Will the Giants get Eli Manning a new backfield mate or take his successor with the No 2 overall pick?
The NFC East is home to the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, who have done nothing since winning the Lombardi Trophy to show that they won’t be a serious threat to do it again. And don’t forget that even though Nick Foles was the Super Bowl MVP, he’s only keeping the seat warm for Carson Wentz, who was putting together his own MVP-worthy season before tearing his ACL in Week 14.
The rest of the division is in a state of flux. Dallas and the New York Giants are dealing with some uncertainty regarding the future of their No. 1 wide receivers, while the latter also is in the midst of a reset with a new general manager (Dave Gettleman) calling the shots and a new coaching staff led by Pat Shurmur in charge. Washington also is undergoing a change, as Alex Smith is set to replace Kirk Cousins at quarterback.
Dallas Cowboys (9-7, 2nd place in NFC East)
2017 snapshot: Much of the Cowboys’ season was dominated by the protracted legal drama surrounding Ezekiel’s Elliott’s eventual six-game suspension. Dallas struggled out of the gates, then got hot right before Elliott decided to end his legal challenge to the suspension. The Cowboys proceeded to lose their next three games and ended up in the logjam of 9-7 teams that finished one game out of the wild-card race. On the field, Dallas’ biggest issue was a largely ineffective passing attack, as Dak Prescott took a step backwards in his second season as the starter.
Biggest needs: Once viewed as the best offensive line in the NFL, Dallas’ front five started to show some cracks last season. The depth behind the starters certainly needs to be addressed; something that was evident when All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith missed some time due to injury and his replacements promptly gave up six sacks in one game to Atlanta’s Adrian Clayborn. Linebacker also is a need as Sean Lee has been dogged by injuries in recent seasons and with Anthony Hitchens and Kyle Wilber both leaving in free agency. Tight end also is something the Cowboys must start thinking about sooner rather than later with Jason Witten set to play his 16th season. And while the defense was improved in 2017, the unit could use more plays from the secondary. Dallas finished 24th in the league with just 10 interceptions last season.
First-round pick: Nos. 19 overall
Potential picks: Offensive line and tight end both need to be addressed, but don’t expect Dallas to do either of those with its first pick. The Cowboys currently have nine picks in the draft, which should allow them the opportunity to fill several needs. But the first selection will likely either be used on a cornerback (UCF’s Mike Hughes or Louisville’s Jaire Alexander could be options, assuming Ohio State Denzel’s Ward is already off the board) or a linebacker (Alabama’s Rashaan Evans, Boise State's Leighton Vander Esch). The two potential wild cards for this pick could be wide receiver since Dez Bryant’s future is somewhat up in the air and the aforementioned tight end, if the team falls in love with South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst or South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert as Witten’s heir apparent.
New York Giants (3-13, 4th in NFC East)
2017 snapshot: Simply put, anything that could go wrong for the Giants pretty much did last season – both on and off the field. There were injuries (season-ending ones suffered by Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall) and plenty of locker-room drama highlighted by the drama related to the benching of Eli Manning. In the end, the debacle that was the 2017 season cost both the general manager and the head coach their jobs. Now it’s up to Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur to turn things around.
Biggest needs: Injuries aside, some of the Giants’ struggles can be attributed to some rather large holes on the roster. The biggest belongs to the offensive line, a unit that has struggled over the past several seasons and has contributed to Manning’s decline. Gettleman has already put his stamp on this team by bringing in former New England Patriot Nate Solder to man left tackle but more help up front is needed. On defense, the entire unit regressed last season but the most glaring need on that side of the ball is at linebacker. New York also could use an infusion of talent in the backfield as the team managed fewer than four yards per carry and just six rushing touchdowns in 2017. And then there are the ongoing questions about Manning’s future and when the team really needs to start focus on finding and developing his replacement.
First-round pick: No. 2 overall
Potential picks: Penn State running back Saquon Barkley appears to be the popular choice and one that Giants fans will surely embrace. Otherwise, the team will probably wait to address the offensive line or linebacker. Another possibility is trading down to acquire more picks, which then would bring these other two positions into the discussion. The “what if” scenario that can’t be ignored is if Cleveland decides to take Barkley with the first pick. In that case, a trade down seems even more likely unless New York decides to take a quarterback. After all, the Jets can’t dominate the Big Apple buzz when it comes to the most important position on the field, right?
Philadelphia Eagles (13-3, 1st in NFC East, Super Bowl LII champions)
2017 snapshot: The Eagles tied for the best record in the regular season even though Carson Wentz, who was playing at an MVP level, tore his ACL in Week 14. From there, Nick Foles took the reins and with the help of the Eagles’ defense, the rest as they say, is history. Not only did the city of Philadelphia get its long-awaited Super Bowl victory, this team is well positioned to make another run.
Biggest needs: Even though the Eagles have seen some players leave via free agency or trade, the front office has done a good job to keep the core intact while also bringing in a few reinforcements. As a result, the biggest need for the reigning champs is probably looking for a long-term replacement at left tackle given Jason Peters’ age (36) and that he’s returning from a serious knee injury. Tight end also could be a target with the departure of Trey Burton in free agency. Linebacker, wide receiver and perhaps cornerback are other positions that could see some attention as the team looks to rebuild depth.
First-round pick: No. 32 overall
Potential picks: The Eagles have the luxury of taking the best available player when their turn comes at the end of the first round. They also could trade out of the spot if another team makes them an offer they can’t refuse. If they stay put, look for offensive tackle to be a primary target, although a defensive tackle could be in play too. This year’s deep class of offensive tackles could mean the Eagles will have their choice of Connor Williams of Texas or massive Orlando Brown from Oklahoma. But if Vita Vea of Washington, Taven Brayn of Florida or even Michigan’s Maurice Hurst are still around, the front office may choose to go with the other side of the line of scrimmage. Although not a huge need, cornerback (UCF’s Mike Hughes? Iowa’s Josh Jackson?) could be in the mix as well.
Washington Redskins (7-9, 3rd in NFC East)
2017 snapshot: The Redskins couldn’t string enough wins together, finishing with a 1-5 record in NFC East play. The running game averaged 3.6 yards per carry, tight end Jordan Reed endured another injury-plagued season, and wide receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr. turned out to be a bust after signing as a free agent. The defense was the worst in the league when it came to stopping the run and ball security (14 lost fumbles, tied for most in the NFL) was an issue too.
Biggest needs: The Redskins traded away cornerback Kendall Fuller in the deal that brought them Alex Smith while Bashaud Breeland remains a free agent after failing his physical before signing with Carolina. Josh Norman is still around and the team signed former Cowboy Orlando Scandrick, but cornerback is still an area of concern and safety could use some reinforcements as well. Linebacker Zach Brown was re-signed, but he could use more help on the inside, especially considering Mason Foster and Will Compton (who is a free agent) both ended the year on injured reserve. On offense, a new center could be on the list with Spencer Long’s departure in free agency, while more playmakers are needed at both wide receiver and running back.
First-round pick: No. 13 overall
Potential picks: Washington has multiple needs but the most pressing one seems to be at linebacker. The Redskins should be in decent position to get one of the top inside linebackers in this draft class – Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds (if he’s still available), Georgia’s Roquan Smith (ditto) or Alabama’s Rashaan Evans. If all of those are gone than it could be a cornerback, like UCF’s Mike Hughes, Louisville’s Jaire Alexander or Iowa’s Josh Jackson. While not the most pressing need, a defensive lineman could be in the offering depending on who is still on the board. On offense, center is a need but not one that needs to be addressed in the first round. Same goes for adding more weapons at wide receiver or running back.