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2017 Draft Needs: How Can The NFC East Teams Improve?

Chuck Anderson-USA TODAY Sports

What should teams focus on heading into the Draft?

As April moves along, NFL teams are perfecting their big boards before draft day. Each team has unique roster holes to address in order to improve from last year. 

Dallas Cowboys

2017 draft picks: 1(28), 2(28), 3(28), 4(27), 6(28), 7(10), 7(28)

The 2016 Cowboys showed they have a bright future with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and a stellar offensive line to lead the way. Ultimately, their Super Bowl run was derailed when Aaron Rodgers shredded the Dallas defense for 355 yards in the divisional round. Rodgers consistently had time to extend plays and make throws down the field like this one:


With 10 of 11 offensive starters returning from a unit that finished fifth in DVOA, Dallas can gear its focus towards the defensive side of the ball come draft weekend. Cowboys Executive VP (and primary shot caller) Stephen Jones recently confirmed such notions himself. The losses of Morris Claiborne , Brandon Carr, and Barry Church in free agency have left Dallas thin and inexperienced on the back end. Defensive line help is needed as well, as the team leader in sacks only managed five on the year (Maliek Collins).

With a surplus of defensive back and edge rush talent in this year’s draft, Dallas could be looking at several premium players available at the 28th pick. Recent history tells us the front office will place an emphasis on drafting players with elite athleticism. Byron Jones, Randy Gregory, and Charles Tapper are all recent Dallas draftees with SPARQ ratings above the 85th percentile. In addition, look for Dallas to add size and physicality to their defensive backfield after finishing 30th in DVOA against TEs in 2016. 

Potential First-Round Targets

CB Kevin King (Washington): King’s top-end height, athleticism, and experience at multiple positions would make him an early contributor for the Cowboys.

DE Charles Harris (Missouri): Although Harris did not test well at the Combine, his quick first step and high motor are exactly what Dallas needs at defensive line. 

S Obi Melifonwu (Connecticut): Melifonwu is the type of athletic freak Dallas loves to pick and would make for an explosive safety tandem alongside fellow UConn product Byron Jones.

New York Giants

2017 draft picks: 1(23), 2(23), 3(23), 4(34), 5(23), 6(23), 7(23)

Signing expensive free agents is generally considered a bad roster-building strategy in today’s NFL. The Giants disproved conventional wisdom after adding Janoris Jenkins, Damon Harrison, and Olivier Vernon last offseason, who helped New York finish with the second ranked defense by DVOA, up from 30th in 2015. In fact, six different Giants defenders finished with PFF grades above 85 on the season, and all were defensive backs (Jenkins, Landon Collins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) or defensive linemen (Harrison, Vernon, Jason Pierre-Paul). The Giants could address the linebacker spot come draft day and take a step toward becoming great on all three levels of defense.

New York’s glaring weakness is their rushing offense. The team averaged 3.5 yards per rush attempt (30th in the league) and had just one 100-yard rushing performance (Paul Perkins, Week 17). The Giants have tried to use a backfield committee, but their running game remains stagnant without a true workhorse. Look for New York to select a running back this year to help provide some offensive balance.

Defensive tackle is another area of concern, as Johnathan Hankins’ departure leaves the position with little experience behind Harrison. Additionally, Eli Manning turned 36 this past January. New York could select Manning’s successor and hold him for the future.

Potential First-Round Targets

RB Dalvin Cook (Florida State): Cook has the size and build to be the workhorse back the Giants can never seem to find. 

DT Malik McDowell (Michigan State): New York never hesitates to draft defensive linemen and McDowell has the explosiveness to be an effective inside rusher to go with elite run-stopper Damon Harrison. 

LB Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt): Cunningham fits the 4-3 defense perfectly and is the quick-twitch playmaker the Giants need in their uninspiring linebacker group.

Philadelphia Eagles

2017 draft picks: 1(14), 2(11), 3(35), 4(12), 4(33), 5(11), 6(10), 7(12)

The Eagles had a hot start to 2016 led by dominant defensive play but could not sustain their success, finishing 7-9. Carson Wentz had growing pains, failing to reach a QB rating of 100 in any game after Week 4. Some of his issues were tied to middling receiver play. Having finished top-10 in drops for the past two years, Philadelphia went and signed Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to short, team-friendly deals in hopes of giving Wentz reliable targets on the outside. 

The real concern on Philly’s roster comes in the defensive backfield. PFF ranked the Eagles secondary the worst in the league for 2016, and that was prior to Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin’s departure in free agency. The signing of Patrick Robinson is a step in the right direction, but the Eagles will certainly have their eyes on defensive backs in a draft full of talent there. 

Offensively, Philly will take a hard look at running back in the early rounds. Both Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews are set to become free agents next offseason, while Wendell Smallwood lacks the size needed for larger workloads. A tough, physical running back paired with Philly’s strong run-blocking unit up front can take pressure off Wentz to carry the offense after he had the fifth most pass attempts in the league last season.

Potential First-Round Targets

RB Dalvin Cook (Florida State): Cook is comfortable in different running schemes and can be the lead back of the future on a team that is both aging and undersized at the position. 

CB Tre’Davious White (LSU): White has the man coverage skills to fit into Jim Schwartz’s defense and can contribute on special teams right away. 

CB Gareon Conley (Ohio State): Conley possesses the length and press ability needed in a division full of talented pass catchers. 

Washington Redskins

2017 draft picks: 1(17), 2(17), 3(17), 4(7), 4(17), 5(10), 6(17), 6(25), 7(2), 7(17)

The 2016 Redskins featured a high-flying offense led by Kirk Cousins, who boasted the third most passing yards in the league and led the offense to an impressive third-place finish in DVOA. Washington’s pass catching depth made DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon’s departures easier to bear, and the addition of Terrelle Pryor can help the offense sustain their success from last year. While the team’s running back group lacks high pedigree players, head coach Jay Gruden has expressed confidence in Rob Kelley this offseason. However, the possibility of drafting a back has not been eliminated:

Washington can use help at every defensive level after a 27th place finish in DVOA. Their front seven was ineffective, ranking near the bottom of the league in yards per carry allowed and percentage of runs stuffed behind the line of scrimmage. PFF ranked their secondary 26th in the NFL following the 2016 season despite the boost Josh Norman provided. Although any defensive pick would make sense for the Skins, look for them to focus on defensive line and safety on draft weekend. 

Kirk Cousins’ future in D.C. is still up in the air after both sides failed to agree on a long-term deal. With the chance he moves on after this season, selecting the QB of the future could be in play for Washington as well. 

Potential First-Round Targets

RB Christian McCaffrey (Stanford): McCaffrey’s versatility would add a new element to Washington’s offense to keep defenses guessing. 

S Jabrill Peppers (Michigan): Peppers’ positional flexibility would be welcome on a defense that has issues across the board. 

DT Caleb Brantley (Florida): Brantley has the frame and power to play nose or end in Washington’s scheme and can help shore up the run defense.


Edited by Jazmyn Brown.

SQuiz
Who was the Dallas Cowboys' first round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft?
Created 4/13/17
  1. Tony Romo
  2. Jason Witten
  3. Terence Newman
  4. Bradie James

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