NFC East: Pre-Draft Guide

NFC East: Pre-Draft Guide


By: Greg Lehr


Dallas Cowboys

2017 Record: 9–7

Number of Selections in 2018 Draft: 10

Overall Pick Numbers: 19 , 50, 81, 116, 137, 171, 192, 193, 208, 236


Summary: After the season-long headache of the Ezekiel Elliott suspension saga last year, the Dallas Cowboys will gladly turn the page to the 2018 season. In addition to Elliott’s suspension, we saw Dak Prescott experience some regression in his sophomore campaign. He needs to improve on holding the ball too long and fix some accuracy issues, but other factors outside his control (inconsistency at running back and multiple injuries to LT Tyron Smith) significantly affected Prescott and the offense as a whole. In free agency, Dallas followed a similar plan to previous offseasons by waiting until the second and third waves of free agency to make their moves. Their additions included receivers Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson, OT Cameron Fleming, OG Marcus Martin, DE Kony Ealy, and LB Joe Thomas. Outside of Hurns and potentially Fleming and/or Martin, depending on how the offensive line shakes out, these are primarily depth signings. The front office raised the need for a receiver with the release of Dez Bryant.


Top 5 Positions of Need:

1. Linebacker: It was not a surprise to see Anthony Hitchens get priced out of Dallas’ range to resign him. Considering the injury history of Jaylon Smith and Sean Lee, it’s imperative for DC Rod Marinelli to have another versatile, 3-down LB who is ready to contribute right away. FA addition Joe Thomas is a depth signing, Kyle Wilber is gone, and Damian Wilson has not proven to be reliable. There have been talks of giving Smith some snaps at SAM as well as MIKE. Don’t be surprised to see Dallas take an LB early and another one on day 3 for additional depth and special teams help.


2. Wide Receiver: Hurns and Thompson have more or less filled the spots vacated by Bryant and Brice Butler, but nobody would argue that the position group has to be upgraded. Dallas has done their homework on several top WR prospects. Even before officially releasing Dez Bryant, the Cowboys were making it clear that WR would be an early round consideration. The team has visited and/or worked out Calvin Ridley (Alabama), DJ Moore (Maryland), Courtland Sutton (SMU), James Washington (Oklahoma St.), DJ Chark (LSU), and Antonio Callaway (Florida). With a crowded receiver room full of mainly second-tier options, Dallas needs to select a WR prospect with #1 potential in the first or second round, or none at all. Anything after that will be just another guy on the depth chart.


3. Safety: With reports of Byron Jones moving back to corner this season under new secondary coach Kris Richard, Dallas finds themselves a little thin on the back-end, both in numbers and in talent. Jeff Heath is better than many fans give him credit for, but he’s mostly average. Xavier Woods showed some promise his rookie season, and Kavon Frazier came on near the end of the year to make an impact in sub-packages, but Dallas is still looking for an every down FS who can control the middle of the field. Unless they use some of their newly-found cap space from the Dez release and trade for Earl Thomas (don’t hold your breath), then they would be wise to take a FS with range and playmaking skills.


4. Defensive Tackle: Dallas has not put high-end resources into the NT/1-technique position because Marinelli generally views this spot as a 2-down player in his scheme. Stephen Jones hasn’t ruled out a prospect in the first round if they possess at least some 3-technique traits. Dallas has shown interest in some top DT prospects, and it’s been a popular position in mock drafts. This would allow Maliek Collins to move back to his natural 3-tech position, where he showed promise as a rookie with 8 sacks. A run-stuffer with a little pass rush potential could complete Dallas’ defensive front and give them a very formidable rotation.


5. Left Guard: Jonathon Cooper was serviceable last season, but he’s now in San Francisco. Dallas protected themselves by bringing in Marcus Martin, a former third-round pick of the 49ers who did not see a snap last year in Cleveland. He will compete to start assuming La’el Collins stays at RT, but the Cowboys could look to draft a starting-caliber interior OL prospect as they try to return their OL to its dominant form. With how much emphasis they put on controlling the clock and running the ball, it would not be a surprise to see them go this route, perhaps even trading back to the mid-late 20s if they so choose.


Prospect Fits:

1. LB Rashaan Evans (Alabama) or Leighton Vander Esch (Boise St.): Both will be in serious consideration when Dallas is on the clock at pick #19. They each possess the size, instincts, and athleticism to step in as the day one starter at MIKE, filling the void left by Anthony Hitchens, who signed with the KC Chiefs as a free agent. If Dallas goes WR in round 1, Josey Jewell (Iowa) is a solid day two option with early-starter potential. A transition of Hitchens to Jewell would be one former Hawkeye replacing another.


2. WR: It would be a surprise if Ridley is still on the board, but if he’s there, he’s the pick. However, it will likely come down to Moore or Sutton if they go this route in round 1. Moore is a physical and athletic and can create plays on his own, something the receiving core has lacked as of late. Sutton is similar to Bryant in the way he plays, so he would make sense as a replacement. He won’t outrun you and struggles to separate, but he knows how to use his size and will go up and get the ball.


3. S Jessie Bates (Wake Forest), Rashaan Gaulden (Tennessee), and Tarvarius Moore (Southern Miss): All are legitimate options on day 2 and could each provide the Dallas secondary with a true center fielder they have been lacking, especially with Byron Jones set to move back to CB after an average showing on the back-end the last couple of seasons.


4. DT Da’Ron Payne (Alabama): Payne is a top 30 visit and must be in the conversation in round 1. He immediately upgrades the NT position and flashes enough 3-tech traits/athleticism for Marinelli to approve, but it’s likely that Dallas will have LB or WR options that they like more in the first round. Day 2/3 prospects that still would upgrade the 1-tech spot include Tim Settle (VT), Foley Fatukasi (Connecticut), and Deadrin Senat (USF).


5. LG: Another round one OL would feel like a luxury pick. However, Zeke is back, Dez is gone, and the line struggled more than fans have been accustomed to. Plugging in a Will Hernandez (UTEP) or Isaiah Wynn (Georgia) would be an easy day one starters with Pro Bowl potential. Garrett and his staff aren’t playing any tricks on the defense; they want to line up and run it down your throat. Fans might groan, but don’t be shocked if it happened. Mid-round options might include Cole Madison (Washington St.) or Skyler Phillips (Idaho St.).


Honorable mention:

TE: Dallas placed backup James Hanna on the reserve/retired list over his ailing knee injury. The depth chart behind the aging legend of Jason Witten is young and unproven. They liked Blake Jarwin enough to activate him last year to keep him from being poached off their practice squad. Geoff Swaim and Rico Gathers round out the tight end room. There’s a chance Garrett, and his staff let these guys take advantage of an opportunity for a more significant role, but the case for drafting a tight end just gained some weight.


New York Giants

2017 Record: 3–13

Number of Selections in 2018 Draft: 6

Overall Pick Numbers: 2, 34, 66, 69, 104, 130


Summary:

Last season was essentially a lost year for Eli Manning, as the franchise signal-caller nears the end of his career. Now with the #2 overall pick in a draft with multiple franchise-caliber quarterback prospects, the Giants find themselves at a crossroads. New GM Dave Gettleman has indicated the team plans to move forward with Manning as their quarterback in 2018, but this ultimately shouldn’t determine what they do with the #2 overall pick. The Giants can take a Darnold, Rosen, or Allen at #2 and still defend a “win-now” mindset with Eli remaining as next year’s starter. Regardless of who the G-men take, their selection is where the draft truly begins. Looking into their offseason progress so far, the highlight is undoubtedly their signing of LT Nate Solder, who provides stability on Manning’s blindside that’s been missing for several years. However, they did lose three interior OL that started at least some games last season in Weston Richburg, Justin Pugh, and D.J. Fluker. Brett Jones did an excellent job taking over at center during the season and is set to be the starter going forward after Richburg signed with San Francisco. Guard remains a position of need despite the addition of Patrick Omameh from Jacksonville. The left side of the line appears to be markedly improved, but with Ereck Flowers moving to RT and at least one guard position being up in the air, there is still work to be done.


Top 5 Positions of Need:

1. Offensive Line: Bringing in Solder was a vitally important move, especially for Manning’s sake in his twilight years. Pat Shurmur has informed Ereck Flowers he will be given a chance to earn a starting job on the opposite side at RT, but even if he wins the job and plays well (or at least better than what he has shown at LT), that doesn’t mean the Giants will be willing to pick up his 5th year option at the end of next season. Losing out on Andrew Norwell was a bummer, but the Giants signed Patrick Omameh as consolation. Omameh is a starting-caliber addition who helps fill the void left by Pugh and Fluker inside. A tackle and/or guard in rounds 2–4 will be under serious consideration for Gettleman and Co. Tackle is probably the more pressing long-term need but there are more interior linemen in the early rounds, so a guard wouldn’t be a surprise at the top of rounds 2 or 3.


2. Quarterback: Manning is set to return in 2018 and is under contract through 2019, but sitting at #2 overall with multiple high-profile prospects deserves all the attention and consideration in the world. Even though the G-men took Davis Webb in the third round two years ago, he has never taken a regular season snap and was beaten out by Geno Smith for second string last year. The Giants have a rare opportunity to secure their franchise guy for ideally the next decade while having the luxury of grooming him behind a 2x Super Bowl Champion for a season or two. Dallas, Philly, and Washington all have their franchise guy for the next several years; this draft is a perfect opportunity for New York to join that club if they have a prospect they love.


3. Cornerback: After cutting veteran Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (saving $6 million off the cap in the process) and losing a 9-game starter in Ross Cockrell, the Giants are down to Janoris Jenkins as their only reliable starter, although Eli Apple figures to hopefully move past his immaturity issues from last season and start opposite Jenkins. William Gay, who was brought over from Pittsburgh, could offer some depth in nickel but will be 33 when the season begins. Journeymen Teddy Williams was also signed, but likely more as a special teams impact than on defense. In an increasingly pass-heavy league, a team needs three starting-caliber CB’s on the roster, and the Giants cannot be too confident at this position beyond Jenkins.


4. Running Back: The addition of Jonathan Stewart doesn’t change much here. He’s 31 years old and has averaged less than 4 yards/carry the last two years in Carolina’s better rushing offense. Stewart, Perkins, and Gallman compromise a mediocre committee, but they lack dynamic playmaking, although Gallman has shown some glimpses of a decent third-down option. Even if the Giants go with a different position with their top pick, there are plenty of other options at the position on day 2 or even day three that can upgrade the RB group for Big Blue.


5. Linebacker: Trading for Alec Ogletree definitely helps infuse much-needed talent and athleticism to this group, but new DC James Bettcher’s 3–4 scheme is a call for more upgrades. BJ Goodson showed promise in the middle of the defense last season in just his second season, but he only started seven games due to injuries. Still, he figures to start in the middle alongside Ogletree. Olivier Vernon is expected to move from DE to OLB, and Kareem Martin came over with Bettcher from Arizona as a formidable OLB option. Bettcher wants versatile LB’s with speed to both cover and blitz.


Prospect Fits:

1. OL Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame): Nelson is ideal, but it’s only realistic if the Giants decide to down a few spots out of the #2 slot. The second round should have some plug-and-play options available. Will Hernandez (UTEP), Isaiah Wynn (Georgia) or James Daniels (Iowa) are very solid interior OL prospects, and although there’s a chance they all go in the first, it’s unlikely. Tackle is a bit thinner in this range, but Connor Williams (Texas) or Kolton Miller (UCLA) might be there.


2. QB: If the Browns were to take Josh Allen first overall, there would be tons of buzz in the room if the Giants have their choice of Darnold or Rosen, two players heavily connected to the team since the end of the season. An opportunity to take your team’s next franchise QB is rare, and if the Giants’ guy is there, they need to pull the trigger.


3. CB: The Giants need a nickel corner and can wait for later day 2 or early day 3 to get one that can contribute. Someone like Duke Dawson (Florida) can fill this role. His instincts and football intelligence are strong, and he’s not afraid to step up in run support. He would be a nice piece for a rebuilding Giants secondary.


4. RB: There seems to be a lot of talk of Saquon Barkley (Penn St.) to the Giants, and it’s easy to see why. He is an elite playmaker who can be a bell cow back for the offense and take a great deal of pressure off of Manning. Barkley is clearly an upgrade over the painfully-average committee they have on the roster right now. However, it’s such a deep RB draft that some really good prospects could slip into the 3–4 round if teams think they can find one later. If a Kerryon Johnson (Auburn), Nick Chubb (Georgia), or Rashaad Penny (San Diego St.) slip into this range, they would be a nice consolation prize.


5. LB Darius Leonard (South Carolina St.): Leonard is among the Giants’ 30 pre-draft visits and makes a ton of sense. He is athletic enough to play several different roles in Bettcher’s hybrid defense, and his versatility and skill-set would be utilized in the right way for Big Blue. This is a mid-round pick (late day 2/early day 3) that almost makes too much sense.


Philadelphia Eagles

2017 Record: 13–3

Number of Selections in 2018 Draft: 6

Overall Pick Numbers: 32, 130, 132, 169, 206, 250


Overview:

The defending Super Bowl champs are without second and third round picks in this year’s draft, but trading down to add an extra pick must sound enticing to them unless a player they love falls to #32. Finding holes on the Eagles roster is a bit more challenging than most other teams in the league. They have protected themselves to help offset some of their losses with WR Mike Wallace (traded Torrey Smith), DT Haloti Ngata (Beau Allen), and traded for DE Michael Bennett (Vinny Curry). One of their most significant moves was surprisingly keeping Nigel Bradham with a 5-year, $40 million deal when many thought Philly would be outbid by a team on the open market, especially after seeing the Chiefs hand former-Cowboys LB Anthony Hitchens $9 million/year.These moves will help GM Howie Roseman take the best player available or (ideally) trade down and try to recuperate an extra pick in the third round.


Top 5 Positions of Need:

1. Tight End: The Eagles have one of the premier tight ends in the game in Zach Ertz, but Trey Burton went to Chicago, and Brent Celek was cut to save $4 million against the cap. They have high hopes for second-year player Billy Brown, who has potential as a receiving option to help make up for the loss of Burton. They also brought in Richard Rodgers, who is coming off a quiet year and is more of a band-aid than a long-term solution.


2. Safety: DC Jim Schwartz likes using three safeties on the field who could all tackle, cover, and play against the slot. Losing Corey Graham, Jaylen Watkins, and Patrick Robinson creates a need for a versatile secondary player a key area that Philly still needs to address. They see some potential in Tre Sullivan, who spent last year on the practice squad, but they need someone who can come in and contribute immediately as a third safety and/or nickel corner.


3. Wide Receiver: Alshon Jeffery is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and has had significant durability issues throughout much of his career. Mike Wallace is on a one-year deal. Nelson Agholor showed considerable improvement last season but has a small sample size of success and is not a #1 WR should Jeffery miss any time going forward. Mack Hollins is a #4 until we see more. Adding another young receiver to the room should be a consideration.


4. Offensive Tackle: Jason Peters is 36 and coming off a significant, season-ending knee injury. Hal Vaitai did a decent job in his absence, particularly in the postseason, but depth for the immediate and long-term future would be a smart move.


5. Running Back: Jay Ajayi has one year left, and with his knee concerns, it’s tough to imagine the Eagles resigning him. The rest of the committee in Philly are some nice pieces but without a true leader following LeGarrette Blount’s departure.


Prospect Fits:

1. TE Dalton Schultz (Stanford): Schultz has continually been linked to the Eagles with his connection to Ertz, another Stanford TE product, and their offseason workouts together. Schultz is a balanced prospect who didn’t get to showcase his receiving skills as much as other prospects at the position due to the Cardinals’ offense. If he’s there in the 4th, expect him to be on the Eagles radar.


2. S Justin Reid (Stanford): Reid formally met with Philly at the Combine and as a pre-draft visit. The interest is real and for a good reason. His versatility is exactly what the Eagles need for the hole in their secondary. Reid will be ready contribute from day 1. He plays physical, tackles aggressively, and has the ability to cover in the slot or stay back deep. Jim Schwartz will be pushing for someone like this on draft day, and without a 2 or 3, pulling the trigger at 32 makes a lot of sense if they stay in the first round.


3. WR J’Mon Moore (Missouri): Moore has the size and speed to compete for snaps as an early day three pick. He’s still relatively raw but has good upside. His athleticism could give him a chance to see the field sooner than some might expect.


4. OT Brandon Parker (North Carolina A&T): He has the frame and overall physical traits to have a chance in the NFL. A projected 4th-5th round pick, Parker may end up going earlier than anticipated due to the thin nature of the position this year.


5. RB: Many mock drafts have Derrius Guice going to Philly at the end of the first round, but without a second or third round pick, I’m not sure Doug Pederson’s staff values the position enough to spend their only top-100 pick on it. Names such as Akrum Wadley (Iowa) and Mark Walton (Miami) are worth keeping tabs on in the middle rounds as players that have third-down capabilities.


Washington Redskins

2017 Record: 7–9

Number of Selections in 2018 Draft: 8

Overall Pick Numbers: 13, 44, 109, 142, 163, 205, 231, 241


Overview:

Following a second straight season on the franchise tag, QB Kirk Cousins and the team decided to officially part ways, with Cousins landing in Minnesota and Washington trading for Alex Smith, costing them a rising slot corner in Kendall Fuller and a third-round draft pick in this year’s draft. Adding (and extending) Smith allows Washington to remain competitive and avoid entering rebuilding mode without a franchise quarterback at the helm. Elsewhere on the roster, WR Terrelle Pryor didn’t pan out and has since been replaced by Paul Richardson from Seattle. A lower profile move that could pay a nice dividend was the signing of Pernell McPhee, who is expected to be in the rotation at OLB and help make up for the losses of Trent Murphy and Junior Galette. CB Orlando Scandrick joined the Redskins soon after being released by the division-rival Cowboys.Scandrick will help make up for the loss of Fuller as a versatile secondary player who has excelled in the slot throughout his career. At 31, he’s likely a short-term solution. Washington doesn’t have as many glaring holes as you would think, they simply need more talent at a few different positions.


Top 5 Positions of Need:

1. Defensive Tackle (NT): No team gave up more rushing yards per game last season than the Redskins, and it doesn’t help that they play 1/4 of their games against Dallas and Philadelphia, who last season finished second and third, respectively, in rushing offense. It starts up front with a run-stuffing NT.


2. Running Back: Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson proved to be the two best backs on the roster last year in their respective roles, but neither fits the role of a true 3-down back. A talent upgrade is needed, especially with Alex Smith’s dependence on a strong running game. Can Washington go find Smith a new Kareem Hunt? There are plenty of options out there.


3. Safety: DC Greg Manusky lacks a true playmaker on the back end. They like Montae Nicholson and still have DJ Swearinger, but each of them has limits. Don’t be surprised if Washington pulls the trigger on a safety in the early rounds, though once again, this is where the lack of a third-round pick could cost them.


4. Linebacker: Bringing back Zach Brown was vital because it allows the Redskins to look for more depth rather than reach out of pure need. Brown and Foster should continue to start in the middle, but they could use an infusion of youth at this position. A lack of a third-round pick could hurt them here.


5. Guard: Spencer Long signed with the Jets, leaving the left guard spot open. Arie Kouandijio is the most likely in-house replacement, but it would be wise for Washington to take an interior OL if the board allows for it. The Redskins have the pieces for a good offensive line; they just got plagued with the injury bug last season. Another young guard would help round the group out and add depth.


Prospect Fits:

1. DT: The good news is this draft provides good depth for interior DL, so if they don’t go with Vita Vea (Washington) or Da’Ron Payne (Alabama) in the first, both of whom were pre-draft visits, a name like Foley Fatukaski (Connecticut) should be available to fill this hole as a mid-round pick. If Washington comes out of the draft without a run-stuffer ready to contribute in year one, it’s a big mistake.


2. LB Genard Avery (Memphis): Avery is an early day three prospect that could give the Redskins the depth they’re looking for to join current backup, Zach Vigil. Avery has a consistent track record of production plus the size, versatility, and special teams ability to make him a useful backup LB with a chance to grow his role down the road.


3. S: There is a legitimate chance that Minkah Fitzpatrick or Derwin James could fall to 13 if there is a run on the top 3–4 quarterbacks in the top 5 picks as expected. Chubb, Barkley, and Nelson are virtual non-QB locks in the top 10, plus the two linebackers (Smith and Edmunds). Although Fitzpatrick and James have some different strengths, they both offer versatility and would provide a substantial boost in the secondary.


4. RB: The second round will be the sweet spot for Washington to get their pick of running backs. Either of the two Georgia backs (Nick Chubb or Sony Michel) or USC’s Ronald Jones II would all be excellent options in round 2 if available.


5. LG Jamil Demby (Maine): He played tackle in college but is projected as more of a guard in the next level. He has excellent size (6'5", 335 lbs) and good strength. Likely a day three pick, Bill Callahan can help him get the most out of his potential. He has the looks of a future starter if he can improve a bit more technique-wise. Cole Madison (Washington St.) is another day three tackle-to-guard prospect that boasts starting potential.

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