NFC South

Free-agent fun by the numbers
March 13, 2012 9:45:58 AM PDT
By Pat Yasinskas

As we get ready for the start of free agency, let’s have some fun with numbers. Let’s turn to ESPN Stats & Information for some interesting nuggets on players that could be joining or leaving the NFC South.

Houston defensive end Mario Williams is a player many are speculating could be a target of the Atlanta Falcons. Over the past five seasons, Williams has averaged 0.73 sacks per game. Only Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware (1.0) and Minnesota’s Jared Allen (0.99) have had better averages. Williams, who missed 11 games with an injury last season, has 13.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Ten of those have come when the Texans used four or fewer pass rushers.

Williams’ ability to make things happen when a defense isn’t blitzing could fill a big hole in Atlanta. The Falcons likely will let veteran defensive end John Abraham depart as a free agent. Abraham’s been Atlanta’s only consistent pass rusher in recent years. Over the last two seasons, all 22.5 of Abraham’s sacks have come when the Falcons have sent four or fewer pass rushers. Only Allen (26 sacks) and Jason Babin (23.5) are ahead of Abraham in that category.

New Orleans receiver Marques Colston can become a free agent. The Saints would like him back, but might not be able to afford him because they have limited salary-cap room. If Colston leaves, the Saints will be losing a lot. Last season, Colston came up with receptions on a league-high 76.9 percent of his targets. Since entering the NFL in 2006, Colston ranks ninth in receptions (449), eighth in receiving yards (6,240) and seventh in touchdowns (48). Colston has had five 1,000 yard seasons in his six years. Only Randy Moss has had 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons.

Tennessee cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who has been mentioned as a possible target for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, played all 1,142 defensive snaps the Titans had last year. Finnegan has started 42 consecutive games, the fourth-longest active streak by a cornerback. His 13 interceptions since 2008 tie him for No. 15 in the league.

Oakland running back Michael Bush, who also has brought speculation he could be pursued by the Buccaneers, had career highs in rushes (256) and rushing yards (977) last season. But Bush’s 3.82 yard-per-carry average was the lowest in the NFL among running backs with at least 200 carries. Bush, however, was effective in short-yardage situations. When needing three or fewer yards for a first down, Bush rushed for 34 first downs. Only LeSean McCoy (47) had more.

Tags: Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFC South, John Abraham, Randy Moss, Mario Williams, Marques Colston, ESPN Stats & Information, Jared Allen, Michael Bush, DeMarcus Ware, LeSean McCoy, Jason Babin, Cortland Finnegan, 2012 NFL Free Agency

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