It’s been a while since we last visited the NFC East battle for supremacy. With only a few groups remaining, let’s finally return to this journey to explore the linebackers of this division.
For my money, the Dallas Cowboys linebacker corp is the most interesting position group in the entire division.
Purely “on paper” talent-wise, the Cowboys have the best linebackers. Between Sean Lee, Rolando McClain, and newly drafted Jaylon Smith, there is a ton of talent in this group. The problem is getting all three of these guys on the field at the same time.
But in fact, this will never happen.
Jaylon Smith is expected to miss the entire 2016 season and when he does return, McClain will most likely be out the door. Getting McClain to show up to work everyday has been a problem, and when he does show up physically, you don’t know if he is totally there mentally.
Sean Lee is a top-five inside backer in the NFL when healthy. That “when healthy” stipulation has been tough to overcome throughout his career, however.
Anthony Hitchens, Kyle Wilber, Mark Nzeocha, and Andrew Gachkar will each have opportunities to earn playing time, and even a starting position. My eyes are on Gachkar as I expect him to get chances as the SAM linebacker, and hopefully be productive while doing so.
The Eagles have three of my favorite linebackers in the entire division. Former Texas Longhorn Jordan Hicks had a phenomenal rookie season during the eight games he was able to play. The problem with Hicks is that he only played in eight games. Hicks struggled with injury problems at Texas, and if this continues his immense talent may be rendered useless.
Mychal Kendricks has had similar issues with injuries, but to a lesser extent.
The Eagles did decide to add former Buffalo Bills linebacker Nigel Bradham this offseason. Bradham finished his 2015 campaign with a career high 104 tackles in 14 games.
I like all three of these starters, but not a single one of them has completed an entire NFL season. The injury bug tends to bite these Eagles’ linebackers hard, and the lack of depth at the position will pose problems for the team this season.
The Giants linebackers have been bad. Really bad.
I am from the Northeast and must listen to a lot of Giants talk throughout my day, and if there is one group that gets killed consistently by fans, it is this one.
With that being said, the Giants did a ton of work to improve this group during the offseason. Adding Keenan Robinson and Kelvin Sheppard should help to solidify the position and make up for Jon Beason’s departure.
Jasper Brinkley, Jonathon Casillas, Mark Herzlich, Uani Unga, J.T. Thomas, and Devon Kennard played a game of musical chairs each week when deciding who would get to start, so the Giants will certainly look to have more stability in 2016.
Washington will be the only team in the NFC East to run a traditional 3-4 base defense, meaning that their outside linebackers will serve a much different role than the other team’s linebackers.
Those outside linebackers could be dangerous. Ryan Kerrigan is the clear leader of the Redskins defense, and returns in 2016. The other side will be competed for by Junior Galette and Preston Smith.
Preston Smith is a second year player out of Mississippi State who recorded 8 sacks and 4 forced fumbles during his rookie season.
Galette was a beast in New Orleans prior to his off-the-field issues and ACL tear. If he is healthy, he could be a nice compliment to Kerrigan.
Either way, the Redskins seem set at outside linebacker.
On the inside, Will Compton, Mason Foster, and Perry Riley Jr. will all see time. Compton recorded 96 combined tackles in 2015, and Mason Foster filled in due to injury and started the rest of the season. Rookie Su’a Cravens is also being worked out as an inside linebacker.
Which team has the best linebackers?
This one is tough, probably the toughest decision yet.
I love what the Cowboys have in Lee and McClain. The problem with crowning them the best is, how long will they have both Lee and McClain on the field?
I like what the Eagles have to offer with Bradham, Kendricks, and Hicks. But similarly to the Cowboys, injuries might be a problem. To me, the Giants aren’t in this conversation yet, as I am in more of a “wait and see” mode with them. So that leaves the Washington Redskins.
I love what the Redskins’ outside linebackers have to offer; Kerrigan, Smith, and Galette are all pass rush forces and will create problems for most offenses.
Their inside linebackers are no slouches, either, and I am looking at Su’a Cravens as a potential breakout player this season.