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NFL Team Needs: NFC East

If you’re a fan of the Cowboys, Giants, or Redskins, you’d hope to see your team making splashy free agent signings. Anything to keep them in competition with the Eagles. Let’s check in on the offensive free agent tracker:

  • Cowboys – zero signings
  • Giants – one signing (Jonathan Stewart)
  • Redskins – one signing (Paul Richardson)

Meanwhile, the Eagles have boosted an already formidable defensive front and trimmed their offense. With the infrastructure already in place, it’s going to be hard to dethrone the reigning Super Bowl champs. While there’s still time left in free agency, it appears likely each team will address their needs on draft day.

The NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

Offensive Position of Need: Tight End

This has nothing to do with the analysis. I just wanted an excuse to use this image. But it is concerning that the Cowboys haven’t found a clear successor for the 36-year-old veteran. Witten’s become the late-round tight end drafted after loading up at other positions. Averaging five catches and 54 yards per game, it’s been more about his consistent point floor than any big weeks he could provide. However, his decline in targets is concerning.

His nearly 10% drop in market share combined with his 20% drop in average separation emphasize Father Time’s effect on Witten’s production. But the entire offense took a step back last season. Ezekiel Elliot’s suspension saga, a deteriorating offensive line, and Dak Prescott’s declining play could all have contributed to Witten’s poor season. However, the team needs to aggressively bounce back next season with some help at the position.

The Cowboys’ cap management has left them inflexible. With rumors of Dez Bryant having to take a pay cut, the Cowboys will most likely turn to the draft for help. With needs on both defensive and offensive line, it’s more likely the Cowboys will wait to invest in a tight end. If so, Hayden Hurst has the makings to take over when Witten retires. An older prospect at the age of 25, Hurst has already established himself as a capable receiver using his size and athleticism. But to truly fill Witten’s shoes, he’ll need to improve as a blocker. A year to work with Witten would serve Hurst and the Cowboys well and solidify his place on the team in 2019.

New York Giants

Offensive Position of Need: Running Back

The Giants’ off-season has been about as tumultuous as their regular season. Eli Manning, benched during the regular season, was mulling retirement, but he collected his roster bonus and is intent on playing. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, also benched, was released. Eli Apple, benched for nearly a month (sensing a trend here?), remains on the team, albeit on thin ice. And then there’s Odell Beckham Jr.

The Giants ranked 15th in run blocking and 10th in pass protection at the end of the 2017 season. The Giants have attempted to shore up their line with the additions of Nate Solder and Patrick Omameh, but they will need more help as the team transitions. After OBJ entered the scene, the Giants’ run game has been more of an afterthought.

  • Rashad Jennings
  • Andre Williams
  • Peyton Hillis
  • Shane Vereen
  • Orleans Darkwa
  • Paul Perkins
  • Wayne Gallman

The third round has been the earliest a Giants’ RB has been selected since OBJ was drafted. That was Rashad Jennings. In Beckham’s rookie season. When he was out with a hamstring tear the first month of the season. The rest have been sold to fantasy owners as high-upside, late-round targets with touchdown potential. The combined group has 38 touchdowns since 2014 for the Giants. The same number Odell has in his career. Darkwa has shown flashes, but he lacks the size to take on a lead back role. The Giants need to bring in a larger back to complement Darkwa’s strengths and boost the offense in 2018.

The Giants’ need at QB is obvious. They have the second overall pick, haven’t traded out, and are surrounded by other QB-needy teams at the top of the draft. So toss out your dreams of drafting Saquon Barkley, Giants’ fans. The G-Men also allowed 373.2 yards per game (second most) and just released one of their CBs. That takes out their second-round pick and any hopes of landing Derrius Guice. Nick Chubb makes for an interesting selection if available in the third round. A capable inside runner, Chubb has the size to take on the early-down work with capable hands on passing downs. Darkwa has proven himself to be the third-down/change-of-pace back, but Chubb can help Eli and the Giants get a rhythm going on early downs.

Philadelphia Eagles

Offensive Position of Need: Wide Receiver

I’ll admit it. I thought the Eagles’ game against the Vikings was a fluke. One good game for Nick Foles and that was it. There was no way that a Foles-led offense could overcome the brains and planning of Belichick and TB12. I was wrong. The Eagles brought the Patriots dynasty down in a Meek Mill, analytics-fueled rage that stunned all of New England. But, as the great coach said after their SB win last year, “No days off!

The Eagles’ cap space, or lack thereof, forced them into rebuild mode early. After their most recent actions, the team is under the cap with most of their core intact with some new additions to keep them competitive. However, their wide receiver group could use a boost. Torrey Smith and Trey Burton’s exodus from Philly vacates nearly 100 targets in the Eagles offense. Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and Zach Ertz might see a bump in targets, but the NFL draft should be used to revitalize the wide receiver position.

The general consensus is that the 2018 wide receiver class doesn’t contain a dominant wide receiver prospect as it has in years past. That works in the Eagles’ favor, as they just signed Alshon to a four-year deal. As previously mentioned, the Eagles are under the cap by ~$4 million, limiting their free agency signings. This also works in their favor, as rookie contracts will be relatively cheaper than signing proven vets. All signs point to the draft being the route the Eagles will take for supplementing their receiver roster.

The Eagles have the 32nd overall selection and then don’t pick again until the end of the fourth round. If they’re looking to make a move early, D.J. Moore is a solid pick at their current draft position. Moore physically profiles as a younger (and cheaper) Torrey Smith. He has the speed to keep safeties in check as Smith did in the offense, but he has the versatility that Smith doesn’t possess. Moore lined up in multiple positions throughout his college career: out wide, in the slot, in the backfield, and in motion, increasing his effectiveness on the field. If the Super Bowl gave you any indication of how Doug Pederson likes to call plays, Moore’s utility on offense will make him a weapon in 2018.

Washington Redskins

Offensive Position of Need: Tight End

I will never forget Thanksgiving Day 2016. Jordan Reed (who I had stacked with Kirk Cousins on multiple rosters) goes up for a touchdown pass, falls in the back of the end zone, and leaves the game with a separated shoulder. He miraculously appears at the end of the third quarter, catching a 33-yard bomb from Cousins. Reed ends the game with a 10/95/2 line and Cousins goes over 400 yards. But that’s the life of being a Reed owner. It’s a roller coaster.

Jordan Reed is the only tight end in the league to challenge Rob Gronkowski’s offensive output on a per-touch basis. When healthy. Not to say Gronk is a shining example of a healthy athlete, but Reed’s taken the brunt of his fair share of injuries.

That’s not even all of them. Soft-tissue injuries have plagued Reed’s career, causing him to miss games every season of his Redskins’ tenure. The most concerning, however, are the concussions. To date, he’s had six concussions with varying recovery lengths. For his own safety, the consideration to walk away from the game has to be in play for the 27-year-old tight end. The Redskins also have to consider his price tag moving forward. His current contract has a potential out this year, leaving ~$13M in dead cap money. Thirteen-year veteran Vernon Davis can still make plays on the field, but he’s only a temporary solution. While no decision on Reed’s future has been made, the team needs to look for a replacement at the position.

Assuming the Redskins’ offensive line is healthy, the team needs a larger presence in the middle of the field. Jamison Crowder will take on most of those targets, but another reliable weapon for Smith would help advance the ball. Their early-round draft picks are expected to address their defense and, possibly, the quarterback position. If so, Mark Andrews would be a mid-round selection that could be a contributor to the team in his rookie season. Andrews has been characterized as a slot receiver in a tight end’s body. His footwork and adjustment to defenders make him an immediate red zone threat. He needs work as a blocker, so he would only be brought in on special packages, but his size and high contested catch rate should secure him a role on the team.

Data Sources: Next Gen Stats; Spotrac; Fantasy Football Calculator; Sports Injury Predictor

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