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NFC East rookie grades: Pro Bowl returns for Giants, Cowboys

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The 2018 NFL season is in the books, meaning the 2019 NFL Draft is coming down the pike. But before we completely shift focus to the next crop of prospects entering the league, let's take full stock of the rookies who just finished up Year 1. In this division-by-division Rookie Grades series, we're evaluating each team's 2018 draft class and spotlighting areas to address this offseason. Jeremy Bergman examines the NFC East below.

RANK

A-

NEW YORK GIANTS

Round 1: (2) Saquon Barkley, RB, 16 games/16 starts.
Round 2: (34) Will Hernandez, G, 16 games/16 starts.
Round 3: (66) Lorenzo Carter, LB, 15 games/2 starts; (69) B.J. Hill, DL, 16 games/12 starts.
Round 4: (108) Kyle Lauletta, QB, 2 games/0 starts.
Round 5: (139) RJ McIntosh, DT, 6 games/0 starts.
Supplemental Draft, Round 3: Sam Beal, CB, 0 games/0 starts.
Notable rookie FA signings: Sean Chandler, DB, 16 games/0 starts; Tae Davis, LB, 14 games/4 starts; Grant Haley, DB, 10 games/9 starts.

The tri-state debate over whether the Giants should have drafted Barkley or Sam Darnold with the second pick in 2018, knowing that Eli Manning was on the wrong side of 37, will continue incessantly for years to come, single-handedly keeping drive-time sportstalk radio alive past its deserved expiration date. That is until New York picks the right QB of the future, which could happen as early as this spring. HOWEVAH, there is no denying the outstanding achievement that was Saquon's first year as a pro. He lived up to all expectations, making the Pro Bowl while racking up a league-high 2,028 scrimmage yards and 15 scores behind an improving (but still bottom-tier) O-line. Anchoring that line's late-season resurgence was Hernandez, who, along with Barkley, made the PFWA All-Rookie Team. Hill was an unheralded but solid selection, leading all Big Blue D-linemen in snaps, and Carter was a consistent contributor off the bench and the edge. Lauletta, meanwhile, spent more time in the news in 2018 for reckless drives than touchdown drives. The grade stands at A- for now, BUT it self-demotes to a B if NYG doesn't find a QB of the future within 15 months.

Combine/free agency focus: The Giants have a top-10 pick for the fourth time in five seasons, and it appears they are finally primed to use it on Manning's successor. Their evaluation process already began at the Senior Bowl and will continue in earnest (and under more scrutiny) at the NFL Scouting Combine, where Dave Gettleman should have an up-close look at Dwayne Haskins, Daniel Jones and apparently Kyler Murray. Assuming the Giants retain Manning, they will not seek out a short-term vet in free agency. However, they will be eyeing tackles and guards for the right side of the line, as well as secondary help to mitigate the loss of Eli Apple (trade) and potential free-agent departure of Landon Collins. Also, the linebacker position on this team is always ripe for upgrading. There's not a lot of money to go around, but with lame-duck Elisha under center, there's also no rush.

RANK

B+

DALLAS COWBOYS

Round 1: (19) Leighton Vander Esch, LB, 16 games/11 starts.
Round 2: (50) Connor Williams, OG, 13 games/10 starts.
Round 3: (81) Michael Gallup, WR, 16 games/8 starts.
Round 4: (116) Dorance Armstrong, DE, 15 games/1 start; (137) Dalton Schultz, TE, 11 games/7 starts.
Round 5: (171) Mike White, QB, 0 games/0 starts.
Round 6: (193) Chris Covington, LB, 5 games/0 starts; (208) Ced Wilson, WR, 0 games/0 starts.
Round 7: (236) Bo Scarbrough, RB, 0 games/0 starts.

Dallas found the present and future of the linebacker position, and it came from Riggins, Idaho. An easy pick for the PFWA All-Rookie Team, Vander Esch stepped in for the oft-injured Sean Lee and finished third in the league in tackles, earning Pro Bowl honors as a replacement for Luke Kuechly. With sideline-to-sideline speed and instinctual ferocity that few young 'backers possess coming out of college, Vander Esch solidified an LB duo alongside Jaylon Smith that is sure to be among the league's best for the next half-decade at least. Behind LVE, Dallas hit on Gallup, who should be assured a starting role across from Amari Cooper next season. Williams shared the left guard spot with Xavier Su'a-Filo to mixed results. Schultz should compete for Dallas' starting tight end spot next season if the club doesn't seek a veteran in free agency.

Combine/free agency focus: Pay DeMarcus Lawrence A$AP. The top free agent on Gregg Rosenthal's board is coming off a franchise-tag season in which he was paid roughly $17 million, and while the Cowboys can afford to tag him again, it's best not to keep him hanging on for another year. A record-breaking pass-rusher contract is in the offing. But then where does that leave Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, the latter of whom is entering the final year of his cheap rookie deal? And what about Amari Cooper, the second coming of Dez Bryant, who is entering the fifth-year option of his rookie pact? Don't these young studs all deserve new deals? Keeping their top talent should be the Cowboys' primary concern as, thanks to the Cooper trade, they don't own a draft selection until midway through Day 2. But deciding which budding stars to pay and which holdout(s) to endure will be a test.

RANK

B-

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Round 2: (49) Dallas Goedert, TE, 16 games/8 starts.
Round 4: (125) Avonte Maddox, CB 13 games/9 starts; (130) Josh Sweat, DE, 9 games/0 starts.
Round 6: (206) Matt Pryor, OT, 0 games/0 starts.
Round 7: (233) Jordan Mailata, OT, 0 games/0 starts.
Notable rookie FA signings: Josh Adams, RB, 14 games/5 starts; Tre Sullivan, DB, 12 games/1 start.

Philly did enough with its 2018 draft crop to warrant an average grade. Goedert filled the void left by the retired Brent Celek and offered Carson Wentz/ Nick Foles another reliable pass-catching tight end. He's no Zach Ertz at this stage, but Goedert was Philly's fourth receiver of choice in 2018 and was considered the ninth-ranked tight end in the league by Pro Football Focus. Maddox wasn't supposed to start nine games and play a pivotal role in a late run to the playoffs, but thems the breaks. There was no more injury-riddled unit in the postseason than the Eagles' secondary, and though Maddox was abused in two playoff appearances, Philly wouldn't have been there if it weren't for his 59.9 passer rating allowed in the regular season, per PFF. Adams and Sullivan were nice depth finds who played legit roles at injury-riddled positions down the stretch.

Combine/free agency focus: The Eagles enter the 2019 offseason with the worst -- or at least most difficult -- cap situation in the league. Philly is currently more than $16 million in the red, according to Over The Cap. That will change when the franchise lets Nick Foles walk, but the Eagles' worries don't end there. Among the impending free agents on Broad Street: Brandon Graham, Golden Tate, Mike Wallace, Darren Sproles, Ronald Darby, Jordan Hicks, Jay Ajayi and Nate Sudfeld (though he's a restricted FA). That's not including Carson Wentz, who, heading into his fourth season, is due to sign his mega-extension this summer; Chris Long, who is either out via retirement or release, or back via paycut; and Michael Bennett, who, with a $7.2 million cap hit, could be a cut candidate. With three draft picks in the first 57 selections, Philly can replace the departed with younger models and hope the Super Bowl window stays open, which is no sure thing. What is certain, however, is that Howie Roseman is in for one hell of an offseason.

RANK

C+

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Round 1: (13) Daron Payne, DT, 16 games/16 starts.
Round 2: (59) Derrius Guice, RB, 0 games/0 starts.
Round 3: (74) Geron Christian, OT, 2 games/0 starts.
Round 4: (109) Troy Apke, S, 2 games/0 starts.
Round 5: (163) Tim Settle, DT, 16 games/0 starts.
Round 6: (197) Shaun Dion Hamilton, LB, 16 games/4 starts.
Round 7: (241) Greg Stroman, CB, 15 games/3 starts; (256) Trey Quinn, WR, 3 games/2 starts.
Supplemental Draft, Round 6: Adonis Alexander, DB, 9 games/0 starts.
Notable rookie FA signings: Danny Johnson, CB, 14 games/1 start.

Washington tapped the Tuscaloosa well yet again in 2018, and it paid off big time. Payne brought the pain in his rookie year, solidifying a spot on the PFWA All-Rookie Team with five sacks in 16 starts. Whereas Payne didn't miss a single game, Guice missed all of them, sidelined by a torn ACL in the preseason. It's hard to truly grade how Redskins brass fared in 2018 when its star attraction was watching from home. And for that reason, this grade could honestly be N/A until we see what a healthy Guice can provide. The rest of the class was nothing special, though Stroman, Hamilton and Settle could contribute more going forward.

Combine/free agency focus: Locate a starting quarterback. Washington is preparing as if Alex Smith won't play a lick in 2019, and Colt McCoy is unlikely to keep the 'Skins competitive for a full 16 games. So, what does Washington do? Spend over $20 million on a one-year rental for Joe Flacco, Ryan Tannehill or Teddy Bridgewater? Go after a more mid-size veteran like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyrod Taylor or Josh McCown? Draft the QB of the future with the 15th pick, even though Smith has four years and $70 million left on his deal? Options are aplenty. Elsewhere on the roster, Washington will need to look at acquiring an edge rusher if Preston Smith leaves in free agency. Re-signing safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would be useful, while the 'Skins also must evaluate their interior offensive linemen. Washington also has to see how the NFL investigation of Reuben Foster's personal conduct plays out.

Follow Jeremy Bergman on Twitter @JABergman.

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