2012 Division Preview: NFC East
Key Pickups: LB DeMeco Ryans, OT Demetrius Bell
The Eagles didn’t really hit free agency hard this year due to attacking it last year and bringing in guys like Nnamdi Asomugha and Cullen Jenkins, however they did make a few moves that stick out. Acquiring LB DeMeco Ryans will be huge for them – both on the field and off. DeMeco was traded from the Houston Texans to join an Eagles defense that needs to come out and prove themselves for Eagles faithful. Ryans is a natural born leader and he plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played. He’s going to come in and have an immediate impact on a team that lacked depth and play at the Linebacker position one year ago. Demetrius Bell comes over from the Buffalo Bills, and he’ll be able to step in an make a difference with the loss of Eagles current LT, Jason Peters who has not once, but twice blown his Achilles tendon and he will most likely miss the 2012 season. Bell can come in and contribute to the left side of the line to keep Michael Vick somewhat comfortable behind the line of scrimmage. Although Bell is not a highly-regarded Left Tackle, all he needs to do is play clean and he’s an exception to most in the game because Vick is a left handed QB and that should make up some of the difference in play.
Key Losses: FB Owen Schmitt, QB Vince Young
Owen Schmitt might not be a household name to a lot of casual NFL fans, but on film, he made a big difference for the Eagles in an outstanding year for RB LeSean McCoy. Scmhitt is primarily a run blocking FB that made a lot of McCoy’s success last year possible. He’s not known for catching screens out of the flat and taking them to the house, but his impact in the run game will surely be missed. Some might chuckle at the fact that I have Vince Young in here, but let’s be honest – Vick hasn’t shown he can stay healthy for a full NFL season, as he takes a beating week in and week out. The backup QB position consists of Mike Kafka, Trent Edwards and Rookie Nick Foles. Young is a guy with scrambling ability like Vick, who, with help from an offseason, could have been a big asset to them if Vick happened to go down. He might be a nut-case who blurted the words ‘Dream Team’ last year, but I think he could have been of more value to them this season with the benefit of an offseason program.
Draft Picks/Grade: DT Flatcher Cox, LB Mychal Kendricks, DE Vinny Curry, QB Nick Foles, DB Brandon Boykin, OT Dennis Kelly, WR Marvin McNutt, OG Brandon Washington, RB Bryce Brown
I think the Eagles hit it out of the park in this years draft. They traded up to snag Fletcher Cox to add to the already punishing pass rush they utilize. They swooped in on LB Mychal Kendricks who can impact that defense tremendously. They also picked up WR Marvin McNutt, which I view as a value pick in the sixth round. He’s a receiver that can do a lot of things and had he performed better at the Senior Bowl, he would have been a much higher draft pick. The Eagles did a good job in the draft while drafting for need, as well as adding valuable depth to other positions with guys that can get the job done if their numbers are called. An impressive draft for a staff that was rumored to have been on the hot-seat after last seasons disappointing run.
Coaching Staff: Andy Reid returns as the head coach for the Eagles, heading into his 13th year as the head man. Marty Mornhinweg returns as the Offensive Coordinator after an offseason where he was rumored to be a leading candidate in many Head Coaching vacancies. His offenses are always ran well, and with retaining the play makers they have on offense, I don’t see them skipping a beat. Juan Castillo also returns to the staff as Defensive Coordinator. He took a lot of hits from Eagles fans last year as he built a defense from scratch after coming over from the Offensive Line position he held with the team. A struggling defense last year had fans calling for this mans head, but they finished strong last season and he retained his position. In his second year as DC, I see his plan working well for the team, and they’ll build off the success they had at the end of last year.
Offensive Player To Watch: RB LeSean McCoy, WR DeSean Jackson, QB Michael Vick
I know it says player, but I can’t whittle it down to one. These three guys have a lot to do this season. Both McCoy and Jackson signed mega-buck deals this offseason, and I expect them to play as they were paid. McCoy played very well last season, and at the young age of 23, he’s got a lot of game ahead of him. A guy that is a day younger than me just signed a $45 million dollar deal, while I sit here and write about it. I expect him to have the same results as he had a year ago, and build off his success. DeSean Jackson took a beating from me last year as I bashed him for his on the field antics after a holdout that got him nowhere. He signed a 5-year extension this year, and now that he got paid I hope he cleans up his act to play like the explosive player he is. His selfishness last season cost the Eagles quite a bit, now he has his money I hope he goes out and plays well for them. I have Vick here for one reason, and one reason only – He must play every snap of every game. I hear analysts bicker all the time about Vick trying to make a play when it just isn’t there. Sometimes the best play to make is just throwing the ball away and moving on to the next down. He needs to play smarter and stay away from all the unnecessary hits he takes in order to play a full season and take this team to the promised land.
Defensive Player To Watch: CB Nnamdi Asomugha
For years, Asomugha played lights-out defense and was known as one of the best defensive backs in the league under an Al Davis ran Press Coverage defense. When he made the transition to the Eagles, he didn’t look like he was worthy of the ‘great’ title he once had. His play in a zone scheme was weak, and all along I said that Juan Castillo needed to focus more on his skill sets that made him a Shutdown Corner. In the last few weeks of the year, Nnamdi stepped his game up like something clicked for him. If he’s able to stay comfortable in his new role, he can retain his game and play at the level he once did, it will be refreshing for Eagles fans that celebrated his arrival.
Projected Outcome: 11-5
I know the Giants are the defending Super Bowl Champs, but this Eagles team is going to be too good to not crown the division winner. They are building off of what they finished last season, and they’re looking strong while doing so. The Coaching staff is in a win-now situation, and without losing very many key guys, the team has a chance to be one of the best in the league this season. If they can gel and play together, this will be a scary Eagles team.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Key Pickups: LB Keith Rivers (Via trade with Cincinatti), TE Martellus Bennett
when you’re the reigning super bowl champions, you don’t have to go out and make a huge splash in free agency. The Giants were quiet this offseason in terms of pickups except for a few moves. The Giants picked up LB Keith Rivers in a trade with Cincinnati in exchange for a 5th round pick, but Rivers is probably more famous for getting his jaw broken by Hines Ward than any of his game skills so far. Martellus Bennett is a BIG tight end. When I say big, I mean big. He’s listed at 265 lbs, but according to recent reports he’s almost up to 300 lbs. He’s an excellent blocking tight end, which could be very beneficial to the team.
Key Losses: RB Brandon Jacobs, WR Mario Manningham, CB Aaron Ross, T Kareem McKenzie
The Giants definitely took some hits this season when it came to losing players. Brandon Jacobs had seen diminished touches but was still an important piece, Aaron Ross was the starting right corner, and the Giants opted not to re-sign Kareem McKenzie. I think the loss that will hurt the most is Mario Manningham. He may not have ever been a number 1 receiver, but he was still an important part of the team. He made a potential game-saving catch in the super bowl last season, possibly helping the Giants win the big one.
Draft Picks and Grade: David Wilson RB, Virginia Tech; Rueben Randle, WR, LSU; Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech; Adrien Robinson, TE, Cincinnati; Brandon Mosley, OT, Auburn; Matt McCants, OT, Alabama-Birmingham; Markus Kuhn, DT, NC State
After losing Brandon Jacobs to free agency, I like the pickup of Virginia Tech running back David Wilson. The NFL is becoming more and more of a two-back league, and Ahmad Bradshaw can’t do everything himself. The pick that I’m not so sure about is CB Jayron Hosley who is also from Virginia Tech. His draft stock plummeted after he failed a drug test. He’s technically sound, but definitely iffy behavior wise. The Giants did a good job addressing needs but I would liked to have seen them take a tackle earlier in the draft.
Coaching Staff– It seems like every year, Head Coach Tom Coughlin is on the hot seat when the Giants have a slow start but once the playoff races roll around, Coughlin and his Giants step their game up, and somehow the Giants are in the hunt for another Lombardi Trophy. It might be harder to do that this year because the tail end of their schedule is brutal (games against the Saints, Ravens, Falcons, and Eagles to close out the season). Do I think that he’ll end up getting fired if they have a rough time at the end of the season? No. I think he’s safe after winning his second super bowl last season. I like Coach Coughlin, his teams find ways to win. I think he’ll still be donning the headset by season’s end.
Offensive Player to Watch: Victor Cruz
Victor Cruz was almost cut on numerous occasions last year. He looked like an afterthought, and then suddenly he was relevant. He had over 1,500 yards for the Giants, a team record. He caught a 99 yard touchdown pass against the Jets (89 yards were Yards AFTER the catch). In the NFC Title game against the 49ers, Cruz had 10 grabs for 142 yards…all in the first half. This isn’t just an offensive player to watch for the Giants, this is THE offensive player to watch in the entire league. I’m intrigued by this guy. I want to see if he’s a one-year wonder or if he’s for real. I have a feeling we’re going to see A LOT of salsa dancing this season.
Defensive Player to Watch: Osi Umenyiora
After the issues with his contract during this offseason, Osi says he has “Peace of mind” now that his contract is restructured. Now he can get back to work. He claims he has been griping about the contract situation for a good four years, and that it’s been holding him back. Well, he already holds the team record for sacks in a game with six against the Eagles in 2007, so if he’s really been holding back that’s a scary thing for whoever faces him on the line.
Projected Outcome: 9-7
Key Pickups: QB Kyle Orton, CB Brandon Carr
After ranking 23rd in pass defense 2011, the Cowboys really adressed their secondary this offseason, starting with signing former Chiefs corner Brandon Carr, who was one of, if not the highest rated available corner in Free Agency. Kyle Orton adds veteran depth at a position of need since John Kitna has hung up the cleats. The Cowboys would be in trouble if Romo went down, so Orton to back him up is a nice fit for the team.
Key Losses: OG Kyle Kosier, CB Terrence Newman
Both releases came more as a when than why. Terrence Newman’s time had run out in Dallas when he failed to hold his own in the passing game. Kyle Kosier was released to make room for younger players at the guard position. Although I don’t agree with the move, Dallas is trying to get younger on the offensive end.
Draft Picks/Grade: CB Morris Claiborne, DE Tyrone Crawford, LB Kyle Wilber, S Matt Johnson, WR Danny Coale, TE James Hanna, LB Caleb McSurdy
The defense in North Texas was a major concern in 2011 and the ‘Boys adressed this matter by trading up and drafting LSU’s Mo Claiborne. Their next 6 picks contained four defensive players, notably Boise State’s Tyron Crawford. Probably the best pick of them all. NFL Network’s take on Crawford:
“He’s the prototypical 5-technique in the 3-4 defense. He provides tremendous depth that the Cowboys want.”
On offense, Dallas brought in underrated talent in Virginia Tech’s Danny Coale and Oklahoma’s James Hanna. Both were integral pieces in their respective teams offense and look for the same in the NFL with given time.
After the Wade Phillips era, the Cowboys were in desperate need for a fiery guy who could pump up and rile up these players. And Jason Garrett is the perfect selection. Despite last season’s debacle, 2011 was a learning experience for Garrett as a full time head coach. Rob Ryan is back as defensive coordinator and looks to have a better fielded one as well. Bill Callahan comes in as the offensive coordinator after 4 seasons as the assistant head coach for the Jets. Look for the Felix-Demarco running back duo to greatly flourish from this move.
Offensive player to watch: RB Demarco Murray
Last season was a roller coaster year for Demarco Murray. After starting the season with an average of 5 carries a game, a Felix Jones injury paved the way for Demarco Murray. His first game starting he set a Cowboys franchise record for rushing yards with 253. Murray eventually went on to have a good season before an ankle injury ended his season. With a clean bill of health, look for Murray to compete for the starting job with oft-injured Felix Jones.
Defensive player to watch: CB Morris Claiborne
After moving up 9 spots to grab him, Morris Claiborne will be expected to produce and produce right away. After showing at LSU that he was able to cover man to man with no help, the Cowboys pass defense should be much more improved.
Projected outcome: 10-6
Key Pickups: WR Pierre Garcon, CB Brandon Meriweather, K Neil Rackers
The Redskins also franchised their TE, Fred Davis, resigned LB London Fletcher and RB Tim Hightower. Overall I like what the Redskins did this off-season. They didn’t really go nuts, but they kept some solid guys and strengthened a loss of Buchanon at CB with Meriweather and Stallworth at WR with Garcon.
Key Losses: S LaRon Landy, CB Phillip Buchanon, WR Donte Stallworth, OG Sean Locklear
Landry will be their biggest loss and probably the Jets biggest upgrade during this offseason. Although, I wouldn’t bet against Stallworth putting up some decent numbers in New England. That’s just how the NE offense rolls.
Draft Picks/Grade: Robert Griffin, QB, Josh LeRibeus, G, Kirk Cousins, QB, Keenan Robinson, ILB, Adam Gettis, G, Alfred Morris, RB,Tom Compton, OT, Richard Crawford, CB, Jordan Bernstine, S
I generally disagree with most draft grades given because I feel like most analysts get too excited and tend to rank rookies far too high. This is an ugly trend that happens on a daily basis in sports. With that being said, most sites give the Skins anywhere from a C+ to a B. I feel like ensuring your future at QB is the most important thing a team can do in the NFL draft and that alone has to boost your draft grade a little bit.
Add in the fact that most people feel like Washington reached with their second overall selection with Josh LeRibeus, whereas I believe they filled a need rather than took the best player available. There is nothing wrong with that, people. The only part of the Redskins’ draft I didn’t like was the selection of QB Kirk Morrison at 102 overall. That pick was probably the most confusing thing I’ve ever witnessed and likely Morrison’s least favorite move of the entire draft.
Offensive player to watch: QB Robert Griffin III
This was the obvious choice here. RG3 should impact the Redskins less than impressive offense from last season almost immediately. Washington is betting on newly acquired wide receiver, Pierre Garcon, to be Griffin’s new best friend and favorite target. So I’d watch Garcon this season as well. Perhaps it’s finally time for him to make an attempt at breaking into that next tier of WR’s.
Defensive player to watch: CB DeAngelo Hall
Rookie QB, Robert Griffin III, has marveled at the competition in the Redskins secondary thus far, and the guy to watch there is DeAngelo Hall. Hall’s man coverage has come into question on an occasion, but he has to be the leader of the secondary and force guys to work hard. With the ability to pick off passes and make tackles (90 in 2011) Hall should be the guy to watch here.
Projected outcome: 5-11
Washington has some things to desire for sure, but they’ll need to put their potential to work and win some games in 2012. Not to mention they play in a tough division. With the Cowboys and Eagles both projected for increases in the win column in 2012 and the defending champion Giants on a mission to silence their critics, Washington will have it’s work cut out for them this season.
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