Going into the next part of the series, we look at the defensive lines and linebackers of the NFC East Divison.
Disclaimer: 2 teams run a 4-3, 2 teams run a 3-4. I COULD compare 3-4 OLBs/4-3 DEs, but everything else gets messed up. Therefore DLs and LBs will be lumped together, regardless of scheme. That means in DL, 4-3 teams get a boost. LB, 3-4 teams get a boost.
1) New York Giants: Probably the easiest decision in this series. The Giants boast two all-pro caliber bookends at DE in Osi Umeniyora and Justin Tuck. They both had 11.5 sacks on the season. Osi had an NFL record 10 forced fumbles. Tuck is perhaps the most complete (that is, has a great pass rush and run-stopping skill set) DE, besides perhaps Julius Peppers. Don't know if Matthias Kiwanuka will be back, but if he is, he adds another pro-bowl caliber player to the roster if he becomes cured of his maladies. He was en route to a ridiculous season, racking up 4 sacks in 4 games. We also have Jason Pierre-Paul, who is poised for a larger role. He had a great season as it was, anyway. With very limited snaps, he still managed to get 4.5 sacks. On top of this, we have Dave Tollefson who is a very, very solid backup. Without a doubt, the deepest and best 4-3 DE rotation in the NFL.
2) Philadelphia Eagles: They have probably the most underrated player in football in Trent Cole. The Eagles go for smallish, quick DEs and it works like a charm for them. Cole is probably a top 6-7 DE in the NFL, and a terror to deal with. Opposite him, Brandon Graham showed promise as a rookie, but injuries hampered him. He may or may not be ready to go by next season, but his upside is strong. His replacement was Juqua Parker, who was solid in his time there. The other DEs on the roster have been big names, but definitely disappointing. Daryl Tapp, and promising young 'uns Daniel Te'o Nesheim and Ricky Sapp haven't produced like the Eagles have hoped. They brought it Phillip Hunt, who was a star in the CFL I believe, but we'll see how that translates to the NFL. Who knows, it worked out pretty well for Cameron Wake.
3) Washington Redskins: Yay for the Redskins, they aren't last! Albert Haynesworthless and Adam Carriker are big names, but simply serviceable in this regard. This is more of an indictment on the Cowboys' 3-4 DEs than anything the Redskins have done. Carriker seems to be thriving more as a 3-4 DE than as a misfit in the Rams' 4-3 scheme and is pretty stout against the run. Don't know if Haynesworth will be back, or even if he wants to play. Vonnie Holliday and Phillip Daniels used to be very, very good, but they much past their prime. Still,, though, they've got something left in the tank and make a solid tandem.
4) Dallas Cowboys: Dallas has an underwhelming DE roster. The big name here is Igor Olshansky, but probably the best player on the line is Stephen Bowen, who hasn't gotten a huge amount of playing time. He's quietly been decent, and that's gotten the notice of PFF, which rates him quite highly. They also have Clifton Geathers, as well as Sean Lissemore, who could perhaps see time at DE and NT.
1) New York Giants: The Giants have a bunch of very good players at this position with huge upside. Last year, Barry Cofield had a monstrous season, but is probably lost as an unrestricted FA. The Giants have been building up this position for awhile. They made a big splash some time ago by signing both Rocky Bernard and Chris Canty. Bernard has been seen as average to below average, but word came out that he had been playing with a nagging injury all year; he should be better. Chris Canty has quietly had a beastly season. Though he hasn't had the stats to back it up, it was evident that he was the strong 1-technique that took on multiple blockers and left Cofield many a-time 1 on 1 with the G. On top of all that, the Giants have the promising Linval Joseph, who can play as a 3-tech, but has the mammoth build to be a 1-tech if need be. He should see a ton more action, probably switching in and out with Bernard for the starting spot, should Cofield leave. Add on electric rookie Marvin Austin, who will get his fair share of play, and you have one of the best DT lines in terms of quality depth in the NFL.
2) Dallas Cowboys: I had a hard time choosing between Dallas and Philadelphia, but I think I have to go with Dallas simply because of Jay Ratliff. He's an undersized monster that had an off year last year, but he's still one of the top notch NT's in the country. He's starting to get blown off the ball a little bit more now, though he's still got 3.5 sacks which is still solid for NTs. He also had the disadvantage of playing with a weak DE group that allowed opposing offensive lines focus more on him. Problem is that the Cowboys don't have depth behind Ratliff, with perhaps only Sean Lissemore or one of the other DE's backing him up.
3) Philadelphia Eagles: Again, it was tough to choose between the Eagles and the Cowboys, but Jay Ratliff, in my opinion, just barely edges out the combination of DTs that Philly features in its rotation. Brodrick Bunkley, Antonio Dixon, and Mike Patterson are probably the three main guys in the rotation and all three have had a decent amount of success. They certainly have helped free up Trent Cole (not that he needs much help), and that definitely counts for something. Still, this group could be better.
4) Washington Redskins: Not much to say. Maake Kemoeatu was one of the worst NTs I've seen in some time. They drafted Chris Neild very late, and while I think he should have gone higher, you have to wonder how much of an impact he can make. With the situation they are in, though, I can definitely see him getting some playing time.
1) Washington Redskins: Did I mention that Trent Cole is the most underrated player in the NFL? My mistake, that honor goes to London Fletcher. Supremely unheralded, the dude has put up Ray Lewis type numbers (actually has almost 100 more tackles than Ray Ray) and has been producing at such a high level forever. He's the type of field general that I'd love to have on my team. Next to him is Rocky McIntosh who is pretty decent in the 4-3, but struggled in the 3-4. Still, he's a wily veteran that should be able to adjust. He even got pretty good production with 110 tackles. Add in the 136 chipped in by London and you can see that it wasn't the ILBs that were the problem for the Redskins.
2) Dallas Cowboys: A number of big names here, but overrated in my opinion. Keith Brooking and Bradie James are a solid tandem, no doubt, but their replacements have already been drafted, and for good reason. They are declining fast. Sean Lee, last year's 2nd round draft pick, showed some promise as a rookie, garnering 2 INTs and a FF in limited action. He's definitely a bright spot to look for in the future. Bruce Carter was drafted in this year's 2nd round and was a beast for UNC. However, I just don't see him getting significant playing time due to his ACL injury.
3) New York Giants: Only going to talk about about the MLB here. Jonathon Goff is supremely underrated by the rest of the league, but Giants fans will tell you that he's a beast and rightfully so. Profootballfocus rated him as the best run-stopping LB in the NFL. He is somewhat of a liability in coverage, but he's become the field general that the Giants needed him to be, and edges out the Eagles' MLBs due to experience and overall performance last year. He's backed up by Phillip Dillard, who has not shown much in limited action except on ST, and just drafted Greg Jones, who definitely has the ability to start in a T2 defense. It remains to be seen how much time he gets, because the MLB in a T2 is a very cerebral position and the lack of rookie minicamp, OTAs, and possibly training camp can really hurt.
4) Philadelphia Eagles: Jamar Chaney showed that he has what it takes to be the starting MLB of the Eagles last year. He's on quite the rise, but I don't think he beats out Goff yet. The Eagles also have the injury prone Stewart Bradley, who's good when fully healthy. I think he moves out to SLB, however. They also brought in Casey Matthews as a back up MLB who could see some time. Still, this is Chaney's job to lose, and don't be surprised if he ends up being an above average starter next year.
1) Dallas Cowboys: Was there really any doubt as to who's first? Demarcus Ware is one of the most feared sack artists and probably is the best current defensive player in the NFL. He's a demon, plain and simple, and has maintained an extremely high level of play for quite a few years now. His partner in crime on the opposite end, Anthony Spencer, has been less exciting. Still, Spencer had 5 sacks, which is average. Still, he could stand to be upgraded. Regardless, Ware is what pushes Dallas over the top in this regard.
2) Washington Redskins: Maybe in 3 or 4 years, this tandem will be one of the best in the NFL: Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. However, I'm not ready to say that just yet. Orakpo is a proven talent and one of the few bright spots on this defense. He "racked" (pun intended) up 8.5 sacks....nothing to sniff at. Kerrigan will come in and probably start opposite him, because Andre Carter really struggled at the spot.
3) Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles have a plethora of linebackers. They had Moise Fokou, Stewart Bradley, Akeem Jordan, Omar Gaither, Ernie Sims, and Keenan Clayton there. On top of that, they added Casey Matthews, Brian Rolle, and Greg Lloyd. Wow, that's a ton of players. Ernie Sims disappointed, and I believe is a free agent. I don't think he comes back. One player out of all those that I really like is Brian Rolle. The dude has a motor like its nobody's business, and I wouldn't be surprised if he became a special teams stud for the Eagles this year and worked his way into the starting rotation on the weakside a few years from now.
4) New York Giants: They have the weakside "locked down" with the slightly above average play of Michael Boley. He's strong in coverage, but he simply got overworked last year, and looked merely average. Where the Giants are really hurting is the strong side linebacker. The pressure is starting to be put on Clint Sintim (fairly or unfairly) who was sidelined with an ACL tear. At this point, the starting job is his to lose but players traditionally have a tough time coming off of an ACL injury their first year back. Keith Bulluck was serviceable last year, but he wants to be a 3 down linebacker, which he most definitely is not, so he'll probably be gone. Adrian Tracy is a pick from last year that you should also look out for as a surprise.