The Dallas Cowboys are looking to be the first back-to-back NFC Eash Champion in nearly 20 years. Coming off a 12-5 season, the expectation was that the front office use this off-season to seize this opportunity in the conference.

Instead, the off-season was filled with seeing a large amount of the team’s talent change colors. Leaving the Cowboys to pick up the pieces with minimal activity in free agency, but a quality draft class.

However, as the Cowboys seemingly didn’t get better, every other NFC East team got better. Some in areas that surpass what Dallas will put on the field.

It’s hard to gage which team’s are better than others this early but it’s easier to gage which position groups are better than others. In many cases, the Cowboys fall short.

Quarterback

  1. Dallas Cowboys – Dak Prescott; the best in the division, and a near consensus top 10 QB. A now fully healthy, full mobile Prescott should see an even better offensive output than his record-setting season.
  2. Philadelphia Eagles – Jalen Hurts; his improvement from year one to year two was enough to get the Eagles into the playoffs. Displaying mobility and a decent ceiling as a passer, he’ll need to elevate his game again if they want to make noise in the conference.
  3. Washington Commanders – Carson Wentz; Wentz finished his season with the Colts on a downward swing, going 3-3 in the team’s final six games and completing only 59.7% of his passes. The good news for him is the improvement of offensive weapons at his disposal in D.C. If Head Coach Ron Rivera can get the most out of Taylor Heinicke, he should be able to find success with Wentz.
  4. New York Giants – Daniel Jones; The Giants added Evan Neal to keep him upright, Wan’Dale Robinson to give him more firepower and HC Brian Daboll to put it all together. This is the make-or-break year for Jones, who has everything at his disposal to elevate.

Running Backs

  1. Dallas Cowboys – Ezekiel Elliott/Tony Pollard; Both players were hit with injuries last season but as a true 1-2 punch, there might not be a better combo in the league. Neither can do everything themselves, but together they fill a number of different dimensions on offense and averaged 4.7 yards per carry and 7.3 yards per reception in 2021.
  2. Washington Commanders – Antonio Gibson/JD McKissic; In the same breath as Elliott and Pollard, these players add plenty to the offense when they both are being used properly. However, 2020 featured a heavy dose of Gibson while McKissic’s carries and target shares reduced by half, limiting the combo.
  3. Philadelphia Eagles – Miles Sanders/Kenneth Gainwell; The health of Sanders factors into how well they’re used together. Gainwell provided quality snaps as a receiving back, with Sanders as the primary ball carrier. The value of them on the field together opened the offense on the ground and in the air as they combined for 23.1% of the team’s overall offensive output.
  4. New York Giants – Saquon Barkley/Matt Brieda; Brieda has yet to replicate anything close to the success he had in San Francisco, but will need to with Barkley likely to miss time. Barkley has long expected to become a premiere back, but hasn’t been able to stay on the field enough to do it, missing 21 games in the last three seasons.

Wide Receivers

  1. Philadelphia Eagles – AJ Brown/DeVonta Smith/Quez Watkins/Jalen Reagor; The addition of Brown put the Eagles receiving core among the leagues best alongside Smith, who’s coming off a high quality rookie season. A Pro Bowl WR alongside a young stud could take Jalen Hurts and this offense to the next level.
  2. Dallas Cowboys – CeeDee Lamb/Michael Gallup/Jalen Tolbert/James Washington; CeeDee Lamb is thrust into the WR1 role with Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson no longer on the team. The health of Gallup is a concern, but the high upside and early good impressions of Tolbert are good indications for this offense.
  3. New York Giants – Kenny Golladay/Kadarius Toney/Sterling Shepard/Darius Slayton; On paper, this could be the deepest WR group in the league. Inconsistent QB and WR play have hurt this offense for the last few seasons. Golladay didn’t get a single touchdown in his first season in New York and will need to play to the level he’s getting paid to alongside former first-rounder Toney and Shepard, one of the games better slot receivers.
  4. Washington Commanders – Terry McLaurin/Curtis Samuel/Jahan Dotson/Dyami Brown; Aside from Terry McLaurin, this WR group is all question marks. Can Samuel rebound from an injury-filled season? Is Dotson going to be worth the first-round pick used to get him? Can Brown take the next step from simply being a deep threat?

Tight Ends

  1. Washington Commanders – Logan Thomas/John Bates; Neither are the best TE, but are the best pair in the division. Thomas has gone from former college QB, to a reliable threat at the position. While Bates has become just as valuable a blocker as he is a receiver.
  2. Dallas Cowboys – Dalton Schultz/Jake Ferguson; Schultz is in the middle of a contract dispute following back-to-back season breaking him into the games best. Ferguson has a high upside as a receiver and is a quality blocker on the edges. He’ll get a large number of snaps this year out of necessity.
  3. New York Giants – Ricky Seales-Jones/Jordan Akins; Both are experienced veterans, but neither really excel in any one area that puts them over the top. Each are reliable receivers and can add value in run blocking as well. Considering how much Brian Daboll and the Bills ran two TE looks to open the run game with Josh Allen and whoever was in the backfield at the time, expect the same this season.
  4. Philadelphia Eagles – Dallas Goedert/Jack Stoll; Goedert might be the best, most complete TE in this division. He’s a proven run blocker and gained 14.8 yards per reception last season. Jack Stoll is a question mark. The Eagles opted to keep him after going undrafted and played over 300 snaps in 2021. How well he plays can elevate this group or keep them at the bottom.

Offensive Line

  1. Philadelphia Eagles – Jordan Mailata/Landon Dickerson/Jason Kelce/Isaac Seumalo/Lane Johnson; Arguably the best offensive line in the league, Philadelphia has a future Hall of Famer at center and possibly the best right tackle in the game. Their other young, stud offensive linemen might turn the group atop the NFL.
  2. Washington Commaders – Charles Leno/Andrew Norwell/Chase Roullier/Wes Schweitzer/Sam Cosmi; The addition of Norwell is one of the best this off-season, especially with the re-signing of Leno, creating a veteran blindside to keep Wentz upright. How well the right side plays will indicate how protected the passer is.
  3. Dallas Cowboys – Tyron Smith/Tyler Smith/Tyler Biadasz/Zack Martin/Terence Steele; What once was the best unit in the league is a bunch of question marks, aside from Zack Martin. Tyron Smith’s health, Tyler Smith’s play as a rookie, Biadasz and Steele’s developments. This is a high upside group, but it’s never good to have more questions than answers.
  4. New York Giants – Andrew Thomas/Max Garcia/Jon Feliciano/Mark Glowinski/Evan Neal; Aside from Thomas and Neal on the outside, it’s a bit of a stop-gap group. Feliciano and Glowinski are both upgrades as veterans but might not be long-term answers to the position, and compile an interior that’s likely to be taken advantage of this season.

Defensive Line

  1. Washington Commanders – Chase Young/Jonathan Allen/DaRon Payne/Montez Sweat; The health of Young has a lot to do with this. We saw what this unit could do when firing on all cylinders in 2020. Regardless of what the future of Payne on this team is, this starting unit might be the most complete, dangerous in the game.
  2. Philadelphia Eagles – Brandon Graham/Fletcher Cox/Javon Hargrave/Josh Sweat; Cox is a Hall of Famer, but Hargrave is definitely this team’s best DT until Jordan Davis comes along. How well the edge rushers play can raise or lower this group. Especially with Graham’s health, Sweat continuing his success and even with players like Derek Barnett in depth.
  3. Dallas Cowboys – DeMarcus Lawrence/Osa Odighizuwa/Neville Gallimore/Dorance Armstrong; The loss of Randy Gregory is huge for the group. With him this is likely the next best defensive line in the division. Lawrence is the Cowboys best edge rusher (when Micah Parsons is in the middle) and Armstrong is coming off a career year. Gallimore and Odighizuwa are talented DT’s who can effectively rush the QB. How they do against the run will determine how much the rise/fall.
  4. New York Giants – Leonard Williams/Dexter Lawrence/Jihad Ward; In truth, this is still a solid unit. It’s just not as impressive as the others. Williams is the team’s best DL, with Lawrence showing plenty of skills, and Ward is a reliable starter. Aside from them, there’s not a ton of depth or high upside.

Linebackers

  1. New York Giants – Azeez Ojulari/Tae Crowder/Blake Martinez/Kayvon Thibideaux; Ojulari is becoming one of the best pass rushing 3-4 OLB’s in the game, with rookie Thibideaux across from him with sky-high potential. Assuming Crowder and Martinez continue being quality inside players, it’s New York’s best unit.
  2. Philadelphia Eagles – Haason Reddick/Kyzir White/TJ Edwards; Maybe Philadelphia’s most improved group. The addition of Reddick is likely to improve the Eagles pass rush, but it will be interesting to see how he looks going from back-to-back 10+ sack seasons in 3-4 defenses, as a true OLB. With the underrated signing of White and return of Edwards, this might be the Eagles best LB core in years.
  3. Dallas Cowboys – Micah Parsons/Leighton Vander Esch/Jabril Cox; Parsons is going to be a potential Defensive Player of the Year and might be the best overall player in the division, regardless of position. The health of Cox and consistency of Vander Esch will be what deters the group. Cox has high upside as a coverage LB and Vander Esch shows plenty of quality value when he performs to expectations.
  4. Washington Commanders – Jamin Davis/Cole Holcomb/David Mayo; Holcomb and Davis are the team’s primary LB’s as they usually run defense in nickel. Davis has shown potential in moments, while Holcomb was arguably Washington’s best overall defensive player in 2021. With the veteran Mayo slated as the third LB, this group has potential to be good but is behind the rest of the division.

Cornerbacks

  1. Dallas Cowboys – Trevon Diggs/Anthony Brown/Jourdan Lewis; The league’s interceptions leader only allowed 52.4% of passes completed in coverage. Paired with Brown, a versatile defender who can play inside or out, coming off a career year, and Lewis one of the team’s best play-makers on defense. This group could be in-store for another season of improved coverage and creating turnovers.
  2. Philadelphia Eagles – Darius Slay/Avonte Maddox/James Bradburry; Slay is already considered maybe to be the best shut-down corner in the East. The development of Maddox from role player to reliable starter, plus the addition of Bradburry from the rival Giants elevates a secondary that finished 11th against the pass.
  3. Washington Commanders – William Jackson/Kendall Fuller/Benjamin St-Juste; The weak spot of the defense. Jackson came over from Cincinnati on a big contract, but had an inconsistent year as the team’s CB1, giving up the highest completion percentage and lowest receiving yards allowed in his career. Fuller has been their most reliable corner during his career in Washington, and the emergence of second-year St-Juste gives the team reliable starters, albeit underwhelming.
  4. New York Giants – Cordale Flott/Adoree’ Jackson/Darney Holmes; Aside from Jackson, this is a group of unknowns. Flott was taken in the third round of this past NFL Draft out of Clemson, with as just as high a ceiling as he does a floor. Holmes has primarily been a reliable rotation corner but is now among the starting trio with Bradburry gone to Philadelphia. How will this mostly new crew of corners do under their new head coach.

Safeties

  1. Dallas Cowboys – Jayron Kearse/Malik Hooker/Donovan Wilson; Kearse plays all over the defense and is really more of a hybrid safety/LB but stays in this group. Paired with the breakout of Hooker, who’s career has been plagued by injuries has found a home as Dallas’ free safety. Wilson plays plenty in the box, and can often be seen with these other two when the Cowboys run dime and nickel packages, featuring Kearse closer to the line of scrimmage.
  2. Philadelphia Eagles – Anthony Harris/Jaquiski Tartt/Marcus Epps; The combination of Harris and Tartt is a reliable veteran starting pair. Both have years of quality play and experience to round out a seasoned group of defensive backs. Epps is going into his fourth season and has become a very good, flexible defender who can play multiple spots in this secondary.
  3. New York Giants – Xavier McKinney/Julian Love/Henry Black; Speaking of young, stud safeties, McKinney is coming off a breakout season with five interceptions to lead a secondary desperate for playmakers. It will be interesting to see how the use of both Love and Black, who comes to New York by way of Green Bay, works out. Both players have played valuable snaps and have played in the middle, as well as outside in coverage. This group could end up taking a bigger step in 2022, and will likely need to make up for their cornerback play
  4. Washington Commanders – Kam Curl/Bobby McCain/Jeremy Reaves; Curl has gone from seventh round pick to one of the best young safeties in the game and pairing him with McCain, a player who’s shown to play multiple spots at a high level, can likely elevate the back end. Reaves has been an off-and-on practice squad player who’s added valuable snaps for Washington. Seeing more time on defense and special teams as well.

Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports