DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - This year’s market was headlined by reigning Super Bowl MVP Von Miller he received the exclusive franchise tag from the Broncos. But if you look at NFL.com’s list of the top 99 free agents, eight of the top 10 are on defense while a lot are coming from championship-caliber units. As you go deeper, you get to proven vets like Tamba Hali and Chris Long.
LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - There’s a number of offensive playmakers set to hit the market next week but not at every position. For example, if you want a quarterback or a number one wide receiver there aren’t many options with consistent track records. On defense, I think there’s depth across the board so if you need help at a specific spot, you should be able to pursue a few players. While I can certainly throw out a lot of random names to illustrate my point for the sake of being concise and organized here’s five key playmakers at each spot: (Note: I’m not considering players that are restricted free agents or who were given the franchise tag since it’s unlikely they’ll change teams)
DE: Williams Hayes, Malik Jackson, Charles Johnson, Olivier Vernon (transition tag), Mario Williams
DT: Nick Fairley, Damon Harrison, Terrance Knighton, Brandon Mebane, BJ Raji
LB: Jerrell Freeman, Tamba Hali, Bruce Irvin, Danny Trevathan, Tahir Whitehead (could list more)
CB: Brandon Boykin, Casey Heyward, Janoris Jenkins, Jeremy Lane, Sean Smith
S: Tashaun Gibson, George Iloka, Reggie Nelson, Walter Thurmond, Eric Weddle (could list more)
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - It is hard to get more than one or two starters via the draft. More might develop into starters down the road, but asking day three picks to start in their first season is asking a lot. I would expect at least three or four starters to arrive in free agency.
Now the latter has produced instant starters like Justin Pugh, Johnathan Hankins, Odell Beckham Jr., Devon Kennard, Ereck Flowers, and Landon Collins -- but 20 players from the Giants are set to become unrestricted free agents next week. And like Jerry Reese said, the cap situation is the healthiest it has been for a while, meaning there will be many opportunities to upgrade the roster via free agency.
LANCE MEDOW: Fact - If you look at the 2015 draft it produced two starters: left tackle Ereck Flowers (1st rd) and safety Landon Collins (2nd rd). That’s been a trend in each of the last three drafts as an average of about two rookies have become starters in year one. In comparison, if you look at the 2015 free agent class, it produced four starters/significant contributors (JT Thomas, Marshall Newhouse, Dwayne Harris, Shane Vereen). With the Giants having nearly 30 total free agents (both unrestricted and restricted), they’re going to fill the majority of those spots by re-signing their own players or bringing in new faces through free agency Considering they’ll only add six or seven players through the draft, the numbers game heavily favors free agency producing more starters.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - A difference maker is a difference maker, no matter what position they play. Go ask the Rams if they regret taking Todd Gurley in the first round, or the Vikings with Adrian Peterson. They do not. Running backs that can carry the load and play all three downs are rare these days, so if you can find one in the draft they can be worth a first round selection.
DAN SALOMONE: Fact - Running backs have joked in recent years that they need to start their own union. But Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon broke the drought last year as the first running backs taken in the first round since 2012. Amid this pass-happy era in the NFL, there’s nothing that can put away games like an efficient rushing attack in the four-minute drill.
LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - Running back is arguably the most injury prone positon in the NFL. That’s one of the reasons why you don’t see many workhorses across the league. Instead, most teams use a running back by committee to split up carries and preserve the health of the backfield. In 2015, a number of star backs went down with injuries and, even though those teams turned to unknown commodities, the level of production didn’t fall off immensely. For example, the Chiefs used Charcandrick West (undrafted 2014) and Spencer Ware (2013 6th rd pick) in place of Jamaal Charles, the Seahawks turned to Thomas Rawls (undrafted 2015) when Marshawn Lynch missed significant time, Cardinals 2015 3rd round pick David Johnson became a household name with Andre Ellington sidelined and Bears 2015 fourth rounder Jeremy Langford emerged once Matt Forte missed time. Those are a just few examples that show teams can find talent much later in the draft and even on the street as opposed to addressing the running back positon in the first round when there are likely more pressing needs. Despite the NFL becoming a pass happy league, the running back position is still important as both Super Bowl participants, the Broncos and Panthers, relied heavily on the ground attack but if you have consistency on the offensive line and a good run blocking scheme, you’ll likely have success regardless of the personnel in the backfield. Based on recent drafts, the league, as a whole, understands these trends. In the last three drafts, two running backs were taken in the first round (both in 2015 – Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon).
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - If the quarterback is the most important position, it is logical to assume the second most important position is the player in the best position to disrupt the quarterback. That person is a dominant pass rusher. They are rare, hard to find, and worth their weight in gold.
DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - The second-most important position is to protect the most important position, so I’m going with left tackle. As we’ve seen, a pass rusher will push a team over the top -- that’s why I would rank it at No. 3 -- but it needs to start up front on the offensive line. Nothing brings stability to a team like protecting the quarterback and plowing away with the run game.
LANCE MEDOW: Fact - All you have to do is look at the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. They won Super Bowl 50 thanks to winning the battle in the trenches, specifically on defense. Von Miller and company outplayed the Panthers offensive line recording six sacks and 13 quarterback hits at the expense of Cam Newton. Miller, alone, was responsible for two and a half sacks and two quarterback hits en route to winning Super Bowl MVP. That was just one of many reasons why he was the only free agent this year to receive the exclusive franchise tag. The Broncos don’t want any other teams talking to their star pass rusher and I don’t blame them. What was the common theme in the Giants two most recent Super Bowl victories? No surprise, a dynamic pass rush. You need solid play out of your quarterback and the ability to get to the opposing quarterback in order to have success in the NFL. Case in point, nine of the top ten teams in sacks in 2015 made the playoffs. The worst ten teams in sacks in 2015 all missed the playoffs. That’s no coincidence.