Examining the NFC East: The Quarterbacks

It's Dak Prescott then everyone else in the NFC East
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Our annual series examining the NFC East from a positional perspective with the help of league personnel sources continues with the quarterbacks.

The closest thing the NFC East has to a “star quarterback” resides in North Texas and Dak Prescott is no sure thing because the now sixth-year pro is coming off a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle that cost him about 75 percent of last season.

Before the injury, Prescott was putting up historic passing numbers - throwing for 256 yards in the season-opener before exploding for 450-, 472-, and then 502-yard games - when the injury came in Week 5.

Previously Prescott had been an ironman, starting all 72 of the Cowboys’ games (both regular season and postseason) since being selected in the fourth round out of Mississippi State the same year the Eagles drafted Carson Wentz at No. 2 overall in 2016.

Prescott was forced into action as a rookie due to a preseason injury to Tony Romo and played so well he never gave it back.

In many ways, Prescott is a better template than anyone else for the potential path to success for Eagles’ second-year starter, Jalen Hurts, because the two are so similar from both traits and physical perspectives.

The key for Hurts, who started four games as a rookie once Philadelphia pulled the plug on Wentz, is to improve what was woeful accuracy from a statistical standpoint last season.

“Accuracy on intermediate and deep throws dropped sharply,” NFL.com’s scouting report said of Prescott said coming into the 2016 draft.

Turns out the Prescott drop was more about the poor protection for him at Mississippi State. When he got to Dallas with one of the top offensive lines in the NFL protecting him, the ghosts were gone from the pocket and he hit on 67.8 percent of his passes as a rookie.

To date, that number has only dropped under 65 percent once in five seasons - 62.8 percent in 2017. Even in the modern NFL where there is much more underneath stuff, those numbers are impressive and the completion percentage will tell the tale on Hurts moving forward.

Were the poor results in a small sample size (52 percent) an anomaly due to the devastating offensive line, coupled with the harping to throw it away on occasion because of Wentz’s unwillingness to do so? Or is it the fatal flaw?

“You know he can extend plays,” an ex-AFC personnel evaluator said. “You know he can run it. This is a fullback playing QB and people are surprised at just how strong he is.

“The issue is can he throw from the pocket on a consistent basis? Getting [DeVonta] Smith should help. Like a lot of young QBs, he’s not anticipatory. He wants to throw to open spots.”

Here’s how the NFC East shapes up at the game’s most important position as a whole:

No. 4 - Philadelphia Eagles - The issue is uncertainty and for all the criticism someone like Chris Simms got for not putting Hurts in his top 40, maybe some of it’s valid but you also can’t go overboard and assume there is going to be massive development with Hurts in 2021.

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The good news is that the O-Line, albeit an aging group, should be back in the top-10 range and the supporting cast should be improved with the addition of Smith.

The most important coach on the Eagles’ new staff is Brian Johnson because he’s the one that will be working with Hurts on a daily basis.

"I think the biggest thing in terms of accuracy is obviously developing your feet and your eyes and making sure that everything is in concert with your target and having a great understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish as an offense," Johnson explained. "I’ve been extremely excited how he has handled the installs."

Eagles QB Joe Flacco

Eagles QB Joe Flacco

The backup situation might actually be the best in the division with aging former Super Bowl-winner Joe Flacco and ex-San Francisco backup Nick Mullens, who started a season’s worth of games with the 49ers over the year. Both Flacco (neck) and Mullens (elbow) have some injury concerns.

No. 3 - New York Giants: In many ways, Daniel Jones is a lot like Hurts, in that some think he has one more year to prove himself as the leader of the Giants.

The difference is that Jones has the pedigree of being the sixth overall pick in 2019 so mediocrity and maybe some improvement with ball security could buy him an additional 12 months as well.

From a weapons standpoint, the Giants did everything possible for Jones, adding receivers Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney and tight end Kyle Rudolph to go along with superstar running back Saquon Barley returning from injury. T

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They didn’t address the offensive line, however, so a big improvement from second-year players Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart will be needed.

“Her’s the problem. Everybody will expect things with the new weapons,” an NFC scout said. “I would have focused on shoring up the offensive line before dealing with the other issues.”

The backup situation is nothing to write home about with Mike Glennon and former Eagles’ fifth-round flop Clayton Thorson, who has nearly finished his tour of the NFC East less than two years into his career.

No. 2 - Washington Football Team: Yep, the 38-year-old suiting up for his ninth NFL team is the second-best option in the division. The difference is the ceiling for players like Jones and Hurts vs. the floor of a high-volume thrower in Ryan Fitzpatrick.

The issue with Fitzpatrick has always been consistency - the so-called “Fitzmagic” one week before “Fitztragic” shows up the next with wild mood swings mimicking the NFL’s version on-field version of bipolar disorder.

It might be NFC Offensive Player of the Week for Fitzpatrick in Week 3 and then a four-interception performance in Week 4.

Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick slayed the Eagles when he was with Tampa Bay last year

The well-traveled and inconsistent Ryan Fitzpatrick is now with the WFT 

For a team with perhaps the best defensive front in football and a projected top-5 defensive overall, the goal is twofold - get Fitzpatrick to the playoffs healthy and hope “Fitzmagic” shows up when the stage gets bigger.

The backups are Ron Rivera favorite Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke, who showed his mental toughness by returning in December of last season and ultimately throwing for 306 yards and a hard-fought playoff loss to eventual Super Bowl winner Tampa Bay.

“[Fitzpatrick] is better than people think,” An AFC scout said. “He knows how to play. He’s been pigeonholed as the bridge for so long people still get surprised.”

No. 1 - Dallas Cowboys: Prescott is head and shoulders above everyone else in the division but the Cowboys still didn’t do much at the backup spot even after suffering through what losing Prescott looked like in 2020.

The options on hand remain Cooper Rush, Garrett Gilbert, and Ben DiNucci with Garrett is the leader in a very poor clubhouse.

“You would think they would have done more,” an ex-AFC scout said of the backup position. “This is a division where you could win it with the backup.”

John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.

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