Is Dallas still the team to beat in the NFC East? Scouts size up the Cowboys, Eagles, Giants and Redskins
There doesn't appear to be a clear favorite to win the NFC East, at least not yet. Each team has a few questions surrounding them, and whether or not an answer is found could end up in any of the four teams winning.
The Cowboys appeared dominant last year, but there are questions about a rebuilt secondary and whether or not QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott will face sophomore slumps. The Giants' wide receivers corps looks scary, but will the offensive line hold up long enough to allow Eli Manning time to throw? Will Washington be able to put the pieces back together after a crazy offseason? Or will Eagles QB Carson Wentz be able to make up for the lack of defense? Time will tell, but the NFC East could turn into the closest fight for the division title.
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the NFC East looks entering the 2017 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Cowboys, Giants, Eagles and Redskins.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
“I don’t recall seeing a college quarterback improve his passing more in a short period of time than Dak Prescott. His spirals were cleaner, and when people were open, he put the football on them.”
“Heading into 2017 though, his world has changed, because of the impossibly high expectations, no more Tony Romo in the quarterback room and opponent defensive coordinators having an offseason to break down his game.”
“What hasn’t changed is that the Cowboys still have the best offensive line in the league paired off with arguably the most talented workhorse running back in Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott raced to 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns to codify the Cowboys’ master plan of taking some pressure off the QB and their defense.”
“With three former first-round picks up front, Dallas only has to sort out where La’el Collins fits as a left guard or right tackle after Ronald Leary was lost in free agency and Doug Free retired.”
“All the focus in the draft went to defense, where they lean on coordinator Rod Marinelli to pull it all together.”
“Across the league, defensive end Taco Charlton, cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and cornerback Jourdan Lewis were all seen as second-round picks, with Taco being a reach and Lewis deemed a value.”
“Almost their entire secondary walked in free agency, so the two rookies will have to play.
“The Cowboys should be good, but a tougher schedule, sophomore slumps and the weight of expectations will likely keep them from reaching 13 wins again.”
“The Giants made the playoffs despite paltry rushing numbers and a poor third-down conversion rate, but they were [second] in the league with the fewest number of penalties. ... Head coach Ben McAdoo wanted to address the left tackle position in the offseason, but it appears that Ereck Flowers will get one more chance to secure the job.”
“In Odell Beckham Jr., they have one of the league’s top talents; however, he went off the rails last year at times, so the addition of Brandon Marshall, who has fought his own demons, should help with OBJ’s focus and maturity. Sterling Shepard did a nice job as their slot receiver and he should progress rapidly as a second-year player.”
“General manager Jerry Reese selected Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram in the first round, and he is a legit speed merchant who ran 4.42 at the Combine.”
“It appears that Paul Perkins will get the first crack at the running back job in his second season.
“In 2016, they dove into free agency and it actually paid off with the additions of defensive tackle Damon Harrison, defensive end Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins at cornerback.”
“Landon Collins is all football player, and he put together a Pro Bowl campaign in 2016 with 125 tackles, four sacks and five interceptions.”
“Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo did an awesome job of fitting all the new pieces together as they finished second in scoring defense.”
“If the offense can be more productive on first down, which will help them on third down, that combination can keep the defense off the field and fresher down the stretch.”
“This team is poised to take a deep step into the playoffs, but I still don’t trust their offensive line to actually get it done.”
“Give the Eagles and general manager Howie Roseman credit for identifying and then going to get quarterback Carson Wentz last year, especially in light of the mediocre class of quarterbacks that were available in the 2017 draft. Wentz got off to a hot start, then opposing coordinators made some adjustments to defend him, but he showed remarkable promise and poise for a prospect coming from the small school ranks.”
“The offensive line will continue to be led by Jason Peters, who has had an amazing career when you consider that he was an overweight and underperforming tight end at Arkansas.”
“Philly made a run at bringing back DeSean Jackson but ended up adding Alshon Jeffery (Bears) and Torrey Smith (49ers) in free agency. With these two on board, Jordan Matthews won’t carry the burden of being the No. 1 receiver after being forecast by most as a solid No. 2 coming out of Vanderbilt.”
“The defense finished 12th in scoring defense despite not having a single dominant player.”
“They signed defensive end Chris Long, traded for defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and inked safety Rodney McLeod in free agency, then drafted Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett in the first round and cornerback Sidney Jones in the second, despite him tearing his Achilles at the Washington pro day in March.”
“Doug Pederson, like his quarterback, should be much better in Year 2 in making decisions and managing the game as a head coach rather than just majoring in calling plays.”
“They can certainly be competitive, but I’m not sold they are a playoff team yet.”
“It looked like the Redskins finally had stability at head coach, general manager and quarterback. Then the calendar turned to 2017 and questions abound again after GM Scot McCloughan was dismissed in February. In addition, the Kirk Cousins scenario has led to him having all the leverage on the club with more than $40 million in guarantees over a two-year period of time and the threat of his departure after the season looming over the team.”
“They allowed DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon to depart in free agency with hopes that former first-round pick Josh Doctson and newly signed Terrelle Pryor, along with the highly productive Jamison Crowder, can get it done. Doctson is unproven, and Pryor has some physical traits but has never been in a disciplined, timing-based West Coast offense.”
“The offensive line is adequate in this scheme. Left tackle Trent Williams still plays at a high level.”
“Running back Rob Kelley was discovered as an undrafted free agent from Tulane. In conjunction with rookie Samaje Perine and incumbent Chris Thompson, they will form the nucleus of the Redskins’ backfield.”
“Tight end Jordan Reed has tremendous pass-catching talent but has had trouble staying healthy on a consistent basis.”
“Washington attempted to build their depth along the defensive front by signing Terrell McClain (Cowboys) and Stacy McGee (Raiders) in free agency, then they received a draft-day gift when Alabama’s Jonathan Allen fell to them at No. 17.”
“On third down, they finished 32nd in the league in giving up a 46.6 percent conversion rate.”
“The constant Cousins talk will take its toll, so I see them taking a step back in 2017.”