NFC East projected starters: Eagles built to contend; Cowboys’ depth in decline
With the 2022 NFL Draft and most of free agency in the rearview, Gregg Rosenthal will project starting lineups for all 32 teams because that’s his idea of fun.
Check out the NFC East breakdowns below.
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- The Cowboys should rotate four receivers, just like a year ago. Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson will likely be replaced by rookie Jalen Tolbert and free-agent addition James Washington. Michael Gallup will start when he’s ready to return from his torn ACL.
- The receiver position is typical of the Cowboys as a whole. There’s a splashy name at the top and it’s good overall, but no longer special. The roster depth is not what it was when Mike McCarthy first arrived in 2020.
- That’s true on the offensive line, too, where first-round pick Tyler Smith should slide in at left guard rather than challenge Terence Steele at right tackle. Tyron Smith and Zack Martin remain elite, although the former has struggled lately to stay on the field.
- The Cowboys haven’t been developing offensive linemen as well as they did in the past. That’s a concern with Tyler Smith, who is raw and drew a lot of penalties in college. He’ll likely battle Connor McGovern for a starting LG job.
- Ezekiel Elliott doubled up Tony Pollard’s snaps last year. Perhaps that will change this season with the team needing more receiving threats. This is probably Zeke’s last year in Dallas.
- The Cowboys shouldn’t miss Randy Gregory that much because his seven-year run in Dallas essentially came down to two great stretches of play under 300 snaps. He was unavailable or playing hurt otherwise. Second-round pick Sam Williams will help the pass rush, and the team took a flier on Dante Fowler Jr.
- The defense might go as its young defensive tackles go. The combination of Neville Gallimore and Osa Odighizuwa could be special, especially with protection always sliding to DeMarcus Lawrence and Micah Parsons.
- Parsons’ ability to play off-ball linebacker well and edge rusher at an elite level is even more rare than you might think. There’s never been a player quite like him. It’s up to Dan Quinn to continue maximizing his versatility and not lose his value as a pass rusher.
- The secondary might have too much continuity; the Cowboys needed to shake it up more. Kelvin Joseph, a 2021 second-round pick, is no lock to start, even setting aside the police investigation of a fatal shooting to which he is possibly connected. In addition, 2021 third-round pick Nahshon Wright could be fighting for a roster spot.
- Leighton Vander Esch is back on a low-cost, one-year deal, but second-year pro Jabril Cox offers more athleticism. Either way, the Cowboys have nice flexibility at the position.
- No team handles success worse than the Cowboys, even when the success is a crushing Super Wild Card Weekend loss. There’s no question this depth chart isn’t as good as it was a year ago. Will the coaching be better?
- The Giants might have declined Daniel Jones’ fifth-year option, but at least they are giving him help. I project four new starters on the offensive line, including behemoth Evan Neal.
- The rookies will get the attention on the offensive line, but veteran pickups Jon Feliciano and Mark Glowinski should also add a dose of professionalism to a unit that needs it.
- It’s crazy that the offensive line could actually be one of the better position groups on the team now, but new general manager Joe Schoen couldn’t fix nearly everything in one offseason.
- I listed four wideouts, including Wan’Dale Robinson, because I believe the second-round pick will wind up with more snaps than any tight end, especially if the Giants don’t add to the position. Ricky Seals-Jones is currently the leader in the clubhouse at TE.
- Brian Daboll was hired to spread the field and get creative. He certainly has a unique set of receivers, although three of them are probably better in the slot than they are outside: Kadarius Toney, Sterling Shepard and Robinson. The Giants will be more interesting to watch, if nothing else.
- Teams should kick the tires to see if Toney is available during training camp. Few NFL players move the way he does; he flashed major potential as a rookie.
- The Giants’ decision to release James Bradberry was the type of move a small-market team makes. They had to let go of their best cornerback without having any solutions on the roster. Big Blue’s rank in cash spending over the last four years, according to Spotrac: 32nd, 13th, 28th and 23rd.
- New York has to add a veteran outside corner or two to compete with Aaron Robinson. Cordale Flott is a third-round pick who should compete in the slot with Darnay Holmes. The team isn’t much better at safety after Xavier McKinney.
- Defensive coordinator Don Martindale comes from Baltimore. If he employs a similar defense to the Ravens’, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari will be listed as outside linebackers. The designation doesn’t matter much; they are pass rushers.
- Maybe it’s just the Bills dust in the air, but I’m more hopeful about this Giants rebuild than any other since Tom Coughlin first showed up. It’s just going to take some time.
- A year ago at this time, the Eagles had no proven answers at wide receiver. Now they have an established star in A.J. Brown, a rising star in DeVonta Smith and a promising third-year option in Quez Watkins. I love the depth here with free-agent pickup Zach Pascal, a perfect fourth receiver who can step into any role.
- Yes, it’s weird that 2020 first-round pick Jalen Reagor is not as good a player as Watkins, a 2020 sixth-round pick. But the Eagles deserve credit for continuing to address the position after some big swings and misses. Reagor feels more likely to be a game-day inactive than an attractive trade candidate. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is moving from receiver to tight end and looks like a roster longshot.
- The offensive line depth is among the best in the league. Second-round pick Cam Jurgens could wind up starting at guard in addition to backing up Jason Kelce. Andre Dillard, a first-round pick in 2019, was a capable fill-in at left tackle last year.
- Dillard could be a trade option in camp if there’s a player-for-player fit, but there’s nothing wrong with outstanding depth for a team that’s had injury-plagued years of late.
- The Eagles are not one of those teams building back to front. Their defensive line goes eight deep in quality, just like when they won the Super Bowl.
- Haason Reddick might be listed as a linebacker by the Eagles and will certainly play a strong-side role on some downs. But he’s ultimately an edge rusher and could lead the team in hurries.
- Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett are still on the roster and will make an impact. The top four edge rushers figure to rotate plenty.
- Is there a defense in the league with more backups you’ve heard of? On top of the edge rushers above, the Eagles have NFL Scouting Combine hero Jordan Davis and last year’s excellent third-round pick, Milton Williams, as backups at defensive tackle.
- It’s hard to imagine scrappy middle linebacker T.J. Edwards beating out Nakobe Dean if the third-round pick is healthy. The Eagles were long known for poor linebacker play. After the addition of underrated weakside option Kyzir White from the Chargers, it now looks like a position of strength.
- Avonte Maddox is listed as the second cornerback — even though he plays in the slot — because his role is locked in. The second outside corner position is wide open. Look for a veteran addition to compete with some of the 2021 later-round picks like Zech McPhearson.
- This roster isn’t perfect, especially in the secondary. But there aren’t that many better teams in the NFC, an impressive feat for Howie Roseman’s retooling efforts. Also, the Eagles possess the Saints’ 2023 first-round pick and 2024 second-rounder.
- Jalen Hurts took a huge step last year to become a league-average starter. He only needs to maintain those gains for the team to be a playoff contender. If he takes another step forward, the Eagles could make serious noise.
- There isn’t a quarterback battle, even for the backup spot. However, if fifth-round pick Sam Howell flashes in the preseason, he could wind up getting a look over Taylor Heinicke late in the season should Washington fall out of playoff contention.
- Washington’s decision to bring back J.D. McKissic and draft Brian Robinson is a sign the team isn’t counting on more touches from Antonio Gibson.
- Ron Rivera didn’t select Jahan Dotson No. 16 overall to sit him. Dotson should play inside and out wide. Cam Sims and Dyami Brown provide intriguing depth if Curtis Samuel can’t stay healthy.
- Logan Thomas is coming off a December ACL tear, so it won’t be a surprise if the team signs a veteran tight end.
- I was not a fan of the Carson Wentz trade, but he’s surrounded by better talent in Washington than he was with the Colts. That includes the offensive line. It doesn’t have spicy names on paper, but it graded well by most any metric last year and should cope with the loss of Brandon Scherff well enough. This was a good group despite suffering a lot of injuries in 2021, a sign of strong coaching.
- The starting Washington defensive line remains intact and formidable, although depth used to be part of its charm. That’s no longer the case, so I’d expect a veteran addition or two.
- It appears Rivera is counting on a Year 2 leap from 2021 first-round pick Jamin Davis.
- After Rivera’s first season in Washington, it looked like defense was going to be the team’s identity. Now I’m not seeing it. The defensive roster is probably worse on balance than it was when Rivera arrived, with questions at linebacker and in the secondary.
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