During the month of August, the Last Word On Sports NFL department will be breaking down every division in the league by position. This article contains a position-by-position breakdown of the NFC East defenses. The breakdown will contain “the best” at each unit followed by “the rest” in descending order.
2017 NFC East Breakdown by Position: The Defense
The Best: Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles boast arguably the best two lineman in the division in Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. While their numbers do not “wow” anybody, their skill lies in the tape, which shows you the countless amount of times the two are causing havoc while being double-teamed on almost every snap. With the newest additions of Timmy Jernigan and first-round pick Derek Barnett, this is easily the best group in the division.
While the Giants may not hold the top spot for this unit, they easily have the best nickname of any lineman in Damon “Snacks” Harrison. Jokes aside, this is still a very complete unit Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul on the edges. If this unit acquired some more depth, they would be in the conversation with the Eagles.
Demarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford anchor the Dallas line but, outside of those two, it is tough to figure out how successful this unit will be. Cedric Thornton is better suited as 3-4 end then a 4-3 tackle and Maliek Collins has only been in the league one season (a good rookie season, at that).
It is a little unfair to put the Redskins here, as they are the only team in the division that runs a 3-4. I say this because most of their pressure comes from their outside linebackers as opposed to their line. However, the team spent their first-round selection on Alabama standout Jonathan Allen and hope he can become the anchor they need.
The Best: Washington Redskins
The Rest: Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants
It was mentioned in the last unit rankings that it was unfair to evaluate the Redskins because their linebackers are the primary rushers for the team. Well, this group of linebackers make up the best unit in the division. Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith are two seasoned vets who know how to get after the quarterback. In the middle is a deadly combo of Mason Foster and newly-acquired free agent Zach Brown. This unit is poised to make noise in 2017.
Assuming everyone is healthy (which is a massive question mark for this unit), the Eagles take the second spot. Jordan Hicks was able to stay healthy last season and showed he is a budding star in the league when he is in coverage. Nigel Bradham was a sneaky good signing for the Eagles last season as well.
Sean Lee is arguably the best overall linebacker in the division, but the Cowboys lack depth outside of their veteran. They will be seeking production out of their young starters of Damien Wilson and Anthony Hitchens. This unit has a lot to prove.
The Giants are in a similar situation as the Cowboys; they have one seasoned veteran in Jonathan Casillas with two young guys next to him. Many have touted Devon Kennard early on in his career, but the inexperience of this group has them in the last spot.
The Best: New York Giants
The Rest: Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys
The Giants went out and spent big money last season to acquire Janoris Jenkins, and the payoff has been in favor of the team. In addition, the team also spent a first-round pick on Eli Apple to couple him with their prized free agent. They also have another veteran presence in the slot with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. With a blend of veteran leadership and young talent, along with their success as a whole in 2016, the Giants easily take the top spot in the division.
In a crazy turn of events, Josh Norman left the Carolina Panthers and inked his spot with the Redskins. Norman is a top ten talent at the position and is as consistent as they come. Washington also received good play from the young Bashaud Breeland. Norman alone makes this unit the second-best in the division and anything else they can get from their young players is gravy.
Ronald Darby is the newest addition to the Eagles after their trade with the Buffalo Bills. Darby has plenty of tools to be a solid starter but is is yet to be seen if he can be a lock-down corner the Eagles badly need. Jalen Mills will start opposite of Darby, but he is far from proven. There are many question marks surrounding the unit heading into week one.
The preseason was not kind to Orlando Scandrick, as the veteran sustained an injury this past week. Combined with the lackluster play from Nolan Carroll last season, this unit has a lot to prove before the regular season starts.
The Best: New York Giants
The Rest: Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys
Landon Collins was in the mix for the defensive player of the year, a very rare conversation for a safety to be in. Collins was lights out last season, and he will only get better. His blend of ball-hawking skills and tackling ability make him a top three safety in the game. Opposite of him is Darian Thompson, a second-year player who has only played two games for the Giants. Simply put, Collins is too dominant to not put them in the top spot.
Last season, the Eagles gave a hefty contract to hard-hitting safety Rodney McLeod to pair with Pro Bowler Malcolm Jenkins. The two showed flashes of fantastic chemistry last season but were not as consistent as Eagles fans might have hoped for. Individually, the two are very talented. They need to take the next step to usurp the Giants for this position, however.
The Redskins have two thumpers patrolling their secondary in D.J. Swearinger and Su’a Cravens. While the two are deadly in their ability to hit, they need to improve on their coverage ability to really take the next step and become a truly feared tandem.
If you haven’t yet, check out the offensive NFC East breakdown!