TRADING TE Zach Ertz is stupid. Let me get that on the record right now. I don’t want anybody saying later this season, that I was ever unclear in my language about the move. Trading him, cutting him, doesn’t matter. Ertz being removed from this roster, this year is unwise. Some will argue that 12M$ is too much to spend on an aging player, with diminishing skills.
Okay. Let’s look at that.
His 12M$ cap hit is a large one. That said, the Front Office has already found a way to fit it under our 2021 salary cap. In fact, according to Over The Cap the Eagles are currently 6.4M$ under the cap. So affording Ertz has already been done. That means we can stop trying to make this about money. How about age?
Ertz turns 31 in November. While that is an advanced age for this position, it’s not ancient or even the most advanced age. Current TE’s Travis Kelce, Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, and Kyle Rudolph are all older than Ertz, (and most Eagles fans would be happy to add any of those).
People bring up age, because they want to either infer, or say outright, that older players will be less durable, miss more games, and thus be less reliable. Last season at age 30, Ertz missed 5 games, due to injury. It was the first time he ever played in fewer than 14 games in a season.
Before suggesting that the misses are tied to Ertz’s age, consider the following: Back-up TE Dallas Goedert, whom the Front Office (and fans) expect to replace Ertz, also missed 5 games with injury. Goedert is 26 years old. Injuries, not age, determines injuries. So quit letting yourself be told, that one means the other.
Well what about Ertz’s diminishing skills? What diminishing skills? Based off of what, the 2020 season?? You go and point out even one, just one, Eagles starter who didn’t take a step backwards in 2020.
Don’t say RB Miles Sanders. He ran for more yards, but his receiving production took a nose dive, and his yards from scrimmage were dramatically down in 2020. Yes, WR Travis Fulgham emerged, but A) He wasn’t a 2019 Eagles starter, and B) He faded badly, down 2020’s stretch. A pandemic of bad offense infected the whole roster. Including Goedert. Including Ertz.
Finally, what on Earth would we be replacing him with? Aside from Ertz and Goedert, the Eagles have five TE’s on the roster. Only one has ever caught a ball in an actual NFL game. One is converting from WR. Another one is converting from QB.
TE Caleb Wilson shows a little promise, and Jason Croom would be a decent #3, but the step down at TE would be huge, if Ertz goes in 2021.
Then again, Head Coach Nick Sirianni isn’t Doug Pederson. He may not like using 12 Personnel (1RB, 2TE), as much as the guy who won a Super Bowl with it, while playing 32 year old TE Brent Celekfor a third of the offensive snaps. (Hey! Isn’t 32 older than 31?)
If Sirianni is looking to feature a Slot WR more, then he won’t be using two TE’s very much, and won’t need to have two good ones. That doesn’t help us with talented depth for red zone situations, or insurance vs injury, but you can’t have it all right?
Except right now, we still have Ertz, and his presence is a luxury. Moving him now would be stupid. Just stupid.
LAST year the NFC East was the laughingstock of the NFL. Aggressive moves have been made to ensure that history will not be repeating itself anytime soon. While every team in the division ranks #21 or lower in the NFL power rankings, the rosters in this division are telling a different story.
Alright. So yeah, Washington is Washington. Their power moves were to sign a pair of slot receivers (Curtis Samuels and Adam Humphries), and Dr. Jekyll (Ryan Fitzpatrick) to play QB. Adding G Ereck Flowers was a sneaky good move, but hardly a transcendent one. Adding an OT and then subtracting another, was definitely not a step forward. While Washington is the early favorite to win the East, they seem to be back in self-sabotage mode.
As for the other three teams:
Dallas fans made it clear to the owner, that they were done quietly waiting for their team’s defense to improve.
In response, the Cowboys cleaned house in terms of both coaches and players. They then leaned heavy on defense in the Draft. While they may not have added free agents who are household names, they’ve sent a message from the top-down, that they are serious about getting results.
The giants took a risk adding CB Adoree Jackson, but if he can stay healthy, they have probably the best CB duo in the division. Signing Kelvin Benjamin to play TE, was a magnificent piece of outside the box thinking. Benjamin had trouble getting reliable separation from DB’s. However, if he can (very likely) gain separation on LB’s, then a Safety will have to be cheated away from a WR to help cover him. Benjamin may all at once, make the giants more explosive and help them challenge for the best TE duo in the division.
The Eagles made no fewer than FOUR non-Draft related moves. All of which look low-key at a glance. However, upon further inspection… For new DC Jonathan Gannon, signing former Vikings OLB Eric Wilson and S Anthony Harris, gives him two guys who can help quickly install his system, because they’ve played together while under Gannon. Slick move. Signing RB Kerryon Johnson was a stroke of pure genius, which I discussed in my last article (The Eagles RB’s). Then of course, there’s the addition of OLB Ryan Kerrigan.
One of my brothers speculated that Kerrigan could be Chris Long 2.0 for the Eagles. Maybe, but I doubt it. I think his real value, will be in getting young players to realize, they will have to out-produce Kerrigan, to take his spot in the rotation. He either forces them to step up, or it tells the Eagles that next year’s Draft, will be heavily spent re-arming the Defensive Line.
Getting QB Jalen Hurts a WR (Devonta Smith) that he already has chemistry with, was also a boss level move.
Nobody in the NFC East was okay with how 2020 ended. Well… I guess Washington seems to be. Honestly, watching their fans practically give each other handjobs over a 7 – 9 season, just to be bounced in the first round of the playoffs… Their “bragging” has been really hard to watch.
As for the rest of the division, none of us is looking for a repeat of 2020. The NFL had better not get caught sleeping.
LIKE the 2020 Draft, this wasn’t a draft that was meant to produce a bunch of immediate starters. Most of the picks here were made with an eye towards restocking the shelves, in order to avoid desperation down the road. That being said, an upper-tier CB would have been great.
Round 1 (12th overall): WR DeVonta Smith (H)
Remember when I told you “Ignore all this nonsense about “guys competing for the starting job”. Jalen Hurts is the guy.” With their first pick in this draft, The Front Office put the entire farcical notion of an honest competition to bed, and then killed it with a shovel in it’s sleep.
Smith comes in as a rookie who doesn’t have to win over the confidence of the starting QB. In fact, his very presence does something unheard of among rookies: His history and chemistry with QB Jalen Hurts, actually helps legitimize the notion of Hurts as the starter, despite all the question marks about Hurts himself.
Whether stemming his route, running the route, or running after the catch, he has an easy, graceful, long stride that is damned near hypnotic. He has reliable hands, and is willing to block despite not being very good at it. I expect him to start, and have a 1,000 yard, 8 TD season.
Round 2 (37th overall): CLandon Dickerson (H)
I love everything about the way he plays, but I hate his injury history:
ACL tear ended his freshman year.
Ankle injury ended his sophomore year.
Another ankle injury ended his first junior year. He then red-shirted.
He completed his second junior year.
ACL injury ended his senior season.
Dickerson is the post-Jason Kelce plan. Again, I love his play. He’s powerful and mean. He’s also bigger than Kelce and appears to have a better anchor. While Kelce will no doubt be a Hall of Famer, we have watched him for a over a decade be ridden back into QB’s from Michael Vick to Jalen Hurts. I don’t see that being an issue with Dickerson.
This pick is the primary example of what I meant when I said restocking. Having to rehab, he’s clearly not meant to contribute in 2021, but that high pick means that his contribution is expected soon.
Round 3 (73rd overall): DT Milton Williams (Q)
At 284 pounds, and possessing an average college first step, he will be a liability against the run in the NFL. If he’s exclusively played as a 3rd down interior pass rusher, he might find a role. If he’s moved to weak-side DE, he may even find a way to start some games. Otherwise, this just seems like a bad pick.
Round 4 (123rd overall): CB Zech McPhearson (Q)
I can’t offer a solid opinion on him, because all I could find was highlight videos. There was no video that showed who he is down-in and down-out. In the limited bits that I can piece together (from other player’s videos), he looks more like a FS than CB. I’m at a loss for why we waited until 123 to grab a CB.
Round 5 (150th overall): RB Kenneth Gainwell (H)
Last year I wanted WR/RB Antonio Gibson out of Memphis, but Washington got him. This year the Eagles went and got us RB/WR Kenneth Gainwell out of Memphis. While Gainwell is smaller, between the two players, at this stage of their college career, Gainwell is clearly the more natural receiver, and a better blocker. (Just ask Micah Parsons.) Neither runs very hard
Gainwell is an immediate upgrade over RB Boston Scott, though neither of them have that “take it to the house” type speed. His ability to be split out, and run routes like a WR, allows the Eagles to move him around the formation, even while RB Miles Sanders is on the field. We could line up in the I Formation, and audible to Empty, and every bit of that would have to be respected. Look. I’ve got goosebumps!
Round 6 (189th overall): DT Marlon Tuipulotu(M)
Heavy footed and doesn’t gain penetration. Even when the play is run away from him. He may have been good enough to start at his college, but he’ll likely be out of here before training camp is over.
Round 6 (191st overall): DE Tarron Jackson (Q)
Lacks decent first step, because he never really gets into a three point stance. Lines up almost sitting on his heels. When he plays out of two point stance, he gets a much better jump. That however, basically makes him a situational player, who offers nothing vs the run. Again, his biggest flaw can be fixed with coaching, but he still doesn’t seem to have a high ceiling beyond that.
Round 6 (224th overall) : S JaCoby Stevens (M)
Early word has the Eagles wanting to move this 212 pound S to LB. Either move would be a mistake. He lacks a feel for pass coverage as a S, but he doesn’t shed blocks or tackle well enough to be a LB. He also doesn’t initiate contact, and ends up watching more football than he plays. Honestly, it looks like he gets stuck trying to read where the play is going, instead of locking down his area, and forcing plays into the shark tank.
Round 7 (234th overall): EDGEPatrick Johnson (H)
I hate seeing the term “Edge”. Is he lining up at DE or OLB? The responsibilities are very different. Their techniques are very different. Usually “Edge” means either LB who can’t cover, or undersized DE. At 240 pounds, Johnson looks to be the latter.
Despite my bitching about a title, I like what I see on tape. The guy sets the edge before pass rushing, or chasing a tackle. He is nimble enough for stunts, uses his hands to shed blocks, and can cover in an underneath zone. Unfortunately he lines up at DE in a two point stance, which almost eliminates him as being useful vs the run. If he’s going to do that, he needs to move to OLB.
Otherwise, he needs to add 12 pounds and put his hand on the ground.
For this year’s haul, I’d have to say we had four hits, two misses, and three that we’re waiting to see about. Let’s math!
With 9 players drafted, (H)its being worth 2, (M)isses 0, and (Q)uestionables 1, we had a possible score of 18, and scored 11. As a grade, that’s a 61% out of 100. If you recall, 65 was a ‘D’ in school. Not a great haul, Howie. Then again, it is just a restocking.
KEEP in mind, when these predictions come out, no one knows who will be drafted by which team. So this is an assessment of the team as it is staffed by veteran players with track records.
Rookies may contribute heavily to their team, but they don’t usually shake up the NFC East as a division. That being said, there’s a pretty good chance that what you see here, will be how it shakes out for the year.
Now let’s look at 2021:
If you’ve read all of the articles leading up to this, you’ll understand my conclusion. Good job! If you didn’t, you’ll likely be annoyed because you did a bad job of preparing. The fact is, I gave NO team’s overall offense a passing grade, and I gave NO team’s defense one either.
Instead of rating units (offense, defense, special teams), this year everyone was so weak in key areas, that I was forced to award points for positions. So if this year’s report feels different than another year’s, rest assured, it is.
Strongest Offense: PHILADELPHIA
Yeah. I was surprised too. I gave no team points for QB, as everyone either has to prove themselves (Prescott, Hurts), or they’ve been trash historically (Fitzpatrick, Jones). Of all the teams here, Philly is the only one without an immediate need for offensive line help, as they are the only team in the division who doesn’t need help at OT, and even have competition there. They also have the best TE situation in the division by far, and a complete stable of RB’s. What they lack is WR firepower, but that’s more of a playoff problem, than a regular season issue.
Weakest Offense:NEW YORK
They have one OT and a C. Everything else is in a state of unnecessary upheaval. This team’s offense used to run through RB Saquon Barkley, but that can’t happen this year, as he’s just getting back from a torn ACL. QB Daniel Jones has to step up and prove that he can carry the… Sorry. I had a laughing fit. Jones is on his last leg as a starter, and it’s the worst kept secret in all of sports. Sadly too many of the pieces just don’t complement each other. It’s awkward. It boxes lefty. This offense was ruined in the front office, and it gets worse every year.
All four teams have issues in the secondary. That can’t even be debated. Of all the teams, Washington has the least issues and the best front seven. They can play their base 4-3, but they can easily flex to a 4-3 under, or to a 3-4, without changing personnel. NY wants to be multiple, and still can’t pull it off as well as Washington can.
They not only have everyone’s coverage problem, they also can’t rush the passer. They have a pair or good young LB’s in the heart of their unit, but that wasn’t enough last year, and won’t be enough this year.
Strongest Special Teams: DALLAS
They have a pair of reliable legs. Nothing fancy, but reliability is how you win field position battles. Which in turn is partly how you win games. Especially close ones.
Weakest Special Teams:PHILADELPHIA
A Kicker who seems to be rotting away on the inside, and a Punter who’s entirely an experiment from another part of the world.
Projected Winner: WASHINGTON
Having the most solid defense in the division cannot be ignored. Their offensive woes are partly due to focusing on adding defensive talent, and partly due to a scheme which relies too heavily on being cute, instead of being smart. Last year they went 5 – 1 (out of 7 wins), under game managing QB Alex Smith. This year their starting QB likes to gamble with house money. On it’s own, this team can’t win the division. But they could get by, with a little help from their friends.
New York is a team rotting on the vine, and Dallas doesn’t think they need a defense. Besides, whenever the Cowboys see something they don’t like in the mirror, they just cover it and add another WR. QB problems be damned, there is no way a team with so much talent on it, should have finished 6-10. I meant the Cowboys of course. There is no way I could have been talking about the giants.
After taking a looooooong look all four teams over this last month, I’ve noticed that Philadelphia is not nearly as far away as many people, (including me initially) might think. Currently, they have the most complete offense, and the second most complete defense in the division. If they end up putting things together at the QB position, the Eagles will have people treating them like a team that’s missed the playoffs for the last decade, instead of the team that has won the East, two of the last four times.
LAST year the Philadelphia Eagles basically drowned in a toilet. We went 4 – 11 – 1 overall, and 2 – 4 in the division. The toilet I speak of, was the NFC East. We won just 4 games and it still took all of 14 games to eliminate us from playoff contention. Which of course was followed by a form of Front Office seppuku, because hey… why not, right?
Head Coach Doug Pederson was fired and Nick Sirianni was hired to replace him. Right now it has all the ear marks of a horrible, just horrible mistake, but… Either he’ll win us over, or we’ll just keep drinking until paper beats scissors.
So here is what the Eagles look like now, exactly a week prior to the start of the 2021 NFL Draft.
QB: Ignore all this nonsense about “guys competing for the starting job”. Jalen Hurtsis the guy. Whether or not he’s “The Man”, remains to be seen. However, unless we draft his replacement in 7 days, Hurts is the guy. He will not come into this season being a year wiser in the system. The new coach is bringing a new system, and no one has even seen it yet. So in a very real sense, Hurts will still be a rookie that everyone already has NFL tape on. While that tape shows a dynamic player, it also shows an arm that is questionable at times. Local productJoe Flacco,was signed to be just bad enough, to legitimize Hurts even to his detractors. REAL TALK: In a very real sense, Hurts has to start and play well,to save General Manager Howie Roseman’s job. If Hurts turns out to be a dud, then having traded away Carson Wentz, pretty much guarantees that Roseman will be escorted out of the building by security, before the New Year. In the meantime, while the Eagles have the most dynamic player at this position in the division, the coaching staff refuses to even name a starter. And I don’t give away free pluses. (-)
Miles Sanders has electrifying ability, but his durability and reliability have both been inconsistent. He went from a player who could be split out wide as rookie, to a player who couldn’t break a Swing pass in 2021. (Regardless of which QB played.) He missed 4 games in 2020, all of which were against division rivals. The Eagles were 2 – 2 without him vs the division, and went 0 – 2 with him vs the division. Boston Scott is at his best when catching passes (the game winner he caught from QB Carson Wentz to beat the giants, was a thing of beauty)
The Eagles however, seem to think he’s rotational back, despite him wearing down noticeably with increased use. The recent re-signing of Jordan Howardwas a stroke of pure genius! Provided the Eagles actually let the man play. He gives the team a legit lead back if Sanders were to get hurt, and also gives the team a tough between the tackles runner, who can make an opponent pay if he gets daylight. This is already very well-rounded group. Whomever they add as their fourth, will be a luxury. (+)
Travis Fulgham has good/not great speed, and good/not great size. He’s most dangerous on intermediate routes, and knows how to use his body to box-out defenders. He can however get downfield, and make huge plays when he sees favorable coverage. He’s a solid #2 that the Eagles tried to pass off as #1, unsuccessfully. Greg Ward in the Slot gets open quickly, so he led the team in catches in 2020. Unfortunately, many of his catches were for meager gains, so in 2021 he will likely take a back seat to a much more athletic Jalen Reagor. Reagor is said to be the team’s new Slot, presumably to take advantage of his ability to elude and break tackles. John Hightowerhas real speed to stretch a defense, and showed the ability to uncover quickly, but his 34.5% catch rate is a problem that may provide an opening forQuez Watkinsor J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. There’s a number two playing as a one, and a couple guys fighting over the Slot, but there’s no one in this group that scares anyone. With a legit #1, these five would be an interesting tool-kit. But without a hammer, you can’t say that you have legit toolbox. (-)
TE: The Eagles as an organization have decided that Dallas Goedert is the future at this position. In a 1-2 combination, Goedert is a great second option. As number one, he lacks elite traits, and may not be as necessary as many fans think. During the four games when he was on Injured Reserve in 2020, the Eagles scored 22 or more points in every game. In the eleven games when Goedert did play, the Eagles hit that mark just three times. It’s funny. Even from week one last year, everyone knew the Eagles Front Office was trying to sandbag Zach Ertz, and they did a great job of it. Now they want to trade him and SURPRISE! they aren’t finding any takers for a 30 year old, 12 million dollar player that they smeared, and essentially demoted. The irony is, he’s probably still better than 80 percent of NFL players at his position. Including Goedert. For the moment, it’s still a great 1-2 combo. (+)
OT: RT Lane Johnson had an awful 2020. He only saw seven games, and in those seven he was never himself, due to an ankle surgery that he didn’t let heal properly before coming back. When he’s healthy he’s one of the best in the game. Word is, he’s plenty healthy right now. LT Jordan Mailata made a bit of a name for himself last year, when he went from long-term project, to possible diamond in the rough.
Andre Dillard was drafted to inherit that LT spot, but he was lost for 2020 with a torn bicep. So expect ACTUAL competition on that left side in camp. Jack Driscollnotched four starts throughout his rookie year, before going on IR with an MCL injury. A perennial Pro Bowler on one side. Competition between experienced young players on the other side. Then a second year man, with a few starts under his belt already. It may not be what it used to be in 2017, but this group is the most solid group in the division. (+)
G: RGBrandon Brooks returns after missing 2020 with a torn Achilles tendon. When healthy, Brooks is a premier player at this position. Isaac Seumalo is the LG. He’s got above average movement skills, but lacks the aggression, power, or size that is generally coveted at this position. He also doesn’t always anchor well, and so he can be driven back into the QB more often than any coach should be comfortable with. Nate “Real Big” Herbig started twelve games and was serviceable. He could stand to turn some of his fluff into muscle, and to fire-out on his run blocks with more of a mean streak, but for a second year man, he’s great depth to have. Matt Pryormay make the 2021 roster due to his experience also playing OT, but he took a huge step backward in 2020. He had ten starts all over the line, but he seemed to struggle everywhere he lined up. Iosua Opeta notched two starts as a rookie. Without Brooks, this group is just slightly subpar. However, with him in the lineup, the Eagles interior has to be taken very seriously again. (+)
C: Not wanting to go out on a 4 – 11 – 1 record, Jason Kelce has decided to put retirement off for at least one more year. His presence will add solidity to a right side that could be dominant in 2021, and give the new coaching staff a platform to build on.Luke Juriga saw 14 snaps during the Cleveland game when Kelce had to go off with an injury. Kelce raised hell on the sideline and Juriga soon had his seat back. Nate Herbig can also play this position, as can G Ross Pierschbacher. While Pierschbacher is listed as a G, the Eagles depth there and his history of playing the pivot as a college senior, likely means he’s here to provide depth and versatility inside. While the Eagles won’t carry four during the season, they currently have an array of solid options to pick from for their back-up. (+)
IN A NUTSHELL: Kelce, Brooks and Johnson, will likely give the Eagles a dominant right side on the Offensive Line. It will be unlike anything Hurts had to work with, when he took over for final four games of the 2020 season. Better still, Jeff Stoutland is still the Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator. Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard and a running QB. If the Eagles can find a #1 WR, and if the new offensive system is any good, this team is going to turn heads hard enough to break necks. That said, while there is plenty of talent on this roster, the Eagles don’t have that #1 WR, and the new system hasn’t even seen a single practice yet. So again, passing grades aren’t free around here. (-)
DE:Brandon Graham started off hot last year. He notched 7 of his 8 sacks, 11 of his 16 QB hits, and 9 of his 13 tackle for losses, in the first eight games. Then he went cold as a dead man, posting 1 sack, 5 hits, and 4 TFLs, over the remaining eight games. In short, he disappeared when the playoff hunt began in earnest, making his first Pro Bowl nod feel hollow. After four seasons, Derek Barnett seems like a player who has maxed out his ceiling already. He produced 5.5 sacks while playing 49% of the defensive snaps in 2020. Yet he’s still making 10M$ in 2021. Josh Sweat on the other hand, seems to have a ton of upside. He had 6.0 sacks and 3 FF last year, despite playing just 38% of the snaps. Joe Ostman is a high-effort type, with a low athletic ceiling. In last year’s Wide Nine system, fresh players produced more results than individual talent. If this new system asks for a more classic approach, all indications are that the Eagles won’t fare well here. (-)
DT: Fletcher Coxmeans more than stats to this defense, but his numbers have spent the last two years trending in the wrong direction. Especially for a player making 24M$ in 2021. He had 10.5 sacks and 34 QB hits in 2018. He had 6.5 sacks and 9 QB hits in 2020. It’s not a three year slide, so he isn’t a has-been. Yet. However, this year those numbers need to tick up, or he’ll be on par with DeMarcus Lawrence.Javon Hargrave took a while to hit his stride as a new Eagle, but he settled in nicely near the end of the year. Perhaps the Eagles have found Cox the partner in crime that he’s needed for so long. Returning from a bicep injury that ended his 2020, is Hassan Ridgeway. Ridgeway was a solid, and highly disruptive rotational player who will likely see even more snaps with the departure of Malik Jackson. That is, if he can stay healthy. He’s missed nine games in each of his two years as an Eagle. Two good starters and a quality back-up. (+)
OLB:Alex Singleton, started last season as a Special Teamer. However due to Nate Gerry being injured, during Week four Singleton got an opportunity to play Defense. The result was that him being the difference in the Eagles first win of the season. Two weeks later he was a starter, and showing the NFL why he was the CFL Defensive Player of the Year (2017).
Now Singleton enters 2021 as a starter with a fresh new contract. America! Land of motherfuckin’ opportunity! Davion Taylor was drafted as a project, and so didn’t see much time as a rookie. That said, it’s hard to know if he fits in the new coaching staff’s plans, or if they’ll have the patience for a project. That’s especially true with the signing of free agentEric Wilson, formerly of the Vikings. Wilson put up 122 tackles, 3 sacks, and 3 picks last year. Which incidentally was his first as a starter. Did I mention that he’ll be just 27 this season? Suddenly the Eagles have two legitimate starters at this position for the first time since 2017. (+)
MLB:T.J. Edwards is said to have athletic limitations, because he’s a Tackle to Tackle player, and not a sideline to sideline player.
He’s a young, so he still has room to improve, but he already slips blocks well enough, wraps up, can get home on a blitz, and even pull down a pass. The biggest hole in his game, seems to be how often he’s subbed out for Nickel and Dime packages. Shaun Bradleyhas to learn how to get off blocks faster, and not let eye candy pull him out of position. He has a lot of energy and could be an emotional spark plug, but in his second year, he’ll have to be a more disciplined player. (+)
S:Rodney McLeodseemed a long-shot to make the 2021 roster, but at least for the moment, he’s still here. He has the eyes and mind of a seasoned veteran, but after suffering another season-ending leg injury (knee), it’s reasonable to question how much speed he’ll still have at age 31. Free Agent Anthony Harris comes over from the 38 – 7’s . Sorry, the Vikings. He has experience playing for new Defensive CoordinatorJonathan Gannon, when both were in Minnesota. With six years of NFL experience, Harris has only been a primary starter for the last three. Statistically, he looks like a ballhawk one year, and then an in-the-box player, the next year. Now with a new team (on a one year deal), he seems like a seventh year player who is still trying to find himself.
With three starts to close-out last season, Marcus Epps made a strong enough case for the Eagles to feel good about letting Jalen Mills leave via free agency. K’Von Wallace is the reason that Harris’s deal is one year. He’s expected to step up this year. Still, there are too many question marks back there, right now. (-)
CB:Currently the Eagles have ten players under contract at this position, but really only four or five of them matter. Darius Slayis coming off of his worst season as a pro. For over a decade now, I’ve been telling Eagles fans (first on Yardbarker, and then here onEaglemaniacal.com), that the Eagles Cover One/Cover Three look, has been making chumps of even the top CB’s. With Slay we saw it happen yet again,just last season. Doesn’t matter. New DC Gannon is said to be bringing a Cover Two look, that lets Corners play Corner. Slay still has his physical capabilities, so it stands to reason that in a scheme that isn’t working against him, he’s still at least better than average. Avonte Maddox was a feisty Nickel in his rookie year, but injuries and opponents taking advantage of his 5’9’’ frame, seems to have destroyed his confidence. He’s just out there going through the motions, and ending up being less than average. But hey, maybe a new system will enable him to recapture his swagger at Nickel. (I say ‘maybe’ because the Eagles will draft a Corner pretty early. Maddox won’t be the starter on the outside.) Grayland Arnold, Craig James, and Michael Jacquetall got a chance to play, and all them allowed completion percentages of 80 or higher. Again, there are ten players here and only one of them is worth starting. (-)
IN A NUTSHELL: Many of the players here, seem to have been picked for a defensive system that the Eagles are no longer going to run. The Wide Nine system is so specialized that it’s hard to see this unit being successful without a couple of high-impact changes at a couple of positions (DE, CB). (-)
K: Jake Elliottlooked like trash last year. He connected on just 14/19 field goal tries (73.6%), yet again proving useless from 50 or more (2/5, 40%). His extra point kicking 24/26 (92.3%) was a career-low, as was his 61.8 yard kickoff average. Worst of all, the moldy fondant on the over-priced wedding cake… was his (1/3) field goal kicking from 20 to 29 yards. (-)
P: Arryn Siposs is a 29 year old, ex-Australian Football League player, who’s never played an NFL game. He had a cup of coffee with the Lions before they cut him last year. His AFL highlights make him intriguing, but he’ll be impossible to me to co-sign until we at least see him a preseason game. (-)
IN A NUTSHELL:
There are no clutch legs on the team. So close games and defensive battles where winning field position matters, looks like it will be a problem this year. (-)
BOTTOM LINE: Right now, there is no aspect of the game(Offense, Defense, Special Teams) that the Eagles can be given a passing grade in. On the one hand, there so much change coming with a new coach who has never called plays in a game. Talent-wise, the roster isn’t awful at anything. It just isn’t great at anything. And you need to be great at something to win a division. If the newness of the Eagles gets traction, they could take the NFL by total surprise. That said, history is not on their side. Which you realize, makes the Eagles an underdog. And NOBODY on Earth loves an underdog, more than Philadelphia.
LAST year Dallas finished 6 – 10 overall, and 2 – 4 in the division. It can be said that they were derailed by a number of injuries, but that was par for the course for everyone in this division. So nope! No one gets a pass because of injuries in 2020. Hey, remember this?:
Dallas was just an expensive and over-hyped bad team. Period.
But that was last year! Here’s what Dallas looks like 8 days prior to the 2021 NFL Draft.
QB:Dak Prescott returns! But just how much of him is going to make it back? About a month the press got hold of some video of his rehab process. Take a look at it. Specifically his right ankle:
He’s all arm and no mechanics from the waist down. There is no dropback. No plant. No drive. No stepping into his passes. Worse than how he looks, is the fact that this is becoming muscle memory for him. For any of you who ever played a sport, you know how hard it is to unlearn a bad habit once you pick it up. As for picking up where he left off, he spent 2020 going 2-3 as a starter, with both wins being worthy of a shrug. His win over ATL was a product of the Falcons refusing to recover an onside kick. The win over the giants was a game he started, but didn’t finish. He could have easily gone 0 – 5. Behind him are Garrett Gilbert who battled PIT in Week 9 to lose by just 5; and Ben “Bring It On” DiNucci who in Week 8 was handed an ‘L’ by PHILADELPHIA. Preseason legend Cooper Rush has also found his way back onto the roster. Prescott will probably be present, but held out of anything on-field during OTA’s and mini-camp. His first real work might not come until training camp starts in July. That said, as of this moment, this moment right here, the Cowboy have as many question marks at this position as every one of their rivals. (-)
RB:Ezekiel Elliott (for the third straight year) saw his rushing attempts, rushing yardage, rushing yards per game, rushing average, AND receiving yardage, drop again. Only twice did he top 100 rushing yards, and he was held to fewer than 50, in six games. He had just 3 rushes of 20 or more yards, and his longest catch was for just 19. His last rush of 40 yards? That was back in 2018. In fact, that was his only one since 2016. This is why Dallas is making the slow pivot to a backfield tandem with Tony Pollard. Pollard was initially considered a change of pace runner. However, in an attempt to add some explosiveness to their run game, Dallas began increasing Pollard’s snap count after the midpoint of 2020. Pollard lacks many of Elliott’s tools (power, alpha mentality, expectation of greatness). However, if he gets a hole, he has the short-area explosiveness to exploit it, although he lacks the long speed to make himself an every down threat. Rico Dowdle and Sewo Olonilua are also on the roster. (+)
WR:Amari Cooperled the team in catches, and receiving yards while posting an impressive 70% catch rate, despite everyone in Texas getting to throw him a pass last year. Rookie Ceedee Lamb posted 935 yards, while coming in second on the team in targets and catches. Michael Gallup saw over 100 targets, but still was third fiddle with just 59 catches. All three caught 5 TD’s apiece. With Lamb’s presence, Gallup now becomes expendable. Though many will try to talk up a three amigos scenario, it’s more likely that Three’s A Crowd
Cedric Wilson and Noah Brown give the Cowboys two receivers who know their system, and thus represent at least schematic depth, if not depth of talent. This is currently the best group in the division. (+)
TE:Blake Jarwin tore his ACL in the first game of the season, and was lost for 2020. So in stepped Dalton Schultz. With 63 grabs and an average of 9.7 yards per grab, Schultz was a functional outlet, and someplace safe to dump the ball off. Which is exactly why he posted a 70% catch rate. He has plenty of value as a back-up, but as a starter… not being a threat as a receiver makes him a liability to the run game. Speaking of not being a receiving threat, I guess Dallas is playing Hollywood Squares because,
they added free agent, Jeremy Sprinkle for the block! Really, blocking is pretty much all he’s good for. This is a viable position, but it doesn’t scare anyone right now. “Right now” being the operative term. (+)
OT:Tyron Smith is back after having had season-ending neck surgery, to fix an issue that has cost him games over the years. While 31 isn’t ancient, paired with that neck surgery, it’s fair to wonder how much of Smith will be returning to the field. Filling in for Smith were Brandon Knight and Cameron Fleming (now in Carolina). On the right, La’el Collins missed nearly all of 2020 with what is vaguely reported as a hip injury. At 6’4” 320, and bending over to get into a three-point stance for a living, a hip injury is no minor thing. Especially when a hip injury is reported like it’s a “hip injury”, which indicates that it may be more than a hip injury. Filling in for Collins was Terence Steele. Knight and Steele played well enough for the Cowboys to run right out and sign free agent Ty Nsekhe, for more money than Knight and Steele are making in 2021. Combined. There is talent here, but it hasn’t been stable or reliable, and that has directly cost this team games and division crowns. Expect a day two draft pick to be spent here. (-)
G:Zach Martin finished 2020 on the bench, but that was after 5 weeks of being on IR with a calf injury. He comes back in 2021 as one of the premier players in the league at his position. On the other side is Connor Williams. While he can’t be mistaken for an All-Pro, he’s a three year starter in that spot, his line-mates know what to expect from him, and so they know how to play off of him. For those who know anything about offensive lines, please explain to your friends how valuable that is. Depth consists of Connor McGovern (not to be confused with Jets C Connor McGovern). McGovern is depth, provided the Cowboys don’t also move him to the pivot. For his part, he notched 8 starts last year on the left when Martin was injured, or was slid out to the edge due to injuries. Former giant Eric Smith enters his second year in a Cowboys jersey. That is, if a draft pick doesn’t beat him out for his roster spot. (+)
C: Second-year man, Tyler Biadasz started 4 games as a rookie, during which Dak Prescott was injured and 3 losses followed. Now he will be the man in the middle, unless something totally wild happens. Behind him is Adam Redmond. In 2018, Redmond saw 96 offensive snaps in 4 games, getting no starts, despite the Cowboys having deep injury concerns on their left side in 2018. Weird. When names like John Gesek, Mark Stepnoski, and Travis Frederick, can roll off of a rival fan’s tongue, you know Biadasz will not be getting the benefit of the doubt. He has lot to live up to, and is not off to a great start in doing so. (-)
IN A NUTSHELL:This team has weapons, but it needs a triggerman who can get the ball where it needs to be. Check that video again. That’s not the look of an NFL QB. That’s not even the look of a top college QB. Maybe Prescott will make massive leaps by training camp July, but that’s only 75 days away. Sounds like a lot. It isn’t. In any case, he’ll need to be kept upright, and right now 60% of his protection looks shaky, with no real depth behind it. This is why they had to have a potential Hall of Game G, slide out to play OT. Adding Nsekhe was a good first step, but alone he doesn’t fix this unit’s Achilles heel. With all the weapons they have, (all of whom they had last year), they still finished 17th out of 32 in scoring. (-)
DE: It’s official. It’s been three seasons in a row. DeMarcus “War Daddy” Lawrence is now a shadow of himself. Even with help on the opposite side, his sack and QB hits are consistently down, and he never seems to affect games anymore. Randy Gregory recorded no starts in 2020, but looked good on spot detail with 3.5 sacks in ten games. The Cowboys have their fingers crossed that he can play 16 games with his hand in the dirt. Tarell Basham comes over from the Jets to add some rotational pass rush. While he will definitely get pressure on a QB, he’s strictly a stand-up rusher. Being unable to play from a three point stance, means not being to consistently play against the run. This position is in trouble, and anyone in sports media will tell you, and has been telling you, the exact same thing. (-)
DT:Antuan Woods is the Cowboys best player at a position that produced 1.5 sacks TOTAL, in 2020. To his credit, Woods produced a sack. He specializes in neither rushing the passer, nor stuffing the run, but he’s still the tone setter for this position thus far. Starting nine games as a rookie was Neville Gallimore. That other half sack was his. Again, neither stuffing the run, nor getting to the passer seems like his calling card. The Cowboys may be hoping for a big rebound from Trysten Hill, who opened 2020 as a starter, before tearing his ACL in Week 5. No matter. His play to that point was unremarkable. That is, when he wasn’t drawing flags and fines for a helmet to helmet hit on QB Russell Wilson on one play, and twisting the knee of RB Chris Carson, injuring him after the yet another play had ended. Real talk? Hill’s ACL tear had all the earmarks of Karma. Hill also clashed with Cowboys coaching staff in his rookie year. It will be interesting to see what kind of player the Cowboys get back from his rehab. Justin Hamilton got two starts in 2020, (and FYI, the Cowboys won both games). No one is afraid of this group. (-)
OLB:Leighton Vander Esch gives an all-out effort, but his production continues to fall off, as he continues to miss games with big injuries. Last year a broken collarbone cost him four weeks early in the season, and he was inactive for the last two games of the year. (Sean Lee remains in talks with the team, but at this moment, is still unsigned.) Keanu Neal is leaving the secondary and switching to this position. This gives the Cowboys more flexibility with coverage underneath. But how ready can Neal be at 216 pounds, to spend most of a game taking on offensive linemen? He will no doubt be targeted heavily every week, by opposing run games. That said, the position is a lot more athletic than they were at year’s end. That’s an improvement. (+)
MLB:Jaylon Smith is the second best player in the division at his position. He’s reliable, doesn’t stick to blockers, and can play in coverage as well as fight the run. Luke Gifford played a single defensive down in 2020. So yeah. Jaylon is super-reliable. (+)
S: Understanding that this position needed gentrification, the Joneses went out and added Damontae Kazee to be specific. Donovan Wilson looks to be safe at SS. Kazee has a reputation for having sticky fingers, so he likely has the inside track over Darian Thompson on the other starting gig. At 6’4’’ 215 free agent addition Jayron Kearse is tall. Good for him! (-)
CB:Trevon Diggs turned a lot of heads as a rookie in 2020. He played with tremendous confidence, whether he was making a play, or getting juiced over a mistake. Nabbing 3 picks and getting his hands on a total of 14 balls, will make teams treat him different in 2021. Anthony Brown struggled with injuries, and only started eight of the ten games he played.In fact, in five seasons he’s never started more than ten. Due to the Cowboys starting a Nickel alignment, Jourdan Lewis picked up 13 starts. Mostly in the slot.
This is also why teams elected to run on them so much. And did such a good job of it. Opting out of 2020 due to Covid-19 was former Raven Maurice Canady. The Cowboys signed him last year, but never got to take him for a spin. So in their minds, he’s still an unapplied upgrade. (+)
IN A NUTSHELL: It’s always messy when a team decides to sign a guy to serious money, and then switch his position. Neal could be in for a pretty rough ride as an undersized LB in this division. Especially on a team that struggles to rush the passer. On most teams, Basham would be a sneaky good add, but the Cowboys already lack a DE who can stack the run. Adding one more as a back-up, seriously encourages opponents to run the ball on 3rd and short. This unit is so much faster than last year’s, but nothing about this side of the ball indicates that they can win in the trenches. (-)
K:Greg Zuerlein was pretty reliable 34/41 (82.9%) with 6 of his misses (3/9) coming from 50 or greater (33.3%). Otherwise he was 31/32 (96.8%) He was 33/36 (91.6%) on extra points. (+)
P:Hunter Niswander was the punter for the final 8 games of 2020. He had just 26 punts, so it’s a small sample size, but the sample had his average punt at 47.2 yards with a net of 42.0. If we’re going to nit-pick, of his 26 punts, 9 were returned for 95 yards (10.5 ypr), indicating that he’s totally over-kicking his coverage team. Given a training camp, he should be able to shave 3 or 4 yards off of that return average. What say we meet back here in a year, and discuss how he did? Aaaand out of nowhere, the Cowboys added 32 year old Bryan Anger, because Jerry Jones wanted to blow his stimulus money on a Texan antique. (See what I did there?) Anger is likely a camp body just brought in to keep a fire lit under Niswander this preseason. (+)
IN A NUTSHELL: The legs on this unit are here to not lose the game. Just keep it close is all that’s asked of them. Should be an easy bar to reach. (+)
BOTTOM LINE:The Cowboys need a big Draft. Offensively, the QB has weapons, but is coming back from injury. The RB has spent the last THREE YEARS, regressing every year. The once vaunted offensive line, is better known for injuries these days. Their defense couldn’t stop anybody last year (28th out of 32), and the only additions to the roster so far, are role players and experiments. There’s a new DC, but most of the Cowboys problem last year, was losing battles in the trenches, and they haven’t gotten better on either side of the ball. In fact, most of the returning starters, are the same guys who were taking those whippings. But hey!
LAST year Washington went 7 – 9 overall, and 4 – 2 in the division. Their record was enough to win a historically bad division, after which they were unmasked as frauds, and given the bum’s rush from the first round of the playoffs. Still, winning a division beats finishing in second place, missing the playoffs, and blaming a rival team for not sending you. So they have that much going for them.
In any case, here is how Washington’s roster looks, about a week prior to the 2021 NFL Draft.
QB:Taylor Heinicke finished off the 2020 season by throwing for 300 yards in a 31-23 playoff loss. His gutty performance had many Redski- Washington fans excited to see what the kid would do in 2021. So the Reds- (Fuck.) Washington of course, went right out and signed free agent Ryan Fitzpatrick, to a one year, 10M$ deal. Proving once again, you can take the ‘R’ off the helmet, but you can’t take the mentally challenged out of the Football Team. It is worth noting that of the EIGHT previous team he’s been on, he doesn’t own a winning record as as starter, with ANY of them. Kyle Allen? Washington brought him back on a one year deal. Meanwhile he continues to rehab his broken/dislocated ankle. Careful Kyle! You coming back from a leg injury, may not be in Washington’s long-term plans. Right, Alex?
With Fitzpatrick’s deal being 6.5 times Heinicke’s, it tells you all you need to know about 2021’s pecking order. This position is currently a mess, with no clear path beyond this season. That alone may be enough to keep Washington from repeating as the division winner. (-)
RB:Antonio Gibson led the team in rushing with 795 yards and 11 rushing TD’s. Both his 100 yard games, and 4 of those TD’s, came against defenseless division rival Dallas. Gibson, having converted from college wide-out, was a rather pedestrian RB as a rookie. Strangely enough, he also didn’t excel as a receiver out of the backfield. J.D. McKissic (also a college wide-out) saw 85 carries and 80 receptions, for 365 and 568 yards respectively, representing nearly 1,000 (954) yards from scrimmage. Peyton Barber is the “big back”. Interesting fact: He’s averaged less per carry, every year, for four straight years. As a rookie he averaged 4.1 per tote. Last year, just 2.7 on 94 carries. He also doesn’t catch passes. Lamar Miller was added to the roster, possibly to challenge Barber for his role. Miller tore his ACL in preseason 2019, and made Chicago’s practice squad in 2020. He saw one game, catching 2 passes for 6 yards. After which he was demoted back to the practice squad. Bryce Love is also on the roster. They got yardage and scores out of this hodge-podge in 2020. There’s no reason it can’t happen again in 2021. (+)
WR: On 134 targets, Terry McLaurin posted 87 catches for 1100 yards in 2020. Not bad numbers in year where 4 different guys were throwing him passes. In three years Cam Sims has yet to impress the staff in Washington. This is likely why they added free agents Curtis Samuels and Adam Humphries. Samuels is a guy that Carolina demoted, then let walk. Two teams have allowed Humphries to just walk . Both are guys who made their name on short area quickness, but seem to have loss their edge. As a result Samuels and Humphries need an awful lot of targets to be productive. Let me put numbers to that. Again, in 2020 McLaurin saw 134 targets, while Cam Sims saw just 48. Steven Sims was next closest with 37 (27 catches, 265 yards). In 2018 Humphries needed 105 targets to see 816 yards and 5 TD’s (both career-highs). In 2020 it took 97 targets to get Samuels to 851 (career-high) and just 3 TD’s. So neither Humphries nor Samuels may have been the smartest choice to improve this group. Even on paper they still look like they have a hole. (-)
TE:Logan Thomas snagged 72 passes for 670 yards and 6 scores in 2020. Not head turning numbers, but he’s more of security blanket than a weapon. He’s also a violent blocker, so keep your head on a swivel.
Back-ups include Marcus Baugh, Temarrick Hemingway. Tightening their bike helmet, Washington also signed a Chilean basketball “star” (averaging 4.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 0.5 assists), turned football player, named Sammis Reyes. The guy is an obvious workout warrior, ticking all the boxes on the Mike Mamula/Tony Mandarich scale. It’s even been reported that he posted a 4.65 time in the 40. But just look at him with a ball in his hands:
He looks like he couldn’t run the 40 in 40! You know, I wonder if he’s ever caught a pass over the middle, or read a blitz. So no. There is no depth here. (-)
OT:Geron Christian started 6 games at LT before his season was cut short. Starting in his stead for the remaining 9 games, was veteran Cornelius Lucas. RT Morgan Moses is the best of this bunch, which isn’t saying much, as this line allowed 50 sacks in 2020, and 1 passer to be put on Injured Reserve. So there’s probably some room for improvement. Which is exactly why the Rrr- Football Team, hasn’t made a move here. At least not yet. (-)
G: Pro Bowler Brandon Scherff was slapped with the franchise tag, for a second straight year. He’s a cornerstone player, and Washington is smart not to let anyone get a crack at him in free agency. They’d be smarter to ink him to a 6 year deal, and effectively lock him down for the remainder of his career though. Wes Martin and Wes Schweitzer are why Washington drafted Saadiq Charles last year. Charles was inactive for 5 weeks, then after playing two downs in Week 6, was promptly placed on season-ending Injured Reserve. So this position is praying for a big bounce back, plus a leap forward, from their second year man. Until then they can keep heading out Wes. (+)
C: Chase Roullier just inked a four year deal to remain in D.C., so they must think more of him than their rivals do. For his part, he’s been durable. Oh, and Adrian Peterson ran for 1,042 yards behind him in 2018! Tyler Larsen comes over from Carolina, to be Roullier’s back-up. Yeah, me neither. (+)
IN A NUTSHELL: Every year Fitzpatrick has a handful of OMG type good games, and OMG type horror shows. Most of the time he’s a competent, mid-level game manager. That will not win you the NFC East. Doesn’t matter though. Washington’s weapons won’t scare anyone anyway. Honestly. How many washed-up Slot receivers does one roster truly need? Their top two RB’s are actually WR’s, running behind an interior line with no true mauler on it. Making their run game
Worse than that, Scott Turner is returning as the OC. So his division rivals will likely have a better handle on his offense, than his new QB. So expect less success from Washington’s offense, than they had last season. (-)
DE:Washington fans whenever you mention this position:
Chase Young won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl roster. His 7.5 sacks don’t tell the entire story of his contributions. Things like his leadership, and his energy. His passion, and his pride. Young looks like the real deal. Meanwhile, Montez Sweat quietly racked up 9 sacks, despite playing less than Young. The loss of Ryan Kerrigan means that the meaningful depth right now, is James Smith-Williams, who plays with the same flare and imagination that his parents displayed while naming him. The starters are very good, but this position is a sprained ankle away from the whole defense going off a cliff. (+)
DT:Daron Payne is the big load in the middle who started 16 games, producing 54 tackles and 3 sacks. Which is pretty much the exact stat line he’s delivered for each of his three seasons. Jonathan Allen again delivered over 60 tackles, but is clearly diminishing as a pass rusher after assuming a more traditional interior role, than the one he played for his first two years. Matt Ioannidis tore his bicep in Week 2. He tried to make it work during Week 3, but it wasn’t to be. So he missed the remainder of the season. At 310, Ioannidis will likely be asked to play inside in a 4-3, as he was asked to do in 2020. Prior to that he played end in a 3-4. Due to the injury there is no way to predict what level of Ioannidis will return in 2021. Tim Settle played limited snaps in 2021 and still led the position with 5.0 sacks. If Ioannidis returns to top form, this group is going to be a massive headache for rivals. And even if he doesn’t return to top form, it’s still a formidable mix of power and veteran savvy. (+)
OLB:Cole Holcomb had a nice rookie year playing inside, but his 2020 move outside was a mixed bag at best. Given that he’s got the most in-game experience of any player at this position, Washington needs him to be better in 2021, because they have no choice but to start him. Shaun Dion Hamilton went from being a moderate role player on the 2019 defense, to a Special Teamer who saw spot duty in 2020. Khaleke Hudson is a tweener, who was born for kick coverage duty. Gun to my head, I’d start Hamilton, but there’s probably going to be a rookie manning this spot. Josh Harvey-Clemons opted out last year due to Covid. He previously never defined a role for himself, so to keep his roster spot, he may have to change position. (-)
MLB:Jon Bostic had a career year in 2020. He either tied or set a new record for himself in EVERY statistical category. That looks like a player being as comfortable as a motherfucker in the scheme he’s playing in. David Mayo was brought in to back Bostic up, but don’t be surprised to see Josh Harvey-Clemons here as well. (+)
S:Landon Collins yet again was having a good year playing LB, when he tore his Achilles tendon, ending his 2020 season. Rookie Kamren Curl stepped in, and offered help by actually covering receivers. Given how well he preformed, nobody sane would start Collins over Curl at this point. Right? Right, Washington? Hellooo…? Back deep, Troy Apke and Deshazor Everett, were so lackluster in 2020 that… Ohhhhh. It’s going to be Collins AND Curl isn’t it? Not ideal, but still the best two out of this four. For the record, Apke and Everett have been in D.C. since at least 2018, and each have been ass, in each of those years. There’s experience here, but only one player who’s really good against the pass. (-)
CB:Kendall Fuller’s return to D.C. saw him match his career-high of 4 interceptions, and start two more games (14), than he did in his first stint with the Redsk- (ugh!) Football Team. New addition William Jackson comes over from Cincinnati to hold down the opposite side. Jackson has just 3 interceptions in 59 career games (48 starts), so teams will start the year off targeting him heavily. Depth consists of Jimmy Moreland (10 career starts), and Darryl Roberts formerly of the Lions, with 4 interceptions in 67 career games (31 starts). Avoid Fuller and pick on the other side. Get ready for 17 games of that unless someone surprises us. (-)
IN A NUTSHELL:
Opponents won’t make a very good living trying to run vs this front. However, Washington practically invites teams to throw the ball on them. This team can rush the passer, but can they cover long enough for the rush to get home? Seems like a fairly critical question, given that the current NFL is a passing league. This team has plenty of talent, just not really where they need it. (-)
K:Dustin Hopkins made a career-low 79.4% (27/34) of his field goal attempts. Most concerning was his 15/21 performance (71.4%) from 40 yards and longer. He also went 30/32 (93.7%) on extra points. His missed factored directly into two losses (NYG, DET). However, given that Washington won the division, this position may be overlooked as an area of need. For a team built like this one is, a reliable toe isn’t a luxury. This toe looks shaky, and they just inked him to a an extension. (-)
P:Tress Way averaged 48 yards per punt, with a 44.1 yard net, helping his unit keep returns to 5.8 yards per crack. The only knock is that on 73 punts, only 23 were downed inside the 20. (+)
IN A NUTSHELL: This isn’t exactly a crackerjack unit, loaded with clutch dynamite. In a salary cap strapped year, Washington’s attitude seems to be: “Meh…We’re dancing with the devil that we know.” (-)
The defense won’t be able to capitalize on it’s great front, because it was sabotaged in the secondary. There are no heroes on special teams. They flat out need to make an offensive splash in the Draft, or the offense will take a step back. This is a last place team in any other division. However, in this division there are three other teams still trying to find their footing. This gives Washington a real chance to repeat as division champs. Possibly even posting a record of 9 – 8.
LAST year the giants finished 6 – 10 overall, and 4 – 2 in the division. They went out whining. Crying like entitled toddlers because the Eagles, in their final game (against Washington) tanked for better Draft position. This gave Washington the division, whereas an Eagles win would have given the division to New York. (And lowered the Eagles Draft position in every round.) Pointing the finger at Philadelphia, instead of their own 6 – 10 record, isn’t a sign of a team that holds itself accountable. Which sort of explains the 6 – 10 record.
In any case, this is where the giants roster currently stands in the week prior to the 2021 NFL Draft.
QB: Daniel Jones has lost 9 games in each of his two pro seasons, for a career mark of 8 – 18. In 2020, his 10 interceptions were 2 fewer than in his rookie year. Unfortunately, his 11 TD’s were less than half his rookie year’s (24). While many things worked to trip him up last year,
he’s probably run out of benefit of the doubt, and has to produce 9 wins to remain the starter in 2022. Mike Glennon is the back-up. Over his 7 year career, he’s been on 5 teams, and when he plays, he’s been the human equivalent to waving a white flag. (-)
RB:Saquon Barkley is back from the torn ACL that ended a 2020 season that was already pretty bad for him. Prior to his injury, in two starts, he’d racked up 34 yards on 19 carries for a 1.8 yard per carry average. Everyone who filled in last year, is gone. The back-up this year is Devontae Booker. He’s a sneaky-smart addition who could be a problem for opponents as part of a 1 – 2 punch, or a credible first option, if Barkley has setbacks. Even with all the turnover at this position in 2020, Elijhaa Penny was trusted with just 6 carries.
Jordan Chunn is also on the roster. In any case, Barkley struggled even before being hurt, so this group gets a side-eye until they show better. (-)
WR: Darius Slayton is a solid number two, pushed into being a low-end one. Though he’s good for 745 yards per season, and 15 yards per catch, he adds more value than that. He has speed to threaten deep, and helps by opening things up behind him. Sterling Shepard is a possession receiver. He’s FAR better suited to the Slot than the outside, but until the giants can find someone for that other end, Shepard will keep being lined up out there. Which is likey why they added free agent, Kenny Golladay. He’s made some circus grabs over the years, but he’s going to find that landing on New Yorks cold ground is different than the controlled 70 degree dome in Detroit. He also doesn’t have Matt Stafford throwing to him anymore. Also added was John Ross, who is touted as having speed to burn. That said, he’s played in only 27 of a possible 64 career games, meaning he’s missed 37. That includes 13 missed games in 2020. All in all, the talent is credible here. (+)
TE: Remember when everyone was certain that Evan Engram would be the next Tony Gonzalez? Just in case you missed it, he posted a 57% catch rate last year. Newly added Kyle Rudolph’s blocking should help the run game. He also should add some value as a red zone threat. Due to volume of targets, Engram will produce numbers. However, there’s a real question now, of whether his targets would be better spent elsewhere. Put another way, folks are actively starting to wonder if he’s holding the offense back. (-)
OT:Nate Solder and Andrew Thomas comprise the bookends. Solder sat out 2020. Thomas was a 16 game starter as a rookie, playing 95% of the offensive snaps. Matt Peart is waiting in the wings, drafted as a project. However, this off-season’s re-signing of Solder to a 4 year deal, doesn’t indicate that Peart has captured the confidence of the coaching staff. After a bad 2020, this position has a lot to prove. (-)
G: As a rookie, Shane Lemieux started 9 games to finish the season. The question now is, with the release of Kevin Zeitler, does Lemieux stay at LG or slide to RG? Will Hernandez has seen his star dim recently, but a chance to play could brighten it up again. Zeitler’s departure all but guarantees Hernandez a role as a starter if he stays healthy. The question is, does he go back to LG, or is he a RG? Former Texan, Zach Fulton comes over to provide veteran depth, but given how often his last QB had to save himself from his protection, it’s shallow depth indeed. Especially since there no solid answer for who plays where. (-)
C:Nick Gates started 16 games at the pivot in 2020, and was the only lineman to play 100% of the 2020 season’s snaps. Also on the roster is recently signed, seasoned veteran Jonotthan Harrison. (+)
IN A NUTSHELL: Not all the pieces to this puzzle were ever meant to go together. That’s why over the years it keeps not fitting. Drafting a TE who doesn’t block, was a mistake. Drafting a big back who doesn’t run big, without giving him a dominant blocker at TE or a FB, was a mistake. Drafting QB because of personal history, was a mistake. The giants front office has been stacking unforced errors for nearly half a decade now. Now there’s going to be a shuffle in the protection directly in front of the QB. So much of this unit is broken at the conceptual level. That’s why it keeps failing. And it’s also why no draft pick can save this mess. (-)
DE:Leonard Williams racked up career highs of 11.5 sacks and 30 QB hits last year while notching 57 tackles. Dexter Lawrence isn’t a pass rusher, but at 342 he’s a big’un, and he’s too quick for opponents to get cute with their blocking assignments. To bolster the pass rush, the giants signed Ifeadi Odenigbo. At 258 Odenigbo may not line up at this position since they bill themselves as “Multiple”, but favored a 3-4 alignment last year. B.J. Hill is a big (311), veteran rotational player. He’s not top-tier talent, but he plays assignment sound football. (+)
NT: With the loss of Dalvin Tomlinson to Minnesota, Austin Johnson becomes the new man in the middle with Danny Shelton backing him up. While New York may pick up teaspoon of interior pass rush, they just lost a cup of run support. (-)
OLB:Kyler Fackrell is a situational player who saw too much playing time last year. He started off very hot for about 6 weeks. After which he got exposed, and then got injured. Lorenzo Carter played 5 games last year and then tore his Achilles tendon. He wasn’t exactly a star before his injury. Oshane Ximines started 3 games, played 110 snaps, and recorded a total of 5 tackles. Even if Ifeadi Odenigbo moves out here, the giants still lack a single player who can play backwards, not just forward. That means RB’s and TE’s are going to tear this team up. (-)
ILB: I still can’t figure out how Blake Martinez was allowed to leave Green Bay. This guy is the genuine article. Starts every game, makes tackles (151), adds pass rush (3 sacks), and is equally adept in zone coverage (5 passes defensed). Tae Crowder had an up and down rookie season, but that’s what a rookie season is for. While Devante Downs started the season as the starter, Crowder finished with the role. During a (failed) playoff push. This tells you who the organization is pulling for. Newly signed Reggie Ragland adds size to the second level and will help push Crowder. In any case, young guys who know the system, competing at a position, that usually helps sharpen the hell out of it. (+)
S:Jabrill Peppers recorded the 4th interception of his four year career last year. He also forced a fumble. Because he’s, you know…a difference maker. Logan Ryan made the switch from Corner to Free last year, and he pulled it off without a hitch success. In many ways 2020 was one of his worst as a pro. But it’s keeping him paid! So there’s that. Xavier McKinney started the last 4 games of 2020, playing an increasing percentage of the defense’s downs in every single game. He’s the reason one of the aforementioned players will be riding pine in 2021. Julian Love is a tweener who managed 6 starts in 2020. Expect solid run support from this group. You can also expect them to get routinely cornholed on intermediate routes over the middle. (-)
CB:James Bradberry earned himself a Pro Bowl nod, after having a career year, during his first as a giant. Isaac Yiadom started 10 games last year, and allowed QB’s a 120 passer rating when throwing his way. That’s 40 points higher than the 80 passer rating allowed by Bradberry. And so the giants added Adoree Jackson to shore up the other side. Whether that works out depends on with version of him they get. Since 2019, Jackson has been on Injured Reserve or deactivated 17 times in his last 25 possible games. Buyer beware. Julian Love is the top back-up here. At spots 5 and 6 are maybe Sam Beal and Darnay Holmes, both drafted by the team. That said, their spots are far from safe. They have a good one, but it’s just one. (-)
IN A NUTSHELL: Expect this team to be tough to run on, but to also hemorrhage passing yardage. The OLB’s are pass rushers (won’t have to cover), and the Safeties have trouble with speed. With passing on this team being so easy, opponents may not even opt to run the ball much vs the giants. That will artificially drive up the ranking on their rushing yards allowed, but it will be hollow, since they won’t face as many attempts. The flaws on this unit are glaring, and aside from possibly drafting a savior at CB or FS, this unit will regress in 2021. (-)
K:Graham Gano connected on 31/32 GF (96.8%) including 5/6 from 50 or longer. He did however, miss on two extra point conversions (21/23), and of his 73 kickoffs, only 30 were downed in the end zone. That means opponents attempted returns, nearly 60% of the time. (+)
P:Riley Dixon averaged a career-low 44.8 yard per punt, with a career-low 39.4 yards net. Though only 25 of his 65 punts were returned, the 232 return yards (9.2 avg) indicates that he’s giving return men time and room to pick their spots. (-)
IN A NUTSHELL: Gano is a liability to the Defense, but he was reliable as a point scorer. That’s no easy feat in Rutherford, New Jersey once the weather turns. Dixon is costing the giants the hidden yardage/field position battle. Neither his distance nor his hang-time are helping his coverage unit. As a result, whenever the ball is kicked to the opponent, the giants are doing worse than average. (-)
BOTTOM LINE: Head Coach Joe Judge has focused on coaching work ethic in his players. From a mental standpoint, the giants are clearly better as a team than they were at the end of 2019. So their front office, got the right man.
The problem is that, that same front office, hasn’t changed the method of how they build a roster. They have players who’s style and talent runs counter to other players on the very same unit. In short, this team is not complementary. It’s awkward. It’s misshapen. Grotesque.
Between a QB who hasn’t mastered throwing, and Safeties who cover more like Linebackers, the whole damned thing is a head scratcher. Before they can beat other teams to win the division, they’ll have to stop beating themselves. Otherwise, they’ll have to keep hoping for rivals to send them to the playoffs.
THIS is another one that I’ve mentioned in the past, and it’s hard not to. The Eagles are moving on from the Wide Nine, and we have no idea to what. That said, all early signs indicate that we’re sticking with the 4-3 alignment. If a team plays a 4-3 system, wrecking those “A” gaps (the spaces between the C and the G), is just smart football.
This is the first step in ruining an opponent’s passing game. Yes, making it harder for receivers to release into their routes, plays a huge part as well. (If you recall that from earlier articles, then you get a Gold Star! Wait. No star. Fuck stars. We hate stars. A gold…tooth?) Like I said, ruining the protection is the most important step.
Crashing the “A” gaps, inverts the pocket, and doesn’t let opposing QB’s step up into their throws. That costs velocity, and gives our Secondary more time to react to balls in the air. This means more tipped passes, and more chances at interceptions. Even if the coverage didn’t start out super tight.
The flip-side is, an inverted pocket might encourage a mobile QB to run. That however, would still mean that our Defense was forcing the offense off-schedule. While that would result in surrendering a big play here and there, most of the time the offense would be erratic and unsettled.
Today, at the moment, fingers crossed, (Howie don’t fuck us on this!), we still have DT Fletcher Cox. Cox has never put up huge sack numbers, but he’s about as disruptive as you will get at his position. Coming on late in 2020, was last year’s big free agent addition, DT Javon Hargrave. Regardless of scheme, these two will be a dominant interior.
So were set at starting DT’s. Momentarily we still have DT Malik Jackson, but rumor has it that he may be a cap casualty. There are a couple of solid role player types like T.Y. McGill, who have flashed, but you’d have to have an eye like mine, to have noticed them.
Regardless of who’s on the roster, we still need to crash the “A” gaps!
EARLIER in the THE 12, I covered taking away a TE’s clean release. Here we’re going to get into disrupting a QB’s rhythm with his WR’s. The idea is to get one of two things to happen:
1) The QB either holds the ball a little longer, as he goes to his next read, giving the pass rush time to get to him.
2) The QB forces an ill-advised pass, in an attempt to “make something happen”.
Again, disrupting the TE was covered earlier. That said, trying to treat a WR like a TE can set an entire secondary on fire. So the approach has to be different. It has to be more cerebral. Generally a defender cannot rely on one approach all game long, but here are just a few that they can mix and match for 30 minutes or so.
Man Press gets a CB in the WR’s face, and makes the QB sort out whether the WR can win that down and get open. As long as the CB can keep the WR in front of him, this approach is golden. Problem is, when the WR gets past the CB, the defender is left in the trail position. Given the speed, and leaping ability of many WR’s, man press played wrong, could be a death sentence. (High risk/High reward)
Hand-fighting is for WR’s who like to stem their routes to get the defender off balance. Hand-fighting at the line of scrimmage, gets the defenders hands into the chest/shoulder area of the WR. It doesn’t allow the receiver to lean quite the way he wants. This erases the time the receiver would use to stem, and forces him to go directly into the route.
Hand-fighting is not quite the same as press, because hand-fighting “feels” the route and bails sooner than press. All a defender is doing, is taking away what the early part of what the receiver wants to do. The idea isn’t to stop, it’s to delay, and maybe get the QB to look elsewhere. (Moderate risk/Low reward)
The next two are a one-two combo, that not only affects the receiver, but it can make offensive coordinators question how they utilize their players, and call the game.
The 100 Yard Defender. The sideline is a defensive player. Stepping on it end plays, and a receiver who steps on it prior to catching the ball, can’t catch a forward pass on that down. If the WR lines up close enough to the sideline, shoving him out of bounds (within the first 5 yards), is totally legal, and basically takes him out of the play. (Low risk/High reward)
Lowering The Boom comes with a great deal of risk, since refs are very aggressive about throwing flags for the same hits that used to comprise the entire opening sequence of a Madden game. Still, a CB taking away the sideline, basically “opens up” the middle of the field for the receiver. Which is where beasts like LB’s and S’s roam.
While a ref may throw a flag and award 15 yards as a result of that play, coaching staffs may think better of running that player into harm’s way again. Question: Is a potential 15 yard penalty during the first possession, worth limiting how the opposing team calls the rest of the game? Answer: You bet your ass! (Just don’t do this in the second half.)
Not to mention how rattled the QB would be for getting his buddy fucked up, to start the game.(Sky high risk/Sky high reward)
So there are tools. We just have to be willing to use them.