Bucky Brooks is performing a division-by-division assessment of the 2014 NFL Draft, spotlighting notable picks and handing out grades for each team. You'll find the NFC East evaluation below; click here for other divisions.
After being regarded as a hard-nosed division for years, the NFC East has recently been home to some of the conference's most explosive offenses. Last season, the Philadelphia Eagles raced to the division crown by leaning on a dynamic running game spearheaded by LeSean McCoy. The Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and New York Giants all entered the 2014 NFL Draft with franchise quarterbacks, but each team still lacked the necessary pieces to challenge the Eagles in 2014. Thanks to some intriguing selections made last week, the NFC East should feature one of the closest races in pro football next fall.
NFC East notables
Without a stellar supporting cast to lean on in critical situations, Giants quarterback Eli Manning struggled through a miserable 2013 season. That situation will definitely change this fall, with Beckham joining receivers Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle on the perimeter. Cruz and Randle will play their customary roles in the game plan, and Beckham will serve as a speedster with solid hands and big-play potential. Factoring in his impressive return skills, it's easy to see why general manager Jerry Reese and head coach Tom Coughlin are excited about the team's future.
Smith was clearly one of the top pass rushers in college football last season, but his raw, unrefined game didn't elicit consensus first-round draft grades from observers around the league. Of course, the opinions of others don't matter when it comes to drafting, so Chip Kelly doesn't need to offer up an explanation for the Eagles' affinity for Smith. That said, expectations will be high for one of the first pass rushers to come off the board. The Louisville standout will be counted on to develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber pass rusher and anchor an Eagles front line that needs to create disruption against elite opponents. With Smith showing glimpses of A-plus talent and potential as an edge rusher, Kelly could enjoy the last laugh down the road.
Moses' surprise tumble down the charts gave the Redskins a chance to land a player viewed by scouts as a "plug-and-play" starter at right tackle. The former Cavaliers star assembled a lengthy resume as a swing man on the O-line. Moses displays outstanding technique and is athletic enough to climb to the second level on outside runs. While some of his critics would like to see him play with a little more "nasty," the fact that he enters the league with 43 career starts and experience at both tackle spots could make him a valuable commodity in Washington's lineup.
Note: Click on team names to see complete draft classes.
DALLAS COWBOYS: Owner Jerry Jones wisely refrained from adding Johnny Manziel to the mix with the 16th overall pick. The Heisman Trophy winner would've undoubtedly sold a ton of jerseys, but with Tony Romo in the second year of a six-year, $108 million contract, the distraction would've pulled the team apart. More importantly, it would've prevented the Cowboys from drafting a blue-chip talent that would upgrade the squad. Zack Martin gives the team a versatile blocker with the skills to thrive inside or outside along the offensive line. Meanwhile, Demarcus Lawrence (Round 2) will attempt to fill the void created by DeMarcus Ware's departure. Although the Boise State star is not nearly as explosive or dynamic off the edge as the Cowboys' all-time sacks leader, he could blossom in defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's version of the Tampa 2. DBs Terrance Mitchell and Ahmad Dixon are underrated defenders with intriguing potential. Both seventh-round picks could work into the lineup as first-year players. GRADE: B-
NEW YORK GIANTS: Reese told me a long time ago that he learned from the late George Young that the NFL is a "big-man's game." Thus, the Giants GM believes in focusing most of his efforts on restocking the offensive and defensive lines through the draft to ensure his team has enough big bodies to control the trenches. Although he deviated slightly from the premise when he took Beckham in Round 1, Reese picked up a blue-chip center in Weston Richburg and a rugged defensive tackle in Jay Bromley on Day 2, solidifying the middle of both front lines. He also plucked outside linebacker Devon Kennard in Round 5; Kennard is a versatile edge defender the Giants can throw into the rotation on sub-downs. Add in the selection of Andre Williams as a short-yardage/goal-line back, and it's clear New York now has the personnel to win some of the heavyweight bouts that take place in the NFC East. GRADE: B
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: The Philadelphia Eagles captured the NFC East in Kelly's first season, driven by an explosive collection of offensive talent on the perimeter. Of course, while the Eagles' high-powered offense can win them a ton of regular-season games, the team needed to bring in some defensive playmakers to become legitimate NFC contenders. Thus, Kelly made it a point to add pass rushers (Smith and fifth-round pick Taylor Hart) while also snagging a couple of back-end defenders (fourth-rounder Jaylen Watkins and fifth-round choice Ed Reynolds) to upgrade a leaky secondary. On offense, Kelly drafted a pair of sure-handed pass catchers in Jordan Matthews (Round 2) and Josh Huff (Round 3), both of whom have the size and strength to play in the slot or on the perimeter in spread formations. Overall, the Eagles used their seven picks to address their key needs and upgrade their talent base, which is the goal of every decision-maker on draft day. GRADE: B
WASHINGTON REDSKINS: The Redskins are still feeling the tremors from the Robert Griffin III trade. The team surrendered a boatload of picks in 2012 for the right to select the quarterback, including its first-round choice in this year's draft, which ended up being No. 2 overall. Without the ammunition to orchestrate a major move this time around, GM Bruce Allen patiently waited for the best player available when the Redskins were on the clock. The decision to draft Stanford outside linebacker Trent Murphy in the second round was a bit of a surprise, but he could be an insurance policy against a possible free-agent defection by Brian Orakpo in 2015 or Ryan Kerrigan in '16. On the plus side, Moses and guard Spencer Long (Round 3) are possible first-year starters, despite coming off the board on Day 2. Fifth-round pick Ryan Grant is a polished receiver with the skills to make an impact as a No. 3. GRADE: C+
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