Over the next two weeks, we will unveil our preseason All-Division teams, as is our annual tradition around this time of year. As always, the rosters were compiled largely by a panel of one, though there was significant input from the writing and editorial staff at CBSSports.com after I took an initial run at the rosters on my own.
We'll begin today with the NFC East, then move through the rest of the conference this week. Next week, it's on to the AFC. Without further ado...
Offensive skill positions
QB: Dak Prescott (DAL)
RB: Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)
WR: Amari Cooper (DAL), CeeDee Lamb (DAL), Terry McLaurin (WAS)
TE: Logan Thomas (WAS)
FLEX: Antonio Gibson (WAS)
Prescott is coming off a scary-looking ankle injury that robbed him of most of last season, as well as a shoulder strain that kept him from throwing for a couple weeks during camp. But the strain appears to be healing properly, and he is by far the most talented quarterback in this division. He's also got the best weaponry to work with, and his offensive line is healthy again. He was a cinch for the QB spot here.
Elliott had the worst season of his career last year. It's possible that backup Tony Pollard is simply the more explosive player at this stage of their respective careers. But it's tough to argue that Elliott isn't the running back best positioned for success in this division. Dallas is committed to him as the starter, likely for this year and next. The line is healthy. Prescott is the best quarterback in the division. Saquon Barkley is coming off a torn ACL, and may not be ready for Week 1. Miles Sanders looks like he's leading a timeshare with as many as three other backs seeing snaps along with him.
As mentioned, the Cowboys have the most explosive group of weapons in the division. Cooper is off the Physically Unable to Perform list and back in practice. He's been dominant since arriving in Dallas, averaging 87 catches for 1,182 yards and seven touchdowns per season despite often playing through injuries. Now that he's had his bothersome foot fixed, he should be back to full speed. Lamb has apparently been dominating Cowboys camp to the point that it's almost comical. As mentioned in our Survivor Squad story, was overshadowed by Justin Jefferson but was truly excellent as a rookie:
Despite playing less than a third of the season with his starting quarterback, he finished the year with a 74-935-5 receiving line, making him one of only eight players in NFL history to hit each of those marks during his debut season. And again, this was with Dak Prescott playing less than five full games. With Dak under center, he was on pace for 93-1386-6, which would have put him right on par with Jefferson and Odell Beckham for the best rookie wideout season in recent memory.
McLaurin is one of the most underrated wideouts in the NFL. He's been saddled with subpar quarterback play but he is a route-running technician capable of moving the chains and making explosive plays down the field. Getting to work with Ryan Fitzpatrick will be the first time he's gotten competence under center. Thomas quietly had a breakout season at age-29, catching 72 passes for 670 yards and six scores. Dallas Goedert or Zach Ertz might be more talented, but Thomas is positioned to have the largest role in his offense among tight ends in this division.
Gibson showed last year that he could handle the things people might have been worried about: running between the tackles. We haven't even seen his receiving skill yet. We chose him over Barkley due to Barkley's injury concerns.
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OT: Tyron Smith (DAL), Lane Johnson (PHI)
G: Zack Martin (DAL), Brandon Scherff (WAS)
C: Chase Roullier (WAS)
The offensive lines in this division are riddled with concerns regarding either injury (Dallas and Philly) or inadequacy (New York and possibly Washington), but the top-end talent is still quite good. Smith claims to be healthier than he has been in years, which is good. He's still one of the league's best left tackles when he's on the field, but he was limited to parts of two games last year and hasn't played more than 13 games since 2015. Both Johnson and La'el Collins are returning from serious injuries, so we deferred to the more consistent veteran who actually played last season.
Martin is the NFL's premier right guard, but after playing 94 of 96 possible games through his first five NFL seasons, he was limited to 10 contests last year. He also kicked outside to right tackle due to the Cowboys' various injury issues. Back at guard, he should have another dominant season. Meanwhile, it hardly makes sense that the Football Team has still yet to sign Scherff to an extension. He and Roullier are quite good on the inside, and give this division a formidable offensive line despite the various injury issues.
EDGE: Demarcus Lawrence (DAL), Chase Young (WAS)
IDL: Jonathan Allen (WAS), Leonard Williams (NYG)
LB: Blake Martinez (NYG), Cole Holcomb (WAS)
There was a lot to choose from along the defensive line. Brandon Graham, Montez Sweat, Fletcher Cox, Dexter Lawrence, Daron Payne. Matt Ioannidis... there's a ton of talent in this division. In the end we went with Lawrence and Young on the edge, who bring the best combination of pass rush and run defense to the team. Lawrence doesn't have gaudy sack totals but he always gets a lot of pressure and he is an excellent run defender. Young had exactly the kind of rookie season we expected to see from him, and he should only get better as he moves deeper into his career.
Williams pushed outside a bit more often last season, but despite his protestations he is still largely an interior defensive lineman. He's a damn good one, though, which is why we included him here. Patrick Graham puts his defenders in position to succeed and Williams should succeed again. We went with Allen over Cox largely because he is five years younger and thus less likely to experience any age-related decline in play or snap share.
Martinez showed great improvement during his first season in New York, turning into exactly the kind of player Graham needed in the middle of his defense. He's a great athlete, and that helps greatly in coverage, which is more important for linebackers than ever before. Holcomb has turned into a surprise starter after being drafted in the fifth round in 2020, but he, too, has developed into a nice coverage player. We need to see Micah Parsons at this level before giving him a spot on this team.
CB: James Bradberry (NYG), Kendall Fuller (WAS), Trevon Diggs (DAL)
SAF: Xavier McKinney (NYG), Kamren Curl (WAS)
FLEX: Darius Slay (PHI)
Bradberry got a huge contract to come over to the Giants from Carolina, and proved himself worth every penny. He had 18 passes defensed, three picks, and two forced fumbles, and he was the foundation of Graham's coverage schemes on the outside. Great player. Fuller was back in Washington last season after two years in Kansas City, and picked up right where he left off. He's a little small at 5-11, 198 pounds, but he doesn't get physically overwhelmed. Diggs had an up-and-down rookie season that included some big-time lowlights but he was much stronger at the end of the year and has the physical profile of a No. 1 corner. If he fully taps into his skill set, he's going to be really good.
Diggs' former college teammate, McKinney, missed 10 games due to injury but looked the part when he was on the field. He can move all over the place, which was a big reason why the Giants picked him in the second round. Curl was one of the league's most surprising players last season. A seventh-round pick who started 11 games as a rookie, he should be locked into his role now, making plays in and around the box. Slay had a down season in Philadelphia, but the relative weakness of the defensive backs in this division and his track record get him a spot on the team for one more year.
K: Graham Gano (NYG)
P: Tress Way (WAS)
RET: Jabrill Peppers (NYG)
I won't lie, I deferred to our resident expert, John Breech, when it came to the kickers and punters. He told me that Gano was the best kicker and Way the best punter in this division, and I believe him. Peppers, meanwhile, averaged a very strong 12.5 yards per punt return last season, albeit on limited attempts.
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