A total of 31 players were drafted by the NFC East's four teams between Thursday and Saturday, which gives us our first relatively clear picture of what the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins will look like in 2014.
With free agency and the draft now in the books, we now have a perfect opportunity to step back and take a broad look at what those four teams have done to improve over the last two months, with a particular focus on this past weekend's draft.
So let's break down how the division looks coming out of the draft by ranking that quartet from best to worst, keeping in mind that in the NFC East, the gap between first and last is impossibly narrow.
1. Washington Redskins
The Trent Murphy pick wasn't bad in terms of value, but when you've already got entrenched starters at outside linebacker, it's a little strange to go that way with your first selection. That said, it's not as though we're talking about a top-10 pick (they traded down 13 spots and took Murphy 47th), and the 'Skins added a strong pass-rusher there while redeeming themselves with two stellar third-round offensive linemen.
Morgan Moses (who was a steal in the No. 66 spot) and Spencer Long could both make an impact right away, which is key. They bring bulk and prowess in pass protection to an offense that entered the offseason desperate for players with those assets.
|Redskins: Key offseason additions/subtractions|
|WR DeSean Jackson||Free agency||LB London Fletcher||Retirement|
|DL Jason Hatcher||Free agency||C Will Montgomery||Cut|
|CB Tracy Porter||Free agency|
|OT Morgan Moses||Draft|
|OLB Trent Murphy||Draft|
So good—the offensive line is jacked up now and you're set in the pass rush. But what about that shaky secondary? Fourth-round cornerback Bashaud Breeland was the only defensive back drafted by a team that also sort of neglected that position in free agency. The jury's still very much out on the three defensive backs they took in last year's draft, so I can see this defense getting torched quite often in 2014.
Breeland looks like a potential steal, though, and more pressure up front (Brian Orakpo is fully healthy now and playing for a contract, while free-agent pickup Jason Hatcher should ease the burden on him and Ryan Kerrigan) could save the 'Skins through the air. It also helps that they don't face as many elite quarterbacks as they did in 2013.
The key is that the offense has a chance to be absolutely dominant this year. Robert Griffin III is expected to be fully healthy now, his line has improved dramatically via the draft and free agency and his arsenal of weapons is now stacked with the addition of DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts (not to mention the return of Jordan Reed).
I'm not in love with what the Redskins did in the draft or in free agency, mainly because of their ignorance regarding the secondary, but I still think they've done enough this offseason to be viewed as the team that won 10 games and the division in 2012, rather than the one that fell on its face in 2013.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
Without the benefit of hindsight, it doesn't look like you could have asked for a better second-round pick than Jordan Matthews, who should be one of the Eagles' top three receivers in 2014. Does he have the ability to replace DeSean Jackson? Probably not, but there's a good chance nobody the Eagles could have had in this draft possesses that ability.
The rest of Philly's draft was boring. That happens when you're already pretty much set at most positions. Still, I don't think they needed to use a first-round pick on a pass-rusher who is almost certain to be a backup in 2014, especially considering that Marcus Smith was arguably a reach in the No. 26 spot.
If either Deone Bucannon or Jimmie Ward becomes a solid starting safety, the Eagles will likely regret passing on both of those guys late in Round 1.
However, they might have redeemed themselves by adding Stanford free safety Ed Reynolds in Round 5. Reynolds was a steal and has a chance to pull an Earl Wolff and earn some playing time right off the bat. The same rule applies to fourth-round cornerback Jaylen Watkins, who has safety experience coming out of Florida.
|Eagles: Key offseason additions/subtractions|
|RB Darren Sproles||Free agency||WR DeSean Jackson||Cut|
|CB Nolan Carroll||Free agency||QB Michael Vick||Free agency|
|S Malcolm Jenkins||Free agency|
|QB Mark Sanchez||Free agency|
|WR Jordan Matthews||Draft|
|OLB Marcus Smith||Draft|
Everybody else in this year's Philadelphia draft class is basically a flier or a depth guy, which is fine when you're a team coming off a 10-win season and a division title. The Eagles signed all of their key free agents and took care of business in the draft.
The question now is whether that will be enough for Philadelphia to become the first NFC East team in a decade to win back-to-back division titles, especially with Jackson gone. The reality is that it's likely to go down to the wire once again, and after a solid draft and a disciplined approach to free agency, an Eagles team that lost Jackson but gained Matthews and Darren Sproles should be in contention from start to finish.
3. New York Giants
Look, Odell Beckham could turn into an All-Pro receiver, but until we've seen that happen we can only assess the logic of the pick without hindsight. And to me, with Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle already on the roster and with the pass rush needing help in a major way, passing on Aaron Donald was a bad decision.
The Giants desperately needed to address a frail defensive line in this draft, especially after ignoring that position in free agency. But instead, they drafted only a single defensive tackle and no edge-rushers. That puts a ton of pressure on 2013 Day 2 draft picks Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore, as well as this year's third-rounder, defensive tackle Jay Bromley.
But none of those guys has a track record, which means that Jason Pierre-Paul will likely have to do most of the heavy lifting. He and his front-seven cohorts will surely benefit from a spruced-up secondary that added Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond and Zack Bowman in free agency, but the Giants know as well as anyone that it's almost impossible to win in this league without getting consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
General manager Jerry Reese hasn't spent enough time focusing on that area.
The good news is that the offense has a chance to take some major steps forward. Beckham obviously makes the receiving corps more dangerous. And although they're still without a reliable starting tight end, Eli Manning will have plenty of extra support with second-round center Weston Richburg and fourth-round running back Andre Williams, as well as free-agent pickups Geoff Schwartz, Charles Brown, John Jerry, J.D. Walton, Mario Manningham and Rashad Jennings.
|Giants: Key offseason additions/subtractions|
|CB D. Rodgers-Cromartie||Free agency||DE Justin Tuck||Free agency|
|CB Walter Thurmond||Free agency||DT Linval Joseph||Free agency|
|CB Zack Bowman||Free agency||WR Hakeem Nicks||Free agency|
|RB Rashad Jennings||Free agency||TE Brandon Myers||Free agency|
|OT Charles Brown||Free agency||LB Keith Rivers||Free agency|
|OL Geoff Schwartz||Free agency|
|C J.D. Walton||Free agency|
|DE Robert Ayers||Free agency|
|G John Jerry||Free agency|
|WR Odell Beckham||Draft|
|C Weston Richburg||Draft|
|RB Andre Williams||Draft|
There's a lot of hate regarding the fact they added only a center and stayed away from offensive linemen the rest of the draft, but that was the right approach. You can't give up on Will Beatty this quickly, and you drafted Justin Pugh in the first round last year.
I think the Giants have a chance to be a lot better in 2014, but that has a lot more to do with what went down in free agency than in the draft. I guess that shouldn't be a surprise when you consider that Tom Coughlin likes to, for all intents and purposes, redshirt most of his rookies. But I can't see anyone in this draft class making much of an impact, aside from maybe Beckham as a third receiver and Richburg as a possible starting center.
Even with a revamped secondary and what looks to be a much more reliable offensive line, I'm not sure that what the Giants have done in free agency and the draft will be enough to push them into the playoffs for only the second time in six seasons.
4. Dallas Cowboys
They only had four picks in the first six rounds, but Dallas did a formidable job addressing needs and finding value. Zack Martin and DeMarcus Lawrence are both good enough to start immediately at left guard and right defensive end, while fifth-round pick Devin Street has a chance to compete for the No. 4 receiver spot.
Seventh-round picks are always wild cards, but the Cowboys also did a nice job in Round 7. They added two more defensive linemen in Ben Gardner and Ken Bishop, which is key merely because it boosts the number of potential diamonds in the rough for Rod Marinelli to get his hands on.
They also added defensive backs Terrance Mitchell and Ahmad Dixon in the final round, which was impressive considering that many experts had those two projected as mid-round picks. Mitchell will probably still have trouble making the roster considering the crowd at corner, but Dixon truly could play a significant role in 2014.
I didn't love the reach for Anthony Hitchens in the fourth round and thought it was a little silly to trade a third-round pick in order to move up 13 spots for Lawrence in Round 2 (he might have dropped to them anyway), but those don't appear to be back-breaking mistakes.
"We very consciously did overpay and stepped up and used that pick," said owner/general manager Jerry Jones of that decision to trade up, per ESPN.com, "and are very aware that it cost us a player."
It's too early to know if that gamble was the right one, but we'll reserve total judgment for now.
Considering how strapped they were in free agency, the Cowboys absolutely had to nail this draft in order to keep up in the NFC East. And while it's impossible to tell right now if that happened or not, it's hard not to come away impressed and excited by what they wound up with.
|Cowboys: Key offseason additions/subtractions|
|DT Henry Melton||Free agency||DE DeMarcus Ware||Free agency|
|DE Anthony Spencer||Injury||DT Jason Hatcher||Free agency|
|DE Jeremy Mincey||Free agency|
|DT Terrell McClain||Free agency|
|DE Demarcus Lawrence||Draft|
|OL Zack Martin||Draft|
|WR Devin Street||Draft|
Where does that put the Cowboys overall? This is a team that has merely survived the offseason by replacing DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher with Anthony Spencer and Henry Melton, and while we're impressed with this draft class without hindsight, it's not as though it's a group that will put you over the top.
This is a team that has gone 8-8 in each of the last three years. This offseason has been surprisingly impressive, but they're merely treading water.
Of course, in the shaky NFC East, that could still result in a division title.
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