So far in this series, we have focused solely on the offensive side of the ball, taking a look at the quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers of the NFC East.
I am an offensive lineman, so I feel like I am doing myself and the readers a disservice by starting the series off with the three offensive “skill” position groups.
Let’s finally take a look at the real athletes on the field, the big guys up-front, starting with the defensive line.
Maybe it was the Cowboys fan in me that held off the defensive side of the ball until the fourth post, because for the first time all series, the Cowboys might have the most question marks of the entire division.
Dallas decided to let Greg Hardy walk this offseason, a decision which I and plenty of fans are behind. However, they didn’t anticipate their two projected starting defensive ends, Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, to each face four game suspensions to start off the 2016 season.
I know, ouch.
Despite all of the negativity which the media has surrounded the Cowboys defensive line with, I actually believe they will perform better than most anticipate.
Inside, Tyrone Crawford will be at full strength, which is a problem for the other three teams in this division. Newly added Cedric Thornton will function as the other defensive tackle, forming a very solid interior set.
Maliek Collins (when healed), Terrell McClain, and David Irving will all be asked to make leaps in their development this season in order for the Cowboys defensive line to operate.
On the outside, Jack Crawford is the veteran leader of a very young group which features rookie Charles Tapper, former Raider Benson Mayowa, and Ryan Russell, just to name a few.
I’ll keep it brief because I have written about this line before, but the Cowboys focus for their defensive line is simple; youth, athleticism, and upside.
While, for the first time in this series, the Cowboys were the team with the most questions, for the first time in this series it is the Eagles with the most answers.
The Eagles have done a ton of retooling and rebooting of their roster, but one group has remained about the same the entire time, and that’s their defensive line. This was done for good reason.
Fletcher Cox will lead the defense into their new 4-3 base scheme, and his move inside to the 3-technique will prove key to their defense as a whole.
Bennie Logan, Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Beau Allen, and Vinny Curry will follow Cox’s lead and help solidify the Eagles defensive line.
Though the loss of Cedric Thornton to the Cowboys is a significant one, I believe the Eagles have enough depth to account and make up for this loss.
And they have Fletcher Cox. That is also important.
While the Eagles stayed put and maintained most of the guys in this group during the offseason, the Giants went out and spent all the money to find new defensive linemen.
The Giants fearsome pass rush that led them to two Super Bowls in 2007 and 2011 is gone, and the team now seems to be trying to recreate that magic with new pieces.
Former Miami Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon who joined the Giants this offseason is a young, three down player with tremendous pass rush ability.
The Giants also added Damon Harrison, a big defensive tackle who was arguably the top 3-4 run stuffing nose tackle in the NFL a year ago.
Despite these two huge signings, the team did lose Robert Ayers, who finished the 2015 season with 9.5 sacks, a career high.
Jason Pierre-Paul returns, and despite all of the good he has produced during his career, we all know the problem with him at this point.
The Giants certainly invested a historically unprecedented amount of money into their defensive line this offseason, and while I think it will be improved, the cost of it all makes me uneasy.
Similar to the Cowboys, the Washington Redskins found ways to get younger and more athletic across their defensive line. The problem for both teams is, I don’t know if this youth will make them a better football team in 2016.
The Redskins lost Terrance Knighton and Jason Hatcher, two integral pieces to their line a year ago, in free agency.
They did add Ziggy Hood and Kendall Reyes, but for a team which finished 31st in the NFL in yards-per-carry allowed and 30th in yards-per-carry before contact, the Redskins defensive line is certainly a weakness on an otherwise improved (we think) football team.
For the first time in the series, the Philadelphia Eagles get the nod over the rest of the division.
For starters, they have the best individual defensive lineman in the entire NFC East in Fletcher Cox. On top of that, Bennie Logan has emerged as a top-tier defensive tackle in the entire league, and guys like Connor Barwin and Vinny Curry continue to produce when called upon.
As a Cowboys fan, I have watched the tape of our offensive line going against this defensive line countless times, and I am not sure there is a defensive line which gives Travis Frederick and company more trouble than this one.
There are a lot of reasons to believe the Eagles won’t be very good this year, but if one group can help to give their fans some hope, it’s this one.