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2018 NFL Draft grades: NFC East (Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Redskins)

The NFC East is home to the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. After a less than competitive season, the three other teams (Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and Washington Redskins) should be much improved this year, but so should the champs. Let’s breakdown the division’s draft classes from this spring.

4. New York Giants

Saquon Barkley, Giants

Catalina Fragoso/USA TODAY Sports

Round 1 pick 2 – Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Round 2 pick 34 – Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP

Round 3 pick 66 – Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia

Round 3 pick 69 – B.J. Hill, DT, North Carolina State

Round 4 pick 108 – Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond

Round 5 pick 139 – RJ McIntosh, DT, Miami

The Giants had their worst season since 1976 in 2018. Eli Manning had a poor season and is now 37 years old, meaning that New York doesn’t have much time left to compete for a Super Bowl under the leadership of one of their franchise’s greatest all-time players. Many pundits believed the Giants should have taken advantage of their high draft selection and taken their QB of the future, but they opted for a win-now approach instead.

It seems that every year there is a “generational” running back prospect. In 2017, it was Leonard Fournette. In 2016, Ezekiel Elliott. 2015, Todd Gurley. Although the term is overused, Barkley may end up being the best back of that bunch.

Someone his size (6-foot and 233 pounds) should not be able to run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. Barkley is a rare athlete but he is also technically refined. He has fantastic vision in the open field and is able to turn a three-yard loss into an 80-yard touchdown in the blink of an eye. With the second pick, New York was able to get the best player in the draft.

The problem with taking Barkley is that the draft was loaded with high-quality quarterbacks. After the Cleveland Browns took Baker Mayfield first overall, the Giants had their pick of Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, and Lamar Jackson, but they passed on them all. Barkley will immediately make New York a better team, but that may not necessarily be best for their future.

saquon barkley, giants

Giants.com

It’s unlikely that the Giants will be bad enough to have their pick of QB prospects any time soon. This means that they must bank on middle-picks like Davis Webb and Kyle Lauletta to develop into starting-quality players. Even if Barkley ends up being a great player, the Giants won’t be able to live it down if any of the quarterbacks they passed on pan out well.

New York’s biggest weakness last season was undoubtedly their offensive line. In free agency, the team signed former New England left tackle Nate Solder, who should make a huge impact immediately. The Giants then drafted Will Hernandez, one of the top guards in the class. These two additions will help to shore up a porous line, giving Manning more time to throw as well as more space for Barkley to run.

Depending on how Manning plays, the Giants could push for a playoff berth. Unfortunately, they don’t have much time left before the Manning era ends. This will be on of New York’s final runs for a few years.

Grade: C

2(t). Dallas Cowboys

Leighton Vander Esch, Cowboys

Otto Kitsinger/ The Associated Press

Round 1 pick 19 – Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

Round 2 pick 50 – Connor Williams, OL, Texas

Round 3 pick 81 – Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State

Round 4 pick 116 – Dorance Armstrong Jr., DE, Kansas

Round 4 pick 137 – Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford

Round 5 pick 171 – Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky

Round 6 pick 193 – Chris Covington, LB, Indiana

Round 6 pick 208 – Cedrick Wilson, WR, Boise State

Round 7 pick 236 – Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama

Star running back Ezekiel Elliott was suspended for six games and QB Dak Prescott regressed from his rookie season as Dallas went 9-7 in 2018. WR Dez Bryant was released and TE Jason Witten retired, leaving the Cowboys’ offense devoid of receiving talent.

With Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith already on the roster, the selection of Vander Esch was puzzling. However, even with two good linebackers ahead of him on the depth chart, Vander Esch is too good to remain on the bench. At 6-foot-4 and 256 pounds with a 4.65 40-yard dash, LVE is an athletic monster. He needs more experience to refine his technique, but he has the potential to be one of the best linebackers in the NFL, whether he’s rushing the passer, stopping the run, or dropping into coverage.

The Cowboys’ offensive line has been arguably the best in the league over the past few seasons, and they only improved it with the addition of Williams. Considered by many to be the top offensive tackle prospect in the class, Williams fell to the middle of the second round and Dallas selected him as a guard. Whether he plays on the inside or outside, he will be a very good player for the Cowboys, and the rich will only get richer.

Michael Gallup, Cowboys

Marco Garcia/The Associated Press

Gallup will be a solid target for Prescott, but he alone likely won’t be enough to make a huge difference. Wide receiver is still Dallas’s biggest weakness, and taking a possession receiver in the third round isn’t enough to fix it.

Armstrong is a good athlete and could give the Cowboys depth at pass rusher, something they desperately need. Armstrong can play standing up or with a hand in the dirt, and his versatility will earn him playing time right away.

Overall, the Cowboys’ draft was decent, but the selection of Williams was one of the best picks of the year. As long as no more key players are injured or suspended (knock on wood), Dallas should be a strong playoff contender.

Grade: B

2(t). Washington Redskins

Derrius Guice, Redskins

ClutchPoints

Round 1 pick 13 – Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

Round 2 pick 59 – Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

Round 3 pick 74 – Geron Christian, OT, Louisville

Round 4 pick 109 – Troy Apke, S, Penn State

Round 5 pick 163 – Tim Settle, DT, Virginia Tech

Round 6 pick 197 – Shaun Dion Hamilton, LB, Alabama

Round 7 pick 241 – Greg Stroman, CB, Virginia Tech

Round 7 pick 256 – Trey Quinn, WR, SMU

After a few seasons of solid football, the Redskins will be a very different team this year. QB Kirk Cousins is gone, replaced by former Chief Alex Smith. Even with a solid draft, it’s unlikely that Washington will be able to make much noise in the division. They could very well be the best last-place team in the NFL.

A strong interior defensive line is key to a good defense, and the Redskins have invested two consecutive first-round picks on defensive tackles. After taking Alabama’s Jonathan Allen last year, Washington chose Allen’s teammate Da’Ron Payne this spring. The two will complement each other very well, and the Redskins should have a well-rounded interior line for the next decade.

In the second round, Washington got one of the biggest steals of the draft. Projected to go in the top 20, Guice inexplicably dropped to the end of the second. A strong inside runner with excellent vision, Guice has Pro-Bowl potential. His ceiling isn’t quite as high as Barkley’s but he could be more consistent during his first few years in the league. Guice and Chris Thompson should complement each other perfectly and give the Redskins a dynamic duo on the ground.

Da'Ron Payne

John Reed/USA TODAY Sports

Christian was a puzzling selection as Washington already has one of the better offensive tackle duos in the league in Trent Williams and Morgan Moses. Christian certainly won’t start, but he could be a solid backup for either position. That’s a valuable player to have, but probably not worth a third-round pick.

In order to acquire Alex Smith, the Redskins traded Kendall Fuller to Kansas City. Fuller is one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league, so naturally his departure left a gaping hole at his position. Stroman has a chance to replace him.

Solid in coverage, Stroman’s weakness is tackling, primarily due to his 5-foot-11, 182-pound frame. If Stroman can bulk up without sacrificing speed and athleticism, he has the potential to be a very good corner for a long time.

Although they are not Super Bowl contenders, it will be interesting to see how the new-look Redskins fare this season. In any other division, they would be in contention for the title. They are just victim to the fantastic job that Eagles GM Howie Roseman has done.

Grade: B

1. Philadelphia Eagles

Dallas Goedert

Glenn Andrews/USA TODAY Sports

Round 2 pick 49 – Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

Round 4 pick 1 25 – Avonte Maddox, CB, Pittsburgh

Round 4 pick 130 – Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State

Round 6 pick 206 – Matt Pryor, OG, TCU

Round 7 pick 233 – Jordan Maliata, OT, Australia

The Eagles don’t have many weaknesses, but they were able to drastically improve two position groups with fantastic value picks despite trading out of the first round. In exchange for the 32nd overall selection, Philadelphia acquire Baltimore’s 2018 2nd and 4th-rounders, along with their 2nd in 2019.

With their first pick, Philly took Goedert from South Dakota State. At 6-foot-5 and 256 pounds, Goedert has the size of a tight end but plays like a wide reciever. The Eagles already had one of the NFL’s best tight ends in Zach Ertz, and now Carson Wentz has a seemingly endless supply of weapons to throw to. Goedert will make an instant impact, and Philadelphia’s already scary offense just got even scarier.

Hours before the draft, rumors swirled that FSU pass rusher Josh Sweat may go in the first round. Initially projected as a second or third-rounder, Sweat fell all the way to the end of the fourth round. A freak athlete with an innate ability to get to the QB, Sweat has had multiple knee injuries that could very well shorten his NFL career and limit his effectiveness while he is playing. However, with a deep front seven, the Eagles don’t need to run Sweat into the ground. He can be a situational pass rusher, which will allow him to stay healthy and refine his technique.

josh sweat, Florida st

Glenn Beil/USA TODAY Sports

One of the more intriguing storylines of this past draft was Maliata, a rugby player from Australia. He had never played football in his life, but his toughness, athleticism, strength, and his massive 6-foot-8, 345-pound frame make him an intriguing option on either side of the ball. The Eagles have decided to try him out at offensive tackle, where he has the physical tools to become a dominant player.

Philadelphia shocked the world by winning the Super Bowl last year, but this season, teams won’t be underestimating them. Their team is improved from last season, and they will be a favorite to repeat as champions in 2018.

Grade: B+

One Super Bowl favorite, two solid teams, and one enigma. The NFC East should be one of the most compelling divisions in the NFL this season, no matter what happens.