September 5, 2016 by Ell and Mike Sports
Ell’s NFC East Divisional Rankings
The Giants spent a lot of money in the offseason to improve a defense that fell far behind a much improved offense last year. QB Eli Manning continues to lead the way as the uncontested leader of the team and he is coming off a big season last year in the same offense. The WR core has gotten deeper with the return of veteran Victor Cruz from multiple injuries and the addition of rookie WR Sterling Shepard who has proven he can play inside and outside built in the mold of Cruz, in the opinion of most while WR Odell Beckham Jr. continues to lead the way as one of the most athletic players in football. The TE position should have even more production with TE Larry Donnell as a big target and blocker and Will Tye, who proved he can make plays last season. The RB position continues to be led veteran Rashad Jennings and pass catcher and change of pace back Shane Vereen, but there are hopes 2nd yr. RB Andre Williams will cut into the carries, rookie Paul Perkins, or 3rd year back Orleans Darkwa who was in the mix last season. The offensive line should be improved with the return of LT Ereck Flowers and RT Justin Pugh moving back to guard at LG next to Flowers; however Marshall Newhouse at RT could be the position to watch. On defense, the Giants seem to have built a solid front led by DE Jason Pierre-Paul who feels like he should be better, after learning how to use his damaged hand better, the addition of NT and run stuffer Damon Harrison from the Jets, and DE Olivier Vernon coming off a big season with the Dolphins, who most teams considered overpaid, but the Giants think he is now in his prime. The LB core is still undergoing change and finally has some competition to improve the unit, but a true playmaker is still missing; this unit should be more active. The secondary should be much improved with the additions of veteran cover CB Janoris Jenkins from the Rams, who has gotten better each year, a big press CB in rookie Eli Apple, veteran Leon Hall, and rookie FS Darian Thompson who has taken over the starting job allowing Landon Collins to move to SS where he can be more of a hitter which is his strength. The Giants spent a lot via free agency, but seems to have filled in needs; the balance on both side of the ball and added talent should lead to a division title.
*Andre Williams has been cut.
The Cowboys were looking like a very dangerous team before another injury to QB Tony Romo in the preseason, but if rookie QB Dak Prescott can be as ready as he looks the team has pieces to stay afloat. The RB core is loaded with rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott looking to take the bulk of the carries, veteran Alfred Morris looking ready to prove he has something left in the tank, and veteran Darren McFadden coming off a big year behind the best O-line n football. The WR core is finally fully healthy led by star Dez Bryant finally at full health. TE Jason Witten continues to provide consistency to the TE position. While the offense seems to be all systems go, the defense could be a concern mostly along the D-line and pass rush where suspensions and injuries have not been friendly. The D-line is led by DE/DT Tyrone Crawford who showed he has talent last season, but his help is questionable. The LB core is also under change led by finally healthy LB Sean Lee who will try to bring some of his playmaking ability to the mix. The CB positon remains the same with the core of Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, and Orlando Scandrick for better or for worst, with the hopes that DB Byron Jones now the full time FS can cover their deficiencies with his sideline to sideline play and coverage versatility. The Cowboys offense should be very explosive and could really punish other teams midseason with the return of Romo, but the defense needs to find some playmakers or hope that Byron Jones has a huge season.
The Redskins have good pieces in place, but the success of QB Kirk Cousins who is playing under the contract tag will make or break this team. Cousins must play at a higher level for this team to win the division again. The RB core is led by Matt Jones who will get a chance to show that he can be a workhorse back, but he must stay healthy because the backs behind him are inexperienced, as well. The WR core is one of the deepest in the league with speedy vet DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, 2nd year slot WR Jamison Crowder, and rookie 1st round pick Josh Doctson. The offensive line is led by LT Trent Williams, but the team needs to play a lot better on the interior. The TE position is deep with athletic pass catching TE Jordan Reed, veteran Vernon Davis, and Niles Paul. On the defensive side of the ball, the Redskins are led by pass rushers OLB Ryan Kerrigan who has a non-stop motor and 2nd year OLB Preston Smith who should be even better with another year under his belt. The D-line is a hard-nosed veteran group, but no one really sticks out. The changes have come in the secondary, where CB Josh Norman coming off a huge season comes in as the #1 CB, rookie CB Kendall Fuller has been added to the mix and could be a steal, and SS David Bruton Jr. comes in from a championship with the Broncos as a solid hitter and playmaker. The Redskins have talent on both side of the ball, but offensive inconsistency and run defense could be there downfall; the passing game and pass coverage should be able to keep them in games.
The Eagles were set at QB with Sam Bradford, backup Chase Daniels, and a redshirt season set for rookie QB Carson Wentz who they traded up to get with the #2 pick. However, a trade of Bradford to the Vikings has really shook things up with Daniels to start until Wentz recovers from injuries; Wentz should have growing pains coming from North Dakota State, but the Eagles will see what he has to offer. The RB core will now be led by RB Ryan Matthews with Demarco Murray leaving via trade, with backup Darren Sproles, change of pace back Kenjon Barner, and speedy rookie Wendell Smallwood. The WR core continues to be led by Jordan Matthews, but someone must step up opposite of him with Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, and Josh Huff in the mix for snaps. TE’s Brent Celek and Zach Ertz continue to provide alternate pass catching options, especially Ertz with good athletic ability. The offensive line was going to be much improved with the addition of G Brandon Brooks, but a suspension to RT Lane Johnson could be tough to overcome on that side. On the defensive side, the Eagles are changing to a 4-3 defense which helps most players on the roster led by star DT/DE Fletcher Cox. The hope is that DE Vinny Curry is able to provide a consistent pass rush along with DE/OLB Connor Barwin. The LB core remains mostly intact with MLB Jordan Hicks replacing Kiko Alonso. The secondary has undergone a change with CB Leodis McKelvin entering as a #1 CB, CB Ron Brooks coming into the mix from the Rams, as well as, SS Rodney McLeod making this an interesting group to watch. The Eagles are missing pieces on both sides of the ball, mostly offense, but they have talent at skill positions and a defense that can keep them in games; the key to this season will be the growth of Carson Wentz and finding the right pieces.