Four Downs
Offseason analysis of the NFL, division by division

Four Downs: NFC East

Washington TE Vernon Davis
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

For this May round of Four Downs, we will be looking at each team's biggest remaining need as well as notable undrafted free agents who will be going to camp with each franchise.

Dallas Cowboys

Biggest Need: Tight end

The Cowboys didn't overtly address their impending need at safety (starters Xavier Woods and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will both be free agents in 2021) in the draft, but fourth-round cornerback Reggie Robinson II has played safety and has a physical style that fits that position if they need him as depth. They don't have a similar contingency plan at tight end, and with Jason Witten now on the Raiders, their need there is more immediate.

Incumbents Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz have promise. Jarwin, in particular, was one of the most efficient receivers at the position in 2018 and 2019, producing 24.0% and 12.1% DVOA, respectively. But that efficiency could be difficult to replicate on more than his 77 targets over the last two seasons and against defenses prepared for him as the Cowboys' top option at the position. And neither Jarwin nor Schultz had the standout traits or production to be Day 1 or Day 2 draft picks, which would have lent optimism for their potential late breakouts.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: The Cowboys added a pair of developmental UDFA tight ends who couldn't be more different. Sean McKeon was highly recruited with ideal size at 6-foot-5 and 242 pounds, but he never became a featured part of Michigan's passing offense. In contrast, Charlie Taumoepeau landed at an FCS school in Portland State in part because of his lack of size -- he's 6-foot-2 -- but he put up big numbers there including 1,876 career receiving yards. Despite their differences, both McKeon and Taumoepeau could have futures with their new NFL team, especially if Taumoepeau transitions to an H-back role that better suits his size. The Cowboys were one of the just 12 teams that gave a fullback 100 or more snaps in 2019. Beyond tight end, Rhode Island wide receiver Aaron Parker has a better chance of making a short-term impact with the team. His 6-foot-2 frame is more palatable at his position, which he proved by leading the Rams in receiving yards all four years he played for them.

New York Giants

Biggest Need: Wide receiver

If his 9.6% DVOA in his rookie season is any indication, 2019 fifth-rounder Darius Slayton was a winning lottery ticket. Still, Slayton may remain specialized as a field-stretcher, and even if he doesn't, the Giants need more help at wide receiver. Golden Tate will be 32 this September and has been inefficient the last two seasons with below-average DVOA rates. An expensive contract may make him a cut candidate after the 2020 season. Sterling Shepard has been more effective and is much younger, but he also has a history of migraines and suffered two concussions within a month of one another in 2019. It's difficult to trust that he can be a part of the next Giants contender, which could still be another year or two away in their current rebuild. Odell Beckhams don't grow on trees, but a capable backup or two would help the Giants avoid a dilemma like they faced in 2017 when a Beckham injury left them to rely on the likes of Roger Lewis, Tavarres King, and Travis Rudolph. A similar situation in 2020 could derail Daniel Jones' development.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: Perhaps inspired by their success with Slayton, the Giants signed a quartet of UDFA receivers with obvious, specific skills. Derrick Dillon ran a 4.29-second 40-yard dash in a personal pro day after the official LSU one was cancelled. Binjimen Victor is 6-foot-4 and very athletic. Austin Mack is versatile and a strong route-runner. And Rysen John is 6-foot-7 and working to add weight to transition to tight end. Perhaps one of those four players can crack the team's receiver rotation. Javon Leake may not do the same at his college position of running back, but he was a tremendous kick returner at Maryland and could earn that role immediately with a team likely motivated to shift more of Slayton's snaps from special teams to offense.

Philadelphia Eagles

Biggest Need: Linebacker

Quarterback Jalen Hurts opens the door for some creative offensive play calling, but with Carson Wentz on the roster, the Eagles' selection of Hurts tends toward luxury. The team will likely feel the effects of that indulgence the most at linebacker in 2020. They addressed the position with their very next pick in the third round, but in between, second-tier linebackers Zack Baun and Logan Wilson -- who could be immediate every-down players -- went off the board. The Eagles' subsequent pick, Davion Taylor, has the athleticism to become a three-down player in time, but he is inexperienced -- he did not play football before he turned 18 and played just two years in the FBS at Colorado. Presumed starters Nathan Gerry and T.J. Edwards have just 19 starts between them, the lion's share by Gerry in 2019 when, according to Sports Info Solutions, he missed an alarming 29% of his attempted tackles, the highest rate among linebackers with 50 or more attempted tackles. Should either Gerry or Edwards falter, Taylor likely will not be ready to replace them in his rookie season.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: The Eagles' investments in Darren Sproles, Boston Scott, and now Jalen Hurts in the second round demonstrate their willingness to get creative with players who do not match the modern NFL mold for their positions. They continued that trend with their UDFA signings. Khalil Tate was a college quarterback who showcased his athleticism with 2,285 rushing yards at Arizona. He'll try to transition to receiver for his professional team. Adrian Killins follows the Sproles-Scott lineage at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds with tremendous speed. He didn't have a chance to run at the combine or a pro day, but Killins has reportedly run the 40-yard dash in an astonishing 4.26 seconds. Defensive tackle Raequan Williams and linebacker Dante Olson are not as radical fits at their positions, but they both produced better in college than their measurements would suggest. Olson averaged more than 13 combined tackles per game in his final two seasons at Montana and could be the answer the Eagles need at middle linebacker if his instincts continue to counterbalance his lack of athleticism.

Washington Redskins

Biggest Need: Tight end

The Redskins suffered a precipitous fall from their perch of tight end talent with Jordan Reed losing his prime to concussions and Vernon Davis finally reaching the end of his extended prime and retiring this offseason at 36 years old. The remaining three tight ends on their roster who saw targets in 2019 -- Jeremy Sprinkle, Hale Hentges, and Logan Thomas -- all finished the year with below-average DVOA rates. None figure to be long-term solutions for a team at the start of a rebuild. The Redskins did select some playmakers in the third and fourth rounds in receivers Antonio Gibson and Antonio Gandy-Golden, but presumed first- and second-string quarterbacks Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen struggled with pressure in 2019. Their 12.5% and 8.6% respective sack rates were first- and fourth-highest among quarterbacks with 200 or more pass attempts. The Redskins would likely make their young quarterbacks' lives much easier if they could add a big tight end to target on plays where their primary reads fail to get open.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: It's difficult to believe that a son of NFL Hall of Famer Randy Moss could go undrafted, but Thaddeus Moss has been kept off the field, first in 2017 because of NCAA transfer rules, second in 2018 because of a medical redshirt, and finally at the combine because of a foot fracture. When Moss could play, he excelled with 47 catches, 570 yards, and four touchdowns for the 2019 national champion LSU Tigers. At 6-foot-2, Moss is shorter than most modern receiving tight ends, but the Redskins likely signed him because of his versatility as both a receiver and a run-blocker. Head coach Ron Rivera's decision to not draft a quarterback suggests he has confidence in Haskins and Allen. Still, they finished with the worst (-42.0%) and third-worst (-22.4%) DVOA rates among regular starters in 2019. Steven Montez never thrived statistically at Colorado, but he has the ideal size (6-foot-4 and 231 pounds) and physical traits for an NFL quarterback and less competition than one would expect for an undrafted player at the position.

Portions of this article originally appeared at ESPN+.


2 comments, Last at 22 May 2020, 11:45pm

1 DeAndre Baker

Safe to say that the Giants' biggest need is CB after the events of last week. 

Gettleman gets far too much criticism over the slightest things (like wearing a coronavirus mask on draft night, for starters) but trading two picks to move up seven slots in order to take the first of seven CBs that would go in the next 30 picks is questionable judgement at best. And this was not "at best"--Baker had huge red flags, as in missing practice in college so often somebody ended up regularly coming around to get him to make sure he showed up.

Not that anyone can predict two NFL players robbing people who know them at gunpoint. That's quite literally unbelievable.

2 Actually...

In reply to by mansteel

Giants glaring weakness is edge rusher.  GM said that they hope to get sacks as a group, but you let Markus Golden go and hope to get him back if he isn't signed somewhere else.

Clowney is still unsigned.  Why aren't the Giants going after him?

Doesn't seem like a team too enthralled with winning football.