Draft Needs: NFC East
John Breitenbach sorts out the most pressing needs for each of the NFC East teams as the draft looms.
Draft Needs: NFC East
Teams have now had a month of free agency to chase down veteran upgrades, replacements, and hole-fillers but their roster-twisting work is not done. Next on the horizon is the 2013 NFL draft and with it comes the yearly opportunity to land youthful talent that, ideally, will provide a long-term positive impact.
In our division-by-division look at current draft needs, the most pressing roster concerns are addressed for each team and Steve Palazzolo tacks on early- and late-round draft day options as we go.
The Cowboys perpetually seem to have a need on the offensive line but their 2012 free agent additions should probably be given a little more time to adjust to the new scheme. Tyron Smith should also be more comfortable in his second year on the left side. Nate Livings (+11.3) surpassed expectations and the interior will have more depth with the return of Phil Costa from injury. Dallas are relying on an unproven youngster returning from injury to fill a starting role in their secondary, however, which is a big part of why I consider the safety position to be their biggest need.
Undrafted free agent Barry Church has managed just 399 snaps thus far in his NFL career. Just 108 of those snaps came last year as Church ruptured his Achilles tendon and was placed on IR. Overall he has a -1.4 grade over three years so it remains to be seen how he’ll fare as a full-time starter. Fellow 2010 free agent Danny McCray is expected to be the backup at strong safety position but he struggled in the rotation last year (-5.9).
The free safety position is surrounded by as many, if not more, questions. It would be ideal if 2012 fourth round pick Matt Johnson seized the job in his second year as a pro but, having missed his entire rookie year with recurring hamstring issues, he’s likely not as advanced in his progression as the coaching staff might like. The Cowboys signed free agent Will Allen from Pittsburgh but it seems they’re looking at him as insurance. That’s probably fortunate considering his benching in Pittsburgh and, while he didn’t graded out badly (-0.2), you wouldn’t want him playing an extended amount.
Early Round Option: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
The consensus top safety in the draft, Vaccaro’s ability to play all over the field will be coveted by a number of teams in the Top 15. With the Cowboys sitting at No. 18 overall, a move would have to be made to secure his rights.
Mid/Late Round Option: Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse
In a similar mold as Vaccaro, Thomas can play traditional safety while also doubling as the slot cornerback. He might get drafted a bit earlier due to his athleticism, but if Thomas falls to the middle rounds, he could become a steal.
New York Giants
Will Beatty (+22.3) thoroughly deserved the contract extension he received this offseason. He was finally able to stay healthy and ended up as our 11th-ranked offensive tackle on the year, managing to avoid a game in the red in 2012. With that said, it’s the first time he’s stayed healthy for a whole season in his four years in the league, so insurance is obviously necessary. The Giants need more than just depth for the offensive tackle position, though, as David Diehl (-6.8) is somehow slated to start at the right tackle position again. The stable veteran Sean Locklear is gone and that leaves the Giants without protection in case Beatty’s injuries woes return.
While the interior trio are still playing at a high level, the Giants need an infusion of youth in case 2013 is the year they decline. The combination of Boothe, Baas, and Snee combined for a +25.3 grade last year but they’ll also be a combined 92 years of age when the 2013 season begins. The G-men don’t have a backup with more than three years NFL experience and most of them have bounced around the league a few times before ending up in New York.
Early Round Option: D.J. Fluker, Alabama
The Giants’ 19th pick could be the perfect fit for Fluker who played right tackle at Alabama and would likely do the same in New York. He could move people in the running game, and if he proves too slow in pass protection, a move to guard could do him some good.
Mid/Late Round Option: Reid Fragel, Ohio State
The former tight end has the league intrigued due to his 6-foot-8, 310-pound frame. Fragel should join the long line of tight end converts playing tackle in the NFL as he projects as a mid-round developmental prospect.
The Eagles made wholesale changes to their defense this offseason, adding Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Kenny Philips, Patrick Chung, Isaac Sopoaga and Connor Barwin. New defensive coordinator Billy Davis seems likely to bring the 3-4 with him and, with the departure of Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson, the Eagles have a hole to fill at defensive end. 2012 first round pick Fletcher Cox will man one side and a combination of Sopoaga and Antonio Dixon the nose, but that still leaves a starting spot open.
If the season started today, 2011 undrafted free agent Cedric Thornton would probably get the nod. After spending his first year on the practice squad, Thornton did decently in his 400 snaps in 2012. Overall he had a -3.2 grade but that was principally due to indiscipline (-2.4 penalty grade) which will probably improve as he matures. Aside from him Philadelphia is trying to keep 2012 third-round pick Vinny Curry as a defensive end rather than perhaps his more natural position of outside linebacker. While the move may work out, it will likely require an adjustment period. Other than that, the Eagles traded for Clifton Geathers but he’s never shown much ability despite his massive size; he had a -7.3 grade in just 150 snaps for the Colts in 2012. The final member of the group is Ronnie Cameron, who’s yet to play an NFL snap.
Early Round Option: Star Lotulelei, Utah
Visions of Haloti Ngata float around when Lotulelei takes the field and he should provide the same kind of versatility as the Ravens’ defensive lineman. Lotulelei can line up at nose tackle or 3-4 defensive end and he represents the kind of defensive cornerstone the new Eagles staff will covet.
Mid/Late Round Option: Kapron Lewis-Moore, Notre Dame
Lewis-Moore was injured in the BCS Championship game and it’s unfortunate as he was headed toward sleeper status for the draft. He has experience playing defensive end in Notre Dame’s 3-4 and his 6-foot-4, 306 pound frame fits the bill. Injury concerns aside, Lewis-Moore looks like a great fit for any 3-4 team in the middle rounds.
As well as London Fletcher has played over the years, it seems like he’s on his last legs. The cupboard isn’t as bare as at right tackle, however, as the Redskins do at least have 2012 fourth-round pick Keenan Robinson behind him. Washington knew they needed some help at right tackle this offseason and so, with what little money they had, they added both Jeremy Trueblood and Tony Pashos. Incumbent Tyler Polumbus had a -24.0 grade in the regular season in 2012, leaving him the fourth-worst offensive tackle in the league. He was equally as bad in pass protection as he was in the run game and was only saved further embarrassment by conceding just a single penalty.
Trueblood, meanwhile, probably isn’t much of an upgrade. He failed to start for the Bucs last season and then suffered a season ending shoulder injury mid-way through the year. As a starter in 2012 he had a -20.9 grade on 962 snaps. Pashos performed well in the past but he’ll be 33 by the time the season begins and was waived by the Browns due to medical concerns with his ankle. With Trent Williams’ history of injury (2012 notwithstanding) the Skins need to add some young talent to the position.
Early Round Option: Menelik Watson, Florida State
Watson played right tackle at Florida State and his athleticism and ability to get out into space could be perfect for Washington’s zone-blocking system. Unfortunately for the Redskins, their lack of a first round pick would force them to trade up, perhaps into the top of the second round, in order to secure Watson’s rights.
Mid/Late Round Option: Jordan Mills, Louisiana Tech
If Watson is too difficult to obtain, Mills has the skill set to compete for the right tackle job. Though experience is not a prerequisite for this spot, Mills, like Watson, played there in college. His experience making plays in space in Louisiana Tech’s spread system should keep him on the Redskins’ radar with their middle round picks.