Examining the NFC East: Ranking the starters at each position

This exercise has become an annual routine for me. It is quite simple to understand; we go through every starting position, and rank each NFC East (assumed) starter accordingly.

It is totally subjective, and should be treated that way. The results give a general idea of where each NFC East team is at for each position, but there are obviously several other factors that go into winning a division that are not assessed here. Therefore, it is not a ‘ranking’ of NFC East teams, it is simply a ranking of their starters.

Position 1st Place (4pts) 2nd Place (3pts) 3rd Place (2pts) 4th Place (1pt)
QB Tony Romo Kirk Cousins Eli Manning Carson Wentz
RB Zeke Elliott Ryan Matthews Rashad Jennings Matt Jones
#1 TE Jordan Reed Jason Witten Zach Ertz Larry Donnell
#1 WR Odell Beckham Jr Dez Bryant Jordan Matthews DeSean Jackson
#2 WR Pierre Garcon Terrance Williams Sterling Shepard Nelson Agholor
#2 TE / #3 WR Victor Cruz Brent Celek Josh Doctson Cole Beasley
LT Trent Williams Tyron Smith Jason Peters Ereck Flowers
LG Justin Pugh La’el Collins Allen Barbre Shawn Lauvau
C Travis Frederick Weston Richburg Jason Kelce Kory Lichtensteiger
RG Zack Martin Brandon Scherff Brandon Brooks John Jerry
RT Lane Johnson Doug Free Marshall Newhouse Morgan Moses
RDE (or ROLB) Olivier Vernon Ryan Kerrigan Brandon Graham Benson Mayowa
1-Tech DT (or NT) Johnathan Hankins Bennie Logan Kedric Golston Cedric Thornton
3-Tech DT (or RDE) Fletcher Cox Damon Harrison Chris Baker Tyrone Crawford
LDE Connor Barwin DeMarcus Lawrence Jason Pierre-Paul Ziggy Hood
SLB (or LOLB) Preston Smith Nigel Bradham Devon Kennard Kyle Wilber
MLB Jordan Hicks Will Compton Kelvin Sheppard Anthony Hitchens
WLB (or MLB) Sean Lee Mychal Kendricks Mason Foster Jonathan Casillas
#1 CB Josh Norman Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie Orlando Scandrick Leodis McKelvin
#2 CB Janoris Jenkins Bashaud Breeland Mo Claiborne Nolan Carroll
FS Rodney McLeod Byron Jones Deangelo Hall Darian Thompson
SS Malcolm Jenkins Landon Collins Barry Church David Bruton
K Dan Bailey Josh Brown Dustin Hopkins Caleb Sturgis
Cowboys – 61 Giants – 60 Eagles – 57 Redskins – 52

Cowboys Bias?

I truly don’t believe I showed any bias here. In fact, I made sure that tiebreaker-situations go the way of the non-Cowboys team in order to overcome any partisanship. Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, and Jason Witten are among the best at their respective position groups in the entire NFL, but both were dropped to second place for the reason outlined above.

Closest Battles

Some position groups are represented sensationally within the East, and others not so. Trent Williams, Tyron Smith, and Jason Peters are three of the top-five left tackles in the NFL. Ordering them was extremely tough, as I like them all for different reasons. Peters and Smith are both dominant in the run game, while Williams is the better pass blocker. I went for Williams here, but they all deserve recognition.

The tight end position is pretty crowded in the division too. Choosing between Jason Witten and Jordan Reed was my toughest decision, as Witten’s demise has been exaggerated and Reed’s rise has been greatly understated. Witten is a superb blocker who still gets open, and still catches everything thrown his way. Reed is part of the new breed of undersized, athletic, matchup-nightmare tight ends. I went with Reed in the end, as the likelihood of him getting better this year is higher than that of Witten’s.

On the other hand, it’s plain to see the weakness of the division is at off-ball linebacker. Sean Lee is very good, Mychal Kendricks is pretty good, and then there’s almost nothing. Jordan Hicks and Will Compton have potential, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that there a number of teams who have a better linebacking corps than all the NFC East put together.

As the year goes on, it will be fascinating to see how these rankings change. Youngsters such as Matt Jones (for Washington), Tyrone Crawford (for Dallas), Darian Thompson (for New York), and Nelson Agholor (for Philadelphia) will all have opportunities to exceed these expectations, and the intensely competitive and publicised nature of the NFC East allows these to become stars virtually overnight.

Reverse Order From 2015 Standings

This was particularly interesting to me, as it really portrayed how trivial an article like this actually is. On the face of it, it does look like Dallas should be the favourites for the division this year. It’s not just that they have highest score, it’s that they have quality talent in key positions – quarterback, wide receiver, left tackle, and weakside linebacker. However, the Cowboys were even further ahead in last year’s edition, but that optimism died in the most painful way possible.

Washington meanwhile have the worst starters in the division, but that means fewer ‘key’ players who can derail the season through injury, poor-performance, or suspension. The other advantage they have is as a well-rounded roster. While the Cowboys have holes all over their defense, it’s hard to find any major positional deficiencies on the Redskins roster.

New York and Philadelphia to me should be the third and fourth favorite going into this season. Both have some quality talent on their roster: the Giants with exciting wide receiver and defensive line corps, and the Eagles with their defensive line as well as two quality safeties. The issue is that both are coping with a plethora of changes, in both coaching and personnel.

Is this Useful?

No, not really, but it is fun. When I did this in 2014, the Eagles came out top, but in reality, the Cowboys ended up taking the division by storm with 12 wins. Then in 2015, Dallas came out top but barely limped to 4 wins.

This list doesn’t compensate for factors such as coaching, and injuries, and team togetherness. It also assigns the same value to the quarterback position as it does to the kicker.

This isn’t to say that you’ve wasted five minutes of your life from reading this; it’s only that you should take this at face value, and use it to better educate yourself on the other teams in the Cowboys division.

The NFC East will be fascinating to follow this year. After the embarrassment of having four bad teams last year, all of them seem to have improved this offseason. There isn’t a clear favourite or underdog, and that should make for a riveting season.

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