by Rob Weintraub
Nearly forty percent of every team's schedule is made up of division games. Every coach and player talks about the importance of winning games against division foes. Schemes and personnel are very often tailored to matching up with division opponents. Yet when it comes to naming the best players at season's end, we never classify them by division. Where are the All-Division teams? This has always mystified me. Colleges name All-Conference teams, why not do likewise for the professional ranks?
Well rest easy, I've done it for you, this time with the NFC East. Naturally, this being Football Outsiders, our stats are used to justify selections whenever necessary.
QB: Carson Wentz, PHI
Right now, fans in Philly are calculating what the Kelly Blue Book value is for the Wentz Wagon, but the fact remains that in just 11 games Wentz put up considerably more DYAR (549) than anyone else in the division (Eli Manning was second with 344). Even if Nick Foles' total of 74 in five games was prorated to a full season, it would come to much less than half of Carson's numbers. Wentz was 12th in DVOA as well. Division winner Dak Prescott was 25th in DVOA, unlike 2016, when he piloted the Pokes to the division crown and was third in the NFL in that metric.
Easy picks here, though neither were anywhere close to being the most efficient backs in the league: Zeke ranked 18th in DVOA, Saquon 19th. They weren't superstars in our cumulative stat, DYAR, either: ninth and 15th, respectively, though when receiving is factored in Barkley slips ahead of Elliott. Barkley's boom-or-bust style was reflected in his 41 percent success rate, good for 40th among running backs. Adrian Peterson's revival was worthy of a Pentecostal rattlesnake handling, but the third-rated back in the division ranked a distant 29th in DVOA and DYAR.
Ready for a stunner? Check Cooper's pre- and post-trade splits:
- OAK: 7 Games, 87 DYAR, 13.2% DVOA
- DAL: 9 Games, 120 DYAR, 6.8% DVOA
Before defensive adjustments, the VOA is almost identical, so it was Oakland's tougher skein of secondaries faced that made the difference. Still, it flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that Cooper was a non-entity in the Bay Area before turning into Jerry Rice in Big D. His salutary effect on the Cowboys offense makes him a no-brainer for the All-Div team, however.
The NFC East's overall lack of wideout threats is reflected here, as Jeffery is the lone receiver in the division to crack the top 20 in DVOA (Cooper finished 20th in DYAR, including his numbers in Oakland). The fact that Cooper and Beckham's incomplete seasons still qualified as easy All-Div selects is another data point. Washington's best receiver was Jamison Crowder, who was 56th in DYAR and 54th in DVOA.
Dallas had a poor season in pass blocking but managed to finish eighth in adjusted line yards, even with All-Pro center Travis Frederick missing the season. Martin and Smith certainly weren't the problem, though injuries continue to sap some of Smith's otherworldliness. Philly's stats (20th in ALY, 17th in adjusted sack rate) were low considering the strong individual seasons turned in by three of the five linemen. The Barkley effect was clear in New York, as the G-Men front five were 29th in ALY but first in open field yards. Nate Solder came on in the second half of the season, but no one from New York's line, or Washington's injury-hammered front, made the All-Div squad.
Michael Bennett had a strong argument for the second end spot opposite Lawrence, but he benefitted from Philly's depth, and Allen had a superb two-way season. Payne was an interior force as a rookie, netting five sacks. Fellow first-year man B.J. Hill of New York had 5.5 but didn't have nearly the impact overall.
The NFC East sported a sturdy group of linebackers, with the two Cowboys newbies providing sideline-to-sideline menace, Kerrigan getting after the quarterback (13 sacks), and Foster thumping runners inside.
Swearinger is the lone All-Div player to get fired from his team before season's end, but insubordination on the Skins is a sign of righteousness, so we won't penalize him here. Philly's secondary was a mess for much of the season but you can't blame Jenkins, anyway.
C.C. completes a G-men sweep in special teams: his kick returns were the only positive points of any division return man in either discipline. Dixon fought off challenges from Tress Way of Washington (whose name was certainly All-Division) and Cameron Johnston of Philly.