By Steve Silverman
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The NFC East is a division that will be there for the taking in 2014. The New York Giants may have been on the outside looking in at the playoffs the last two years, but they don’t have to look at any of the teams and feel like they are in over their heads as the season approaches.
Chip Kelly certainly made a great first impression with the Eagles last year and appears to have that team moving in the right direction, but the Eagles’ receiving crew suffered a big loss in the offseason when they parted ways with DeSean Jackson.
In looking at the draft, all four of the NFC East teams needed to bring in the kind of talented athletes who can win jobs and make key contributions in 2014. Three of the teams – including the Giants – appeared to succeed.
Here’s our look at how each team in the NFC East fared in this year’s draft:
The Cowboys were in a position to dominate the headlines during the first night of the draft when it appeared they were going to bring in Johnny Manziel to become their quarterback of the future. Jerry Jones decided that Manziel was not going to beat out Tony Romo, so he drafted offensive tackle Zack Martin from Notre Dame, and he should be a starter who can protect the surgically repaired QB.
Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence of Boise State has good technique and natural ability, but they may have reached a bit by taking him in the second round. Outside linebacker Anthony Hitchens (fourth round) demonstrated his ability to make plays sideline to sideline at Iowa and will give everything he has on every snap.
Devin Street (fifth round) is a legitimate third-down receiver who will improve the options that Romo has to choose from. Defensive tackle Ken Bishop (seventh round) from Northern Illinois has a chance to be the team’s best contributor of the late-round picks. Bishop is not huge at 6-1 and 305 pounds, but he plays with excellent leverage and will shut down the interior run.
New York Giants
Give credit to Jerry Reese for addressing a key need for the Giants when he drafted Odell Beckham Jr. from LSU in the first round. Beckham can beat the defensive back down the field, and the quickness to make moves after the catch. Reese also gave Eli Manning a solid blocker when he selected Colorado State’s Weston Richburg in the second round. Richburg is smart and agile, and he is equally good as a pass protector as he is in the running game.
Third-round draft choice Jay Bromley of Syracuse is a versatile player, but he may have difficulty anchoring at the defensive tackle position. Andre Williams (fourth round) may turn out to be a key player for the Giants. The bruising running back from Boston College could turn out to be a key fourth-quarter weapon if the Giants can get the lead.
Outside linebacker Devon Kennard of USC appears to be the best of the Giants’ two fifth-round choices. While he will not be a starter, he has pass-coverage ability and should be a special-teams demon. The other fifth-round pick, S Nat Berhe of San Diego State, may not be able to give the Giants much. Berhe is an overachiever who lacks speed and size. He will have issues matching up with good tight ends.
You had to scratch your head a bit when the Eagles traded down in the draft and selected outside linebacker Marcus Smith from Louisville with the 26th pick in the first round. Smith might have been available late in the second round if the Eagles had not selected him. On the positive side, he can get around the edge and rush the passer, but he does not have a lot of special characteristics.
Once the Eagles got past the first round, they appeared to do quite well. The selections of wide receivers Jordan Mathews from Vanderbilt and Josh Huff from Oregon should give the offense a huge lift. Kelly obviously knows Huff well from his days with the Ducks, but Huff may turn out to be a rare gem because he can make big plays after the catch.
Defensive end Taylor Hart is another Oregon Duck who has a chance to help the team after being selected in the fifth round because he has some dynamic pass-rush skills. Don’t be surprised if seventh-round defensive tackle Beau Allen of Wisconsin makes at least a small contribution as a powerful run stuffer.
The Redskins’ lack of depth was a big problem in 2013 as they simply did not have the type of quality football players that could help them win in the fourth quarter or when key injuries took hold. The Redskins were looking for depth in the draft and they moved down to create more choices, but they did not get the best available player at the positions they drafted.
That was especially true with the selection of outside linebacker Trent Murphy from Stanford with their second-round choice. Murphy is a decent pass rusher, but there were several better players on the board when they selected him. Third-round choice Morgan Moses has all the skills and tools needed to become a consistent offensive tackle, but his play on the field doesn’t always measure up.
Fifth-round choice Ryan Grant from Tulane appears to be a nice fit at the wide receiver position. He runs excellent routes and will work hard to get open. If he can develop a rapport with Robert Griffin III in training camp, he has a chance to be a big-time contributor. Running back Lache Seastrunk of Baylor (fifth round) and tight end Ted Holser of Indiana (seventh round) have a chance to make the team but neither player has special characteristics.
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