2020 NFL Draft: NFC East Team Needs

With all four teams committed to young quarterbacks, here's who the Cowboys, Giants, Eagles and Washington could target to strengthen the rest of their rosters.
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Team needs by Andy Benoit; draft targets by Gary Gramling.

More Divisions: NFC North, NFC South, NFC West, AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, AFC West

Dallas Cowboys

Amidst all the speculation over the past year about new contracts for Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, few seem to have noticed that Dallas’s defense this offseason lost three high-end starters—RCB Byron Jones (Dolphins), DT Maliek Collins (Raiders) and DE Robert Quinn (Bears)—plus a handful of contributing role players like SS Jeff Heath (now a Raider), DL Christian Covington (unsigned UFA) and backup safety Kavon Frazier (unsigned UFA). Those departures leave them needy on both the front and back ends.

New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s scheme is predicated more on blitzing than was the straightforward, coverage-based scheme of predecessors Kris Richard and Rod Marinelli. To blitz, you need corners who can cover one-on-one. Fourth-year pro Chidobe Awuzie can, but his contract expires after 2020. Even if the Cowboys retain Awuzie (which likely won’t be cheap), they need someone to start opposite him in Byron Jones’s old spot. Awuzie’s fellow fourth-year pro, Jourdan Lewis, has quick transitional movement skills that are best suited for the slot. But that’s also the best position for Anthony Brown, who just signed a new three-year, $15.5M deal. Even if the Cowboys are comfortable with Lewis starting outside, it might be hard to retain both him and Awuzie in 2021.

Just because Mike Nolan is keener on blitzing than the previous regime doesn’t mean the Cowboys shouldn’t still jump at a defensive lineman should the right one be available. Assuming nose tackle Antwaun Woods returns (he’s currently an unsigned “exclusive rights free agent”), the arrival of 3-technique Gerald McCoy makes Dallas’s D-line sturdier inside than on the edges, but really the Cowboys can afford to take the best overall defensive lineman available, especially from pass-rushing standpoint.

On offense, the only position that’s not satisfactorily filled is slot receiver—a void that’s exacerbated by the absence of a dynamic receiving tight end. (The Cowboys weren’t wrong to re-sign TE Blake Jarwin, but he’s a piece in a system, not the type of weapon that influences coverage calls.) If there was an outside receiver the Cowboys loved, they could pull the trigger there with the understanding that, in three-WR sets, Amari Cooper would slide to the slot. You could argue that is actually the best way to use Cooper, given how much better he is when not facing press coverage.

Top-100 Targets (Dallas owns picks 17, 51 and 82): In the unlikely event South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw fell to them, the Cowboys would likely pounce. Otherwise, they’ll likely select from an interesting but flawed group of corners. Florida’s C.J. Henderson has the length and speed to play the boundary, but his inconsistent tackling might be too much for a Dallas defense that was plagued by it late last year. Utah’s Jaylon Johnson might make more sense, or even undersized but feisty Jeff Gladney of TCU, who might be able to hold his own on the boundary. They could certainly wait for Day 2 with this receiver class, where they could go with the polished Michael Pittman Jr. of USC, raw catch-and-run monster Brandon Aiyuk of Arizona State, or a big red-zone force in Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool or Baylor’s Denzel Mims.

New York Giants

A replacement must be found for departed veteran right tackle Mike Remmers—ideally someone who is comfortable playing either side. That player would start out at right tackle but could possibly move to left should the Giants decide that they’d rather eat $6.5 million in dead money than carry Nate Solder’s $20.5 million cap number in 2021. Or, maybe that rookie tackle could become a right guard, since it’s possible New York next year will take the $12 million in cap savings to cut Kevin Zeitler.

On top of finding men who can protect Daniel Jones, the Giants could use another who can catch his passes. 2019 fifth-rounder Darius Slayton has intriguing speed, perimeter quickness and (at times) ball skills, showing that he can (maybe) be a quality No. 3. But at 6' 1", 190 he is by far New York’s biggest contributing wide receiver. 6' 1", 190 is too small for a “biggest receiver.”

Defensively, on paper, edge rusher remains a need, especially with Markus Golden not being re-signed. Recently acquired ex-Packer Kyler Fackrell can be a noisy pass rusher from time to time, but more so with effort than talent. The tricky part is that quality edge rushers require high draft capital, and it remains to be seen if new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s scheme justifies that sort of investment. Graham has spent most of his coaching career in New England, where expensive edge players are eschewed in favor of meaty interior D-linemen and man-to-man cornerbacks. The Giants are mostly set at these spots already, with Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill and franchise-tagged Leonard Williams up front, and with recently signed James Bradberry joining last year’s first-round pick Deandre Baker in the secondary. (Bradberry played in a zone-heavy scheme with the Panthers but was often left with de facto man coverage responsibilities outside; Baker is coming off a wildly up-and-down rookie season, but his “ups” were intriguing and many of his “downs” came in zone coverage.) One could also argue that recent third-round edge players Lorenzo Carter (2018) and Oshane Ximines (2019) deserve more time to develop.

And so it’s possible the Giants won’t deem “edge” a major need. Considering that they’re loaded along the interior D-line, potentially much improved in the secondary and just spent $30.8 million over three years on free agent linebacker Blake Martinez, this defense, which ranked 30th in points allowed in 2019, is in that unusual position of still needing to get better but not having any gaping holes to fill. Which means GM Dave Gettleman can go the “best player available” route.

Top-100 Targets (Giants own picks 4, 36 and 99): It would be awfully tough to pass on Clemson OLB/S/slot CB/EDGE/pretty much whatever you want him to do Isaiah Simmons here, and surely Graham learned to value versatility during his time in New England. If they do go offensive line (Have you heard? Dave Gettleman loves hog mollies . . . ), Alabama’s Jedrick Wills certainly fits the bill on the right side, and you’d think Louisville’s Mekhi Becton could play either side of the line. Same goes for Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, maybe a bit more of a risk/reward pick, and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, more of a classic left tackle. If Gettleman waits until Round 2 to address the O-line, they could be looking at Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland, a high-ceiling developmental guy like Georgia’s Isaiah Wilson or Auburn’s Prince Tega Wanogho, wide-bodied “right tackle” Lucas Niang of TCU or finesse “left tackle” Austin Jackson from USC.

Philadelphia Eagles

At first blush, one probably sees “linebacker” as Philadelphia’s biggest need. But the players slated for these positions are better than their pedigrees suggest. Fourth-year pro Nathan Gerry can be a swift playmaker in pass defense, and he improved steadily in his overall play recognition last season. Undrafted second-year middle linebacker T.J. Edwards has flashed as a thumper taking on blocks. And he won’t be needed on passing downs with the arrival of ex-Chargers cover linebacker Jatavis Brown. Is it a great linebacking unit? No. And true, more depth is needed. But don’t be surprised if Philadelphia waits until the middle rounds to address it.

The need for speed on offense is much more significant. When DeSean Jackson went down last season, so did Philadelphia’s vertical passing game. The 33-year-old veteran is back in 2020 and there’s no reason to think he can’t still run. But given the concerns about Jackson’s durability, the myriad questions swirling around expensive veteran Alshon Jeffery (including how will he recover from last December’s Lisfranc foot injury?) and 2019 second-rounder J.J. Arcega-Whiteside’s disappointing rookie season, finding another downfield weapon is paramount. Most likely, that weapon will have to contribute as a starting outside receiver on Day One, given that 2019’s late-season breakout player, Greg Ward, is almost strictly a slot guy. When Philly’s offense is clicking, it’s one of the best at stressing defenses—especially zone defenses—with combination routes. And so it reasons that improvements at wide receiver could have a dramatic trickledown effect for the rest of this offense.

Top-100 Targets (Philadelphia owns picks 21, 53, 85 and 103): Philly will cross its collective fingers and hope that Alabama speedster Henry Ruggs III makes it to 21. Otherwise, they might be looking at the likes of Penn State’s KJ Hamler or Baylor’s Denzel Mims in the second, and they might need a little more development time than the Eagles are comfortable with. If they’re looking for a linebacker late on Day 2, Texas Tech’s Jordan Brooks are scheme fits, as is the undersized Akeem Davis-Gaither of Appalachian State.

Washington

This defense is not riddled with the glaring needs that people might think. The secondary was enhanced by the signing of Kendall Fuller, who has experience at all three major DB positions: outside corner, slot and safety. Ex-Steeler Sean Davis injects additional athleticism at the free safety spot. Last year’s big free agent pickup Landon Collins might be expensive, but he’s an upper-echelon strong safety. The only concern is that incumbent starting right corner Quinton Dunbar wanted out, and was traded to the Seahawks on Monday. That's a deceptively big loss. Dunbar, with his keen route recognition, is perhaps the NFL’s most underrated corner. Even if Washington hadn't traded Dunbar, they could still have used one more corner to challenge Fabian Moreau for the No. 3 job.

Defensive line is Washington’s least needed area defensively, though that should not preclude them from drafting a possible generational talent in Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. That would give them a potentially dominant front four, with Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne and Matt Ioannidis (arguably Washington’s most effective D-lineman in 2019) rotating inside and Ryan Kerrigan, Montez Sweat and Young rotating on the edges. In fact, it’s a potentially good enough front and decent enough secondary that one could even see Washington waiting until the middle rounds to address the resoundingly average linebacking unit that sits between them.

That would allow Washington to find pass-catchers in the early rounds. They desperately need one at tight end. In fact, with the oft-concussed Jordan Reed gone and Vernon Davis retired, they need two. Same goes for wide receiver. Fine-tuned route runner Terry McLaurin is a star in the marking, and the 6' 2", 215-pound Kelvin Harmon shows potential as an X-receiver. But from there it drops off.

This is all assuming, of course, that Trent Williams returns. If the 31-year-old left tackle still refuses to play for Washington even after this offseason’s front office and coaching staff changes, his position becomes a major priority. Because though Washington is (wisely) letting the world think the team might draft a QB at No. 2, it’s very unlikely that Dwayne Haskins won’t be the starter come Opening Day. Haskins right now—and maybe forever—is the type of classic pocket-passing QB who requires sound pass protection.

Top-100 Targets (Washington owns picks 2 and 66): Ohio State’s Chase Young will almost surely be the pick here, unless Washington can trade out. If they don’t trade out, they’ll wait 64 picks to select again (and 44 picks after that). With that 66th selection, Washington’s Hunter Bryant has a lot of similarities to Jordan Reed, which, unfortunately, includes a lengthy injury history. Florida Atlantic’s Harrison Bryant is another dynamic receiving threat. If they’re willing to be patient, Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool or Liberty’s Antonio Gandy-Golden could become perfect complements to McLaurin. At corner, Ohio State’s Damon Arnette would give them another flexible piece on the back end, or Louisiana Tech’s Amik Robertson would provide a pure slot guy.

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