Four Downs
Offseason analysis of the NFL, division by division

Four Downs: NFC East

Four Downs: NFC East
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Bryan Knowles

Dallas Cowboys

Biggest Need: Safety

The weak link on Dallas' defense last season was the secondary, especially at safety. Jeff Heath allowed the second-most broken tackles a year ago and isn't much better at coverage. The Cowboys added George Iloka on a one-year deal, but he's a stopgap solution at best. They missed out on long-rumored crush Earl Thomas, as well as Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu, and the rest of a robust free-agent market.

It seemed like a near-guarantee Dallas would use a draft pick in this deep safety class to improve the position, either adding a thumper in the box to replace Heath, or a safety with range to allow Xavier Woods to play closer to the line. The Cowboys did add Texas A&M's Donovan Wilson late in the sixth round, but he's more likely a special-teams prospect at best, and isn't guaranteed to even make the 53-man roster. They seemed to actively avoid the position for much of the draft; top prospects Nasir Adderley, Taylor Rapp, and Juan Thornhill all came off the board within five slots of Dallas' first pick, defensive tackle Trysten Hill. Dallas will be counting on Woods' continued development and hoping either Heath or Iloka perform better than they did in 2018 as they try to defend their NFC East title.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: You can easily tell which players teams value the highest in undrafted free agency by following the money. The Cowboys gave Kentucky cornerback Chris Westry $100,000 in guarantees, which would have been the second-highest number given to any UDFA last season (this year's numbers aren't fully in yet). Westry is raw, not even starting as a senior, but his measurables are off the charts: 6-foot-4, 34-inch arms, a 4.31-second 40 and a 38-inch vertical leap. Teach him to play football, and the Cowboys could have something here. The Cowboys also found a pair of quality linemen -- Mitch Hyatt, a four-year starter at left tackle for Clemson, and right tackle Brandon Knight from Indiana. Both will likely have to move inside in the big leagues, but could end up fitting well as a reserve linemen in Dallas' zone-blocking scheme. The Cowboys also added a very familiar name for Dallas fans -- guard Larry Allen Jr. out of Harvard, who looks to follow in his Hall of Fame father's footsteps.

New York Giants

Biggest Need: Right tackle

The Giants finally made a move to replace Eli Manning, taking Daniel Jones with the sixth pick of the draft. Dave Gettleman's choice was widely criticized by many pundits, but let's assume, for the moment, that New York's scouting correctly identified Jones as a better prospect than Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock, and the rest of the available 2019 class. Their next goal has to be keeping Jones upright.

The Giants ranked 20th in adjusted sack rate a season ago, as well as 29th in adjusted line yards -- they could neither protect the quarterback nor open holes for Saquon Barkley. The addition of Kevin Zeitler should help shore up the interior of the line, but right tackle Chad Wheeler was a liability in every aspect of the game. New York did add Kentucky's George Asafo-Adjei in the seventh round, but he's nowhere near ready to be a Day 1 starter. Jones will have to keep his head on a swivel when he enters the Giants' lineup.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: Josiah Tauaefa might be the second-best player in Texas-San Antonio football history, which sounds really impressive until you realize their program started in 2011. Still, the linebacker is one of those smart, high-motor types who can often carve out lengthy careers on coverage units, with a ceiling of being a rotational defender against the run. The Giants also added James O'Hagan, a four-year starter at center at Buffalo. He was excellent at protecting the passer, albeit against mid-major competition. They also added Monmouth wideout Reggie White Jr., son of ex NFL-player Reggie White ... that is, former Chargers and Patriots nose tackle Reggie White, not the Eagles/Packers/Panthers legend. White holds the Monmouth record for receptions with 249, beating out notable names like Miles Austin and Chris Hogan.

Philadelphia Eagles

Biggest Need: Guard

The Eagles used their top pick on an offensive lineman, Washington State's Andre Dillard. Dillard was a great value pick at No. 22 and projects as a potential replacement for Jason Peters, but he's unlikely to help much in 2019. Between Peters and Lane Johnson, the Eagles are set at tackle for the short-term future; instead, it's the interior of the line that has question marks.

The Eagles let Stefen Wisniewski leave in free agency while Brandon Brooks is still recovering from an Achilles injury, leaving the Eagles very thin at guard. Isaac Seumalo would be better suited as a versatile backup rather than the everyday starter at left guard, and Matt Pryor has never played in a regular season game. If Brooks isn't ready to go by the start of the year, and if Seumalo's struggles from early last season rear their heads again, Philadelphia will find themselves regretting not adding more talent to the interior line during the draft.

(Note: Wisniewski just re-signed this morning, right before we published this article, so the depth is a little less thin now.)

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: The Eagles' depth issues on the offensive line mean that several of their UDFAs have a great shot of making the 53-man roster. Stanford guard Nate Herberg was a 2017 first-team All-Pac-12 pick, though injuries derailed his 2018 campaign. Had he been draft-eligible a year ago, he almost certainly would have gone somewhere on Day 3, but coming out early in 2018 backfired. If he's healthy, he could eventually be a starting guard. Penn State tackle Ryan Bates also joins Philadelphia; he'll likely move to the inside in the NFL, but his experience at tackle makes him a more versatile prospect than your standard backup. Their biggest get, however, might be Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Edwards, a very technically sound tackler with incredible production numbers as a four-year starter. Not splashy, but very solid and consistent.

Washington Redskins

Biggest Need: Safety

Washington did a tremendous job of fitting picks to their top needs. Dwayne Haskins fell into their lap at pick 15, and they managed to add talent at wideout and the interior offensive line before the fourth round was over. They even found room to add the falling Montez Sweat to boost their pass rush. Still, with as many needs as Washington had, they couldn't cover everything.

Adding Landon Collins was a huge boost for Washington's secondary, more than filling the hole left by the cut D.J. Swearinger. The problem is, Washington needed two new starting safeties, as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix left in free agency. The current penciled-in starter would likely be Montae Nicholson, who was benched early in the year for poor play, and suspended late in the year for assault and battery. There aren't a lot of options behind him; Deshazor Everett and Troy Apke are better suited for depth roles. Washington will likely be stuck hoping Nicholson can return to the form he flashed as a rookie in 2017 and can stay out of trouble off the field.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: Tackle Chidi Okeke transferred from LSU to Tennessee State to find more playing time, and ended up as the All-Ohio Valley Conference first-team tackle in his final season in Nashville. Okeke was born in Nigeria and had just two years of high school football before entering college, so he's still a raw, developmental-type project, but he's a plus athlete -- he was expected to play basketball in the U.S. before switching to football. Washington also added Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year B.J. Blunt, the productive linebacker from tiny McNeese State. Blunt weighed in at just 203 pounds at the East-West Shrine Game, so a move to safety may be in his future. The Redskins also picked up JoJo McIntosh from Washington, a hard-hitting (if soft-covering) box safety, as well as Oregon's blocking tight end Kano Dillon.

Portions of this article originally appeared at ESPN+.


2 comments, Last at 17 May 2019, 11:32pm

1 Re: Four Downs: NFC East

Certainly a timing issue with the article, but the Giants signed Remmers to fill that hole.