2018 NFL Divisional Draft Needs: NFC East
Dom Murtha goes division by division, team by team, and pick by pick, breaking down the 2018 draft strategy for each NFL franchise.
With the NFL Offseason now fully underway, it should come as no surprise that our attention has been completely turned to the NFL Draft. Alongside my “positional previews,” delivered to you on Wednesdays, Fridays will be reserved for my more traditional “Divisional Draft Needs” series. This week we cover the NFC East, examining a division full of teams with a myriad of needs and varying selections to fill them.
** Listed “2018 Draft Picks” do not include compensatory selections, as they will be awarded at a later date, just a few weeks prior to the draft. **
| New York Giants | 2017 Record: 3-13 | 2018 Draft Picks: 2, 34, 66, 98, 130, 162, 194 | Needs: OT, OG, QB, RB, LB, CB |
You might not remember, but the Giants were a team with Super Bowl aspirations entering the 2017 season, as they added a handful of big talents in the offseason and were the NFC favorites by most NFL pundits. Despite all of that, the Giants instead seemed more interested in doing their best Cleveland Browns impersonation, as they stumbled to a paltry 3-13 season due to a series of unfortunate events. Understandably, the coaching staff and front office has been cleaned out, while much of their incredibly talented roster remains intact. With several high picks in this draft, the Giants are actually set up for a huge comeback season a la the Cowboys in 2016.
In my first mock draft this offseason, with their first round pick (second overall), I saddled the Giants with quarterback Josh Rosen out of UCLA. While there are varying opinions on where they should go with this pick, for now I’m going to stick to my guns. The main reason being is that Eli Manning is not getting any younger – if this were a round of golf, he’d be putting on the 18th green – but combined with that fact, provided the Giants don’t self destruct once again this upcoming season, they likely won’t be picking this high in the draft for a very long time. Obviously, to pick a quarterback this high, the entire organization has to fall in love with the kid, which makes Rosen a tentative selection for now, but I do ultimately feel that when all is said and done, a quarterback will be the pick. Rosen is my second ranked QB in the draft, which is how New York ends up with him. Also in play for this selection will be quarterbacks Sam Darnold out of USC, Josh Allen out of Wyoming, Baker Mayfield out of Oklahoma, and for a longshot QB, Lamar Jackson out of Louisville. If they for some reason don’t go quarterback, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley will be in play, as will Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson.
Onto the second round and the Giants once again will be benefited with picking very early in the day. Considering their horrific offensive line troubles over the last few seasons, ideally the Giants would take the best lineman available at 34th overall. In this scenario, two guys come to mind – James Daniels, center out of Iowa, and Jamarco Jones, left tackle out of Ohio State. As of now, the Giants have roster voids at both positions, so ideally they would select Jones here due to the higher premium put on a true left tackle. In this move, the Giants would be benefited with the ability to swing Erick Flowers – a struggling project and former first round pick – over to the right side, and then they could kick DJ Fluker – current right tackle – down inside to guard in hopes of replacing the soon to be departed Justin Pugh.
Onto the third round and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Giants decided to double up at the offensive line spot. It’s at 66th overall where I think the Giants will get their center and potential replacement for Weston Richburg, especially if they decide to also move on from restricted free agent Brett Jones. Even if they don’t though and bring back Jones as the incumbent starter from the end of last season, the addition of Arkansas’ Frank Ragnow will give the Giants a high potential and versatile depth option along their line, which has been a sorely needed role on this team for years. As I just spoiled, Ragnow is a center by trade, but has the ability with his plus size and athleticism to play guard as well. In a pinch he could probably kick out to right tackle too. For this team coming out of camp, Ragnow would be in the thick of things for the starting center spot, or either guard position. His talent is real and would be welcomed on an offensive line that has struggled for years now.
With one more pick inside the top-100, the Giants have a chance to snag a fourth impact contributor in this draft. How bout a running back? With Orleans Darkwa and Shane Vereen set to hit the open market, the running back position is far less secure than the Giants would like, especially in the unproven hands of Wayne Gallman and Paul Perkins. Arizona State’s Kalen Ballage is a player whom I’m higher on than most because while he didn’t post huge season-long numbers in college, his tape shows excellent potential. I fully expect that he will blow up the combine with big strength and speed numbers, while his massive build and plus three down potential will eventually bump up his draft stock. While most right now have him somewhere in the sixth round, I expect he will be a fourth rounder before all is said and done. Keep in mind that this is a guy who split time with another back during all four years of his collegiate career and yet he still had a game in which he scored a whopping eight touchdowns! This kid’s best football is in front of him.
With the Giants final few picks, they should fill out the rest of their needs and play the board BPA (best player available)... Two guys that I like as potential fits are Penn State cornerback Chris Campbell and Ohio State linebacker Chris Worley. Campbell would fill a need off the bat as a depth corner, however his length and range would also give him the ability to flex inside as a safety. Worley, on the other hand, is not going to blow you away with size or testing numbers, however he is a high-intangible, high-IQ linebacker who could help the Giants fill depth in two areas of need – linebacker and special teams.
| Washington Redskins | 2017 Record: 7-9 | 2018 Draft Picks: 13, 44, 109, 140, 174, 205, 215 | Needs: DL, C, OG, WR, S, LB |
After a third consecutive season of mediocrity, the Redskins decided to pull the plug on the Kirk Cousins experiment. His numbers were far more than adequate over his three years as a starter, and quite frankly, I think Washington may be making a mistake choosing Alex Smith over him, but it is tough to argue with them wanting to pass on the enormous number that Cousins is going to command on the open market. Moving forward now, Washington is going to have to figure out how they want to build around their new franchise quarterback.
In the first round I expect them to table that burning question for now, as they are likely to address an even bigger need at the interior defensive line spot. Washington’s (the college, not the Redskins) massive nose tackle Vita Vea is sure to immediately remedy the issues plaguing the Redskins front seven, especially in the run defense department. He is undoubtedly the most talented interior defensive lineman in this draft class, and the attention he will draw by NFL offenses will do wonders in freeing up the Redskins linebackers, as well as their pass rushers in Jonathan Allen, Ryan Kerrigan, and Preston Smith.
In the second, I fully expect the Redskins to address that previously mentioned burning question on how they will build around their new quarterback. If we are taking any of his recent success in Kansas City into consideration, then surrounding Alex Smith with speedy wideouts may be a priority for the Redskins. While he may be flying up draft boards after the Combine, I still expect that DJ Chark out of LSU will be available when the Redskins are picking at 44th overall. Chark lacked production throughout his years at LSU, but that is mainly because of the terrible quarterback play he had to deal with. Ultimately in Chark, Washington will be getting a smooth running, downfield burner, who has drawn comparisons to former favorite receiver of Alex Smith’s, Chris Conley. Chark’s downfield presence has a chance to pair nicely with Josh Doctson’s “go up and get it” ability and Jamison Crowder’s intermediate slot savvy.
Onto the fourth round, as the Redskins don’t have a third rounder, and here they can look to knock out two of their offensive line questions in one move. Braden Smith out of Auburn is a sturdily built guard, who has the light feet and IQ to project as a center prospect in the NFL. With the Redskins potentially losing Spencer Long to free agency this offseason, there is a chance that right out of camp, Smith will have a shot to win the starting job. If Smith isn’t kicked over to center, then he will add some much needed depth at the guard position.
With their late round picks, the Redskins are likely to play the board, but with their remaining needs still in mind. Mostly the focus will be on the defensive side of things, but adding another offensive lineman won’t be out of the question either. Fits that I like for Washington include Oklahoma State safety Tre Flowers, who offers good size for the position, Washington linebacker Keishawn Bierria, who offers depth and special teams potential, and Arizona guard Jacob Alsadek, who’s 6-foot-7 frame and drive power in the run game, offers position flexibility as either a guard or right tackle.
| Dallas Cowboys | 2017 Record: 9-7 | 2018 Draft Picks: 19, 50, 81, 112, 179, 210 | Needs: DT, OG, LB, OT, WR, TE, S |
Like the Giants, the Cowboys entered the 2017 season with serious Super Bowl aspirations, however their season was largely derailed by the suspension of bell cow running back Ezekiel Elliott and the considerable regression of quarterback Dak Prescott. Considering that, one would expect that their biggest needs lie on the offensive side of the ball, and while that may be true, their less than stacked roster on the defensive side of the ball allows them to handle the first round with a BPA strategy.
In my first mock I have Dallas playing the opportunists, as they gobble up toolsy, hybrid, safety Derwin James out of Florida State. James falling this far may be a longshot, as some draft pundits have his talent ranked inside the top-five, however if he does fall this far, there is no question that the Cowboys would pounce on him. James is a safety best utilized near the line of scrimmage, which means that his presence would allow Byron Jones to move either to the single high safety spot, or back to cornerback – his most natural position.
Other things that James does uniquely well is blitz off the edge and cover man up in the slot. A well-built thumper and a physical freak, James is a talent that Dallas can’t afford to pass on. He’s a legitimate game changer on the defensive side of the football, something that they have been looking for since the departure of DeMarcus Ware.
While even the thought of it makes it a sad day for many Cowboys fans; chances are that Dez Bryant is on his way out the door soon. Dez is an explosive, playmaking, wideout, who at his best is one of the most feared jump ball players in the game. His physical nature always made him a terror after the catch, but in recent years, focus drops and underwhelming route running has made his game rather stale. I’m of the opinion that he’s still got plenty of game left and is only being used as a scapegoat due to Dak Prescott’s regression, but the fact remains that Dez’s tenure in Dallas is likely over sooner rather than later. Considering that, they need to look to replace him in the draft.
The second round may even be too late to replace a starting wideout, but I think I’ve picked them the right one in Dante Pettis out of Washington. Considering that Dak had had such a problem getting the ball to a Dez type of receiver, the Cowboys are likely to grab a guy like Pettis, who in many ways is the opposite of Dez. Pettis is an incredibly advanced route runner for his age, in that he runs the full tree and does it really well. He is refined and smooth in and out of his cuts, while his hand catching ability reminds me of Wayne Chrebet. Against press, he has no trouble using a combination of quick feet and physicality to create early separation, while even on poorly thrown balls, he uses acrobatics and body position to bail out his quarterback. This type of skillset at the receiver position is one far better suited to the type of quarterback that Dak Prescott is, which is really all the Cowboys care about at this point – the further development of their franchise quarterback.
In the third round, the offensive line must be addressed, as incumbent starting left guard Jonathan Cooper is a free agent to be, while backup linemen Joe Looney and Byron Bell are also unlikely to be back with the team in 2018. Considering their particular needs,I like Chukwuma Okorafor – tackle out of Western Michigan – best for Dallas in the third round.
Okorafor is a massive (6-foot-6, 330 lbs.), highly talented, yet incredibly raw offensive lineman, who projects as a potential Pro Bowler down the line in his career. He got a late start to the game, as he didn’t play until high school, but in college he showed a natural ability to thwart speed rushers off the edge. With Dallas locked in at the tackle position for the time being, Okorafor has the chance to take his time and develop along the best offensive line in the game. Eventually he will be able to replace La’el Collins on the right side, if Dallas plans on ever kicking Collins back inside to his natural position at guard, or he will be groomed properly to take over for Tyron Smith, who is now rather consistently banged up.
The Cowboys are expected to actually end up with three fourth round selections after the compensatory picks come in. Here are some guys that I like as potential fits…
Troy Fumagalli, tight end out of Wisconsin, is not the biggest, not the strongest, not the fastest, and quite frankly not the best fit for the position considering the fact that he only has nine fingers, but gosh darn it, he gets the job done. Much in the mold of Jason Witten, Fumagalli is a rather polished product at the position who can block inline and can poke holes in the softest part of a defense’s zone coverage. Talent wise, he’s more than a fourth rounder, but his missing finger is likely to bump him down draft boards.
Deadrin Senat – nose tackle out of South Florida – is one of the most underrated talents in this draft, I firmly believe that. Right now, there is little hype surrounding him because he not only played at a non-football powerhouse in South Florida, but he is also quite undersized for the nose tackle position. This would end up working out for Dallas actually because he would instead fit in as their shade 1-technique tackle, which doesn’t put as much of a premium on size. Senat would come in and instantly start at the shade 1-tech, which would allow Malik Collins to kick outside to the 3-tech – his more natural position. The best part about it is that they won’t need to spend a premium pick on him, which is huge for the Cowboys because historically they neglect this position in the earlier rounds, despite their gaping hole there for the last handful of seasons.
Tegray Scales, linebacker out of Indiana, had an incredibly productive collegiate career, despite his limited size for the position. The book on him is that he’s one of the most effective 4-3 blitzing linebackers in the class, as proven by his 36.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks over the last two seasons, while he’s also a thumping, strong-side, run stuffer in the ground game. For Dallas, Scales would plug and play as their 4-3 Sam linebacker, immediately filling the soon to be vacant spot left behind Anthony Hitchens and Kyle Wilber. And while he’s limited in coverage, adding a package on third downs where he could creep up to the line of scrimmage and come hot off the edge would be more than intriguing. He’s the type of Dude/ “War Daddy” that Jerry Jones is always clamoring for.
Towards the end of their draft, I would like to see Dallas add another guard/flex tackle and another defensive back. KJ Malone out of UCLA, also son of NBA hall of famer Karl Malone, makes sense as the guard/tackle addition, as his big body, plus power, and good feet project him as a decent potential player at several offensive line positions in the NFL. Quenton Meeks, cornerback out of Stanford makes sense towards the end of the draft as well, as he projects as a hybrid player and special teams contributor for the Cowboys. He has the length, size, and tackling ability to play either corner or safety, which is something to be admired in today’s NFL.
| Philadelphia Eagles | 2017 Record: 13-3 | 2018 Draft Picks: 32, 127, 128, 147, 160, 192 | Needs: OT, CB, LB, WR |
It’s pretty easy to imagine that after all of the negative things I said about the other NFC East teams in relation to last season, that the Eagles had themselves a pretty killer 2017. That is actually quite the understatement, as they in fact captured their first Super Bowl title in franchise history. The most impressive thing about it is that they were able to accomplish the sport’s most prestigious prize, in spite of the myriad of injuries that they dealt with on both sides of the ball and to several impact players. Considering the fact that strong depth on the roster played a pivotal role in their Super Bowl success, it is understandable that the Eagles wouldn’t have too many dire needs in this upcoming draft. Quite frankly, there isn’t really a better problem to have in sports, and that is actually when you end up having your best drafts.
While 2017 was filled with roses and rainbows for Philly, there was a clear chink in their armor so to speak, and it happened to be in the secondary, as was evidenced by Tom Brady and the thrashing that he put on them in the Super Bowl; a record 505 passing yards and three touchdowns. Because of this, I sent them Central Florida’s Mike Hughes in the first round; a cornerback whose length and long speed should help shore up their outside maladies. While he’s raw, he is blessed with several transferable traits that project him to be an elite cover guy someday, while his tenacity in the run game and dangerous return ability give his prospect grade an added bonus. Also in play at this selection would be an offensive tackle, but how my board played out, none of the “first round” guys were available.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, they have no day two selections and will not pick again until late in the fourth round. But, as I said, without many holes and coming off of a Super Bowl victory, it’s really not that big of a deal. With their remaining handful of bargain bin selections, I expect them to play the board BPA with their very few needs still in mind. Guys who I like for Philly late include Desmond Harrison – offensive tackle out of West Georgia, whose massive reach and athleticism make him an excellent high-potential, project pick – Oren Burks – a Vanderbilt linebacker with a hybrid skill set – and Equanimeous St. Brown – a Notre Dame wideout who’s rare size and deep speed combo make him a logical replacement for the soon to be departed Torrey Smith.