Four Downs
Offseason analysis of the NFL, division by division

Four Downs: NFC East

Four Downs: NFC East
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Sean McCormick

Dallas Cowboys

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Offensive Tackle

Going into the draft, the Cowboys had three clear areas of need -- to find a starting free safety, to add youth and depth along the offensive line, and to make up for the fact that they passed on Randy Moss. OK, that last one wasn't so obvious, but that's the need that Jerry Jones addressed when he traded up to select troubled Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant and immediately gave him the prized 88 jersey previously worn by stars like Drew Pearson and Michael Irvin (not to mention Moss when he was at Marshall). Bryant was one of the six or seven most talented players in the draft and was clearly a better player than any lineman or safety available, so the pick made sense from a talent standpoint. The Cowboys were able to find a safety prospect with cornerback cover skills when they nabbed Division II product Akwasi Owusu-Ansah in the fourth round, but he probably won't be ready to contribute much this season as he adjusts to the speed of the pro game. They also added Notre Dame tackle Sam Young in the sixth round, but he projects as strictly a right tackle prospect and doesn't provide much cushion should Doug Free struggle on the left side. So while the Cowboys addressed their primary areas of need, it's unclear if they did so effectively.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

The most notable signing is New Hampshire tight end Scott Sicko, who made headlines by turning down five separate contract offers from NFL teams, only to change his mind quietly two days later and sign with the Cowboys. Dallas signed a couple of offensive linemen in Cal's Mike Tepper and Virginia's Will Barker to act as camp bodies, but each player has a shot at pushing his way into the equation considering the weak depth on the roster. Barker was a four-year starter at Virginia, a program that has been churning out solid pro linemen of late, and at 6-foot-7 and 318 pounds, he has terrific size.

New York Giants

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Offensive Line Depth

Rolando McClain will not be the next middle linebacker for the New York Giants. Neither will Sean Weatherspoon, nor Sean Lee, nor any other high-profile inside linebacking prospect. Instead, the Giants continued their longstanding adherence to George Young's Planet Theory by taking big, strong, fast defensive linemen with their first two selections and waiting until round four to address their biggest hole with Nebraska's Phillip Dillard, one of the more underrated prospects in the draft. Dillard had enough coverage ability to stay on the field in Nebraska's nickel and dime packages, and he could work his way into the middle linebacker competition in a hurry.

With early and mid-round picks devoted to defensive end, defensive tackle, safety and middle linebacker, there weren't picks left over for another unit that quietly underperformed last year -- the offensive line. The coaches would like to see William Beatty win the left tackle job, which would allow them to kick David Diehl inside to left guard and push Rich Seubert into a reserve role. Even if all that works out, there might be trouble on the right side, where longtime stalwart Kareem McKenzie missed four games with injuries and may be showing signs of slowing down. Right now the only backup is the unfortunately named Guy Whimper, but he is more of a career reserve than a potential successor.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

Local product Tim Brown played his college ball at Rutgers and will now try to latch on at the bottom of a very crowded depth chart. At 5-foot-6, Brown is badly undersized, but he showed an ability to run a wide variety of routes and could latch on as a true slot receiver. After abstaining from Big Ten players all draft weekend, the team indulged its fondness for the conference by inking a pair of Ohio State Buckeyes in tight end Jake Ballard and center Jim Cordle, as well as Penn State guard Dennis Landolt.

Philadelphia Eagles

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Cornerback

Perhaps no team has been as aggressively forward-thinking with its roster management this decade as Philadelphia. Under Andy Reid, the Eagles routinely cut or trade players a year too soon rather than waiting for them to decline or to become too expensive to justify their production. So it was no surprise to see the team ship Sheldon Brown to Cleveland despite his still being a productive player. But with Philadelphia's trouble dealing with No. 2 receivers last year -- their 9.0% DVOA was 24th in the league -- and with only Joselio Hanson and Ellis Hobbs as potential replacements, it was surprising to see Philadelphia neglect to address the cornerback position via the draft. Despite spending a whopping nine of their 11 draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles only selected one corner, Kentucky's Trevard Lindley , whom they took with the 105th pick. Several of Lindley 's scouting reports suggest that he struggles to stay with quicker receivers in man coverage, which is never a good quality in a pressure defense. His suspect tackling makes him a particularly risky complement to the already contact-adverse Asante Samuel. Lindley is unlikely to do more than play in dime packages as a rookie, and cornerback depth could become a pressing issue if one of the starters goes down.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

North Carolina State's Jerraill McCuller is a little lanky for a right tackle, but he looks mobile and aggressive on film. Kevin Jurovic started his career at San Jose State at safety before moving to receiver to take advantage of his soft hands, but he probably lacks the athleticism to be anything more than a special-teamer. Wide receiver Pat Simonds played his college ball at tiny Colgate, but at 6-foot-5, he has the height to contribute as a red-zone specialist. (Unfortunately, he doesn't have the weight to switch to tight end.)

Washington Redskins

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Wide Receiver

Washington has had a very successful offseason, trading for a quality veteran quarterback in Donovan McNabb and acquiring a sorely needed left tackle in Oklahoma's Trent Williams to provide backside protection. They've thrown together a collection of washed-up, big-name running backs in the hopes that someone will squeeze out a last productive season. What they did not do is address the need at wide receiver. There were many reasons why Washington ranked 28th in passing DVOA last year, but at least one of them was the failure of the 2008 draft class of Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly to develop into frontline starters. Thomas was particularly disappointing, catching only 53 percent of the passes that went his way. Thomas and Kelly do have the size that Mike Shanahan prizes, and perhaps they will play better for him than they did for Jim Zorn. Then again, the recent signing of Joey Galloway suggests that the team doesn't like what it has and simply didn't have enough draft choices to do something about it.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

Keiland Williams was a five-star recruit for LSU who had a disappointing career, and while early Football Outsiders research suggested it was a good idea to target SEC tailbacks in the back end of the draft, the recent glut of underachievers pumped out of Baton Rouge (Joseph Addai, LaBrandon Toefield) takes a bit of shine off the theory. Williams does have a lot of raw speed, but he will need to stop bouncing everything outside if he wants to be the next Shanahan wonder back. Competing with Williams for the role will be Troy's Maurice Greer and Tony Nelson of UMass.

(Portions of this article originally appeared on Insider.)


71 comments, Last at 17 May 2010, 5:29pm

1 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

This was, I presume, written before Dallas traded for Barron?

I think he only qualifies as depth at this point, as the Cowboys are happy with Free, but it certainly bears mentioning.

3 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Yeah, this is two NFC East "Four Downs" pieces in a row that have been immediately obsolete on the Cowboys (the last one was published 2 weeks after the Flozell/Hamlin cuts and did not mention them). It's only a 2 paragraph write-up, it seems like it would be easy to update?

4 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Not trying to complain about free content...just doesn't seem much value to publish the post at this point. I've always thought FO is better at league-wide stuff, trends, and metrics than team-specific news stuff like this, where their generalist background means that almost any hard-core fan of a specific team will know more about the daily goings-on of that team.

5 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

This is generally true, the exception is the teams that the writers are personally fans of. Vince/Doug can be trusted to keep up on the Seahawks, Tanier and the Eagles, etc.

And I appreciate this kind of quick thing describing teams I don't really care about. I don't need to know up to date details about the Redskins WR corps - they suck, they've got Santana and the crappy 2008 draft guys, and that's enough for me. The Redskins don't affect my life much.

17 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Barron could have been mentioned, but at this point he's such a marginal player that he doesn't really alter the basic state of the roster. Barron isn't quite the C.C. Brown of tackles...but he's in the neighborhood. Now it's true that Barron has more natural ability than you are going to see from a middle-to-late round draft choice, but I think he falls squarely into the "he is what he is" category.

The hilarious thing is that Russ Lande had Barron rated as worthy of a top three pick when he came out.

18 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

I don't know, he was a 74 game starter, albeit for a bad team. He seems like a pretty good option for a backup swing tackle. Certainly better than CC Brown is at his position, by a big margin.

66 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Yes, and I would argue that Joey Harrington could've been a serviceable backup NFL QB. Is Barron really a bad backup OT for an NFL team? Are you expecting teams to have Pro Bowlers at their backup OL positions?

Also, "Games started" is a meaningless stat for a QB, but it's not accurate to say it's a totally worthless way of looking at a non-QB player's career.

2 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Re: Washington WRs - I'm thinking Galloway/Wade were added to compete for slot, not #2. Physically they resemble Moss more than Thomas/Kelly. I think one of the 2008 draftees will emerge as a possession #2 receiver opposite Moss.

26 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

"I think one of the 2008 draftees will emerge as a possession #2 receiver opposite Moss."

Unless you're thinking of Fred Davis, I'd think again.

6 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Still with the "Andy Reid is a forward thinking genius who cuts guys at exactly the right time"? I agree that the Eagles (along with several other teams like the Patriots, the Cowboys, the Dolphins, etc.) have not shown sentimentality in holding onto franchise stalwarts past their prime. The most obvious examples I can think of are Hugh Douglas, Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent, Shawn Barber (although they later re-signed him), Jeremiah Trotter (althugh they later re-signed him), and possibly McNabb and Sheldon. You could maybe add Lito to the list also, although he was a cheap contract for the Eagles and he didn't really drop off with his new team, so I wouldn't really count him.

The primary problems I have with what has now become a knee-jerk tendency to look at the Eagles as unusually savvy in making these famed cuts are these:

1) The vast majority of the cuts they have made don't seem to have been revolutionary or something that a good number of other teams in the league wouldn't have done. Obviously this is easier to say in hindsight-- now that I can see how it played out, it's easy to say "Of course they cut Bobby Taylor, he wasn't any good anymore." But do we really think cutting bait with Barber or Nick Gocong or was a stroke of genius that many other teams wouldn't have made? Adam Schefter had a list of the Eagles cuts over the Reid era in his blog a few months back and I sadly can't find it now, but I remember thinking that none of the players they cut were coming off anything resembling a top tier season-- I don't think there was any staggering level of prescience involved in most of these decisions. I'm not saying that Andy and Co. are bad personnel guys for making the cuts-- they were still good moves to make-- it just seems like the sports media has gone a bit overboard in crediting them for their rationality and forward-thinking ability.

2) Their relatively high number of free agent failures makes their skill with cuts less impressive to me. When you get rid of Lito Sheppard but bring in Ellis Hobbs to replace him, I'm not really bowled over (although I understand you save money, and the Eagles always seemed to enjoy being $20+MM under the cap for whatever reason). When you cut Hugh Douglas but then sign Jevon Kearse and later Darren Howard to monster deals, you've still got a DL problem.

8 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

I think what makes it show up the most is that its a consistently good team cutting these guys, so they almost always get opportunities for other teams. If it were a poor team like the Bills or Rams making these cuts, nobody would say anything, and the players would be unknown. I think the high level of coverage the Eagles get is what makes this a phenomenon.

19 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Right, I'd agree. Like Trotter, Barber, and Douglas all getting signed by other teams and being heralded as notable acquisitions because they came from a successful team and had been a starter.

27 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

I think you're missing the point: letting a player go one season too early really is what separates them from other teams. For example, think of Antonio Pierce on the Giants last year - there's almost no way that the Eagles would've gone into the season with him as the starter, but before the season began it would've been a shocker for the Giants to cut Pierce. Essentially, the Giants are moving away from him at the moment most teams would - after he spends a year as a liability.

The Eagles almost never wait for that "veteran proves himself to be a liability" year - so they end up getting rid of older players who frequently have a decent season or two left in the tank. Look at Dawkins - he wasn't bad in Denver last year and the Eagles didn't have a replacement of similar caliber, but that's the direction in which they err. Same for Sheldon Brown - it's not clear they have all the solutions at CB, but they're going to let Brown go before he proves himself to be a liability. Very few teams act with that sort of "future seasons" view. You can argue it's not always a great strategy (losing Trotter only to resign him and have him be a force in the middle once again is a notable example of something they basically botched and then tried a do-over), but it definitely is different from how most teams function. They get rid of players clearly on the downside of their careers, but BEFORE they've proven themselves to be actually beyond use.

Westbrook is maybe the only good player I can think of where they've ditched him at the moment where everyone more or less agrees his career is done. McNabb is a another prime example of "let him leave before he's no longer starting caliber." Few teams would make the move they made with him...

45 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

I agree with most of what you've said, but with one caveat- the Trotter thing's not really the same situation. He was cut in favour of Stewart Bradley before the 2008 season, which is a move that pretty much all of the NFL would have made and worked really well. Re-signing him last year wasn't exactly a botch, it's simply what happens when the starting MLB (Bradley) and a key backup (Gaither) both end up on IR, and the rest of the LB corps gets really beaten up too.

Signing Trotter isn't really the result of a mistake, it was a desperation response to a rash of injuries across the Sam, Mike and Will backer positions. Trotter wasn't exactly plan B- he was more like plan E.

47 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

I meant the Trotter cut back in I think 2002 or 2003 when they let him go to Washington, he struggled there, the Eagles struggled mightily at LB, especially in the run game (Trot's specialty) and then brought him back in 2004 where he spent half the season on the bench before winning back the starting MLB job from Simoneau.

Bringing him back last year I can't fault them too much for. Sure it was a bad solution, but it was a problem with no good solutions. ANy team in going to struggle when down to their 3rd (or 4th really) string MLB.

Trotter for Bradley was a great move.

62 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Trotter's first departure, after the 2001 season, was definitely NOT a case of cutting a guy before he becomes unproductive. The Eagles wanted to keep Trotter - they used the franchise tag on him. Unfortunately, getting hit with the tag offended Trotter so much that things got really ugly - even personal - between Trotter and Reid, with Trotter making so much noise in the press that the Eagles removed the tag and let him go. Trotter, years later, called Reid to apologize for how he handled the situation. (this opened the door for his 2004 return.)

Trotter's SECOND release, in the 2007 preseason, was a matter of Trot being washed up. His 2009 return was only due to a truly dire injury situation at MLB.

69 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

That makes a lot of sense to me-- the idea that the Eagles are somewhat different because they are willing to give up a year or so of productivity from a player when he moves on to his next team because they believe it will help them develop his replacement and will be a more effective use of resources in the long run. The Pierce example is a good contrast.

I do think it hurts them in some cases, but overall I get the philosophy and I understand that it has worked pretty well for them, giving their strong W-L record in the past decade.

Of course, when we talk about Sheldon Brown, Barber, Buckhalter, and some of the others, they're not exactly cutting All-Pros with eerie prescience here. Just average or slightly above average starters or role-players. I guess the guys who were a year removed from Pro Bowls, like Taylor and Vincent, are the notable examples.

29 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

I'm curious also what year it was you think that the Eagles have had a "DL problem" That is always one of their most productive units. For all the shit Howard gets, he worked out for them perfectly according to their plans and Kearse (not TO) was the deciding factor in getting over the NFC Championship game hump...

Also, they brought in Asante Samuel (not Hobbs) to replace Lito. Which I can't imagine you're enough of a Cowboys homer to argue that that move hasn't worked out for them.

33 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

McNabb, Vincent, Douglas, and Dawkins had all made the pro bowl the year before. Bobby Taylor, Corey Simon, and Jeremiah Trotter (the second time they let him go, since the first wasn't age related) were all one year removed and had played well the year before, albeit in limited playing time in Taylor's case. Sheldon Brown has been very good the past 2 years. Correll Buckhalter and Shawn Barber were coming off of their best seasons as pros. Tra Thomas was coming off of one of the best years he ever had in pass protection (although his run blocking, never a genuine strong suit, had become a liability). John Welbourn had been very good at guard, to the extent that KC traded for him to have him play tackle.

That's not a list where most teams would have been saying to themselves "yeah, these guys are done." They were basically all still considered good at the time, and there was a great deal of criticism of the Eagles in Philadelphia for not bringing those players back.

They missed on Derrick Burgess and one good year from Shawn Barber, but those were more related to the fact that other teams offered them a lot of money than due to the Eagles thinking they were too old. I think they'd probably also want the Al Harris trade back as well if they had a chance to do it over, although getting a 2nd round pick for your nickel corner is pretty hard to turn down.

Yes, of course they've had their share of the routine cuts that any team has. Obviously very few teams would have brought back John Runyan at the point when the Eagles let him go. But in addition to the routine moves, They've aggressively gone about replacing players before they stop being productive. Moreover, they usually plan in advance in terms of getting the players who will eventually step in as replacements. Probably the best example of this with the Eagles 2002 draft, when their 1st 3 picks were Lito Sheppard, Michael Lewis, and Sheldon Brown, despite the fact that their secondary at the time was considered one of the top groups in the league, with Vincent, Taylor, and Harris at corner, and Dawkins and the newly signed (and still pretty highly regarded) Blaine Bishop at safety. It's been the same model with Kevin Kolb, LeSean McCoy, and Winston Justice. Granted, it hasn't always worked as well as it did with the 2002 draft class; the team did initially struggle to replace Hugh Douglas in 2003 and Dawkins this past year, but for the most part, it's been a very effective philosophy.

44 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

(although I understand you save money, and the Eagles always seemed to enjoy being $20+MM under the cap for whatever reason)

I'm not sure where everyone gets the impression that the Eagles are particularly stingy. If you look at the teams with the highest total payroll over the last decade, the Eagles are about 10th. If you look at each year individually, their rank, in total payroll, has been:

2009 - 19th
2008 - 21st
2007 - 16th
2006 - 14th
2005 - 28th
2004 - 2nd
2003 - 17th
2002 - 6th
2001 - 17th
2000 - 11th

They've been roughly average in their spending. Sure, they manage the cap just like any other team, but they don't make gratuitous cuts just so they can avoid spending money.

68 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Asante Samuel was signed to replace Lito Sheppard. NYJ let him go after one year and starting only 9 games. Now he is in MIN, where the secondary was the weak spot in last years defense.

Samuel was starting in '08, so '07 would be the best year to compare performances if you are so inclined.

9 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Are the Eagles really that strapped for a #2CB? You say they only have Ellis Hobbs... While Hobbs has problems, especially if you expect him to cover #1 guys, he's pretty much at least a league average #2 CB, and has looked even better when he has a really good #1 CB playing on the other side. In New England, he was quite respectable when playing opposite Asante Samuel. In Philly...he's got Asante Samuel playing opposite him.

13 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

But the Pats play a lot more zone coverage than the Eagles have historicaly. If you are going to run a pressure defense then your corners need to be more athletic and have to excel in man coverage. However, as FO have pointed out, the Eagles seem to play more coverage under McDermot than thay did under the late, great Jimmy Johnson, so maybe they feel that cornerback is less of a priority. I'd have thought that they need more mobile linebackers for the new scheme, maybe that's why they felt good about the Ernie Sims move.

Unless Graham emerges as a force as a rookie, this probably won't be the quality of defense that we're used to seeing from the Eagles. Not a bad unit but a less fearsome prospect than JJ's great defenses of the past decade.

28 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

The problem is that the Eagles have a slew of "eh, maybe he could not be so bad" possibilities for #2CB and no players that they could tap for the role and reasonably expect to be good-to-great. I didn't see Hobbs much in NE, but he embarrassing in a couple games for the Eagles last year and I'd be much more comfortable with Hanson starting in the #2 than Hobbs. Hanson, Hobbs, Marlon Jackson, Harris moving back to natural position of CB, the 4th round draft stepping right in, these are the things being discussed - the best you can say is "eh, maybe one of those guys might not be disgustingly terrible at the #2CB."

Now that LB is a little more stable with Sims and the draft picks tapped for SAM, a #2CB is undoubtedly the Eagles big question mark. I'm not saying it WON'T be ok, but there's no real reason to think it WILL be ok.

34 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

The post you replied to beat me to the punch, Hobbs has some glaring holes (i.e. he is five foot nine and 195 lbs) but he had athleticism and speed in spades, take a look at his kick return numbers. Belichick used him as the one-on-one corner against number one receivers (especially Lee Evans) much more than Samuel, who was better suited if he had freedom to jump routes. Hobbs is not a glaring hole in the secondary and he is not poorly suited for the Eagles defense, he is injury prone, not particularly good at bump and run coverage and short however. He is not the answer at cornerback but he has a similar skill set to Sheldon Brown and really doesn't represent much of a change for the eagles.

42 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

There have been some highly interesting articles on the excellent Iggles Blog about Sean McDermott's scheme last year, and how it brings some new concepts to the Eagles defense. It's been said all around the league and in the media than McD runs the same JJohnson scheme, but it's not really true : while JJohnson ran a man-heavy, pressure based defense, McDermott seems to be more orientated towards innovative coverage schemes than his "mentor".

Lots of rumors are currently flying over what will the defense look like next year : More Cover 2 (now that D.Jauron is an assistant coach), some 3-4 (McDermott admitted himself that they will try to implement some 3-4 concepts), more zone coverage overall(that's a lock to me, and the main reason D.Jauron is there, and why they can afford to enter the season with CBs like Hobbs/Samuel (played more zone in NE, J.Hanson and Macho Harris (slower CBs)).

I really can't wait for Training Camp to start...

48 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

hmm - that's really interesting about adding 3-4 looks because all three of the DE's they drafted are well suited to play in the pros the role of 3-4 rushing LB just about as much as they are suited to play DE. I think Neshim and Ricky Sapp are already seeing the field in the SAM role a bit in the mini-camps - maybe that's a just a prelude to the 3-4 looks...

51 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Here's a thought about the 3-4 thing; apart from the Patriots, can you think of a single team that has messed about with playing a bit of 3-4 with any success at all?

53 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Hey, I'm not saying I'm excited for it. It at least makes drafting three undersized, pass rush specialist DE's make a little bit of sense.

65 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Come one chemical, don't get into that "undersized DEs" thing too !

I'm sorry, but Graham and Te'O are both 6'2/6'3 and 265+ pounds, I would hardly call that undersized. Juqua Parker is 255 pounds, and T.Cole 265 pounds. If anything, with those additions, and the Tapp acquisition, they've become bigger on the DL.

Now, if you were talking about LBs, we would agree. Sean McDermott apparently want a lot of "fastballs" on the field (Ernie Sims/Keenan Clayton/J.Chaney/M.Fokou are all on the small side but some of the fastest LBs the Eagles ever had), probably because he wants to improve on covering the TEs and the middle of the field, where every good QB ripped the J.Johnson defense apart the previous years.

71 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Man, you're not kidding with the LB "fastballs" - when the Eagles got Sims I didn't realize that he was TINY.

But, you got me: I've just been going by the fact that the Eagles DE's are much smaller than Strahan and Tuck, which is who they always seem to be compared to.

58 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

The Cards were running a 4-3 under scheme with Okeafor in the 'predator' role, it was a bit like a 3-4 but it was also their base defense, not a 3-4 wrinkle from a team that runs a base 4-3.

63 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

The Orange Crush defenses in Denver in the late '70s, from what I understand, used every kind of front there was: 4-3, 3-4, 4-4, 5-2, etc.

67 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

The Ravens had a year where they were technically a base 4-3 but ran some 3-4 and even 46 concepts under Rex Ryan. I believe it was Trevor Pryce's first season there. They then transitioned pretty much entirely to a 3-4.

10 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

I think the case that the Giants need OT depth is a little bit strained. They have 3 OTs who they like-- Diehl, McKenzie, and Beatty-- and Whimper, based on preseason performances, wouldn't be an absolutely awful injury fill-in. That's probably more than what most teams have at the position. If McKenzie falters, they'll play Diehl and Beatty at the tackle spots (which is what they did down the stretch last season, and Beatty looked pretty good when playing against DEs not named "Julius Peppers"). If McK comes back healthy, it'll be an open competition, with the best two players getting to start. If they really want to push Seubert to the bench (he didn't play well last year, but at least part of that is owing to an unreported shoulder injury that had him wearing a conspicuous brace for most of the season), I think that 5th-rounder Mitch Petrus is more likely to be the guy to take his place than Diehl is. Diehl isn't a top OT, but he's at least serviceable, and he's more valuable there than he is at G. Plus, Petrus fits what the Giants like in their LGs to a tee-- not great in the power category, but quick footed and fantastic when pulling. (He used to play FB.)

If you want to target OL depth problems on the Giants, look at their Center position. Shawn O'Hara is the oldest of their starting linemen, and they don't have another true C on the roster. If O'Hara misses time, LG Rich Seubert is probably the next guy on the depth chart at the position, and he has never been a starting C before. (Even in preseason games, they usually give him a rest and make whichever scrub plays C with the 3rd team pull double-duty.)

But Linebacker is still the position to worry about on this team. They don't lack for numbers or "potential," but if you're looking for proven productivity, Michael Boley at WLB is the only name you'll recognize. (Perhaps Chase Blackburn, a capable fill-in who embodies every stereotype that comes to mind when you hear the words "white backup linebacker.") Clint Sintim is being handed the SLB spot after a not-particularly-distinguished rookie campaign-- he only passed Danny "Slow-Mo" Clark on the depth chart when the defense reached the "we're giving up, so we might as well get a look at the young guys" phase of the season. The other SLBs on the roster are pure backups, not competition: Zak DeOssie (good longsnapper; bust at LB) and William & Mary (Woohoo!) rookie Adrian Tracy. (Blackburn could probably play there in a pinch, too.) In the middle, it's a muddle of Dillard, Jon Goff (who, similar to Sintim, couldn't pass Blackburn until the aforementioned "we're giving up" roster changes), Blackburn, and the athletic-but-eternally-injured Gerris Wilkinson.

Now, if you have to pick a position to be relatively weak in a 4-3 defense, you'd pick linebacker. And it seems like there are enough young guys with potential that one or two of them at least should emerge to provide competent play. But I'm still nervous.

30 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Yeah, I look at the Giants and think "who's going to play LB for them?" It was a problem unit for them last year (at times, a huge problem) and they don't seem to have made many moves to correct it.

I also think their OL is going to rebound a bit - they weren't killed by the injury bug or anything, but it felt like they were the same elite unit from previous years, just down a little because of injuries and maybe not enough depth...

11 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

I wouldn't call Addai an underachiever. The Colts line isn't built for runblocking, and he's been nicked up. He had a decent season last year, and he's great once he gets into space.

12 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Quick digression from NFC East:

"early Football Outsiders research suggested it was a good idea to target SEC tailbacks in the back end of the draft, the recent glut of underachievers pumped out of Baton Rouge (Joseph Addai, LaBrandon Toefield) takes a bit of shine off the theory."

#1 Addai was a first rounder, so I'm not sure he qualifies as "back end of the draft", and

#2 Even if he did, you're talking about someone who was 300+ rushing and receiving DYAR his first 2 seasons and has had positive DVOA every year he's been healthy. It's not like you're talking about Laurence Maroney here.

20 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

And Maroney was lining up behind Brady.

Sure, having an effective passing game helps the run (and having a QB like Manning with the freedom/knowledge to audible to a run at opportune times helps more), but does having Manning as a teammate make Addai's success disappointing? Would he need to put up Marshal Faulk-esque numbers to have met his potential?

24 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

The Pats passing game only really reached 'OMFG keep the safeties deep at all costs' status after Moss's arival and the Pats running game ranked no 1 that year.

I wouldn't expect him to have been Marshall Faulk, I'd say Robert Smith would be a better aim.

16 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

A quick look, courtesy of at the RBs from the SEC from the last 10 years, drafted in rounds 4-7. These are admittedly arbitrary years/rounds, but ought to be good enough.

2010 5 John Conner Jets Kentucky
2010 6 Anthony Dixon 49ers Mississippi State
2010 6 Trindon Holliday Texans Louisiana State
2010 6 Charles Scott Eagles Louisiana State
2009 5 Quinn Johnson Packers Louisiana State
2008 6 Thomas Brown Falcons Georgia
2008 7 Peyton Hillis Broncos Arkansas
2008 7 Cory Boyd Buccaneers South Carolina
2007 4 Le'Ron McClain Ravens Alabama
2007 7 DeShawn Wynn Packers Florida
2007 7 Kenneth Darby Buccaneers Alabama
2005 4 Ciatrick Fason Vikings Florida
2005 6 Cedric Houston Jets Tennessee
2005 7 Rick Razzano Buccaneers Mississippi
2004 4 Mewelde Moore Vikings Tulane
2004 4 Cedric Cobbs Patriots Arkansas
2004 6 Troy Fleming Titans Tennessee
2004 7 Bruce Perry Eagles Maryland
2003 4 Artose Pinner Lions Kentucky
2003 4 Domanick Davis Texans Louisiana State
2003 4 Justin Griffith Falcons Mississippi State
2003 4 LaBrandon Toefield Jaguars Louisiana State
2003 7 Andrew Pinnock Chargers South Carolina
2003 7 Ahmaad Galloway Broncos Alabama
2003 7 J.T. Wall Steelers Georgia
2002 4 Travis Stephens Buccaneers Tennessee
2002 5 Verron Haynes Steelers Georgia
2001 4 Rudi Johnson Bengals Auburn

The late rounds provided a surpring number of productive players mixed in with the expected busts in years 2001-2006. The last 5 years sees a significant dropoff.

Maybe 2001-2006 was a statistical blip and 2007-present is the norm? Maybe the reverse?

But I do remember reading the observation a few years back that SEC tailbacks had been remarkably productive, yet it's also fair to say that in recent years the trend has not continued.

31 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

While M. Moore has had a reasonably productive career, I don't think Tulane is in the SEC. I also think the early half of the decade may be, as you ask, a statistical blip as I don't believe any late picks can consistantly trend to be remarkably productive.

46 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

My bad. I went through very quickly, and missed a couple. There are probably a couple backs who should be on the list and aren't, too. This was a very quick and dirty look.

15 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

The Sean Lee pick was annoyingly good for the Cowboys. They've been looking for a MIKE with cover skills to be Phillips' new Donnie Edwards for a couple of years now, he's a very good fit. (Hate Dallas)

Are the Cowboys favourites for this division? Their biggest weakness is LT and Romo can cover for that with his ability to elude pass rushers.

21 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

I think Free is actually promising as a pass-blocking LT, he's got great feet. His challenge will likely come in run-blocking, but not in protecting Romo.

The bigger hole on the OL might be RT, and possibly RG if Bigg Davis continues to decline. Colombo looked AWFUL in that Vikings playoff game last year-- Ray Edwards ate him alive-- and even if some of that was rust coming back from an injury, he is clearly on the wrong side of his peak. Alex Barron gives you a little bit more comfort as a decent backup option, but you don't want him starting for any significant stretch of time, and second year backup Robert Brewster is an unknown quantity.

Depth across the OL is the big concern, but I actually feel best about the LT spot out of all 5, taking into account the starter and the backups behind him at each position.

23 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

I'm a Dallas fan and I absolutely agree about Sean Lee. For as much attention as the FS position has gotten, I'd love to see both ILB positions upgraded. If Jason Williams (3rd round, 2009) develops, I think the starting ILB spots could be at the top of the league in 3-4 defenses.

25 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

I don't quite agree, I rate Bradie James as a TED, I reckon he's one of the better players in the league in that rather unglamourous role.

49 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

I think there's no favorite for the division - all bets are off in the NFC East this year. For example, if Kolb ends up being the player they think he is (and an upgrade over McNabb who struggled a ridiculous amount late in the season) and the defense has more luck with health issues, then the Eagles will be better this year - and that's coming off of an 11-5 season in which DVOA already thought they were pretty darn good.

But then there's no denying the Cowboys whomped them last year and the Cowboys have made all the right moves in the off-season, so there's no reason to think they won't have the inside track. Dez Bryant, Witten, Austin, Romo and that backfield just looks killer on paper, even if their defense struggles or under-performs.

However, the Giants were an elite team before last year's defensive collapse - it's not unreasonable to think they could rebound or play the significant spoiler. If the d coordinator really was the problem in the collapse and the o-line is healthier and Jacobs returns to form and the young WR's improve, then that's a dangerous team - one that already gave the Cowboys and Eagles a run for their money at times last year.

And finally, can anyone discount the Shanahan/McNabb combo in Washington? Those guys have too significant of records of success for them to be ruled out of putting together a competitive team. It's unlikely, but would anyone rule out them going 9-7 (or, ahem, 9-6-1 - which was good enough to win the division 2 years ago) or taking down one of their NFC East rivals in a key game late in the season?

50 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

I agree with most of your analysis, I suggested the Cowboys as a favourite but I was really interested in seeing what other people thought. It is the most competitive division in the NFL. However, it might be tough to get a wild card team out of this incestous little bunch because they'll be beating each other too much. If you assume that the Falcons and the Saints will have an easier run because of the weakness of the Panthers and the Buccaneers that leaves only one wild card spot for the rest of the NFC.

The key for the Giants will be whether or not their passing game can beat teams who play eight men in the box against them, which, as you point out, will depend on the progresssion of the youngsters at receiver. Jacobs, like most power runners is lethal is he can hit the hole with a head of steam, if you can make him cut before that then he is significantly worse and the best method of neutralising him is to play a penetrating eight man front.

52 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

"And finally, can anyone discount the Shanahan/McNabb combo in Washington? "

I can. Just because they have a QB doesn't mean that they have the other 52 roster spots. It's still the same old Redskins, and sadly for Donovan, he is just the latest shiny bauble for Danny-boy to collect. To be fair, he's not past his prime like most of Snyders toys are.

The Redskins were quite possibly the worst 4-12 team in league history last year, and I'd suggeset they were the single worst team in the NFL. They're not going to turn it around with a patch and ducktape job.

54 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

That's just a ridiculous statement. Washington was 21st in DVOA - there's just no way they were the worst team in the NFL last year (did you see the Rams play, at all? not even a whole game, just five minutes?) and the claim that they wre the worst 4-12 team of all time ludicrous. They were far closer to be the BEST 4-12 team of all time than the worst.

I'll tell you, the games I saw, they looked like a team that had plenty of pieces in place and lacked coherent leadership (not all Zorn's fault, but there's no denying anything he might have been trying to do was constantly undercut by the management.) Plus, no position has the ability to lead a team to more wins than QB. At this point in his career, McNabb is a home run hitter with nothing else in his repertoire, but the man can still hit home runs, especially against suspect defenses. You don't think McNabb to Moss is going to lead to some big plays? Certainly, way, way, way more big plays than Campbell ever put up?

And I'd be willing to bet that Shanahan commits to the run more than Reid (that's a line Vegas wouldn't even put up), thus relieving the pressure on McNabb to come out on produce on 40 or 50 dropbacks a game. It seems like the best possible match of coach and QB - a smart QB with a limited skill set that complements the kind of game plan a coach wants to run (it's like the exact opposite of the Reid/McNabb situation.) McNabb just needs to hit the deep ball and use Chris Cooley - if he just goes 15 out of 28 for 220 yards on a consistent basis (and Washington's run game in any way pans out a la vintage Shanahan) then Washington's offense is going to win them some games...

56 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

The Rams, yes. I live in St. Louis.

As for the Redskins? Come on. You can call it rediculous if you want, but I stand by it. When DVOA doesn't match what happened on the field, then I'll trust my eyes over the numbers. And the Redskins were AWFUL. Significantly worse than the Rams. The 4 games they did manage to win were against opponents who were a combined 16-48. They barely beat the Rams in week 2, and that was before their annual lack-of-depth issues had time to be exposed.

Yes, McNabb is an upgrade. Not all that much of one - Campbell wasn't THAT bad, but an upgrade nonetheless.

But let’s look at the rest of the team. The defense has no depth whatsoever. When the inevitable injuries hit, their performance will take its annual second half plunge.

The offense features the 2006 all star team at RB, and the 2008 draft bust team at WR. Their OL is in shambles and they’re counting on one rookie to come in and magically make it all better – despite the fact that they had trouble at all 5 line positions last year.

Cooley is the only weapon McNabb has. He just might find himself pining for the good old days of Torrance Small and Charles Johnson – that is, if he can stay upright long enough.

Even if Shanahan somehow “coaches ‘em up” a bit, and even if the wheels fell off all 3 other teams in the division, it would still be a minor miracle for this crew to somehow go 9-7. Realistically, 5-11 sounds about right, and even that might be giving Shanahan more credit than he deserves. I don’t envy him. He’s stuck trying to make chicken salad from chicken sh!t, and all the while, the most meddlesome owner in football is looking over his shoulder.

Shanahan might want to commit to the run, but behind what line? With what backs?

Sure, I could go into more depth, but why? It’s the same story we’ve heard every year for the past decade. No team makes more noise in the offseason. No team gives you more puffery and no team raises fans expectations to more unrealistic levels. They’re the Kings Of Spring. Then the games start and it’s the same old Skins.

57 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

They added Dockery and Pashos to the offensive line, not great but better than the guys they had last year. I think people are being too harsh on the Redskins' running backs, Portis will probably rebound with the slightly improved line and Shanahan's scheme (compared to Zorn's). They could get to 7ish wins and play the spoiler role.

If Kolb experiences growing pains in his first year as a starter, then the division looks like it should go to Dallas (boooo!)

60 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

I think Kolb with growing pains will be more or less equal to McNabb sputtering in a role on the team that he was no longer fit to play (the role of the QB who drops back 50 times a game and consistently completes passes between 5 and 12 yards.)

Additionally, there's almost no way the Eagles couldn't have better luck with defensive and o-line injuries. Similarly, I just don't think you can rule out the Giants, who have a QB and a running game that will keep them competitive...

59 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Look, that Washington team last year would've gone 8-8 in the AFC or NFC West. In terms of sheer ineptitude and badness, last year they just weren't on the level of KC (I mean, look at what the Eagles did to KC vs. what they did to Washington) or Detroit or The Seahawks. Or Tampa Bay. Or Cleveland.

Hey, as an Eagles fan, I hope you're right... but I have a bad feeling that all four teams this year are going to be contending. The Redskins are a weak team in a tough division - their record could have easily been bumped to 6-10 or 7-9 LAST YEAR if they played against any patsies in their division. Shanahan is a great coach. McNabb is a great QB (on the downside of his career.) Their defense ranked #10 in DVOA. Teams have made it to 9-7 or 10-6 with fewer pieces in place.

64 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Their defense ranked #10 in DVOA. Teams have made it to 9-7 or 10-6 with fewer pieces in place.

I am VERY skeptical that the Redskins' defense will be able to repeat its 2009 performance. Switching over to a 3-4 is a big deal even if the players you have are a good fit for it, which isn't the case with the Redskins. Andre Carter has already proven to be a much better 4-3 DE than 3-4 OLB. London Fletcher is great when he's playing behind a couple of massive DTs who can eat blocks and let him use his speed, but I don't know that he has the size to consistently take on fullbacks and pulling guards head-to-head the way a 3-4 ILB needs to. Albert Haynesworth's issues with playing NT are well-documented. Plus, all three of them are older players. I fully expect that defense to take a major step back this year.

70 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Eh... you convinced me. But I do think people are sleeping on both Shanahan and McNabb, those guys have a track record of success that can't be ignored...

22 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Right now the only backup is the unfortunately named Guy Whimper

Ahem. I think you mean the awesomely named Guy Whimper.

37 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

I was hoping you'd mention Terrell Hudgins, the undrafted WR that the Cowboys picked up. I don't really know much about him beyond his college numbers, but those are astoundingly good. He basically broke most of Jerry Rice's I-AA receiving records.

So what's the deal? Does Elon have some crazy system that allowed him to put up video game numbers year after year?