The new Collective Bargaining Agreement is signed and sealed, and NFL free agency’s tampering period is off to a fast and furious start. In a time where the world of sports has been put on pause due to the COVID-19 virus, the NFL free agency period takes center stage. There will be many headlines to keep an eye on, such as where Tom Brady ultimately decides to play in 2020. It will also be interesting to see how organizations such as the Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings go about replacing franchise players they have lost during the offseason.
Just last week, the Vikings released three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes after seven seasons with the team. Additionally, the Jaguars continue to get rid of good players, as they sent five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Calais Campbell to the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for a fifth-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. Both teams will have to turn to the NFL Draft in order to replace these franchise players.
Replacing Xavier Rhodes
Let’s be honest: there was a time when Xavier Rhodes was considered one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. But in 2019, he was awful. According to ESPN, Rhodes was flagged ten times in 2019 while allowing an abysmal 127.8 passer rating into his cover, which was the fourth-worst by any cornerback in the league. By releasing Rhodes, the Vikings saved $8.1 million in cap space. To make matters worse, Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes are both unrestricted free agents. So not only are the Vikings looking to replace a franchise player, but they are also looking to fill a major void at the cornerback position.
Currently, Minnesota holds both the 22nd selection (via Buffalo) and the 25th selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. The two top cornerbacks in the 2020 draft class, Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah and Florida’s C.J. Henderson, will be long gone at this point. Luckily for the Vikings, there will still be some intriguing options for General Manager Rick Spielman when they are on the clock. They include:
- Kristian Fulton (LSU)
- Jeff Gladney (TCU)
- Trevon Diggs (Alabama)
Fulton is one of the best pure cover-cornerbacks in this draft class. He is battle-tested, aggressive, and fluid. He showcased great speed at the NFL Scouting Combine, running a 4.47 forty-yard dash. To be a complete cornerback at the next level, Fulton will need to improve his tackling. However, he would be a tremendous value for the Vikings with the 25th pick.
Gladney is an alpha cornerback who possesses extraordinarily impressive footwork. He is confident in his abilities and has no problem letting you know that. He brings a physical brand of football to the table, yet he also has the skill-set to mirror receivers. Gladney should be available when Minnesota is on the clock, and he provides an instant plug-and-play for the Vikings’ secondary.
When it comes to natural talent, Diggs might be the most gifted cornerback in the entire 2020 draft class. His best traits are his plus ball skills and his overall athleticism. He comes with tremendous size, standing 6’2″ and weighing in close to 210 pounds. Of course, his brother Stefon was traded by Minnesota just hours ago. Regardless, there are many reasons why a selection of younger brother Diggs would make a great deal of sense for the Vikings.
There is no doubt that replacing a franchise player like Rhodes is no easy task, but the Vikings will have options in the 2020 NFL Draft. For my money, if Fulton is there, Minnesota should run to the podium.
Replacing Calais Campbell
The mass exodus of great players from the Jaguars’ roster continues as the organization traded Campbell, the “Mayor of Sacksonville,” to the Baltimore Ravens. The motive of this trade is crystal clear: Jacksonville is entering a full rebuild mode and is trying to get cash off of the books. It was only two years ago when the Jaguars had a star-studded defense, which looked like it was going to be a problem for the rest of the league. But the Jaguars’ front office has swiftly dismantled that once ferocious defense.
First, the team sent the best cornerback in the NFL, Jalen Ramsey, to the Los Angeles Rams in a mind-boggling move. Next, the team shipped off cornerback A.J. Bouye to the Denver Broncos in exchange for a fourth-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. To make matters worse, the team recently applied the franchise tag to Yannick Ngakoue, a player who has made it clear that he does not want to be a part of the franchise in any way, shape, or form.
Campbell was clearly the leader of the Jaguars. Since arriving in 2017, Campbell accounted for 31.5 sacks and was one of the better pass-rushers in the league. Equally as impressive as his play on the field was Campbell’s work in the community, which earned him the Walter Payton Man of the Year award in 2019. Replacing a franchise player as talented as Campbell is going to be a challenge for the Jaguars, but they have the draft picks to at least try.
Jacksonville currently holds the ninth and 20th selections in the 2020 NFL Draft. There will certainly be high-quality players available who could serve as a potential replacement for Campbell. The list of candidates includes:
- Derrick Brown (Auburn)
- Javon Kinlaw (South Carolina)
- A.J. Epenesa (Iowa)
Simply put, Auburn’s mammoth defensive tackle is one of the best players in the 2020 NFL Draft. He has flashed the consistent dominance needed to be one of the NFL’s most feared defenders. As Pro Football Network’s draft columnist and analyst A.J. Schulte highlights, Brown is the total package when it comes to NFL prospects. While he is the type of impact player that could potentially replace Campbell, will he be there when the Jaguars are on the clock with the ninth pick? It’s highly unlikely he would be, so maybe Jacksonville should find a way to move up in the draft to secure this elite prospect.
One player who should be available when Jacksonville is on the clock is South Carolina’s athletic marvel Javon Kinlaw. Kinlaw is big, powerful, and possesses impressive explosiveness. He can consistently disrupt the line of scrimmage and can overwhelm blockers with his power. The beauty of Kinlaw is that he is a fit for any defensive scheme, possessing the versatility to line up at multiple positions along the defensive line. The Jaguars’ brass should circle and star the name of Javon Kinlaw.
Epenesa has lost some steam in the draft community, as he didn’t do much to impress at the NFL Scouting Combine. The old saying “the tape doesn’t lie” should be exercised here, as Epenesa is a heavy-handed disruption machine. He has size reminiscent to Campbell, standing 6’6″ and weighing in at over 280 pounds. He plays with violent hands, is extremely powerful, and utilizes his leverage exceptionally well. Epenesa might still be around when the Jaguars are on the clock with the 20th pick, making him quite the steal.
The Jaguars have the draft capital and cash to find a replacement for Campbell. But to get the top option, they can’t sit on their heels and may have to make a bold move come draft night.
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