NFC East Preview 2020
The NFC East is home to many great franchises, yet it is often considered to be one of the weaker divisions in football. Regardless, the division race is always exciting and seems to last until the final week. There have been many changes for all the teams. Three teams have new coaches (Dallas, New York, and Washington). Everyone has lost a key player from last year's squad. There are high draft picks entering the fold to help their teams improve. Here's the NFC East as I see it in 2020.
Wide Receiver: A huge question mark heading into 2019, it now seems the position has been solidified. Back then all you knew was Amari Cooper. Now, they have Michael Gallup looking to follow up a great sophomore campaign and added Oklahoma standout CeeDee Lamb in the draft. Those 3 can be an outstanding combination.
Running Back: Ezekiel Elliott has been one the best in the league since he was drafted in 2016. He has rushed for over 1,000 yards in 3 seasons and has proven to be a threat as a receiver out of the backfield. Elliott alone is enough to call this a position of strength for the Cowboys, but they also have 2nd-year Tony Pollard. Pollard had a strong rookie campaign, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and showing promise as a kick returner. Rookies Darius Anderson and Rico Dowdle are also trying to make the team.
Quarterback: Dak Prescott has had 4 tremendous seasons and seems to be the next big name to get paid. They couldn't agree on a long-term deal in the offseason, but he is still under center in 2020. They also brought in former Bengals's starter Andy Dalton. While Dalton got a lot of flack in Cincinnati, he was actually a decent starter and provides great depth and experience as a backup if Prescott should get injured. Many teams would love to have that kind of player in the same role.
Secondary: They've got players with plenty of potential at both corner and safety, but none have really proven themselves yet. CB Jourdan Lewis has been steadily improving and will join veterans Anthony Brown, HaHa Clinton-Dix, and Daryl Worley in an effort to lead the unit. Chidobe Awuzie The team also has high hopes for Donovan WIlson and Trevon Diggs.
Defensive line: The Cowboys leading sacker from a year ago, Robert Quinn, is now in Chicago. Until the recent signing of Everson Griffen, that left Demarcus Lawrence as their only formidable pass-rusher. The additions of Aldon Smith and Bradlee Anae also should improve the pass rush. The question I have now is about the interior d-line. Dontari Poe and Tyrone Crawford are not the same forces they used to be. Antwaun Woods has been a solid backup, but the rest of the group is extremely inexperienced. They'll be in trouble if these injuries linger.
This was a pretty easy pick. Lamb was an incredible college player and an absolute steal for the Cowboys in the middle of the first round. His speed and route running ability just add to his talent. I know he's just a rookie, but I expect big things from Lamb this season, and Jerry Jones does too.
Can the offensive line remain a strength without Travis Frederick?
The Dallas offensive line has been the team's greatest strength for years. While the guards and tackles return, the team will be missing center Travis Frederick, who retired. Frederick was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease shortly before last season. While the team played without him, there was a noticeable dropoff in the position. Center is a key position in the communication of the offensive line for protection and line calls. Frederick's replacement is rookie Tyler Biadasz.
Was 2019 a fluke, or do they have issues on defense?
In 2018, the Cowboys defense became a forceful unit behind a great linebacker corps of Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Leighton Vander Esch. However, in 2019, the group appeared to take steps back. They were making bad reads, overrunning plays, and missing tackles. Lee and Vander Esch both suffered injuries and missed time. The group will be looking to show that they are more like the 2018 defense than 2019.
Final Record: 9-7
New York Giants
Running Back: Similar to the Cowboys situation, Saquon Barkley alone makes this a strength. They've also added veteran Dion Lewis, who has proven to be a productive change-of-pace back in New England and Tennessee. If they can get anything else out of Wayne Gallman, this group becomes even stronger.
Defense: An average football fan would probably look at the defenders on the Giants roster and recognize almost nobody. Very clear sign of a weakness there. Leonard WIlliams is their best defensive player. He and Dexter Lawrence should be a good combo on the d-line. Adding Kyler Fackrell and Blake Martinez will slightly improve the linebacker unit. Marcus Golden returns as a the top pass-rusher, but their secondary is a mess.
Offensive Line: The Giants might have recognizable names along the offensive front, but they have not performed up to expectations. Guard Kevin Zeitler has really been the only bright spot. Nate Solder has not been the same player he was in New England, and Will Hernandez has not developed as quickly as they hoped. With Solder opting out for 2020, they'll be relying on rookies Andrew Thomas and Matthew Peart at the tackle spots. Far from ideal.
There were signs of Jones breaking out during games last year, so why can;t he fully breakout in year 2? He's already got a running game to take some of the pressure off, and he has some good receivers as well. If Evan Ingram can finally be the tight end they thought they drafted, the Giants might have something on offense. I like the way Jones plays. He (usually) makes good decisions and is an underrated runner, which is now a necessary ability for QBs in the NFL.
Biggest Question Mark
Can Evan Engram finally stay healthy and reach his potential?
Engram was a first round pick and billed as more of a big wide receiver. He has shown great ability in the passing game and has improved his blocking, but he always seems to get injured. He has missed 14 games in 3 years and is coming off of foot surgery. How much will it affect him?
Who leads the defense?
As I said before, the defense needs a lot of work. One of the elements needed is a clear-cut leader. None of the defenders on the roster have played that role at the professional level. Fackrell or Martinez could step up as new additions, or it could be a returning player like Markus Golden or Leonard Williams. This is a disadvantage that comes with having such a young team.
Final Record: 4-12
Defensive Line: A good defensive line is a staple of Jim Schwartz's Wide-9 defensive scheme, which relies on pass rushing ends. Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox have been instrumental parts of this units success and will be joined by a deep group this year. They did lose Javon Hargrave for the season, but there is still plenty of experience and athletic ability up front for the Eagles.
Tight End: The Eagles seem to always have a deep tight end group. It started with Brent Celek and Zach Ertz, then got deeper with the addition of Trey Burton. Now they have Ertz and Dallas Goedert, two very similar players at the position. If Goedert lost 6 lbs, they'd be the exact same size. I would say Ertz is more of the receiving threat, while Goedert is a blocker who can catch at this point. Once Goedert takes the next step, the Eagles will have an almost unstoppable duo. Most people know how good Ertz is by now, so imagine if they had 2 of him.
Secondary: The Eagles secondary may be cursed. They always seem to have recognizable names but suffer injuries and never gel enough to perform well as a unit. They've spent high draft picks on guys that never panned out and were recently cut. They did add Pro Bowler Darius Slay and have decent safeties, but there's a hole at #2 CB.
Linebacker: While the defensive line is great, the unit behind them isn't great. They lost veteran Nigel Bradham and will have to rely on many rookies and inexperienced players. Nathan Gerry, T.J. Edwards, and Duke Riley all have experience in the league but largely as role players.
Guard: Veteran All-Pro Jason Peters returns on a new contract and moves from tackle to guard. Unfortunately, you need to guards to play football, and I'm not sold on any of their options.
Goedert was one of my favorite prospects in the 2018, where the Eagles selected him in the 2nd round. With the draft being held in Dallas, and Jason Witten briefly retiring, it was a slap in the face to Cowboy fans who wanted a "new Witten." Last year, Goedert doubled his production from his rookie campaign. I've likened him to his teammate, Ertz, and if he'll get there, if he continues progressing.
Have they added enough to their secondary?
Darius Slay is one of my favorite players. While he has had a great career thus far, it seemed like he lost a step the past couple seasons. He still will definitely lock down your top receiver and make you pay for mistakes, but he doesn't have as much burst. He'll be fine, but it's the other guys around him that need to step up.
Who do they have at WR?
Everyone knows Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson. They've both been top NFL receivers at one time or another. While Philly fans got on Nelson Agholor for some bad drops, he seemed like the clear number 3 receiver (not including Ertz). I'm not going to pretend to know exactly how the other guys will do, but it's not a foregone conclusion that they'll be any better.
It seems like we're always talking about some kind of injury for Carson Wentz, whether he plays through it or sits. He's reportedly already dealing with an injury and the season hasn't even started yet, He's a great player on the field, but they don't have a veteran backup behind him now like they did when they won the Super Bowl. He also tends to play worse when playing injured. It's pretty obvious they need a healthy Wentz to have a good season.
Final Record: 8-8
Washington Football Team
Defensive Line: When you spend as many high draft picks on this unit as Washington has, it damn well better be your strength. They have 5 former first round picks on the defensive front (Ryan Kerrigan, Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat, and Chase Young) and a former 5th round pick, Matt Ioannidis, who has become a key starter. Whatever they get out of anyone else will be plenty.
Linebacker: You will recognize very few names in this unit, and only one or two have done anything note worthy on the field. It's mostly untested young players, former special teamers, and long-time vet Thomas Davis. If Reuben Foster can avoid the off field distractions, he could help make this a better unit, but they still lack the play making stud.
Quarterback: Until Alex Smith was cleared to practice, you could have made the argument that there wasn't an NFL starting QB on this roster. With the graphic nature of his injury, he clearly isn't going to start. Dwayne Haskins, who had a handful of start last season, has been named the starter. With Kyle Allen as the number 2, Haskins needs to prove he is the franchise quarterback of the future.
Sweat was such a beast in college that many thought he could be a top 10 pick, if he put on some weight and kept the athleticism. He did all that and still fell to Washington late in the first round. As a pass rusher, he had a good rookie campaign with 7 sacks. If he can build on that we're probably looking at the league's next premier pass-rusher.
Biggest Question Mark
What playmakers do they have on offense?
Terry McLaurin and Peterson are definitely the top weapons for this offense. But, looking at the roster, there isn't anyone else yet. They'll have to hope that they hit on some of these draft picks.
Is Haskins a franchise QB?
He has limited starting experience at both the pro and college levels. While he's been a great story, he has yet to prove he is the future for this franchise. He needs to prove them right.
Will they be distracted by everything that has happened off the field with their franchise this offseason?
The franchise has had several off field events occur that could distract the team as they prepare for the season. I won't get into them, but they'll have to do their best to concentrate on their goals ahead.