Quick, someone tell the Jets that just because they spend a trillion dollars in the offseason like the New England Patriots, does not necessarily mean they will go 18-1 and compete for a Super Bowl Championship.
The key to adding players is finding the right kind of players, not always the most talented ones. Not all owners (I'm looking at you, Jerry Jones) understand that premise.
That being said, I wanted to see which player on a new team (whether through the draft or free agency) fits best with his new team.
That does not mean the player will necessarily have a monster impact right away, particularly the rookies, but I want to recognize the personnel people for matching the right player with the right situation.
Lance Briggs - LB - Chicago Bears
It may seem silly to have Briggs on this list, but bear with me (pardon the pun). Briggs was one of the top free agents this offseason. If the Bears had lost him, it would have been over for that defense.
The Pats lost Asante Samuel and will be ok. They kept Randy Moss, but had they lost him, they probably would have kept Stallworth and still have Welker, Brady and plenty of firepower (not to mention the seventh pick) to get better. The Bears would have suffered most had they not been able to keep their star linebacker.
Briggs protects Brian Urlacher, who seems very unhappy in the Windy City. That means keeping Briggs happy looms even larger for Chicago. Briggs brings big-play capability. Even during a down year for Briggs personally and the Bears defense as a whole, the former third-round pick still managed over 100 tackles for the fourth straight year.
Still just 27 years old, Briggs should have plenty left in the tank and in a weak NFC North, he could be a key cog in bringing the Monsters of the Midway swagger to a team just one year removed from a Super Bowl appearance.
DeSean Jackson - WR - Philadelphia Eagles
There may not have been a better fit from April's NFL draft than this one. I thought the Eagles ought to take this dynamic former Cal product in the first round, but to get him in the second was simply a coup d’état for Andy Reid and that offense.
Jackson has the speed and wiggle to take a bubble screen to the house from 80 yards out and Philly just happens to be the best screen team in the NFL. Also, Eagles fans will tell you they want someone, anyone, who can catch a punt much less return one (see Week One against the Packers).
Not only can Jackson catch the punts, he has Hester-like return ability, as he was twice voted an All-American as a returner. Jackson returned four punts for scores as a sophomore and averaged a ridiculous 55 yards per return, an NCAA record. While he will not be a true No. 1 receiver in the Eagles offense, he brings exactly the kind of play-making ability Donovan McNabb was looking for.
Jonathan Vilma - LB - New Orleans Saints
To end the 2007 season, the New Orleans Saints started Scott Fujita, Mark Simoneau, and Scott Shanle at linebacker. Need anything more be said?
The Saints were porous on defense against both the run and the pass, finishing 25th in points allowed and 26th in total yards. With Charles Grant and Will Smith on the edges and rookie Sedrick Ellis taking up space inside, Vilma could recapture the magic of his 2005 season. In that year, he recorded 173 tackles (128 solo) and forced four fumbles.
Vilma has had his injury problems and did not really fit Jets Coach Eric Mangini's 3-4 scheme. He should fit right in with the Saints' 4-3 and anchor a defense that needs to be a little better for New Orleans to be a serious contender in the NFC.
Rashard Mendenhall - RB - Pittsburgh Steelers
This was every cliche you can think of in terms of "stealing" players in the NFL draft. Somehow, this talented Illini alum fell down the draft boards. A top 12 player in my mind, Mendenhall dropped all the way to No. 23 for the Steelers and they are thanking their lucky stars he did.
Willie Parker has great speed and has demonstrated over the last three seasons he can carry the load. However, coming off a foot injury, Pittsburgh really needed to get a power back to take some pressure off of Parker and soften up defenses so he can do what he does best, which is break off yards in bunches.
Mendenhall brings a physicality and tenacity to a Steelers team that was a bit soft last year. While no one will mistake this guy for Jerome Bettis, Mendenhall has great versatility in the passing game and has some home-run hitting capabilities of his own. Mendenhall and Parker, if he gets healthy, could form the best 1-2 backfield punch in the NFL.
Donte Stallworth - WR - Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns may not be taking any runs at an undefeated season, but they had a Patriotesque offseason, making moves to plug holes all over. The offense was brilliant last season under Derek Anderson, with the emergence of Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow II as big time threats.
Stallworth will come in and do what he does best, open up seams for other players with his great speed. Stallworth proved last year he can still get deep and beat you over the top. This should open the middle of the field for Winslow, and keep double teams off Edwards. He can take a slant to the house every time he catches the ball.
He can also take that hitch or look-in for six, something none of the current Browns receivers can really do. If Stallworth can stay healthy, he will make this Browns offense some kind of dangerous.
Keith Rivers - LB - Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati was in such rough shape last season at linebacker, they literally could barely get three on the field at once. Not surprisingly, the Bengals defense was putrid as a result.
The Bengals will get Odell Thurman back, who was fantastic for Cincy when he was on the field. We just don't know if he will be that same player after serving a year-long suspension for violating the league's substance policy.
Rivers may not be an explosive athlete like Vernon Gholston, but he can make plays all over the field and has experience playing every linebacker position. Rivers brings a winning attitude and tremendous leadership capabilities to a team sorely lacking in both departments. It was a no-brainer for the Bengals when Rivers fell to them at 9.
We may not see his impact right away because he does not have much help around him, but make no mistake, Rivers was an ideal choice for this Bengals team.
Malcolm Kelly/Devin Thomas - Washington
The Washington Redskins already had a glut of receivers, but the talent pool was not what you might consider deep. Santana Moss is not a true No. 1 and Antwaan Randle El has never had more than 51 catches in a season. With new coach Jim Zorn and a talented young QB coming off injury in Jason Campbell, it was clear the 'Skins needed help outside.
Devin Thomas just kept falling come draft day and Washington finally stopped his drop. Malcolm Kelly joins the list because with Thomas, the two represent No. 1-rated receivers at some point the in draft evaluation process.
Thomas became the top prospect after a horrible showing by Kelly at his Pro Day. Both are big, strong receivers, the kind Washington was targeting. While it seems unlikely they will both turn out to be big impact players, one of the two ought to be.
If Devin Thomas can learn how to run better routes, he seems like the odds-on favorite, but Kelly has soft hands and a huge frame. This duo could be added to a formidable group with Cooley, rookie Fred Davis and the rest of that offense under Zorn.
Alan Faneca - G - New York Jets
After a slew of players and nearly $150 million later, the best player the Jets have to show for their off-season spending spree is an All-Pro guard who should still have a few years left. Faneca's experience and talented will be invaluable to young players like Nic Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson who are still figuring out how to play in the NFL.
The Jets' offense sputtered most of the season, and even with QB questions lingering, the offensive line should get considerably stronger from Faneca. This team may be just one season removed from an 11-5 playoff berth, but the Jets have not won very much.
With the Patriots still loaded and the Bills getting better, the Jets will have a tall order just winning eight games this season. Faneca should help lay the foundation in the trenches in front of whoever is taking snaps for the offense.
Felix Jones - RB - Dallas Cowboys
This almost made too much sense for me to believe it actually happened. The Cowboys lost Julius Jones to free agency and really lacked an explosive element to their running attack in 2007. Jerry Jones is a former Razorback, Felix Jones is a former Razorback.
Even with Mendenhall still on the board, I can't fault the Cowboys for taking Jones in this spot. You talk about explosive, how about 7.6 yards per carry for his career? That's second in NCAA history. Jones was also an All-American kick returner at Arkansas.
While Marion the Barbarian pounds defenses, Jones will hit teams with a ferocious change of pace. He has the speed and quickness to break big plays every time he touches the ball. Jones upgrades the Boys' return game and their passing attack with great versatility on screens. Jones looks like a poor man's Marshall Faulk (but not that poor, maybe lower middle class), but with Marion Barber III carrying the load, that is all Dallas needs to keep that potent offense going.
Vernon Gholston - DE/OLB - New York Jets
The New York Jets finished with 29 sacks on defense, while giving up 53. While the defense cannot help that the offensive line was not stellar, the Jets had no outside presence opposing teams needed to fear.
New York brought in former Cardinal Calvin Pace to play outside in their 3-4 scheme, but Pace has never been a double-digit sack guy and probably never will be. However, Vernon Gholston has been compared to guys like Shawne Merriman and DeMarcus Ware, even drawing a few murmurs about Lawrence Taylor.
While we cannot make any sort of judgments yet, Gholston probably has more pure athletic talent than any of those players with his rare combination of speed and brute strength. Gholston probably has the highest ceiling of any defensive player in the 2008 draft, but he also has the highest probability of fizzling out.
That said, Gholston's pass-rush ability cannot be questioned, just ask No. 1 pick Jake Long. For a team in search of a top-tier pass rusher, they found a guy with all the goods to get after Tom Brady and Co. in the AFC East.
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