DESEAN Jacksonwants to retire as an Eagle; and WR DeAndre Hopkins listed Philadelphia as one of the places that he wouldn’t mind playing. So should we be interested? If so, which should we be interested in?
I won’t try to keep you in suspense. The answer is: Both. Depending on the money.
First, let’s deal with DJax. He absolutely should retire as an Eagle. If he wants to sign for a day and retire, sure, why not. He’s earned it. However, if he wants one last ride to chase a ring, as a limited contributor, he’d instantly become our best option at Punt Returner. We could give him WR Britain Covey’s roster spot. He’d certainly give us more as receiving option.
Now, let’s talk D-Hop. Let me use a word that nobody wants to hear: Injury. In the event of a long-term injury to either WR A.J. Brown or Devonta Smith, then WRQuez Watkins becomes our #2 receiver. Are you okay with that? I know I’m not! Last year we were disappointed in how Watkins handled being #3. Picture him having to fill-in for A.J. Brown!
Hopkins represents depth. While he hasn’t posted elite numbers in the last two years, no one doubts his ability to perform at a high level. While Hopkins may not have Watkins’s elite speed, he’s a better route runner, and his hands are near infinitely better. In the event of an injury to Brown or Smith, Hopkins can fill-in as a #2, easily.
Right now our WR depth is Brown, Smith, and Watkins. After that, we have Covey, Greg Ward, (Olympic sprinter) Devon Allen, Olamide Zaccheaus, Tyrie Cleveland, Charleston Rambo, and a couple of undrafted rookies. After Watkins, only Ward has ever caught a ball from QB Jalen Hurts. That was back in 2021.
Restructure that as Brown, Smith, Hopkins, Watkins and DJax. This covers depth, insurance, Special Teams, and legacy. Besides, wouldn’t it be nice to see Watkins and DJax absolutely blowing the lid off of a defense? Putting them on the field together would have opponents lining their Safeties up in the parking lot. Imagine all the room to run on first and ten!
Keeping Ward, Allen, and one more on the Practice Squad, keeps us ready for DJax’s hamstrings to act up again. It’s an annual event, which is why I said limited contributor. However, for every down he can give us (especially in the postseason), he still has the ability to affect and aggravate a defense, just by lining up. As he reminded folks as recently as November 27th…
THANK you Schedule Makers! According to our opponent 2022 win percentage of .566 (which is the tool used to make this measurement every year), the Eagles 2023 schedule is the toughest in the NFL this year. That means, no one can claim that our winning the East again this year, was an easy road.
I want to thank the Schedule Makers for such a tough road. No sarcasm, I’m being serious. The NFC East hasn’t had a repeat winner since we last did it in 2003 and 2004. To do it vs the NFL’s toughest schedule, builds validation even from rivals, directly into every “W” that we earn.
I want that.
Now lets discuss Our 2023 Schedule itself. As with any year, there are things I love about the schedule, and things I hate about it. Let’s start with the good news.
Our Bye hits on Week 10. It’s after nine games played, leaving eight on the schedule’s back-end. It’s also right after our first meeting with the Cowboys, which will be a home game. No post-game travel means, one less plane ride for any of our guys leaving Philadelphia during the Bye.
Speaking of planes, our players won’t have to get on one from Weeks 6 – 10, or Weeks 16 – 18. That’s no jet lag, and we’re either playing home games, or in places (NY and DC) where our fans already have very healthy representation. In fact, we finish the season practically on a three game home-stand.
I also happen to love that our division games have quick turnarounds for each second match-up. We play Washington in Week Four, and again four weeks later. Then a Dallas game, with a re-match four weeks later. At season’s end, both giants games have just one game between them. Sweeps, splits… We’ll know pretty quickly where we stand vs each team.
The bad news?
Kansas City has the same Bye Week that we do. So we get Andy Reidafter a bye. Andy is damned near invincible with an extra week of prep time. (He’s practically Batman.) Then on a short week, after the KC game, we get Buffalo (but at least it’s a home game.) And then the Forty Whiners come to town. (Probably with 6 QB’s and JUGS machine wearing a jersey.)
I’m also personally not a fan of us playing just three 1:00 games. First, the Eagles have traditionally played well in that slot. Second, I have a whole routine based around early games. The earlier we play, the easier it is for me to get the Four Things Reviewed articles out, on time on Mondays. Those articles can take two to six hours to complete, depending on other games that impact us.
This is partly why I’m irritated with us having at least FIVE prime time games this year. I say at least, because that last giants game is “To Be Determined”. For Sunday night games, I can’t even start my articles until around midnight, while still having to be at work on Monday morning. So night games don’t exactly thrill me.
Thankfully we only have one Thursday Night game, and it’s a four day turnaround not just for us, but Minnesota as well. However for us, it’s a home game. The Vikes have to get in a short week of practice, then get on a plane, while also losing an hour.
On the whole, I’m happy with how the schedule works out for the Eagles. It’s an undeniably tough road, with validation built in. However, due to our geographical location and the way the division is laid out, travel fatigue should be about as light on us, as any team in the league.
DRAFT reviews usually come out immediately after the event. Everyone is in such a race to get it to you first, that they rarely ever give it to you good. Not me. I like to take my time and go deeper. Really explore all those places that others tend to ignore. I want to make sure that you’re satisfied. (And accurately informed)
First off, General Manager Howie Roseman is on another level. On the surface, this Draft haul is so amazing, that it’s easy to want to jump to the end of the season, and start spouting a bunch of expectations; but we really need to pump the brakes. Me included.
Now let’s get into it.
Round 1 (9th overall): DT Jalen Carter– We started with the 10th overall pick, but Howie made a deal that moved us up one spot, to take a player widely said to be the most talented player in the entire draft. Some teams were concerned about character issues, but since when did the Eagles make a habit of taking head cases? So I have to trust their judgment on this one.
As an athlete, Carter is explosive, and powerful. He’s an interior penetrator and disruptor, who also can stand a blocker up at the point of attack, not allowing a hole for the run. Better still, from what I watched of him, he keeps a QB’s feet chopping. That means the QB’s normal throwing platform, is compromised.
It’d be a mistake to judge Carters rookie season by sacks and tackles. Those numbers can’t tell the true tale of his value. What Carter does best, is make offenses run off-schedule. He has the ability to make opponents a lesser version of themselves. Wreck a blocking scheme. Make the QB throw off-platform. There’s no stat for those things, but watch how often you’ll see him do it. Pick Grade: A+
Round 1 (30th overall): LB Nolan Smith – His highlights make him seem like a DE and pass rusher, but he only had 12.5 sacks over 4 years at Georgia. Smith is an active, high-motor player, who was used more like an x-factor than a player with a dedicated role. Watching him vs Clemson, a few things jump off the screen.
The first thing I noticed was the size mismatch. He’s only 238 pounds, but Georgia liked to deploy him as a DE/Edge player too often. If the Eagles don’t make this mistake, Smith should be just fine. The next thing you notice is his speed. The guy is blur off the line, and can run with just about any RB or TE.
Georgia used him as more as a Edge player, but the Eagles are going to have to transition him into a bonafide OLB. While he’s shown an ability to set an edge and corral RB’s, as well as rush the QB; he’s also displayed the speed and movement skills to handle coverage in zone and shallow man. So he has the tools to make the adjustment. Pick Grade: A
Round 2 (65th overall): OT Tyler Steen– There is talk of moving him inside to RG, but the move will likely not suit him well. Steen isn’t a lunch pail sort of guy. He had a round 3 or 4 estimate on him, but we reached and grabbed him in the second. From what I’ve seen, there’s no way he should have been drafted at all.
Watching him in the Alabama/Tennessee game, hurt me to my heart. There was no aggression in his game. He fell off of blocks constantly; lunged and ended up on the ground a lot; and his hand usage is atrocious. In the game vs Texas, he looked like outright trash. Finishing no blocks, and watching entirely too much football.
Sometimes teams will take a diamond in the rough, because he’s extremely explosive; or has the nimble feet of Ginger Rogers; or is freakishly strong, or has other in-born traits that can’t be taught. That said, I honestly don’t see what the Eagles will try to build off of with this kid. Then again, I’m not on a coaching staff. Pick Grade: F
Round 3 (66th overall): S Sydney Brown – Word is, that he’s an in the box thumper. (I used to have a pet rabbit named Thumper, so this term always tickles me when it’s used in football).
However, watching video of him vs Wyoming, was underwhelming. It shows him watching a lot of football, when others are swarming to the ball, as well as missing tackles.
I usually don’t watch highlight vids, but even his highlight reels don’t back up the hype of him being a hitter. Maybe there’s a Special Teamer here, but I don’t see much else. Pick Grade: D
Round 4 (105th overall): CB Kelee Ringo – Watching him against Oregon, it was hard not to like the potential that was clearly on display. Rarely do I fall in love with measurables, but 6’2, 207, running a 4.36?! Yet my favorite part was watching how when he played man-press, the QB ignored his half of the field.
His tackling could be better, and his mirroring needs polish, but these things are what coaches are paid to improve. This kid has excellent tools, and will spend the next three years learning from CB’s Darius Slayand James Bradberry. Pick Grade: A
Round 6 (188th overall): QB Tanner McKee – Watching bis game against Arizona State made me wonder why the Eagles spent a pick on him. He showed zero pocket awareness, happy feet in the pocket, and seemingly has no idea what a “touch pass” is. Seriously, he strong-armed every throw on a straight, flat line.
Initially when I saw him as a pick, I figured maybe he’d compete with QB Ian Bookfor the third string. After seeing him play, he seems like just a camp arm. Essentially a salaried jugs machine. Pick Grade: D
Round 7 (249th overall): DT Moro Ojomo– Video against Alabama is always quality study material, and that’s what we have here. Ojomo is active inside, but doesn’t rush with much of a plan. So he can muddle a blocking scheme, but he runs himself out of plays just as often.
He looks like a solid rotation piece. They type who can come in later in the game, vs a tired o-line, and rely on raw strength to shine for a possession or two. Pick Grade: B
While the trade for native Philadelphian RB D’Andre Swift happened during the Draft, it’s not a pick, so it won’t be graded. It was also further demonstrated proof that the Eagles don’t draft RB’s in the first round. (At least not under this GM.) Fans clamored for RB Bijan Robinson, but I said we wouldn’t go that route, and I even told you why. I wanted two defensive lineman and that’s what we took.
Notable Post-Draft signings:
WR Joseph Ngata – 6’3 217, not a burner, but makes tough grabs in traffic, as well as YAC.
CB Mehki Garner– 6’2, 212, needs to be moved to S/NCB.
I know other sites and publications gave the Eagles (and nearly everyone else) A-pluses, A’s and B’s, but they’re grading on curve so gentle, you’d think they were a public school teacher on probation.
On the whole, after taking a deeper look than the national media could afford to, for every team, I’d give our Draft a C+. While we hit some home runs here, three of four picks just don’t look like they’ll fit here. Reaching for one of them just makes that pick hurt worse.
KEEPin mind, when these predictions come out, no one knows who will be drafted by which team.
This is an assessment of the team as it is staffed by veteran players with track records.
Rookies don’t usually shake up the NFC East division, so there’s a pretty good chance that what you see here, will be how it shakes out for the year.
Strongest Offense: PHILADELPHIA – This was the NFL’s #3 scoring unit last year. They had two free agent defections, but the replacements have all been reliable contributors on this team fpr years. There are no holes, and no question marks. No other unit in the division can claim that.
Weakest Offense: NEW YORK – Everything is wrong with their offense. I won’t go into details here. I already did that, in the article.
Strongest Defense: PHILADELPHIA – Dallas has a deeper (better?) secondary, but up front, their line gets manhandled vs the run. Philadelphia does not have that problem, and is solid from front to back. (See: PLAYOFFS, San Francisco)
Weakest Defense: NEW YORK – Holdouts and defections cannot be great for team morale. There was already a talent vacuum, last year. This season can’t have made that any better.
Strongest Special Teams:NEW YORK– Reliable kicking in a stadium that sees the kind of winds, that New York, San Fran and Chicago sees, is nothing to dismiss. One team being able to count on their kicking when the other team can’t, has been the tale of many a victory in this league.
Weakest Special Teams: WASHINGTON – This unit has been limping along since 2020. Apparently the bar is just set to “Low” for this part of the team.
Projected Winner: PHILADELPHIA
This team has mitigated losing personnel extremely well. In fact, they didn’t lose as many players as they were expected to. Some even re-signed for less money than they could have gotten elsewhere. That’s the sign of a roster that believes, and is dialed in.
Darkhorse Winner: DALLAS – ESPN picked them to win the East. Given that New York and Washington don’t have the tools, if it’s not Philadelphia, it has to be Dallas.
LAST year your Eagles finished 14 – 3 overall, 4 – 2 against the division, first place in the NFC East, Top Seed in the Conference, and lost the Super Bowl by a field goal. As is the case with successful teams, free agency has plucked a few feathers from the roster, but General Manager Howie Roseman has contained that spill. We’ve also had some coaching defections, but those may not prove as painful as the national media likes to think.
But enough chin wagging! Let’s look at how the Eagles 2023 roster looks 24 hours or so, before the NFL Draft.
QB:Jalen Hurts is the class of this division, but that doesn’t mean he still doesn’t have a ton to prove. For many he answered the question of “Can he be a Franchise QB?”, by his play in 2022, and taking the Eagles to the Super Bowl. If one near MVP season, and a Super Bowl were enough, Carson Wentz would get more love than he does from this fan base. Fair being fair, Hurts has to have more than one great year, before we’re using the term “elite”.
Still, Hurts is the best in this division. His arm strength and accuracy are on par with Prescott, but Hurts forces fewer throws into underneath coverage. He’s also more mobile, and practically unstoppable with the QB Sneak (that several teams sought to outlaw). The measure failed, and now teams are pouting and vowing to imitate what they just sought to eliminate. It truly is an Eddie Murphy/Dexter St. Jacques moment, for Hurts. (Check it out. And you’re welcome.)
That said, in two seasons as the starter, Hurts has missed games in both, just as a natural consequence of how the coaching staff uses him. So it’s imperative to get the right back-up. Which is where Marcus Mariotacomes in. He’s a better scheme fit than Gardner Minshew was last season, as mobility is part of Mariota’s game.
With Mariota as the back-up, it means the RPO threat never leaves the field. This is a point that the Eagles silently hammered home, by adding Ian Book as the third stringer. (Seriously, YouTube some video of this kid in college. The Eagles scouting department seriously deserves some sort of award. (+)
RB: Gone are the 1,200 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns of Miles Sanders. Taking up the mantle (so far) is KennethGainwell. He’s fine as a utility player, but he doesn’t break tackles, run creatively, or have “take it to the house” type speed. In fact, in 225 touches (regular and postseason), he has exactly one play for 30 yards or more. Behind him is utility player Boston Scott, who is a great utility player, but who lacks the same traits that Gainwell lacks.
Injury-prone Rashaad Penny signed an heavily incentivized contract, in what is likely a last ditch attempt to have a career. When Penny is healthy, he’s explosive and powerful. He’s a physical runner who can also accelerate away from defenders; but out of the 82 games he’s been under contract for, he’s only suited up for 42 of them, with just 11 starts.
Last, and probably still least, is Trey Sermon. Sermon logged 2 carries last year for 19 yards (9.5 ypc.) so of course the logical place for him was wasting away on the Practice Squad last year. There are no clear answers here, besides the back-by-committee approach, which telegraphs an offense’s intent. (-)
At 230 pounds, A.J. Brown is the size of an elephant and runs like a deer. He caught for 1,496 yards and 11 scores, often seeming to do so at will, from anywhere, regardless of who was how close to his body. (Like in this picture.) Oh yeah! And his best friend in the world, just so happens to be his QB. And last year was their first season on the same team. And now they get to refine their connection.
If that sounds like a nightmare, consider this: If you try to double Brown, you’re just leaving room for DeVonta Smith, who is Brown’s polar opposite. Smith is a precise route runner, who capitalizes on the holes that secondaries leave when trying to contain an explosive athlete like Brown. Smith also has the more reliable hands of the two, and his grabs quietly eat up clock.
If Brown is an uppercut from Mike Tyson; then Smith is a chloroformed rag in a gloved hand, from your backseat, in a deserted parking lot. Either way, you’re going to sleeeep. Quickly. The only time that one of these guys doesn’t terrorize a secondary, is when both of them are doing it.
The fall-off after that is steep. Quez Watkins is blazingly fast, but his hands are so very suspect. He literally handed two turnovers to Dallas last year, during a 34 – 40 loss (and he’s mad that we’re still mad about that). Like Watkins, Devon Allen also sports 4.3 speed, but spent 2022 on the Practice Squad. Former Falcon Olamide Zaccheaus was just signed and he also has the speed to make house calls.
Britain Coveyspent 2022 being a very lackluster return man, and may not see final cuts this season. Tyrie Clevelandwas added to the roster from Denver, and it remains to be seen why Philadelphia did so. Unless it has to do with his college career, where he showed he could make a living, deep down the middle, as a 6’2 target with really good (not great) 4.46 speed.
Interestingly, Greg Ward is still on the Eagles roster. Ward is a decent, not great receiver, but he’s an awesome utility player. In just 40 games played, he’s caught 10 TD’s, and has some PR experience. He’s works well in the red zone; and having been a running QB in college, innately gets where he needs to be on a scramble drill. Lot of unusual tools in that box, and he’s only 28. Which may be why Zach Pascal was (surprisingly), allowed to walk. (+)
TE:Dallas Goedertis the best player at this position in the division. He is both a very good receiver, and a solid blocker. Last year he posted 702 yards and a catch rate of 79.7 percent. He did however, miss 5 games. The best ability is availability, and Goedert hasn’t played a complete season since 2018.
Jack Stoll is virtually an offensive lineman. He doesn’t have the size at just 247 pounds, but the Eagles potent run game wouldn’t be the same without him. Stoll won’t scare anyone as a receiver, but he catches what he’s thrown (78.6%). Third on the list is Grant Calcaterra. Same dimensions as Stoll, but polar opposite as a player. Catches well, but his blocking needs work.
Fact is, the Eagles need to address the lack of depth here. Goedert misses time. Period. The team needs a contingency plan for when (not if), that happens again. (+)
OT: Last year only six QB’s were sacked more than Jalen Hurts. Given that he missed two games, that’s an even more alarming stat. Of the 38 sacks allowed, LT Jordan Mialata surrendered 6.5 of them. He’s a mauling run blocker, but keeping the QB upright is the most important part of a LT’s job.
For the second season in a row, RT Lane Johnson didn’t allow a sack, and drew just three flags all season. Offensive linemen don’t get credit for yards gained, but Johnson is the best at not costing his team yards. There will a bust of him Canton, Ohio someday.
Jack Driscollcan play everywhere on the line, except the pivot. He’s filled in ably in Lane’s absence, but is ultimately better kicked inside, because he has clear issues with speed on the edge. Roderick Johnson andFred Johnson are also on the roster. (+)
G: While LG Landon Dickerson only surrendered half a sack last year, he was penalized 13 times for 89 yards. That’s enough yardage to wipe out a touchdown drive. He has to improve in that department. On the other hand, the guy is a flat-out mauler both in pass protection and especially when blocking for the run.
Sua Opeta has been a spot starter and has done some mop-up duty as an Eagle, but now he may have the inside track on the starting gig vacated by Isaac Seumalo. Tyrese Robinsonis the third player at this position. The playing is strong, but there isn’t a clear second starter. (-)
C: Future Hall Of Famer Jason Kelce returns for another run at the Lombardi. Behind him is a successor that the Eagles drafted, with Kelce’s help in scouting. That successor is Cam “Beef” Jurgens. With Kelce’s retirement being perhaps 17 games away, the Eagles want to get Jurgens feet wet soon, so there’s talk of playing him at Guard in 2023. Cameron Tom is a decent insurance policy. (+)
In A Nutshell: This Offense has no holes, but it does have cracks in the foundation. With the RB’s currently on the roster, the run game won’t scare anyone, but it’ll be functional. As long as it is, the play-action, and RPO stuff, still makes this one of the most explosive teams in the entire league.(+)
DE:Josh Sweat notched a career-high 11 of the Eagles 70 sacks, returned an interception for a touchdown, and led the team with 15 tackles for loss. Brandon Grahamat the age of 34, came back from an Achilles tendon tear, to post a career-high 11 sacks, despite only starting one game. Tarron Jacksonand Matt Leo are also on the roster. Expect the Eagles to address this position early in the Draft. (+)
DT:Fletcher Cox started every game and turned in his best season since 2018, posting 43 tackles, 7 for losses, and 7 sacks. He returns at age 32 in what may be his final as an Eagle, largely to be a mentor. Jordan Davis blew no one away with his rookie stats (18 tackles, 1 for loss). This season more will expected as he’s no longer behind Javon Hargrave.
Milton Williams is more of a situational player, who despite not starting, posted 36 tackles with 9 for losses, as well as 4 sacks, He can also be moved to End. Marvin Wilson and Kentavius Streetare more penetrators than run pluggers. It looks as if these reserves are built with an eye towards pass rush, with little concern for trench warfare.(+)
OLB:Haason Reddick posted 49 tackles (11 TFL) and led the team with a career-high 16 sacks. Nicholas Morrow comes over from the Bears, presumably to fill the coverage role vacated by Kyzir White. Patrick Johnson splits his time between here and at DE. He influences lots of plays, but seldom makes one.
Kyron Johnson and Davion Taylormay not make it to final cuts this season. Taylor was drafted as a project, but the Eagles haven’t put the time in. They might be about to lose a gem.(+)
MLB/ILB: With the departure of T.J.Edwards, Nakobe Dean will become the eye of the storm, in Philadelphia. More instinctual and a better athlete than Edwards, this move is expected to be an upgrade. That however, hasn’t been seen yet. Shaun Bradleyand Christian Elliss are the reserves, but since Edwards rarely missed a down, they don’t have a ton of experience. (-)
Undrafted rookie Reed Blankenship was forced into 4 starts last year, and played better than anyone had a right to expect. He’s probably going to have to compete for a starting job in 2023, but his competition won’t have an easy contest. He has more aggression than the departed Marcus Epps, and brings his arms to his tackles.
When the Eagles decided not to overpay Chauncey Gardner, they opted to bring in Terrell Edmunds. Edmunds is an in the box thumper, but his coverage is better than decent. So he’s an excellent pick-up, and possibly an upgrade over last year. K’Von Wallace and Justin Evans are on the roster for now, but the Draft is in a couple of days. So we’ll see. (+)
CB:Darius Slayturned in 14 passes defensed and 3 interceptions. His 58% completion rate was a little high, but not alarming. On the other side isJames Bradberry with 17 passes defensed, and 3 picks with a 57% completion rate, in 2022. There are no free or easy meals throwing against these guys.
Avonte Maddox is a capable Nickel, but he’s missing more and more time with injuries. You have to wonder if this is why the Eagles added Greedy Williams. Williams was a second round flame-out in Cleveland. But c’mon, it was Cleveland. So the Eagles are willing to take a flier on him.
Josiah Scott had a rough 2022. He had 2 interceptions, but he also allowed 68.8% completion rate. Zech MacPhearson is a fourth rounder who acquits himself nicely, but the bench holds a strong grip on those without Draft pedigree. Josh Jobe and Mario Goodrichare longshots to make a deep roster. (+)
In A Nutshell: Every defensive lineman on this team can be described as ‘disruptive’. Every. Single. One. Point to the other team in the NFL that can say that. This unit poisons offenses at the root, by destroying blocking concepts. If you can’t block, you can’t play. Anyone expecting the Eagles Defense to take a major step back, because of a couple free agent defections, can’t see the forest because of the trees. (+)
K/P: Kicker Jake Elliottdidn’t attempt many Field Goals in 2022. He was 20/23 (87%) 6/8 from 40+, and 51/53 (95.4%) on extra points. Yes. 53 attempts. The Eagles were a scoring machine. Those 53 attempted XP’s, doesn’t mention how often they went for two. Elliott had a career-high 63 touchbacks on 91 kickoffs (69.2%). (+)
Arryn Siposs was a sore spot lat year. A punt is the first play on defense. It sets the Defense up with a good or a bad situation. So his 45.6 yard per punt average and his 39.6 yard net, are just too far apart. Additionally, 20 of his 44 boots (45.4%) were returned for an 8.0 yard average. All of that needs to change.(-)
In A Nutshell: Elliott isn’t needed much, but when he is, he’s a great bet. I wouldn’t call him a sure thing and risk a paycheck on him! But I could wager a pineapple without batting an eye. Our punting game however, didn’t do much to help this team in 2022. This unit is more good than bad, but when it’s bad, it’s fish rotting in a nightstand bad.(+)
BOTTOM LINE: Eagles fans are told not to expect 14 – 3 again. Fine. Keep it. Especially with 15 – 2, 16 – 1, and 17 – 0 still out there. Realistically, as it stands, this is probably an 11 or 12 win team. This team can score with ANYBODY, while making it harder to score for everybody. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to this roster in the next 48 hours.
LAST year the Cowboys went 12 – 5 overall, and 4 – 2 against the division, to finish second in the NFC East. They utterly rolled over the Buccaneers in the Wild Card round, but then vs San Francisco, couldn’t get the engine of their offense to “turnover”. It would also mark the last game as a Cowboy, for C Ezekiel Elliott. In the aftermath, head coach Mike McCarthy, fired offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, and took over the O.C. job, himself.
For the first time in a long time, there’s real interest, not just hype, about the Cowboys. People, and Cowboys fans, are curious about what happens next. So lets take a gander at the 2023 Pre-Draft Cowboys.
QB: People will keep mentioning that Dak Prescott led the NFL with 15 interceptions in just twelve games, last year. Ignore it. It’s an overblown stat. John Elway, Dan Marino, Brett Favre, Warren Moon, Peyton Manning, have all surpassed 15 picks PLENTY of times. Vinny Testaverde played 20 years, and one year he threw 35 picks vs 13 TD’s. What matters isn’t how many picks you throw, but when you throw them. Like Prescott’s game winner vs Jacksonville.
Prescott has never been a great passer, but his delivery skills (read + velocity + accuracy) are still (as a combination) better than most. Add to that, his comfort in his system, and it only magnifies his ability to be effective. He is not a top 10 passer and he’s no longer dynamic, but he’s very experienced and still in his prime. It would be a mistake to underestimate him.
Preseason Hall of Famer, Cooper Rush led the team to a 5 and oh wait… 4 – 1 record last year during Prescott’s absence. Be it his completion percentage of 58, or his 5 TD’s vs 3 picks, the Cowboys organization brought him back for two more years. Will Grier has 52 career attempts and 4 interceptions vs no scores. Not a sexy group, but solid. (+)
RB: Gone is Ezekiel Elliott. Currently the head of the Cowboys running attack is Tony Pollard. Pollard, who’s game is speed and explosiveness, is not yet healed from a broken ankle suffered in the playoffs, and the subsequent Tightrope surgery that followed it.
Hedging their bets, just in case Pollard isn’t himself, Ronald Jones was added to the team. Jones is a decent player who can get production if he sees touches, but he’s not special. Rounding out the list is Malik Davis, yet another 6 foot, 205-ish pound RB.
With the way that Dallas historically likes to use this position (heavy use, between the Tackles, just a handful of plays designed), this team is either about to go in a new direction, or find out they’re incompetent on offense. (-)
At first glance the Cowboys situation seems great here. Then you realize that last year’s number two and three receivers are no longer on the roster, and number four is a RB rehabbing a broken ankle. Did I mention that number two was a TE?
Leading off is Ceedee Lamb, who had a career year, but he did most of his damage from the slot. This calls up a question that’s been dogging Lamb for three years: Is he truly a number one, or is he just Robin in Batman’s costume? Brandin Cooks was signed to add a legit deep threat, but it remains to be seen how well he’ll fit into a run-heavy system, where he’ll be asked to play heavy downs, despite not being the first option even on passing downs.
Signing Cooks wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence for Michael Gallup, who sports a catch percentage that has never seen 60 in any of his five years. However, he carries a 19M$ dead money hit for 2023, so he will be on the roster this year. KaVontae Turpin is a 153 pound returner who wants to be featured more as a receiver. Thus far he’s only been thrown two passes, catching one for 9 yards. Jalen Tolbert is also on the roster.
There’s plenty of talent here. The question is, in a run-heavy system, can it be blended in a way that keeps egos form becoming corrosive. (+)
TE:Jake Ferguson is the top of the food chain in Dallas now. His rookie numbers (19 – 174 – 9.2 – 2) notwithstanding, the organization seems to believe in him. That seems odd given the team’s stated re-emphasis on the run, and Ferguson being far from a “mix it up” type player. But, oh well!
Peyton Hendershotreceived an awful lot of press for a guy who’s entire 17 game stat line, was (11 – 103 – 9.4 – 2). Sean McKeon is the third stringer here. These guys are neither scary targets, nor great blockers. It’s hard to believe that this team won’t use a Day One or Two Draft pick on this position. (-)
OT: The Cowboys are going all-in on LT Tyler Smith. This means that Tyron Smith is likely staying at RT. How many snaps he takes there is another question. Over the last three seasons, Tyron has played in just 17 regular season games, missing 33 of a possible 50.
Ready to fill-in is Terence Steele who had 13 starts last year and only surrendered 1 sack. There’s also Josh Ball 41 snaps worth of pro experience; 26 of which came in a 27 – 23 win over the Texans. There are two more warm bodies as well. (+)
G: Future Hall Of Famer Zack Martin anchors the right side. As for the left, after losing Conner McGovern to Buffalo, the Cowboys currently have Matt Farniok who started 2 games last year and didn’t embarrass himself; and Chuma Edoga, who was a back-up when he was a Falcon. (-)
C:Tyler Biadasz is not particularly quick, or strong. Sohe’s a hard place for an offensive attack to hang its hat. But it’s either him or Brock Hoffman, who has yet to play an NFL snap, on offense. (-)
In A Nutshell: The head coach has revamped the offensive system to be run-heavy, despite most of his talent being at WR, not RB. Their offensive line is fully functional, but shaky in a couple of spots (C, LG). If the run game can get going, then the rest of the offense will stabilize. That said, any form of setback for Pollard probably dooms this unit. (+)
DE:DeMarcus Lawrence started every game for the first time since 2019, and produced a career-high 65 tackles, on a Top Five defensive unit. On the other end of the line, Dorance Armstrong was second on the team with 8.5 sacks. So the Cowboys are fine here.
Used as a situational player Dante Fowler contributed 6 sacks, which was a lot of bang for the Cowboys buck. Rookie Sam Williams notched 4 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries, and basically seemed to live in opposing backfields with 10 tackles for loss. Chauncey Golston rounds out the quintet, as a third rounder with so much talent ahead of him, that he barely sees snaps. (+)
DT:Osa Odighizuwa is an active and disruptive to blocking schemes against the pass. However, as a combination of his body type and play style, he can become an outright liability vs the run. He posted 43 tackles and 4 sacks last year, in 17 starts. He’s Robin in a Batman costume. Expect the Cowboys to get him some help.
Johnathan Hankins was added last year via trade with the Raiders, to beef up the run defense. That mission was a success, but Hankins comes with a few pronounced limitations, such as change of direction and motor. He produced 20 tackles last year, with just 1 being for a loss. Both were career-lows.
Quinton Bohanna began last season as the starter, but then lost his spot after nine games. After 27 games with 10 starts, he’s amassed just 29 tackles, with 1 for a loss. At 6’4, 360 pounds, he’s probably too bulky to produce in the NFL. While he can eat space, he can also be run away from too easily. Neville Gallimore is disruptive, but he’s just a rotational player. (-)
OLB:Micah Parsons started every game, and posted 65 tackles (13 TFL) and a team leading 13.5 sacks. Teams seemed to figure out how to neutralize him, by forcing him to cover more. Dallas also added I.R. resident Takkarist McKinley, possibly to beef up their pass rush. (+)
MLB/ILB:Leighton Vander Esch was re-signed, much to the surprise of pretty much everyone. In 14 starts he posted 90 tackles (4 TFL) and 1 sack. He no longer has to be respected in pass coverage, and never offered much as a pass rusher. Damone Clark was a fifth rounder who found himself starting 5 games. Nothing impressive, but he at least picked up experience. (+)
S: There are eight players at this position. I will only be mentioning four. Donovan Wilson had 101 tackles (7 TFL), and 5 sacks, playing more like an extra ‘backer than a DB. Jayron Kearse (77 tackles, (7 TFL), 2 sacks) also spent a lot of time around the line of scrimmage. This made the Cowboys faster vs underneath passes, but left them too small against the run.
Malik Hooker only had 6 starts last year, but he played 81% of the Cowboys defensive snaps. He turned in career-highs in tackles (62) tackles for losses (2) and tied his career best with 3 interceptions. Israel Mukuamu had 3 starts last year but didn’t do anything remarkable with them. The Cowboys have the deepest group in the division. (+)
For most players, 14 passes defensed and 3 interceptions would be a great year. For Trevon Diggs it meant coming back down to Earth. In a bid to not give opposing offenses an easy side to throw to, Dallas traded for Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore isn’t the ballhawk that Diggs is, but his technique is much more solid. Diggs gave up a 64% completion rate last year. Gilmore won’t be so generous.
DaRon Bland provided some spicy play, picking off 5 passes last season. That Nickel spot is unquestionably his this year. Kelvin Joseph is a former second round pick who is languishing on the bench. Jourdan Lewis has a knack for finding the ball and the QB, when he’s not on the bench. Nashon Wright cuts an odd picture for this position being 6’4, but the kid can play. (+)
In A Nutshell: The Cowboys have an extremely scary secondary, with just enough pass rush to help that secondary. Their predilection for speed however, motivates them to use smaller players, which sets them up for getting pushed around vs the run. It’s a “shock and awe” unit, that doesn’t do well in a fist-fight, or low scoring games. Luckily for the Cowboys, most teams are becoming less invested in running the ball, and therefore less adept at the things needed to achieve easy victories over this unit. (+)
K/P:Tristan Vizcaino is the only Kicker on the Cowboys roster. In his three year career he’s been on four teams, with a career mark of 11/12 (91.6%) and no kicks from 50+. (-)
Bryan Anger is the Punter. He’s got a 48.4 yard average with a 42.8 yard net. Both are best in the NFC East. He even launched an 83 yarder in 2022. On the other hand, of his 68 kicks, returners felt froggy enough to return 32 of them, for an average of 8.0. (+)
In A Nutshell: Expect the Cowboys field goal kicking to be spotty again this year. With the way they spend money at other positions, there isn’t much left to allocate to Kicker. The P has a big leg and does a good job of setting the defense up favorably. (+)
This is a team that needs 20 points or more, to win games. In fact, this team hasn’t won a game where they scored fewer than 20 points, since November of 2018. They’re at four years and counting with that.
That puts all the pressure on RB Tony Pollard, to carry the run-heavy offense. If it works, things will be fine in Dallas. If it doesn’t, elements in that locker room will want coach McCarthy to switch his philosophy back to something they’re more comfortable with.
LAST year the giants finished 9 – 7 – 1 overall, 1 – 4 – 1 against the division, and third place in the NFC East. The East ran through the NFL like an Ex-Lax smoothie, and sent three teams to the playoffs. The giants won their Wild Card match-up against the Vikings, before being obliterated by the Eagles in the Divisional round. Still, it has left giants fans with hope for 2023.
So then let’s take a look at the 2023 Pre-Draft giants, to see if they are indeed, poised to take that next step.
QB: Forget Daniel Jones’s jersey, I want his ski mask! This guy in four seasons has thrown all of 60 touchdowns (15 per year), and had the unmitigated gall to ask for 40M per year. And he got it! What happened was the giants organization fell in love with his 708 rushing yards last year, and they have visions of what he can be with better weapons. Also, he’s coming off of a season where he went 9 – 6 – 1. It’s his first winning record in four tries. And they actually paid him! Backing up Jones, is competent journeyman Tyrod Taylor. (-)
RB: With Saquon Barkley having not signing his franchise tag yet, he’s technically not on the active roster. So if a game had to be played today, the starter would be, back-up Matt Breida. Breida seems to have left his explosiveness back in 2019, and at 195 pounds, isn’t built to carry the load. Behind him is Gary Brightwell, an unremarkable, 6th round pick from 2016. Last and certainly least on the list, is undrafted Jashaun Corbin, who didn’t log a touch in 2022.
Even with Barkley, this is a thin group. Without him, the load for winning games shifts entirely only the QB. This may be why Barkley hasn’t signed, given how he has to grovel for a long-term deal, while the QB that he carried, has been handsomely rewarded for Barkley’s hard work. Stay tuned! (-)
WR: Losing Richie James to the Chiefs has to hurt, especially after the way the Kadarius Toney trade turned out. Darius Slayton is a wildly inconsistent deep threat, who can disappear for weeks at a time. Even when he starts. Sterling Sheppard is a shell of himself, and can’t stay on the field. He’s played just 10 games in two years.
Isaiah Hodgins walked off the Bills waiver list midseason, and into 8 starts for the giants, as well as tying for team lead with 4 TD catches. (You can read that as either good or bad.) However, as a 6’4, 24 year old, the giants are more than willing to gamble on his upside.
Wan’Dale Robinson was a second round pick, who went down with an ACL tear during a less than promising rookie campaign. Brought in to bolster their depleted receiving corps, was Parris Campbell. Campbell defected from Indianapolis in order to upgrade the quality of QB that he plays with, and finally jump-start his career. (You want to tell him? I don’t have the heart to tell him.)
Jaydon Mickens comes over from Tampa, and Jeff Smith from the Jets. Both represent the bottom of those teams depth charts. A forty million dollar passer and no weapons? This has to be where their first pick goes. (-)
TE: On the surface, trading for Darren Waller looks like a power move for the giants. They only gave up a third rounder in exchange for one of the NFL’s most dangerous players at this position. On the surface it looks like they outright fleeced the Raiders. That being said, the player being described here, hasn’t actually been seen since 2020.
Since 2021, Waller’s career has been a mish-mash of missed games, and games where he’s flat out been invisible. And then there’s the injury history. Five injuries to his right leg. A recurring ankle injury in 2021; a knee strain in 2021; and most alarmingly two Grade 2 hamstring strains (tears) in 2022. Keep in mind, a Grade 2 strain to that same thigh, shut down his 2015 season.
Waller being traded doesn’t come from out of the blue. The Raiders nearly traded him to the Dolphins last year. So they’ve been looking to unload him. Makes me wonder if they know something about his long-term injury risk, that they aren’t letting on about. Or maybe given his drug history, they felt antsy about how he was coping with the move to Las Vegas from Oakland, where they transformed a 6th round nobody, into a Pro Bowl player. (Look it up)
Aside from Waller, the giants still have their top two from last year in Daniel Bellinger and Lawrence Cager. Bellinger caught 30 passes for 268 yards, and is more like an extra lineman than a receiver. Conversely at 220 pounds, Cager is more of a slow WR. Something had to happen here. The question now is: Did it actually happen? (-)
OT: LT Andrew Thomas has turned his career around. As a rookie he was a turnstile, just utter trash, giving up 10 sacks that year. Last year, that number was more like 3. So he’s gone from being the anchor on the line, to being the anchor of the line.
Speaking of being a trash rookie, RT Evan Neal gave up 7 sacks last year, and that doesn’t begin to describe or define his struggles. This offseason they’re working with him to change his stance and his kick-step, but with him being 6’7 and 360 pounds, physics will only let coaching change him so much. Much of a lineman’s footwork has to be in-born. It takes talent. You can’t just teach any big man to play offensive line, and re-programming only goes so far.
Matt Peart has been an absolute disappointment, but he’s depth, he was a third round pick, knows the system, and is still on his rookie deal. So he’ll likely survive final cuts this season. Peart was such a disappointment that last year, the giants added Tyre Phillips from B-more. Phillips ended up with 5 starts filling in for Thomas (1 game) and Neal (4 games). They’re fine at LT, but RT is in the shop, up on a lift.(-)
G: The giants have nine, NINE players listed at this position! Only five of them have a chance of sticking with the team, and that’s only until Shane Lemieux gets off of I.R. At which point his placeholder will be cut, and the number will drop to four. Shane will open the season as the fifth at this position. Sounds stupid and it is, but wait, watch, and see.
Last year they signed free agent RG Mark Glowinski to a 20M$ contract and he responded by allowing a career-high 4.5 sacks, contributing to the 44 that the line would allow as a whole. Likely to man the LG spot is Ben Bredeson. He had 8 starts last year and didn’t allow anyone to take down his QB. What’s more, the team started 6 – 1 with him in the starting lineup, and went 3 – 6 – 1 once he sat down.
Jack Anderson and Wyatt Davis represent the only real depth on this team, but they don’t have much experience. There’s a lot of “up in the air” about the depth chart here, and it will stay that way until Lemieux gets back. (-)
C: After losing John Feliciano to San Fran, and Nick Gates to Washington, the giants don’t have a player designated at this position. Perhaps they hope to develop one from their large pool of Guards, but the pivot isn’t a plug-and-play position. Someone has a rude awakening coming. (-)
In A Nutshell: Everything is wrong with this offense. The QB is grossly overpaid; which has offended the workhorse RB, who’s staying away as he begs for a decent contract offer. This will only highlight the weakness at WR. Especially if the TE doesn’t return to his All-Pro form. All of this is built on the back of an offensive line that seems much worse than they were last season. (-)
DE: Because the giants favored a 2-4-5 look last year, Ryder Anderson is currently the only player listed at this position. As an undrafted rookie last year, he made two starts, grabbing 2 sacks, and 8 tackles. Not bad, but given his body type, there may not be much of role for him in this scheme. (+)
DT:Dexter Lawrence is a mountain of a man, coming off the best season of his four year career, with 68 tackles and a team-leading 7.5 sacks. He’s currently holding out of voluntary team activities, while he asks for/demands a better deal. Though talks are characterized as ‘good’, don’t expect to see him in pads until there’s a new contract.
Playing beside him, is Leonard Williams. Williams’ declining play hasn’t lived up to his contract, and now there is talk of everything from restructuring his deal, to trading him. Beyond that there’s young D.J. Davidson, and a pair of veterans Rakeem Nunez-Roches, and Vernon Butler who have both been in the league for years, but both are just guys. (-)
OLB: People are singing the praises of Kayvon Thibodeaux. While his rookie season only produced 49 tackles (6 TFL), and 4 sacks, the talk is that there is still plenty of upside for 2022’s 5th overall pick.
Azeez Ojulari missed most of last season. Still, for the 7 games he played, he netted 14 tackles (3 TFL), and 5.5 sacks. So he was impactful when he was out there. He’s expected to be healthier this year, and so the giants are awaiting bigger things from him.
Undrafted rookie Tomon Fox put together a pretty nice campaign in 2022. He posted 1 start, and ended the season with 24 tackles (3 TFL), and 1 sack. Second year player Elerson Smith, lives on I.R. (+)
MLB/ILB: The giants coaching staff was so impressed by this position last year, that they allowed Jaylon Smith to just wander off, and went out and signed Bobby Okereke from Indy. Rookie Micah McFadden started 7 games, and notched 59 tackles (9 TFL) and 2 sacks. Not overwhelming, but it portends good things. The remaining four guys are just roster filler. (+)
S: This position is a mess. Losing Julian Love was a tough blow. Xavier McKinney missed practically the second half of last season, but started both playoff games. So far in his three year career, he’s missed half of two separate seasons. In his one complete season, he was an absolute menace. The question however, is will he play a whole season, or just half of one.
Even at his best, McKinney can’t play two spots. Which raises the question of, who gets the other job. Both Jason Pinnock and Dane Belton, each started 5 games last year. Pinnock was more of an in the box presence (41 tackles, 2 for losses, 1.5 sacks), while Belton (31 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 interceptions) seemed to be more suited to coverage. Everything here is a question. (-)
CB:Adoree Jackson started the first 10 games last season, missed the rest of the regular season, but returned in time for the playoffs. He’s serviceable, but hardly a difference maker anymore. Darnay Holmes played Nickel last year, but may move into a more prominent role with the departure of Fabian Moreau.
Cordale Flott made 6 starts last year, as a third round rookie, and was made to look like one. On the other hand, last year could be great for experience and as a teaching tool. Nick McCloud saw a lot of action last year, and may be asked to step up in 2023. Rodarius Williams, and two more warm bodies are drawing paychecks at this position.
This position wasn’t very good in 2022, and the loss of Moreau doesn’t help. (-)
In A Nutshell: Personnel turnover is part of any business, but the giants haven’t been able to mitigate key losses. Especially in the secondary. This doesn’t bode well at all. (-)
K/P: KickerGraham Gano was 29/32 (90.6%) last year, hitting 18/20 from 40+, and connecting on 32/24 (94.1%) extra points. Of his 84 kickoffs, 50 were touchbacks (59.9%). Big leg. Reliable. What’s not to like? (+)
Punter Jamie Gillan is maybe out-kicking his coverage a little. Last year he averaged 46.8 yards per punt, with a net of 40.1, which is fine. The issue is, of his 74 punts, 28 were returned (37.8%) for 277 yards (9.8ypr). While no opponent took a kick to the house last year, they often had room to try. Again, not a huge problem, but something to work on. (+)
In A Nutshell: Being able to rely on their kicking, especially in Met Life stadium where the wind swirls, and can change direction, helps the giants in any game where they can keep the score close. This has allowed them to steal quite a few games over the years, and will probably help them steal 1 or 2 more this season. (+)
BOTTOM LINE: Personnel losses and holdouts are the story of the giants offseason so far. While other teams are talking about what they’re adding to get stronger, the giants are clearly having trouble just treading water. Every indicator says that they will take a step back in 2023. A 9 – 8 finish would be a strong mark for them this year.
LAST year the Commanders (armed with their latest name), finished 8 – 8 – 1 overall, 2 – 3 – 1 in the division, and dead last in the NFC East. With the league essentially firing Washington’s owner during the offseason, there was no one to fire their coach. Sooo, he’ll be back. This team entered 2022 with a lot of questions, none of which seemed to get answered.
Let’s get a look at the 2023 Pre-Draft Commanders roster, to get an idea of who this team is today.
QB: They jettisoned Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke, and held onto this guy,
Sam Howell, who was a 5th round rookie last year. Howell had just 19 attempts, but currently owns a 1 – 0 record as a starter. Washington is apparently so high on him, they signed Jake Fromm (NYG), and threw 8M$ at Jacoby Brissett (CLE). Brissett is essentially Tyrod Taylor 2.0. He’s a decent journeyman passer, and is likely only on the roster to teach Howell how to be a pro. Problem is, Washington needs someone to show Howell how to be The Man, and Brissett has never been that. The season is already starting off badly for this team. (-)
RB:Brian Robinson seems to be who the Red- sorry, Commanders- are hanging their hat on, as the basis of their 2023 attack. Robinson’s a physical, between the Tackles runner (797 rushing yards, 3.9ypc). Those traits played a role in him taking away the starting job last year, from Antonio Gibson. Gibson is a niftier runner, but his lack of physicality is hard to ignore. Especially for a 220 pounder.
Jonathan Williams started the last two games of the season and was absolutely forgettable in both games. Jaret Patterson and FB Alex Armah are also on the roster. All these players were here last year, and were totally unremarkable. Perhaps the coaching staff is looking to fine tune their approach, because all signs point to not adding anyone. (-)
WR:Terry McLaurin is the only player on this team’s offense, that defensive coaches feel a need to gameplan for. On just 13 more catches, McLaurin’s 1,191 receiving yards, were 535 yards better, than the 656 posted by Curtis Samuel last year. Last year’s rookie, Jahan Dotson led the team with 7 TD’s and added 523 receiving yards of his own. So perhaps the Reds- The Footb- Are they still the Commanders this year? Do we know that yet??? In any case, maybe “This group of people” are expecting Dotson to take a big step in 2023.
The second tier represents almost no substantial depth. Dynami Brown averaged 28.6 yards per catch last year, and 18.1 during his two year career. However his 43.6% catch rate, means he won’t be trusted with many targets. Dax Milne is a return man. The other three on the roster are just camp bodies. (+)
TE: This team has to spend a high pick here. Maybe a round one pick. Logan Thomas (39 – 323 – 8.3 – 1) is the top of the order here, and not a soul is losing a wink of sleep over matching up against him. He’s good for the run game, but otherwise he’s no threat. John Bates and Cole Turner aren’t causing anyone to worry either. Armani Rogers is QB trying to transition. There is also a guy named Curtis Hodges.
This is what it is. I’m not holding out on you. I’m not under-reporting in order to be funny, or make a point. You see Logan Thomas’s numbers? This is what they have. They didn’t add to it. Given their feelings on 5th round QB Sam Howell, it’s entirely possible that Washington could go into 2023 with this same group, like they did in 2022. Fucked if I know why though. (-)
OT: For the second year in a row, LT Charles Leno didn’t miss a start. That said, giving up a career worst 8 sacks after signing a three year extension last January, was probably not what Washington had in mind. Surely they were hoping for a star, when they stole him from the Bears.
RT Cornelius Lucas isn’t an All-Pro, but he’s better than decent.
As far as depth, Sam Cosmi was called on to start 6 games last season, but played at least 40% of the snaps in 6 other games. That means he saw time at other spots. He may have given up 4.5 sacks last year, but with that much movement in a second year player, the experience will only pay dividends down the road.
Free agent Trenton Scott was recently added to the team. This means players like Drew Himmelman, Alex Akingbulu, and Aaron Monteiro don’t really have deep shots at sticking around long. (-)
G: Andrew Norwell signed with Washington last year, and proceeded to give up a career high 3 sacks in 16 starts. The line was pretty inefficient running the ball as well. They ranked 12th in the league, despite the 4th most attempts, ranking 28th in average yards per carry.
They lost Wes Martin to Cleveland, so they replaced him with KC’s Andrew Wylie who surrendered 8 sacks and was penalized 5 times for 36 yards last year. They already had Saahdiq Charles on the roster, and spent a fourth round pick on him a few years ago. Still they chose to go get Wylie instead. Yikes.
Chris Paul had a start here last year, and didn’t embarrass himself. There are two other guys behind him, but that fourth spot should belong to Paul. (-)
C: Nick Gates fled the giants and joined a division rival for a three year deal paying him 5.5 per season. This automatically gives him the inside track on the starting gig. Tyler Larson got 8 starts last year, but Washington still felt they needed and upgrade. Chase Roullier got 2 starts and wasn’t awful. He’s actually been pretty solid no matter where Washington has used him during his career. Seems weird that they went so far out of their way, just to circumvent their roster. (+)
In A Nutshell: Washington isn’t a place that’s going to attract much top free agent talent, which is why they couldn’t do much to upgrade their offensive line. Unless they surprise everyone, they also don’t have a QB. You can’t win in the NFL without one of those. (-)
DE: Chase Young has played in 27 of a possible 50 games over his three year career, netting a totals of 75 tackles and 9.0 sacks. I doubt the team will pick up his fifth year option. Montez Sweat is a passing down specialist, who has been asked to play too many snaps for most of his career, due to injuries to Young. Sweat isn’t a liability against the run, but his 6’6 frame doesn’t help him win many battles in the trenches.
James Smith-Williams in addition to stealing all the last names, has grabbed himself a regular role as a starter, despite being a seventh round pick who plays like one. Efe Obada is coming off probably his best year after defecting from Buffalo. He matched his career-high 24 tackles, and added 4 sacks to boot.
Casey Toohill, and William Bradley-King all have at least a year in Washington’s system, so as depth they’re at least “scheme sound”. (+)
DT: This position is the beating heart of this teams defense, as two of the NFL’s best play side by side, as they did in college. Jonathan Allen posted his annual 60+ tackles and posted 7.5 sacks, as well as a career-high 16 tackles for loss, along with his first interception. Daron Payne earned a new contract buy posting career-highs in tackles (64), tackles for loss (18) and a team-leading 11.5 sacks. He also bagged his first safety. There’s a ton of fight in these two.
Of the reserves John Ridgeway’s 280 snaps (4 starts) far exceeded any other back-up. His number aren’t great, but to his credit, the team was 2-1-1 when he started. That only loss being to San Francisco. Phidarian Mathis was drafted in the second round last year, but in his first game, he tore the meniscus in his knee, and was put on I.R.
Benning Potoa’e (not Potatoe, Mr. Quayle) and David Bada were so good last year, that Washington went out and signed well-traveled Abdullah Anderson, most recently from Atlanta. Anderson finally saw real playing time last year (8 starts) and responded with 40 tackles and a sack. (+)
OLB: Washington is a muddled read here. Last year they had Jon Bostic and Cole Holcomb. Neither is (nor will be) on the roster this season. They added a free agent, and they have a couple of players they could elevate. It remains to be seen which route they’ll take.
Free agent Cody Barton had 136 tackles (5 TFL), 2 sacks and 2 interceptions last year for Seattle. That stat line gives him the inside track on starting, but he’s only signed to a one year deal. Indicating that Washington has someone waiting in the wings. Not exactly an internal vot of confidence for Barton.
Of the three guys who were on the roster last year, no one seems like a favorite to win the job. Khaleke Hudson started 1 game, playing 67 of the 72 snaps he’d play all season. Milo Eifler and Nathan Gerry combined for just 6 defensive snaps all season long. All 6 belonged to Eifler. (-)
MLB/ILB: Jamin Davis can chase and make tackles. Given the line in front of him, you’d expect him to be more of playmaker. David Mayo is just a guy, but he’s been around long enough to know what’s required of a pro, whenever he gets out there. So he’s depth. De’Jon Harris is also on the bench. (+)
S: In just 11 starts Darrick Forrest managed 88 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and 4 interceptions. Kamren Curl put up 83 tackles (6 TFL), and 1 sack, but is pickless for a second year in a row. Percy Butler is the third man. It’s not pretty, but it’s stable. (+)
CB: Alright. Washington has nine players at this position, but I’m only going to mention six, because the remaining three are hot, roasted trash. Kendall Fuller started every game, grabbed 3 interceptions, deflected 13 passes, and scored twice. But unless you’re a Commanders fan, you’d have to be me to know that. Benjamin St-Juste took over the starting spot in Week 5. While he didn’t make many plays on the ball, he did record 2 sacks. (Not that pass rush is what most seek in a DB.) Danny Johnson also had a sack. And an interception.
Looking to upgrade their secondary, the Commanders ran out and added Cameron Dantzler. Off of waivers. From Minnesota. (-)
In A Nutshell: They’re still solid down the middle, but they’re years behind the division, on the edges. For years Washington has relied on it’s defense to keep them in games, and maintain some semblance of respectability for the franchise. After years of the same coaches, running same system, with more talent going out than coming in, that will all come to an end in 2023. (-)
K/P: Joey Slye is the Kicker right now, but another season like last year could change that. Actually it’s hard to believe that there isn’t already a second Kicker on the roster. His 25/30 (83.3%) mark only looks worse when you factor in, him being 12/16 from 40+. Even his extra points were an adventure at 24/28 (85.7%).
Where he shined was his 60 touchbacks on 77 kickoffs (77.9%). All season long, opponents only had 15 KO returns in 17 games. That’s helps win the hidden yardage battle and sets the defense for success. (-)
Punting for Washington is Tress Way. Returners felt encouraged to make hay on 34 of his 83 punts (40.9%), but the coverage team gets down there fast enough to preserve 43.0 yards of Way’s 46.8 yard average. (-)
In A Nutshell: There are no clutch performers here, just grinders. This unit is treated like it’s an extension of the defense. It isn’t geared to making a sudden plays. Instead, it makes a creeping difference in games, with regard to field position. It’s a playing not to lose, instead of playing to win. Which shows up in an 8 – 8 – 1 record. (-)
BOTTOM LINE: Barring a couple of miracles in next week’s Draft, this is a 5 or 6 win team for 2023. Which could be great for 2024.
Offensively, letting a 5th round draft pick QB the team is brilliant. He’ll either be a revelation; or he’ll lead them to a top pick in the 2024 Draft. Their best weapon is WR, but with a leaky offensive line and a questionable QB, they may not get a chance to use him like they need to.
Defensively, they’ll just be on the field too much, and wear down in games where their offense can’t keep up. The defense won’t be awful talentwise, but they may end up being statistically awful.
As a team, there just aren’t enough difference makers in any unit. They have a WR, and two DT’s to be concerned about. That’s it. Most everything else is stuff you’d find at a yard sale.
GRABBING RB Bijan Robinson with the #10 overall pick in the Draft next month, is the fantasy for many Eagles fans. It’s likely to stay just a fantasy. Which is fine by me, because my money (and Owner Jeffrey Lurie’s) is on us taking a defensive lineman.
Why do I say that? Because of CONTEXT!
Perspective can alter how we see facts. So whenever I see a fact, I always make sure I’m looking at it from the correct angle. Take Lurie for example. He met with the media earlier this week, and sold them some song and dance about how (paraphrasing)while it’s nice to have a good defense, it’s offense that actually runs the league.
Nice try, Jeff. Meanwhile during free agency, we let a 1,200 yard rusher walk. We let one-fifth of the league’s best Offensive Line walk. In fact, the only offensive free agent we re-signed, was RB Boston Scott. And no, C Jason Kelce was never really a free agent. It was either us or retirement.
While pulling Kelce back from retirement was huge, it didn’t add to what we had last year. In fact, our only offensive additions were back-up QB Marcus Mariota, and RB Rashaad Penny. Neither of which is expected to supercharge the Offense. Soooo, not a lot of follow through on Lurie’s stated philosophy, right?
That’s because you’re seeing this as moves to improve a roster. That’s the wrong context. Look at it like an owner. Through the lens of an investment. Or better still, as a series of them. You’re about to be on the other side of the magic trick. Let’s continue.
Where Lurie did put money out, was in bringing back DE Brandon Graham, DT Fletcher Cox, and adding S Terrell Edmunds, LB Nick Morrow, and CB Greedy Williams. They even aggressively tried to retain S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
Most importantly, the Eagles committed 80M$ over the next three years, to CB Darius Slay (3yrs 42M), and CB James Bradberry (3yrs, 38M). Again that’s 80M to two defensive players, while the team works on an extension for QB Jalen Hurts, in the area of 45 to 50M$ per year.
This is significant, not because of Hurts money (which will be a bargain in three years); but because of what that 80M means. Lurie didn’t invest 80M to see that investment fail, or to hope that luck makes it pay off. Sports owners don’t like to sit back and wait. They like to control and influence things. Context! Let’s keep going.
The best way to make a CB successful, is with a strong pass rush. So far we’ve lost pass rush with DT Javon Hargrave’s 11 sacks from last year, and we’ve added no pass rusher to the roster. Hadn’t noticed that? Lucky you. I can’t help noticing it. It haunts me, and I’ll bet it haunts the Eagles too. From Lurie to Graham.
Aside from a trade, the best source of an impact, pass rushing, defensive linemen, is in the 2023 Draft. The most talented defensive lineman in this draft, is said to be DT Jalen Carter. He’s supposed to be gone by our pick, but if he falls to us, we should take him. That said, after Carter, the best available fit for us, by a mile, would be Iowa DT Lukas Van Ness.
I say “for us”, because we value versatility, and we have a specific kind of need up front. Taking an Edge/OLB player at 10, would be a mistake. (Later, I hope we do. I like Auburn DE Derick Hall, just not at #10.) We already have OLB Hasson Reddick on the edge (6 position). What’s needed is for a DE/DT tweener, to put at the 4i position.
Van Ness has the raw power, relentlessness and versatility to make double-teaming anyone nearly impossible. Plus, when he meets a ball carrier, they stop moving forward. I happen to love that in a lineman.
Before I wrap up, let me take a moment to discuss DT Jordan Davis. He was not a bust last year. Ignore any talk of that. In 13 games last year, he saw just 224 defensive snaps. That’s just 20% of the 1106 defensive snaps played. After Davis was injured, we signed DT’sNdamukong Suh and Linval Joseph, both of whom had a surprising amount left in the tank, so Davis’s snap percentage was impacted.
This year, with no Hargrave and (so far) no Joseph or Suh, Davis will see a lot more action. Putting Van Ness at LDE means the line would look like Reddick, Van Ness, Cox, Davis, and DE Josh Sweat. This is no smart way to double anyone on that line.
With a ton of pressure coming from that line, those expensive CB’s can pay dividends in the form of interceptions. Like they did for Gardner-Johnson last year. In trying to avoid our CB’s last year, opponents forced balls into the middle. Notice who’s in the background of 4 of Gardner’s 6 picks.
Lurie is banking on duplicating THAT! And that won’t happen again if we draft Bijan Robinson.
RELAX. Yes, S Chauncey Gardner-Johnsonsigned with the Lions. Yes, we could have used his services. While those two things are true, let me tell you two more truths. One, we may very well have the answer to his departure on the roster already. Two, his choice isn’t going to work out for him in the long run. And by the long run, I mean inside of the next 365 days. Gotta think long-term, folks!
(NOTE: If I’d written this without first writing GARDNER-JOHNSON’S DEAL, this article might be seen as sour grapes. But since I did write that first, there should be very little of that talk. There’ll be some (you’ve met morons before), but it’ll be minimal.)
First, when Gardner went down with a lacerated kidney and missed four games this year, rookie S Reed Blankenshipstepped in for him. However, even after Gardner came back in the final game, the Eagles found a way to get Blankenship 45 snaps (71%) in that game. They got him 48 (92%) in the Divisional playoff game.
This demonstrates that the coaching staff either had a lot of trust in Blankenship, or they were trying to get a look at him. Both Gardner and FS Marcus Epps were going to be free agents, so it made sense to know if Blankenship gave the Front Office any leverage; or if they just had to grease up, bend over, and bite down on the blanket.
If we don’t start Blankenship, maybe the answer is 42. By which I mean, K’Von Wallace, who also got a start during Gardner’s injury (when Blankenship missed a game with an injury). Maybe Blankenship and Wallace could be 2023’s pairing. In any case the F.O. seems settled on the position. Aside from Gardner, they didn’t seem interested in other free agent Safeties.
Epps was allowed to walk quickly, and the Eagles weren’t willing to offer Gardner a guaranteed 8M for just one season. They wanted three years. The deal he signed with Detroit is one year, worth up to 8M$. Meaning he’ll need to play for incentives to reach that 8M. I have no idea what those incentives are, and because he’s now S.E.P. (Someone Else’s Problem), I won’t be looking into it.
Brings me to my second point of why this move won’t work out for him.
First, he got off to the start he did last year, because opposing QB’s threw at our Safeties, to avoid throwing at our Corners; each of whom had 3 picks last year. Also the pass rush we generated last year, racked up 70 sacks. Helping us finish #1 vs the pass last year.
Second, Detroit’s CB’s are mutts, who had just TWO total interceptions. Given that their Safeties snagged 5 picks in 2022, opposing QB’s target their CB’s. So Gardner won’t see many chances to make plays. Also Detroit doesn’t generate as many hurried throws, with just 39 sacks last year. He’s out there on a prove it deal, and won’t be given a chance to do so.
The year he had with us last year is a complete outlier in his career. Check it out:
We made him. Now he gets to be an average S, on a bad defense, wasting away in the Midwest. But hey, Life is an I.Q. Test. This is the sort of decision you make when you chase short-term gains, without considering the long-term picture.
Oh, did I mention that Detroit finished 30th vs the pass last year? Oh, I didn’t? Well! Detroit finished 30th vs the pass last year. He tantrumed his way out of New Orleans over money, and now he’s let his emotions land him in Detroit.
By the way: The contract he signs next year, will likely be for similar per year money (6 – 8M) as the one he just signed, but given inflation, will actually be a smaller deal. I say “likely” because Detroit isn’t a very smart organization, so they could surprise us.
But don’t panic. No matter what happens elsewhere, we’re still in an great situation right here. With even better things already in the works. Gotta think long-term, folks!