When I decided to join Armchair in the Summer of 2017, a lot was different.
The Browns were the worst team in football, Antonio Brown was on the Steelers, Odell Beckham Jr. was on the Giants and I had never really written before. All of that has since changed as I present to you my 75th article ever written for Armchair All-Americans! And what an article it is. I could not have asked for a better week to celebrate my year-and-a-half tenure at Armchair. I figured the start of free agency would be eventful enough but I don’t think anyone expected it to be this frantic. I promise I’ll discuss all of the craziness, including my thoughts on the Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham trades, one-liners for all the week’s biggest moves, a look at six tight end prospects and more. I never planned on getting so involved in my sportswriting but now it’s safe to say I spend most of my free time gathering my thoughts into this weekly column. It always means so much to me when people comment about my articles and to those who have become regular readers, here’s a special thanks to you. I don’t know what the future holds but it will be filled with greatness, I promise you that. With that said, if you’re a Giants fan, Steelers fan or a Patriots hater, you’ve been warned… (And Happy NFL New Year!)
THINGS I KNOW
I know the Giants were a QB away from having a great, young offense. They had one of the best RBs in football in Saquon Barkley, two promising young receiving threats in Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram, and of course, Odell Beckham Jr. While Beckham was a top WR and a New York heartthrob, there is still some reason for hope, Giants’ fans. That’s right, things may not turn out as horrible as you think they will. With the Browns’ 17th-overall pick, the Giants can either package that with their own sixth-overall pick and move up to take a QB, or they can draft an elite player and then a top WR. Might I also add that former first-round safety Jabrill Peppers was misused in Cleveland and still has upside in the Big Apple. Now that I laid out the positives, it’s time I get a little negative. The Giants’ best option was keeping Beckham, but if they really wanted to deal him, this was the worst possible time. After rumors of an OBJ trade heightened last offseason, the G-Men instead paid Beckham a five-year contract extension with $41 million guaranteed. Trading him now means that the Giants sacrifice $16 million in dead money. The Giants are essentially paying Beckham $16 million to not play for them this season. The odds (while certainly possible) are extremely low that New York finds another WR equal to Beckham’s talent. Golden Tate may be underrated, but a $37.5 million contract is a confusing way to “rebuild”. Therefore, my initial reaction to this trade is to tell any Giants’ fans reading this that you should probably go ahead and buy a Le’Veon Bell Jets’ jersey. For other thoughts on all the big moves of the past week, keep on reading.
I know how the Patriots have sustained success. Coaching and Tom Brady obviously have to do with it, but overlooked is New England’s abuse of compensatory selections. These are draft picks awarded to a team by the NFL after losing a high-profile player in free agency. As high as a third-round pick can be awarded and only a maximum of 32 picks are given based on a system of contract value and free agency gain/loss. In the Patriots’ case, they were awarded two third-round picks to go with sixth- and seventh-rounders. The losses of Malcolm Butler and Nate Solder led to the acquirement of those third-round picks. This year, New England likely pulled off similar magic. After the 49ers drafted OT Mike McGlinchey, they sent Trent Brown and a fifth-round pick to the Patriots for a third-round pick. A Super Bowl season later, Brown opted to cash in with Oakland while New England chose to not resign Brown, who had a very strong season. However, the Patriots will not walk away empty-handed as they will likely get another third-round pick to compensate for the loss of Brown. To recap, the Patriots got one great season out of Brown and still got a third-round pick back from it. Consider it a player lease. With Trey Flowers jettisoning to the Detroit Patriots, I mean Lions, they’ll get a another third-rounder as this cycle of leasing players continues.
I know T.J. Hockenson is a budding star. Teams in need of a TE should be drooling over this year’s top-heavy TE class, with Hockenson leading the way. Honestly, the next minute or two will be a Hockenson love-fest because I really couldn’t pinpoint anything wrong with him. The 6’5, 251-pound TE can do it all. He’s an excellent blocker with the strength and physicality to win contested catches (high passes defended well, for you football-amateurs). On the ground, Hockenson is smooth and slippery in space when he needs to be, or he’ll transform into the Hulk and bully through his defenders. Actually, I take back that Marvel reference and replace it with a Captain America one, because Hockenson looks like he was made in a lab. He’s even got sticky hands à la Spider-man, too. I guess if I had to knock Hockenson, it would be on his good, but not great athleticism. If that’s the reason NFL teams don’t want Hockenson, then they can go find themselves a new front office. In terms of superstar potential, Hockenson fits the bill and is a lock to be a first-round pick. How early he’s selected will depend on how each team values the TE position.
I know Hockenson’s teammate, Noah Fant, is also a phenomenal prospect. Not only could there be two TEs taken early in the draft, but they’re also college teammates. Clearly, Iowa’s doing something right over there. Akin to Hockenson, Fant is relatively well-rounded. He’s a bit smaller (6’4, 232) and isn’t as good of a blocker nor is he as shifty in open space. What Fant does have that his teammate doesn’t is insane athleticism. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what position Fant is, mainly since he can play in various different roles. He’s also got fluid, quick feet that aid to his explosiveness. His hands may be more impressive as Fant will almost always come down with the catch. Fant does need to fine-tune some route running skills and could stand to pick up a few new open-field moves from Madden 19. Regardless of those minor improvements, Fant is still a top prospect and could be selected closely behind Hockenson in the first round. Fant kind of reminds me of what Evan Engram was supposed to be ( and still could be), while Hockenson could be Travis Kelce 2.0.
I know Dawson Knox has a lot to learn. Coming from a loaded yet limiting Ole Miss offense, Knox never really had the opportunity to show what he can do, hence 39 career catches across two relevant seasons. Despite his lack of usage/production, Knox has some intriguing traits for NFL teams. At 6’4, 250 pounds, Knox has the appropriate size to make an impact. While his catch radius is a little disappointing (the length his arms reach out to when catching a ball), he has big, strong hands that can still make him a reliable target. For a guy as athletic as Knox, you’d expect him to be a little faster and quicker, especially in open space. In the few times required to go up and snag a pass, Knox flashed limited success. Everything else about him either needs work or remains to be proven. That includes his basic football IQ. I will say that Knox has done enough as a blocker to show that he must improve in that area, namely when blocking in-line. Knox hasn’t done too much to warrant a high selection but his physical traits could easily catch some teams’ eyes.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know who won the Antonio Brown trade. On the surface, I’d say the trade lopsidedly favors the Raiders. Sacrificing just a third- and fifth-round pick for the most prolific receiver of the past six years is undoubtedly a steal. Brown has posted six consecutive seasons of over 1,000 yards and could be the first Raider not named Amari Cooper to reach that milestone since Jerry Rice did it in 2002. Not to mention that Brown had more touchdowns last season than all Oakland WRs combined. The ceiling seems to be sky-high for Brown and the Raiders, though there’s more uncertainty than you think about this deal. For starters, Brown will be 31 next season and was (despite their public denials) a big headache for the Steelers last season. I think the Steelers realized that despite all of the talent they’ve had over the past few seasons, the reason they haven’t won a title is the distractions. That was the barrier. Therefore, they valued Brown and Le’Veon Bell less. I’ve mentioned Bell a ton recently but who’s to say that Brown doesn’t cause locker room tension or starts fighting with the coaches and/or players, like he did in Pittsburgh? On the flip side, what if those two draft picks Pittsburgh got in return become game-changing players? As with any trade, it’s important to not jump to conclusions before the deal has actually panned out. My initial reaction is that if Brown can limit his antics, this trade should immediately boost the lackluster Oakland offense.
I don’t know how long Nick Foles will last in Jacksonville. A few weeks ago, I said Foles will never be as good as he was with the Eagles. While I still stand by that, I do think Foles will be a fine addition to the Jaguars. They’re a run-focused team with the pieces defensively to make a playoff push. Don’t forget that this is a similar roster that went to the AFC Conference Championship a year ago, and that was with an inconsistent Blake Bortles at QB. However, I don’t think Foles will be a top-20 QB, either. I think it’ll come to a point, say two years from now, where the Jaguars realize that the 30-year old QB isn’t good enough to help the team reach the Promised Land. With a solid amount of talent and youth, I can see the Jaguars being good, but not great with Foles at the helm. If they want a championship, Foles will have to be a top-ten QB (see why in my Trivia of the Week). Who knows, maybe I’ll be wrong and Foles plays amazingly or he plays alright but it’s enough to make a Super Bowl. Initially, the hefty 4-year, $88 million contract dished out to Foles seems more like a short-term fix rather than a long-term one.
I don’t know when Irv Smith Jr. will be drafted. The Alabama TE is good, but his positional value along with the Iowa duo’s presence should push him down in the draft. Smith suffered from lack of usage for most of his career, but last season he had a breakout. He showed strong hands and good ball skills. He’s smooth in space and was a solid route runner. Playing at Alabama aided Smith in understanding the fundamentals of the game and it showed when Smith would be asked to play all over the field. He’s good enough at blocking and has the strength to not be pushed over too often. Smith might not be the fastest player, but defenders had lots of trouble bringing him down thanks to superb contact balance and the occasional nasty stiff arm. Just under 6’3, Smith doesn’t have the ideal height which might explain why he wasn’t relied on much for jump balls. A lack of true explosiveness might hurt Smith a little bit more in the NFL than it did in college but I think his physical traits and pedigree should be enticing enough to be the third TE off the board.
I don’t know why there isn’t more hype on Jace Sternberger. I get that he only had one productive season at Texas A&M after spending three years at Kansas and a JUCO, but being a one-year wonder doesn’t guarantee he’ll bust. Sternberger’s a big guy at 6’4, 250 pounds and has the long catch radius to show for it. That combined with some of the best hands in the draft make him appealing enough. Some of the catches he made this past season were simply mind-boggling. He’s also athletic, fast and fluid enough to make defenders often miss. Sternberger isn’t overly fast, though, and could fine-tune his route running ability. Playing on three teams in as many seasons might draw up some questions from NFL teams, and I’m sure they’re interested in his ‘One-Year Wonder’ status as well. While Sternberger was moved all around on offense, he never found consistent success blocking and will need to improve on that. Once he becomes a better blocker, I can see Sternberger being a solid, versatile option down the road for some teams.
I don’t know if Kaden Smith will ever be a good TE. Unfortunately, size might be the only thing Smith has going for him, as well as the success that Stanford TEs have had in the NFL. At 6’5, 253 pounds, Smith is a behemoth of a human being. His length translates to an impressive catch radius, which explains his success with contested catches. There’s no doubt that Smith will be a red-zone threat from day one, even if the Combine showed he might not be as strong as a red-zone option should be. His movement skills are fine but nothing to write home about, though he’ll need to work on his route running ability. Smith has the traits to be a solid blocker but was too inconsistent. Also surprisingly is Smith’s propensity to get battered or moved easily, both as a blocker and a runner. Lastly, his hands just aren’t that special as they too were inconsistent. I’m not expecting hear Smith’s name called until Day Three.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Since 2008, two QBs have gone to the Super Bowl after posting a QBR (Quarterback Rating) that wasn’t in the top ten among QBs that season. Who were they?
Check out the ‘Awards’ section for the answer.
Note that I only included the players talked about in this week’s article and that feelings/projections on a prospect will fluctuate, especially after the draft. Here are my preliminary rankings for this year’s Tight Ends class and a sentence for each.
- T.J. Hockenson – Well-rounded freak who is a safe bet to be a star.
- Noah Fant – Not far behind his Iowa counterpart.
- Irv Smith Jr – Minor tweaks to make but could easily be a starter.
- Jace Sternberger – The class falls off after Smith but Sternberger deserves more love.
- Kaden Smith – Future Day Three pick who doesn’t do many things well enough.
- Dawson Knox – Has intriguing traits and is only below Smith because of too many question marks.
Other Guys Who I Didn’t Have Room For: Isaac Nauta, Dax Raymond, Caleb Wilson
Sleeper: Alize Mack
Following last year’s tradition, each week I’ll focus on one wide receiver in hopes of finding the next superstar. This week, that player is David Sills V.
Stats: The senior WR from West Virginia posted a career total of 132 receptions, 2,097 receiving yards and 35 touchdowns, most of which came in the previous two seasons.
- Tall (6’4, 205)
- Physical in air
- Clear red-zone threat
- Vertical asset
- Excels on jump balls
- Good concentration
- Great ball skills
- Solid route running
- Creates space well
- Nice stiff arm
- Speed not an issue
- Willing and capable blocker
- High football knowledge
- Inconsistent hands
- Not great at body catches
- Not overly quick
- Not hard to tackle
The Unknown: Can Sills add enough weight and muscle to be a successful downfield WR?
Bottom-Line: The former QB prospect should be a nice downfield WR with no business being used in the short passing game. He’d be a nice complement to smaller, quicker WRs.
Early Team Fit: Buffalo Bills
Early Projection: Day Two Pick
Each week I’ll talk a little bit about the Alliance of American Football in hopes of catching you up on the rising young league. This week, it was an insane week of football so I gave some quick game recaps below.
Apollos def. Iron 31-14: Orlando is still the AAF’s lone undefeated team as the Iron, once undefeated, lost their second game in a row.
Commanders def. Hotshots 29-25: San Antonio almost blew a 26-0 lead that came down to a game-sealing sack.
Fleet def. Stallions 27-25: Another thriller that saw Salt Lake City score with 51 seconds left, only for San Diego to drive and kick a 44-yard field goal.
Legends def. Express 23-20: A close battle between SEC darlings Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray that was decided by a 35-yard field goal from Younghoe Koo, who hasn’t missed a kick yet.
Jim Halpert Award of Patience: Le’Veon Bell
Like Jim waiting for Pam, Le’Veon also had to wait a while to get what he wanted. It’s safe to say $52 million with $35 million guaranteed will sit nicely, even if it’s a hefty sum. If you read my column starting in Week Three, you probably should have seen this coming like I did. Honestly, I wouldn’t be too worried about the expenses to get Bell because game-changing talent deserves to be invested heavily on, even if it’s at a devalued position like running back. With the addition of Kelechi Osemele along the offensive line, I expect Bell to return to his elite self. Bell’s addition doesn’t mean I expect the Jets to suddenly be good, though (Shout out to my fellow Office fans, by the way).
Ticking Time Bomb Award: Cleveland Browns
On paper, that’s a disgustingly good roster GM John Dorsey cooked up in Cleveland. The Browns could very well be playing deep into January next season. On the other hand, I can see things eventually going south. The Browns’ offense is filled with divisive personalities that could either be best friends or could argue with each other in between plays. I get that Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham are college roommates and BFF’s, but that’s one dramatic duo. Again, this could be the start of a new, explosive era for football’s most cursed franchise. It could also be explosive in the tantrum-throwing, game-bombing type of way. One thing is certain: This team will be fun to watch, even without suspended Kareem Hunt.
A former-Titan, Haynesworth signed a whopping $100-million deal with the Redskins back in 2009 and barely lasted two seasons with the team. It was a terrible free-agent signing. Catch my drift? It seems the Titans didn’t watch their former player closely enough because their newest player could fall into Haynesworth category. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve love Wake. His story, his play and his energy were beacons of hope to a deprived Dolphins’ fan base. Does Tennessee really expect a 37-year old pass rusher to see through his three-year, $23-million contract? A one-year deal is understandable but three years seems like a waste of cap space for now. I wish Wake the best in Nashville, but the odds are stacked in his favor, hence my designation of this year’s ‘Worst Free Agency Signing So Far’ (Don’t worry, you’re almost at my thoughts on the other signings).
The Ugly Knitted Sweater Award: Kevin Zeitler
Have you ever gotten a present on your birthday that you didn’t really want? Fortunately, I don’t think I can attest to this but I’m sure Zeitler can. On his 29th birthday, Zeitler was given the gift of New York after the Browns shipped him off to the Giants in exchange for Olivier Vernon. This all happening just two hours after the Browns tweeted happy birthday to Zeitler. As far as the trade goes, I like it for both teams as Cleveland paves the way for second-year guard Austin Corbett to start while the Giants shed a player who never fit into their system. I wish we’d see more player-for-player trades.
Trivia Answer: Ben Roethlisberger (2008) and Peyton Manning (2015)
Question: Since 2008, two QBs have gone to the Super Bowl after posting a QBR (Quarterback Rating) that wasn’t in the top ten among QBs that season. Who were they?
If you were expecting Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick here, you’re not alone. This goes to show how crucial a great QB is to make a Super Bowl. Roethlisberger and Manning are future Hall of Famers. Not to mention that Manning’s measly QBR is because he only started nine regular season games and was 39 years old. This ties in to my point that Foles will have to become ‘Playoff Nick Foles’ for a full 16 games if he’s to be worth every penny of his new contract.
ONE LAST THING
At long last! I’ll save the word count for my quick, one-line reactions on all the big moves this past week.
Trent Brown to Raiders – Brown goes from the best OL coach in football to the worst after one year of excellent play. There’s some upside, but was it worth all that dough? Initial Reaction: Alright
Kwon Alexander to 49ers – He’s good enough when healthy, but $54 million over four years is a colossal investment in a guy who’s played one full season in his four-year career. Initial Reaction: Risky
Landon Collins to Redskins – Young? Check. Stud? Check. Expensive? Worth it. Sticking it to his former team twice a year for strangely not re-signing him? You bet. Initial Reaction: Good
Trey Flowers to Lions – Detroit needed an edge rusher and Flowers should be a nice pickup to join Head Coach Matt Patricia, his former defensive coordinator in New England. Initial Reaction: Good
Tyrann Mathieu to Chiefs – Technically Eric Weddle was the first domino to fall in the safety market, but Mathieu’s massive new deal reset the value of safeties. If he stays healthy, he’ll be worth it. Initial Reaction: Good
C.J. Mosley to Jets – Once considered a rising star, Mosley will have to become elite to make this contract worth it. At least he’ll be working with Anthony Barr… nevermind. (Too soon?) Initial Reaction: Alright
Lamarcus Joyner to Raiders – Oakland just keeps spending and Joyner should be a solid addition to a depleted defense. Initial Reaction: Alright
Earl Thomas to Ravens – I doubt anyone will want to throw against the Ravens now, as long as Thomas stays healthy. (If I’m being honest though, I doubt the Ravens will be doing much throwing either, especially after the strong signing of Mark Ingram and the strange release of Michael Crabtree.) Initial Reaction: Good
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to Bears – The Bears replaced an underrated Adrian Amos with another underrated safety without dropping a wagon of cash at his feet. This could pay huge dividends. Initial Reaction: Great
Teddy Bridgewater to Saints – I had to delete my original thoughts on this move due to a late push by the Dolphins, but as I said over two months ago, this was the best decision Bridgewater could have made. Initial Reaction: Good
Marcus Gilbert to Cardinals – Gilbert hasn’t played a full season since 2015 but at just a sixth-round value, the upside is huge here for Arizona and whoever their QB will be. Initial Reaction: Favors Cardinals
Kelechi Osemele to Jets – The 29-year-old, former Pro Bowler also dealt with injuries last season but that could be due to OL coach Tom Cable, who is infamous for damaging his player’s careers. Initial Reaction: Strongly favors Jets
Dee Ford to 49ers – Ford switched to edge rusher last season and while he earned a Pro Bowl bid, a second-round pick for a one-year wonder is not a wise move for a team with a beyond crowded defensive front. I’m starting to lose faith in the 49ers’ front office. Initial Reaction: Strongly favors Chiefs
Ryan Tannehill to Titans – The Titans finally get a capable backup and the Dolphins complete their ‘Tank for Tua’ plan. Miami now has 11 draft picks in 2020. Initial Reaction: Fair
The Deep Route Football Notebook features recaps and thoughts about the recent action in the NFL, along with weekly awards, draft spotlights, fantasy updates, and more. Unless stated otherwise, all stats are accumulated using Pro Football Reference, ESPN or 4for4.com.
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