Projected Starters

NFC East projected starters: Dallas' defense full of questions

With the 2020 NFL Draft and most of free agency in the rearview, Gregg Rosenthal will project starting lineups for all 32 teams because that's his idea of fun. Check out the NFC East breakdowns below.


Table inside Article
QB Dak Prescott DE DeMarcus Lawrence
RB Ezekiel Elliott DT Gerald McCoy
WR Amari Cooper DT Dontari Poe
WR Michael Gallup DE Tyrone Crawford
WR CeeDee Lamb OLB Leighton Vander Esch
TE Blake Jarwin ILB Jaylon Smith
LT Tyron Smith CB Chidobe Awuzie
LG Connor McGovern CB Trevon Diggs
C Joe Looney CB Anthony Brown
RG Zack Martin S Xavier Woods
RT La'el Collins S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
  • The first seven offensive names (through Tyron Smith) listed above represent an outrageous amount of firepower, and that doesn't even include terrific backup running back Tony Pollard. Mike McCarthy 2.0 sounds like a man ready to try to win shootouts -- and he has the roster to do so.
  • Wide receiver was a sneaky need before the draft, making the pick of CeeDee Lamb even more delicious. Lamb and Amari Cooper figure to both play plenty on the outside and in the slot. It's a big drop-off to the team's projected No. 4 wideout options, Cedrick Wilson and Devin Smith.
  • Dallas' offensive line has been past its peak -- if still effective -- for the last few years. Center Travis Frederick's retirement should only make it tougher to return to form. Peak Tyron Smith coming back would be the easiest path to improvement.
  • Randy Gregory and Aldon Smith are both still suspended by the NFL. The Cowboys have expressed some confidence that one or both of them will be back. They need one to pan out, because the DE position is pretty barren after DeMarcus Lawrence.
  • One option will be for Dallas to use Tyrone Crawford on the outside after mostly using him on the interior in recent years. Crawford has had a lot of injury problems, though, and didn't even play 100 snaps last year.
  • The Cowboys signed defensive tackles Dontari Poe and Gerald McCoy on the cheap, saving an otherwise-unpromising position. The team could use some impact from last year's second-round pick (Trysten Hill) or this year's third-round pick (Neville Gallimore).
  • Perhaps the Cowboys don't have a Pro Bowler at cornerback, but at least they have a lot of cornerbacks. Dallas goes five or six deep with quality and should be able to match up to different flavors of receiver.
  • The Cowboys have had different offensive voices than Jason Garrett's over the years, including incumbent coordinator Kellen Moore. The defensive transition away from Rod Marinelli (after six seasons at the helm) to Mike Nolan could be even more dramatic. Nolan last ran an NFL defense in 2014, when he directed Atlanta's unit.
  • Dallas' offense should be great. The defense appears hit or miss. The question around Leighton Vander Esch encapsulates this issue. Is he the game-wrecking force we saw in 2018, or will his neck injury change his style of play? Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith made each other better in '18 and slumped together last year.


Table inside Article
QB Daniel Jones DE Leonard Williams
RB Saquon Barkley DT Dalvin Tomlinson
WR Sterling Shepard DE Dexter Lawrence
WR Golden Tate OLB Kyler Fackrell
WR Darius Slayton ILB Blake Martinez
TE Evan Engram OLB Lorenzo Carter
LT Andrew Thomas CB James Bradberry
LG Will Hernandez CB Sam Beal
C Spencer Pulley CB Corey Ballentine
RG Kevin Zeitler S Jabrill Peppers
RT Nate Solder S Xavier McKinney
  • That starting offensive depth chart isn't too shabby. I would be concerned, though, that new coordinator Jason Garrett will have to install a new offense with a young group without a normal offseason.
  • This is most concerning when it comes to Daniel Jones' development. I would not expect Garrett to let Jones wing it with as much aggression as Jones did as a rookie.
  • Nate Solder played right tackle as a rookie in New England, so the Giants may try him there, with No. 4 overall pick Andrew Thomas seemingly ticketed for Jones' blind side. The Giants get no cap relief by cutting Solder, so they may as well let him compete with third-round pick Matt Peart.
  • There are obviously ifs on this offensive line, starting with Thomas living up to the hype. But at least this group has a chance to be good, which is more than could be said about any other Giants O-line of recent vintage.
  • Darius Slayton's deep speed complements Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard's skill set well. The entire offense appears full of injury risks, but this unit will present a lot of problems for defenses if it can stay healthy. Evan Engram and Shepard rarely seem to be on the field together for long.
  • Giants general manager Dave Gettleman backed himself into a corner with the trade for Leonard Williams. He's probably not worth the franchise tag, if only because this bulky style of defensive line is better suited to stop offenses from 1994. More than any other position group, this line is Gettleman's vision and premium capital come to life.
  • If the defensive line is built to hold the fort, the Giants would theoretically need their linebacker group to provide the fireworks. That appears unlikely with this group. David Mayo should also start at inside linebacker on running downs.
  • No team could use Jadeveon Clowney -- or really, any pass-rush help -- more than the Giants.
  • The secondary is insanely young outside of free-agent pickup James Bradberry. That's one position group where experience makes a big difference.
  • The cornerback position didn't look great, even before the recent arrest of 2019 first-round pick Deandre Baker. I left Baker out of the starting lineup, because he could be facing a suspension or release, which exposes an already-thin group.
  • Every team believes it improved in the offseason. New York's defense could scarcely get worse, but with an untested defensive coaching staff and this roster, I'm not seeing it. Unless coordinator Patrick Graham is a schematic wizard, there are too many weaknesses to attack at every level.


Table inside Article
QB Carson Wentz DE Brandon Graham
RB Miles Sanders DT Fletcher Cox
WR DeSean Jackson DT Javon Hargrave
WR Jalen Reagor DE Derek Barnett
TE Zach Ertz OLB Nate Gerry
TE Dallas Goedert ILB T.J. Edwards
LT Andre Dillard CB Darius Slay
LG Isaac Seumalo CB Avonte Maddox
C Jason Kelce CB Nickell Robey-Coleman
RG Brandon Brooks S Rodney McLeod
RT Lane Johnson S Jalen Mills
  • This was one of the easiest starting lineups to fill out. With the exception of linebacker, most of the positions appear set in stone. This is especially true on offense and the defensive line.
  • Alshon Jeffery was reportedly on the trade block this offseason, but the combination of his guaranteed salary and recovery from Lisfranc surgery made a deal impossible. It's unclear if he'll be ready for the season, but anything he gives the Eagles this year should be considered a bonus.
  • Jeffery's status puts a lot of pressure on rookie Jalen Reagor to make a quick impact. Greg Ward is the top option for the slot receiver role. General manager Howie Roseman would love for J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, a second-round pick one year ago, to make an impact after a brutal rookie season. Trade pickup Marquise Goodwin is worth taking a flier on.
  • The questionable receiver group feels like less of a problem because the Eagles have a strong quarterback, a strong offensive line and the best two-TE set in the NFL. Dallas Goedert not only played more than any wideout on the Eagles a year ago, but the ostensible "backup" played more than all but nine tight ends in the league.
  • Jalen Hurts was drafted to be Carson Wentz's long-term backup. In a shortened offseason, it's possible Nate Sudfeld beats out Hurts for the No. 2 job, which could open up Hurts to play a handful of snaps each week as a gadget player.
  • It's possible that free agent Jason Peters could return to the Eagles, but would he want to come back as a backup/swing tackle? Philadelphia took Andre Dillard in the first round for a reason, and the Eagles would have already re-signed Peters as a starter if that's what they wanted to do.
  • Some of the names change, but Philly's starting defensive line always looks great on paper. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson, coming off a foot injury, figures to play a lot in a rotation. After that, the team has much less depth overall than in its title season. The Eagles could sure use a positive step from 2017 first-rounder Derek Barnett.
  • The Eagles re-signed Jalen Mills with the intention of moving him to safety. He looks like the best option to replace Malcolm Jenkins in the starting lineup, which is a bit of a gamble.
  • Long a question spot, the cornerback group looks so much better after the additions of Darius Slay and underrated nickel cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman. When the team has three former starters coming off the bench (Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas and Cre'Von LeBlanc), the group is in better position to succeed.
  • The linebacker corps is unproven. Philadelphia professes a lot of faith in middle linebacker T.J. Edwards, even if he only played 112 snaps as an undrafted free-agent rookie in 2019. Nate Gerry can also play all three downs, but this is clearly a position the Eagles brass doesn't prioritize with big money or draft picks.
  • Philly's roster looked better than any in football entering 2018, and it was close in 2019. The team was ravaged by injuries in both seasons but still made the playoffs. The roster doesn't look quite as beautiful this time around, but it's a group that should still contend in the NFC if the injury luck improves.


Table inside Article
QB Dwayne Haskins DE Ryan Kerrigan
RB Adrian Peterson DT Jonathan Allen
WR Terry McLaurin DT Daron Payne
WR Kelvin Harmon DE Chase Young
WR Steven Sims OLB Cole Holcomb
TE Logan Thomas ILB Thomas Davis
LT Saahdiq Charles CB Kendall Fuller
LG Wes Schweitzer CB Fabian Moreau
C Chase Roullier CB Ronald Darby
RG Brandon Scherff S Landon Collins
RT Morgan Moses S Sean Davis
  • Dwayne Haskins is not set up for success, to put it mildly. The new offensive coaching staff led by Scott Turner has more ties to backup Kyle Allen. The receiver group may be the youngest in football, and there's not a strength elsewhere for Haskins to lean on.
  • Adrian Peterson is listed as the starter over Derrius Guice and Bryce Love for now, because Adrian Peterson is immortal. Guice, meanwhile, may be running out of chances to show he can stay healthy after logging 42 carries in his first two seasons.
  • This wideout crew is quietly frisky. But it would look a lot friskier with Amari Cooper at the top of the depth chart and the young guys filling in below. Cooper apparently turned down a massive contract offer, instead returning to the Cowboys.
  • Terry McLaurin may have been the best receiver in the 2019 rookie class, while Kelvin Harmon and Steven Sims both looked like they belong. But it's expecting way too much out of Haskins to carry a group of second-year players
  • The left side of the offensive line has some major questions. Saahdiq Charles, a fourth-round rookie, is a potential starter at left tackle after the departure of Trent Williams. The Redskins may need to sign a veteran off the street to start, just like they did with Donald Penn last year.
  • It's going to take time for coach Ron Rivera to fully implement his defense, but he has a lot to work with up front. I didn't even list Matt Ioannidis above after a great season. Also missing from that starting lineup: last year's No. 26 overall pick, Montez Sweat.
  • Thomas Davis was brought in to get the rest of the defense with the Rivera program. But he's on his third team in three years, and it looks like a free-for-all for linebacker snaps with Shaun Dion Hamilton, Ryan Anderson, Cole Holcomb, Jon Bostic and Reuben Foster all in the mix.
  • The offense should take time. But altogether, Rivera has enough talent to be an above-average team right now. That includes the secondary, where Rivera's scheme has often made less talented players shine. In Kendall Fuller, Landon Collins, Fabian Moreau and Ronald Darby, Rivera has proven pros in their primes. Playing low-scoring games is probably Rivera's quickest path to victories.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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