Moving into the final quarter of this long series and finishing up the NFC teams, we have the NFC East division. It seems to be pretty standard with two promising defenses and then two… other defenses.
“The Boys” have had a nothing-special defense for a while now, but they seemed to start turning a corner last season for the better. That corner being Leighton Vander Esch. Though his efforts in his rookie season were overshadowed by those of Darius Leonard, who won the defensive ROY over Vander Esch, the Boise State product was a welcomed sight for the Dallas faithful. Jaylon Smith also showed good progress and established himself as a started along with Vander Esch and gave the Cowboys a linebacking corps, not just Sean Lee pulling the weight until his back gives out or more likely his knees. That being said it would help a lot more in fantasy if Vander Esch could get some quarterback sacks. Smith had 4 sacks last season which is good enough for an MLB, but Vander Esch was unable to get a single sack last year and Dallas could use more sacks considering they finished last year with 39 which was only good enough to finish in a tie for 16th in the NFL.
Right now the Cowboys have two other Boise State alums shouldering the sack responsibility, Demarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford. There are 16 sacks combined between the two Broncos with the rest of the sacks being provided by here and there throughout the lineup, which means that someone has to step up to improve even if it’s not Vander Esch. Especially because Randy Gregory ranked second on the team in that department and is currently suspended indefinitely. Taco Charlton has thus far been disappointing and will be coming back from a shoulder injury and though Dorance Armstrong could be used to take Gregory’s role. They also have some newly signed guys who could possibly fill in during Gregory’s absence with Kerry Hyder, who fell out of relevance after a very solid 2016 season, or it can be used as an opportunity for the draftees, Joe Jackson or Jalen Jelks, to get some in-game reps. However, it is probably more likely that Lawrence and Crawford will be expected to pick up the slack and just play more. As for the interior, Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods have done a solid job, they haven’t racked up the stats, but that is kind of hard for DTs not named ‘Aaron Donald’ to do. They will however be joined on the line this year by the Cowboys first pick of the draft, even though it was in the second round, in Trysten Hill. He seems a lot like an athletic prospect chosen a lot on his measurable, so Woods and Collins will probably keep their spots while Dallas gets Hill integrated into the league.
Onto the secondary hich leaves more to be desired. Despite cornerback Byron Jones making the pro bowl, the entire secondary is bland. They were one of only 7 teams that had less than 10 interceptions and other than that they ranked in the middle of the league for most other stats last season. Their averageness probably will continue this year as I doubt 5th rounder, Mike Jackson Sr., will be able to change the tide by himself. If anyone will do that it would probably have to be their biggest new addition this offseason in George Iloka, though last season was his worst full-season of production. While it’s understandable since he only started in three of those games because Harrison Smith is there, it is disappointing he couldn’t beat out Andrew Sendejo or Anthony Harris for the strong safety spot. Though it is probably good news for Jeff Heath. So, mostly the same outfit can be expected in the defensive backfield.
As for their worth overall, they have a relatively easy schedule to start off their season, they could do very well, but I predict they will be more solid than outstanding. After the third week of the season though they seem like less of an attractive pick. So they can be a decent streaming candidate, maybe worth a late round pick, but will probably end up as a middle of the road defense.
New York Giants
Ugh this team. After failing to draft Josh Allen with their first pick they got Dexter Lawrence and DeAndre Baker with their other two first-round picks. That would have been a great trifecta if they got a first-round lineman, linebacker, and defensive back, but the front office couldn’t resist the ‘basketball school’ quarterback. Though they did get a linebacker with their next pick in the third round, Oshane Ximines, but he probably won’t be a starter. Linebackers who are projected to start though are Markus Golden and Alec Ogletree. Ogletree is not an exciting LB that people may have hoped for in a first-round pick, but he has carved out a solid career despite going mostly unnoticed. He had a pretty good season last year as well as he got a career-high 5 interceptions last year, as a linebacker. Markus Golden however is even less inspiring and may be a cause for concern.
Golden has yet to finish a full year as a starter as in his last two seasons with Arizona, while he has started every game he has played in, he’s played in a combine 15 games and they haven’t been eye-popping in the slightest. To his credit however he did have a pretty good year in 2016 though he only had a total of 51 combined tackles, he played in all 16 games and recorded 12.5 sacks, 22 QB hits, forced 4 fumbles, and even recovered a fumble. However, 1-for-4 in decent seasons is not desirable. The biggest acquisition in free agency for New York however wasn’t Golden, but rather his teammate from Arizona who came with him to New York, Antoine Bethea. Though he is no longer the pro-bowler we saw years ago with the Colts and Niners, Bethea still has the ability to be a decent to good safety as in his two years in Arizona he got 5 picks in his first year and racked up 100 solo tackles and 3 sacks in his second. So he could be a great pass defender or a great tackling force, it just doesn’t seem like he can do both in the same season. He’s had 4 seasons where he’s had at least 4 interceptions and 7 seasons where he has had at least 100 combined tackles, but none where he’s had both. Also as a fun fact, the only times he’s been selected to the pro bowl were those years he’s had 4 picks with Indy and San Fran, but he wasn’t selected the year he got 5 picks for Arizona, okay fun fact over.
Bethea will be joined at the safety position by Jabrill Peppers, the do-it-all man they got from the Odell Beckham trade. While Peppers hasn’t been a game-breaker that the Browns hoped for off-the-bat, he showed improvement in his sophomore season and still shows to be a promising young player. Despite the possibility of Peppers and the history of Bethea, it doesn’t seem like either can replace the Landon Collins. Though combined they can replace his production, it’s never good to replace one player with two. On the other hand it is nice to have a pro-bowler as a backup safety option, so it’s not like they don’t have good safeties. As for the cornerbacks, DeAndre Baker will join Janoris Jenkins, a solid all though forgettable corner. Jenkins had a solid year last season after only playing 9 games in 2017 due to injury. His 2018 was overlooked as he had a career-high in combined tackles with 70, as well as 15 pass deflections, 2 picks, and a forced fumble. Hopefully Baker can learn under him and improve by being the CB2 under Jenkins as he can progress and get adjusted to the league without having the team put him on the opposing teams number 1 target every play of every game.
As for the D-Line, Dexter Lawrence will unfortunately not have the same luxury as Baker. Lawrence is projected to be starting alongside Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill. Last year they were able to combine for 107 tackles with Hill getting 5.5 sacks. Those are okay numbers, but while Hill was able to get some sacks, Tomlinson failed to even register a QB hit and after trading away the last season’s team-sack-leader in Olivier Vernon, that will only put more of the pressure on Lawrence to create that pressure. This is especially not good considering that the Giants defense ended last year tied for the second worst in the league for QB sacks as the only defensive unit who had less than them were the Oakland Raiders. So, while I believe that the Giants have a solid secondary all things considered, the front 7 is what really earns teams points in fantasy football so they are another defense who shouldn’t see anytime on your fantasy team.
The Eagles are another team projected by many to have a bounce-back season after a rather disappointing one that many blame on a “Super Bowl hangover”. While I see them improving from last year, it won’t be on par with their 2017 defense. They still have solid pieces from that championship on the team, notably on the line. Brandon Graham, Tim Jernigan, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, and of course Fletcher Cox are still there making a pretty great line by themselves. Especially with Cox, he continued to prove himself last season to be considered one of the best interior linemen in the league, even earning himself his first All-Pro nod. Of course they traded away Michael Bennett during the offseason to the Patriots, in turn losing a player who was able to record 9 sacks and force 2 fumbles last season. In response possibly, they added Malik Jackson, who was a part of a defense that also fell flat of expectations last year in Jacksonville. I’m sure the Eagles are hoping will return to his 2017 Pro-Bowl form where he had 8 sacks and 4 forced fumbles after a lackluster year in 2018, or at least as a DT will garner more attention alongside Fletcher Cox and allow for their guys on the edge like Curry, Graham, and Barnett to get more free lanes to the backfield.
Their secondary also remains a solid aspect of the defense as well as it is still anchored by the safety duo of Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. Over the offseason they also acquired premier safety backups in Andrew Sendejo and Jonathan Cyprien, giving Philadelphia the best safety depth in the league. The cornerbacks aren’t as solid as the safeties, as Ronald Darby may be a good corner, but he still has yet to play a full 16 game season and hasn’t even played 10 games in a season during his time so far in Philadelphia and causes some concern when he is your starter. Early indications also seem to be that Avonte Maddox, a 4th rounder from last years draft, will be the other starting CB. Maddox played well in his rookie year getting a couple picks, a forced fumble, and over 30 tackles throughout 13 games. Despite have a knee injury that took him out of some games in late November/early December, Maddox looked like he recovered quite well and played some his best football at the end of the season and in the playoffs. Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas also give a little depth at the CB position, but in all it’s really Jenkins and the safeties that make this a strong secondary.
Linebackers are unfortunately the weakest position, which is unfortunate since at least in IDP, the linebackers are usually the top scorers. Nigel Bradham is going to head the LB corps, with Kamu Grugier-Hill and Zach Brown as the other two projected starters. Brown has been one of those journeyman starters who is a starting caliber, but has been shopped around for the past couple of years as the Eagles will be his fourth team in the past five years after coming to Philly during this past free agency period. As for starting in every game in a season, Brown is 1-for-7, but did earn a pro-bowl nod in his only 16 start season. Grugier-Hill on the other hand was a special-teamer for his first two seasons, not even starting a game until last season. So Bradham and Brown can be good linebackers, but neither are gamebreakers and Grugier-Hill has a lot to prove and considering that this being his fourth season will be the first one where he is the main starter, hopes will not be too high. I will say however they do have some pretty nice backups at LB with Nate Gerry, Paul Worrilow, and newly-acquired L.J. Fort.
They will not be as dominant as the top defenses in the NFC, but I feel like their linemen and safeties will make sure they are fantasy relevant. They will probably on the verge of being a regular starter and a streamer defense and will probably lean towards the latter.
Despite signing possibly the best safety of the stacked free-agency class in the offseason, Dan Snyder’s bunch isn’t looking to turn any heads this season. Landon Collins will improve their safety position from last year considering they only had Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for their last 9 games. Other than Collins their only other notable defensive back free agent is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Though heading into his 12th season, it’ll be hard to imagine DRC being as good as they want him to be. Both Collins and DRC will join secondary that has been mostly headed by Josh Norman for the past couple years. Norman himself has been solid, but has been nowhere near as spectacular in Washington as he was in his last season with Carolina.
The only other notable free agent is Jon Bostic, who has been making his way around the league the past few seasons and is looking to continue doing so after signing a one-year deal with Washington. Bostic will join a bunch of other mostly unknown LBs and so it will once again be up to Ryan Kerrigan to carry the load. Kerrigan has really been the bright spot on the team for the past few years, racking up double-digit sack totals for the past three seasons and starting every game since he came into the league. Kerrigan will probably only find help from the young guys on the line.
Those young guys being Jonathan Allen and Montez Sweat. Allen showed improvement from his rookie year, probably helped by playing all 16 games, putting up 7 more sacks and over 50 more combined tackles and being an interior lineman, he can only be helped by 1st round edge rushing talent in Montez Sweat. Sweat was a good selection for this team as an edge rusher he can be used as a defensive end or outside linebacker and with the team like Washington has now, they need help at both. In the end, some players like Kerrigan, Allen, Collins, and possibly Sweat could have good IDP seasons, but the defense as a whole won’t be good and shouldn’t be used even as a streamer.
Co-host and contributor for the Time Skew Podcast.