When looking at non-quarterback rosters, factoring in play-calling is essential. Can the team work with and around its star? Can the coach and executives build around the prized passer? It’s easier for some teams than others, especially those who have playmakers littered throughout their roster. The good news for the NFC East—well, potentially good news—is a new influx of coaches may reshape this division.
The three new hires—Joe Judge with the New York Giants, Mike McCarthy with the Dallas Cowboys, and Ron Rivera with the Washington Redskins—along with Philadelphia Eagles’ Doug Pederson have to turn their teams from worst to… first? I doubt any team here will have a real chance of winning anything beyond their division; after all, this was the worst division in the NFL in terms of record. The Eagles (9-7) were the only team to have a true winning record but couldn’t reach a double-digit winning season while the Cowboys (8-8) got by and the Giants (4-12) and Redskins (3-13) struggled mightily.
When looking at each roster with the quarterback—here the best, by a mile, is the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, which isn’t saying much since the division was ranked last for passer talent by NFL.com—the NFC East rankings are very similar to how the division finished last season. Dallas and Philadelphia are at the top while New York and Washington, while having their respective stars, aren’t as deep or as proven.
Let’s take a closer look at the division without the passers.
The Cowboys have the best running back room, receiving corps, and linebackers in the NFC East. While the Eagles can take the nod for a handful of positions, the Cowboys are in the top spot because of Philadelphia’s inability to build on its own stars. Dallas, on the other hand, can have sustained success with its talent.
The Cowboys boast Ezekiel Elliott—there’s no need to say more here—and wide receivers Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and 2020 17th overall pick CeeDee Lamb. Their offensive line, with Tyron Smith and Zack Martin, remains among the best, ranking slightly below the Eagles’ after the 2019 season, according to Pro Football Focus. Their tight end room remains thin, but the Cowboys have top targets elsewhere.
On defense, Dallas has Chidobe Awuzie (defensive back), Xavier Woods (strong safety), and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (free safety) in the secondary. This group will need to make up for the loss of Byron Jones; rookie Trevon Diggs can help with that too. The Cowboys are hoping Aldon Smith can return to his old form after years out of the league; Smith last played for the Raiders in 2015, missed the entire 2016 and 2017 seasons, and was released in 2018 following an alleged domestic violence incident. He was conditionally reinstated on May 20 and joins Demarcus Lawrence as a game-changing pass-rusher in the Cowboys’ defensive front. Leighton Vander Esch could also be an X-factor. He missed the 2019 season with a neck injury and if he can return to his rookie form from 2018, he’ll make an impact in the heart of this unit that also includes Jaylon Smith.
Philadelphia can hang its hat on having the best tight end talent, offensive and defensive lines, and cornerback room. Where the Cowboys succeed is where the Eagles lack, desperately, and why they were placed just behind Dallas in these rankings.
The Eagles are one of the best teams in the trenches, which shape the rest of each offensive and defensive unit. Philadelphia added to their defensive line with former Pittsburgh Steeler Javon Hargrave. The Eagles’ running back duo of Miles Sanders and Boston Scott is in need of an RB3 after Jordan Howard landed in Miami and the receiver room is either not healthy or just not productive.
Philadelphia is hoping for production from 2020 first-round pick Jalen Reagor and 2019 second-rounder J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who is in need of a breakout sophomore season or simply a better one. There’s the obvious top pass-catching option, tight end Zach Ertz, but there isn’t much else around him. This seems to be a theme in other position groups. The Eagles improved their secondary, which now has Darius Slay, but just lost Malcolm Jenkins.
New York Giants
New York has its fair share of top-end talent but it can’t quite make all of the pieces fit, or have them healthy enough to play a full season. The Giants have been bad for far too long—they haven’t had a winning season or playoff appearance since 2016 when they finished 11-5—but there’s an expectation of better success this upcoming season.
They have made a handful of offseason moves to go along with their incumbent talent; one of the best was selecting offensive tackle Andrew Thomas with their fourth-overall pick. Golden Tate headlines their wide receivers, but Tate has been on a decline since his 2016 season with the Detroit Lions. Saquon Barkley is the star in this backfield, but couldn’t improve on his rookie season after missing a handful of games due to ankle injury.
New York added James Bradberry, who spent his previous four NFL seasons in Carolina, to its secondary. The Jabrill Peppers deal, which saw the Giants lose receiver Odell Beckham Jr., seems to be paying off for their defense. Peppers will hopefully be healthy in 2020 as he remains New York’s anchor; the Giants have liked their end of the deal and picked up the fifth-year option on Peppers' contract.
Washington has a few things working for itself, one being Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson. But the veteran didn’t receive much help from his younger counterparts. Peterson, who nearly recorded 900 yards and five touchdowns in his 13th NFL season, was the star of the backfield but Washington can’t expect to lean on him for much longer. Derrius Guice, who missed his rookie season after tearing his ACL in the first preseason game of 2018, wasn’t in top form. He played in just five games and recorded 245 yards and two touchdowns.
Washington also has Terry McLaurin as the star of the receiver room, but again he received little help last season. McLaurin nearly reached the 1,000-yard mark in 14 games.
This team also has a better defensive line and safety tandems. There’s 2020 second overall pick, Chase Young, who will be one of the most exciting rookies to watch along with their other talent, including Matt Ioannidis. Washington now has Ronald Darby, who jumped from the Eagles, to pair with Fabian Moreau—who despite only playing in 12 games, had a career-high in interceptions (three)—and Landon Collins.
Washington also has Reuben Foster, by way of San Francisco, who could be the star of its linebacker room if he can stay on track.