Matt Williamson is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and spent the last 10 years at ESPN as a scout and co-host of “The Football Today Podcast.”
The time between the end of the draft and the start of training camp is one for eternal optimism among NFL fans. Their favorite team is going to be so much better in the coming season. That club fixed its problems through free agency and the draft. Its incoming crop of rookies will all work out wonderfully. Injured players from the year before will return better than ever. No one will get hurt in 2017. You get the idea.
Unfortunately, this is most likely the best your favorite team’s roster will look all season. Much will happen between now and the Super Bowl, and much of it will be negative. With that in mind, this is a divisional series highlighting the biggest area of concern for each team right now. Here is the NFC East.
Cowboys – Tight End
Clearly, this Cowboys draft class was dedicated first and foremost to improving the team’s pass defense. Since they are rookie additions, the jury remains out, but that influx of talent should pay off for Dallas before long. But another position on this team – that’s long been a rock of stability and production – has become an area to worry about.
That, of course, is tight end.
Dallas did recently sign future Hall of Famer Jason Witten to a new four-year contract, but when you delve deeper into that deal, you realize Witten primarily signed to help Dallas’ front office – lowering his cap number for 2017 – and to ensure he’ll end his great career with the Cowboys.
At 35 years old, Witten still has some value, especially on this team with Dak Prescott and a running game that’s the foundation of the offense, but he’s no longer a major difference-maker. The Cowboys don’t have his heir apparent anywhere in sight, either.
Giants – Offensive Tackle
Over the past two drafts, the Giants have more or less ignored their offensive line needs, while 2015 first-rounder Ereck Flowers has no business being a starting left tackle and the other tackle spot is equally concerning. The interior should be quite good for now – led by Weston Richburg and Justin Pugh – but both of their contracts expire after this season.
With the signing of Brandon Marshall and drafting of Evan Engram in the first round, the Giants are loaded with receiving options for Eli Manning, who looked to be on the decline last season. Manning is still extremely sharp mentally, though, so expect the game plan to feature him getting the ball out quickly while excelling pre-snap and thus putting less stress on his suspect pair of tackles.
Still, in the NFL, there are times when your big boys up front have to handle those in front of them. That could be a real problem for the Giants.
Eagles – Running Back
The Eagles have been very aggressive this offseason in fixing the weaker areas of their team. That has certainly been the case at wide receiver, and to a slightly lesser degree at cornerback, edge rusher, and defensive tackle after losing Bennie Logan.
But Philadelphia’s running back depth chart looks eerily similar to last year’s model, with the small (very small) exception of fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey. Ryan Mathews is likely to be shipped out, which would leave a void for a bigger back who can carry a large number of times per game and handle short yardage work; only smaller options in Pumphrey, Darren Sproles, and Wendell Smallwood would remain on the roster. However, there are some running backs around the NFL right now that could possibly be acquired in a trade.
A few names for Philadelphia to consider would be Mark Ingram, Carlos Hyde, T.J. Yeldon, Chris Ivory, and Jeremy Hill. The Eagles would be the ideal landing spot for one of these established backs, and such a move could propel the team to the top of the NFC East.
Redskins – Defensive Line
In the big picture, the situation that looms largest for Washington is what will happen at quarterback over the next year or two. But for now, the Redskins’ biggest area of concern is their run defense.
This unit has been a big problem for some time now, and will be hurt further by losing tackle Chris Baker to Tampa Bay. The Redskins were very fortunate to have Jonathan Allen fall to them in the first round, but this defensive line lacks power players with great bulk to eat up the middle of the formation. As it stands now, Ziggy Hood is penciled in as the starting nose tackle. And while it’s a long shot, maybe Phil Taylor can resurrect his career with the Redskins and stay healthy enough to contribute on early downs.
We know that in today’s NFL, true nose tackles play very few snaps, but with the hopeful exception of Allen, Washington’s defensive line does not have a difference-maker to be found. Once again, the Redskins could be vulnerable to the run in 2017.
Biggest Weakness Remaining
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