The NFC East is one of the banner divisions in the NFL. All four teams boast rich histories with big fanbases in some of the biggest markets in America. Fierce rivalries and excellence are two of the foundational elements that made the NFC East famous. 2020 wasn’t a banner year for this quartet. The Eagles sunk to new levels of despair, the Cowboys were a Kardashian from looking like a reality TV show, and the Giants were mediocre. Washington took the division crown; however, terrible play from their opponents did help them.
2021 is a big year for all four teams in the division, it is an opportunity to bounce back for the three losers from 2020, and Washington will wish to maintain their advantage. Training camps open up soon; the NFL season is now eight weeks away. Henceforth, the hard work begins now. Here at NFL Sapient, we’ll preview some training camp battles for all 32 teams. We’ve already assessed the NFC North; now, the attention turns to the NFC East.
Dallas Cowboys – Blake Jarwin vs Dalton Schultz
The tight end position in Dallas is synonymous with Jason Witten. After the former MNF commentator moved west to the Nevada desert, the spot opened up for a new player to stake their claim. As franchise quarterback Dak Prescott went down with an injury, the pressure came off for Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz. Jarwin played one game before he followed Prescott onto the injury list. That provided Schultz with a free shot to take the job. The Stanford alum did well as he displayed solid ability to catch, as well as a penchant for rumbling after the catch:
Schultz became a reliable safety blanket for Andy Dalton; moreover, when Schultz got targeted, the passer rating was 95.5. Such is the confidence in Schultz’s ability; some feel he is the Cowboys’ secret weapon. Conversely, Jarwin is more experienced, a more pertinent threat in the intermediate and deep areas and arguably a better run blocker. Schultz is the exciting prospect; after a fundamentally solid 2020 season, there is cautious optimism surrounding Dalton Schultz. On the other hand, the former undrafted rookie Jarwin will arrive into camp desperate to retake his spot as TE1 for America’s Team.
New York Giants – Sterling Shephard vs John Ross vs Kadarius Toney vs Darius Slayton
Dave Gettleman and the Giants front office are valiantly attempting to build around young quarterback Daniel Jones. After focusing on the ‘hog mollies in previous offseasons, the Giants brass turned their attention to the wide receiver group. The Giants signed Kenny Golladay and John Ross in free agency before drafting Kadarius Toney. That triumvirate joins a wideout room that Sterling Shephard and Darius Slayton occupy.
Barring any significant injuries in the preseason, Golladay is the number one receiver for Big Blue. The big battle arises when trying to determine who will be WR2. The favourite for the role is undoubtedly Sterling Shephard. The rangy pass-catcher is now entering his sixth year in the NFL. He enjoyed a decent 2020 season as he played 12 games for over 600 receiving yards. Shephard also evolved into a reliable target for his quarterback; when targeted, Shephard boasted a passer rating of 100. His versatility and experience make him the favourite. The wideout owns a build like a tight end; he adds speed and the skill to line up all over the field.
Despite Shephard’s strengths, the Giants added some more depth to their receiver room. Darius Slayton returns as the favourite for the slot receiver role, although his different skill set could force him into the equation to lineup opposite Golladay. The speedy, explosive John Ross is also vying for a starting job. The electric speedster can add a game-breaking element to the Giants offence. The concerns surround Ross’ injury history; he can’t stay healthy. It is now-or-never for the former Bengal.
What About Kadarius Toney?
A further level of intrigue gets added when one considers Kadarius Toney. The former Florida Gator is a ridiculously talented player. God blessed Toney with insane speed and raw talent; he turned up in Florida as a quarterback. The Giants drafted him with their first pick in the 2021 draft; there is a method behind the thinking. Per Sharp Football Analysis, the Giants ranked 30th in explosive pass plays. Toney can help change that; furthermore, he is a playmaker. Senior bowl guru Jim Nagy heaped plenty of praise on Toney, “second-best playmaker in the draft behind [Jaylen] Waddle.” Toney owns the capabilities to explode; he could be the bolt from the Big Blue.
Philadelphia Eagles – Miles Sanders vs Boston Scott vs Kenneth Gainwell
The Philadelphia Eagles experienced a myriad of problems; fortunately, running back wasn’t one of those problems. Fundamentally, it all came from the offensive line; per ESPN, Philly was second in run-block success. Moreover, assessing the Sharp Football statistics, the Eagles enjoyed a 50.7% run-success rate. In context, the league average was 50.8%. With an inexperienced quarterback under center in 2021, the Eagles must devise a functioning running game.
Therefore it surprised no one that Philly opted to add Kenneth Gainwell to its running back room. Miles Sanders is not a do-it-all back. Sanders is a decent runner between tackles, and he excels in particular when running on outside zone plays. Furthermore, Sanders is a veteran presence that understands the position and his physical limitations. Gainwell is an excellent receiving back; his lack of power and size may hinder him as a bell-cow back; nevertheless, his skills should bring him into contention.
Boston Scott is the other piece in this puzzle. The veteran runner must display his aggression and intent when he gets reps in training camp. The Eagles do possess an exciting blend of backs; watching how the trio work at gelling in the preseason will fascinate plenty of Eagles fans. The Eagles’ key to success in the NFC East may lie in the running back room.
Washington Football Team – Charles Leno Jr vs Samuel Cosmi
Charles Leno is a former Pro-Bowl tackle. He made it as recently as 2019; consequently, it shocked some members of the NFL cognoscenti after the Chicago Bears released him after the 2020 season. Washington scooped him up in free agency in an attempt to bolster their offensive line. The Football Team then doubled down by drafting Texas Longhorn Samuel Cosmi. The rookie will square off with the veteran in training camp to determine who is the starting tackle.
Leno has an advantage due to his vast experience; conversely, Cosmi might be the better player. Cosmi is an athletic player who can shine in run-blocking. Furthermore, he owns a nasty edge that sees him relish the physical violence of the running game. There are some negatives; he can sometimes reverse and decelerate in pass protection, causing his backside to get too close to his quarterback.
Leno has garnered a reputation as a bit of a turnstile; his footwork and hand skills are ok; however, he seldom seems to put it all in one package for 60 minutes. Imagine a sandwich; you wouldn’t eat one without jelly despite the presence of peanut butter. That sums up Leno’s play, especially in 2020. Offensive protection, specifically in pass protection, is vital for Washington in 2021. Ryan Fitzpatrick is an erratic quarterback at the best of times; if he’s under pressure, the negative traits get highlighted. It is a training camp battle that could shape the NFC East in 2021.
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