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Vault Valuables: NFC East Preview


We are now moving on to last season’s most abysmal division, the NFC East. While no team even had a .500 record, the Washington Football Team still got to make the playoffs and give the Bucs a run for their money.

 

Dallas Cowboys

At +130, the Cowboys have a leg up on winning the division (seems like we say that just about every year). The Hard Knocks participants’ season will largely rely on Dak Prescott’s return from injury.

Offense

Quarterback

After a severe injury to his ankle in 2020, Dak Prescott hopes that he can return to how he was playing before the break. Prescott was largely playing at an MVP level before the injury and was leading one of the leading offenses in the league. Prescott injured his shoulder in training camp, but he should be good to go for week 1 of the regular season. If Prescott can return to about 90% of what he was, the Cowboys should be able to win the division in a weak NFC East.

Skill Positions

The Cowboys are pretty set at running back. After a down year without Prescott, Ezekiel Elliot should bounce back into form. After losing 15-20 pounds in the offseason, he said he feels better than ever. Behind him is the speedy Tony Pollard. This one-two punch should be a top duo, especially if Elliot is back to his old ways.

Receiver is another strong position for this Dallas team. The first three are the main three. Amari Cooper, Ceedee Lamb, and Michael Gallup will be their three starters. We know what Cooper can do. As long as he stays healthy, he should live up to his 5 year-100 million dollar contract. Behind him is CeeDee Lamb. After going BPA in the first round last year, the Cowboys lucked out with a stud in Lamb, and it seems like he is going to take another leap this year. Michael Gallup is another strong receiver who has consistently improved over the last couple of years. There is about zero depth behind them in terms of proven players, but these three are strong.

The tight end for this team is Blake Jarwin. He is many reporters’ breakout candidate for this team. When opportunity presents itself (as it is this year), one must take advantage. Behind him is Dalton Schultz who was fine as the starter last year. They will likely rotate in and out for each other.

Offensive Line

This offensive line used to be one of the best in the league, known for mauling the opposing defense. Nowadays, they are not as strong. From left to right, they start Tyron Smith, Connor Williams, Tyler Biadasz, Isaac Alarcon, and La’el Collins. Smith has been elite but is old now. Williams, Biadasz, and Collins all came out of college with loads of talent and potential, but each had question marks of their own. Overall, this line should be better than last year’s (due to injuries), but it won’t be elite.

Defense

Front Seven

They are working to rebuild their defense as well. After having one of the worst defenses in the league last year, they hope to improve to at least average. On the line, they have Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory to write home about. Gregory came into the league with loads of talent but has had legal issues for years. If he can put it together, he will help out this defense tremendously. Lawrence is one of the best ends in the entire league, elite against the pass and the run.

They are quite talented at linebacker. Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith have been in Dallas for a few years. While each of them has put together elite seasons, they are both extremely injury prone and are rarely on the field together. This may have led them to draft Micah Parsons out of Penn State. He will immediately step in and be one of the fastest linebackers in the NFL. On top of that, he is extremely talented and can cover running backs without having to worry about a mismatch.

Secondary

The problem for the Cowboys defense will likely arise in the secondary. On the outside, Dallas has Anthony Brown and Trevon Diggs. Diggs has improved to pretty solid, but there is not much to their cornerback room. They may want to scourge the waivers or trade market to improve.

Safety is not much better either. Donovan Wilson and Damontae Kazee will lock down the strong and free safety spots, respectively. Wilson got a large uptick in playing time last year, as he increased from 2 to 71 tackles from 2019 to 2020. Meanwhile, Kazee has been the starter for the Falcons for a few years until getting hurt last year. Overall, they will likely be below average.

Overall

The Cowboys offense is much better than their defense. It is very evident through the talent on both sides of the ball. Their games will likely be shootouts, relying on Dak Prescott to lead them.

 

Washington Football Team

At a consensus of +230, Washington has made significant improvement recently on both sides of the ball.

Offense

Quarterback

Ryan Fitzpatrick was brought in to be the bridge to the next young quarterback. Unfortunately, that quarterback did not come in this year’s draft. He has been in a “battle” with Taylor Heinicke for the QB1 spot. While Heinicke did a great job for Washington in the wild card game against the Buccaneers, that is his only game of significance on his resumé. Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick has made his way around the league and played in significant games. As of right now, Fitzpatrick is the QB1, and will likely be the starter for the foreseeable future. It will be interesting if they keep him around to mentor a QB (assuming they draft one next year). Overall, they will be fine.

Skill Positions

At running back, Washington has Antonio Gibson, JD Mckissic, and Jaret Patterson. Gibson had a solid rookie campaign and is expected to take a massive leap forward this year as their bell cow. Mckissic will be in on all passing downs and third downs, and he will have a large role in any gimmick plays as well. Jaret Patterson is an exciting prospect out of Buffalo who fell due to his height limitations.

The receivers for Washington are pretty strong. Terry Mclaurin looks to keep building on his impressive young career so far, they signed Curtis Samuel out of free agency from the Panthers and got Adam Humphries. They also have Dyami Brown, Steven Sims Jr, and Antonio Gandy-Golden as young and exciting prospects. Overall, this should be a good group for Fitzpatrick to throw to.

At tight end, the Football Team just gave a hefty extension to Logan Thomas. After a breakout year, the former QB popped onto the scene. Behind him, Washington doesn’t have much, but a young and exciting prospect is Sammis Reyes, who is part of the NFL’s new International Pathway Program. He played in his first ever football game week 1 of the preseason (he played basketball in high school and college). He showed that he can belong and may be a part of the team in the future.

Offensive Line

Washington is starting Charles Leno Jr, Wes Schweitzer, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff, and Sam Cosmi. Overall, this line should be solid, but nothing special (maybe a tiny bit above average). The main names here are Roullier who just got a large contract extension and Brandon Scherff who is an all-pro at the guard spot. At right tackle, Cosmi was drafted in the second round, so he has some expectations to perform well. They also have Ereck Flowers who is competing for the left guard spot, where he excelled two years ago with the then Washington Redskins.

Defense

Front Seven

This defense is strong. In fact, it was one of the strongest in the league last year. A lot of that has to do with the defensive line. They have four first rounders starting on the line in Chase Young, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, and Montez Sweat. All four are really good, and when you put them together, this is one of the best lines in the league. Also, Chase Young might be a hall of famer…

Linebacker isn’t as strong, but it isn’t bad. They have Jon Bostic, Jamin Davis, and Cole Holcomb. Davis was Washington’s first round pick, and they hope that he can elevate this defense even higher than what it was last year. There is not much depth behind them, as is the case with many linebacking corps.

Secondary

This secondary got stronger this offseason. A lot of that has to do with Washington paying a pretty penny to William Jackson III to come over from the Bengals to be their CB1. On the other side is Kendall Fuller, Kyle’s brother. This tandem should be pretty solid, as they are both above average corners.

At safety, Washington has Landon Collins and Kamren Curl, with Bobby Mccain as the main backup. Collins is a big hitter who may come down into the box quite often. Curl was a rookie last year who had a good campaign. He will likely split time with Mccain who was an efficient starter in Miami for years.

Overall

This team should be solid. If their defense can replicate what it did last year, it will certainly improve its record. While Ryan Fitzpatrick is no world beater, he is better than what they had last year and they got new weapons as well.

 

New York Giants

At +450, the Giants are on the outside looking in. If Daniel Jones wants to lead them to first in the division, he will have to improve quickly upon what he has done in his first two years in the league.

Offense

Quarterback

Daniel Jones has not been all that good since getting drafted in the first round in 2019. In his first year, he had a 2 to 1 TD to INT ratio. In his second year, that dropped to almost 1 to 1. He is athletic, but that gets him into trouble when he tries to extend plays. He also has a fumbling problem due to that extension of plays (20 in two years). Honestly, I don’t think he can be a franchise quarterback in the NFL, but with how the league works, he will likely get at least two more years to prove himself.

Skill Positions

The Giants have one of the best running backs in the NFL. Drafted 2nd overall, Saquon Barkley had an amazing rookie year. He tore his ACL last year and they are trying to bring him along slowly. He may be ready for week 1, but if not, it will be early in the year. Behind Barkley, they have Devontae Booker, Corey Clement, and Alfred Morris, all capable backs. Overall, the Giants are set here.

The Giants have a lot of talent at receiver. They signed Kenny Golladay to a huge deal in free agency. Have Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton back from last year. Drafted Kadarius Toney in the first round and added John Ross and Dante Pettis as well. They have big bodies, route runners, speed, slot receivers, etc. The Giants are more than fine at the receiver position, having good players about 5 deep.

New York has two proven tight end options in Evan Engram and Kyle Rudolph. Both tend to be injured but are supremely talented. Engram is extremely quick and is a great receiver at the position, and Rudolph poses a matchup threat, especially in the red zone due to his size. Blocking may be somewhat of an issue at this position, but Kyle Rudolph should be able to handle it.

Offensive Line

This offensive line has been abysmal for a few years and is part of the reason Daniel Jones was sacked 45 times last year. Last year, Andrew Thomas was drafted 4th overall. Hopefully he develops into something productive, because he was by far the worst tackle drafted in the first round. Next to him is Shane Lemieux who is currently hurt, then Nick Gates, Kenny Wiggins, and Matt Peart. A few positions are still in battle, as Will Hernandez and Nate Solder have started in the NFL. Solder was a disappointment for New York after not living up to his contract.

Defense

Front Seven

The Giants have invested quite a bit into their defensive line, much to no avail. This year, they have Dexter Lawrence, Danny Shelton, and Leonard Williams in the middle, with Azeez Ojulari and Lorenzo Carter off the edges. Lawrence, Shelton, and Williams were all first round picks (all are big bodies). Ojulari and Carter will be tasked with rushing the passer. The main backup will be Oshane Ximenes.

At linebacker, the Giants will have Reggie Ragland and Blake Martinez in the middle. After thriving in Green Bay, Martinez was just fine in New York. Ragland has never been anything special, but he has consistently been a good backup throughout his career. While never having 100 tackles in a season, the Giants are likely hoping that Ragland can see an uptick in production with an uptick in playing time.

Secondary

This secondary is much improved the last couple years. Over the last two years, they have signed James Bradberry and Adoree Jackson. Bradberry is very underrated, and Jackson has been an up and comer out of USC for a few years. Overall, these two should succeed, but they still need a slot corner to play in nickel personnel.

At safety, the Giants have Jabrill Peppers and Logan Ryan, with Julian Love and Xavier Mckinney to back them up. Peppers and Ryan are veterans in the league, both of whom can make plays. Peppers is the big hitter, meanwhile Ryan is the smarter ball hawk. Love is similar to Ryan, while Mckinney is similar to Peppers. The two backups are younger, however, and should develop nicely with veteran mentors ahead of them.

Overall

Overall, this Giants team isn’t going anywhere far with Daniel Jones at the helm. They have a good amount of surrounding piece, especially at the skill positions, defensive line, and secondary, but they definitely need some work before they are playoff contenders (although in this division, who knows).

 

Philadelphia Eagles

At +500, Philly is last in the division when it comes to odds to win, but they are not too far behind. Basically all four teams were in contention for first until the last week last year, so don’t count out the Eagles.

Offense

Quarterback

This year’s starter is Jalen Hurts. After drafting Hurts in the second round of last year’s draft, he played for some gadget plays while Carson Wentz struggled. When Philly finally inserted Hurts as the starter, he had his ups and downs. As teams got some film on him, he began to struggle more and more (as most rookie QB’s tend to do). He is an exciting watch, as he has the ability to extend plays with his legs. Overall, he will go through some growing pains, but the Eagles’ hope is that he can become their franchise QB (I think we will be able to see this year).

Skill Positions

At running back, the Eagles have Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and Kerryon Johnson. Initially, the thought was that Sanders would be the lead back. So far, Scott and Sanders have been somewhat splitting carries in training camp, which comes as a disappointment to many. Regardless, they have the pieces at the position, they just need to find when to give carries to who.

Wide receiver has been a work in progress for a couple of years in Philadelphia. After passing on Justin Jefferson for Jalen Reagor last year, the Vikings literally laughed in their war room. This year, they selected Devonta Smith, the Heisman, at tenth overall. Besides Reagor and Smith, the Eagles have Quez Watkins, Greg Ward, and Travis Fulgham. With all young players, the Eagles are hoping that they can find more success with this group than in years past.

The tight end room is a talented one. Here, they have Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz, and Richard Rodgers. Goedert and Ertz will share the main duties (with Goedert likely to take the 1A role this year). The Eagles were not able to find a trade partner for Ertz after his request this offseason. Overall, this position room will give Hurts at least two more talented, big bodies to throw to.

Offensive Line

This line last year was absolutely decimated. Injury after injury made this offense very hard to watch. If they get health this year, the offense should be much improved. From left to right, the starters are Jordan Mailata, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson. With Kelce, Brooks, and Johnson, they have three of the best linemen in the league. Mailata and Seumalo are developing players, but they are mountains of men. Again, as long as they get health, this offense will be much better in 2021.

Defense

Front Seven

This Eagles defensive line is one of the better groups in the league. They boast Brandon Graham, Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox, and Derek Barnett. All four are capable of getting to the quarterback with relative ease. Cox and Graham are getting much older, but they haven’t slowed down yet, so why think they will this year? Barnett and Hargrave are a bit younger, but both are productive players in their own right. The Eagles also added veteran Ryan Kerrigan this offseason.

Linebacker was one of, if not the Eagles’ biggest weaknesses last year. This year doesn’t look much different, as they have Alex Singleton, Eric Wilson, and Genard Avery as their starters. Wilson had a breakout season with the Vikings last year, as he had 122 tackles filling in for Anthony Barr. Last year, Singleton had 120 tackles as the starter for Philadelphia, and Avery has never been a starter in this league. Overall, despite the statistics, this will probably be a weakness again.

Secondary

The pass defense has been abysmal for the Eagles for a few years. They made a few signings this offseason to hopefully clear that up. On the boundaries, the Eagles have Darius Slay and Steven Nelson. Nelson comes over from Pittsburgh to hopefully lockdown the side opposite of Slay who has proven that he is the guy on the other side. Behind them is Avonte Maddox who struggled when thrusted into the starting spot.

At safety, the Eagles have Rodney Mcleod and Anthony Harris. While Mcleod has done fine in his career, Harris was rated the #1 safety by Pro Football Focus a couple years ago. While he had an “eh” year last year, he will have the opportunity to show his worth on his one year prove it deal.

Overall

This Eagles team has strengths and weaknesses on both sides of the ball. Lucky for them, they have strong trench play on both sides. A lot of this team’s success will depend on Jalen Hurts and his development. They may be a surprise team in contention for first in this weak division.

 

Recap

Overall, I do not expect this division to be extremely strong. The NFC East will not be as poor as it was last year, but there won’t be any 13 game winners. The most likely to do that is Dallas, but they have a lot of “ifs” all over the board.

Personally, I see this division going Dallas (+130), Washington (+230), Philadelphia (+500), and then the Giants (+450) in last place. However, I do not feel confident about this division, as we have seen for years that you never know what to expect when it comes to the NFC East.


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