NFL Preview: NFC East

 

1. Philadelphia Eagles                                          Projected Record: 12-4

The city of Philadelphia has yet to stop celebrating since the Eagles captured their first ever Super Bowl last February, and there’s no reason to stop the party this season. Even with the inevitable Super Bowl hangover, this Eagles roster is deep enough and talented enough to muster their way to double digit wins and another playoff berth. Quarterback Carson Wentz has yet to fully recover from tearing both his ACL and LCL, but once he’s back on the field all signs point to him picking up right where he left off. Save for tight end Zach Ertz, none of the skill position players Philadelphia’s front office has surrounded Wentz with would be considered elite for their position. Their collection of wide receivers and runnings are all league average or better, and make up for what they lack in star power with an abundance of depth. Wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery form an intriguing pass catching platoon, while running backs Corey Clement, Darren Sproles and Jay Ajayi must all split time and carries lining up behind Wentz. On defense, the Eagles have an absolute embarrassment of riches. Defensive lineman Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Michael Bennett, Derek Barnett, Haloti Ngata, and Chris Long are all above average starters, yet they have all teamed up to form one of the greatest pass rushing rotations the league has ever seen. Philadelphia’s secondary was a strength in their road to Super Bowl 52, and while the departure of cornerback Patrick Robinson will certainly be felt the Eagles have enough talent to make due without him. Safety Malcom Jenkins remains one of the leagues best at his position, and corners Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby will need to have big seasons to recreate their success from last season. In total, Philadelphia has an incredibly exciting roster and one of the league’s easiest paths to the playoffs, two surefire ways to make sure any Super Bowl hopeful must pass through the champs first.

2. New York Giants                                                 Projected Record: 6-10

The New York Giants decision to pass on their quarterback of the future with the number two overall pick, and instead opt for a running back sent shockwaves through the draft and speaks volumes to the teams short and long term plans. The pairing of running back Saquon Barkley and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was clearly just too enticing for the Giants to pass up. Both players are supreme level athletes capable of pulling off game altering plays anytime they get the ball in their hands. Add in wide receiver Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram, and New York sneakily has one of the league’s top five skill position groups. The problems lie within the rest of their offense. Tackle Nate Solder was brought in to shore up quarterback Eli Manning’s blind spot, while rookie guard Will Hernandez is expected to start from day one. The rest of the Giants offensive line is questionable at best, with tackle Ereck Flowers proving last season that he probably shouldn’t have a job in this league. Poor offensive line play may be a death sentence for Manning, who at 37 can not afford to take too many big hits. As simple as it sounds, much of New York’s offensive game plan this year will be getting it in the hands of their playmakers as quickly as possible. Defensively, the Giants will rely heavily on sacks and turnovers to make up for their overall lack of talent. Safety Landon Collins is the only bonafide stud on the unit, as he is surrounded by players ranging in ability from slightly above average to bottom tier of the league. Cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple are two enticing yet mercurial talents that could make or break New York’s defense if they both bounce back from disappointing seasons. Pass rusher Olivier Vernon is another veteran player who must return to form if New York has serious playoff aspirations. Overall, the playoffs are not out of the question for the Giants, but everything must go perfectly if they want another shot at a Super Bowl.

3. Dallas Cowboys                                                  Projected Record: 5-11

Things are not looking up for America’s team as a bevy of offseason injuries have depleted even their deepest units. Everything starts and ends for the Dallas Cowboys with running back Ezekiel Elliott. He is expected to almost singlehandedly carry this Cowboys offense, which is fantastic news for his fantasy owners but not exactly a great recipe for winning football games. Elliott is naturally very talented, but a good portion of his success these past two seasons have been directed linked to the play of his line. When healthy, Dallas boasts one of the leagues most fearsome and dominant offensive lines, capable of clearing ungodly sized holes for Zeke to run through. Sadly, it appears the Cowboys offensive line may never reach these heights again, as center Travis Frederick is out indefinitely with an autoimmune disorder. Their line still possesses three above average starters, with tackle Tyron Smith and guard Zach Martin each grading as one of the leagues best at their positions, but the unit that lead Elliott to over 1,600 yards as a rookie is no longer present. Without a dominant season from Elliott, Dallas’s offense quickly becomes one of the leagues more pedestrian and lackluster units. Quarterback Dak Prescott has yet to reach the heights he accomplished as a rookie, and the Cowboys front office has done him no favors in terms of wide receiver help. The team’s number one pass catcher heading in to the year is Allen Hurns, and the team is relying big on free agent acquisition Tavon Austin to provide a spark for an otherwise mundane offense. Incredibly, the defense inspires even less confidence than the offense. Demarcus Lawerence is a commanding presence off the edge, but he will likely be the only Cowboy able to apply consistent pressure. Their linebacking corps is probably the bright spot of the defense, with exciting second year prospect Jaylon Smith and first round pick Leighton Vander Esch teaming up with veteran Sean Lee to provide a level of competency to Dallas’s front seven. The most concerning area of the Cowboys defense is the secondary, where they will likely start rookie cornerback Chidobe Awuzie opposite last season’s starting free safety Byron Jones. On team’s with Super Bowl aspirations, these two would be intriguing rotational pieces and not thrust into a starting role. Long term both Awuzie and Jones should be above average players, but this year they just  have too much being asked of them. All in all, this season should be a long one for the Cowboys and hopefully the last for Jason Garrett as head coach.

4. Washington                                                         Projected Record: 5-11

The Washington football team has made a bevy of interesting acquisitions this offseason, most notably trading for quarterback Alex Smith, but still face a massive gap in talent between them and the upper echelon of the NFC. The injury to rookie running back Derrius Guice delays what could’ve been a rejuvenation for one of the league’s worst rushing attacks last season. Instead, the team will push forward with a committee of Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine, none of which are striking fear into the hearts of opposing defenses. The other skill position players on Washington are equally pedestrian, with free agent acquisition Paul Richardson likely the team’s number one option come week one. The unimpressive options around him have only placed more pressure on Smith, as the world anxiously awaits too see just how productive he can be without the weapons and coaching of Kansas City. On the other side of the ball, its a very similar story for Washington. Cornerback Josh Norman’s reputation may actually be more intimidating than his play on the field, as his days as an elite NFL corner may already be over. Ryan Kerrigan and Josh Allen form an intriguing pass rush off the edge, but neither possess the star power to truly alter the outcome of games. In total this Washington team will likely grind out enough wins to keep them out of the bottom five, but nowhere near playoff contention.

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Draft Grades: NFC East

Rookie camps have started so we should probably finish telling you how each team drafted. Here is the NFC East:

Dallas Cowboys: C 

Round 1, Pick 19: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise St. Dc7yJUkUwAA7v_k.jpg

Round 2: Connor Williams, G, Texas

Round 3: Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado St.

Round 4: Dorance Armstrong Jr., DE, Kansas

Round 4: Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford

Round 5: Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky

Round 6: Chris Covington, LB, Indiana

Round 6: Cedrick Wilson, WR, Boise State

Round 7: Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama

Vander Esch and Williams are both good players, but Dallas waited until the third round to address its biggest need. At one point I mocked Gallup in the first, so there’s some value in getting him in the third. But that leaves the question of how stacked could they have been if they took another receiver when they should have?

New York Giants: A

Round 1, Pick 2: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn St. DbwBw5CX0AMs_Ha.jpg

Round 2: Will Hernandez, G, UTEP

Round 3: Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia

Round 3: B.J. Hill, DT, NC State

Round 4: Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond

Round 5: RJ McIntosh, DT, Miami

Despite only having six picks, the Giants nailed this Draft. Barkley finally provides a steady running back. He’ll be running behind second round steal Hernandez, who also fills a big need. They could have taken Bradley Chubb at No. 2, but still found potential JPP replacements in the later rounds. Charlie Casserly of the NFL Network said Lauletta was the future franchise QB. I’m not too sure about that, but he’ll certainly make a decent backup.

Philadelphia Eagles: C+

Round 2: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota St.

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Round 4: Avonte Maddox, CB, Pittsburgh

Round 4: Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State

Round 6: Matt Pryor, G, TCU

Round 7: Jordan Mailata, South Sydney Rabbitohs Rugby Club

Goedert bumps the Eagles up half of a letter grade because he 1) is good 2) creates a threat to defenses as Philly works in a two tight end set. The rest of their draft wasn’t great, but it didn’t have to be. The Eagles were (obviously) good already. I’m not too sure about drafting Mailata, who has never played a down of football, but it’ll be cool if he translates.

Washington Redskins: C-

Round 1, Pick 13: Da’Ron Payne, LB, Alabama

Round 2: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

Round 3: Geron Christian, OT, Louisville
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Round 4: Troy Apke, S, Penn State

Round 5: Tim Settle, DT, Virginia Tech

Round 6: Shaun Dion Hamilton, LB, Alabama

Round 7: Greg Stroman, CB Virginia Tech

Round 7: Trey Quinn, WR, SMU

Washington’s best pick in this Draft was Guice in the second. There might be some character concerns, but he has great football value. Payne seems like an emergency pick after they lost out on Via Vea.

NFL Mock Draft 1.0

The NFL Scouting Combine is next weekend, which means it’s draft season.

This first mock draft is pretty short in all honesty, only picks one through eight. That’s because we don’t know who the ninth pick will belong to. It will either go the San Francisco 49ers or Oakland Raiders and will be decided by a coin toss on March 2, the same day the combine begins.

Let’s get this rolling.

1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold QB, USC

The Browns need a quarterback and Darnold is the highest touted prospect in this draft class. With the first pick, Cleveland can get their man of the future … hopefully.

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2. New York Giants: Josh Rosen QB, UCLA

Eli Manning isn’t good anymore. Rosen already said he’d prefer to stay out of Cleveland, so he’ll be there for the Giants. With a year to develop behind Manning, Rosen can thrive in New York with the talented (when healthy) receiving corps. He’ll also thrive in the New York media market.

3. Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb DE, NC State

The Colts’ biggest concern going into next year is probably Andrew Luck’s health, but they also need to add some talent to an aging roster. Chubb will be a playmaker on a defense that ranked 30th in points allowed last season.

4. Cleveland Browns: Saquon Barkley RB, Penn State

Barkley might be the best college player in the draft, but here have been questions as to whether his skills will translate to the NFL. He’s still worth the pick. Sam Darnold won’t be able to do all the work in Cleveland, and having Barkley in the backfield will help distribute the load.

5. Denver Broncos: Josh Allen QB, Wyoming

The Broncos window for championships is still open, but they’ll get nowhere without a decent quarterback. General manager John Elway is believed to like Allen, and with the Jets prepared to pay Kirk Cousins big money, they’ll take their chances on the rookie from Colorado’s neighbor state.

6. New York Jets: Minkah Fitzpatrick S, Alabama

We already discussed how the Jets can land their quarterback, so now they turn their attention to the other side of the ball. Fitzpatrick is the best defensive back in the draft and will be an excellent piece to play alongside Jamal Adams. That’s a pretty goos secondary.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Jackson CB, Iowa

An aging Brent Grimes is set to become a free agent, so the Bucs will need to find a replacement. Drafting a young and talented cornerback is a good way to go.

8. Chicago Bears: Calvin Ridley WR, Alabama

The Bears are committed to Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback. Now they need someone for him to throw the ball to. Ridley can fill the role of WR1, creating a potentially scary QB-WR duo.

 

Draft Overview: New York Giants

The New York Giants finished the 2017 with a 3-13 and have the second overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. What will they do with it?

Coaching played a big role in the Giants’ terrible season, and they have lots of talent, so this draft gives them a chance to add to that.

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley will almost definitely be available. He would give the Giants a much needed improvement in a backfield led by Orleans Darkwa, who rushed for 751 yards and five touchdowns in 2017.

The Giants’ offensive line also struggled last year, and now they risk losing Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg, who were both ranked in the top five of free agent offensive lineman by Pro Football Focus.

Tackle Mike McGlinchey and guard Quenton Nelson, both from Notre Dame, are considered the best in this draft class. If Pugh and Richburg both depart, the Giants might be forced to draft an offensive lineman.

But is any offensive lineman in this class worth the number two pick in the draft?

Maybe, but probably not.

If the Giants do decide to draft an offensive lineman, look for them to trade back a few picks. Someone will be willing to give up something for that number two pick, which could set the Giants up to potentially win in 2018, and definitely improve their roster going forward.

Something new the Giants face this offseason is addressing their quarterback situation.

Eli Manning is 37 years old and has two years remaining on his contract, but can opt out and test free agency this offseason, though that looks unlikely.

Manning is above average at best, but he can still play. Ben McAdoo was an idiot for benching him. He will also have the ability to throw the ball to his top four wideouts next year. All of them missed significant time in 2017 due to injuries.

Unless they have loads of faith in Cal product and 2017 third rounder Davis Webb, the Giants should (and likely will) consider drafting a quarterback.

UCLA’s Josh Rosen is widely considered the second best quarterback in the draft, and we know he likes the attention he’s sure to garner in the New York market. However, some personality concerns surround Rosen. Would he be okay with sitting out a year, or maybe even two, behind Manning?

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UCLA Quarterback Josh Rosen

The Kansas City Chiefs took a similar approach in drafting Patrick Mahomes in 2017. They ended up trading Alex Smith to the Redskins with one year on his contract because they believe Mahomes is ready.

The Giants could certainly do the same thing, but if Manning has a season like 2017, teams might hesitate to trade for the aging quarterback.

As of today, Rosen or Barkley look like the best options for the Giants. Of course that can all change once the new league year starts next month.

I’d like to take this time to acknowledge the Giants’ 2003 first round selection, William Joseph. The 11th overall selection out of Miami, he started only 17 of 60 games played and recorded 60 tackles in four seasons with New York. After the Giants cut him in 2008, he appeared in only nine more games, making the total for his career … wait for it … 69.

Nice.