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Divisional needs: NFC East preview

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You will hear it over and over again — the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. You go only as far as your quarterback takes you, and that has been most evident in the NFC East. Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Michael Vick and now Robert Griffin III are some of the most talented quarterbacks in the league, but have also been some of the most inconsistent. When these guys are hot, they are really hot, but when they are off, they are way off.

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The erratic play of Romo has been widely criticized, but his career statistics haven’t been all that dissimilar to Cowboy great and Hall of Famer Troy Aikman. Manning came out and said he was deserving of being considered among the league’s elite, backed it up by winning his second Super Bowl in five years in 2011 but then failed to lead his team to the playoffs in 2012 while posting his worst completion percentage since 2007. Vick has had a tremendous career, but his style of play has led to numerous injuries and he hasn’t completed a full season since 2006, when he was still with the Atlanta Falcons. RG3 now has injury concerns of his own and hasn’t been around long enough to prove his sustainability and consistency.

There is no clear-cut favorite to win this division but that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. The Redskins represented the conference in the playoffs last season but at 10-6 they were just a game ahead of the Giants, and even the Cowboys posted an 8-8 record. In 2011, the Giants earned a playoff appearance by going just 9-7 before their Super Bowl run while both the Eagles and Cowboys posted 8-8 records. I can’t tell you confidently who I think will win the division in 2013, but I can guarantee you it will be the team with the most consistent quarterback play, and that is just as hard to predict.

Washington Redskins
Finished:
10-6, Eliminated by Seattle in the wild-card round
Drafting: No first-round pick, 51 overall
Needs: S, CB, WR

The Redskins’ secondary is a mess, but they helped themselves by re-signing DeAngelo Hall, though he is a somewhat overrated player. He has totaled some very respectable interception numbers, but often gets beaten by guessing and playing over-aggressive and therefore is often penalized. Even with his return, the Redskins are vulnerable at the other corner and need two new safeties or at least a healthy Brandon Meriweather. But with all the positions they need to fill in the defensive back half, they have no first-round pick to address the needs. The Redskins are still paying off the debt they owe for the RG3 trade and you can hardly criticize them for it. RG3 was a difference maker, and looks to be the franchise quarterback they were hoping for, but he comes at a cost. The Redskins would have had the 22nd pick in this draft and therefore would own prime real estate to take a corner, whether it be Xavier Rhodes or Desmond Trufant. They would also be able to guarantee a shot at one of the top safeties in the class, although there is still a slight possibility that either Jonathan Cyprien or Matt Elam would still be available at No. 51 overall, but that's highly unlikely.

The good news is that the draft is very deep at both secondary positions including talent in the second round that could just as easily develop into the type of players you would get in the first round. At corner, those players are Johnthan Banks, Darius Slay, Blidi Wreh-Wilson among others, but my favorite second-day player that could be an option in either the second or third round is Jordan Poyer. Poyer is long and rangy and is a ball-hawk with natural fluid movements. He is just as much the playmaker as Tyrann Mathieu was credited for but without the off-field headaches.

If they decide to address the safety position, even if Cyprien and Elam are off the board, Eric Reid, T.J. McDonald and D.J. Swearinger are mid-round options that have the ability to make an impact as rookies.

New York Giants
Finished:
9-7
Drafting: No. 19 overall in the first round
Needs: OL, LB, CB

Much like the stable competitors in this league that are a threat to win it all year in and year out, the Giants haven’t made a ton of splashy free-agent moves, but will be without some familiar faces in the locker room. On the defensive side of the ball, Kenny Phillips was signed by Philadelphia while Osi Umenyiora left for Atlanta. On offense, the Giants will be without Martellus Bennett, Ahmad Bradshaw and have yet to reach an agreement with Victor Cruz. They have also lost key contributors in Chase Blackburn, Chris Canty and would do well to get Sean Locklear off the open market as he was a major upgrade over David Diehl at right tackle.

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While losing all of those players, they were able to sign Brandon Myers at tight end, Cullen Jenkins to add depth along the defensive line and Dan Connor to replace Blackburn at linebacker, but still have many needs entering the NFL Draft.

In my opinion, the Giants could go one of two ways with the 19th pick in the draft and that is to either take the best available offensive tacke or start the run on inside linebackers. With Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson all being top-10 picks, the Giants will take a hard look at D.J. Fluker and Menelik Watson. Fluker is probably the better of the two, but the need for inside backer may outweigh the tackle position altogether.

At 19, the Giants are the first team with an obvious need at the position and therefore will have their choice of players. The Bears, Vikings, Colts and Texans are also in the market for middle linebackers, but as it stands now, they all sit behind the Bears in the draft order. In order, I like Alec Ogletree, Manti Te'o and then Kevin Minter, although I’m not sure Minter is worthy of a first-round grade. Ogletree has the athletic upside the other two don’t, but Te'o is a steady performer that is always in the right position on the field and a better athlete than his combine numbers suggest. Just like you can’t fall in love with a guy in shorts, you shouldn’t fall out of love with one either. Te'o’s tape, other than the national championship game is very impressive in both run support and coverage, especially in zone drops. But I’m not sure that will be good enough to sway the Giants from drafting the potential that Ogletree offers. He has his own off-the-field issues to take into consideration as well.

Dallas Cowboys
Finished:
8-8
Drafting: No. 18 overall in the first round
Needs: OG, S, DL

Owner/general manager Jerry Jones has done two things this offseason that are different for what the Cowboys typically do after a disappointing season. He stuck with his coach Jason Garrett and did not try to win the NFL title in March. Not to say Jones is changing his ways, though. Cap restriction, with fellow NFC East cap cellmate Washington, hampered the Cowboys' efforts, forced the cutting of Dan Connor and Marcus Spears and left them unable to attract the big free-agent players that Dallas would typically make a splashy run for. Connor went to the rival NY Giants and Spears went to the Ravens, who rarely make a mistake in free agency.

Dallas has only been in the playoffs four of the last 13 years and has given controversial quarterback Tony Romo a mega-extension that signals its commitment to him as its leader. The firing of Rob Ryan was surprising and bringing famed coordinator Monte Kiffin back into the professional game seems to be Jones’ best effort at improving his team. This draft may supply solid depth, but lacks impact players that will likely change the Cowboys overnight. We may see Dallas move around the board trying to pick up more picks.

Dallas could address any of its needs with the 18th pick as it could use major upgrades along the interior of the offensive line and in the back half of the secondary. Kenny Vaccaro could be interesting at safety if still available at 18, although some don’t think he will last that long. But the thought of Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr locking down at corner with Vaccaro roaming the deep middle has to be intriguing.

That would leave the Cowboys addressing the OL in the second round with prospects like Larry Warford from Kentucky being very much in play at pick No. 47. Warford isn’t the prospect that Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper are, but has a massive frame that moves with surprisingly quick feet and can be just as effective in the pass game as he is in the running game. If the 'Boys want to target a more versatile lineman that could also help them address their need at center, they would most likely target Travis Frederick, who played both guard and center during his time at Wisconsin. Much like former teammate Peter Konz is doing in Atlanta, Frederick could start at either position in the NFL.

Philadelphia Eagles
Finished:
4-12
Drafting: No. 4 overall in the first round
Needs: CB, S, DT

A secondary that is in need of a complete overhaul and a defensive front that is changing schemes leaves the Eagles with a lot of options on the defensive side of the ball, but don’t be totally surprised if they go offense with the fourth overall pick. Some seem to believe that they could even take Geno Smith as the first quarterback of the class and one that is very familiar with Chip Kelly’s up-tempo style. Even if it’s not a quarterback, the Eagles could still stay on the offensive side of the ball by taking an offensive tackle. Eric Fisher would most likely still be available as the Jaguars and Raiders have other needs that seem to make more sense.

If the Eagles decide to go on defense, they could replace an entirely depleted secondary that is now without Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who were just two years ago pegged as the best cornerback tandem in the entire league. Dee Milliner would be the obvious choice here as he is a cut above the other corners in the class, but that would still leave the Eagles just as vulnerable at the safety position as they were last year. No matter what they do with the fourth pick, they must address safety with the 35th pick because they were atrocious last year and without the appropriate help over the top, it doesn’t matter who you have playing corner.

Tagged: Falcons, Bears, Cowboys, Giants, Eagles, Redskins, Ravens, Osi Umenyiora, Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Brandon Meriweather, Brandon Carr, Dan Connor, Brandon Myers

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