The NFL Draft commences less than two weeks from today. The free agency period, while relatively dead at the moment, is still technically active. You know what that means? It’s time for reflection and conjecture (big words, indeed). This is the perfect time to review what teams did in free agency and what they might do in the upcoming draft. Ben Riley of the Football Outsiders (www.footballoutsiders.com) is going to help us do it. In an interview with NFLGridironGab, Riley coins a new nickname for Eric Mangini, tells us the first grocery he thinks Bill Parcels should buy and evaluates some of the biggest moves in free agency.
NFLGridironGab: Which non-playoff team from last season helped itself the most in free agency?
Ben Riley: I think the New York Jets have made some smart moves. Just about every team in the league made a run at Alan Faneca, but the Jets spent the money to get him, and he’ll be a great mentor for their young offensive linemen, including the underperforming “D-Brick.” Calvin Pace had a solid year last year and will give them the edge rusher they need for the Boy Wonder’s — I shun the Man Genius nickname — defensive scheme. By that same token, it’ll be interesting to see how DT Kris Jenkins adjusts to playing nose tackle in the 3-4. I think they overpaid a little for Jenkins, but by focusing on areas of immediate need in free agency, the Jets are now in a “best player available” situation with their first-round pick, and they are licking their chops at the possibility of landing Darren McFadden. Of course, none of this changes the fact that Kellen Clemens or Chad Pennington will be playing quarterback, but I think this team is moving in the right direction.
The Jaguars made the playoffs, but I think they did well to sign Jerry Porter. The entire fantasty nation will wondering if Porter’s numbers will rebound a la Randy Moss in New England — expect him to go anywhere between the second and seventh rounds of your mock drafts.
Gab: Which playoff team from last season was hurt the most in free agency?
Riley: Well, the New England Patriots have nowhere to go but down after an 18-1 season, and losing the best cornerback in the league not named Champ is going to hurt. And with the loss of Randall Gay to the Saints and Eugene Wilson to the Bucs, all of a sudden the secondary has all sorts of holes.
Obviously, the Oakland Raiders were nowhere near making the playoffs last year but given what’s happened this off-season, I think we can officially say that Al Davis has gone insane. What a fiasco.
Gab: Out of last year’s final four teams (Pats, Chargers, Packers, Giants), which is most reliant on using the upcoming draft as a means of maintaining its elite status?
Riley: Well, one thing I learned in my recent research on the NFL draft — plug: catch my article on the NFL draft-value chart in ESPN the Magazine on newstands now! — is that Packers GM Ted Thompson knows what he’s doing. For the past three years, he’s traded down nine times to stockpile draft picks, and he hits far more often than not. The Packers make a few moves in free agency but for the most part, it’s all about the draft. The draft and the cheese. (By the way, count me among the small minority who think Aaron Rodgers is the real deal — although I admit I may be irrationally exuberant due to my deeply ingrained loathing of Brett Favre. That’s right, you heard me.)
Gab: Which team that screwed up in free agency has to cover its errors the most with sound, sensible draft picks?
Riley: I think the Minnesota Vikings are perched on a precarious ledge. Adding Bernard Berrian was a smart move, but they still need at least two additional receivers who can play football on the roster. They have a glaring hole at defensive end with the uncertainty surrounding Udeze’s illness. Oh yeah, Tavaris Jackson still blows. Get ready for a season of eight in the box, Purple Jesus!
Gab: If you were Bill Parcells (and who wouldn’t want to be!?) and you just arrived at the grocery store, starving for a good player (or some good grub), which player (or grocery) would you first choose to stock the refrigerator?
Riley: Wait, wouldn’t the Me-Parcells get a fat tuna steak and then yell at the cashier for asking a stupid question? “Look, I want the tuna. They call me Big Tuna. I didn’t pick the nickname, and now you’re asking me why I’m getting the tuna? When you know you don’t know what you are getting for dinner, you know that you don’t know what you will be eating. It’s simple. You stink. This shopping trip is over.”
If your question is, who should the Dolphins draft, I think the answer is simple: Jake Long. People may continue to doubt it, but the left tackle is the premier position in the NFL. Joe Thomas made Derek Anderson look like the second coming of Bernie Kosar last year (Bernie was better than you remember, by the way) and Jake Long is a beast — granted, a beast who falls over a little too much when blocking, but still, you can build a franchise around this guy. Luckily the Dolphins seem to have realized this and they’re allegedly negotiating a deal as I type this.