In 2011, the NFC East was a mess. The Philadelphia Eagles were expected to be one of the dominant teams in the entire NFL and folded almost before the season was half over; the Dallas Cowboys continued to be overrated but mediocre; the Washington Redskins were clearly rebuilding a shattered franchise and doing so without a quarterback and the New York Giants struggled for consistency all year and crawled into the playoffs with a 9-7 record before finally getting in gear and somehow coming out with a stunning Super Bowl victory.
All four teams have holes to fill if they want to compete this year and all are fortunate that this year’s draft is much deeper that previous years which should help them recover. Here now we look at the NFC East and what may happen in the draft.
Primary needs – outside linebacker, backup quarterback
Secondary needs – offensive tackle, strong safety
This team appears to be pretty close in spite of their collapse last season. The main problem we saw in Philly in 2011 was a lack of cohesion – they were a bunch of spare parts that had been brought together to make a whole.
This team desperately needs some help at linebacker. They made a tremendous move in bringing in DeMeco Ryans who projects as their starting MLB but having a starting outside rotation of Jamar Chaney, Brian Rolle and Casey Matthews isn’t ideal so picking up some more help then is a must. Dont’a Hightower and Luke Kuechly would be ideal fits but if they choose to wait till later then Shea McClellin, Ronnell Lewis and Keenan Robinson would fit.
Also, the Eagles have to look ahead to when Michael Vick inevitably gets injured again or slows down and becomes ordinary. If by some fluke Ryan Tannehill drops in the first round they MUST take him. Otherwise, I fully expect them to take a QB with one of their two second round picks. I’ve been projecting Kirk Cousins to them for a while and think this would be an ideal fit.
Safety and offensive tackle are not massive needs but these are areas they could use some quality depth. With Winston Justice released and Jason Peters out for 2012, a good backup is needed in the event that oft injured free agent signing Demetrius Bell doesn’t work out. At safety, Kurt Coleman will do as a Strong but ideally you’d like him in a rotation on various packages so perhaps the Eagles could look at Brandon Taylor either in the second round as a luxury pick or in the third round.
Primary needs – guard, cornerback, safety
Secondary needs – defensive line, offensive line depth, backup running back, receiving depth
The Cowboys have done what they can to plug a few gaps this offseason. The addition of Brandon Carr at corner was crucial and allows them to be flexible in the first round. However, the secondary is still rather thin and could require several picks to fix. In the first round, it is likely that Gilmore, Barron, Kirkpatrick and Jenkins will all be considered as options. If this is their intention, don’t be surprised if Dallas trades down. Failing a first round pick, there is a bevy of solid corners in the second round including Brandon Boykin, Jayron Mosley and Jamell Fleming.
Staying in the secondary, this draft class is rather poor when it comes to talent at safety. Alabama’s Mark Barron is a sure first round pick but many teams don’t like taking a safety high in the draft and if the Cowboys are of this mindset they may choose to wait. Despite a need at the position, this is one situation where the Cowboys pick more than on player lower in the draft and try to get a bit lucky – players like Trenton Robinson and Antonio Allen in the 4th round or if you want a really deep sleeper a name to remember on day three is Winston Guy from Kentucky.
At guard, the choice may be made for them. David DeCastro is clearly the top guard of this class and will garner a lot of interest in the top 15. In particular, the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs who pick ahead of Dallas may take him. If this happens, expect the Cowboys to wait until the second round to explore this position. This draft is particularly good for good but not elite talent at guard and with players like Amini Silatolu, Kevin Zeitler and Brandon Brooks all worthy of mid second round grades this may be the ideal spot for the Cowboys to take advantage.
A lot of the Cowboys draft will be about obtaining depth. There are many areas where they have quality but aging players. There has been an obvious attempt to get younger this season with vets like Bradie James, Terrence Newman and Keith Brooking leaving the team. Expect the Cowboys to look for value and upside wherever possible and for them to ake advantage of any players who drop for whatever reason.
New York Giants
Primary needs – running back, tight end, right tackle
Secondary needs – offensive line depth, linebacker
The Super Bowl Champions will be entering the 2012 season relatively stable. Most of their top talent is still with the team with the noticeable exception of wide receiver Mario Manningham. However, they do have a couple of gaping holes in places.
Running back is the team’s most obvious need. Brandon Jacobs has moved on and Ahmad Bradshaw has failed to consistently bring the massive ability that he flashes from time to time. There are two things to note here – the Giants traditionally prefer to draft running backs low (Bradshaw was a fourth round pick for example) and this draft is loaded with running backs in the second and third rounds. It is highly unlikely we see this team draft a running back until at least the end of the second round and depending on the way the draft goes may wait until the third round and address other needs first.
Tight end appears to be a major concern as well if it weren’t for the fact that the G-Men have two tight ends on the roster who they like in Jake Ballard, and Travis Beckum plus a third in Martellus Bennett who they snagged in free agency. The point that both Ballard and Beckum will miss the season is lost on no-one but with the number of talented players at this position the Giants have it is hard to see a tight end being drafted high. Couple this with the way that New York use their tight ends (primary as blockers and not as focal points of the offense) and this places further doubt on tight end being a priority pick. No doubt they’ll draft a tight end but it’ll be later in the draft and likely a good blocker like Temple’s Evan Rodriguez or UCLA’s Corey Harkey.
That leaves one major need to fill early – right tackle. The team chose not to re-sign veteran Kareem McKenzie and have no heir apparent in that position – although they did pick up promising utility lineman Sean Locklear who spent 2011 with rival Washington and showed some ability. This is one draft where the stocks of various offensive tackles have dropped due to their being most suited to the right side than the left. As such, the Giants may find themselves taking advantage of a player who falls to them such as one-time top 10 prospect Jonathan Martin or utility lineman Mike Adams. Failing this, there are a number of promising right tackles who project as second round talents that the Giants can either trade down or reach for such as Kelechi Osemele or Bobby Massie.
It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Giants make back to back offensive line picks at the top of the draft. They have solid but aging players on their line like center David Baas, left guard David Diehl and right guard Chris Snee and as such would be wise to bolster their depth. Their linebacker corp could use another addition as well at some point to help the Giants fully utilise the flexibility of Mathias Kiwanuka and also to insure against injury.
Primary needs – quarterback, safety, right tackle
Secondary needs – inside linebacker, tight end, cornerback
The Redskins are one of those teams with good but not great players all over the roster. Apart from their linebacker combo of Orakpo and Kerrigan, they have no elite players. What this team needs is an influx of elite talent. After trading up for the number 2 overall pick, they will get it at quarterback with either Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. By no means is this problem solved but with all they have invested in the pick it had better be worth it.
With the first round pick locked and no pick in the second round, value must be the order of the day for Washington. With their third round pick, right tackle will almost certainly be their top priority. Veteran Jammal Brown is in line to be cut after June 1st after a disappointing tenure in Washington and the Redskins have no-one to replace him. Donald Stephenson has been in for a visit but doesn’t project as a third round pick. More likely would be California’s Mitchell Schwartz or Troy’s James Brown. Many believe Zebrie Sanders is also in the running but after a very poor performance at the Senior Bowl that Mike Shanahan watched as one of the coaches, somehow I doubt the Redskins consider Sanders.
Despite signing a multitude of safeties recently – including corner Cedric Griffin who is being considered to play free safety – the Redskins will still need to draft a safety at some point. It’s not the best draft for this position however and, like I mentioned with Dallas earlier, the Redskins may be content to sit and wait. The one difference with Washington is that they don’t have a strong safety of any quality on the roster and as such may choose to take a chance on whoever they can get at the position as early as they can. This means that Brandon Taylor – despite not being suited to their system – may be considered in the third round.
As to the Redskins other needs, it’s all about depth. London Fletcher is back and Perry Riley is extremely promising as a inside linebacker but at least one more player will be required at this position. Same sort of issue at corner as while DA Hall and Josh WIlson are certainly capable they looked weak in certain defensive sets in 2011 and this must be fixed. At tight end, Fred Davis is extremely talented but just one marijuana violation away from a 12 month ban. Veteran Chris Cooley looks like he’s only got a couple of years left and may indeed be a late cap casualty so tight end will be a serious consideration in the later rounds.
Finally, running back is not a massive position of need with both Roy Helu and Evan Royster having solid rookie seasons and Tim Hightower expected to be re-signed despite the ACL injury he sustained early last season. With that being said, if a quality second round running back falls to Washington in the third round – many mock drafts have LaMichael James being the obvious candidate – then if Mike Shanahan likes the guy enough he’lkl be sorely tempted. However, I think it’s far more likely that if a RB falls to the Redskins in the fourth – such as Chris Polk, Isaiah Pead or Robert Turbin that Washington would take a punt on a runner as they have two fourth round picks this year.