NFC East: 2011 NFC East Soon to be Stars

Soon to be stars: Adam Carriker

March, 11, 2011
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Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson looks at NFC East players on the verge of a breakout in 2011.

I have to be honest. I am reaching here. But I did like what Adam Carriker did in his first season in Washington, and its 3-4 scheme fits this former first-round pick’s talents quite well. He is what you look for in a defensive end in such a scheme, and he could take yet another positive step forward in 2011.

He finally looks to be over his injury problems and is in a good system for him to thrive. Carriker has great length and has filled out, giving him the ideal body type for a 5-technique end in Washington’s scheme. We haven’t seen much of it yet, but there is upside here as a pass-rusher. Perhaps he enhances that part of his game next season. He is a very sound run-defender who uses his hands well and is stout at the point. He sheds with authority and runs well enough to make plays in pursuit.

Again, there are not many players on the Redskins’ roster whom I even considered to be on the verge of stardom. Offensive tackle Trent Williams showed flashes at a very difficult position and could become more consistent in his sophomore season. Tight end Fred Davis or receiver Anthony Armstrong could see more of an opportunity to show what they can do.

But my bet is on Carriker. The Redskins were among the worst run defenses in football last season, and much of it had to do with their defensive line, but Carriker wasn’t to blame. For the Redskins’ sake, let’s hope he can stay healthy.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Soon to be stars: LeSean McCoy

March, 9, 2011
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Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson looks at NFC East players on the verge of a breakout in 2011.

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy took tremendous steps from his rookie season to his second year. In fact, he might already be a star. But now, I expect him to take yet another monumental step forward and take his place among the best running backs in the game today. He has that kind of ability and is in an excellent situation to reach his vast potential.

Early in his career, McCoy used his extreme elusiveness to try to break long runs on every carry. But in his second season, McCoy learned the NFL game. He learned that there might not be a big play in the cards on every touch. Instead, he used his underrated and developing power and excellent leverage to get what was there and to live to fight another day. In this league, second-and-8 isn’t the end of the world, but second-and-12 is awfully tough to overcome.

It didn’t get discussed a lot, but the Eagles’ run blocking was quite good in 2010, and having Michael Vick in the backfield with him was extremely beneficial for McCoy as well. But McCoy took advantage of the situation and played at a Pro Bowl level, adding over a yard per carry to his rushing average.

I expect that development to continue as this young man matures, gets stronger and further enhances his skills in the passing game -- which could be extensive with more work. Don’t forget, he is only 22 years old. McCoy’s route running, ball skills and especially his pass protection all took major leaps forward last season, and he caught 38 more passes than he did as a rookie. Next year, with just a little more development in all areas, few running backs will be on par with McCoy.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Soon to be stars: Jason Pierre-Paul

March, 8, 2011
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Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson looks at NFC East players on the verge of a breakout in 2011.

Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka is coming off a neck injury and is a free agent. Re-signing him probably will not be a huge priority for the Giants. That is because they have Jason Pierre-Paul. And last year’s first-round draft pick needs to get on the field with more regularity.

The most important things to stress with Pierre-Paul right now are that he is only 21 years old and he might have more innate ability than any defensive end in football. He is just dripping with amazing talent. And he is in an excellent situation to fulfill that infinite potential.

Even without Kiwanuka, the Giants won’t be forced to put this young player on the field more than he is ready for. As they did so adeptly during his rookie season, the Giants will bring along Pierre-Paul slowly. But given what he showed during his rookie season, it might become very difficult to resist the temptation of playing him a lot.

Pierre-Paul might be ready to handle all the responsibilities that come with heavy playing time. He will be a work-in-progress in terms of reading run-blocking combinations and how to best set up his opponent with pass-rush moves. But he just makes a ton of plays. Game-day repetitions should bring the best out of this amazing specimen.

Although he was mostly used on throwing downs, Pierre-Paul’s run defense was not a liability in 2010, but there is room for improvement there -- especially as an early-down player in the physical NFC East. Rushing the passer comes very naturally to Pierre-Paul. And it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he is considered among the best dozen or so pass-rushers in the NFL by this time next year. Last year, the Giants’ defensive line was among the best pass-rushing fronts in the league. This year, it could be significantly better -- mostly because of Pierre-Paul’s maturation.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Soon to be stars: Sean Lee

March, 7, 2011
3/07/11
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Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson looks at NFC East players on the verge of a breakout in 2011.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant is the obvious choice here on the Dallas Cowboys -- and I very much believe that Bryant is going to be a star. And besides Bryant, I also strongly considered focusing on defensive end Stephen Bowen.

But Sean Lee was excellent in his limited snaps as a rookie and could be the energetic and versatile interior linebacker that new Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan can lean on as the quarterback of his defense for the foreseeable future. When Ryan gets settled in and reviews all the defensive tape from 2010, Lee is sure to intrigue him.

As a rookie, Lee didn’t play many snaps overall and didn’t record his first NFL tackle until Week 5. But for a rookie, Lee’s tape is very impressive. He is a good-sized linebacker (6-foot-2, 242 pounds) who will continue to add bulk, strength and weight to better take on offensive linemen.

Lee already is an exceptional player in the run game. He sees the action clearly and is very quick to react without taking many false steps. Lee’s pursuit skills are strong and he is an above average athlete for a 3-4 inside linebacker. He is a great form tackler who plays the game very well with his eyes.

Lee also has the fluid hips and range to excel as either a zone or man-to-man defender against some tight ends and running backs. But at this point, his skills in the passing game do not equal his run-stopping prowess. Still, as rookie linebackers go, his coverage skills are well ahead of the curve. He could stand to work on his pass rushing, and Ryan is sure to use him frequently as a blitzer.

At this point, Lee’s path to playing time isn’t real clear, but I don’t think it will take long before he proves to be the best inside linebacker on the Dallas roster. The Cowboys look to be very strong at linebacker overall.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

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