2018 Preseason All-NFC East Team: Wentz, Zeke, and Beckham lead explosive offense
There's a lot of talent in division featuring the Eagles, Giants, Cowboys and Redskins
Over the course of two weeks here at CBSSports.com, we're unveiling our annual preseason All-Division teams. We began last with the AFC, cycling through the, , , and . Starting today, we'll run through the NFC, beginning with the NFC East (below) and continuing on through the NFC North (Aug. 14) and NFC South (Aug. 15) before finishing up with the NFC West (Aug. 16). Enjoy.
The NFC East is home to the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. They're the favorites to win the division once again, but it's not difficult to imagine any of the other teams somehow coming up and snatching the NFC East crown.
The Cowboys won the division two seasons ago and seeing them replace the ball-control and good-enough-defense formula isn't out of the realm of possibility. The Giants' defense getting back on track and the Pat Shurmur-Saquon Barkley combination injecting life into Eli Manning and Odell Beckham could lead them to a division crown. Alex Smith adding another element to Washington's offense and the turnover at receiver and in the middle of the defense could make Washington a long-shot division champ.
We don't yet know how things will shake out here, but what we do know is that if we combined all four of those squads, you'd be able to build a heck of a football team.
Carson Wentz, Eagles
One could make a reasonable argument for Alex Smith or Dak Prescott or even Nick Foles, but a fully-healthy version of Wentz should be the best quarterback in this division in 2018. Like Smith, he has a creative play-caller at the controls. Like Prescott, he has an excellent offensive line protecting him. Unlike both of those players, he has both a creative play-caller and an excellent offensive line, and an excellent crop of passing-game weapons to whom he can spread the ball. Wentz was arguably the league's MVP at the time he was injured last year, and while he is likely to regress from that level of performance, he has more than enough room to do so and still be an excellent player. That's what we're expecting.
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Elliott got off to a slow start to last season and then missed six games due to a suspension for violating the league's domestic violence policy, but he still ended the year having rushed for 983 yards and seven touchdowns. He's led the NFL in rushing yards per game in both of his NFL seasons. With the Cowboys solidifying their offensive line even further by drafting Connor Williams in the second round, and with the team's pass-catching corps depleted by the offseason departures of Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, Zeke should be in line for a ton of work and another big season.
Barkley is not in quite as favorable a situation as Elliott, but he seems likely to be just as much of a foundational piece of his team's offense. Dave Gettleman and company need this pick to work out in a big way, given that the Giants passed on several quarterbacks at No. 2 overall in order to select Barkley. While the value of the pick can (and should) be questioned, Barkley's talent cannot be. He is an explosive player who is a threat to score from anywhere on the field, and he's going to touch the ball a ton. A big rookie year is in store for him.
Beckham is coming back from an injury-shortened 2017 campaign and will be attempting to prove to the Giants that he's deserving of the monster contract extension he's been angling for, for a while now. So long as he's healthy, he's going to be awesome. That's been the case ever since he came into the league. Moving into Pat Shurmur's offensive system should be beneficial for him, and a return to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time in his five NFL seasons should be in the offing.
His teammate, Shepard, has a ton of talent and should finally break out in his third season. He ended last season on an 85-catch, 1,000-yard pace, but he missed five games due to injury. If he can just maintain that pace and get some positive touchdown regression, he'll be one of the division's best wideouts.
It's hard to believe Jeffery was available for just a one-year, prove-it deal last offseason. He played a key role for the Eagles on their run to the Super Bowl, and should continue as their No. 1 wideout in 2018. His combination of size and body control is elite, and he's an excellent weapon once Philly gets down inside the red zone, where they should be quite often.
Ertz's season-long lines for the past three years: 75-853-2 (2015); 78-816-4 (2016); 74-824-8 (2017). You can pencil him in for 70-plus catches, 800-plus receiving yards, and a handful of touchdowns. Wentz trusts him, and so does Foles. He'll be targeted early and often, all year.
Engram had a strong rookie season with 64 catches for 722 yards and six trips to the end zone. He's got great size at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, and he's athletic enough to split out wide or play in the slot. He's not the world's best blocker but the Giants were comfortable enough with him last year to keep him on the field more often than not.
If you want to see Smith's value, go watch the Cowboys-Falcons game from last year. Smith was out due to injury, and his replacements Chaz Green and Byron Bell allowed Adrian Clayborn to rack up SIX sacks. Prescott's performance suffered badly with Smith on the bench for a few weeks, and ticked up sharply when Smith was on the field. Tyron is the league's best tackle when he's really on his game, and that's why he's made the Pro Bowl five straight years and an All-Pro team in fourth of the past five. Oh, and he doesn't even turn 28 until December.
Lane Johnson gets the nod here in an oh-so-close call over Washington's Trent Williams. Johnson's coming off his best NFL season, during which he made both the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro first team. He plays on the right side of the line but that's not a slight anymore; there are just as many elite pass-rushers coming off the left edge these days. Johnson is fantastic as both a run-blocker and pass-protector, and he's moving into the prime of his career.
Dallas made Martin the highest-paid guard in football history for a good reason: he might be the best overall offensive lineman in the league. He's been in the NFL for four seasons and has made four Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams. He has never missed a game. He barely misses any blocks. He's a superstar at an incredibly important position, and he might not even be at his peak just yet.
Washington drafted Scherff as a tackle and moved him inside to guard, a year after the Cowboys had done the same with Martin. The pick hasn't paid dividends in quite the same way, but Scherff has turned himself into a strong player in his own right, having made the Pro Bowl each of the past two seasons.
Travis Frederick, Cowboys
You might be sensing a theme here with the Cowboys' offense line: Frederick might be the best center in the league. He entered the NFL as the best run-blocking center in the NFL and his pass-protection has gotten so good during his time in the league that he might now be better against the pass than the run. He's an elite player who is on the field for every snap, every season, and helps Prescott make all the calls at the line. Special talent.
Lawrence finally had the breakout season the Cowboys had been waiting for him to have, notching 14.5 sacks and forcing four fumbles, while ranking third in the NFL in total pressures (sacks plus hits plus hurries), according to Pro Football Focus. The Cowboys franchised him this offseason and he basically said right away that he'd sign the tag because he was just getting started and his 2018 season would get him the big-money deal he wants. He's got 22.5 total sacks in his two fully-healthy seasons, so we're not betting against him.
A bunch of people snickered at Vernon's huge deal when the Giants signed him a couple years back, but he has lived up to that contract and made them seem smart. He's notched 15 sacks in two seasons in New York and though he only had 38 pressures last season, he also only played in 12 games. If he plays a full year (and the Giants aren't quite as bad as they were a year ago), he should get back to his 2016 impact.
Interior Defensive Lineman
Wentz gets all the publicity, and for good reason, but Cox might actually be the Eagles' best overall player. He's coming off three straight Pro Bowl campaigns wreaking havoc on the interior of the line. He racked up 50 pressures last season -- eighth among all interior defenders. Cox's ability to knife into the backfield is where everything starts for the Philadelphia defense, and he unlocks everything for their edge-rushers and linebackers to do their thing.
Harrison is the single best run-defender among defensive linemen. He's an easy pick.
Lee can't seem to stay fully healthy for all that long, but he is an absolute star whenever he's on the field. The effect on the Cowboys' defense whenever he misses time is palpable, and that's likely part of why they drafted Leighton Vander Esch this year. Lee is one of the league's smartest players and he's a force against the run, but his coverage abilities might be his single best skill.
Bradham is coming off back-to-back strong seasons with the Eagles after spending the first four years of his career in Buffalo. His versatility is important to Philadelphia's defense, and his coverage ability is up their with the best linebackers in the NFL. Line him up against tight ends, have him buzz to the flat, or scoot back into the middle-field zones to play coverage, and he's going to make some plays.
Brown's debut season in Washington was a pretty good one, but he's got even more to offer than he showed last year. With Washington adding another interior defensive lineman in the first round, he should be freed up to make even more plays than he did a year ago. Washington's run defense is the team's biggest weakness, but Brown is strong in that area and should be able to help them make strides this year.
Smith is a risk for a spot on this team, but with his having ditched the drop-foot brace and exploding like crazy at Cowboys camp, he's starting to make the team look smart for tabbing him with a second-round pick in 2016. Smith was in the mix to be one of the first five picks in the draft before tearing his knee in his final collegiate game and subsequently suffering nerve damage in his leg, which forced him to miss his entire rookie year and play last season limited. If he's really as healthy as the Cowboys are telling us he is right now, look out.
Jenkins had an absurdly-good 2016 season after signing a monster contract with the Giants. He took a small step backward last year and also got suspended by the team before he eventually suffered a season-ending injury. He's been healthy in camp and while he might not reach the heights of his 2016 campaign, a bounce-back year should be enough to make him one of the division's better corners. Norman hasn't necessarily played up to the massive contract Washington signed him to, but he's still been quite good. We know what he is at this point, and what he is, is good enough to make this team any day. Darby got injured early last season after coming over from Buffalo but once he returned, he played well for the Eagles, finishing the year with three interceptions and nine passes defensed in eight games. Patrick Robinson is gone, having decamped to New Orleans in free agency, so he's likely the best corner left on Philly's roster.
In the continuation of a theme for the Giants' defense, Collins was not as good in 2017 as he was during his breakout 2016 campaign, but he was still one of the NFL's better safeties last year. He's a playmaker in every area of the field, against both the run and the pass, but he is an especially good defender coming down into the box to make tackles -- a key especially in this division full of strong run-blocking offensive lines.
Jenkins never misses games and he always cleans up the back end. His versatility is crazy, as PFF noted that he lined up as a linebacker on 422 snaps last year and in the slot on 323. He can hit. He can cover. He can play center field. He's damn good.
Way has been one of the NFL's more consistent punters over the last several years, and that's good enough to win him a spot here. Elliott had a breakout season for Philly and is kicking for one of the NFL's best offenses, so he should be good again. Austin probably won't be the offensive force Dallas' coaches are talking him up as, but he's a heck of a return man.
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