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Ho Ho Ho! It’s the NFC Secret Santa

It’s that time of year again, when we all exchange gifts with colleagues we barely know or like. That’s right: Secret Santa Season! So, I thought “why not do an NFC twist on this”. So here we are: all the NFC teams entered Secret Santa, and they all got players as gifts. Isn’t that in the seasonal spirit of giving!

I made a few rules and guidelines, of course. As much as a team might want Atlanta to give them Julio Jones, no dice. I’ve mostly ignored contract situations, and I’ve considered age in my gifts often, but not always. No-one is getting a quarterback – even a backup – from anyone else. And teams can’t just shift out their scrubs who weren’t getting any snaps and won’t improve anyone else. They’ve got to be meaningful gifts, just not too generous.

So, I randomly (honest! I didn’t match them up to make it easier for me!) drew all 16 NFC teams out, assigning them someone to give a gift to. Let the joyful season of gift-giving commence!

Arizona Cardinals

Who got Arizona, and who did they give? Dallas, and they gave up OG Ronald Leary.

That sounds generous. Probably more generous than any other team! Leary has started consistently for Dallas, with second-year man La’el Collins on IR. They’ve got Joe Looney to come in once Leary, all wrapped up with a fetching bow, goes off in Secret Santa, and Collins to come back next year, along with former third-round pick Chaz Green.

As for Arizona, they get a piece to shore up their leaky offensive line. Admittedly the tackle play’s been kinda worse than the guard play, but since Evan Mathis went on IR (probably prior to retiring this offseason), there’s a big gap opposite Mike Iupati that they can quit trying to fill with replacement-level players with Leary around.

Atlanta Falcons

Who got Atlanta, and who did they give? Carolina, and they offered DE Kony Ealy.

That sounds generous. It is! Ealy had a monstrous game in the 2015 Super Bowl, remember? Everyone thought that would be the impetus he needed to kick on and dominate in 2016. Well, it never happened. And now he’s on the depth chart fringes, looking longingly at Mario Addison and Charles Johnson. And put it this way: Carolina activated 2nd year undrafted Ryan Delaire from IR as their one returnee this year – that’s not showing much confidence in Ealy.

Atlanta won’t mind though! Currently their pass rush from the edge consists of the ageless Dwight Freeney playing a handful of downs and Vic Beasley being roped in from the linebacker position. Ealy could provide balance on the opposite side to Freeney on passing downs, and solidify the edge generally on early downs.

Kony Ealy (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Carolina Panthers

Who got Carolina, and who did they give? New York Giants have giftwrapped CB Leon Hall.

That sounds generous. It does. Leon Hall was, or so I thought, one of the pickups of the offseason. He’d always been solid in Cincinnati, and hung around surprisingly late before the Giants picked him up. They’ve, as it turns out, barely used him as players like Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have played well. At 31 years old, he’s expendable.
He’d be invaluable for Carolina though. Although he’s lost a step and you wouldn’t want him on any play, he’d shine against the better route runners who lack top-end speed, and that’s the sort of coverage Carolina aren’t getting from Bradberry, Worley and Sanchez. In any case, having a wily and experienced veteran around will only help their development.

Chicago Bears

Who got Chicago, and who did they give? Tampa Bay have stuck a “From Santa ;)” sticker on S Keith Tandy.

That sounds generous. It really could be. Tandy’s been a backup safety this year but has had a couple of splash plays in recent games. He’s been the backup to Chris Conte who, er, came from Chicago in the first place. But that would have been a bit of a troll move. Tandy’s been a piece of Tampa’s defensive improvement but they are lousy with quality defensive backs, and I’d fancy Bradley McDougald to pick up the slack at safety.

For Chicago, their secondary is a mess, and anything they can get is great. A cornerback would be more what they’d want, but we don’t always get the Secret Santa gifts we most need, eh?

Dallas Cowboys

Who got Dallas, and who did they give? Los Angeles gave DE Ethan Westbrooks.

That sounds generous. Westbrooks is a former UDFA who is probably best known for being the guy the Rams kept instead of Michael Sam. He’s a quality pass rusher who only gets in later in the rotation because of how deep Los Angeles are. When Robert Quinn is back from injury next year, he’ll be a notch further down still.
Dallas have some pass rushers, but don’t really feel like they have a pass rush. The likes of Maliek Collins, David Irving and Tyrone Crawford contribute, but someone like Westbrook could come in and play the majority of downs, giving that Dallas a bit more versatility and a pass rushing threat on early downs.

Detroit Lions

Who got Detroit, and who did they give? San Francisco rummaged around in the bottom of Santa’s sack and pulled out RB Shaun Draughn.

That sounds generous. I can hear your sarcastic tone, but San Francisco are so thin at every position, this should be considered the height of generosity! Draughn has been the No.2 running back in San Francisco, which isn’t, er, saying much, but he’s not been palpably better than say, DuJuan Harris or Mike Davis.

We know Detroit’s running game is fairly poor, and Draughn can run or catch out of the backfield. He probably isn’t an improvement on, say, Dwayne Washington or Zach Zenner, but he’s got catching-out-the-backfield ability if Theo Riddick goes down. That’s about the best you can say. San Francisco don’t really have many players anyone else would want.

Green Bay Packers

Who got Green Bay, and who did they give? They’ve wrapped him up, but everyone can tell from the shape that Atlanta have given CB Jalen Collins.

That sounds generous. Collins is sort of on the fringes, and a little more expendable given UDFA Brian Poole’s emergence for Atlanta. He served a 4-game ban, and reportedly wasn’t a choice of HC Dan Quinn. Given the big contract for Robert Alford, and the fact Desmond Trufant around for a while (even if he’s on IR now), Collins probably finds himself 4th or 5th in the pecking order.

The Packers’ secondary has improved of late, but it still looks liable to keel over at any point, particularly at cornerback. Collins is an athlete, but still somewhat raw. Still, put him next to a speedy receiver who’s not the best route runner and Collins will track him, and likely use his length to stop the catch. He can definitely do a job for a Green Bay secondary lacking in quality behind Damarious Randall, and with Sam Shields on IR.

Jalen Collins (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Los Angeles Rams

Who got Los Angeles, and who did they give? New Orleans only just had enough wrapping paper to cover all 6’6” of WR Brandon Coleman.

That sounds generous. Look, LA will take any receiving threat they can get. Coleman’s not the fastest, but he’s the kind of big lumbering galloot who can reach higher than your average corner and make the catch. Fourth on the Saints’ receiver depth chart is no bad thing, when you’re behind the excellent Cooks, Snead and Thomas. He’s not the best technician, but when he’s on the field it’s a different threat you have to deal with.

And frankly, Los Angeles are lacking that kind of huge presence who can give their rookie QB more of a chance. Britt, Austin and Quick are decent enough, if a bit flaky, and Coleman’s not going to be tremendously different. But he will provide a big redzone threat, and someone who can be an easy target on the outside around the first down marker, providing a receiving threat they don’t always get from tight ends.

Minnesota Vikings

Who got Minnesota, and who did they give? Philly have put a bow and a Santa hat on G/C Stefen Wisniewski.

That sounds generous. I’m a big fan of Wiz. I never really understood why Oakland were so eager to upgrade to Rodney Hudson at center. I thought he was excellent as a blocker in Jacksonville last year. And he’s done well as a backup guard in Philly this year. Wisniewski’s a powerful, athletic run blocker who plays with consistency, discipline and intelligence. But he’s behind some quality linemen in Philly.

Minnesota will take anything they can get on the O-Line, but this is a coup. Although they’re a touch stronger at guard than tackle, Wisniewski will slide in alongside Joe Berger at center and keep the inside of the pocket clean, as well as helping Minnesota run between the tackles for basically the first time this year.

New Orleans Saints

Who got New Orleans, and who did they give? All bedecked in a Santa hat and white beard, DE Brian Robison is ho-ho-ho-ing his way down to the Bayou.

That sounds generous. Well yeah. Robison’s 33 years old now, and a situational pass rusher, but still one who can create chaos, occupy blocks and pick up at least his share of mop-up sacks. He’s behind Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter on the depth chart, and can only play a limited number of snaps these days, but can have a positive effect on the pass rush.

Right now, the Saints pass rush is “Cam Jordan”. That’s it. Just him. Robison isn’t going to make them reliable and frightening every down, but given he’ll be rotating with a bunch of UDFAs and cheap free-agent pick-ups, any sort of piece on the pass rush will only help New Orleans.

New York Giants

Who got the Giants, and who did they give? Chicago have given RB Ka’Deem Carey a ride on Santa’s sleigh to the east coast.

That sounds generous. Carey was Chicago’s last attempt to draft a between-the-tackles thumper before they struck gold with Jordan Howard. He can be a bit slow and plodding, but there’s plenty of power there. Given that he doesn’t offer much in the passing game, I can’t see Chicago going forward with him much.

The Giants, however, could use someone to rotate in with Rashad Jennings, to complement a-bit-of-everything back Paul Perkins. Carey’s not the shiftiest back, but he’s got the power to break through holes made in the centre, and given Big Blue’s O-Line strength comes with its center, Carey might grind himself to some useful yards, especially down at the goal-line.

Philadelphia Eagles

Who got Philadelphia, and who have they given? Washington have done that thing where you give someone back their present the following year, and packaged up WR DeSean Jackson.

That sounds generous. So this is the most obviously generous, but given how much this personnel move’s expected to happen in the offseason, it just seems the most appealingly lazy to write about. We’re all agreed that Washington are missing the playoffs now, right? Best case scenario, they finish 9-6-1, which probably isn’t enough. So let’s look to next year. They’re going to have Josh Doctson coming back. They’ve got Jamison Crowder, Jordan Reed, possibly Pierre Garcon. Jackson’s had a fairly good season but keeping him might at this point be a luxury, cap-wise.

And wouldn’t it be nice to see him back in Philadelphia after Chip Kelly diligently burned all those bridges? Philly are desperate for a receiver – slot receiver Jordan Matthews is their only starting-caliber player there. Jackson would provide a nice complementary deep threat. They’ll still need a big-bodied outside receiver elsewhere, but it’s a start.

DeSean Jackson (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

San Francisco 49ers

Who got San Francisco, and who did they give? Arizona have put some ribbons and bells on WR JJ Nelson. Not because it’s Christmas. He just likes ribbons and bells. It’s true, look it up.

That sounds generous. Nelson’s on the fringes in general in Arizona. He’s a good deep threat; fairly diminuitive at 5’10” and 160lbs. Players that lightly built don’t generally thrive in the NFL, but Nelson’s done ok, somewhere between 3rd and 5th in the pecking order. This year he’s caught for 361 yards and 5 touchdowns, which is fine. But Arizona can afford to ship him out – even without Michael Floyd they’ll have Jaron Brown back next year, and hopefully a John Brown not hobbled by injury.

San Francisco need to keep trying receivers. Nelson isn’t going to be the answer to all their problems, but they’ve not got much out of Torrey Smith, and it’s best not to ask about Quinton Patton and Rod Streater. Sure, in reality this is just piling San Francisco up with more WR3s and WR4s, but it’s still considerate on Arizona’s part.

Seattle Seahawks

Who got Seattle, and who did they give? Green Bay have stuck a “Dear Seattle, from Santa” label on OT Jason Spriggs.

That sounds generous. I’m not entirely sure why Green Bay traded up to draft Spriggs in the second round of the 2016 draft. He’s been fine when he’s played, but look: new-contracted David Bakhtiari and also-fairly-recently-contracted Bryan Bulaga are going to keep him out of the lineup for quite a while. A second-round pick’s a bit rich to spend on a swing tackle.

Of course, he instantly becomes Seattle’s best tackle. Seriously, anything to stop them playing Bradley Sowell, George Fant and Garry Gilliam. All resemble little more than blocking sleds and are a permanent danger to Russell Wilson. Wilson can escape, but runners generally can’t! Luckily, Spriggs is already thought of as more accomplished in run blocking, so maybe Seattle can have a run game now!

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Who got Tampa Bay, and who did they give? “Ooh,” says Tampa Bay, “that looks a little like Detroit OG Laken Tomlinson!”

That sounds generous. Quite! Tomlinson was a 2015 first round pick, and started every game in his rookie season. Trouble is, he wasn’t very good. As 2016’s gone on, he’s lost his place atop the depth chart to rookie Graham Glasgow, and the Lions’ line has improved subsequently. Not that Tomlinson’s been bad this year, but Glasgow looks like a find, and with Larry Warford at the opposite spot, Detroit are fairly set at guard for the foreseeable.

Tampa Bay aren’t. Ali Marpet is fine, but JR Sweezy went straight from the PUP list to IR this season, and was one of the more baffling free agency acquisitions this year anyway, given he was fairly poop for Seattle last year. Tomlinson would slot straight in at guard, helping to resurrect the Bucs’ faltering run game, and hopefully stop Doug Martin from completing his regression to his usual non-contract-year performance.

Laken Tomlinson (Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)


Who got Washington, and who did they give? Seattle have made DT Tony McDaniel look like an elf! Apart from the fact he’s all dressed in that neon green they used for the colour rush game (which by the way, was awesome).

That sounds generous. Seattle have such a weird imbalance of linemen. They have the worst O-Line depth in the league, and possibly the best D-Line depth. 11-year vet McDaniel’s just starting to lose his place to rookie Jarran Reed (a second-round pick who could’ve gone much earlier). McDaniel’s a good all-round player, but Seattle would you’d think be fine giving Reed the spot across from Ahtyba Rubin for two-tackle formations.

Washington have struggled to stop the run all year. It’s quite weird to go on their Wikipedia page, where their roster is not listed as having any defensive tackles or nose tackles. The only D-Linemen are ends. Who’s in the middle?!?! (The answer is veteran defensive end Ziggy Hood). McDaniel’s not a pure nose tackle, but he can fill in there and play 3-4 end fairly effectively, and you’d fancy him to be a more effective run-stopper than Washington have had.

So, that’s Secret Santa for all the NFC teams. Hope your team got a nice present! And remember: a running back is for life, not just for Christmas.

Follow Nick on twitter at @longsnapsranked.

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