Last Updated: Apr 06, 2011 4:25 PM
For the last decade the NFC East has been considered by many the best division in the NFC, perhaps even the best in all of football. But after witnessing the Cowboys sputter to 1-7 to start the season, the Eagles getting bounced out of the playoffs in the first round by the Packers, the Giants collapsing in December, and the Redskins failing to record a winning season for the third straight year, it seems the balance of power in the NFC is starting to shift South (more on the NFC South next week). Typically reserved for the NFL's perennial losers, two teams from this once prestigious division have Top 10 picks in the upcoming Draft (Cowboys 9th and Redskins 10th). Will the Cowboys look to beef up their Defense? Do the Redskins draft a nose tackle to replace Albert Haynesworth? Should the Giants add youth to their aging O-Line? Does Philly need another Offensive playmaker? We answer these questions and reveal some glaring needs all four of these teams will look to address in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Draft Picks: 23, 54, 85, 103, 119, 146,150, 217
Asante Samuel put into another strong season in 2010, but Dimitri Patterson gravely struggled when filling in on the right side in place of Ellis Hobbs, who went down with a career-threatening neck injury. This is without a doubt Philadelphia's top area of need, and they could consider Brandon Harris (Miami) or Aaron Williams(Texas) with both Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara likely to be off the board before they pick at slot 23.
Ernie Sims failed to perform up to expectations after being acquired from Detroit, and the club could use an upgrade at weak-side linebacker. Dontay Moch(Nevada), Ross Homanand Jonas Mouton would all make good options, and at least one should still be available in the second round.
Trent Cole is a stud at the position, but the Eagles still haven't had a fearsome pass rush over the last two years, and it should be in their plans to get better in that area. 2009 first-round pick Brandon Graham flashed big-time potential as a rookie, but is coming off reconstructive knee surgery and Juqua Parker is not likely to return as a free agent. In Philly's favor, it is a very deep Draft for defensive ends and they won't have to use a high pick in order to add quality depth. Jeremy Beal is among the mid-round prospects that appeal to us, as he is tenacious with a knack for getting into the backfield, and notched 25 sacks over his last three campaigns at Oklahoma.
Considering the Eagles boasted one of the best Offenses in the league, it's hard to imagine they have many needs on Offense. The E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES boasted the NFL's 3rd best Offense in 2010. They averaged 27 points per game (3rd most), 389 yards of total Offense (2nd best) and 145 rushing yards per game (5th best). Before the start of the season, many predicted the Eagles would have a rebuilding year since Kevin Kolb was taking over for long-time starter Donovan McNabb under center. But after suffering a concussion the first game of the season, Head Coach Andy Reid put Kolb on the bench and let Michael Vick lead the team to an NFC East Division Title. Vick was dominant in 2010. His efforts and playmaking ability were so dynamic, it forced Philly's front office to question the future of Kevin Kolb with the franchise. Kolb is a former 2nd round pick and was considered the future of the organization, but now with Vick at the helm, Kolb has made it clear he wants out of the City of Brotherly Love. Reports (rumors) indicate the Eagles could get a 1st Round pick in 2011 if they traded Kolb. Problem is, due to the lack of a labor agreement, no player can be traded in exchange for draft picks. But when the strike is over, Kolb will be one of the most sought after players. Which brings us all the way back to the reason the Eagles will need to address the QB situation in the upcoming draft. If Kolb goes, Mike Kafka will take over as the #2 QB behind Vick. Kafka was drafted in the 4th Round in last year's Draft. Though Vick was great in 2010, he missed four games due to injury and started to look a bit worn down/banged up toward the end of the season. Kafka isn't the guy Philly wants to take over if Vick goes down and he isn't their QB of the future. But because the Eagles have Vick it's very unlikely they draft a QB early. The team has too many needs on Defense for them to waste one of their early picks on someone who will likely hold a clipboard all season. The reigning NFC East Champs may consider someone like Washington's Jake Locke rif he's still available in the 3rd Round. Colin Kaepernick out of Nevada or Christian Ponder from Florida State are two other potential late round grabs that could produce in Andy Reid's West Coast Offense.
The Eagles have a ton of talent on Offense and outside of Mike Vick all of their playmakers are in their early 20s. DeSean Jackson is 24, Jeremy Maclin is 22, LeSean McCoy is 22, and Brent Celek is 26. If you are in a Dynasty League you could probably fill up your core roster with all Eagles. But in order to get those guys the ball, the Eagles' O-Line needs to do a better job of protecting the QB on passing plays and opening up holes on rushing plays. Mike Vick is one of the best scramblers in the history of the NFL, but even he couldn't avoid some of the pressure brought on by opposing Defenses. Vick and Kolb were sacked a combined 49 times, which was the 3rd most in 2010. Philly is well aware of their O-Line woes. They convinced long time Coach, Howard Mudd, to un-retire and take over duties coaching their Offensive Line. Considering they need help at Center, Guard, and Tackle, it's tough to predict which position they will address first. It really depends on what player is available when they are on the clock. If they decide to target an O-Lineman in the 1st Round, Florida's Mike Pounceycould help out at Guard or Center but may not be available at Pick 23. Tyron Smith out of USC is considered one of the best Tackles in this year class and would make an instant impact for the Eagles in 2011. Some other potential O-Line picks for Philly include Miami's Orlando Franklin, Colorado's Nate Solder, Boston College's Anthony Castonzo, and Marcus Cannon from TCU.
New York Giants:
Draft Picks: 19,52, 83, 116,180, 211
The G-Men are set up fine at weak-side linebacker with Michael Boley, but former second-round pick (2009) Clint Sintim is yet to prove he can handle the starting job on the strong-side. It is too early to call Sintim a bust, but it is clear that the club can do much better and the position is worth upgrading, and early in the Draft for that matter. They need a prospect with great range that can cover the tight end and run to the ball. Von Miller(Texas A&M) would be the perfect fit, but should be off the board within the top 5-8 selections, long before New York picks. Other strong options past the first round would be Ross Homan(Ohio State) and Jonas Mouton (Michigan), both of whom have excellent speed and solid coverage skills.
Barry Cofield held his own inside last season, but is a free agent and 2009 second-round pick Lindal Joseph may not be ready to fill his shoes after seeing limited action as a rookie. If New York targets the position in the first round, Stephen Paea(Oregon State) and Corey Liuget(Illinois) would be the best prospects most likely to still be on the board. Christian Ballard(Iowa) will be worth a look too, and would bring added value with his ability to also provide depth at defensive end.
Only one of the unit's five starters is younger than 31 years old (Chris Snee). Center Shaun O'Hara is 34 and missed nine games because of a foot and ankle injury and required off-season surgery. Rich Seubert is the team's Guard, but played center while O'Hara was out. Unfortunately, Seubert injured his knee cap and damaged his MCL in the last game of the season. He too will have surgery this off-season and will likely face a long recovery. Plus Left Tackle David Diehl missed four games because of a hamstring injury. Big Blue drafted William Beatty in the 2nd round in 2009. While Beatty hasn't earned a full-time starting role he has shown signs of progression and filled in adequately when his teammates went down with injuries. The team also signed Free Agent Shawn Andrews last season, but Andrews has a history of major back problems, which prevented him from playing in a few games in 2010. Despite all the injuries and the positional shifting, the Giants line did an excellent job of protecting QB Eli Manning and blocking for Running Backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. Eli was sacked just 16 times in 2010, which was tied for the lowest in the league along with the Colt's Peyton Manning. As for the G-Men's rushing attack, they finished with 137.5 yards per game, good enough for 6th best. Clearly the Giants line is more than capable of pushing around their opposition. But injuries tend to come in bunches and this group isn't getting any younger. A solid interior prospect like Florida's Mike Pouncey who could play Guard or Center would be an ideal pick with the 19th selection, but Pouncey may not last that long. Another option is Boston College's Anthony Castonzo. Some draft experts say Castonzo is actually better suited to play Guard in the NFL instead of Tackle. Some other Mock Drafts indicate the Giants will take Colorado's Nate Solder, who like Castonzo, played Tackle in College. But in terms of a franchise blue chip Offensive Lineman, this draft class isn't very deep. If Pouncey isn't available don't be surprised if General Manager Jerry Reese decides to neglect the position entirely until the later rounds. Reese is a firm believer in drafting the best talent instead of drafting based on positional needs.
I realize I just mentioned the Giants had the 6th best rushing attack in the NFL in 2010, averaging 137 yards per game. For the first half of the season, Ahmad Bradshaw was leading the NFC in rushing yards. He finished with the 9th highest rushing total with 1,235 yards. Even Brandon Jacobs was performing at a high level. Jacobs averaged over five yards per carry, good enough for a Top 10 average among Running Backs. So why would the Giants need another Running Back when it seems the two they have are more than capable of producing? The main reason is health. Both backs suffered injuries this season that slowed them down during the 2nd half of the year. Jacobs may have played in all 16 games this season but he has a history of injuries. In fact this was the first season he played in all 16 games since his rookie year in 2005. Bradshaw didn't miss any games either, but did undergo ankle and foot surgery for the second consecutive year this off-season. Bradshaw is also a free agent and after posting the best stats of his career, he should be in line for a big time contract extension. Jacobs has publicly stated he is willing to restructure his own contract in order for the Giants to sign Bradshaw, but due to the lockout, we won't know the status of either player's contract until the labor agreement is settled. If the Giants want these two to stay healthy or need someone to fill the void in case one of them leaves, they may look to nab a rusher in the 3rd or 4th rounds. Syracuse's Delone Carter or Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter are similar in size and speed to Bradshaw and are projected to be mid-rounds picks. If the Giants don't resign Bradshaw, D.J. Ware (the team's 3rd string RB) will split time with Jacobs. But a talented and motivated rookie could push Ware back to the bench if given a chance in Training Camp.
Draft Picks: 9, 40, 71, 109, 140, 171, 210
Marcus Spears, Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen all worked under one-year contracts for Dallas in 2010, and Igor Olshansky did not perform up to expectations. They have a pressing need for a 3-4 end that can effectively hold the edge and slip into the backfield from time to time. If they can fill this need, their pass rushers - namely DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer – could put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The best five-technique prospect at the position is J.J. Watt(Wisconsin), and he will likely be on the Cowboys' radar with their first selection. Cameron Heyward(Ohio State) would also fit the bill if the club decides to address the need later.
Keith Brooking seemed to run out of gas down the stretch last season, and fell three tackles short of reaching 100. The former stud will turn 36 in October and Dallas needs to add depth at the position. 2010 second-round pick Sean Lee may be ready to start in the next campaign, but needs to get stronger at the point of attack to make an impact. It would be a plus if the club can add a prospect with good coverage skills, namely so Bradie James won't have to be on the field quite so much, which would in turn keep him healthier. James also turned 30 in January, so the need to get younger is certainly there. Brian Rolle (Ohio State) comes to mind as a good fit, as he is a tremendous athlete with potential to develop into a rock solid pass defender and could still be on the board in the third round.
Mike Jenkins stumbled last season and was a disappointment after plucking five interceptions as an NFL sophomore in 2009, and a lack of focus was chiefly to blame. Dallas can't count on him getting back on the right track for the next campaign, and the position should be addressed in the Draft, especially since Terence Newman will turn 33 in September. They would likely jump on Patrick Peterson(LSU) if still on the board at pick 9, or could “settle” for Prince Amukamara(Nebraska), who is also an excellent prospect. Either one of those kids would likely make a vast improvement in their secondary after surrendering 33 touchdowns through the air last season, which tied with Houston for worst in the NFL.
Once a upon a time the Dallas Cowboys had the NFL's all time leading rusher on their roster. But it's been nearly a decade since Emmitt Smith left the team and the Cowboys' backfield hasn't been the same since. Of course it's nearly impossible to replace a guy like Emmitt, but in 10 years one would think an adequate replacement would have found its way onto the squad. Problem for the Cowboys is, it hasn't. Dallas averaged just 116 rushing yards per game, which was 16th in the NFL in 2010. Not exactly the numbers an Offensive Powerhouse is suppose to produce. Marion Barber had a few solid seasons, but never reached 1,000 yards in a single season. Now it seems the 27 year old RB may have played his last down in a Dallas uniform. Barber missed three games in 2010 and posted career low stats across the board. He's under contract through 2015, but rumors indicate the Cowboys may release him before the start of the season. Felix Jones is a former 1st Round pick (2008) and one of Jerry Jones' favorite players. Perhaps its because the two are both Arkansas alumni or perhaps Owner Jones sees something special in Player Jones. Either way, Felix got his chance to take over as the team's workhorse in 2010 and besides busting out on a few big plays he didn't exceed or even meet expectations. Just 800 rushing yards and one TD when the season came to an end. The potential for Jones to be really good is there but we have yet to see him live up to his first round status. The Cowboys 3rd RB is Tashard Choice and like Jones, Choice was also drafted in 2008. But he's mainly been an after-thought in the Dallas Offense and only got playing time when Jones or Barber was hurt. Due in large part to their 1-7 record at the start of the season, the Cowboys fizzled out the season with a 6-10 record which earned them the 9th pick overall. A Top 10 pick for what was already considered on of the NFL's most talented teams can be a very dangerous thing for the rest of the league. The Cowboys need some help on Defense, especially in their secondary as we pointed out, but if the Cowboys wanted to get creative they may decide to draft former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram from Alabama. Ingram doesn't have the blazing speed or exceedingly impressive 40 yard dash time, but he does possess excellent vision, balance, and ability to burst through the hole and knock over defenders (check out this Sports Science Clip featuring Ingram). Those are the same qualities that made Emmitt Smith so successful. I'm not saying Ingram is the next Emmitt, but the running similarities are there. Oh and like Smith, Ingram rocks #22.
Wait! What? Wide Receiver? The Cowboys just drafted Dez Bryant in the 1st Round of last year's draft. Yes, I know. But consider the Cowboys three starting Wide Receivers. #1 Miles Austin, arguably a Top 10 maybe a Top 5 WR in the NFL. #2 Dez Bryant, tremendous playmaking ability with character and maturity issues. Already labeled a “diva” Bryant currently has some off-field issues to resolve. Also Bryant is a bit injury prone. He was placed on IR and missed four games at the end of the season and missed most of Training Camp before heading into the season. #3 Roy Williams, never lived up to potential and only had one season with more than 1,000 yards. Williams is under contract through 2014 but is due nearly $6 million this year, which is way to expensive for a player that puts up mediocre stats. Now consider who will be available at 9th overall in this year's class. Perhaps it's Georgia's A.J. Green, whom many consider the best WR in this year's draft. Or if Green is gone, maybe Alabama's Julio Jones will still be available. Is it really crazy to think Offensive minded Head Coach Jason Garrett will try to convince Jerry Jones to draft another dynamic playmaker for Tony Romo to target? Is Wide Receiver a GLARING need for the Cowboys? Of course not. But talented players like Jones and Green only come along every so often and it is very rare to see the Cowboys with a Top 10 pick. If Roy Williams gets cut or Dez Bryant gets suspended or hurt, who takes over as the team's #3 or even #2 Wide Receiver? Jesse Holley? Sam Hurd? Kevin Ogletree? Let's be serious.
I don't think the team's inability to run the football falls entirely on the shoulders of the Running Backs. Dallas has the 2nd oldest O-Line in the league with an average age of 30 (the Giants have the oldest average). Left Tackle, Doug Free, is the Cowboy's only Offensive Lineman that is in his 20s. But despite their age, it's unlikely the Cowboys will draft an Offensive Lineman in the 1st Round and if you are a believer in history repeating itself than you'll understand why. The Cowboys haven't drafted an Offensive Center, Guard, or Tackle in the 1st Round since 1981 (excluding 1989 when they drafted Steve Wisniewski and traded him to the Raiders on Draft Day). So while they may not pick one in the 1st Round, they will likely grab someone in the later rounds to help protect franchise QB Tony Romo. Surely you remember Romo was forced to miss half the season after he broke his clavicle when his Left Guard missed an assignment during a Monday Night game against the Giants. Beefing up the O-Line with some young prospects is exactly what the Cowboys will do in the middle rounds.
Draft Picks: 10, 41, 141, 152, 172, 203, 214
If the Redskins expect to be successful with their 3-4 defense, then they must find another dangerous edge rusher to prevent opponents from focusing on Brian Orakpo, who was limited to 8.5 sacks in 2010. Lorenzo Alexander has talent –- but is not quite good enough to work in tandem with Orakpo, and finding someone who is should be a high priority in the Draft. Akeem Ayers(UCLA) would be a nice fit, but picking him at slot 10 would be too high, and Von Miller is likely to be off the board by then. Look for Washington to address the need in later rounds.
Like a pair of intimidating edge rushers, a 3-4 system cannot operate well without a strong nose tackle anchoring the middle of the defensive line. He must be able to handle multiple blockers for the linebackers to make plays, otherwise the opponent's running game will thrive, as was the case in 2010 as Washington surrendered 127 rushing yards per game, ranking 26th in the NFL. Albert Haynesworth gave the club a hard time about holding the role last season, and did not perform well in the rare instances that he actually played. Jurrell Casey(USC) is viewed as the best pure nose tackle in the Draft, and is projected to go in round 2-3. Phil Taylor(Baylor) would also make sense if Washington would like a “meatier” option at 6-3, 335 pounds.
Adam Carriker (1.5), Kedric Goldston (zero), Phillip Daniels (2) and Vonnie Holliday (2.5) combined for a mere six sacks last season, and Carriker had the most tackles with just 37. This is another significant void that needs to be addressed, and fortunately the Draft also happens to be deep with quality options that could provide relief for the once dominant franchise.
Around this time a year ago, the Redskins and Eagles made headlines when they announced Donovan McNabb would be traded to Washington. Now, just one season of watching McNabb play in a maroon jersey, Washington is expected to release or trade away the former Pro Bowl passer. McNabb was benched the last month of the season, a decision made by Mike Shanahan, because the Coach wanted to see how Rex Grossman could perform. Though Grossman did decent, he isn't the answer the franchise is searching for. If Auburn's Cam Newton is still available, I think that's who the Redskins have to grab. The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner led his team to a National Championship. He possesses extraordinary athletic ability and though he'll need to adapt to running a Pro Style Offense, some consider him one of those special talents who don't come around often. But in the latest Mock Drafts, Newton isn't lasting past the 5th pick. Unfortunately for the Redskins it's unlikely Missouri's Blaine Gabbert will be available. Gabbert and Newton are interchangeable as far as who is considered the top QB prospect, but that's irrelevant since neither player is expected to be on the board when it's time for the ‘Skins to make their 1st pick. If by chance one of them are still available, the Redskins should jump all over the chance to take ‘em. If not in the 1st Round, some later round prospects include Washington's Jake Locker, Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, and TCU's Andy Dalton.
In most Fantasy Football Drafts, there are at least two Wide Receivers taken from each NFL team. Along with the Browns and Seahawks, the Redskins are one of the only teams that had just one of their WRs drafted by Fantasy Managers. Of course the Redskins aren't trying to stack their team with talent in order to satisfy Fantasy Footballers. But the Redskins do want to win football games. Signing a 37-year old Joey Galloway last season wasn't going to make that happen. Sure Santana Moss proved he is still capable of performing at a high level. But Moss turns 32 this year and has just two, 1,000 yard seasons in the last five years. Newcomer Anthony Armstrong flashed a lot of speed and is developing into the deep threat the Redskins need in their passing game. But he's yet to show he can catch the ball in traffic or progress into a true #1 Wide Receiver. Which is the main reason why many Draft Experts think the Redskins will take Julio Jones or A.J. Green. There's a good chance one of those receivers (perhaps both) won't be around long enough for the ‘Skins to draft them. However if Jones or Green is available at #10, they won't be available at #11. Marlyand's Torrey Smith had a good combine and proved he can stretch the field while playing in College. Smith may be the exciting playmaker the Redskins need to pump some life into their Offense. Leonard Hankerson out of Miami and Pittsburgh's Jonathan Baldwin are two more options the Redskins may consider in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th Rounds.
Long time Washington RB, Clinton Portis, was cut by the team this off-season. Portis just couldn't stay healthy and the team realized his value was rapidly declining. Keiland Williams and Ryan Torain both took over in Washington's backfield. But the Redskins ranked 30th in the NFL with 91.3 rushing yards per game. Neither Torain nor Williams demonstrated break-out speed or the ability to bust a play open and take it the distance from 60 yards out. Torain's longest rush of the season was 52 yards. Williams's 32 yard run against the Eagles in Week 10 was his season long. Mike Shanahan is known for taking an average RB and turning him into a statistical monster. Heck, when he was in Denver, he even turned his Fullback into a 1,000 yard rusher. So while Torain and Williams might not have the breakaway speed that most NFL RBs posses nowadays, if anyone can turn this group of backs into stars it's Shanahan. All that being said, Torain has a history of injuries. A hamstring injury in 2010 forced him to miss six games, an elbow injury caused him to sit out most of his Rookie season, and a knee injury resulted in him being cut from the Broncos. It's unlikely Washington takes an RB in the 1st Round, so guys like Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams and Kansas State's Daniel Thomas may be on their radar for the later rounds.