Sports

Key NFL Draft Picks To Fill NFC East Offensive, Defensive Holes

(credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

(credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

By Tony Meale

The 2013 NFL Draft will take place this week, so let’s take a look at which holes each team in the NFC East needs to fill to have a successful draft.

Dallas Cowboys

After signing Tony Romo to a six-year, $108-million contract, Dallas needs to upgrade its offensive line, especially since Romo was sacked 36 times last year – tied with Cam Newton for sixth-most in the league.

The Cowboys’ ideal scenario would be to draft a guard (Alabama’s Chance Warmack or North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper) or tackle (Alabama’s D.J. Fluker or Florida State’s Menelik Watson) in the first round and then a center (Alabama’s Barrett Jones or Wisconsin’s Travis Frederick) in the second.

If the Cowboys go defensive in the first round, they should use the 18th overall pick on Missouri tackle Sheldon Richardson, who would fit well in Monte Kiffin’s scheme, or LSU end Barkevious Mingo. Dallas finished 19th against the pass, 22nd against the rush and 24th in scoring defense (25.0) last year.

Protecting Romo and bolstering the defense in all phases would greatly improve a franchise that has finished 8-8 in each of the last two seasons and missed the playoffs in four of the last five years.

2013 NFL Mock Draft – First Round Picks Here

New York Giants

The Giants have won the Super Bowl in two of the last six years, and if they hope to make it three out of seven, they desperately need to improve a defense that finished 31st in the league last year, especially since Osi Umenyiora signed with the Atlanta Falcons and Justin Tuck is entering the final year of his contract.

Two stellar options for the Giants, who pick 19th overall, are Georgia inside linebacker Alec Ogletree and Washington corner Desmond Trufant. Ogletree would inject athleticism and pass-coverage capabilities at linebacker, while Trufant is speedy – his 4.38 40 was third-best among defensive back prospects – and has NFL-ready cover skills.

While Ogletree might be the better player, Trufant might fill the bigger need, as the Giants allowed the highest completion percentage and yards per attempt in the league on throws more than 10 yards downfield last season. In addition, corners Corey Webster, Aaron Ross and Terrell Thomas are not under contract past 2013.

Unless a stud offensive tackle such as Alabama’s D.J. Fluker falls in the draft, the Giants will go defense in the first round. That’s a good move. If it’s pass defense, that’s a great move.

2013 NFL Mock Draft – First Round Picks Here

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles finished a disappointing 4-12 in Andy Reid’s final season last year, but they begin anew with Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense that worked wonders at Oregon.

With the fourth overall pick, Philadelphia could draft any number of players, including West Virginia’s Geno Smith, who is arguably the most-criticized No. 1 quarterback prospect in NFL history. While Smith is far from flawless, he does possess the speed and versatility needed to excel in Kelly’s offense, and he would give the Eagles an insurance policy under center. After all, Michael Vick, who turns 33 in June, has missed between three and six games due to injury in each of the last three years.

If the Eagles pass on Smith, they’ll likely do one of three things: 1) draft the best available offensive tackle (Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher or Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson), 2) draft Alabama’s Dee Milliner, who has shutdown-corner written all over him, or 3) draft Dion Jordan, a speedy, versatile defensive end who played for Kelly at Oregon.

While drafting a stud offensive lineman is never a bad thing, Milliner would improve a pass defense that ranked ninth in yards allowed last season (217 per game) but finished dead last in touchdowns (33). Jordan, meanwhile, is projected to play outside linebacker and would improve a pass rush that mustered just 30 sacks, which tied for 25th in all of football.

2013 NFL Mock Draft – First Round Picks Here

Washington Redskins

How does a team that finished fifth against the run finish 28th in total defense? Well, by finishing 30th against the pass, that’s how.

While the strategy seems clear in Washington – improve a secondary that allowed 31 passing touchdowns last season – the Redskins will have to wait until at least Day Two to do so. Washington has seven picks but none in the first round – this year or next year – after trading several selections in 2012 to the St. Louis Rams, in essence, for Robert Griffin III.

The Redskins appear to be interested in Fresno State safety Phillip Thomas and North Carolina State corner David Amerson, among others. The 6-1 Thomas had 178 tackles, 13 interceptions and forced six fumbles at Fresno State, while Amerson had 177 tackles and 18 interceptions at N.C. State. Both could go as early as the second round.

Despite its horrendous pass defense, Washington still finished 10-6 last year and won the NFC East. The Redskins ended the regular season by winning seven straight before losing their opening-round playoff game, 24-14, to the Seattle Seahawks – a game in which Griffin tore the ACL, LCL and meniscus in his right knee.

While improving the pass defense is Washington’s No. 1 priority, giving Griffin more weapons in the passing game shouldn’t be far behind. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon missed six games last year and still led the team with 633 receiving yards. More passing options would mean fewer rushing attempts for Griffin, who averaged eight rushes per game last season.

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Cincinnati-based sportswriter Tony Meale is the author of The Chosen Ones: The Team That Beat LeBron and contributes to several outlets, including MLB.com and MaxPreps. He has a master’s in journalism from Ohio University and is available for guest-speaking engagements. Follow Tony Meale on Twitter @tonymeale.