(Note: The term “Squid” refers to carries plus targets.)
Philadelphia Eagles: 10-7
Dallas Cowboys: 10-7
Washington Commanders: 7-10
New York Giants: 7-10
2021 Record: 12-5
Scouting Wins: 10.28
DVOA Wins: 9.8
FPI Wins: 10.6
Market Wins: 9.63
Implied Pythag: 53.85%
It’s easy to think of the 2022 Cowboys’ season as the one that got away. They outscored their opponents by 172 points. They finished first in DVOA (6th in offense, 2nd in defense, 6th in special teams). They were a team prepared to make a Super Bowl run. And then their offense fell apart against the 49ers.
Well… not exactly. That’s a narrative told by the numbers, but the reality was a bit different. Quarterback Dak Prescott was a shell of himself (more on this shortly). The 49ers took advantage of his limitations. The Cowboys offense wasn’t a well oiled machine. And now it’s down three men.
After the season the Cowboys traded #2WR Amari Cooper (68 receptions, 865 yards, 8.0% DVOA, 179 DYAR) away to the Browns. Slot wide receiver Cedrick Wilson (45 receptions, 602 yards, 18.6% DVOA, 154 DYAR) signed with Miami. Quarterback Dak Prescott will have his work cut out for him:
2019: 4,902 yards, 30 TD, 11 INT, 7.7 NY/P, 27.1% DVOA, 1,612 DYAR
2020: 1,856 yards, 9 TD, 4 INT, 7.7 NY/P, 14.0% DVOA, 399 DYAR (in five games)
2021: 4,449 yards, 37 TD, 10 INT, 6.9 NY/P, 21.2% DVOA, 1,282 DYAR (in 16 games)
I need to break this down a bit. In week six, Prescott suffered a calf injury. Through week six his DVOA was 42.8%. He was setting the world on fire. After the injury, he was mediocre. He finished the year with -63.6% rushing DVOA (-97 DYAR). He had a 20.2% rushing DVOA over 2019-2020 (117 DYAR). He was clearly playing hurt. When healthy, Prescott is one of the top quarterbacks in the league. We’ll see what he can do with a diminished wide receiver corps.
At least #1WR 2020 first-round pick CeeDee Lamb is back:
2020: 74 receptions, 935 yards, 0.3 +/-, -3.8% DVOA, 78 DYAR
2021: 79 receptions, 1,102 yards, +4.6 +/-, 7.9% DVOA, 205 DYAR (in 16 games)
Remember: The Cowboys were without Dak Prescott for most of 2020. Lamb worked almost entirely out of the slot that year. Last season he was close to 50-50 between the slot and outside. With Wilson gone, Lamb may end up back in the slot full-time.
#2WR Michael Gallup did not impress last season:
2021: 35 receptions, 445 yards, -2.6 +/-, -3.2% DVOA, 50 DYAR (in nine games)
He’s currently on the PUP list and is going to miss week one as he recovers from an ACL tear. I have low expectations for Gallup.
Rookie third-round pick Jalen Tolbert is going to get a chance to produce immediately:
Jalen Tolbert: Workhorse receiver at South Alabama:
2021: 135 targets, 82 receptions, 1,474 yards, 8 TD, 0.35 points-per-target, 10.9 yards-per-target
You can talk about the level of competition or his eight drops. When given the chance, he torched Tennessee for 143 yards and a touchdown. Decent athlete for his size. He beat defenses both with his speed and the threat of his speed. That is a tough task in the NFL.
Tolbert is perhaps the least physical receiver I scouted in the class. Yes, there are other receivers that are smaller, but none of them gave less blocking effort than Tolbert. Additionally, he’s soft in press coverage and gets bullied by corners who can stay with him. Tolbert prefers to play a much less physical brand of ball.
Drops aside, Tolbert has made a number of impressive catches that highlight his hands and ability to track the ball in flight. There are a number of areas he will need to improve in. I know that when I watched him I felt like I was watching a future NFL player. He’ll learn how to create separation at the next level. It might take him some time to adjust to the tougher competition. Third-round value.
Budget free-agent pickup James Washington was wasted in Pittsburgh:
2021: 24 receptions, 285 yards, -2.8 +/-, -13.1% DVOA, -2 DYAR (in 15 games)
He was a deep threat paired with a quarterback with no range. Back in 2019 when Ben Roethlisberger’s arm still worked, Washington did some damage (44 receptions, 735 yards, 11.2% DVOA, 156 DYAR). He’s currently on IR with a foot injury and should be back later this season.
#1TE Dalton Schultz is coming off a career year:
2020: 63 receptions, 615 yards, 0.0 +/-, -8.5% DVOA, -8 DYAR
2021: 78 receptions, 808 yards, +5.8 +/-, 20.3% DVOA, 190 DYAR
The Cowboys hit him with the franchise tag. I don’t blame them. It’s tough to give someone a long-term deal with only one season of solid production. This is his chance to prove that it wasn’t a fluke.
Rookie fourth-round pick Jake Ferguson is an accomplished blocker with some receiving skills. He’ll provide value in 2TE sets while he learns the finer points of the offense.
#1RB Ezekiel Elliot played through a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament last season. That sounds painful:
2019: 372 squid, 1,777 yards, 15.8% DVOA, 395 DYAR
2020: 315 squid, 1,317 yards, -1.9% DVOA, 122 DYAR (in 15 games)
2021: 303 squid, 1,289 yards, 1.1% DVOA, 146 DYAR
It’s now been a few years since Ezekiel performed like a star running back. He’s only 27 and I don’t consider him washed up. I can say that paying running backs has a very poor track record.
2019 fourth-round pick Tony Pollard did a decent job last year:
2020: 141 squid, 628 yards, 7.0% DVOA, 103 DYAR
2021: 176 squid, 1,056 yards, 15.9% DVOA, 208 DYAR (in 15 games)
This should not be considered an endorsement of signing Pollard to an extension. His rookie contract ends after this season. If I were the Cowboys, I’d wish him well and let him enjoy his newfound freedom.
I mentioned the Cowboys offense was down three men. The first two were receivers Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson. Losing both thinned out the receiver corps. The third man is left tackle Tyron Smith. He had a bit of an issue with penalties last season. If we removed penalties from my grading system, he was the third best left tackle in the league. Penalties matter, but so does keep your quarterback upright. Losing Smith is going to hurt the Cowboys offense. There are rumors of potential signings, but nothing major has happened as of now.
(Update: The Cowboys signed Jason Peters. Peters finished 31st in my rankings last season. He turned 40 in January. Peters will start the season on the practice squad.)
That leaves 2021 fourth-round pick Josh Ball as the starter. Ball missed all of last season with an ankle injury. He had a checkered past in college. He ended up going from Florida State to Butler Community College to Marshall. To be blunt, I never saw anything on film that justified a fourth-round selection, and that’s before the off-field issues. My expectations for Ball are low, which in turn lowers my expectations for the Cowboys offense.
Ball is expected to start alongside 2019 third-round pick Connor McGovern. McGovern was mediocre last season. Presumably he’s keeping the seat warm until rookie first-round pick Tyler Smith is ready to start:
Tyler Smith: Good athlete with the desired arm length. Played with tremendous power. Dominant run blocker, both at creating holes and at sealing the edge. He was a pure left tackle at Tulsa, so I’m leery of asking him to switch sides. Heavily resistant to bull rushes. Doesn’t have much range. Highly aggressive (read: heavily penalized).
His hand technique is highly inconsistent. He’s clearly trading power for accuracy. I understand there are tradeoffs here. He’ll need to improve if he wants to stay at left tackle in the NFL. Otherwise, he might have to move inside.
The question for Tyler Smith is whether he’ll consistently be able to handle speed rushers who can threaten him both inside and outside. If he can manage to keep them from turning pressures into sacks, he’ll stay on the field.
Penalties aside (12 in 2021), I like much of what I’ve seen from Smith. You just don’t find many players with his mix of size, length, athleticism, and pure power. He’s succeeded with poor technique. If he can learn how to properly play the position, he’s potentially elite. Early second-round value. I’ll understand it if some team snags him at the tail end of the first round.
2020 fourth-round pick center Tyler Biadasz finished 21st in my rankings. Centers average one penalty every 230 snaps or so. He committed one every 120 snaps.
Right guard Zack Martin finished first in my rankings. He’s one of the best guards in the NFL.
2021 fourth-round pick Josh Ball was competing with Terence Steel for the right tackle position. Steel got obliterated in 2020 and wasn’t much better last season. Tyron Smith’s injury moves Ball over to left tackle. Again, not a great result for the Cowboys.
I want to take a moment to talk about rookie fifth-round pick Matt Waletzko:
Matt Waletzko: Prototype size, length, and athleticism. One of my favorite scouting lines I’ve ever heard applies to Waltzko:
“Needs another 30 pounds of legs and ass.”
Playing at North Dakota does not prepare you for NFL defensive linemen. Even there, Waletzko didn’t dominate with power. Due to his height it will be very difficult for him to develop a low center of gravity.
What Waletzko brings is enormous potential. It’s going to be very difficult for finesse moves to beat him given his length. The question is will he be able to handle NFL power. If he can bulk up and stand up to defensive linemen, he could be a starting left tackle. Those are valuable and rare. Waletzko is a lottery ticket. He probably won’t pay off, but what were you expecting from your fifth-round pick?
It’s possible that Waletzko will end up being the Cowboys’ left tackle of the future. Thankfully, he’ll be given time to develop before having to prove himself.
As good as the Cowboys’ defense was last season, it could have been better had defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (three sacks, 21 hits+hurries) played in more than seven games. He’ll start across from Dorance Armstrong (five sacks, 31 hits+hurries). Tarell Basham (3.5 sacks, 29 hits+hurries), free-agent pickup Dante Fowler (4.5 sacks, 23 hits+hurries), and rookie second-round pick Sam Williams will round out the pass-rush rotation. Williams is an elite athlete. He had 12.5 sacks last season at Mississippi. Williams struggled against power, which led him to bulk up over his college career. Athletes with his size and speed are hard to find. Note: Williams also has multiple serious off-field incidents in his past, including an arrest for sexual battery.
2021 third-round pick Osa Odighizuwa, 2020 third-round pick Neville Gallimore, and Carlos Watkins are competing for the starting defensive tackle jobs. Odighizuwa had a nice rookie season. Gallimore missed most of last season with an elbow injury. I think both bring more to the table than Watkins. Watkins is fine. He projects as a decent space-eater.
2021 first-round pick middle linebacker Micah Parsons (13 sacks, 51 hits+hurries) is already one of the best defenders in the NFL. If we only looked at his coverage skills, he’d rank as an elite off-ball linebacker. One more season like this and I’ll be forced to admit the Cowboys struck gold similarly to the Rams with Aaron Donald. Sigh.
Parsons will be paired with Leighton Vander Esch. Sadly, injuries have reduced Vander Esch to “just a guy.”
2021 fourth-round pick Jabril Cox is trying to come back from a torn ACL in his knee. We barely saw Cox last season. At this point expectations have to be low.
Free-agent pickup Anthony Barr is currently on the PUP list. Never a good sign for your future prospects.
It’s a good thing Parsons is elite because otherwise this unit would look rough.
Safety Jayron Kearse did phenomenal work for the Cowboys last season. Malik Hooker and 2019 sixth-round Donovan Wilson looked good in limited usage. Hooker will likely start across from Kearse. Look for Wilson to see more playing time this year as well.
2020 second-round pick Trevon Diggs may as well be considered the God of Gamblers. Did he give up a lot of yardage? Yes. He also had 11 interceptions! That’s more than seven teams had in 2021. You throw at Diggs, you best not miss. He’ll start across from Anthony Brown.
Brown had an excellent season. Fear of Diggs led to Brown facing 100+ targets. Despite that, his coverage numbers were quite good. He also had three interceptions of his own. This is a very strong pairing.
Nickelback Jourdan Lewis snagged three interceptions as well, though the Cowboys have indicated they’d like to push him down on the depth chart.
2021 second-round pick Kelvin Joseph was cleared in a murder investigation. Now all he needs to do is work his way into the starting lineup. He’ll compete with Lewis and rookie fifth-round pick DaRon Bland for the #3CB job.
2021 third-round pick Nahshon Wright failed to impress in his rookie season. At this point, he’s just trying to get on the field.
Punter Bryan Anger did excellent work for the Cowboys last season. Undrafted rookie kicker Jonathan Garibay was solid at Texas Tech.
Tony Pollard did a nice job returning kicks. He and rookie Jalen Tolbert may end up returning punts for the Cowboys this year. The Cowboys’ coverage units are solid. Overall, the Cowboys’ special teams should provide a small edge.
The Cowboys might have returned to the Super Bowl had quarterback Dak Prescott been healthy last season. This year, he’s going to have to work with a diminished receiver corps. Prescott will also have to deal with a diminished offensive line.
Defensively, the Cowboys’ best hope is for improvement by the edge-rushers. A healthy DeMarcus Lawrence could produce a significant boost. I’m also very curious what Micah Parsons will do in his sophomore campaign.
Third cornerback issues aside, the Cowboys’ secondary looks solid. Their interception totals were not just random variance. Diggs giveth, and Diggs most definitely taketh away.
The top of the NFC is soft this year. Dallas has one eye on Philadelphia and the other on the NFC contenders. The problem is injuries (and a poor offseason) have left Dallas soft too. Will it be another year of disappointment in Dallas? 10-7.
New York Giants:
2021 Record: 4-13
Scouting Wins: 6.27
DVOA Wins: 6.6
FPI Wins: 7.9
Market Wins: 6.78
Implied Pythag: 34.61%
To understand where the Giants are right now we have to go back to the 2018 NFL Draft. The Cleveland Browns held the #1 overall pick. The New York Giants held the #2 pick. The Jets traded the Colts three second-round picks to move up from sixth to third. The Jets wanted quarterback Sam Darnold from USC. They figured the Browns were going with two-time Heisman winner Baker Mayfield. The Giants had their hearts set on running back Saquon Barkley. The Jets figured they were safe at #3. Before contacting the Colts, they had reached out to the Giants and found them unresponsive. There was a potential problem, though. The Broncos desperately wanted Darnold. There was the possibility they’d succeed where the Jets failed. Alas, the Broncos never got the chance. Giants GM Dave Gettleman wouldn’t even take their call.
You might think this is a story about Gettleman’s incompetence. I suppose it is, but there’s more to it. Gettleman didn’t hire himself. The Giants kept Gettleman as GM until 2021. Gettleman might be gone, but the owners remain the same. John Mara is still CEO. Chris Mara is still a senior player personnel executive. There’s little co-owner Steve Tisch can do about it. John Mara’s grandfather Tim Mara founded the team. His father Wellington Mara owned it for many years. You might think of the Giants as a successful franchise, but that only came about after the league had tired of their incompetence and forced them to hire general manager George Young. Young would have a Hall of Fame career. The Giants won two Super Bowls during his tenure. They would win another two during Jerry Reese’s tenure, although the first was with a roster built by previous GM Ernie Accorsi. Gettleman replaced Reese and now Joe Schoen has replaced Gettleman. Schoen was left with the worst possible situation: A talent-starved roster in salary cap Hell. For now, all Schoen can do is rebuild.
The one thing we can evaluate from Schoen is his first draft with the Giants:
1-5: Defense end Kayvon Thibodeaux. Third on the consensus big board and on mine as well. This was smart because there were a pair of elite left tackles on the board, so the Giants assured themselves of getting one as well as the top pass-rusher available.
1-7: Offensive tackle Evan Neal. Second on the consensus big board, fourth on mine. My favorite OT in the draft.
I couldn’t have been happier with how the first round went for the Giants. They grabbed two of my top four players, both at premium positions. With no quarterback in high demand, trading back wasn’t a realistic option. Great first day. And then things went pear-shaped:
2-43: Wide reciever Wan’Dale Robinson. I had Robinson graded as the 105th best player in the class. He was 91st overall on the consensus big board. Five receivers went in the next 11 picks:
2-44: Houston Texans: John Metchie. I had Metchie graded 57th. He was 62nd on the consensus big board. Had a mild injury red flag.
2-50: New England Patriots: Tyquan Thornton. I had Thornton graded 246th. I don’t think he has NFL-quality hands. He was 155th on the consensus big board.
2-52: Pittsburgh Steelers: George Pickens. I had Pickens graded 42nd with an injury red flag. He was 46th on the consensus big board.
2-53: Indianapolis Colts: Alec Pierce. I had Pierce graded 78th. He was 77th on the consensus big board.
2-54: Kansas City Chiefs: Skyy Moore. I had Moore graded 96th. He was 50th on the consensus big board.
With the exception of Thornton, I would have preferred the Giants gone in any of those directions had they wanted a receiver. Given where Pickens went, I am presuming the medical concerns aren’t too serious.
Still, this was just one pick and Schoen had made a good first impression. Let’s continue.
3-67: Guard Joshua Ezeudu. 169th on the consensus big board. 132nd on mine. Ugh.
3-81: Cornerback Cordale Flott. 208th on the consensus big board. 218th on mine.
4-112: Tight end Daniel Bellinger. 157th on the consensus big board. 164th on mine.
4-114: Safety Dane Belton. 198th on the consensus big board. 172nd on mine.
5-146: Linebacker Micah McFadden. 206th on the consensus big board. 199th on mine.
5-147: Defensive tackle D.J. Davidson. Outside of the top 300 on the consensus big board. 236th on mine.
5-173: Guard Marcus McKethan. 300th on the consensus big board. 287th on mine.
That was eight straight reaches. I actually liked the Darrian Beavers selection in the sixth-round, but by then it was too little too late. Schoen has shown his ass and I’m already fearful for his tenure.
One position the Giants didn’t reach for was quarterback. The Giants declined 2019 first-round pick Daniel Jones’s fifth-year extension. They are content to let him play out his contract and move on:
2019: 3,027 yards, 24 TD, 12 INT, 5.5 NY/P, -19.2% DVOA, -211 DYAR (in 13 games)
2020: 2,943 yards, 11 TD, 10 INT, 5.4 NY/P, -22.4% DVOA, -283 DYAR (in 14 games)
2021: 2,428 yards, 10 TD, 7 INT, 5.9 NY/P, -10.6% DVOA, 9 DYAR (in 11 games)
Jones finally broke the Mendoza line and was better than the theoretical replacement player. Speaking of, here’s how the Giants did when Jones was out:
2021: 1,000 yards, 5 TD, 13 INT, 3.8 NY/P, -66.9% DVOA, -867 DYAR (in six games)
Impressive stuff from Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm. Shockingly, both are currently free agents.
Free-agent pickup Tyrod Taylor (-30.9% DVOA, -190 DYAR) has landed the backup job. It’s notable he’s signed through 2023. Part of that was likely for cap purposes, but Taylor is also the Giants’ insurance option in case their quarterback of the future isn’t prepared to start week one next year.
Normally I’d talk about the wide receiver corps now, but I’d rather talk about Saquon Barkley. He’s currently playing out his fifth-year option. The Giants have not signed him to an extension:
2019: 290 squid, 1,441 yards, -5.4% DVOA, 47 DYAR (in 13 games)
2020: 28 squid, 94 yards, -29.6% DVOA, -15 DYAR (in two games)
2021: 219 squid, 856 yards, -17.5% DVOA, -68 DYAR (in 13 games)
Barkley has had thigh and ankle issues, but the major injury was the torn ACL that ended his 2020 campaign. His rookie season (382 squid, 2,028 yards, 2.0% DVOA, 213 DYAR) is long gone. We’ll have to wait and see how much of his explosiveness remains.
Budget free-agent pickup Matt Breida should be well rested after a quiet season:
2021: 35 squid, 197 yards, 17.3% DVOA, 50 DYAR (in nine games)
It’s not like he was bad. He just barely saw the field in Buffalo. I hope he’s ready for his close-up if Barkley goes down again.
2021 first-round pick wide receiver Kadarius Toney had a tough rookie season:
2021: 39 receptions, 420 yards, +0.4 +/-, -9.3% DVOA, 15 DYAR (in ten games)
Toney dealt with ankle, hamstring, abdomen, and shoulder injuries last year. He had knee surgery this offseason. He’s currently sidelined with a leg injury. It’s very difficult for me to be optimistic about his future.
I’ll note that Toney was the subject of trade rumors this offseason. They quieted rather quickly when it became apparent his trade value wasn’t much higher than mine.
Kenny Golladay is coming off of a miserable season in NY:
2021: 37 receptions, 521 yards, -7.2+/-, -18.7% DVOA, -37 DYAR (in 14 games)
With such a weak offense it’s tough to read too much into terrible statistics. I will say that Golladay looked washed up to me. It could have been confusion or perhaps a lack of effort. Confusion goes away with experience. A lack of effort can be rectified by a regime change. Washed is a terminal condition, so let’s hope it was just an off-year.
Sterling Shepard was recently removed from the PUP list. He’s recovering from the Achilles injury that ended his 2021 campaign:
2021: 36 receptions, 366 yards, 0.0 +/-, -11.9% DVOA, 3 DYAR (in seven games)
Over the past three seasons, Shepard has missed 20 games and accumulated 58 DYAR (-9.3% DVOA). This is the trio that rookie second-round pick Wan’Dale Robinson is joining. Woof.
Wan’Dale Robinson: He’s got the speed, if not the size. Note his sub-28 inch arms. The catch radius is what it is. Robinson produced for Kentucky last season:
2021: 143 targets, 104 receptions, 1,342 yards, 7 TD, 0.25 points-per-target, 9.4 yards-per-target
Note: The 0.25 points-per-target was a career high. It’s not a case where he saw his efficiency drop as his usage increased. Actually, it’s somewhat tricky to compare his previous seasons as he transferred from Nebraska.
The eight drops are a concern. It’s not a problem of effort or concentration, which will make it tougher to solve. Tough press coverage will also be an issue. To be fair, Robinson has good vision, so he’s better at making a play on the ball than you might expect.
The oddest thing was that he played both quicker and slower than his combine results suggest. He was very good at maintaining a low center of gravity and shifting direction and speed. What he didn’t show were the jets to leave defenders in the dust. I’m not sure what’s going on with that.
He has some experience running the ball (691 yards in college), and returning the ball. I can’t say his punt-return skills impressed me.
I wouldn’t touch Robinson until day three. Players of his size need a lot to go right to succeed in the NFL. Round five value.
I should give 2019 fifth-round pick Darius Slayton a moment of attention:
2020: 50 receptions, 751 yards, -6.6 +/-, -13.6% DVOA, -7 DYAR
2021: 26 receptions, 339 yards, -7.8 +/-, -36.2% DVOA, -108 DYAR (in 13 games)
That’s the kind of performance that drops you down the depth chart as a new regime comes to town.
Rookie fourth-round pick Daniel Bellinger is coming in as the #1TE. He’s a plus athlete. It didn’t look that way on film, though, as he played slower than he tested. In truth, I liked him more as a blocker than as a receiver. Hopefully, he lives up to his draft status and not his pre-draft projections.
The rest of the tight end corps is replacement-level talent. Best of luck Mr. Bellinger.
Let’s get to the good news. 2020 first-round pick left tackle Andrew Thomas is above-average. Woohoo!
Rookie first-round pick Evan Neal looks like he’ll be the long-term starter here. For now, Neal will start at right tackle, where he started 13 games for Alabama in 2020:
Even Neal: Ideal size and length. Neal has played left guard, right tackle, and left tackle at Alabama. While this has helped him develop versatility, it does mean he hasn’t had time to master the left tackle position. His quickness makes it tough for edge rushers to beat him one-on-one. Excellent upper body strength. Moves exceptionally well for a man his size (particularly this season as he dropped 15 pounds to move from RT to LT). Effective at not giving up sacks while avoiding flags. Has the rare ability to block multiple defenders in both passing and running plays. Solid run blocker with good power and technique.
The major concern about Neal is that he still needs to master the art of playing left tackle. His knowledge of protection schemes is still a work in progress. He can be confused as to his responsibilities against blitzers (although he had excellent instincts when dealing with stunts).
I mentioned his upper body strength. His lower body strength is still a work in progress, as is his footwork. NFL defenders will find ways to get him off balance until he learns how to properly set his base.
Neal projects as a potentially elite NFL left tackle. His run blocking skills will pay dividends in short yardage situations. He has the physical gifts to excel in pass protection. Neal is my #1OT and I hope he ends up in New York.
Premium free-agent pickup Mark Glowinski finished in the top ten of my right guard rankings.
Good news completed. Now we need to talk about the rest of the interior line. The options:
2020 fifth-round pick Shame Lemieux: He played poorly in 2020. He missed almost all of last season with torn patellar tendon.
Budget free-agent pickup Max Garcia: Garcia is a known mediocrity.
Rookie third-round pick Joshua Ezeudu: Decent athlete. He’s played both guard and tackle in college. Projects as a guard in the pros. Might be the most talented option. Needs to fix his technique to avoid becoming a flag-magnet.
Budget free-agent pickup Jon Feliciano: Finished 28th in my left guard rankings last season. Sigh.
Ben Bredeson: Finished 37th in my positional rankings last season. Was awful in limited usage.
Budget free-agent pickup Jamil Douglas: Versatile enough to play anywhere on the interior. Not well enough to start, though.
Given the Giants’ salary cap woes, the Glowinski signing was a nice surprise. I also had no objection to the Giants using multiple early round picks on the offensive line. I just think Ezeudu was a reach. Neal and Glowinski give the Giants a potentially elite pairing on the right side. If nothing else, their combined power should be a boon to the running game.
Injuries wrecked this line last year. Hopefully, history doesn’t repeat itself.
(Update: The plan appears to be to start rookie Ezeudu at left guard, Feliciano at center, and Glowinski at right guard. I trust Glowinski will do a good job.)
The Giants’ defense is going to look a little different this season. They hired Wink Martindale. That means blitzes. Lots of blitzes. Martindale is from the Buddy Ryan/Al Davis school of thinking. The quarterback must go down and he must go down hard. Did he have the ball in his hands? If yes, great! But that’s not what matters.
Just who will be going after the quarterback is the question. The plan is to pair defensive tackle Leonard Williams (6.5 sacks, 31 hits+hurries) with 2019 first-round pick nose tackle Dexter Lawrence (2.5 sacks, 36 hits+hurries). Budget free-agent pickup nose tackle Justin Ellis and rookie fifth-round pick D.J. Davidson will provide depth.
Edge rushers 2021 second-round pick Azeez Ojulari (eight sacks, 26 hits+hurries) and rookie first-round pick Kayvon Thibodeaux fill out the top four defensive linemen:
Kayvon Thibodeaux: A very good athlete who falls short of freak status. SackSEER likes him roughly as much as Hutchinson and Walker. He’s had 19 sacks over his 30 game college career. Got pressure on 19% of his pass-rush attempts last season, which is elite territory. Can win with speed or power. Prefers power if it’s a legitimate option against the offensive tackle in question.
His power shows up against the run. Most offensive linemen couldn’t move him. Tight ends were hopeless. It wasn’t just that he’s strong. He excelled at getting his hands on you first.
As with Aidan Hutchinson, Thibodeaux isn’t quite as flexible as would be optimal. He’s also had an issue with…. chippy play, drawing seven flags in 2021.
Hutchinson is coming off of a better season than Thibodeaux has ever had. Having said that, Thibodeaux’s best play is breathtaking. I’m more confident in Hutchinson’s floor. My eyes tell me Thibodeaux has the potential to be truly special. I don’t think we’ve seen his best yet. He’d be my second overall pick and I expect he’ll be a great value wherever he lands.
After that? The options are slim:
2019 third-round pick Oshane Ximines (zero sacks, nine hits+hurries).
2021 fourth-round pick Elerson Smith (zero sacks, almost zero playing time). (Update: Smith is on IR.)
Budget free-agent pickup Jihad Ward (two sacks, 14 hits+hurries).
Both Smith and Ximines have battled injuries this preseason. There’s playing time available if one the backups is ready to step up.
2020 seventh-round pick Tae Crowder and Blake Martinez form the weakest linebacker tandem in the league. This isn’t Crowder’s fault, as he was the final selection in the 2020 draft. Rookies Micah McFadden (fifth round) and Darrian Beavers (sixth round) will provide depth, and quite possibly steal playing time from one or both of the current starters. Neither McFadden nor Beavers is ready to provide NFL-level pass coverage. Both are solid attacking the line of scrimmage.
#1CB Adoree Jackson is coming off of a phenomenal season. He is one of the few bright spots on a shallow roster. He’ll start across from 2021 third-round pick Aaron Robinson. Robinson missed the first half of the season with a core injury. He performed well when available.
2020 fourth-round pick Darnay Holmes is competing with rookie third-round pick Cor’Dale Flott for the nickel job. Holmes was decent in limited usage last season. Flott played wherever LSU needed him. He’ll need to bulk up to hold his own in the NFL.
2019 fourth-round pick Julian Love and 2020 second-round pick Xavier McKinney are returning at safety. McKinney snagged five interceptions last season. It was an all-around excellent season for him. Love is versatile and can handle any role from strong safety to nickel cornerback. This isn’t a bad pairing.
Rookie fourth-round pick Dane Belton will provide depth. Belton can add value as a zone ballhawk. Quality athlete. Wasn’t great attacking the line of scrimmage. He’s going to need more seasoning learning how to read plays. He was often out of position without realizing it.
Kicker Graham Gano did a fine job last season. Jamie Gillan is taking over the punting responsibilities. Gillan did a lousy job in Cleveland last year. Hopefully, his presence inspires the Giants to go for it on fourth down more often.
C.J. Board and Darius Slayton will likely handle the kick and punt return responsibilities. They both are mediocre at it. I have learned to love touchbacks. Starting at the 25 is just fine, thank you very much.
The Giants are in an odder spot than I had realized. Ownership was deeply embarrassed by the Gettleman/Judge combo. They want to win back their fans trust with a show of competence. The problem is competence isn’t what the Giants need right now. They need a franchise quarterback. In other words, they need complete incompetence!
Jones and running back Saquon Barkley are both playing for new contracts. The schedule is much easier than it was last season. I actually like the Giants’ secondary. Adding blue chippers Kayvon Thibedeaux and Evan Neal should pay immediate dividends.
Realistically, signing Tyrod Taylor won’t do the Giants any good. He’s a huge upgrade over Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm. With Jones doing his absolute best, and Taylor providing a measure of competence, the Giants might be facing the absolute worst-case scenario: 7-10.
I honestly wish the Giants had kept Jake Fromm. Even with some improvement, he’d have a realistic shot at steering the Giants towards 2-15. It might be a deep quarterback draft, but it won’t be 7-10 deep. Alas, that’s what I expect from the Giants. Ownership wants to win. Management wants to win. The coaching staff wants to win. The players want to win. Everyone’s pulling in the wrong direction. Sigh. 7-10. 😦
2021 Record: 9-8
Scouting Wins: 9.84
DVOA Wins: 10.0
FPI Wins: 9.3
Market Wins: 9.80
Implied Pythag: 52.40%
I want to give you some perspective on the Eagles’ 2021 season. They faced one of the easiest schedules in the league. They finished 9-8, outscoring their opposition by 59 points. They were the only playoff team to run the ball on over 50% of their offensive snaps. They finished 11th in offensive DVOA, 25th in defensive DVOA, and 15th in special teams DVOA.
In short, they were a mediocre team with a lousy defense that feasted on a soft schedule. One bit of good news: the schedule might be even softer this season. It’s good to play in the NFC East.
2020 second-round pick quarterback Jalen Hurts was a key part of their rushing attack:
2021: 3,144 yards, 16 TD, 9 INT, 6.6 NY/P, -0.3% DVOA, 508 DYAR (in 15 games)
Breaking it down, Hurts produced 319 DYAR passing and another 189 rushing (13.7% DVOA). This does not include the -106 DYAR produced vs. the Buccaneers in the playoffs. Tampa crowded the line, taking away the Eagles’ running attack. Hurts failed to beat them with his arm.
In general, if an opponent’s plan against you is dare you to throw, it does not bode well for your future prospects. With Hurts still on his cheap rookie contract, the Eagles were able to put solid talent around him. It’s now on Hurts to take a third-year leap.
Adding new #1WR A.J. Brown will help:
2019: 52 receptions, 1,051 yards, +0.8 +/-, 26.2% DVOA, 251 DYAR
2020: 70 receptions, 1,075 yards, +3.6 +/-, 25.0% DVOA, 332 DYAR (in 14 games)
2021: 63 receptions, 869 yards, -1.5 +/-, 1.2% DVOA, 112 DYAR (in 13 games)
Oof. Brown was slowed by knee and hamstring injuries last season. When healthy, he’s one of the toughest receivers in the NFL to guard. Brown will start across from 2021 first-round pick DeVonta Smith:
2021: 64 receptions, 916 yards, +4.2 +/-, 7.7% DVOA, 166 DYAR
Those are great numbers considering the limitations of the Eagles’ passing game.
2020 sixth-round pick Quez Watkins has developed into a solid deep threat working out of the slot:
2021: 43 receptions, 647 yards, +4.8 +/-, 3.7% DVOA, 79 DYAR
Watkins, Smith, and Brown form a strong starting trio.
I find it amusing that 2020 first-round pick Jalen Reagor also has exactly 64 receptions over his career (695 yards, -8.3 +/-, -21.5% DVOA, -75 DYAR). He’s barely holding on to the #4WR job at this point.
Budget free-agent pickup Zach Pascal will try and take the #4WR job away from Reagor:
2020: 44 receptions, 629 yards, -1.3 +/-, 5.5% DVOA, 99 DYAR
2021: 38 receptions, 384 yards, -9.2 +/-, -26.3% DVOA, -74 DYAR (in 16 games)
Let’s just say that Pascal struggled to find his niche working with Carson Wentz. He’s a better target than his 2021 numbers would suggest.
#1TE Dallas Goedert supplanted Zach Ertz early last season:
2020: 46 receptions, 524 yards, +2.1 +/-, 16.8% DVOA, 105 DYAR (in 11 games)
2021: 56 receptions, 830 yards, +5.4 +/-, 34.7% DVOA, 220 DYAR (in 15 games)
Goedert has developed into an elite player. The Eagles averaged 10.9 yards when targeting Goesdert last season. Incredible stuff for a tight end. On a team with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, Goedert may end up as the most efficient weapon.
There’s nothing that even resembles depth here, so it would be a bad thing if Goedert were to go down.
Jalen Hurts ran for more yardage than any Eagles running back. 2019 second-round pick Miles Sanders came in second:
2021: 171 squid, 912 yards, 6.6% DVOA, 119 DYAR (in 12 games)
In the Jalen Hurts era, Sanders has averaged 5.4 yards-per-carry (10.3% DVOA, 248 DYAR). That’s phenomenal. Unfortunately, he’s produced -78 DYAR receiving (-29.8% DVOA). That’s not a “Sanders issue,” as he did a fine job in his rookie season (50 receptions, 509 yards, 20.0% DVOA, 121 DYAR). Sanders has the ability to be an elite back if Hurts can offer some assistance.
2021 fifth-round pick Kenneth Gainwell had a decent rookie season:
2021: 118 squid, 544 yards, -1.5% DVOA, 50 DYAR (in 16 games)
4.6% DVOA rushing, -9.1% DVOA receiving tells the same tale as Sanders.
I want to pause here. The Eagles aren’t locked into starting Hurts, The sense is that he has more upside than backup quarterback Gardner Minshew. Minshew shined in limited usage last season (439 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT, 6.3 NY/P, 8.1% DVOA, 76 DYAR). Minshew doesn’t threaten defenses with his legs the same way Hurts does. Minshew’s advantage is he’s more accurate than Hurts. There’s a lot of talent on this offense. Minshew might be better able to harness it. If Hurts struggles early in the season, Minshew might find an opening.
It can be tricky judging offensive line play in non-standard offenses. The Eagles gave up a lot of pressure, but that was due to Hurts. Let me suggest that in the case of left tackle Jordan Mailata, money talks. His combination of size and athleticism is rare, even by NFL standards. The film suggests he’s one of the best offensive linemen in the league, even if his stats don’t.
2021 second-round pick left guard Landon Dickerson managed to start fourteen games last season. That was a huge accomplishment for a player with a horrible injury history. If he can stay on the field, he’ll prove to be a nice pickup for the Eagles.
Center Jason Kelce is going to turn 35 in November. He remains one of the top centers in the league. Rookie second-round pick Cam Jurgens may end up being Kelce’s eventual replacement:
Cam Jurgens: Welp! Another elite athlete who’s a bit undersized. We can see the evolution of Jurgens, from the weak beard to the solid mustache he brought to the combine. Jurgens came to Nebraska to play tight end, but he switched to center after a foot injury. He’s still learning the position and makes some errors reacting to the defensive scheme. In college he had “enough” power to hold his position. I’m not sold that he’ll be able to do so in the NFL.
He moves well in the run game, hitting his blocks and then looking to help once he beats his man. His athleticism is evident on film and will give his coaching staff something to work with. If you can look past his size, he’s a solid round three value (if his medicals are clear).
Thankfully, the Eagles will give Jurgens time to develop.
Right guard Isaac Seumalo is the weak link on the line. He’s missed 21 games over the past two seasons and hasn’t been great when available. 2020 fourth-round pick Jack Driscoll was pressed into service last year. He did a decent job.
Right tackle Lane Johnson finished fifth in my rankings. That is not an easy accomplishment in this offense.
2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard looked terrible in limited usage at left tackle last season. At this point, he’s no more than a backup.
Last season, defensive end Brandon Graham went out with a torn Achilles in week two. Without him, the Eagles’ pass rush collapsed. In 2020, he had eight sacks (38 hits+hurries). Derek Barnett’s production dropped from 5.5 sacks, 29 hits+hurries in 2020 to two sacks, 29 hits+hurries last season. Barnett hit free agency and ended up re-signing with the Eagles. As you can see, that’s backup money. Barnett has lost his starting job.
There were a pair of bright spots. Josh Sweat boosted his production from six sacks, 11 hits+hurries in 2020 to 7.5 sacks, 30 hits+hurries. He’s slated to start across from Graham this season, with Barnett joining the rotation.
The Eagles signed premium free-agent Haason Reddick (11 sacks, 30 hits+hurries). Getting Graham back and adding Reddick should give the pass rush a significant boost.
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (3.5 sacks, 32 hits+hurres) has declined from elite to merely pretty good. Thankfully, Javon Hargrave’s ascendance (7.5 sacks, 33 hits+hurries) has helped make up for it. Rookie first-round pick Jordan Davis is Cox’s eventual replacement:
Jordan Davis: Massive elite athlete. Planet theory prospect (there are only so many men on the planet with the size and athleticism to dominate in the trenches). Truly dominant nose tackle. You will not move him with single blocking. If I were to look for a weakness in his game it is that he plays with too high a center of gravity, thus rendering him vulnerable to double-blocking. In the NFL he’ll learn to play a bit lower to the ground and improve at splitting such blocks.
A football game is a bit like a marathon, and men Davis’s size aren’t natural long-distance runners. He’ll need to improve his stamina at the next level.
If you’re using a high pick on a defensive lineman, you’d like him to get after the quarterback. Davis can collapse the pocket if you block him one-on-one. It’s a bit tougher for him to track the quarterback down. He had two sacks and 15 hits+hurries last season. Those are numbers I can live with from my nose tackle.
Davis is not a man who misses many tackles. You can’t move him with one man, and he might require regular double-teams on passing plays. I wasn’t expecting to like Davis as much as I do. Yes, he’s an elite space-eater. The film suggests he can be more than that, especially if you give him plenty of snaps off. Top-20 value.
Philadelphia is a perfect landing spot for Davis. He’s in a position where he doesn’t have to start immediately. He can be part of the rotation and learn from the best. He’ll provide depth along with 2021 third-round pick Milton Williams.
T.J. Edwards is competing with rookie third-round pick Nakobe Dean for the starting middle linebacker job:
Nakobe Dean: UGA head coach Kirby Smart said a pec strain kept Dean from running at the combine or at his pro day. That raised some eyebrows from NFL scouts. Presumably he’ll run at private workouts before the draft. I don’t have access to those results.
The film tells us he can play. Six sacks, two interceptions, 74 tackles for Georgia last season. Has the coverage skills to handle most tight ends and running backs. Dean plays fast and knew how to knife through traffic when attacking the line-of-scrimmage.
A bit undersized. Without elite athletic numbers, it’s tough to peg Dean’s upside. He won the Butkus award for the nation’s top linebacker. It’s clear he can play. Can he dominate at the next level? That’s a tougher ask for undersized off-ball linebackers. Given the positional value, the size issues, and the lack of athletic results, I’d consider Dean a second-round value. More on this in a bit.
Dean’s draft day fall suggests his medical issues were worse than I had realized. He’s still behind Edwards on the depth chart. Edwards did a decent job last season. I’d expect Dean offers more upside and it’ll be a bit disconcerting if he can’t win the starting job by October.
Free-agent pickup Kyzir White is looking to join Haason Reddick and either Dean or Edwards in the starting lineup. White did a pretty nice job for the Chargers last season. 2020 third-round pick Davion Taylor will back him up. Taylor failed to impress in limited usage last season. Overall, this looks like a solid linebacker corps and a much improved front-seven.
It would be reasonable to argue that a weak pass-rush let the secondary down last season. That would be true, but the secondary was pretty bad in 2020 as well. The trade for Darius Slay paid off as he proved to be the star of the unit. He’ll be paired with premium free-agent pickup James Bradberry. This is the best pair of starting cornerbacks the Eagles have had in a long time.
Nickelback Avonte Maddox has proven both his strengths and his limitations. He’s a fine option in the slot.
2021 fourth-round pick Zech McPhearson and Josiah Scott will provide depth.
The departure of safety Rodney McLeod means we should expect to see an Anthony Harris-Marcus Epps pairing. Harris is a good player. He’s only had one interception over the past two seasons, though. He had six in 2019 in Minnesota.
Epps was a backup who has been promoted, partly due to a lack of competition. The Eagles have not invested a lot of resources in their safeties. Budget free-agent pickup Jaquiski Tartt will provide depth.
Kicker Jake Elliott is coming off of an excellent season. Punter Arryn Siposs faded badly down the stretch last year. He was expected to at least face a training camp battle, but management is sticking with him.
Jalen Reagor is listed as the Eagles’ kick and punt returner. He did a miserable job last season, especially in the playoffs. To be fair, the Eagles’ blocking on kickoffs is well below league average. They are another team that should learn to love taking touchbacks.
Back to Reagor. I suspect he’s keeping his job because of his draft status. That and the fact that none of the other options have distinguished themselves. The Eagles’ special teams were decent last season, but only because Elliot was so effective. That’s a tough trick to repeat.
The Eagles look to be much improved over last year. The pass-rush has been upgraded. Adding cornerback James Bradbury should help the back end. Trading for A.J. Brown gives quarterback Jalen Hurts an elite target. The Eagles are built to win now. That’s a lot of pressure on Hurts. If he’s ready to take the next step, the Eagles can supplant the Cowboys as NFC East champions.
I wish I could be optimistic about that. I wasn’t sold on his accuracy coming into the NFL and I’m not sold on it now. It’s easy to find ten wins on this schedule. Playoff success will be much tougher to come by. 10-7.
2021 Record: 7-10
Scouting Wins: 7.53
DVOA Wins: 7.7
FPI Wins: 8.1
Market Wins: 7.66
Implied Pythag: 39.68%
Let’s go back to December 12th, 2021. Washington was 6-6 and riding a four-game winning streak. Their next four games were Dallas, @ Philadelphia, @ Dallas, Philadelphia. There was hope that Washington was going to sneak into the playoffs:
Washington 20, Dallas 27
Washington 17, Philadelphia 27
Washington 14, Dallas 56 (Oof!)
Washington 16, Philadelphia 20
Washington gave Taylor Heinicke a chance. He just wasn’t good enough:
2021: 3,419 yards, 20 TD, 15 INT, 5.9 NY/P, -5.7% DVOA, -1 DYAR (in 16 games)
If thou plays below replacement level, thou shalt be replaced. Washington traded for Carson Wentz:
2021: 3,563 yards, 27 TD, 7 INT, 6.1 NY/P, 1.8% DVOA, 499 DYAR
The low net yards-per-pass aside, those look like reasonable numbers. They’re not. Wentz was awful last season. Indianapolis couldn’t wait to move on from him. I was shocked Washington paid so much to acquire him. His salary is not commensurate with his level of play.
Washington may have found their quarterback of the future for a very low cost, drafting Sam Howell in the fifth round:
2019: 422 attempts, 259 completions, 3,641 yards, 38 TD, 7 INT, 8.4 ANY/A, 73.6 EPA
2020: 349 attempts, 237 completions, 3,586 yards, 30 TD, 7 INT, 9.6 ANY/A, 77.8 EPA
2021: 347 attempts, 217 completions, 3,056 yards, 24 TD, 9 INT, 7.2 ANY/A, -3.1 EPA
What the fuck? He took 48 sacks last season after taking 36 in 2019 and 33 in 2020. Like Matt Corral, he played in a heavily RPO offense. There was a bit of a talent exodus after 2020, so it’s possible Howell had difficulty meshing with his new teammates.
Before 2021, Howell was considered a potential top-five pick. There were some issues to correct, such as his footwork. He doesn’t generate enough of his power from his legs, leading to some accuracy issues. That’s fixable with practice and coaching. No one expected his production to collapse.
Thing is, when I watch his film, he still looks like a potential NFL QB. He has the arm strength to punish defenses. The accuracy needs work. I expect when his motion and footwork are optimized, his accuracy will increase. He also has this weird tic where he… double-taps the ball? I’m not sure how to describe it. He pats the ball before throwing it. Dude, just throw it. You don’t take 117 sacks in three seasons without holding the ball too long. It’s another issue that will need to be corrected.
Howell’s footwork isn’t all bad. He had 132 carries for 1,099 yards last season. When his internal clock tells him that it’s time to move, he can.
My instinct is to give Howell a mulligan for 2021. Pretend he was playing through a dislocated testicle. I can’t ignore his 2019/2020 production. He’s shown he can produce. I can envision Howell succeeding in the NFL. Like almost every QB prospect, he’ll need to develop. In his case, I believe the upside is there. I could live with taking a late first-round flyer on Howell. He’s my #3 overall quarterback of the class.
So much for “first-round flyer.” The truth is, I’m torn. I like Howell and want him to succeed in the NFL. I also dislike the Commanders and their owner Dan Snyder. I do not want good things to happen to them. I giggled when I saw the Wentz trade. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see on Howell. If he’s got the gift, he could rise up and claim the starting job in 2023.
#1WR 2019 third-round pick Terry McLaurin’s statistics have risen and fallen with Washington’s quarterback play:
2019: 58 receptions, 919 yards, +3.3 +/-, 18.9% DVOA, 237 DYAR (in 14 games)
2020: 87 receptions, 1,118 yards, +0.5 +/-, -11.0% DVOA, 18 DYAR (in 15 games)
2021: 77 receptions, 1,053 yards, -0.1 +/-, 0.8% DVOA, 139 DYAR
Washington knows what they have in McLaurin and gave him a proper extension this offseason.
McLaurin will start across from rookie first-round pick Jahan Dotson:
Jahan Dotson: As with Olave, Dotson’s elite speed has to be measured against his small stature. He saw significant action last season:
2021: 142 targets, 91 receptions, 1,182 yards, 12 TD, 0.26 points-per-target, 8.3 yards-per-target
Dotson was good, not great. Also, we need to talk about his 3-cone time. His film suggests he can’t cut on a dime. That’s not to say his film was bad. He has numerous strengths:
Quick feet at the line of scrimmage. Can get cornerbacks moving in the wrong direction.
Changes speeds well to create separation. When he gets a chance to turn on the jets, the track speed shows.
Nice route awareness. He knows how to find the spots in the zone. He also had a good sense of timing with his quarterback.
Good hand-eye coordination. Made some nice adjustments with the ball in the air. Having said that, the catch radius is smaller than optimal.
Can provide additional value as a return-man on special teams.
He’s not a great run blocker, as you might expect.
I’m somewhat down on smaller receivers. As with Olave, I don’t see a #1WR here. That drops him to the second round in my book.
Washington disagreed. I need to do more research on smaller receivers. I’m skeptical of Dotson.
Curtis Samuel pretty much missed last season with groin and hamstring injuries:
2020: 77 receptions, 851 yards, +11.4 +/-, 0.1% DVOA, 95 DYAR (in 15 games)
The plan is for him to work out of the slot as the #3WR.
2021 third-round pick Dyami Brown had a rough rookie season:
2021: 12 receptions, 165 yards, -2.4 +/-, -13.4% DVOA, -1 DYAR (in 15 games)
It’s never good when you’re below replacement-level, but I might actually be more worried about averaging fewer than one catch per game. He played through some injuries last season. Hopefully, he’ll be healthy and more effective this year.
Cam Sims shined in limited usage (15 receptions, 211 yards, 30.9% DVOA, 79 DYAR). He’s a big dude who might prove himself as a red-zone target. All it would take is one injury above him on the depth chart for him to get another chance this season.
I’m expecting Logan Thomas and 2021 fourth-round pick John Bates to share the tight end duties. Thomas is recovering from an ACL tear and is currently on the PUP list:
2021: 18 receptions, 196 yards, +1.7 +/-, 18.9% DVOA, 46 DYAR (in six games)
Bates has impressed with his blocking skills. He was a trustworthy release valve (20 receptions, 249 yards, 8.0% DVOA, 26 DYAR). He’ll be the starter until Thomas is fully recovered.
2020 third-round pick Antonio Gibson would like to be the #1RB:
2021: 289 squid, 1,331 yards, -6.4% DVOA, 52 DYAR (in 16 games)
He battled numerous ailments last season. The hope is he’ll be more effective this year. If not, the Commanders have other options, including rookie third-round pick Brian Robinson:
Brian Robinson: If you are looking for a running back with some size to him, Robinson has got you covered fam. While he’s willing to wait for his blocks to develop, it’s clear that Robinson isn’t much for dawdling in the backfield. He wants to get upfield with some momentum so that he can beat defenses with power.
Speaking of power, he’s excellent in pass protection. He’s quick picking up on his responsibility for the play. His technique was stellar, and he had the power to make it stick. As a receiver he was… fine? No one is going to confuse him for a scatback. He can catch a dump off and get a few yards.
Robinson doesn’t have much in the way of creativity. That’s a plus and a minus. It means he won’t create negative plays trying to make something out of nothing. It also means that if the hole doesn’t develop he’ll try to force his way through. In college, that’s sometimes viable. I don’t expect it will be as effective in the pros.
Robinson doesn’t bring the “home run” speed some teams are looking for. Other backs will create more explosive plays than Robinson. That’s fine. A running back I can trust to keep my quarterback safe is a running back I can leave on the field. Solid day-two pick.
(Update: Robinson will start the season on IR. He was shot multiple times in an attempted carjacking.)
The Commanders will also give J.D. McKissic some snaps. He is as much of a receiver as he is a running back:
2021: 48 carries, 212 yards, 19.8% DVOA, 56 DYAR (in 11 games)
2021: 43 receptions, 397 yards, 20.6% DVOA, 98 DYAR (in 11 games)
This is a fairly deep running back unit.
Left tackle Charles Leno put together an excellent season, finishing in the top three of my positional rankings. He was a nice pickup for Washington.
Free-agent pickup Andrew Norwell is taking over at left guard. I thought he was roughly average last season.
It’s a shame Chase Roullier only appeared in eight games last season (fractured left fibia). He was playing at a very high level. Washington will be happy to have him back.
Washington turned to free agency to find a new starting right guard as well, signing Trai Turner. He was also roughly average last season.
A hip injury limited 2021 second-round pick right tackle Samuel Cosmi to nine games last season. He was doing a decent job when he went down and should be a solid player this season.
Cornelius Lucas gives Washington quality depth at tackle. I’m less confident about their interior options. Wes Schweitzer and 2020 fourth-round pick Saahdiq Charles have failed to impress. Tyler Larsen is still recovering from a December Achilles tear.
I’m reasonably impressed with the starters and this should be a quality line if injuries don’t hit it too hard.
Washington’s defensive DVOA ranking:
2019 first-round pick Montez Sweat (five sacks, 24 hits+hurries) only appeared in ten games. 2020 first-round pick Chase Young (1.5 sacks, 24 hits+hurries) only appeared in nine. Don’t read too much into Young’s low sack total; he’s an elite player who receives significant offensive attention.
Budget free-agent pickup Efe Obada (3.5 sacks, 13 hits+hurries) will join the edge rush rotation, along with 2020 seventh-round pick James Smith-Williams (2.5 sacks, nine hits+hurries) and Casey Toohill (one sack, nine hits+hurries). The Commanders would really appreciate getting full seasons from both Sweat and Young.
The good news is defensive tackles Jonathan Allen (nine sacks, 52 hits+hurries), and Daron Payne (4.5 sacks, 37 hits+hurries) both had excellent seasons. This is as fearsome a front-four as you’ll find in the league. Payne was the subject of some trade rumors, as Washington has not extended his rookie contract. He’s now playing out his fifth-year option. I’m not sure if they plan on trading him midseason to a contender, or if they want to see if he’s worth hitting with the franchise tag (presumably while discussing a team-friendly extension). I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Rookie second-round pick Phidarian Mathis will provide depth:
Phidarian Mathis: Mathis was happier with his combine than RAS was. He had nine sacks last season, mostly of the coverage variety (32 hits+hurries). He works mainly with a bull rush. His excellent length allowed him to make first contact and bully offensive linemen. This is a skill he’ll be able to carry to the NFL, especially after further developing his lower body.
Natural run stuffer. He can work as a nose-tackle, but would be fine in a 4-3 system as well. Was asked to react to the offense and hold his position before charging upfield in the pass-rush. If an NFL coaching staff had different priorities, he could be much more explosive off the snap.
Mathis has upside to develop into a solid defensive tackle. Rare combination of size and length. Mid-day-two value.
2021 first-round pick linebacker Jamin Davis sucked. We’re talking Mega Maid level suckage. He was terrible at everything a linebacker can be asked to do. His tackling was awful. His coverage skills were laughable. If this were a game of “Who’s the mole?”, he’d have been called out week after week. Washington is sticking with him, but at some point you have to let go of the sunk cost. I’m guessing we’re already at the “make it or break it” point for Davis.
I want to revisit what I wrote about Davis before the draft:
Jamin Davis: I feel like I have missed the boat on Davis. I dinged him for his performance against the run. Davis struggled navigating traffic and taking on blockers. He’s inexperienced, only appearing in 25 games (11 starts). But… his pass coverage is terrifying. He has the range and hands make routine throws a gamble. He’s a premium athlete who made an impact on special teams. The fact is, Davis has made me realize my linebacker grading systems are antiquated. Davis is a first-round athlete who is still learning the game. His pass-rush/coverage skills are what’s going to matter in terms of him making an impact in the NFL. He’s a top 50 value and will likely come off the board late in the first round.
I had given him a mid-day-two grade. There may be a general trend throughout the NFL to give more weight to athleticism and less weight to college production. Davis might never become a great tackler. He should be able to do a much better job in coverage.
My grades aren’t designed to predict draft position. I’m trying to rate players relative to the ideal of their position. While it makes sense that the NFL would become more athletic over time, that doesn’t mean athleticism would become more important relative to college production. Watching Travon Walker go first overall brought home just how much my views differed from those of NFL GMs. Elite athleticism is in, baby. 9.5 career sacks? Not a problem.
In any event, look for Davis to start alongside 2019 fifth-round pick middle linebacker Dane Holcomb. For the most part, Holcomb is “just a guy” out there. Washington will play a fair amount of base nickel. David Mayo and 2020 fifth-round pick Khaleke Hudson will provide depth.
Free-agent pickup William Jackson was supposed to come in as a dominant #1CB. Instead, he got his butt kicked. Washington has to be hoping he’ll revert back to form this year.
Kendall Fuller had a decent season. It would have been a better season had he managed to snag more than one interception. He did a nice job of getting his hands on the ball. This could end up being a decent pairing.
2021 third-round pick Benjamin St-Juste struggled last season. Right now he’s listed as the nickel cornerback. He’s going to need to improve to keep ahead of Danny Johnson on the depth chart.
Budget free-agent pickup Corn Elder will provide depth.
Free safety Bobby McCain was a budget free agent pickup in 2021. He was expected to sit on the bench and provide depth. Instead, he appeared in all seventeen games, snagged four interceptions, and earned a new contract. Well done, Mr. McCain.
He’ll be paired with 2020 seventh-round pick strong safety Kamren Curl. Curl has proven to be a competent performer.
Rookie fourth-round pick Percy Butler will provide depth. He’s a special teams ace with elite speed. He might have some value as a zone free safety in big nickel formations.
Kicker Joey Slye has a strong leg. Accuracy? We’ll see.
Punter Tress Way is a solid veteran. Better coverage units would help here.
Budget free-agent pickup Alex Erickson looks to be the favorite to win both return jobs. Apparently, Washington still hasn’t forgotten this.
Adding Percy Butler should help the coverage units. Overall, Washington’s special teams look fine.
I’ll keep this simple. I’m on team “Fade Wentz” as long as that’s an option. Washington has a soft schedule. The defense looks like it should be much improved over last season, at least until injuries take their toll. Despite Wentz, I expect they will win enough games to stay out of the franchise quarterback sweepstakes. 7-10.