State of the Division: Ranking NFC East Starters

Death, taxes, and my annual ranking NFC East starters by position article. These are truly the only certain things in life.

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Full disclosure is required. The starters are obviously assumed at this stage, and the rankings are totally subjective and should be treated as such. The results give a general picture of where each NFC East team is at for each position, but there are obviously so many other factors that go into winning a division and creating teams which are not assessed here.

Therefore, this 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 Dak Prescott Kirk Cousins Carson Wentz Eli Manning
RB Zeke Elliott LeGarrette Blount Paul Perkins Samaje Perine
#1 TE Jordan Reed Zach Ertz Jason Witten Evan Engram
#1 WR Odell Beckham Jr Dez Bryant Terrelle Pryor Alshon Jeffrey
#2 WR Jamison Crowder Brandon Marshall Terrance Williams Torrey Smith
#2 TE / #3 WR Sterling Shepard Cole Beasley Jordan Matthews Josh Doctson
LT Trent Williams Tyron Smith Jason Peters Ereck Flowers
LG Justin Pugh Allen Barbre Chaz Green Shawn Lauvau
C Travis Frederick Weston Richburg Jason Kelce Spencer Long
RG Zack Martin Brandon Scherff Brandon Brooks John Jerry
RT Lane Johnson Morgan Moses La’el Collins Bobby Hart
RDE (or ROLB) Olivier Vernon Brandon Graham Ryan Kerrigan DeMarcus Lawrence
1-Tech DT (or NT) Damon Harrison Terrell McClain Timmy Jernigan Cedric Thornton
3-Tech DT (or RDE) Fletcher Cox Maliek Collins Stacy McGee Dalvin Tomlinson
LDE Jason Pierre-Paul Jonathan Allen David Irving Derek Barnett
SLB (or LOLB) Preston Smith Nigel Bradham Devon Kennard Damien Wilson
MLB Jordan Hicks Zach Brown Jaylon Smith BJ Goodson
WLB (or MLB) Sean Lee Mychal Kendricks Will Compton Jonathan Casillas
#1 CB Josh Norman Janoris Jenkins Orlando Scandrick Jalen Mills
#2 CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie Bashaud Breeland Anthony Brown Patrick Robinson
FS Rodney McLeod Byron Jones DJ Swearinger Darian Thompson
SS Landon Collins Malcolm Jenkins Su’a Cravens Jeff Heath
K Dan Bailey Caleb Sturgis Dustin Hopkins Aldrick Rosas
  Cowboys – 59 Giants – 55 Eagles – 58 Redskins – 58

NFC East converging?

Last year, the range between the four teams was evenly split between 62 and 53. The gulf was even wider the year before, stretching between 61 to 49. Now it is just 59 to 55. This is not – in my eyes at least – due to the better teams regressing, as much as the worst teams – namely Washington – improving steadily and significantly year on year.

The division sent two teams to the playoffs last year for the first time since 2013. It should not surprise anyone if it sends at least that many this year.

 

Competent Cowboys

The Cowboys only have four players as the ‘worst at their position’ – two of which (SAM LB and 1-Technique DT) will come off the field in nickel situations, and the other two (Right DE and Strong Safety) at least appear to have quality depth behind them.

On offense, the king is dead, long live the king. Tony Romo will watch over Dak Prescott from above after his offseason ascension into the CBS booth. Zeke Elliott and Dez Bryant are the rightful attention-getters within the ranks. Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, and Terrance Williams are unheralded playmakers. The offensive line will have to cope with losing 40 percent of their starters, but La’el Collins and one of Chaz Green, Jonathan Cooper, or Byron Bell should, theoretically at least, mean the drop-off is minimal.

The defense makes up for the offense’s lack of question-marks. Dallas’ secondary performed admirably last year, but had almost a complete overturn during the offseason as Brandon Carr, Mo Claiborne, JJ Wilcox, and Barry Church left for pastures new. They have thrown resources at the position group, but the success this season will likely lie with the much-hoped for progress of second-year Anthony Brown, third-year Byron Jones, and veteran Orlando Scandrick.

The pass rush will look similar to years past. Serviceable – possibly proficient for spells – but missing the lead animal which the other teams possess. At linebacker, Sean Lee will remain the undisputed leader of the young defense. Perhaps the most cryptic question of all is Jaylon Smith. One of the best defensive draft prospects in recent years, but will he ever get back to full health and ability?

The Cowboys go into this year as favourites to retain the NFC East crown. The churning of the middle-roster may have some effect on the team, but it’s hard to imagine any of the stars – Prescott, Elliott, Bryan, Martin, Smith, Frederick, and Lee – will see a downturn in form.

 

Resurgent Redskins

Despite his two-year tenure ending in March, Scot McLoughan left his stamp on Washington. Preston Smith, Brandon Scherff, Su’a Cravens, and Jamison Crowder are the physical manifestations of his time there, but a cursory glance at their 2017 Draft class reveals that his lasting legacy could be that which is now firmly entrenched within the minds of his former staff.

Eight of their 22 starters are the second best at their position in the division, as per above. This is perhaps the greatest strength of the team, namely, that their team is full of above-average starters. The likes of Morgan Moses, Zach Brown, and Bashaud Breeland may never be the superstar of the team, but they can be counted on to do their job at a consistently good level.

Washington may not have made the blockbuster offensive investments their counterparts in New York and Philadelphia did this offseason, but they made smart moves. Franchise tagging Kirk Cousins was a must for them and locking him down with a contract should be the next aim. A receiving corps of Terrelle Pryor, Jordan Reed, Jamison Crowder, and Josh Doctson is as good as any in the division, and Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff make their offensive line capable.

Their front-five on defense mixes dependability with the productive potential of Ryan Kerrigan, Smith, and Jonathan Allen. Zach Brown and Will Compton are ideal scheme fits who have some playmaking potential. On the back end, Josh Norman and Su’a Cravens lead a defensive backs crew who are as arrogant as they are talented.

The Skins are similar to the Cowboys, with their lack of apparent weaknesses on the team. The one area which may hold them back is the running game, but fourth-round pick Samaje Perine could be the answer to that. The team has double-figure-win potential.

 

Philadelphia fixed?

With only four players as ‘best at their position’, the Eagles weakness may be their lack of dynamic playmakers. Fletcher Cox is the best of the four, but Lane Johnson, Jordan Hicks, and Rodney McLeod can hardly compete with the quality which is produced by the other three teams.

Carson Wentz was granted patience last year, which was sorely needed after he tapered off badly following a strong first month. The excuse was that a lack of resources held him back, so the Eagles changed that this offseason. Alshon Jeffrey joins as a big-bodied target man, Torrey Smith adds some speed, and LeGarrette Blount joins to be the thunder to Darren Sproles’ lightning.

The season rests on the development of their second-year quarterback, but he will receive ample help from arguably the best defense in the division. Derek Barnett joins Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox to enhance an already formidable pass-rush group. Playmaking linebacker Jordan Hicks will patrol just behind Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks. The cornerback situation could still be an issue this year with Patrick Robinson hardly being an upgrade over Nolan Carroll, but they will receive help from a top safety duo in Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins.

The Eagles have made much noise over this offseason and I am hesitant to predict they back that up, but with an improved offense, high-level defense, and a special team unit which is always capable of plays, they are in the running for the East.

 

Jumbled Giants

The true wildcard of the division is in New York, who have the most best players at their respective positions, but also the most who are worst at the position. This is hardly surprising however for a team which favours quality over quantity when it comes to acquisitions, and making strong position groups dominant rather than weak ones competent.

The offense will integrate two big-bodied receivers, with free-agent pickup Brandon Marshall and first-round pick Evan Engram. The Giants were in the bottom-10 in red-zone efficiency last year and Marshall will be hoped for as the cure to that. The biggest question will be at running back. Paul Perkins will get first shot at the job, but the leash will be short with Wayne Gallman, Orleans Darkwa, and Shaun Draughn waiting to pounce. DJ Fluker will finish off a quality interior offensive line trio with Richburg and Pugh, but Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart both need to improve at tackle. Eli Manning will just need to be average, and how far he strays either side of that could be decisive for the Giants.

Jonathan Hankins was the big loss of the offseason for New York, but they replaced him in the second round with an almost identical player in Dalvin Tomlinson. Olivier Vernon, Snacks Harrison, and Jason Pierre-Paul round off a front-four which should create havoc. As per usual, linebacker looks a weak spot but BJ Goodson is highly thought of within the organisation, and Devon Kennard and Jonathan Casillas are both solid veteran presences. It’s at defensive back where the Giants shine brightest however. Landon Collins is already one of the best defensive backs in the league, and Darian Thompson has promise. At cornerback, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Janoris Jenkins, and Eli Apple are good enough to rival any corner trio.

The Giants could take the league by storm this year. Consistency will be the biggest issue for them. They have enough firepower to take down any team in the league, so will be a fascinating watch throughout.

 

Even if all my rankings are correct, this list really doesn’t mean much. It is essentially just a fun look at how the Cowboys starters compare with their NFC East rivals. The list doesn’t compensate for injuries for example, and there will be plenty especially as we get into training camp. It also fails to account for coaching, team spirit and officiating, and relative positional important – it is better to have the best quarterback in the division than the best kicker for example.

The NFC East appears to be more competitive going into this year than any in recent history. All four teams appear to be freshly rejuvenated with young talent, and any of them could make a run for the title. I personally make the Cowboys as favourite, followed by the Giants and Redskins in close succession, with the Eagles at the rear.

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