If this isn’t the time for optimism around the NFC East, then why bother playing the season?
Sure, times have been tough for what was once one of the more competitive divisions in the NFL, and there does not appear to be a return to the glory days anytime soon. Yet with the offseason program complete until training camps begin in late July, cases can be made for the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Commanders to win the division.
Some are better than others, of course.
Dallas is trying to become the first repeat champion in the NFC East since the Eagles in 2003-04. The Cowboys have a lot of talent returning, including the division’s best quarterback (Dak Prescott) and best defender (Micah Parsons). The Eagles made some upgrades on both sides of the ball and appear intent on helping quarterback Jalen Hurts in his second full season as the starter. The Giants have a new coach in Brian Daboll and added two top-10 picks. The Commanders traded for quarterback Carson Wentz, hoping he can find his 2017 Eagles’ form, and they welcome back pass-rusher Chase Young.
NFL Nation reporters Tim McManus (Eagles), Jordan Raanan (Giants), John Keim (Commanders) and Todd Archer (Cowboys) offer offseason overviews, what awaits in training camp and a predicted order of finish in the NFC East.
Most intriguing position battle: Who will be the starting receiver opposite CeeDee Lamb as Michael Gallup works his way through rehab on his left knee in the summer? James Washington? Jalen Tolbert? Noah Brown? Some unnamed veteran picked up before training camp? Washington has the credentials as a former second-round pick by Pittsburgh, but he caught 24 passes last season. Tolbert, a third-round pick in 2022, needs to be a quick learner. Brown has not been more than a No. 4 in his time with Dallas. Prescott will have to trust whoever wins the battle.
Rookie most likely to make an impact in Week 1: If it isn’t their first-rounder, offensive lineman Tyler Smith, something is wrong. At the very least, he needs to be their starter at left guard when the season opens. If something were to happen to left tackle Tyron Smith, maybe the Cowboys move Tyler Smith to that spot. The rookie showed in the offseason he has the strength to play in the interior. He’ll need some fine-tuning, but if he can solidify the middle, help with the run game and protect Prescott, he’ll justify his first-round status quickly.
Biggest remaining need: With how they’ve approached free agency early and late, the Cowboys don’t think they have a big need. Maybe they could use a veteran interior offensive lineman, specifically a center. Maybe they could use another pass-rusher. Kicker could be an issue with only the undrafted Jonathan Garibay on the roster. However, wide receiver looks to be the most pressing need. In one OTA, Prescott’s top three receivers were a third-round pick and two undrafted free agents because Lamb, Washington, Gallup and Brown were not practicing. Any injury to that group going forward could be devastating.
Projected order of finish: At some point a team has to repeat as the NFC East champion, and that happens this season with the Cowboys doing what the 2003-04 Eagles did. Philadelphia will close the gap on Dallas and earn a wild-card bid again, followed by the Giants and Commanders. There are too many questions in all phases for New York and Washington to believe either can challenge Dallas or Philadelphia in the division race.
Take a look at Kayvon Thibodeaux’s most aggressive plays at DE and see why he could be the best player to come out of the draft.
Most intriguing position battle: Wide receiver. The Giants have invested a ton at the position in recent years. Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Sterling Shepard and Wan’Dale Robinson either signed lucrative deals or were drafted in the first two rounds. Throw in Darius Slayton, and there is serious competition for playing time, although Golladay and Toney are the clear front-runners to play on the outside. Who stays healthy could determine who plays the biggest roles.
Rookie most likely to make an impact in Week 1: The Giants had two picks in the top seven this year, so it better be edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux (No. 5 overall) and offensive tackle Evan Neal (No. 7). It’s clear the Giants are expecting a lot, immediately, from both, because they were working with the first team on the first day at OTAs — Neal at right tackle and Thibodeaux opposite Azeez Ojulari.
Biggest remaining need: Help in the secondary. The Giants could use veterans at safety and cornerback. Right now they have Xavier McKinney at one safety spot and Adoree’ Jackson as their No. 1 cornerback. Everything else is up for grabs, from their No. 2 cornerback to their strong safety to their slot corner.
Projected order of finish: Let’s start by putting the Giants last. They have the worst roster of the bunch. The Commanders are the wild card. They are better than most want to believe, especially if Wentz can be steady. The Eagles crushed the draft and traded for receiver A.J. Brown, and the Cowboys’ offensive line is on the decline. So it’s Philadelphia, Washington, Dallas and the Giants.
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Most intriguing position battle: Wide receiver. A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith are No. 1 and 1A, respectively. From there, it gets interesting. The staff is high on Quez Watkins. Zach Pascal is an all-time favorite of coach Nick Sirianni. Undrafted rookie Britain Covey opened some eyes this spring. Where does former first-round pick Jalen Reagor fit in? Who will claim the No. 3 role? Who will be on the outside looking in? There are plenty of questions to be answered this summer.
Rookie most likely to make an impact in Week 1: Defensive tackle Jordan Davis. Teammates have been impressed with Davis’ displays of strength in the weight room. Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon believes the 6-foot-6, 340-pound Davis has plenty of pass-rushing prowess in his huge frame, even if he wasn’t asked to do much of that in college. He and Georgia teammate Nakobe Dean, a linebacker, plan on being difference-makers from the jump in Philadelphia.
Biggest remaining need: Safety. They added veteran Jaquiski Tartt in June. Prior to his signing, the projected starters were Anthony Harris and Marcus Epps. Training camp will help decide if it stays that way. Regardless, safety is the biggest question mark heading into the season, barring another move by the front office.
Projected order of finish: Eagles, Cowboys, Commanders, Giants. Outside of safety, there aren’t any noticeable holes on the Eagles’ roster. They have a strong line and quality skill players on offense, and should be improved defensively following the signings of linebackers Haason Reddick and Kyzir White and cornerback James Bradberry. Can Hurts make the leap in his second season as the full-time starter? That will decide how sweet the 2022 season will be in Philly, but signs of improvement were evident this spring and the supporting cast has him set up for success.
Check out the highlights that helped Penn State WR Jahan Dotson become a NFL draft prospect.
Most intriguing position battle: Washington doesn’t have many, if any, starting jobs truly up for grabs but must decide who will be the extra defensive back in its nickel package. Last season, Landon Collins excelled as a safety/linebacker hybrid. This season, it could be filled by a committee, a corner (Benjamin St-Juste) or a safety (Darrick Forrest, Percy Butler or Jeremy Reaves). St-Juste had a strong spring.
Rookie most likely to make an impact in Week 1: Receiver Jahan Dotson. The No. 16 overall pick looked sharp this spring, displaying a veteran’s savvy with his route running and the way he attacks defensive backs. He will mostly play in the slot alongside Terry McLaurin, though Dotson also can work outside at times.
Biggest remaining need: Depth, especially on defense. The Commanders are thin behind the starters at linebacker and the secondary in particular. They have the players to be a good defense but can’t afford injuries — and need Young back from his torn right ACL as soon as possible. The line should remain the strength, and Montez Sweat could be the end who has the best season.
Projected order of finish: Dallas, Washington, Philadelphia, New York. Any of the top three teams can win the division, but the Cowboys have the best quarterback and best defensive player. Washington and Philadelphia will be interesting — the Eagles have a higher ceiling — and so much comes down to the quarterback play for both. I like what the Eagles have done, but while Washington wasn’t as active as Philadelphia this offseason, a lot of its improvement will come from returning multiple key players who missed substantial time due to injury last season, and upgrading at quarterback with Wentz.