Thursday, May 13, 2010

Four Downs: NFC East

by Sean McCormick

Dallas Cowboys
Biggest Post-Draft Need: Offensive Tackle

Going into the draft, the Cowboys had three clear areas of need -- to find a starting free safety, to add youth and depth along the offensive line, and to make up for the fact that they passed on Randy Moss. OK, that last one wasn't so obvious, but that's the need that Jerry Jones addressed when he traded up to select troubled Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant and immediately gave him the prized 88 jersey previously worn by stars like Drew Pearson and Michael Irvin (not to mention Moss when he was at Marshall). Bryant was one of the six or seven most talented players in the draft and was clearly a better player than any lineman or safety available, so the pick made sense from a talent standpoint. The Cowboys were able to find a safety prospect with cornerback cover skills when they nabbed Division II product Akwasi Owusu-Ansah in the fourth round, but he probably won't be ready to contribute much this season as he adjusts to the speed of the pro game. They also added Notre Dame tackle Sam Young in the sixth round, but he projects as strictly a right tackle prospect and doesn't provide much cushion should Doug Free struggle on the left side. So while the Cowboys addressed their primary areas of need, it's unclear if they did so effectively.

Important Undrafted Free Agents
The most notable signing is New Hampshire tight end Scott Sicko, who made headlines by turning down five separate contract offers from NFL teams, only to change his mind quietly two days later and sign with the Cowboys. Dallas signed a couple of offensive linemen in Cal's Mike Tepper and Virginia's Will Barker to act as camp bodies, but each player has a shot at pushing his way into the equation considering the weak depth on the roster. Barker was a four-year starter at Virginia, a program that has been churning out solid pro linemen of late, and at 6-foot-7 and 318 pounds, he has terrific size.

New York Giants
Biggest Post-Draft Need: Offensive Line Depth

Rolando McClain will not be the next middle linebacker for the New York Giants. Neither will Sean Weatherspoon, nor Sean Lee, nor any other high-profile inside linebacking prospect. Instead, the Giants continued their longstanding adherence to George Young's Planet Theory by taking big, strong, fast defensive linemen with their first two selections and waiting until round four to address their biggest hole with Nebraska's Phillip Dillard, one of the more underrated prospects in the draft. Dillard had enough coverage ability to stay on the field in Nebraska's nickel and dime packages, and he could work his way into the middle linebacker competition in a hurry.

With early and mid-round picks devoted to defensive end, defensive tackle, safety and middle linebacker, there weren't picks left over for another unit that quietly underperformed last year -- the offensive line. The coaches would like to see William Beatty win the left tackle job, which would allow them to kick David Diehl inside to left guard and push Rich Seubert into a reserve role. Even if all that works out, there might be trouble on the right side, where longtime stalwart Kareem McKenzie missed four games with injuries and may be showing signs of slowing down. Right now the only backup is the unfortunately named Guy Whimper, but he is more of a career reserve than a potential successor.

Important Undrafted Free Agents
Local product Tim Brown played his college ball at Rutgers and will now try to latch on at the bottom of a very crowded depth chart. At 5-foot-6, Brown is badly undersized, but he showed an ability to run a wide variety of routes and could latch on as a true slot receiver. After abstaining from Big Ten players all draft weekend, the team indulged its fondness for the conference by inking a pair of Ohio State Buckeyes in tight end Jake Ballard and center Jim Cordle, as well as Penn State guard Dennis Landolt.

Philadelphia Eagles
Biggest Post-Draft Need: Cornerback

Perhaps no team has been as aggressively forward-thinking with its roster management this decade as Philadelphia. Under Andy Reid, the Eagles routinely cut or trade players a year too soon rather than waiting for them to decline or to become too expensive to justify their production. So it was no surprise to see the team ship Sheldon Brown to Cleveland despite his still being a productive player. But with Philadelphia's trouble dealing with No. 2 receivers last year -- their 9.0% DVOA was 24th in the league -- and with only Joselio Hanson and Ellis Hobbs as potential replacements, it was surprising to see Philadelphia neglect to address the cornerback position via the draft. Despite spending a whopping nine of their 11 draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles only selected one corner, Kentucky's Trevard Lindley , whom they took with the 105th pick. Several of Lindley 's scouting reports suggest that he struggles to stay with quicker receivers in man coverage, which is never a good quality in a pressure defense. His suspect tackling makes him a particularly risky complement to the already contact-adverse Asante Samuel. Lindley is unlikely to do more than play in dime packages as a rookie, and cornerback depth could become a pressing issue if one of the starters goes down.

Important Undrafted Free Agents
North Carolina State's Jerraill McCuller is a little lanky for a right tackle, but he looks mobile and aggressive on film. Kevin Jurovic started his career at San Jose State at safety before moving to receiver to take advantage of his soft hands, but he probably lacks the athleticism to be anything more than a special-teamer. Wide receiver Pat Simonds played his college ball at tiny Colgate, but at 6-foot-5, he has the height to contribute as a red-zone specialist. (Unfortunately, he doesn't have the weight to switch to tight end.)

Washington Redskins
Biggest Post-Draft Need: Wide Receiver

Washington has had a very successful offseason, trading for a quality veteran quarterback in Donovan McNabb and acquiring a sorely needed left tackle in Oklahoma's Trent Williams to provide backside protection. They've thrown together a collection of washed-up, big-name running backs in the hopes that someone will squeeze out a last productive season. What they did not do is address the need at wide receiver. There were many reasons why Washington ranked 28th in passing DVOA last year, but at least one of them was the failure of the 2008 draft class of Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly to develop into frontline starters. Thomas was particularly disappointing, catching only 53 percent of the passes that went his way. Thomas and Kelly do have the size that Mike Shanahan prizes, and perhaps they will play better for him than they did for Jim Zorn. Then again, the recent signing of Joey Galloway suggests that the team doesn't like what it has and simply didn't have enough draft choices to do something about it.

Important Undrafted Free Agents
Keiland Williams was a five-star recruit for LSU who had a disappointing career, and while early Football Outsiders research suggested it was a good idea to target SEC tailbacks in the back end of the draft, the recent glut of underachievers pumped out of Baton Rouge (Joseph Addai, LaBrandon Toefield) takes a bit of shine off the theory. Williams does have a lot of raw speed, but he will need to stop bouncing everything outside if he wants to be the next Shanahan wonder back. Competing with Williams for the role will be Troy's Maurice Greer and Tony Nelson of UMass.