The summer is beginning to draw to a close, and soon, temperatures and leaves will begin to fall. The NFL preseason is currently underway, and true NFL football is nearly here. Welcome to M-FANS 2018 Season Preview, where our staff of talented University of Michigan student writers will share their insight into the NFL’s 32 teams and top players as we get ready for the kickoff of the regular season. Today, we take a look at the NFC East. Enjoy!

By Josh Goldstein, AJ Janetzke, Conor Stemme, and Erik McKeen

Philadelphia Eagles

By Josh Goldstein

2017 Record: 13-3 (1st in NFC East)

Projected 2018 Roster

Coaching Staff
HC – Doug Pederson
OC – Mike Groh
DC – Jim Schwartz

Projected Offensive Starters
QB – Carson Wentz
RB – Jay Ajayi
WR1 – Alshon Jeffery
WR2 – Nelson Agholor
WR3 – Mike Wallace
TE – Zach Ertz
LT – Lane Johnson
LG – Stefen Wisniewski
C – Jason Kelce
RG – Brandon Brooks
RT – Jason Peters

Projected Defensive Starters
LDE – Brandon Graham
RDE – Derek Barnett
DT – Fletcher Cox
DT – Michael Bennett
LB – Nigel Bradham
LB – Jordan Hicks
CB – Jalen Mills
CB – Ronald Darby
CB – Sidney Jones
S – Malcolm Jenkins
S – Rodney Mcleod

Projected Special Teams Starters
K – Jake Elliott
P – Cameron Johnston
KR – Corey Clement
PR –  Darren Sproles

Other Notable Players
QB – Nick Foles (Super Bowl MVP)
TE – Dallas Goedert (2nd Round Draft Pick)

Season Preview

The Eagles began the offseason following a season where they won their first Super Bowl in franchise history. They lost slot corner Patrick Robinson, defensive end Vinny Curry, linebacker Mychal Kendricks, running back LeGarrette Blount, and tight end Trey Burton. Only three of these players were starters for the Eagles and the team has enough depth to replace these players, so these departures did not cause significant damage to the roster.

The rest of the Eagles offseason can be summed up by the phrase, “The rich get richer.” The defensive line gets even stronger with the additions of defensive end Michael Bennett and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. The Eagles also upgraded at receiver when they traded away Torrey Smith and signed Mike Wallace. Although the Eagles did not make many moves, the ones they did make were very positive moves that will improve an already star-studded roster.

The draft allowed the Eagles to add depth to positions where players were lost in free agency. Second round tight end, Dallas Goedert, will replace Trey Burton and Brent Celek. The Eagles also spent a third-round pick on defensive end Josh Sweat from Florida State to eventually pair with Derek Barnett on the defensive line. The Eagles’ other pick in the third round, cornerback Avonte Maddox, excels in the slot and could eventually replace Patrick Robinson.

The defending Super Bowl champions are looking to build on their success and become back to back champions. The Eagles have retained a majority of their championship core and signed proven veterans to replace some of the pieces they lost. Unfortunately for the Eagles, the NFC is a much tougher conference than the AFC and it will be a difficult road back to the Super Bowl. The Eagles have a plethora of talent of offense that is extremely balanced. The team ended the season without a 1000 yard rusher or receiver, and only 3 times this season (including playoffs) a player eclipsed 100 yards rushing or receiving in a game. The biggest storyline in Eagles training camp is Carson Wentz’s health. Wentz is not fully participating in practice yet, and it is unknown whether or not he will be ready for the first game of the season. Although the team remains optimistic and head coach Doug Pederson insists that Wentz is ahead of schedule, the team will not commit to a week one starter yet.

The Eagles’ defense also played a key role in the team’s championship run this year. The Eagles ended the regular season as the #1 ranked defense against the run and the #4 total defense. The heart of this defense was the defensive front. The Eagles have one of the most talented and deep defensive lines in the NFL. Although the Eagles have some questions at starting slot corner and linebacker depth, the defense still has enough playmakers to make the team a Super Bowl contender for this upcoming season.

Players to Watch

Carson Wentz

Carson Wentz is a few months removed from a season where he was the frontrunner for league MVP, but unfortunately, he could not stay healthy. Wentz has been limited in training camp and is not expected to play in the preseason. However, when he returns, he should continue to be the MVP of this star-studded Eagles team.

Derek Barnett

The all-time sack leader at the University of Tennessee, Derek Barnett was drafted by the Eagles in the first round last year. Barnett generated 5 sacks and 37 pressures this past season, despite the fact that Vinny Curry started in front of him, and Barnett played less than 50% of snaps. With the departure of Curry, Barnett is projected to be a starting defensive tackle and add on to his outstanding start of a career.

Sidney Jones

Last offseason, Sidney Jones was seen as a top cornerback in the draft and by most a top 15 pick. Unfortunately for Jones, he tore his Achilles before the draft. Jones fell in the draft and the Eagles drafted him with their second-round pick. Unfortunately, he only saw one game of action last year, when the Eagles rested their starters in Week 17. With the departure of Patrick Robinson, the slot corner position is open, and Jones has the chance to showcase his talent and the reason he was such a highly ranked prospect.  

 

Dallas Cowboys

By AJ Janetzke

2017 Record: 9-7 (2nd in NFC East)

Projected 2018 Roster

Coaching Staff
HC – Jason Garrett
OC – Scott Linehan
DC – Rod Marinelli

Projected Offensive Starters
QB – Dak Prescott
RB – Ezekiel Elliott
WR – Allen Hurns
WR – Michael Gallup
WR – Cole Beasley / Terrance Williams
TE – Blake Jarwin
LT – Tyron Smith
LG – Connor Williams
C – Travis Frederick
RG – Zack Martin
RT – La’el Collins

Projected Defensive Starters
DE – DeMarcus Lawrence
DT – Datone Jones
DT – Jihad Ward
DE – Tyrone Crawford
MLB – Jaylon Smith
SLB – Damien Wilson
WLB – Sean Lee
CB – Byron Jones
SS – Xavier Woods
FS – Jeff Heath
CB – Chidobe Awuzie

Projected Special Teams Starters
P – Chris Jones
K – Dan Bailey
KR – Jourdan Lewis
PR – Duke Thomas
LS – L.P. Ladouceur

Season Preview

The Cowboys will mainly be run by a young set of players this year. For one, they chose to not sign Dez Bryant, who remains unsigned as of the time of this article’s release. Also, Jason Witten announced his retirement May 3. The two combined for 1398 yards and 11 touchdowns. So far during the preseason, the Cowboys have made due without either of them, spreading the action among almost everyone. Going into the season, the Cowboys technically have Terrance Williams as their top wide receiver, but a lot of the talk is how rookie Michael Gallup will rise as their first option. Gallup was drafted 81st in the 3rd round by the Cowboys out of Colorado St. (Still, it’s hard to imagine a playoff contender relying on a rookie wide receiver as their top target, based on the performance of rookie wideouts in recent years.) They spent their 1st round pick on LB Leighton Vander Esch out of Boise St and 2nd round on OG Connor Williams out of Texas. There weren’t any huge moves made over the offseason outside of this. Most players are returning from last season.

Another one of the young guns on the Cowboys offense is Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott is entering his 3rd year. Everyone remembers his rookie year where he picked up 1631 yards, averaging 108.7 yards per game. But as much as we could look at Zeke, the offensive line is what makes him shine. Star guard Zack Martin went down with a knee injury during the preseason, but his MRI reveals no serious injury. This is great news for the Dallas faithful, as Zack Martin’s 89.1 2017 grade was the best among NFL guards. The five players on the offensive line have 13 combined 13 Pro Bowls, with three of those coming last year. In the middle of the charge, they have center Travis Frederick. Travis is a 6’4”, 312-pound behemoth that runs straight over defenders. The push he gets off the line has helped lead to Zeke’s success and should continue into this season. The Cowboys drafted a new guard, Connor Williams, in the 2nd round. While Williams will likely not match the skill level of Martin or Frederick in his first season, he did receive a first-round grade from Pro Football Focus. With these three players forming the interior of the line, the Cowboy offense should run smoothly again in 2018.

Players to Watch

Ezekiel Elliott

Zeke is the obvious leader of this offense. He was six yards short of 2000 yards of total offense his rookie year. After serving a suspension last year, he didn’t stop his crazy numbers. In only 10 games, he still almost put up 1000 yards, as he posted 983 yards rushing. With a group of star linemen ahead of him pushing the charge, Zeke has nowhere to look but up. Zeke will receive no more preseason playing time so the next playing time he sees will be week one against a tough Carolina Panthers defense. Zeke will be put to the test.

Michael Gallup

Gallup is just a rookie, but there will be a lot leaning on him this season. Dez Bryant is a hard player to replace, but Gallup could become that player. In the Cowboys opening preseason game, Gallup showed what he can really do. He hooked up with QB Dak Prescott for his first NFL catch which also happened to be a 30-yard touchdown reception. For a third-round draft pick, the hype around Gallup is crazy. Whether or not he lives up to the hype is still debatable.

 

Washington Redskins

By Conor Stemme

2017 Record: 7-9 (3rd in NFC East)

Projected 2018 Roster

Coaching Staff
HC – Jay Gruden
OC – Matt Cavanaugh
DC – Greg Manusky

Projected Offensive Starters
QB – Alex Smith
RB1 – Chris Thompson
RB2 – Rob Kelley
WR1 – Josh Doctson
WR2 –  Jamison Crowder
WR3 – Paul Richardson Jr.
TE – Jordan Reed
LT – Trent Williams
LG – Shawn Lauvao
C – Chase Roullier
RG – Brandon Scherff
RT – Morgan Moses

Projected Defensive Starters
DE – Jonathan Allen
DE – Matt Ioannidis
NT – Da’Ron Payne
MLB – Zach Brown
MLB- Mason Foster
WLB – Ryan Kerrigan
SLB – Preston Smith
CB1 – Josh Norman
CB2 – Quinton Dunbar
CB3 –Fabien Moreau
FS – Montae Nicholson

Projected Special Teams Starters
K – Dustin Hopkins
P Tress Way
KR – Jamison Crowder
PR – Greg Stroman
LS – Nick Sundberg

Other Notable Players
QB- Colt McCoy
RB- Adrian Peterson
NT- Ziggy Hood

Season Preview

The Redskins are coming off a 7-9 record losing 6 games by multiple scores, two by 8 points and one in overtime. The Redskins were the definition of an average offense being 16th in offensive yards, 12th in passing yards, and 16th in Points. The run game was looking at the 28th best team. The defense was also sub-par allowing 5566 yards total placing them at 21st.  The season was not was Redskins fans were hoping for in Kirk Cousins last year and some fans were still optimistic going into the offseason for the team.

The Redskins had a tough year in free agency and the draft. First, Dan Snyder did not want to sign star quarterback Kirk Cousins to a long-term deal so they let him walk in free agency. Kirk was great for the team, area, and the fans, even if he did go to Michigan State. Needing a quarterback, they decided to get 34-year old Alex Smith and sign him to a 4 year deal with about the same money that it would have taken to sign Kirk. They also had to give up one of the best young cornerbacks in the game, Kendall Fuller and a 3rd round pick. This deal made no sense to me in January, no sense to me in March when it was official, and still no sense to me now as of writing this. Free agency did not go well either. Kirk left, and the Redskins did not address their major problems. The run game was terrible and still kept Rob Kelley, fat Rob. They signed a new receiver in Paul Richardson and players that have already been cut. The draft went well until preseason games hit. Da’Ron Payne was a great pick up and should be an anchor on the defensive line this year and for years to come. Derrius Guice was a steal in the second round until he torn his ACL in the first preseason game. The other players will not make a big impact this season. Also during the draft, the Redskins traded Su’a Cravens a 4th and a 5th, for a 4th used to draft Troy Apke and three other picks. This is a major loss for the secondary.

After the draft, I was hopeful. Why? I don’t know. I was excited about Guice and maybe Smith could be decent enough, but after seeing the Redskins preseason games and signing Adrian Peterson, I am back to the reality of a DC sports fan. I am now just hoping for an average year with hopefully a few division wins just so we have something to celebrate.  

Players to Watch

Alex Smith

Alex Smith was the Redskins main offseason acquisition replacing Kirk Cousins at quarterback. He is coming off a career year with career highs in yards, touchdowns, completions and passer rating.  He passed for 26 touchdowns and only five interceptions, his lowest since 2012. Alex Smith will have to have another season like this and possibly better if the Redskins have any chance to win this year.

Da’Ron Payne

Da’Ron Payne is the Redskins first-round pick out of Alabama where he was a star defensive lineman. He was an all-team SEC player in 2017 and Sugar Bowl and Playoff co-MVP for 2018. Da’Ron was a great college player earning himself a 4-year $14.4 million contract and an $8.5 signing bonus. Hopefully, Da’Ron can break out and be a star this season and for years to come.

Adrian Peterson

When I heard that Peterson signed with the Redskins, I was confused. First, that he was still in the league, and then that we signed him. Adrian Peterson has only played 13 games the past two years starting 10. Peterson, like Alex Smith, is on the older side but hopes to still make an impact. Peterson will not be catching passes, as Chris Thompson is there for that and Fat Rob is the goal line back. Peterson is on the roster for an injury replacement, but hopefully, he can somehow find one more good season before he retires and is inducted into the hall of fame.

 

New York Giants

By Erik McKeen

2017 Record: 3-13 (4th in NFC East)

Projected 2018 Roster

Coaching Staff
HC – Pat Shurmur
OC Mike Shula
DC – James Bettcher

Projected Offensive Starters
QB – Eli Manning
RB – Saquon Barkley
WR1 – Odell Beckham
WR2 – Sterling Shepard
WR3 – Roger Lewis
TE – Evan Engram
LT – Nate Solder
LG – Will Hernandez
C – Jon Halapio
RG – Patrick Omameh
RT – Ereck Flowers

Projected Defensive Starters
DE – Dalvin Tomlinson
DE – B.J. Hill
NT – Damon Harrison
WLB – Warren Long
ILB – Alec Ogletree
ILB – B.J. Goodson
OLB – Olivier Vernon
CB1 – Janoris Jenkins
CB2 – Eli Apple
FS – Darian Thompson
SS – Landon Collins

Projected Special Teams Starters
K – Aldrick Rosas
P – Riley Dixon
KR – Cody Latimer
PR – Hunter Sharp
LS – Zak DeOssie

Season Preview

After an early exit in the playoffs following an 11-5 regular season, the New York Football Giants turned in their worst season since 2003, in terms of both wins and point differential. The good news is they were able to draft Penn State star running back Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick. Couple that with the return of OBJ and a new head coach that was able to lead a top ten offense last year with Case Keenum at quarterback, and there are reasons for optimism this season.

The only key loss for the Giants is longtime defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (8.5 sacks last season), whom they traded, along with a fourth-round pick, to the Bucs for their third and fourth-round picks in the 2018 draft. The third-rounder was spent on defensive lineman B.J. Hill, who is projected to start at the defensive end position. The Giants also drafted guard Will Hernandez in the second round and signed longtime Patriots tackle Nate Solder to help the offensive line.

The offense will be much improved from last year. In 2017 they scored 15.4 points per game, good for 31st in the league above only the 0-16 Cleveland Browns, so there is nowhere to go but up. The defense, however, will be a big question mark. They went from being fourth in opponent points per game in 2016 with 18.9 to 28th in the league in 2017 with 24.2 opponent points per game.

Players to Watch

Saquon Barkley

Barkley averaged a whopping 5.7 yards per rush in his college career. If he can continue to dominate at the next level, he can help the offense in a big way. The Giants have not had a dominant rusher since Tiki Barber, who played his last season way back in 2006. Barkley can help take some of the pressure off the passing game as well if he lives up to the hype so he will be the key to turning this offense around.

Odell Beckham Jr.

OBJ’s season was unfortunately cut short due to injury in 2017, but nobody doubts that he can go back to being one of the best in the game this season. If he can be dominant and have help alongside him with Sterling Shepard having a good year, the Giants receivers can help bring the offense back.

Eli Manning

The Giants chose not to spend an early pick on a quarterback, showing that they have faith in their quarterback of 14 years. He will ultimately be the key to this offense. He has had a QBR of under 50 three of the last five years, including an atrocious 41.7 in 2017. If he can take advantage of his improved weapons around him and put together a mid to low 60s QBR year, this offense will be a force to be reckoned with in 2018.

Advertisements