New York Jets: The true culprit of the Sam Darnold era was…

New York Jets, Sam Darnold

Adam Gase is far from innocent, but he’s not the primary reason why the New York Jets’ Sam Darnold era didn’t work out.

There’s no use in crying about the past, especially when the prior affairs are only three weeks old. But social media’s stranglehold on society and the NFL stretching its news cycle from eight hours on Sunday to 365 days a year have seemingly done away with rationality.

If invitations to Canton were granted through 280 characters or less, for example, the construction of Sam Darnold’s bust would not only be underway but his 2021 season might have its own wing. It’s easy to see why Darnold’s modern endeavors have earned their share of headlines: he’s the quarterback of one of five undefeated NFL teams and his redemption story is compounded by the fact his former employers, the New York Jets, serve as a running gag amongst professional and amateur football comedians alike.

The Jets’ reunion with Darnold was crossed off of their bucket list on kickoff weekend. It’s way too early to fully grade the trade that sent Darnold to Charlotte, especially considering two of the metropolitan spoils garnered (second and fifth-round picks next spring) don’t even have names yet. Realistically, the Jets shouldn’t worry about Darnold again until 2025, the next scheduled meeting between Gang Green and Carolina.

Yet, the omnipotent nature of modern NFL football doesn’t allow the Jets a moment’s peace (Carolina’s nationally televised win over Houston on Thursday hasn’t helped stop the spread). The fact that Darnold is playing an active role in the Panthers’ success…he’s responsible for six of Carolina’s eight touchdowns while the Jets have scored two over their first three games under Zach Wilson’s offensive watch…is placing only a bigger spotlight on both Gang Green’s past, present, and future blueprints.

As their team continues to sputter sans Sam, Jets fans have sought a main villain, a living, breathing entity whom they can blame for their predicaments. Former head coach Adam Gase has been the primary target as Darnold joins a list of breakthrough stars that have flourished upon his departure (joining names like Ryan Tannehill, Jarvis Landry, and Laremy Tunsil).

Such fingering is misdirected.

The Jets’ modern struggles obviously do not fully exonerate Gase. Surely the post-Gase success list (which has also welcomed the fortunes of Gase’s collegiate and professional teams) isn’t a matter of coincidence and, traumatizing as this season has been so far, his weekly denials that he was fighting with the faces of the franchise haven’t been missed. Besides, the obvious suspect, as so many other murder mysteries have proven before, is more often than not the one who did the deed.

Gase will require some extra supervision when he inevitably gets yet another NFL job (because the modern NFL loves, if anything, coaching retreads), but he’s shielding the real culprit: it was ex-general manager Mike Maccagnan, in the front office, with a misguided sense of roster management.

 Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The jury is still out on Maccagnan’s successor Joe Douglas, especially with the poor early returns of the Wilson/Robert Saleh era. But one thing Saleh knew what Maccagnan was doing wasn’t working: as of Sunday’s Week 3 contest (a garish 26-0 loss in Denver), only three players from Maccagnan’s last contest as the metropolitan decision-maker (Foley Fatukasi, Marcus Maye, Nathan Shepherd) remain on the modern roster. Half of Maccagnan’s ill-fated final class (in the ensuing 2019 draft) is already gone.

Douglas’ pruge of the Maccagnan is a microcosm of what Darnold had to deal with. The Maccagnan era was one of negligence and ill-advised splashes, one that tried to cover inefficiencies at the supposedly “boring” positions with high-profile signings.

From the get-go, Darold was mostly left to fend for himself. Maccagnan’s strategy seemed to be an incomplete cause-and-effect chart whose profits and yields relied on Darnold becoming an MVP candidate. The offensive cabinets assembled by Maccagnan consisted of the aforementioned big-ticket free agents equally saddled with big baggage (Le’Veon Bell) and that was just the beginning of the team’s issues.

In his all-too-brief time as the Jets’ thrower, Darnold was also stuck with first-round washouts (Breshad Perriman), former stars past their prime (Demaryius Thomas, Frank Gore), flash-in-the-pan breakthrough candidates that wilted under a brighter spotlight (Chris Herndon, Quincy Enunwa), and undeveloped projects that either didn’t work out (Terrelle Pryor, Jermaine Kearse) or remain a work in progress (Braxton Berrios, Denzel Mims).

All the while, Maccagnan almost completely ignored construction of the wall in front of Darnold. Save for some desperate moves late in his tenure…the ill-fated trade for Kelechi Osemele and drafting Chuma Edoga in the third round of his final draft…Maccagnan opted to go with blockers made of inconsistent one-year failed fixes. Darnold, for example, worked with three different primary centers (Spencer Long, Jonotthan Harrison, and Connor McGovern), an inconsistency set forth by Maccagnan’s failure to find a long-term solution.

It was a stark departure from predecessor Mike Tannenbaum’s finest hours: during his first draft in 2006, Tannenbaum chose Virginia tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, passing (pun intended) on touted quarterback prospects like Vince Young and Jay Cutler. When they had a chance to take touted collegiate, skill player heroes like Joseph Addai, Sinorice Moss, and LenDale White, they instead opted to bring in Nick Mangold. Not only did those two blockers headline the closest things the Jets have had to recent glory days, but they also became two of the most beloved figures in franchise history. Tannenbaum surrounded his homegrown talents with accomplished veteran strengths like Alan Faneca and Damien Woody. Carolina had already restocked its blocking cupboard with Taylor Moton and Matt Paradis.

Compare that to what Darnold has to work with in Carolina: the Panthers found a way to unite him with Robby Anderson, one of the few things that were working with him in New York. Anderson was one of two four-digit yardage receivers Darnold now has to throw to, the other being DJ Moore. Of course, no one in Jets circles needs to be reminded about the impact Christian McCaffrey can have, as the returning running back served as the 187-yard difference in Carolina’s 19-14 triumph on opening weekend. Carolina’s defense has also come up huge; through a majority of Week 3 action, the Panthers are the only team in the league that has let up less than 200 yards a game (191).

Rather than the hapless Gase, Darnold is also working with accomplished offensive minds Matt Rhule and Joe Brady. The former is all too familiar with raising lost causes from the football abyss, taking downtrodden college programs at Temple and Baylor to unprecedented new heights.

Carolina is in the midst of working with a new general manager, having brought in former Seattle scouting expert Scott Fitterer last winter. Adding Darnold is by far his most impactful move to date, a trade that open a new chapter in the book of the Panthers, one that officially allowed them to move on from the Cam Newton/Ron Rivera glory days.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Just a few months into the job, Fitterer has done more Darnold than Maccagnan ever did.

Darnold is no longer being relied upon to be the sole source of offensive sparks. Many of those pieces arrived before Fitterer, but also spent valuable offseason funds on the aforementioned defense: former Temple linebacker was reunited with Rhule and now leads the team in sacks (4.5). They used their first pick on South Carolina shutdown corner Jaycee Horn (though he’s set to miss some time due to a non-contact foot injury). The Panthers are only poised to upgrade further after Week 3’s events: according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, they’re close to picking up former Jacksonville cornerback C.J. Henderson for tight end Dan Arnold and a third-round choice…a move the Jets, frankly, should’ve investigated further into.

Simply put, Fitterer appears to know the impact of surrounding a franchise quarterback with reliable help on all sides of the ball…a lesson the Jets are learning the hard way. Douglas at least appears to understand that on paper, having added accomplished veterans and using expanded draft capital on assistance in protection. There’s plenty of time to develop past the Darnold era and get things back on track. It doesn’t diminish, however, the progress Carolina has made with the former green thrower.

There’s no use in looking back on the Darnold era, at least not at this point on the NFL timeline, but that’s not the nature of modern football. If a (premature) culprit must be found, the Jets must start at the top. Blaming Gase is popular…but putting on Maccagnan is may be right for now.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

It’s time for Robert Saleh to prove why he got the New York Jets job

new york jets, robert saleh

Ending the New York Jets lengthy postseason drought is still a tall task, but early injuries have raised the pressure on the new boss.

For New York Jets fans, hiring Robert Saleh was like getting that one Christmas gift your parents insist they’re not getting you.

Saleh was one of the most sought-after coordinators during the NFL’s search for head coaches in 2021. He was an anomaly in the lens of modern American football in that his prior duties have centered around defense, a new arrival in the brotherhood of NFL head coaches at a time when stats like 30 points or 400 yards appear on more losing box scores than ever. Of the seven new hires, Saleh was the only one with a background primarily in defense.

He nonetheless earned interviews with all but two of the teams looking to fill headset vacancies. His eventual hire by the Jets earned positive reviews both domestically and abroad. A football fan landscape that uses any simple Jets mistake as a guaranteed punchline almost didn’t know what to do with itself.

Jets supporters would’ve taken any average football mind after the harrowing two years under Adam Gase’s watch…something along the lines of the mediocrity on display with say, Eric Magini would’ve been downright euphoric. Getting Saleh, the coveted coordinator from San Francisco, could’ve been classified as the closest feeling the Jets have had to a postseason triumph since their visit to the AFC title game at the start of the prior decade. Saleh’s mantra of “All Gas, No Brake” has been more quoted than lines from the scripts of The Sopranos…no easy tasks in Northern New Jersey.

Despite the praises hoisted upon Saleh (and a strong refurbishing of the team’s depth chart), the Jets’ issues didn’t instantly vanish. No one was booking trips to Inglewood for Super Bowl LVI. MetLife Stadium probably won’t have to reschedule any events in January. The feeling of being a savior, a prophet amongst metropolitan football fans, has to feel good. But it’s going to take a lot of work to keep that trust.

Jets fans were understandably patient: Gase’s antics over the last two seasons left the franchise in shambles. “Trusting the process” has become a parody of itself…especially since such a strategy has produced nothing greater than heartbreak in the conference semifinals for the concept’s originators in Philadelphia…but Gang Green’s worshippers had no choice. Merely improving from last year’s disaster would be viewed as a genuine step in the right direction. The veteran additions they made this offseason were strong markers in that path back to respectability.

The trigger fingers of NFL decision-makers are quicker than ever: Gase’s two-year tenure was the shortest in Jets history to end via firing since Rich Kotite’s cursed 32 games in 1995-96 (Al Groh resigned after a single season in 2000). But, perhaps a completely winless campaign notwithstanding, Saleh isn’t getting fired if/when the Jets miss the playoffs this year.

 Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

But Saleh probably thought he’d at least get to enjoy the spectacle of opening kickoff before dealing with his first true test.

Saleh’s first games as an NFL head coach are going to held without the services of two of his top defenders after a costly business trip to Green Bay. Carl Lawson is done for the year after rupturing his Achilles while linebacker Jarrad Davis (ankle) is out for at least the first five games after leaving the exhibition showcase that concluded the trip. The football gods continued to show no mercy as the Jets prepare for their final preseason contest on Friday against Philadelphia (7:30 p.m. ET, WCBS); former Eagles Vinny Curry will miss the reunion with his former team and all 17 regular season games after that after he was diagnosed with blood clots.

Saleh has also been left to finish cleaning up the mess the prior regime left behind. The incompetence of the last two seasons created so many holes that it was a near guarantee that some area on the roster was going to be neglected. New York’s secondary appears to be the odd group out: inexperienced raw talent reigns at the top of the cornerback depth chart (Bless Austin and Bryce Hall). The new, experienced arrivals upfront could’ve helped the Jets get by, especially in the early going. Now, Saleh is dealt his first major crisis before the calendar flips to September, to the point where the team is planning to seek out more help in the pass rush before the season starts…an endeavor that would ignore holes like backup quarterback and the aforementioned secondary. He’ll have to work through his first games with a relatively thin group on the defensive front.

In other words…the showcase that got Saleh hired continues.

If one’s criteria for hiring a new head coach stopped at a quick glance at the standings, Saleh’s status as a former 49ers assistant likely would’ve eliminated him. San Francisco followed up an NFC title with a 6-10 showing that sank them to the bottom of the NFC West. But the standings often rarely tell a team’s full story.

Since Gase, among others, was doing a fine job of upending the Jets’ fortunes on his own, the football gods might’ve left the Jets alone during the 2020 season. They instead turned their focus to the Bay Area, where several key ingredients were forcibly removed from the 49ers’ Super Bowl recipe. Saleh’s unit was no exception: the defensive injury list resembled a Pro Bowl ballot. Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Dee Ford, and Richard Sherman missed significant time, while Emmanuel Moseley, Jimmie Ward, and K’Waun Williams were also medical departures. San Francisco was extensively also affected by the COVID-19 issues that invaded the NFL last season; local restrictions forced them to relocate to Arizona for the last portions of their season.

Saleh responded to the challenges head-on. Whereas some new hires (i.e. Arthur Smith, Tennessee offensive coordinator-turned-Atlanta head coach) earned their promotions through on-field results, Saleh earned his job through adaptation.

Despite the front seven losing a good part of its bite, San Francisco’s defense managed to keep its pressure at a consistent rate, forcing hurries on 11.2 percent of opposing quarterback dropouts (fifth-best in the league). In more conventional stats, Saleh’s ragtag group of defenders allowed 350 yards or less in six of their final games. One such effort allowed the Washington Football Team’s offense to put up 193 yards…in a game the 49ers lost 23-15. Washington’s points were primarily earned through a Chase Young fumble return touchdown and Kamren Curl pick-six and two other drives totaling 42 yards that led to Dustin Hopkins field goals. Their longest drive of the day, a 72-yard trek to open the second half, also produced a Hopkins triple.

Under Saleh’s watch, depth man Kerry Hyder got back to numbers (49 tackles, 18 quarterback knockdowns, 8.5 sacks) not reached since his sophomore season in Detroit, which was followed by a torn Achilles that cost him his whole 2017 campaign. He was rewarded with a three-year deal from Seattle.

Linebacker Dre Greenlaw said that Saleh’s composure helped the 49ers keep their composure in a time of distress.

“(He made) sure that every guy is doing their job 100 percent of the time, as good as they can, hard as they can,” Greenlaw said per Shayna Rubin of The Mercury News. “Saleh said if we bring that every week to the game, we’re going to be one of the most dominant teams. Having the mentality he has, the mindset he has, it carries to us on defense. I don’t know where he’s going to go from here, but I know that mentality will stick with us.”

Now, Saleh has to deal with that adversity right from the get-go. He’s not looking for sympathy…he’s looking for players to step up.

“The NFL train stops for nobody,” Saleh said after last weekend’s 23-14 preseason win over Green Bay per Randy Lange of the team website. It was Saleh’s first public comments after the dire Lawson diagnosis. “When someone falls off the train…it’s another opportunity for someone to jump on the train. A lot of men at that defensive end spot are chomping at the bit for the opportunity, and they got it. We’ll work our tails off to get them ready, and I know they’ll work their tails off to reciprocate.”

The New York Jets have been a franchise that has had to deal with adversity, a team that has been forced to adapt to landscapes changed through both self-inflicted calamities and issues bestowed from parties from abroad. Fortunately, they’ve found a head coach that earned his biggest opportunity to date through overcoming such issues.

This time, however, it’s time to do it in green gear.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Yankees: Three reasons to look forward to the 2020 season

New York Yankees, Gerrit Cole

COVID-19 has rocked the entire world, not just sports. Shortened seasons, guidelines in place to ensure player and personnel safety and venues are all decisions that have the sports community scrambling for answers. Despite all of these challenges, Major League Baseball is going to happen in 2020. With a disappointing decade from 2010-2019, the first in franchise history with no World Series appearances, the New York Yankees look to rebound in the 2020s. Even with a shortened, 60 game season, there is so much to look forward to if you are a Yankees fan.

1. Gerrit Cole.

General Manager Brian Cashman landed his “white whale” back in December with a nine-year $324 million deal, the richest deal ever for a pitcher.  Bringing Cole to New York was the top priority heading into free agency after the Bombers lost in the ALCS to the Astro’s. Even with winning over 100 games in each of the last three seasons, the New York Yankees just couldn’t get over the hump and make it to the World Series. With injuries constantly keeping the starters off the field and forcing the Yankees to use 155 different starting lineups in 2019, the team needed a major shot of adrenaline. Adding Cole does exactly that. His 2019 season was one of the most impressive in recent years, posting a 24-6 record with a 2.39 ERA and 373 strikeouts. The acquisition of Cole instantly gives the New York Yankees one of the top rotations at least in the American League. When Luis Severino returns from recovering from Tommy John surgery, you would be hard-pressed to find a better rotation. The Yankees should certainly do major damage with a healthy Cole as their ace for the future.

2. Players coming back healthy.

The team was plagued by injuries all throughout 2019. With a Major League record of 30 players designated to the IL, the phrase “next man up” became the team’s rallying cry. With unlikely players stepping up and filling major holes such as Mike Tauchman, Mike Ford, and Chad Green the team still pulled together and won the division and won 103 games en route to another ALCS appearance. On paper, the Yankees have one of the most dominant tops to bottom rosters in baseball when healthy. Key players like Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez getting constantly caught with the injury bug especially last year are obvious roadblocks to success, but 2020 should see all of the squad returning healthy. Aaron Hicks and Judge both are scheduled to be ready for opening day, as well as prime starter James Paxton who recovered from back surgery late last year. With at least most of their players primed to come back healthy, 2020 should be an exciting year for the Bombers.

3. More motivated and hungry than ever.

Every team in a competitive sports league goes into their season with one goal in mind: Bring a championship home to their city. Looking back at the past decade without reaching a World Series, watching their storied rival Boston Red Sox bring home two World Series championships in 2013 and 2018, and watching the Houston Astros cheat their way through the league the last couple of years, the Yankees are coming back more motivated and hungry than ever to bring a championship home to the Bronx. And they have all the tools to do it. With a young, exciting core of Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar and Aaron Judge among many others to put runs on the board, Cole, Tanaka, Paxton, and Severino on the mound, and the best bullpen in the sport with Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino, Zach Britton and Aroldis Chapman, the potential for this squad is through the roof.

The most die-hard Yankee fan could have a conversation with the most anti-Yankee baseball observer and would come to a mutual conclusion: The Yankees are going to be a threat in 2020. No matter the number of games, with a healthy roster the Yankees are going to be the team to beat.

 

New York Yankees: Gio Urshela 2020 season projection

New York Yankees, Giovanny Urshela

Gio Urshela stepped up big time last year for the New York Yankees and proved to be a big part of the team’s success. Considering that he was traded away from two teams due to a lack of offensive production, Urshela shocked Yankee fans and the rest of Major League Baseball.

Even though it looks shaky on if a season is going to happen this summer, it doesn’t hurt to predict. According to Baseball-Reference, Gio Urshela’s simulated stats through June 9 are as follows:

.238/.280/.445 with nine home runs and 23 runs batted in. Through 50 games and 175 plate appearances, Urshela has 39 hits with seven being doubles.

Quite frankly, I think these simulated stats are insultingly low for Urshela. Of course, these stats are based on career numbers, including the bad years with the Cleveland Indians and the Toronto Blue Jays. There’s an argument that Urshela’s first year with the Yankees was just a fluke and he just had a great year, but I believe that the Yankees training staff turned his game around.

As soon his Urshela puts on pinstripes and takes the field for the New York Yankees, he finishes the year batting .314 with 21 home runs and 74 runs batted in. For a guy that was supposed to be in triple-A for the majority of the year, that ain’t too shabby. It’s ironic that the year after he’s traded away for weak offensive production, he finishes the season as a leader in batting average

I predict that Urshela will bat .280+ with 25 home runs. He should fall in the .450 area for on-base percentage and .515 for slugging. His defense isn’t a concern of mine, as he displayed a showcase of talent at the hot corner last season.

New York Yankees: What can we expect from Gio Urshela this year?

New York Yankees, Gio Urshela

The New York Yankees had an interesting season last year. With all the injuries they had to deal with, they were set up to have a bad season. But as we know, that wasn’t the case. Every player that was brought up and given a role paid off and contributed to the team’s success. One of those players is Gio Urshela, who was a big part of the Yankees’ lineup and dazzled over at third base.

Tremendous Defense

It’s no question that Urshela is one of the best defensive third basemen in the Major Leagues. It’s ironic that the offseason before last season, the New York Yankees were looking to possibly sign Manny Machado for a huge price. Instead, Gio Urshela held it down for the Yankees and at the end of the season, Urshela only finished three spots behind Machado in fielding percentage.

Strong Bat in 2019

Despite being traded away from two teams due to the lack of offensive production, Gio Urshela was one of the most productive hitters in the Yankees’ lineup last season. He finished second in the team’s top 10 hitters, behind DJ LeMahieu.

It’s possible that Urshela was locked in all year and just had a good year, but I think the Yankee coaching turned his game around. In two seasons with the Cleveland Indians, Urshela batted .225 and .224. He was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays and played 19 games, batting .233. As soon as he puts on pinstripes and steps into Yankee Stadium, he’s batting .314 with 21 home runs and in the mix for league batting leaders.

Simulated Stats (through May 26)

Baseball-Reference has simulated stats for Urshela at .250 batting average with nine home runs through 40 games. Of course, this is based on all his seasons including his struggling years with the other clubs, but I still believe this is insultingly low.

It’s hard to repeat a .300BA year after doing it for the first time, but I think Urshela can stay in the .290 range with 20-25 home runs. There shouldn’t be any concerns about third base, but it’ll be interesting how he hits this season after last year’s huge success.

NFL: Winners and Losers of the 2020 NFL Draft

The 2020 virtual NFL Draft is officially in the rearview mirror. With that, let’s take a look at three teams who helped themselves the most and three teams who helped themselves the least on draft night.

Winner: Baltimore Ravens

It seems as though the Ravens are just operating on a totally different level than the rest of the NFL. They have a stacked roster as is, and they still managed to fill their few remaining holes with great value picks. They didn’t make any head-scratching reaches or risky trades, they just let the draft come to them and took advantage of other teams mistakes.

With the selection of linebacker Patrick Queen in the first round, Baltimore got a steal and took care of a huge need. Queen was an instrumental part of LSU’s National Championship run and helps fill the void that was created once CJ Mosley left the last offseason. JK Dobbins in the second round was more of a luxury pick, but he provides them with an elite 1-2 duo who can take over for Mark Ingram in a couple of years as well.

Middle and late-round selections such as defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, receivers Devin Duvernay and James Proche, linebacker Malik Harrison and guard Ben Bredeson all provided great value and help the Ravens strengthen some of the weaker areas on their roster.

The Ravens were an elite team last year and have only gotten substantially better this offseason. That means the rest of the NFL should be very worried.

Loser: Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers are coming off of a great year where they won 13 games and fell one game short of the Super Bowl. This offseason was supposed to be the perfect opportunity to tighten the loose ends on this roster and be in prime position to help get Aaron Rodgers his second Lombardi Trophy. Right? Well, apparently not.

In what was being widely considered as one of the richest and deepest wide receiver classes ever, it was thought to be a sure thing that the Packers would draft a wideout at some point to give Rodgers another viable option in the passing game next to Davante Adams. In the first round, rather than give Rodgers another weapon, they decide to trade up for his eventual replacement in Jordan Love. Now, Love is a fine prospect with some intriguing tools, but this was definitely a questionable move for Green Bay that sends a dangerous message. They basically told their franchise quarterback that he has at most 2 years left with the team, and they wasted a prime opportunity to enhance their championship window with him by adding an immediate impact player at a much-needed position.

Then, with a bunch of great receiving options still on the board in the second round, they decided to draft a running back in AJ Dillon. Dillon is solid, but he’s more of an old-school back who is entering an already strong running back room with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. Another missed opportunity. Throughout the rest of the draft, the Packers failed to add a single wide receiver. That is mind-boggling considering it was such a glaring need, and it will surely come back to bite them. Green Bay had multiple chances to greatly improve their squad here and they just didn’t take advantage of them.

Winner: Dallas Cowboys

As a Giants fan, this really hurts to say, but the Cowboys had an outstanding draft. From top to bottom, Dallas filled needs left and right and stole prospects who had no business falling as far as they did. More times than I care to admit I kept finding myself uttering the words “how was he still available” to my phone or TV. They really knocked this draft out of the park.

Snagging CeeDee Lamb at pick number 17 was a huge steal, as the Cowboys added arguably the draft’s top receiver to an already elite stable of offensive weapons. Lamb, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield are going to make Dak Prescott the happiest man alive and give defensive coordinators nightmares.

Defensive back Trevon Diggs in the second round replaces Byron Jones and defensive tackle Neville Gallimore in the third was a tremendous value. Combine those with potential late-round gems in center Tyler Biadasz, who replaces recently-retired Travis Frederick, and EDGE Bradlee Anae, and this draft makes the Cowboys substantially better. I rarely ever take my hat off to Jerry Jones, but he did a very nice job here and the Cowboys are now legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

Loser: New England Patriots

It feels weird to put the Patriots in the loser category. Very weird. But, there’s a first for everything I guess.

The Patriots actually didn’t have that bad if a draft. They took some intriguing guys, like safety Kyle Dugger and outside linebacker Joshua Uche, who is a bit raw but can develop into impact players. That’s not why I’m calling them a loser. The reason is that they lost a pretty good quarterback by the name of Tom Brady, and they didn’t draft a single one in return. They had chances to snag developmental projects like Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, Washington’s Jacob Eason, or Georgia’s Jake Fromm, but they didn’t pull the trigger.

It’s certainly possible the Patriots might not have been sold on any of those guys, which is fine. They seem to be confident in 2019 4th-round pick Jarrett Stidham, and they can still add a veteran like Cam Newton or the recently released Andy Dalton. However, it seems odd that the Patriots didn’t at least bring in a late-round pick to add some competition for Stidham. Either way, the Patriots will look very different this season.

Winner: Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns are coming off a very disappointing year. With sky-high expectations and a boatload of talent heading into the season, the 6-10 record they finished with did not match. However, new general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski have hit the ground running this offseason and had themselves a very nice draft.

They got arguably the best offensive tackle in a deep class in Jedrick Wills. There are questions as to whether or not he can play on the left side after only playing on the right in college, but with the amount of talent and pro-ready tools, he possesses he should be able to adjust rather quickly. He and free-agent signee Jack Conklin should form a dynamic pair at left and right tackle, which was far and away Cleveland’s biggest problem last season. Baker Mayfield’s life should be a bit easier now.

Having safety Grant Delpit fall to them in the second round was a stroke of luck, as he’s a top 20 talent who just needs to clean up some tackling issues. Defensive tackle Jordan Elliott and linebacker Jacob Phillips in the third, tight end Harrison Bryant in the fourth, and center Nick Harris in the fifth were all big value pick-ups who have tons of upside as well. This was an overall quality draft class for Cleveland, and now there’s really no excuse for them not to be much better this season and start living up to those big expectations.

Loser: Las Vegas Raiders

Ever since head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock took over the Raiders, they have certainly not been afraid to make bold moves with their draft picks. This draft was no different, as it was solid overall for the Raiders, but early on they had a few head-scratchers that definitely can be classified as reaches.

They made Henry Ruggs III the first receiver off the board when they took him 12th overall. That wasn’t so bad, as Ruggs is super talented with top-level speed and that big-play ability the Raiders desperately lacked. However, taking cornerback Damon Arnette at number 19 overall was confusing, especially with better options like Jeff Gladney and Jaylon Johnson still on the board. If they really wanted Arnette, they could’ve probably traded down and still gotten him as he had a second to third-round grade from most analysts.

Selecting versatile offensive weapon Lynn Bowden Jr. and receiver Brian Edwards back-to-back in the third round was also questionable. They reached for Bowden, who is most likely going to play receiver in the NFL, and I like Edwards but it seemed excessive to essentially make three of your first four picks wide receivers, especially since they had other needs. They had some good picks such as safety Tanner Muse, guard John Simpson, and cornerback Amik Robertson, but their picks on Days 1 and 2 drag their overall class down a peg.

New York Giants: What to expect from Patrick Graham based on his time in Miami

New York Giants, Patrick Graham

The New York Giants‘ defense in 2019 ranked among some of the worsts teams in the league (25th). The Giants’ defense in 2019 was coached by James Bettcher. James was the defensive coordinator for the 2018 and 2019 season.  In 2019, the Giants’ defense ranked 28th in takeaways and in point differential they were ranked 28th, among the lowest in the league. The Giants fired Bettcher this offseason along with Pat Shurmur after a brutal year for the Big Blue defense. Patrick Graham was hired to the Joe Judge staff this offseason. Graham is coming off his first defensive coordinator job which was with the Miami Dolphins in 2019.

Miami’s Defense

After starting off the season 0-7, the Dolphins were able to cover some ground and finish off the season 5-11. Miami’s defense was ranked among some of the worst defensives in the league. This was not because of the defensive coordinator, however, it was because of the way the Dolphins’ roster was constructed. Many of the players on the Dolphins’ roster were inexperienced and undrafted free agents, not a team fit for a well ran defense by coach Graham.

Patrick Graham’s defense with the Miami Dolphins

Graham had a great defensive scheme in place. The two major play calls of the Miami defense were blitzing and man to man coverage. Graham was very clever with his blitzing packages, using a variety of linebacker and defensive back blitzes. In Miami, Graham would also send in delayed blitzes to really disturb an offense. This was not just done in between the gaps; the blitzes came from different spots on the field. The Dolphins Blitzed on 35% of their snaps, 41% on third down (which was the third-most in the league). The Dolphins ran man to man coverage 50% of the time in the 2019 season and would often show blitz and drop back into coverage. This was a great strategy in the Graham defense, keeping opposing offenses on their toes because of the constant blitzing formations.

What Graham’s defense will do for the Giants

What Graham did with Miami’s lower end defense shows a lot of upside for the Giants in 2020. The new Giants defensive coordinator will use multiple fronts and base his decision off personnel regarding what players are on the field. These defensive fronts will combine with a lot of linebacker blitzes and cornerback blitzes. Graham will have a lot of talent and speed in the secondary, making things interesting when he dials up a blitz package. With the Giants making a splash in free agency and the draft in the secondary unit, Grhaman will have multiple guys to choose from to play man and press coverage.

Giants fans should expect a defense that plays tough and physical and flys all over the field. Expect to see a lot of man coverage and numerous blitz packages that will throw off an offense’s game plan. The Giants have a lot of young talent that is mixed with a great amount of speed. Graham was often seen showing blitz and having his players drop back into zone coverage on several occasions with Miami.

Patrick Graham and Joe Judge will be reuniting. The two spent some time together back in New England (2012-2015). Graham was also the Giants’ defensive line coach in 2016 and 2017 under head coach Ben McAdoo. Giants fans should be happy with the hiring of coach Graham as he will bring the physicality and burst of energy the Giants’ defense has been searching for in years past.

Meet The New York Giants’ New & Improved 2020 Secondary

New York Giants, Darnay Holmes, Julian Love, Jabrill Peppers, DeAndre Baker, Xavier McKinney, Corey Ballentine

The New York Giants‘ secondary dealt with peaks and valleys in 2019. There were some big-plays mixed in with plenty of rookie mistakes and persistent struggles against top offenses. New York invested a lot of draft capital into its secondary in 2019 and doubled down this offseason.

The Giants made a big splash-signing at cornerback in free agency. They then followed that up by drafting a potential day-one starter at slot cornerback this past weekend. The New York Giants’ secondary is now loaded with young, versatile talents. The potential is there for the Giants to have one of the best young secondaries in the NFL in 2020.

The Versatile Safeties

Jabrill Peppers, Julian Love, and Xavier McKinney combine to create arguably the most versatile safety group in the NFL. Each of the players in this trio can line up in at least three different positions. Julian Love has played slot cornerback, deep free safety, and in-the-box strong safety. Jabrill Peppers is primarily an in-the-box strong safety but has also played linebacker and deep safety. In college, Xavier McKinney played over 200 snaps at three different positions; 323 snaps in the box, 227 in the slot, and 271 deep (PFF).

Thie trio of versatile safeties will allow Patrick Graham to be very creative with his defense. Having three different safeties that can each play three different positions efficiently will keep opposing offenses guessing. Typically there are only two safeties on the field at a time, but with this trio, Giants fans can expect to see plenty of three-safety looks.

Young, Talented Outside Cornerbacks

The Giants have invested heavily in their secondary over the past two years. They spent a first-round pick on DeAndre Baker last year. Baker struggled for much of his rookie season but seemed to show significant signs of improvement towards the end of the year. In 2020, DeAndre will start on the outside again and hopefully build on a promising finish to the 2019 season.

Starting opposite of Baker as the Giants’ primary cornerback will be newly signed free agent James Bradberry. Bradberry, coming from Carolina, is no stranger to following top-tier receiving talent. Bradberry shadowed the likes of Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and Michael Thomas twice a year as a member of the Panthers. He will instantly join the Giants’ secondary as the best coverage man and take on the most challenging tasks for the defense week to week.

DeAndre Baker and James Bradberry will man the outside cornerback positions. But who will play the slot/nickel cornerback position? There will be a competition to see who gets that starting role but expect to see a rotation in this position.

Nickel Cornerback Competition

Last year, the slot cornerback position was manned by Grant Haley and Corey Ballentine. Haley struggled immensely in coverage but demonstrated impressive open-field tackling. Ballentine, a sixth-round draft pick from 2019, was not ready to perform and struggled considerably. But he showed a lot of promise last preseason, so hopefully, Ballentine can take a step forward and improve in 2020.

The latest addition to the slot cornerback position is 2020 fourth-round pick, Darnay Holmes, out of UCLA. Holmes played on the outside in college, but his limited size will move him into the slot at the professional level. Holmes did try out nickel cornerback at the Senior Bowl this year, and he said he loved it. Analysts pointed out that he excelled in that new role in Mobile.

The Giants have plenty of depth at the slot cornerback position. But who will be the starter at the nickel? As I stated earlier, expect to see rotation. Since day one, Joe Judge has made it clear: players will play to their strengths. They will not be asked to do things at which they are not proficient. These three slot cornerbacks all have different skillsets that can be applied in various ways.

Maximizing Potential Through Rotations

For example, Grant Haley struggles in coverage but is a solid open-field tackler. This is why the Giants can use Haley in goal-line or short-yardage packages. Third-and-goal, fourth-and-two, Grant Haley can go in there and make a clutch tackle to keep the defense short of the line to gain.

On the flip side, in long-yardage situations and obvious passing-downs, Darnay Holmes’s speed and athleticism will come into play. He has the speed to keep up with quicker receivers going deep and the coverage ability to stick with slot receivers on deep-breaking routes.

The Giants’ two-year investment into the secondary is paying off. They have the versatility and flexibility to move their players around and put them in the best situations possible to make an impact. Giants fans should be ecstatic about the foundation that has been laid out for the future of the defense.

New York Giants: Seventh-Easiest Schedule Could Lead To Promising 2020

New York Giants, Joe Judge

Heading into the 2019 NFL season, the New York Giants were blessed with one of the easiest schedules in the league. According to CBS, New York had the 27th hardest schedule in the NFL last season, (or fifth easiest). In 2020, the Giants once again have one of the easiest strength of schedules in the NFL.

According to Sports Illustrated, the Giants have the seventh-easiest strength of schedule in 2020. Their 2020 opponents have a combined record of 123-132-1 (.482). While we do not yet know what the Giants’ exact schedule will be this season, we do know who their opponents will be for home and away games. The Giants’ list of 2020 opponents gives them many winnable matchups and a legitimate chance to compete in Joe Judge’s first year as head coach.

Who are the Giants’ 2020 Opponents?

Home:

The Giants will host these opponents in MetLife stadium in 2020: Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, and Washington Redskins.

The Giants will only host two playoff teams in 2020. The San Francisco 49ers were one of the best teams in the league, making it all the way to the Super Bowl and earning a 13-3 regular-season record. The other playoff team that the Giants will host is the division-rival Philadelphia Eagles, who narrowly made the playoffs with a 9-7 record and only scraped in because of their lousy division.

Outside of those two teams, there is not a ton of serious competition for the Giants at home in 2020. Granted, the Giants went 4-12 in 2019, so every team is competitive to the Gmen. However, the Cardinals, Buccaneers, Browns, and Steelers all missed the playoffs in 2019. The Giants should consider themselves lucky. They should not be too severely outmatched in any of their games in New Jersey.

Away:

The Giants will face these opponents on the road in 2020: Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, and Washington Redskins.

The Giants will benefit from playing in one of the NFL’s weaker divisions. The Eagles won the NFC East in 2020 with a mediocre record of 9-7. The divisional opponents’ overall record was 20-28. If they have a better roster and coaching staff in place next season, the Giants should be able to compete for their division’s title.

The Giants will travel to play two of the best teams from 2019 next season. The Baltimore Ravens had the best record in the league last year at 14-2 and the Seattle Seahawks were a strong playoff team with an 11-5 record. The rest of the Giants’ road opponents, the Bears, Bengals, and Rams, missed the playoffs in 2019. The Bengals even finished with the worst record in the NFL. This slate of opponents sets the Giants up to be road warriors in 2020.

This 26 Man Roster is the Best the New York Yankees Can Field In 2020

New York Yankees, Aaron Hicks

The New York Yankees roster for 2020 will look a little different. For starters, it’ll be a 26 man team from April to September 1, with only 2-3 more players joining the team in September. Much is being speculated about the Yankees trading Andujar AND Voit to the Pirates for Bell (idiocy), but THIS is the 26 man roster the Yankees should field.

Position Players and Bench

Next year will be a 13/13 player split between the pen and the rest of the team. Now, there’s one of two ways the Yankees could go. They can either bring Brett Gardner back (which I think is the prudent move), or let him walk. So, here’s the roster without Brett Gardner:

Catcher: Sanchez. First: Voit. Second: DJ (I assume that they’ll still move Torres to short). Short: Gleyber. Third: Urshela. Left: Stanton. Center: Tauchman. Right: Judge. Bench: Higashioka, Ford, Andujar, Wade, Frazier.

If they do the smart thing and bring Gardner back: Gardner slides into center field, and Tauchman replaces Frazier.

Pitchers

13 pitchers on the team, 5 will be reserved for the starting rotation. I won’t comment about that till pitchers and catchers report. So here’s the best bullpen option for the New York Yankees.

Chapman, Britton, and Ottavino are all under contract. The fact that during the course of the season they were all good/All Star caliber makes it easy enough to justify bringing them all back for next season. So now, there are 4 spots left.

Chad Green and Tommy Kahnle proved to be more than adequate pitchers. They should fill 2 of the 4 spots. Jordan Montgomery should be your long innings man for the season (or Happ if Monty beats him for a spot in the rotation), and the last spot should be reserved for Devi Garcia. Bring him up, and see what he can do. Right there, you got two starter caliber pitchers who can fill in for hurt members of the rotation (which we know will happen).

And there you have it. The perfect 26 man roster for the NY Yankees.