seahawks topple the Broncos with two picks and a score on the biggest stage.

OLB Jarvis Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers | No. 101

50 games/35 starts, 129 tackles (84 solo), 6.0 sacks, two interceptions, nine passes defended, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries

The 17th overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft has started 24 of the 29 games he's played in the past two seasons.

Defensive backs

CB A.J. Bouye, Houston Texans | No. 6

50 games/19 starts, 137 tackles (116 solo), 1.0 sack, 32 passes defended, six interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery

Bouye has made quite the climb since entering the league as an undrafted free agent out of Central Florida in 2013.

CB Stephon Gilmore, Buffalo Bills | No. 7

68 games/66 starts, 225 tackles (197 solo), 62 passes defended, 14 interceptions, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery

Gilmore, the 10th overall pick of 2012, has been effective after interceptions, returning his picks a total of 252 yards. He nabbed a career-high five interceptions in 2016 and made his first Pro Bowl.

S Tony Jefferson, Arizona Cardinals | No. 14

63 games/31 starts, 273 tackles (220 solo), 5.0 sacks, 11 passes defended, two interceptions, six forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries

Jefferson is another undrafted free agent (2013) who is highly regarded on this list after starting 14 of 15 games played in 2016.

*S T.J. McDonald, Los Angeles Rams | No. 19                  *

53 games/53 starts, 281 tackles (215 solo), 5.0 sacks, 18 passes defended, four interceptions, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries

A third-round pick in 2013, McDonald started all 16 games in 2014 and 2016.

CB Logan Ryan, New England Patriots | No. 24

64 games/40 starts, 259 tackles (202 solo), 2.5 sacks, 42 pass defended, 13 interceptions (one touchdown return), four forced fumbles

Ryan nabbed five picks out of the gate in 2013 after entering the league as a third-round pick. He had an impactful postseason, helping the Patriots win it all for the second time in three seasons.

DB Micah Hyde, Green Bay Packers | No. 26

63 games/33 starts, 234 tackles (189 solo), 4.0 sacks, 25 passes defended, eight interceptions, two forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries

In addition to versatility on defense and two straight seasons with three interceptions, Hyde also has returned 76 punts a total of 738 yards (9.7 per return) and scored three times.

S Barry Church, Dallas Cowboys | No. 29

90 games/63 starts, 458 tackles (359 solo), 16 passes defended, five interceptions, eight forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries

Undrafted in 2010, Church has had staying power. Since becoming a starter in 2013, Church has missed just four games.

CB Prince Amukamara, Jacksonville Jaguars | No. 40

69 games/57 starts, 309 tackles (271 solo), 51 passes defended, seven interceptions, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries

With New York Giants (five seasons): 55 games/45 starts, 260 tackles (223 solo), 45 passes defended, seven interceptions, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries

With Jacksonville (one season): 14 games/12 starts, 49 tackles (46 solo), six passes defended

Amukamara, the 19th overall pick in 2011, has played all 16 games one time in six seasons. 

CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Cincinnati Bengals | No. 43

66 games/34 starts, 177 tackles (148 solo), 1.0 sack, 41 passes defended, nine interceptions, one fumble recovery

Kirkpatrick was picked 17th overall in 2012. He started 29 of 31 games the past two seasons.

CB Morris Claiborne, Dallas Cowboys | No. 44

47 games/43 starts, 151 tackles (126 solo), 26 passes defended, four interceptions, one forced fumble, four fumble recoveries (one return touchdown)

The sixth overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft has only played in 22 games in the past three seasons.

S Johnathan Cyprien, Jacksonville Jaguars | No. 45

60 games/60 starts, 449 tackles (339 solo), 2.0 sacks, 15 passes defended, two interceptions, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries

Cyprien has posted 77 or more solo tackles in each of his four seasons. He cracked the starting lineup immediately after being selected with the 33rd pick of the 2013 NFL Draft.

CB Brandon Carr, Dallas Cowboys | No. 54

144 games/144 starts, 561 tackles (486 solo), 111 passes defended, 15 interceptions, one forced fumble, nine fumble recoveries

With Kansas City (2008-11): 64 games/64 starts, 237 tackles (211 solo), 63 passes defended, eight interceptions, one forced fumble, six fumble recoveries

With Philadelphia (2012-16): 80 games, 80 starts, 324 tackles (275 solo), 48 passes defended, seven interceptions, three fumble recoveries

The fifth-round pick has never missed a regular season game.

S Bradley McDougald, Tampa Bay | No. 63

51 games/36 starts, 228 tackles (42 solo), 21 passes defended, five interceptions, one fumble recovery

McDougald cracked the league as an undrafted free agent in Kansas City. He played one game with the Chiefs before finding a home with the Buccaneers.

S D.J. Swearinger, Arizona Cardinals | No. 80

59 games/35 starts, 226 tackles (177 solo), 3.0 sacks, 19 passes defensed, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and six interceptions

With Houston (2013-14): 32 games/22 starts, 144 tackles (106 solo), 1.0 sack, 10 passes defended, three interceptions, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery

With Tampa Bay (2015): seven games, 11 tackles (eight solo), one fumble recovery

With Arizona (2015-16): 20 games/13 starts, 71 tackles (63 solo), 2.0 sacks, nine passes defended, three interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery

Swearinger had career highs of three interceptions, eight passes defended and 2.0 sacks in 2016 when he started 12 of the 16 games he played.

S Jahleel Addae, Los Angeles Chargers | No. 83

48 games/27 starts, 211 tackles (173 solo), 3.0 sacks, 11 passes defensed, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and one interception returned for a touchdown

NOTE: Addae joined the Chargers in 2013 as an undrafted free agent and was re-signed before hitting free agency.

CB Nolan Carroll, Philadelphia Eagles | No. 84

101 games/54 games started over seven seasons; 265 tackles (221 solo), 3.0 sacks, 47 passes defended, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and eight interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown

With Miami (2010-13): 58 games/26 starts, 123 tackles (109 solo), 3.0 sacks, 23 passes defended, five interceptions, one forced fumble

With Philadelphia (2014-16): 43 games/28 starts, 142 tackles (112 solo), 24 passes defended, three interceptions (one return touchdown), one forced fumble

A fifth-round pick in 2010, Carroll has missed just eight games in seven seasons.

CB Captain Munnerlyn, Minnesota Vikings | No. 85

124 games/80 starts, 446 tackles (353 solo), 6.0 sacks, 50 passes defended, 11 interceptions (five returned for touchdowns), six forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries (one returned for a score)

With Carolina (2009-13): 77 games/50 starts, 275 tackles (213 solo), 5.0 sacks, 39 passes defended, seven interceptions (five scores), four forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries

With Minnesota (2014-16): 47 games/30 starts, 171 tackles (140 solo), 1.0 sack, 11 passes defended, four interceptions, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries (one score)

Munnerlyn joined the Vikings in free agency in Head Coach Mike Zimmer's first offseason with the club. He's played on the outside but focused primarily on covering the slot as a nickel back in 2016.

CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, Buffalo Bills | No. 94

64 games/15 starts, 160 tackles (133 solo), 5.0 sacks, 29 passes defended, three interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), two forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries (one returned for a touchdown)

Undrafted in 2013, the Southern Cal product has contributed in multiple ways despite primarily being a backup.

S Jairus Byrd, New Orleans Saints | No. 98

106 games/98 starts, 509 tackles (366 solo), 4.0 sacks, 41 passes defended, 25 interceptions (two returned for scores), 13 forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries

With Buffalo (2009-13): 73 games/66 starts, 352 tackles (256 solo), 3.0 sacks, 33 passes defended, 22 interceptions (two scores), 11 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries

With New Orleans (2014-16): 33 games/32 starts, 157 tackles (147 solo), 1.0 sack, eight passes defended, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery

Byrd took the league by storm with an NFL-best nine interceptions as a rookie in 2009 and made three Pro Bowls during his time with the Bills.

S Antoine Bethea, San Francisco 49ers | No. 99

162 games/162 starts, 1,045 tackles (767 solo), 5.5 sacks, 64 passes defended, 19 interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), seven forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries

With Indianapolis (2006-13): 123 games/123 starts, 796 tackles (569 solo), 3.5 sacks, 49 passes defended, 14 interceptions, five forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries

With San Francisco (2104-16): 39 games/39 starts, 239 tackles (198 solo), 2.0 sacks, 15 passes defended, five interceptions (one score), two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery

Released early by the 49ers, the former sixth-round pick is able to survey the landscape.

DB Darius Butler, Indianapolis Colts | No. 100

109 games/38 starts, 305 tackles (260 solo), 67 passes defended, 15 interceptions (four returned for touchdowns), seven forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries

With New England (2009-10): 29 games/eight starts, 58 tackles (54 solo), 14 passes defended, three interceptions (one score), one fumble recovery

With Carolina (2011): 13 games/6 starts, 32 tackles (27 solo), seven passes defended

With Indianapolis (2012-16): 67 games/24 starts, 225 tackles (179 solo), 46 passes defended, 12 interceptions (three scores), seven forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries

A second-round pick in 2009, Butler found a home — and frequently the football — in Indianapolis.  

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