Running back Jay Ajayi is on the move and he could have a big impact for the Philadelphia Eagles.
In 2016, the Philadelphia Eagles finished in last place in the NFC East. However that was very deceiving being that the Eagles had a record of 7-9. Philadelphia won their last two games of 2016 which were victories over the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys who were each postseason bound. The Eagles used the momentum from finishing strong in 2016 to carry over to the current season and the results have been extremely positive. After six games Philadelphia is 5-1 which includes them being 2-0 within the NFC East. And just like each of the last four times in which Philly finished in the basement of the NFC East for the previous season, they’ve once again rebounded in a big way.
In 2015, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie decided to dismiss Chip Kelly as the team’s head coach and in the process he decided to get his organization back to the basics. Lurie’s first order of business was to once again make Howie Roseman the Eagles general manager. Roseman had a good working relationship with former Eagles head coach Andy Reid as this duo help Philadelphia win the NFC Championship in 2004. Reid is currently the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, but the Eagles sought out one of his proteges in Doug Pederson to be their next head coach.
Pederson had previously been an offensive assistant under Reid with the Eagles and he was brought back to the organization last year in order to get the ship righted.
Like most head coaches who take over a team, Pederson wanted to draft a quarterback to mold, and Philadelphia would trade up to the second overall spot in the 2016 National Football League Draft to select quarterback Carson Wentz.
Collegiately for the North Dakota State Bison, Wentz showed that he had the ability to operate a pro-style offense which included him being a member of five Football Championship Subdivision winners. Wentz was also a two-time FCS Championship Game Most Outstanding Player as this helped to make him a hot commodity as his National Football League career was set to begin.
Pederson didn’t waste any time as he named Wentz as the starting quarterback in Week 1 for the 2016 National Football League season, and the youngster was able to respond by helping Philly begin the campaign with a record of 3-0. Wentz would make all 16 starts as a rookie as he threw 16 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. But most importantly Wentz was never fazed as Philadelphia had found their next franchise quarterback.
Wentz has continued to assert himself this season as he has 13 touchdowns to just 3 picks. Wentz also has a pair of comeback victories under his belt which is due to his poise. At 6’5″. 237 lbs., Wentz is deceptively fast and agile for his size. Wentz has good scrambling ability which he uses to get out of the pocket when the play breaks down as this coincides with him not forcing the football down the field.
Wentz’s strong start is the perfect illustration to the commitment of Lurie, Roseman, and Pederson in regards to putting him in the best possible place to succeed. In a slew of key moves during the off-season the Eagles signed running back LeGarrette Blount, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, and defensive end Chris Long. All three players bring a veteran presence, while Long and Blount each helped the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl last year.
Last year the Eagles were 11th in the National Football League in rushing, but so far this season they are second with Blount leading the way as he is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Jeffery has the potential to gain 1,000 yards receiving, while his presence takes some of the attention away from tight end Zach Ertz who is currently Philadelphia’s best pass catcher. And in the case of Long, he might not be the pass rusher that he was during his prime which was spent with the St. Louis Rams, but he is a professional in every since of the word which resonates with the team.
It has not taken the Eagles that long to buy into what Pederson has been selling as he has been a breath of fresh air from Kelly. In the nearly three years that Kelly was the Eagles, the locker room became fractured with most of the team turning against their head coach. Now the Eagles are back to having fun while they have an emerging leader in Wentz to go with Long, strong safety Malcolm Jenkins, and left tackle Jason Peters as leadership is always key for a team that is eyeing a championship.
And after the Eagles came into 2017 expected to have to slug it out with the Cowboys as well as the Giants for the top spot in the division, things are clearing up for Philadelphia faster than than the traffic on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. The Giants have yet to win a game this season and after they lost three wide receivers for the season last Sunday, you can stick a fork in them. The Cowboys who were 13-3 last season are just 2-3 so far in 2017. Dallas has been unable to stop the run on defense, while things took a twist for them as the National Football League was able to reinstate their six-game suspension on Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot which changes the tenor of the season for them. The Washington Redskins shouldn’t be much of a factor in the NFC East either, and with the Eagles having already defeating them this season, they really have a leg up.
So now that the Eagles are on cruise control within the NFC East, they can look at the bigger picture which is potentially securing a first-round bye in the playoffs. Philadelphia’s 28-23 road win over the Carolina Panthers has to do well for their psych as the Panthers themselves are one of the top teams in the NFC.
Pederson is looking to join his former boss in Reid who was able to get the Eagles to the playoffs in just his second second with the team. But will Pederson be able to do something that Reid was unable to do which is to get the Eagles a Super Bowl Championship?
X-Philadelphia Eagles 11-5
2016 was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Philadelphia Eagles as they were beginning life with a new head coach in Doug Pederson as well as a new starting quarterback in Carson Wentz. But whereas that the expectations were not that high for Philadelphia, they came out of the gate like gangbusters by winning their first three games. But with Wentz taking his lumps as a rookie quarterback, the losses began to show up for the Eagles. However the Eagles would remain a tough out in spite of the fact that they finished in last place in the NFC East. But Philadelphia’s last place finish was deceiving as they went 7-9 which included picking up victories over both the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys who survived the riggers of the division en route to earning a playoff berth. And as Wentz is only going to get better, while the Eagles did a solid job in regards to putting a quality team around him heading into a new season, there is plenty to like about this team.
Wentz’s transition to the National Football League was made easier in part due to the fact that he played in a pro-style offense collegiately for the North Dakota State Bison, while now playing for a head coach in Pederson who himself played in the NFL adds to his transition. Wentz had his fair share of ups and downs as a rookie which was evident by him throwing 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, but he was able to hang in there and take his lumps. Through it all Wentz displayed solid pocket awareness and in the process the youngster was able to earn the respect of his teammates.
Now as Wentz’s sophomore campaign is beginning, credit to the Eagles front office in regards to putting talent around him on the offensive side of the football. This off-season saw Philadelphia and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery agree on a one-year deal for $14 million. At 6’3″, 218 lbs., Jeffery gives the Eagles a play maker at the wide receiver position which is something that they’ve lacked over the past few seasons. When healthy Jeffery can be one of the most productive receivers in football, however the operative term is when he is healthy. Over the last two years Jeffery has missed 11 games to either injury or suspension, but the fact that he only signed a one-year deal should put him in line to be extra motivated this season.
The past three years have seen running back LeGarrette Blount be a big contributor to a pair of Super Bowl Championships for the New England Patriots. But as much as Blount enjoyed his time winning with the Patriots, he decided that is was time for him to have a change of scenery. Blount is coming off of his best season in the National Football League as he gained 1,161 yards on the ground last year, while also leading the league in rushing touchdowns with 18. And Blount’s presence in Philadelphia should help to boost an Eagles rushing attack which was already 11th in the NFL last into possibility being a top-five unit.
The Eagles already had a solid offensive line and they received a boost during the off-season by signing guard Chance Warmack. Warmack may have never lived up to his full potential with the Tennessee Titans who made him a first-round pick in 2013, but now he has the opportunity to be on an Eagles offensive line which includes right tackle Lane Johnson as well as left tackle Jason Peters who is a nine-time Pro Bowl selection.
Philadelphia was only able to generate 34 sacks on defense last season, however their defensive line has been upgraded during the off-season. The Eagles used their first-round pick on defensive end Derek Barnett who has the potential to be an anchor on the defensive line for years to come, while they also signed veteran defensive end Chris Long. Like Blount, Long was a member of the Patriots Super Bowl Championship team last season, and his postseason experience as well as knowledge of what it takes to rush the passer will be a vital for an Eagles team that is looking to become a contender in 2017.
Strong safety Malcolm Jenkins continues to be a leader on the defensive side of the football, but Phiiladelphia will need young players such as cornerback Jalen Mills who is in his second year in the National Football League to be able to step up and take his game to the next level.
Two of Philadelphia’s first three games are within the NFC East, and a strong a strong start could put them in line for their first division title since 2013.
Y-New York Giants 10-6
The 2016 National Football League saw the beginning of the Ben McAdoo era as the head coach of the New York Giants. Under McAdoo, the Giants went 11-5 for their first playoff berth since their last Super Bowl Title in 2011. There were many positives for the Giants which included having a stingy defense as well as going 7-1 at MetLife Stadium. But New York would be one-and-done in the playoffs as a slew of dropped passes along with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers would prove to be too much for them as they were eliminated in the NFC Wild Card Game. But as a new NFL season is set to begin, will the Giants be able to do something that they’ve been unable to do since 2008 which is to make the postseason in consecutive years?
One of McAdoo’s luxuries is that he has Eli Manning as his starting quarterback. Throughout Manning’s National Football League career he has had his detractors as he has led the league in interceptions three separate times. However Manning is 108-91 as starting quarterback and he’s also the most prolific quarterback in Giants franchise history. Manning is closing in on becoming just the seventh player in NFL history to pass for 50,000 career yards, while he still has the pocket awareness as well as the arm strength to get it done at the age of 36.
But even though that Manning is coming off of the sixth 4,000-yard passing season of his National Football League career, the Giants were still 17th in the league in passing. The Giants offense was inconsistent at times last year; especially in the red zone.
Giants general manager Jerry Reese has attempted to remedy this by upgrading Manning’s passing options. In free agency, the Giants signed wide receiver Brandon Marhsall who gives them size at the position. At 6’5″, 232 lbs., Marhsall is a matchup nightmare for most defensive backs in the National Football League due to his size and sheer athleticism. And this size should pay dividends for New York and Manning as the quarterback will definitely lean on him in the red zone in jump ball situations. The Giants will be the fifth NFL team that Marshall has suited up for, and when this season comes to an end, he will more than likely find himself in the NFL’s all-time top-20 list for receiving yards.
The Giants would also use a first-round pick in this past spring’s National Football League Draft on tight end Evan Engram. Since the Giants traded tight end Jeremy Shockey to the New Orleans Saints in 2008, they have used a “tight end by committee” approach which has not worked that often. And by not having a quality option at the tight end position, it has taken away from the Giants ability to have a more effective offense.
The Giants didn’t draft Engram for his blocking ability as he was used as more of an H-back in college for the Mississippi Rebels, but what he gives New York is a fluid receiver at the tight end position. And aside from the fact that Engram attended the same college that Manning did, he could become one of the quarterback’s favorite options in the passing game this year.
But you can’t talk too much about the Giants offense without mentioning the exploits of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. In just three years with the Giants, Beckham is making a strong case to be recognized as the most prolific wide receiver in Giants franchise history. Beckham has already racked up 4,122 receiving yards and 35 touchdowns while getting the Pro Bowl nod in each of his three seasons. Beckham has become the most polarizing and exciting player that the Giants have employed since Hall of Fame outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor, and his rare combination of speed as well as elusiveness have made him one of the best wide receivers in the National Football League. Beckham falls into that category of being a “coverage buster” as it doesn’t matter if teams want to give him extra attention because he still finds a way to make the catch. But if opposing defenses want to pay too much attention to Beckham this year, the Giants have options in their passing game such as Marshall, Engram, and wide receiver Sterling Shepard who can make them pay.
There was a time when the Giants were primarily known for their ability to run the football, however they’ve now built a reputation the National Football League for the inability of their ground game. You have to go back to 2012 to find the last time that the Giants had a ball carrier gain at least 1,000 in a season, while they were 29th in the NFL last season in regards to rushing.
The Giants will once again use a running back by committee. But between Paul Perkins, Orleans Darkwa, and Shane Vereen, if one of these running backs gets hot for the ground attack, it would not surprise me to see McAdoo stick with the guy who is getting it done.
McAdoo’s offensive system is all about Manning getting the football out quickly which doesn’t put as much stress on the offensive line. Manning was sacked 21 times last year which was his lowest total since 2012. However for the Giants offense to be as productive as their potential adds up to, the offensive line must find to step up in big situations.
In 2015, the Giants used a first-round pick on left tackle Ereck Flowers. The Giants immediately plugged Flowers in at left tackle, but throughout his brief stint in the National Football League, he has lacked the footwork necessary to be a successful left tackle. And in order for Manning to find Beckham and Marshall for those big pass plays, it all starts with Flowers being able to protect Manning’s blindside.
Defensively the Giants were tenth in the National Football League as Steve Spagnuolo began his second stint as the team’s defensive coordinator. Spagnuolo’s first stint with New York was predicated by his ability to consistently create pressure with his defense. As a team the Giants had 35 sacks last year, but they knew how to consistently create pressure; sometimes with just their front four.
The Giants lost defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins in free agency as he signed with the Indianapolis Colts, but they still have a formidable defensive line which features defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison along with defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon.
New York has not had a strong linebacking unit in years, but they possess arguably the best secondary in the National Football League. The Giants were 23rd in the NFL in passing yards allowed, however they were second in the league in points allowed per game at 17.8. The Giants had a “bend, but don’t break” mentality as they stiffened in the red zone. And as cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie led the team in interceptions with 6, while strong safety Landon Collins has 5, along with the coverage ability of cornerback Janoris Jenkins, the Giants secondary dubbed themselves the NYPD (New York Pass Defense). This unit could get better, while Collins who barely missed out on being the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 is making his case to be recognized as the best safety in the game.
McAdoo was somewhat able to fly under the radar in 2016, but it will be important for him to bring all of the talent that the Giants have together in 2017 for a potential Super Bowl run.
Y-Dallas Cowboys 10-6
It’s been a topsy-turvy ride for the Dallas Cowboys as in 2014 they would go 12-4 to win the NFC East which was followed by them going 4-12 in 2015. Dallas would then respond by going 13-3 last year to not only win the NFC East again, but they also finished with the best record in the NFC. However the Cowboys would be one-and-done in the postseason as they fell at home to the Green Bay Packers, and you have to go back to the 1995 National Football League season to find the last time that they made it past the divisional round of the playoffs. The Cowboys enter this season with a very exciting team, but will they have enough in their arsenal to live up to the Super Bowl expectations that have been thrust upon them?
The Cowboys expected running back Ezekiel Elliot to have a strong impact in 2016 after they used the fourth overall pick in the National Football League Draft on him. Elliot was able to burst onto the scene as he led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 rushing yards, while he drew comparisons to Hall of Fame running backs in Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith who also played for the Cowboys. Elliot provided Dallas with a “home-run hitter” at the running back position as he was always a step away from breaking a big play. And in the process Elliot was able to make Cowboys owner/president Jerry Jones look like a genius after investing several first-round picks into his offensive line and coming to his senses by putting an explosive ball carrier behind the line after he let running back DeMarco Murray leave as a free agent in 2014.
Elliot was the engine for the Cowboys offense as he carried the football 322 times. And in the process his ability helps the passing game in Dallas due to the fact that opposing defenses must consistently focus on him.
Like Elliot, quarterback Dak Prescott was a part of the Cowboys draft class in 2016. But unlike Elliot, Prescott didn’t enter the National Football League with as much fanfare. Dallas used a fourth-round selection on Prescott who was simply expected to simply be a backup to starting quarterback Tony Romo. However when Romo suffered a compression fracture in his back during the preseason, the starting quarterback job became Prescott’s to lose.
After the Cowboys lost their first game with Prescott as their starting quarterback, Dallas would reel off 11 consecutive wins as they became the team to beat in the NFC. Prescott was not going to overtake Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers or New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in order to be the top signal caller in the National Football League, but he was still effective due to his smarts. Prescott learned very quickly to allow the game to come to him which means not trying to win by himself. Prescott is not a “game manager” but he is someone who knows how to put the football into the hands of the play makers around which has seen him draw comparisons to another former Cowboys quarterback in Troy Aikman.
Prescott has the luxury of not only handing off to Elliot, but he also can pass the football to a talented trio of wide receivers in Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, and Terrance Williams, while you cannot overlook the ageless one at tight end in Jason Witten who even at the age of 35 can still split the seams in a defense with the best of them. Witten continues to be “Steady Eddie” in the Cowboys offense, and by the end of the season he’ll be in the top five of the National Football League’s all-time list for receptions.
The current Cowboys offensive line might not be as good as the unit from the 1990’s which changed the game, but these guys are still very effective. The Dallas offensive line is littered with first-round selections which includes left tackle Tyron Smith. And as long as this unit can continue to effectively open holes for Elliot, pass protection for Prescott will be easier due to opponents being so conscience of the Cowboys running game.
For Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, he must find a way for his unit to wreak more havoc in order to offset the team’s explosive offense. Strong safety Barry Church led Dallas in interceptions last season with only 2, and he is no longer with the club, while no Cowboys defender was able to record at least 10 sacks last year.
Dallas should get a boost in their front seven with middle linebacker Jaylon Smith returning from injury. Smith would have been a first-round pick last year had it not been for him tearing ligaments in both his ACL and LCL during the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. The Cowboys would draft Smith in the second round last year due to his potential when healthy. And after Smith sat out the entire 2016 National Football League season while recovering, he is ready to be an impact player this year.
Dallas’ pass rush has the potential to be solid if everyone is able to get on the same page. There is potential in defensive end Taco Charlton who Dallas selected in the first round this year, but this team needs more depth in regards to pass rushers, and thus it is important for the Cowboys to get both defensive end Randy Gregory as well as defensive end Damontre Moore back as they are both currently suspended by the National Football League.
It will also be important for the Cowboys to create pressure with their front seven as the team’s secondary still has question marks after they were 26th in the National Football League last year in pass defense. And as this unit lacks play makers, the Cowboys could be susceptible to the deep ball.
The Cowboys will continue have one of the better special teams units in the National Football League due to the strong right leg of kicker Dan Bailey. In six years with the Cowboys, Bailey has become one of the most accurate kickers in league history which has also seen him make 24-of-35 attempts from beyond 50 yards. And that powerful and accurate leg of Bailey should help to win a few games for the Cowboys here in 2016.
After the Cowboys had the best record in the NFC last year, they have to be ready to take every opponent’s best punch. However all of the Cowboys losses last year came within the NFC East as it will be very tough for them to repeat as division champs.
Washington Redskins 6-10
Ever since the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl at the conclusion of the 1991 National Football League season, things have gotten away from this once proud franchise. The Redskins only have six playoff appearances to their credit since then with just three postseason victories. Washington would come out of nowhere to win the NFC East in 2015, but when the expectations rose for them last year, they hung in there until the final week of the regular season when a loss to the New York Giants eliminated them from postseason contention. Now as Redskins head coach Jay Gruden and his team look to bounce back this year, they’ll have their work cut out for them with a team that will be much different from the squad that took the field last season.
Kirk Cousins has been the Redskins starting quarterback for the last two years, but his relationship with the organization has been contentious at best. After Cousins set a Redskins record by passing for 4,166 yards in 2015, the organization used the franchise tag on him for 2016. And after Cousins and Washington could not come to an agreement on a long-term deal, he went out last season and passed for 4,917 yards.
Cousins and the Redskins would continue to have problems as the team allowed his top two wide receivers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon to leave in free agency. Cousins was reluctant to sign his franchise tender as he was seeking to be traded to the San Francisco 49ers, but his request would not be obliged. Cousins is still on the Redskins roster, but generally nothing good comes when there is an unhappy camper on the team.
Cousins’ new go-to-guy in passing will be wide receiver Terrelle Pryor. Pryor initially entered the National Football League as a quarterback, but he was converted to wide receiver. Last year Pryor led the Cleveland Browns in receptions (77), and receiving yards (1,007). At 6’6″, 240 lbs., Pryor is an imposing figure, but it will be important for him to get onto the same page with Cousins early.
Tight end Jordan Reed will also be important to Washington’s passing game. Reed is listed as a tight end, but Gruden tends to use him in the H-back mode as he can do a little bit of everything. However Reed must find a way to stay on the field as he has never appeared in all 16 games during his five-year career in the National Football League.
But as sharp as Cousins can be in the passing game, he can’t do it by himself and the Redskins need their running game to improve in order to provide some balance. Last year Washington was 21st in the National Football League which is not going to cut if they intend to win the NFC East. Running back Robert Kelley should receive the bulk of the carries for the ‘Skins, but keep an eye on rookie running back Semaje Perine who at 5’11, 236 lbs., was a load to bring down during his collegiate career with the Oklahoma Sooners.
It’s been some time since Washington was solid on defense which included them being 28th in total defense last season. The Redskins defense suffered a huge blow when outside linebacker Trent Murphy was lost in the preseason to a torn ACL. As a rookie in 2016, strong safety Su’a Cravens showed the promise of being a difference maker, but now the Redskins are without his services as he is flirting with retiring. Washington still has outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan who has tallied a combined 34 sacks over the last three years, as well as cornerback Josh Norman who is solid in coverage. However not having having more play makers on this side of the football will makes things tougher for Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.
In 2015, Gruden had the Redskins headed in the right direction, but things have gotten away from him rather quickly as another losing campaign appears to be on the horizon.
X-Dallas Cowboys 9-7
After winning the NFC East in 2014, the bar of expectations for the Dallas Cowboys heading into the 2015 National Football League season increased. But when quarterback Tony Romo suffered a broken clavicle last September, the Cowboys chances went up in smoke. Dallas would go 4-12 for their worst season since 1989 and they are now hopeful for a quick turnaround.
With a porous season for the Cowboys, it resulted in them gaining the fourth overall pick in the National Football League Draft which led to them selecting former Ohio State Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliot. Elliot is a home-run hitter at the running back position that is always on the verge of breaking a big play. Elliot will run behind an offensive line that is one of the biggest and physical groups in football as they are reminiscent of Dallas’ line in the 1990’s.
Left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick are developing into two of the better players at their respective positions, and guard La’el Collins has the potential to be a Pro Bowl selection this year. And this offensive line will be very important as they must find a way to protect Romo.
Like Romo, wide receiver Dez Bryant is looking to bounce back after an injury hampered his 2015 campaign. Bryant only appeared in nine games last season due to a foot injury and his presence is vital for any success that the Cowboys intend on having. But Bryant has had to deal with his fair share of feet and ankle injuries and you have to wonder if he’ll begin to lose some of his speed and explosiveness. However having Bryant on the field opens things up for the other Cowboys wide receivers such as Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams who then tend to get more one-on-one coverage on them.
But the Cowboys chances simply come down to the health of Romo. Collarbone and clavicle injuries have been taking their toll on Romo who is one or two good hits away from having to bid farewell to the National Football League. And unfortunately for the Cowboys, they don’t have any insurance behind Romo as they have not used a first-round pick on a quarterback since selecting Troy Aikman in 1989.
Defensive for the Cowboys, team owner/general manager Jerry Jones took some chances on some players and it has recently come back to bite him in the rear end. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, middle linebacker Rolando McClain, and defensive end Randy Gregory are facing suspensions from the National Football League this year as each player was expected to have an impact on that side of the football for Dallas.
In the secondary, cornerback Morris Claiborne has nine lives and he might be on his ninth life with the Cowboys as it simply has not worked out for him in Dallas. But cornerback/safety Byron Jones could be ready to step into a leadership role on that side of the football.
Kicker Dan Bailey has been a key cog for the Cowboys in recent years as he is almost automatic from within 55 yards, and more importantly he has a strong leg to get it done when the temperature changes which will be big for Dallas’ chances of getting to the postseason.
For Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, he and his squad have a chance to get on the right foot as they’ll host the New York Giants in Week 1 before traveling to face the Washington Redskins in Week 2. The Redskins won the NFC East last year and the Cowboys definitely want to try to set the tone for themselves in 2016 with a strong start within the division.
New York Giants 9-7
There will definitely be a different feel to the New York Giants this year as for the first time since 2003, Tom Coughlin is not the team’s head coach. Coughlin was at the forefront of one of the greatest stretches in Giants franchise history, but after three consecutive losing seasons and not making the postseason since 2011, he was relieved of his duties at the end of the 2015 National Football League season. But if you’ve watched the Giants over the past two years, you saw the writing on the wall when Ben McAdoo was hired to be the team’s offensive coordinator in 2014. McAdoo has been groomed to be the Giants head coach and the time is now for him to have his opportunity.
For Giants quarterback Eli Manning, he is hands down the most prolific quarterback in the 92-year history of the franchise. But what has hurt Manning recently is that the Giants have not put the most talented team around him. However Manning is entering his third season working with McAdoo which should benefit him and the Giants offense.
One thing that will definitely help Manning is wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. In just two years in the National Football League, Beckham has already amassed 2,755 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns as he is on the fast track to becoming the best wide receiver in the history of the Giants.
But the Giants will holding their breath on wide receiver Victor Cruz who has been hit with the injury bug over the last two years. In 2014, Cruz suffered a torn patellar tendon, while a calf injury kept him out for the entire 2015 National Football League season. The deck is stacked against him as far as having the same explosiveness that made him an overnight sensation in 2011, however the key for him is to be healthy.
In the second round of the 2016 National Football League Draft, the Giants selected wide receiver Sterling Shepard who is Cruz with the explosiveness. The last few years have seen Shepard be one of the most dynamic wide receivers on the college football scene and it shouldn’t take him that long to become a favorite of Manning; especially on third down.
However as good as Beckham, Cruz, and Shepard can be, they are all smaller wide receivers which doesn’t help the Giants in the red zone where they need a big, physical receiver, or tight end. The Giants haven’t had a wide receiver with that presence since Hakeem Nicks in 2011, and they’ve lacked a player with that ability at tight end since Jeremy Shockey who last played with the team in 2007. However the Giants believe in their combination at tight end in Will Tye and Larry Donnell to be good options for Manning.
Under McAdoo, Manning has worked on getting the football out quicker which has taken away some stress from the Giants offensive line. But after having so much continuity on the offensive line from 2005-2012, the Giants have spent the past few years getting younger and more athletic. The Giants have used first-round picks on left tackle Ereck Flowers and guard Justin Pugh who along with center Weston Richburg need to become consistent contributors on the offensive line in 2016 if New York’s offense is going to have some success.
Defensively in 2015, the Giants never got on track as they were the worst unit in the National Football League. It was ten times easier for opponents to navigate their way through the Giants defense than traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike as they simply couldn’t stop anyone. As Steve Spagnuolo is in the second year of his second stint as Giants defensive coordinator, he is looking to get the unit back to what he had in 2007 when they made life tough for opposing quarterbacks en route to winning the Super Bowl.
A fireworks incident appeared ready to derail the career of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul who played last year in spite of losing two fingers. Pierre-Paul played with a “club” on his right hand, and although that he was able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, he was unable to record sacks. Pierre-Paul had a surgery on his hand this off-season that means no more club for him on his right hand, but he will still be fighting an uphill battle to tally quarterback sacks.
To offset Pierre-Paul, Giants general manager Jerry Reese went out and spent big in free agency on the defensive side of the football. The Giants signed defensive end Olivier Vernon to a five-year contract that could potentially be worth $85 million. In four seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Vernon had 29 sacks, but with the contract that he signed, the folks in the Tri-State Area want to see him become a great pass rusher in the mode of Lawrence Taylor and Michael Strahan.
Aside from Vernon, the Giants also signed defensive tackle Damon Harrison and cornerback Janoris Jenkins to big deals this off-season, while using their first-round pick on cornerback Eli Apple. The additions of Jenkins and Apple give the Giants much needed depth in the secondary as veteran cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could be the team’s nickel cornerback, or Apple could assume that role as he gets his feet wet.
After a solid rookie season in 2015, strong safety Landon Collins could be ready to take a bigger role defensively as he showed flashes last year of being a game changer which will be vital if the Giants are going to end their playoff drought.
The Giants linebacking core has been weak in recent years and this is a unit that has been searching for a leader since Antonio Pierce retired in 2009. And it will once again be a patch work unit here in 2016 which will hurt New York’s chances.
It seems like just about each National Football League season in recent years has the Giants opening with the Dallas Cowboys and that will be the same in 2016 when New York travels to AT&T Stadium to get things started in a few weeks. But the pressure will be on Reese to get the Giants to the playoffs for the first time since winning Super Bowl 46 as he has run out of people to fire and team co-owner John Mara wants to see some positive results from his team.
Washington Redskins 6-10
The Washington Redskins found themselves as one of the pleasant surprises during the 2015 National Football League season as they came out of nowhere to win the NFC East. But the Redskins will begin 2016 looking to do something that they have not done since 1992 which is to make the playoffs in consecutive years. And to give you an idea of how long that has been, it was the last year of Joe Gibbs’ initial run as Redskins head coach, while the team still also called RFK Stadium home.
In 2015, Kirk Cousins shocked many skeptics (myself included) to have the finest passing season of any Redskins quarterback to date. Cousins passed for 4,196 yards and 29 touchdowns as his famous catchphrase “you like that” was right at the forefront. The emergence of Cousins would see the Redskins part with quarterback Robert Griffin III who was the second overall pick of the 2012 National Football League Draft. Ironically Cousins was a seventh-round selection that year, but he was the one that was more prepared for the pro-style offense that Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is running. But the biggest question around Cousins entering the upcoming season is whether or not that last year was a fluke, or is he ready to become the Redskins franchise quarterback?
The Redskins allowed running back Alfred Morris to leave in free agency which means that running back Matt Jones will have an increased role this year in the team’s rushing attack. Morris was the team’s leading rusher last year with just 751 and Washington cannot afford to have an imbalance on offense like they did in 2015.
Tight end Jordan Reed and wide receiver Pierre Garcon should once again be the recipient of the majority of Cousins passes, but the Redskins must find a way to incorporate wide receiver DeSean Jackson into the offense more. Jackson missed six games last year due to injury and and Washington needs him to be healthy as he is their deep threat at wide receiver.
Last year under defensive coordinator Joe Barry, the Redskins defense was a no-named band of brothers. But there will be some swagger in D.C. this year with the addition of cornerback Josh Norman. In four years with the Carolina Panthers, Norman developed a reputation around the National Football League as a solid cover corner. However we’ll soon find out if what we’ve seen from Norman was his ability, or the fact that he played behind a solid front seven with the Panthers.
Washington will have the luxury of beginning the upcoming season with consecutive home games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys. But it will be tough for the Redskins to once again find the formula that worked so fluidly for them in 2015.
Philadelphia Eagles 6-10
After nearly three years of seeing the Chip Kelly experiment destroy his locker room, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie decided to make a change. Lurie had gotten away from what had made his Eagles successful when he fired longtime head coach Andy Reid in 2012, in favor of a college coach in Kelly. Kelly tried to run the Eagles in the same mode that he ran his college program with the Oregon Ducks, but in the National Football League he didn’t realize that he was dealing with grown men. Lurie gave Kelly full autonomy over all personnel decisions which was a recipe for disaster. But Lurie saw the ills of his ways and he has decided to go back to the formula that made his Eagles a perennial playoff contender in the 2000’s.
With the termination of Kelly, Howie Roseman who is the Eagles executive vice president of football operations is now back to being the main decision maker when it comes to the team’s personnel moves. Roseman’s first order of business was to hire Doug Pederson as the Eagles new head coach. Pederson is very familiar with the Eagles family as he played for them as well as serving as an assistant coach under Reid.
Pederson is looking to rebuild the Eagles from the ground up and the first order of business for him was to find a franchise quarterback. At the 2016 National Football League Draft, the Eagles moved up to the second overall spot to select quarterback Carson Wentz. At 6’5″ 237 lbs., Wentz has the size to be a solid NFL quarterback, along with a strong arm. But Wentz has a tough task ahead of him as he looks to win over the fans in Philadelphia who’ve been known to be rather hostile.
However the Eagles are going about in the right way as Wentz is not expected to begin the season under center for the Eagles as he’ll have a clipboard in his hands, and an earpiece in his ear. Sam Bradford was the Eagles starting quarterback in 2015, and even though that the writing is on the wall as far as him not being in the long term plans of Philadelphia, he isn’t ready to give up the starter’s role without a fight.
It’s best that the Eagles are not ready to throw Wentz to the wolves as they don’t have a solid running game to protect him. The Eagles will more than likely employ a running back by committee system with Ryan Matthews and Kenjon Barner more than likely getting the bulk of the carries.
Philadelphia does have some young talent to catch the football in wide receiver Jordan Matthews and tight Zach Ertz who should once again be able to click with Bradford in the passing game. And it also didn’t hurt that the Eagles recently acquired wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham from the Tennessee Titans. Green-Beckham has immense potential, but it is just a matter of him becoming consistent.
The Eagles defense has been undersized in recent years with Kelly at the helm, but there will be a new brand of physical and aggressive football under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. The Eagles were 30th in the National Football League last year in total defense and in order for them to improve, safety Malcolm Jenkins cannot lead this unit in tackles for a second consecutive year. The Eagles have veteran pass rushers in defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and defensive end Connor Barwin who must get after opposing quarterbacks and possibly force some turnovers.
The Eagles will more than likely be fighting an uphill battle in 2016, but Pederson is in the process of laying the foundation for his time in Philadelphia.
The start of the 2016 National Football League season is nearly four months away, but the Philadelphia Eagles have a storm cloud that is hanging over their organization. This past January, Doug Pederson was named as the new head coach of the Eagles. And being that it is customary for a new head coach to immediately draft a quarterback, Pederson traded up to the second overall pick in last month’s NFL Draft to select quarterback Carson Wentz. But the Eagles already had a high priced quarterback on their roster in Sam Bradford.
Philadelphia had acquired Bradford from the St. Louis Rams last year, but that was when Chip Kelly was the Eagles head coach. However Bradford saw the writing on the wall with Wentz coming to town, and he wants out of dodge which won’t be easy.
It isn’t set in stone that Wentz will be the Eagles starting quarterback when Week 1 rolls around, but Bradford is not interested in keeping the seat warm for him as the starting quarterback in Philadelphia. However the Eagles didn’t do themselves any favor when they signed Bradford to a two-year extension that is worth $36 million on March 1. The Eagles gave Bradford the impression that he was their guy at starting quarterback, only to turn around and draft a quarterback seven weeks later which isn’t fair to either him or Wentz. It will be tough for the Eagles to simply release Bradford as he counts for $12.5 million towards their team payroll for the upcoming season, while teams aren’t lining to take on the salary of a player such as him that has had an injury prone career.
After the Rams made Bradford the first overall pick of the 2010 National Football League Draft, he has only had two seasons in which he made all 16 starts while he only has a record of 25-37-1 without any postseason appearances. Bradford originally intended to not show up to the Eagles organized team actvities (OTA’s), but he had a change of heart after conferring with his agent Tom Condon. But this twist in the whole scenario is ironic since Bradford claims that Condon was the person who steered him the direction of seeking a trade from the Eagles as it appears time to simply play the blame game.
So now with the deck stacked against Bradford in Philadelphia, the only things left for him to do are to beat out Wentz to become the Eagles starting quarterback, remain healthy, and play good enough to get Philadelphia to the postseason for the first time since 2013. And even if Bradford’s long-term future isn’t in Philadelphia, a solid 2016 on his part could catch the eye of another team around the league. But at this point we just have to sit back and see how this situation will play out. However the writing on the wall doesn’t make for a happy ending in Philadelphia.
Sources: Pro-football-reference.com, Sportrac.com
First Round Pick: Josh Doctson-Wide Receiver-TCU
Best Pick: Round Seven-Keith Marshall-Running Back-Georgia
The Washington Redskins found themselves in an unfamiliar spot during the National Football League Draft as they were picking in the later portion of each round. After winning the NFC East last year, Washington came into the NFL Draft with the 21st overall pick. The Redskins would end up trading back one spot in the first round with the Houston Texans and they still got their guy in Texas Christian University Horned Frogs wide receiver Josh Doctson.
Doctson comes to the Redskins after he was one of the best wide receivers in the Big 12 Conference last year. As a senior at TCU, Doctson tallied 79 receptions for 1,327 yards and 14 touchdowns. And at 6’2″, Doctson gives the Redskins some size at the wide receiver position which is an element that their offense has lacked for quite some time.
The second round saw Washington select Southern California Trojans linebacker Su’a Cravens. Cravens went to USC as a safety, but over time he began to play more in the box. At 6’1″, 226 lbs., Cravens is undersized for a linebacker as he could be a classic tweener in the National Football League, and it’ll be interesting to see how he will be used in the D.C.
Virginia Tech Hokies cornerback Kendall Fuller suffered an injury which prevented him from being drafted in the first round of the draft. Fuller fell to the third round where the Redskins selected him, and if healthy, he will give them depth in their secondary due to his tremendous coverage skills.
In the seventh round the Redskins selected Georgia Bulldogs running back Keith Marshall. After a solid freshman campaign, Marshall appeared ready for stardom until a knee injury derailed him which resulted in him being available so late. But if Marshall is healthy, the Redskins may have gotten themselves one of the biggest steals of the draft.
First Round Pick: Carson Wentz-Quarterback-North Dakota State
Best Pick: Carson Wentz
The Philadelphia Eagles and new head coach Doug Pederson followed the trend in the National Football League which is for head coaches to draft a quarterback upon taking over a club. The Eagles are hopeful that they have their guy in North Dakota State Bison quarterback Carson Wentz who they selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
The Eagles entered the National Football League Draft with the with 13th overall pick. The Eagles first moved up to the eighth overall slot when they traded with the Miami Dolphins, before they inched up the ladder some more when they came to an agreement with the Tennessee Titans to obtain the second overall selection.
At 6’5″, 237 lbs., Wentz has solid size and he came from an offense in college that won’t have a steep learning curve as far as him getting accustomed to a pro-style offense. And after the Eagles moved up so much to acquire Wentz, this marriage between he and Pederson must work, or they’ll both be out of Philadelphia in a few years.
By giving picks to the Titans, the Eagles didn’t have the opportunity to build on depth in the middle rounds, but they did have three, seventh round picks with one being used on LSU Tigers safety Jalen Mills. Mills will be a special teams contributor at the outset, but it won’t take him that long to get into the Eagles rotation in their secondary.
New York Giants
First Round Pick: Eli Apple-Cornerback-Ohio State
Best Pick: Round Two-Sterling Shepard-Wide Receiver-Oklahoma
The New York Giants entered the 2016 National Football League Draft expected to beef up a defense that was one of the worst in the league last season. But after the Chicago Bears jumped ahead of them to select Georgia Bulldogs outside linebacker Leonard Floyd in the first round, they set their sights on Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Eli Apple.
In Apple, the Giants added depth in their secondary while his presence should be able to sure up their nickel packages as they already have cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The Giants found themselves an impact player in the second round where they selected Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Sterling Shepard. Shepard is a terrific route runner that Giants quarterback Eli Manning will learn to lean on when it comes time to moving the chains on third down.
In the fifth round the Giants selected UCLA Bruins running back Paul Perkins who will definitely compete for carries, while their sixth round in South Carolina Gamecocks tight end Jerell Adams will be a project as they are hopeful that he can develop into a solid contributor.
First Round Pick: Ezekiel Elliot-Running Back-Ohio State
Best Pick: Ezekiel Elliot
Coming into the 2016 National Football League Draft, I expected the Dallas Cowboys to select Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Joey Bosa. But after the San Diego Chargers surprised the football world by selecting Bosa with the third overall pick, the Cowboys decided on his collegiate teammate in running buck Ezekiel Elliot.
What Elliot provides Dallas with is a home-run hitter at the tailback position that can be equally explosive in the running in passing games. The Cowboys took a chance in the second round on Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith who would have been a first-round pick had he not suffered a horrific knee injury during the Fiesta Bowl this past January.
The Cowboys did use a fourth-round selection on Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. But I don’t see his skill set of being a dual-threat quarterback in college translating to being a solid professional quarterback as Dallas needs to groom a player to be the heir apparent to their current starting quarterback in Tony Romo. And at Mississippi State, Prescott never showed the ability to consistently make passing plays from the pocket.
Dallas did use a sixth-round pick on tight end Rico Gathers who is very interesting being that he spent his entire collegiate career with the Baylor Bears as a basketball player as they are hopeful that his athleticism on the hardwood will transfer to the gridiron.
After three years with Chip Kelly running the show as the head coach and de facto general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles, team owner Jeffrey Lurie knew that it was time to make a change. Last December when it became evident that Kelly had lost the Eagles locker room as he tried to run the team as if the players were in college as opposed to being professionals, Lurie fired him with one game left in the 2015 National Football League season. Lurie then decided to get back to basics which meant that Howie Roseman would once again be running things as the Eagles general manager. Roseman had served as the Eagles general manager from 2010-2014 until a power struggle between he and Kelly led to him changing roles within the organization. However with Kelly being fired, Roseman is once again Lurie’s right hand man. Roseman’s first order of business would be to hire former Eagles quarterback and assistant coach Doug Pederson to be the team’s new head coach and together these two men have been working together over the past few weeks to remove the stench that was left behind in Philadelphia from Kelly’s tenure.
When Kelly was fired, he didn’t leave Roseman and Pederson a championship team to work with and thus the Eagles are now in rebuilding mode.
Last year the Eagles signed running back DeMarco Murray to a five-year deal that was worth $42 million. Murray’s signing with the Eagles came on the heels of Kelly trading running back LeSean McCoy who was the franchise’s all-time leading rusher to the Buffalo Bills. Murray is a downhill runner who’s style was never a match for Kelly’s spread offense system as he was a fish out of water who was brought to Philadelphia simply to be kept away from his former employer in the Dallas Cowboys. And as Roseman along with Pederson are starting over from scratch, they shipped Murray to the Tennessee Titans while the clubs will also swap fourth-round picks in next month’s National Football League Draft.
In exchange for sending McCoy to the Bills last year, the Eagles received linebacker Kiko Alonso who was brought to Philadelphia due to his familiarity with Kelly from their time together at the University of Oregon when Kelly was the head football coach there. Another one of Kelly’s moves last off-season was to sign cornerback Byron Maxwell to a six-year, $63 million contract. Maxwell received that hefty payday due to the potential that he had shown while playing for the Seattle Seahawks alongside a trio of All-Pros in the Seahawks secondary in cornerback Richard Sherman, strong safety Kam Chancellor, and free safety Earl Thomas. Maxwell was unable to live up to his contract with the Eagles last season as he didn’t bring Sherman, Thomas, or Chancellor to Philadelphia with him. And now Maxwell, along with Alonso will have a new home in 2016 as they were traded by the Eagles to the Miami Dolphins. As well as shedding salary, the Eagles will also swap first-round picks with the Dolphins as Philadelphia will be picking eighth overall as opposed to 13th.
Two years ago quarterback Mark Sanchez was signed by the Eagles with the intention of him being a backup. Sanchez had a prior life to joining the Eagles as he helped the New York Jets reach a pair of AFC Championship Games, but he was never able to rekindle that magic in Philadelphia. And after two years with the Eagles, Sanchez was traded last week to the Denver Broncos in exchange for a conditional pick in next year’s draft.
This off-season the Eagles did re-sign quarterback Sam Bradford to a two-year deal that is worth $35 million. Bradford has a base salary for the upcoming season of $7 million which is team friendly; especially for a guy that has not proven that he can stay healthy or be a franchise quarterback in the National Football League which includes his time with the St. Louis Rams. And Bradford’s contract along with his inconsistent play means that the Eagles don’t have to commit to him long-term which gives the team the opening to go into full rebuilding mode as that could lead to Philadelphia drafting a quarterback next month.
There will be quarterbacks that have a first-round tag attached to them in the 2016 National Football League Draft such as North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz, California quarterback Jared Goff, and Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch. And as of right now there is a pretty good chance that the Eagles will select a quarterback in the first round being that their second round pick in now property of the Los Angeles Rams.
Pederson who was a disciple of former Eagles and current Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid wants to get the ball rolling with a new quarterback, but it doesn’t mean that he has to start him right away in the mode of his former employer. In 1999, Reid’s first ever draft selection as the Eagles head coach was used on quarterback Donovan McNabb which was not initially popular among the fans in Philadelphia. As a rookie, McNabb only started six games, but by 2001, the Eagles would reach their first of four consecutive appearances in the NFC Championship Games. By re-signing Bradford, it now gives the Eagles that buffer to select a quarterback early while allowing him to sit back and assess the game from the sideline for a bit.
Make no mistake about it that the Eagles weren’t going to win anytime soon with the likes of Murray, Alonso, Maxwell, or Sanchez on the roster and it was extremely wise for Roseman to ship them out of town while getting some draft picks back in return. And although that the folks in Philadelphia want to see the Eagles be able to immediately compete in the NFC East, Roseman and Pederson’s moves are not are not about the short-term as they are attempting to set this team up to compete for the long-term which hearkens back to Reid’s time with the club.
The NFC East hasn’t been a dominant division for quite some time and if the Eagles can lay the proper groundwork at next month’s National Football League Draft, they could set themselves up to run roughshod over the division just like they did from 2000-2010 when they made nine playoff appearances while winning the division on six occasions.
When Lurie fired Reid in 2012, he cited the need for a change and he believed that Kelly had fresh ideas that would take the Eagles to the next level. But as it became evident that this wouldn’t be the case, Lurie went back to the basics with Roseman and Pederson which could put the Eagles on the fast track to success; especially if they’re able to handle their business at next month’s National Football League Draft.