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Fact or Fiction: Immediate impact of free agency vs. draft


1. Free agency will make a bigger immediate impact than the draft on the Giants' 2020 season.

John Schmeelk: Fact -- I will begin with my canned line that the draft is always more important than free agency, but if you are only considering immediate impact in 2020, free agency will be more important. The Giants are projected to have one pick in each round of the 2020 draft, and while the hope will be their first two picks earn starting jobs, they will probably bring in more starters in free agency. With Joe Judge wanting to build the team in his image, the team will have the financial flexibility to sign fits for what he and his coordinators want to do. This doesn't necessarily mean there will be a bunch of huge contracts handed out, but there could be some small signings to fill key roles or compete with some of the developing players on the roster.

Dan Salomone: Fiction -- The Giants have a healthy cap situation, but it's always about the draft, even in the short term. A year after they started a double-digit number of rookies, the Giants are out to draft more instant impact players, starting with the fourth overall pick. Look at some of the names of recent fourth overall picks: Ezekiel Elliott, Denzel Ward, Amari Cooper, Sammy Watkins, Lane Johnson, Matt Kalil, A.J. Green, Trent Williams. It didn't take long for those guys to make a name for themselves.

Lance Medow: Fact -- The Giants will have a lot of cap space this offseason. That doesn't mean they're going to go on a spending spree, but who they bring in will be important because of the youth of the roster. If the team wants to make strides in 2020, not only will the young players have to continue to develop and emerge as playmakers, but it will need impactful veteran free agents. Markus Golden turned out to be the most valuable free agent addition last season, but he's eligible to hit the open market. Whether the Giants re-sign Golden or not, they will need a few more Goldens in the 2020 class.

2. The Senior Bowl, which will be held next week, has grown in importance in recent years.

Schmeelk: Fact -- What scouts and NFL front offices learn at the event has stayed the same because the format and access hasn't changed. Teams still watch practice and get to meet with players at night. The reason the event has taken on greater importance is because better players have started attending over the past couple years. Two years ago, Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen attended. Last year, Daniel Jones was there along with other first rounders Montez Sweat, Andre Dillard, L.J. Collier and Kaleb McGary. This season, potential first round prospects Javon Kinlaw, Brandon Aiyuk, Kristian Fulton, Terrell Lewis and Justin Herbert will be there. As the quality of the players has improved, so has the event's importance.

Salomone: Fact -- Starting with Daniel Jones, the 2019 Senior Bowl tallied 10 first-round draft picks, the most since 2011. Overall last year, 93 of the game's players were picked in the 2019 NFL Draft. That was the second-highest total in the 71-year history of the all-star game. Mobile is the place to be, and will be there again next week.

Medow: Fiction -- I think the Senior Bowl has always been a key component of the draft process because most front office executives and coaches congregate in Mobile, Alabama to evaluate prospects on and off the field. The Senior Bowl hasn't drastically changed its structure over the years or the makeup of the rosters. Only college seniors and fourth-year junior graduates are eligible for the game, so it's not as if NFL teams are now exposed to prospects any earlier in their development. The practice sessions and drills are far more valuable than the actual game, which is why most of the NFL personnel is out of town by kickoff. The Senior Bowl marks the beginning of the offseason and the path to the draft. With that being said, John Schmeelk has been making an annual trip to this event in recent years, so I guess from that perspective, the game has grown in importance as his presence has been felt in Mobile over the last few years. Just ask him.

3. This year's national championship featured the best NFL talent of the CFP era.

Schmeelk: Fact -- The endless scroll since the championship game of players indicating their intentions to either stay in school or go into the NFL Draft should tell people all they need to know. There's a good chance that the two starting quarterbacks will be top overall picks in consecutive seasons. The two starting running backs will be day one or two picks. Both teams have receivers that will be drafted in the first or second round in 2019 (Tee Higgins, Justin Jefferson) and 2020 (Ja'marr Chase). Both defenses have day one or two picks on every level (K'Lavon Chaisson, Isaiah Simmons, Kristian Fulton, Grant Delpit). The talent was unparalleled.

Salomone: Fiction -- The era began in 2015 with Ohio State taking down Oregon. Twenty-three of the starters from that game were drafted. Seventeen were Buckeyes, including Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa and some receiver taken in the second round named Michael Thomas. Five Ohio State players on that team were drafted in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, tying Southern California (1968), Miami (2002) and Ohio State (2006) for the second-most first-round picks since 1967. On the Oregon side, you had DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Marcus Mariota. Not bad.

Medow: Fiction -- Both LSU and Clemson have deep rosters packed with a number of attractive prospects, but would I go so far as to say it's the "best NFL talent of the CFP era"? Absolutely not. Let's pipe down the hyperbole. There's a wealth of talent in the national championship game every year, so we don't need to crown this year's group after six title games. The NFL Draft has proven over the years that the process is an inexact science. There are no guarantees all these prospects will pan out, regardless of how impressive they looked in the national championship game. When it comes to the 2020 Draft class, keep a close eye on quarterback Joe Burrow, wide receiver Justin Jefferson, corner Kristian Fulton and safety Grant Delpit of LSU, as well as Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons, running back Travis Etienne and wide receiver Tee Higgins. Those players all stood out, but they don't necessarily deserve the label of best NFL talent of the CFP era. Alabama and Clemson met in consecutive national championship games in 2016 and 2017. Take a glance at those rosters. Something tells me you won't be putting this year's group atop the list so quickly.

4. The NFC Championship will be a closer game than the AFC's.

Schmeelk: Fact -- If you go back to the Titans 35-32 win against the Chiefs in Tennessee on November 10, the game was really dominated by Kansas City. The Chiefs outgained the Titans, 530-371, won the time of possession battle, 37:52-22:08, and converted 50% of their third downs to the Titans 25%. So how did the Titans win? They scored one touchdown on a 53-yard fumble return by Rashaan Evans, another on a 68-yard run by Derrick Henry, and a 52-yard completion to Kalif Raymond set up another score. Henry finished the game with 188 rushing yards on 23 carries. Patrick Mahomes threw for 446 yards and gave the Chiefs a chance to tie the game, but Harrison Butker's 52-yard field goal attempt was blocked as time expired. With the game in Kansas City and pass rusher Chris Jones expected to play, I think the Chiefs won't have as many big plays against them and will figure out a way to win a two score game. In the NFC Championship Game, the 49ers have the better roster, but Aaron Rodgers will make enough big-time throws to keep it within a touchdown.

Salomone: Fiction -- The Titans have managed to reach their conference title game by throwing the ball 31 times in their two postseason victories – combined. They ran the ball more than that in each of their last two outings – 77 carries in all. Similar to the what the Giants did in Super Bowl XXV against Jim Kelly and the Bills, the best defense for the Titans against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will be the running game. They will look to take away possessions from their explosive offense and shorten the game. It's going to be a tight one.

Medow: Fiction -- Both conference championship games are rematches from the regular season. In Week 10, the Titans edged the Chiefs, 35-32, in Nashville, and in Week 12, the Niners cruised past the Packers, 37-8, in Santa Clara. If we go based on those results, the AFC is the easy answer, but it's fair to say all four of these teams are a bit different than they were in those matchups. The AFC is a clash of styles, with Tennessee pounding the ball on the ground and Kansas City airing it out. The Niners and Packers are both defined by their run games and play in the trenches on both sides. San Francisco is arguably the most balanced team remaining. The Niners are difficult to slow down because of all of their different personnel on offense and how relentless the defense is with its pass rush. If any game is likely to get out of hand, I think it would be in the NFC. The Titans have been one of the most dangerous teams in the league since Week 7 when Ryan Tannehill took over at quarterback. I'm not going to count them out now even against an explosive Kansas City team. Let's not forget last week when the Titans held Baltimore, the number one scoring offense in the NFL this season, to just 12 points.


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