Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks is performing a division-by-division assessment of the 2016 NFL Draft, spotlighting notable picks and handing out grades for each team. Below is his review of the NFC East. (NOTE: Click on the tabs to see other divisional breakdowns.)
Kudos to Jerry Jones for avoiding a "need" pick to grab the most impactful prospect for the Cowboys. Elliott is a spectacular playmaker with exceptional skills as a runner-receiver out of the backfield. He not only gives Dallas an explosive workhorse to lean on, but he allows coach Jason Garrett to return to the blueprint (strong running game + dynamic play-action pass attack + ball-control approach = division crown) that led to an NFC East title and a 12-4 record in 2014. With Elliott poised to play behind the best offensive line in football, the team can alleviate the pressure on quarterback Tony Romo to carry the offense while drastically reducing the number of defensive possessions behind a "keep-away" game plan. This pick alone makes the Cowboys the overwhelming favorites to capture the division and push for Super Bowl contention.
OK, so this selection was one of the NFL's worst-kept secrets heading into Thursday night, with the Eagles having traded into the No. 2 overall slot presumably with the purpose of taking Wentz. And it was a brilliant move on the surface. But it was still a bit of a shocker, based on the amount of money the Eagles previously had invested in the position during the offseason. Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel inked lucrative deals during the free agency period -- Bradford signed for just under $36 million over two years, with $22 million guaranteed, and Daniel later signed for $21 million over three years -- to seemingly shore up Philly's quarterback situation. Yet coach Doug Pederson and his staff still targeted Wentz to be the face of the franchise for the next decade. Sure, the presence of a pair of veteran quarterbacks will provide the rookie with plenty of time to develop before he is thrown into the fire, but the capital expended (Philly gave up a first-, third- and fourth-round pick in 2016, a first-rounder in 2017 and a second-rounder in 2018) to move up the charts limits the amount of homegrown talent the team can use to build up the roster. Wentz's play as a starting quarterback down the road ultimately will determine whether or not the risk was worth the reward.
The Virginia Tech standout becomes the fourth member of his family to reach the NFL via Virginia Tech, following Vincent (seven seasons with the Titans and Lions), Kyle (entering Year 3 with the Bears) and Corey (entering Year 4 with the Lions), but he could be the best of the bunch. Injuries robbed Fuller of the majority of his final season with the Hokies, but he is unquestionably a premier cover guy when healthy. If he bounces back from his injuries and regains his swagger, he could shine as a CB2 in a zone-based scheme that places a premium on ballhawks with superb instincts and playmaking skills.
NOTE: Draft classes are ranked from best to worst within the division.
The Redskins quickly are rounding into a legitimate contender under general manager Scot McCloughan's direction. The savvy evaluator has assembled another strong class that should help Washington make a push to repeat as division champ. Josh Doctson is a dynamic WR1 with the ball skills and bounce to dominate in the red zone. He gives quarterback Kirk Cousins another big body to target in critical situations. Su'a Cravens is the kind of enforcer the Redskins have lacked since Sean Taylor roamed between the hashes. Although he isn't an explosive athlete, Cravens possesses the high football aptitude, grit and toughness that should lead to plenty of splash plays in the middle of the field. Kendall Fuller was a nice get on Day 2 as a corner with outstanding potential. If he is healthy and on his game, there is no reason he can't develop into a premier cover corner on the perimeter. Keith Marshall is a speedster with home-run potential out of the backfield. It will be interesting to see if he can earn a spot in the rotation as a change-of-pace back. GRADE: A
Any team that lands a pair of blue-chip prospects with its first two selections in a given draft deserves a high grade. The Cowboys, who nabbed Ezekiel Elliott and Jaylon Smith before the end of Day 2, earned a gold star. Each guy is considered a transcendent talent at his position -- and both are also blue-collar workers with the requisite intangibles to step into leadership roles early in their careers. Although Smith, who suffered ACL and LCL tears in January, might need a redshirt year before he is able to step onto the field to make an impact, Elliott could be the Cowboys' most pivotal player as a rookie. He will anchor the offense as the bell cow in the backfield and help the team follow the 2014 blueprint that resulted in an NFC East title. Dak Prescott could be the franchise quarterback of the future, based on his ruggedly athletic game and superb leadership skills. He will push Kellen Moore for the backup quarterback job while serving as Tony Romo's apprentice. Will Rico Gathers be the next former hoops player to earn Pro Bowl honors as a pass-catching tight end? The late-round pick will get a chance to carve out a role as a developmental prospect. GRADE: A-
The Giants elected to go for substance over sizzle in a critical draft for GM Jerry Reese and his staff. The team opted for proven commodities with the requisite physical dimensions and intangibles to step into key roles as rookies. Cornerback Eli Apple is a classic Giants pick, with the size/speed ratio (he checks in at 6-foot-1, 199 pounds, and clocked a 4.40-second 40-yard dash) the team covets in the position. Although he didn't consistently play like a top-10 talent during his time at Ohio State, Apple is certainly a big-bodied corner capable of ascending from a nickel gig to a full-time starting slot in a year or so. Sterling Shepard might be the most pro-ready slot receiver to enter the league in the last few years. He is a terrific route runner with strong hands and exceptional running skills. He could put up big numbers in the Giants' catch-and-run system. B.J. Goodson is a legitimate tackling machine with superb instincts and awareness within the tackle box. He could crack the starting lineup as a rookie. Jerell Adams could become the next unheralded tight end to play a prominent role on the perimeter. He has the prototypical physical dimensions (6-5, 247 pounds) and athleticism to shine as a playmaker between the hashes. GRADE: B
We won't be able to fully assess the Eagles' draft class until Carson Wentz hits the field, but the blockbuster trade to nab a potential franchise quarterback certainly robbed the team of some ammunition to upgrade the roster in other areas. Thus, we have to take a conservative approach when applying a grade to the Eagles' draft class. I love Wentz's potential in Doug Pederson's offense. He is an athletic dropback passer with A-plus arm talent and exceptional movement skills. If the Eagles are able to stick to their guns and redshirt him for a year or two, he could emerge as the best quarterback in the draft down the road. Isaac Seumalo and Halapoulivaati Vaitai add depth to the offensive line. Each guy will have a chance to grow into a more prominent role down the road. Defensive backs Blake Countess and Jalen Mills are competitive prospects with the potential to crack the rotation as special teams standouts/sub-defenders as rookies. Ultimately, the grade on the Eagles' draft class will come down to the performance of the quarterback when he eventually steps onto the field. GRADE: C+