NFC East preview: Dak Prescott in position to take division?

As we hurtle toward the regular season, check out our division-by-division primers highlighting players and storylines to watch in 2017. Edward Lewis tackles the NFC East below.

Most significant changes from 2016

In the grand scheme of things, the NFC East lacks drastic change from last season. The head coaches are the same. Last year's starting quarterbacks remain under center -- yes, even Kirk Cousins in Washington. Even when there was slated to be one big difference in the division --Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension via Commissioner Roger Goodell for violating the league's personal conduct policy -- it appears even that ban won't be served this season, if at all. So the NFC East should be one of the best divisions in the league once again in 2017. With four teams who finished 7-9 or better last season, including the No. 1-seeded, 13-3 Cowboys, and no team making drastic changes from 12 months ago, the battle in the East will be a fight worth watching all year.

One player to watch on each team

DALLAS COWBOYS: Dez Bryant, wide receiver. In the Cowboys' run-heavy offense last season, Bryant was often relegated to blocking, acting as a decoy or being Dak Prescott's jump-ball target on 50-50 pass plays. In 13 games, the former All-Pro logged just 796 yards on 50 catches (though he did record a healthy eight TDs). Fortunately for Dallas, the 28-year-old has looked as good as any Cowboy in August. Bryant, who had a healthy offseason -- unlike 2016, when he was recovering from foot and ankle surgery -- routinely made catches like this in camp and this in the preseason. If Dez can return to Pro Bowl form, and Elliott can continue to stay on the field, the Cowboys have a great shot to repeat as NFC East champs.

NEW YORK GIANTS: Ereck Flowers, offensive tackle. New York's defense returns all of its stars, including bona fide Defensive Player of the Year candidate Landon Collins. On offense, the Giants have Eli Manning and a bevy of talented weapons, including the wideout trio of Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard. But the roster still features one massive area for concern: the offensive line -- and specifically, the former top-10 pick at left tackle who has yet to live up to the billing. Keeping Manning clean will be imperative for the Giants to make a run at the NFC East crown. Flowers, who's struggled to keep up with DE Olivier Vernon in camp and actually allowed Myles Garrett's first-ever NFL sack earlier this month, will need to be effective against the division's best pass rushers in order to give Manning time to hit all those receivers and new first-round toy Evan Engram.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver. The Eagles' receiving corps was so bad last year that they had no problem shipping off their top performer, Jordan Matthews, and a third-round pick for cornerback Ronald Darby. Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham were all among the league leaders in drops in 2016 (Matthews tied for ninth, Agholor and Green-Beckham tied for 26th, per NFL Research). Jeffery is expected to assuage many of Philly's passing game woes. While staying healthy has been an issue for the former Pro Bowler -- who signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Eagles this offseason -- the 27-year-old has never had a problem catching the football and being a playmaker. Jeffery, fellow free-agent addition Torrey Smith and a reportedly improved Agholor, minus Matthews and Green-Beckham (who was cut in the offseason), should give Carson Wentz the firepower to contend in the NFC East this season, unlike down the stretch last year.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Terrelle Pryor, wide receiver. How do the Redskins go about replacing the 2,046 yards and 135 receptions supplied last season by departed receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon? They'll start by leaning on Pryor, who inked a one-year deal with Washington in March. The former NFL quarterback, who had a breakout 2016 at receiver with 1,007 yards and 77 catches in Cleveland, will try to help Kirk Cousins make a seamless transition into 2017's offense. With the speedy Jamison Crowder stretching the field and Jordan Reed drawing the defense's biggest cover men, Pryor should face plenty of single coverage, giving him an opportunity to prove he's no one-hit wonder and earn a lucrative contract next offseason. In the preseason so far, Pryor has just two catches and one really bad drop. The Redskins will need more from the wideout in the regular season.

What we'll be talking about at season's end

For better or for worse, no matter who wins the NFC East title this season, one huge subplot of the division will be the progression, or perhaps regression, of second-year signal callers Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott. Wentz, the former No. 2 overall pick, and Prescott, the brilliant fourth-rounder who won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2016, have both already been featured in "Who will win more Super Bowls?" debates. If both shine, the storyline of the NFC East after the season will be all about their future rivalry. If both fail, questions will swirl about the directions of their respective franchises. Each team is relying heavily on a sophomore QB to lead a playoff push. No pressure.

Follow Edward Lewis on Twitter _@EdwardLewis_.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content