As coaches and general managers prepare to make potentially franchise-altering decisions in the 2015 NFL Draft, now is the perfect time to look back and see how the choices made last year played out on the field. Bucky Brooks is reviewing and grading each team's rookie class from 2014, as well as highlighting what organizations should hone in on at this month's NFL Scouting Combine -- continuing with the NFC East below. CLICK HERE FOR THE OTHER DIVISIONAL BREAKDOWNS.
It's time to give Jerry and Stephen Jones credit for reshaping the Cowboys into a playoff team through shrewd personnel moves over the past few seasons. The decision to retool the offensive line -- spending three first-round picks on the unit over the last four drafts -- turned out to be a crucial factor in the team's resurgence. Zack Martin, the No. 16 overall pick in 2014, played like a 10-year vet at offensive guard, despite spending most of his collegiate career at tackle. With Martin earning All-Pro honors at a new position in Year 1, the Cowboys deserve kudos for having a clear plan for their rookie standout. DeMarcus Lawrence missed part of the season battling injuries, but he returned down the stretch to give Dallas a pass-rush threat off the edge. Grade: B
Combine focus: The impending free agency of running back DeMarco Murray and receiver Dez Bryant could force the Cowboys to spend most of their time scouring the offensive skill-position market. There are several intriguing WR1 candidates in the draft, but most should be off the board by the time the Cowboys pick at No. 27. Thus, the team could take extended looks at Ohio State's Devin Smith, Michigan's Devin Funchess and Missouri's Dorial Green-Beckham as possible replacements for Bryant on the perimeter. If the Cowboys are planning to let Murray walk, the bulk of the interviews and evaluations in Indianapolis will focus on the likes of Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, Jay Ajayi and Tevin Coleman as potential feature backs.
New York Giants
It's uncommon for a rookie to completely energize a program with his presence and skills, but that was certainly the case with Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014. He was sensational as the Giants' WR1, exhibiting exceptional hands, ball skills and playmaking ability on the perimeter. In addition, he helped quarterback Eli Manning find his groove within a new offense. The emergence of Beckham, who racked up 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in just 12 games, could make the Giants an offensive juggernaut in 2015 when veteran receiver Victor Cruz returns from injury. OL Weston Richburg and RB Andre Williams also contributed as rookies and should be entrenched as starters in Year 2. Devon Kennard flashed intriguing talent at linebacker down the stretch, leading to a potential starting job in 2015. Given the overall success of the class from top to bottom, general manager Jerry Reese deserves a pat on the back despite another disappointing regular-season record from the G-Men. Grade: A
Combine focus: The return of Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator should prompt the Giants to upgrade their D-line in the offseason. New York captured the Lombardi Trophy with Spags at DC in 2007 behind a deep D-line rotation that featured a number of explosive pass rushers. Thus, the team will take extended looks at dynamic defensive tackles like Florida State's Eddie Goldman and Oklahoma's Jordan Phillips, to see if they can offer a pass-rush presence on the interior. At defensive end, the Giants could check in with Mississippi State's Preston Smith and Arkansas' Trey Flowers as potential Day 2 targets.
The Eagles' rookie class delivered a mixed bag of results in 2014. Jordan Matthews exceeded expectations as a second-round pick, exhibiting strong hands, ball skills and courage manning the slot for the team. He showed better-than-anticipated quickness with the ball in his hands, and his ability to make plays on the perimeter helped Philly's offense light up scoreboards around the league. Linebacker Marcus Smith, on the other hand, was a huge disappointment. The No. 26 overall pick was unable to break into the rotation and essentially experienced a redshirt season. In the wake of recent comments from a former assistant coach questioning Smith's readiness for the pro game, the Eagles must find a way to help their first-round pick find his way during the offseason. Grade: C+
Combine focus: Forgive me if this makes me sound like a broken record, but the Eagles desperately need an elite cover corner on the perimeter. The desire to nab a blue-chip CB will prompt Philadelphia to spend time with Michigan State's Trae Waynes, Washington's Marcus Peters, LSU's Jalen Collins and Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson, to see if their respective games and personalities match the Eagles' profile.
The lack of a first-round pick (stemming from the RGIII trade) prevented the Redskins from adding a blue-chip talent in the 2014 class, but that doesn't absolve the team from criticism over the dearth of first-year contributions. OLB Trent Murphy and OT Morgan Moses were non-factors as rookies; the team needs both to develop into serviceable starters. Bashaud Breeland was the lone bright spot in the class as a long, rangy corner with impressive instincts. He made critical plays for the defense on the perimeter and looks like a long-term starter heading into Year 2. If Breeland continues to grow as a playmaker, he could salvage the Redskins' draft class down the road. Grade: C-
Combine on NFL Network
In advance of the draft, Marcus Mariota and others will look to showcase their skills at the combine (Feb. 17-23), only on NFL Network. SCHEDULE
Combine focus: The Redskins need to address their offensive and defensive lines in the 2015 NFL Draft. The team needs to investigate the offensive tackle class to see if there is a viable option to consider as a starter, but adding a dynamic pass rusher should be a top priority. Missouri's Shane Ray and Nebraska's Randy Gregory will get the bulk of the attention, but expect the Redskins to also look at some Day 2 candidates, like Clemson's Vic Beasley and Utah's Nate Orchard.