The NFC East is one of the most storied divisions in the NFL’s long history. Incredible stars like Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, Emmitt Smith, and Joe Theismann have all made homes in Dallas, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. Today, the NFC maintains this rigorous and exceptional pedigree of legendary players. It includes freak wide receivers, stunning quarterback play, amazing running backs, and future Hall of Fame linemen.
This series, detailing the 2017 NFC East All-Division team, is meant to exhibit the best at every position within the division, broken up into two articles: Offense, then Defense/Special Teams. First up is a breakdown of the best players on offense.
2017 NFC East All-Division Team: The Offense
Quarterback: Carson Wentz
A very tough choice. All four NFC East quarterbacks could be considered victims, or benefactors, of their surrounding cast. Kirk Cousins had impressive years when Sean McVay was his offensive coordinator — and not-so-impressive years when McVay was not his coordinator. Eli Manning should be the top quarterback from the NFC East but 2016 was not kind to him. Manning struggled to get the ball downfield with both an aging arm and porous offensive line keeping him in check.
That leaves the rookies. Both Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott appeared to be heavily impacted by the players around them in 2016. Wentz from a broken line, incompetent receivers, a deficient run-game, and a mediocre defense backing him up. Prescott had the best line, great receivers, the best run-game, and a surprisingly solid defense that kept him in comfortable situations.
2017 seems to have switched fortunes for the sophomore signal callers and Carson Wentz may now have the better surrounding talent. The Cowboys lost continuity on their line and the defense had an exodus of talent. Meanwhile, Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, LeGarrette Blount, and Pro Football Focus‘ top-ranked offensive line should propel the Eagles quarterback to the top of the division. Worst-to-first, so they say.
Running Back: Ezekiel Elliott
2016’s rushing leader has a legitimate opportunity to keep his title this season. The Cowboys offensive line took a hit in free agency, but there were numerous instances where Ezekiel Elliott still had massive gains after his line broke down last season. Elliott’s also a capable receiver and blocker, a rare combination from such a young player. Such a rare combination of power, speed, football IQ, and escapability will likely have him as the NFC East’s best running back for years, not just 2017.
Wide Receiver: Odell Beckham
The first receiver position is a given. Odell Beckham Jr. has the potential to be the greatest wide receiver ever. Perhaps even better than Jerry Rice. His catching ability is well-documented but his ability to get open is phenomenal. Beckham has already broken numerous receiving records and he’s hardly in his fourth season.
Wide Receiver: Alshon Jeffery
Plenty of players could have taken the second wide receiver spot. Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, Terrelle Pryor are all definitely in the mix. But NFC East newcomer Alshon Jeffery might have arrived in the best spot. Carson Wentz loves to launch the ball downfield and Jeffrey’s one of the best jump ball receivers in the league right now. He also hasn’t had a solid wing mate since his early days in Chicago. Fellow receivers Torrey Smith, Jordan Matthews, and tight end Zach Ertz will surely oblige.
Slot Wide Receiver: Cole Beasley
Many might be surprised to see Cole Beasley, and not Dez Bryant, make the wideout cut; but they probably don’t realize just how good Beasley is out of the slot. Pro Football Focus had him as 2016’s best slot receiver, with a nearly 80 percent catch-rate. That’s almost the essence of reliability. Beasley doesn’t necessarily wow audiences like Bryant, but he demonstrated solid chemistry with Prescott and a knack for keeping drives alive with quick, short receptions for medium gains.
Tight End: Jordan Reed
When healthy, Jordan Reed is easily a top-five tight end. Maybe better. Reed is a monster in both short-yardage and goal-line situations. Plus, Reed demonstrates polished routes and receiver-like speed. He does have availability concerns, but the same could be said for players like Rob Gronkowski. With the mass-exodus of Redskins staff and weaponry this offseason, Reed may become Cousins’ top option in 2017.
Left Tackle: Tyron Smith
Jason Peters is a future Hall-of-Famer and he’s not the best left tackle in the NFC East. That honor goes to Tyron Smith. The anchor of Dallas’ domineering 2016 line was phenomenal in his sixth season. Smith doesn’t give up sacks, he rarely gets penalties, he doesn’t even allow quarterback pressures — in short, Smith is the epitome of a great left tackle. Barring a catastrophic injury, expect Smith to have yet another great year in 2017.
Left Guard: Justin Pugh
The Giants did not have a good offensive line last year, but Justin Pugh was a bright spot. Pugh is well-rounded and could be a solid foundation for a future, quality line in New York. If it weren’t for the poor left tackle play by Eric Flowers, Pugh probably would have been the better part of a solid left side of the line in 2016. Perhaps some shuffling can maximize Pugh’s potential and shore up Eli Manning’s protection next season.
Center: Travis Frederick
Like fellow line-mates Smith and Zach Martin, Travis Frederick earned All-Pro honors last year. Frederick established a good relationship with Prescott, helping the young quarterback to a relatively mistake-free rookie season. Frederick is about as solid as they come as far as centers go. Few are better, and fewer nose tackles look forward to lining up opposite of the 6’4″ beast.
Right Guard: Zach Martin
Zach Martin is yet another example of why drafting offensive linemen in early rounds pays dividends in the long-term. Martin was often responsible for rectifying the mistakes of right tackle Doug Free, who led the team in pressures-allowed and penalties. He doesn’t get the same kind of respect that Smith and Frederick garner, but he’s just as valuable as the other two.
Right Tackle: Lane Johnson
If Smith is the best left tackle in the NFL, then Lane Johnson is the best right tackle. Destined to be Jason Peters’ replacement, Johnson’s effect on the Eagles record has tangible results. In games where Johnson played, Philadelphia was 5-1. In games where Johnson was absent, the Eagles were 2-8. That speaks for itself. Assuming Johnson doesn’t get suspended (again), he should be an early contender for All-Pro honors.