NFC East: NFC East weaknesses
There is a lot not to like about the Redskins' passing game right now. Jim Zorn may turn things around in this critical department and there is talent available to him, but it will not be easy. There were times last season when this offense was among the most inept in the NFL. Now the Skins will attempt to revitalize this unit with essentially the same cast of characters.
I like Jason Campbell. I really do. I think he has been given a raw deal at times as the Redskins have repeatedly switched up the offense, but he also is not a great fit for what Zorn wants to do. This is his second year in the system and improvement should come for the hard-working Campbell. But he is not a quick-hitting passer. He has a big arm and would be best suited as more of a traditional dropback passer who can scan the field and let it rip deep on occasion while throwing his share of deep outs and comebacks. Instead, he is asked to process quickly and put the ball accurately in tight spots on short throws. That isn't what he does best. In fact, I see Campbell having a good career -- once he leaves Washington.
Plus, Campbell needs to make this his offense. He didn't throw many interceptions last season, but he was safe in his decision-making almost to a fault. And, in case you didn't hear, Washington made it rather clear this offseason that it wouldn't mind an upgrade at this position.
How will Campbell respond? Despite throwing the ball 91 times over the final three games of the season while Washington was in the hunt for a playoff spot, Campbell accumulated just 467 yards passing for a measly 5.1 yards per attempt. He isn't exactly building off of late-season momentum.
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|The Redskins need second-year wide receiver Devin Thomas to step up his production.|
To incorporate this offense, it is best to have bigger, stronger wide receivers who can shield defensive backs from the ball in tight quarters and then make something after the catch -- often against linebackers who are looking to take them out. Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El do not fit that bill. Both have useful skill sets -- but not so much in this attack. That is why bigger guys like Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas were selected high in last year's draft. However, Washington has gotten nothing from these two youngsters. Obviously that needs to change.
Thomas is the one I am excited about. Remember, he started just one season at Michigan State and entered the draft as a junior. It shouldn't be a shock that his rookie season in the NFL was more or less a redshirt year. But, he is strong, fast and is very good with the ball in his hands after the catch. If he gets up to speed -- which I realize might be asking a lot considering last year's production -- he could be in for a strong second season.
As a pass-catcher, it is difficult to argue with Chris Cooley. The guy is reliable and does a lot of things well. Another high pick from last year's draft, Fred Davis, could learn a lot from Cooley, but to this point, it hasn't translated to on-field production. Perhaps it will this year. Perhaps not. But adding another big pass-catcher like Davis with after-the-catch abilities sure would help.
The offensive line is a mediocre pass-blocking unit when healthy, but also short on depth and possibilities for the future. Right tackle is especially troubling. Jon Jansen is gone and that leaves Stephon Heyer and Jeremy Bridges to battle it out for that starting spot. First-round flop Mike Williams might take the world by storm and grab the job, but counting on that is foolhardy. By the way, have you noticed what sort of edge-rushers reside on the other three teams in the NFC East? OK, just checking.
The Redskins ran Clinton Portis into the ground last season. Portis was unable to eclipse a paltry 3.2 yards per carry in any of Washington's last five contests. The Redskins won just one of those games and scored only 10 points in that victory. As Portis became less effective late in the year due to wear and tear, the offense fell apart. In turn, Washington didn't find another back to help with Portis' load and didn't seek out any help for its passing game. There are some young players here who could develop and this is a critical second season in this system, but the Redskins made a mistake by not upgrading what they had.Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
Of the 32 articles I did about each team's biggest weakness, this one was the last I wrote. I just couldn't really come up with much. That doesn't mean the Eagles are far and away the top team in the league right now, but they are the team with fewest holes.
However, adding an established wideout such as Anquan Boldin or another star of a similar pedigree would have made an excellent team even better.
Obviously, DeSean Jackson was a pleasant surprise in his rookie year, pretty much asserting himself as Donovan McNabb's go-to guy -- if this team has such a thing. He is a big play waiting to happen and is terrific with the ball in his hands, but he also isn't the most polished or mature player around. He is undersized and doesn't play big, and he managed only two touchdown grabs last year. Jackson isn't a big-time red zone threat and probably will never be a No. 1 wideout in this league.
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|Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson was the No. 1 target for Donovan McNabb last season.|
Jeremy Maclin is a terrific prospect I am very high on. Sooner rather than later, he should become Philadelphia's best wideout. But my problem here is that he is somewhat similar to Jackson and Curtis in that he isn't a real developed route-runner and does most of his best work after the catch. Maclin is well built, though, and will go over the middle, showing the toughness you like to see. He will be fine, but having the top three wideouts with mostly the same strengths and weaknesses is a curious approach. That being said, passing on Maclin on draft day would have been foolish.
Hank Baskett, Reggie Brown and Jason Avant are dissimilar to the three mentioned above, but putting them on the field over one of the more explosive guys doesn't make a ton of sense either. Of the three, I prefer Avant due to his sticky hands and overall reliability, but how much action will any of the three get?
The Eagles are strong. The offensive line should be improved and their running back depth is excellent -- assuming Brian Westbrook comes back to full strength. The Eagles' wide receiver position is also improved from a year ago, when the Eagles made it to the NFC Championship Game. But to me, adding an established player like Boldin would have been the best approach for a team this close.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
There was much speculation that the Giants would add Braylon Edwards in the offseason, but that never materialized. Instead, they used their late first-round selection on North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks. Nicks is fairly refined for a rookie and the Tar Heels used a lot of NFL principles in their offense, but he is still a rookie and an adjustment period is a given. Nicks is an intriguing option, and there are other young wideouts on this squad who also have a lot of upside.
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|The Giants' offense faltered down the stretch last season without Plaxico Burress in the lineup.|
Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith don't have as high of a ceiling as Nicks, but both, especially Smith, are steady players. Smith should be a fine No. 2 wideout or slot guy for the foreseeable future, but he and Hixon would be far more effective with a true difference-maker on the opposite side. Hixon did lead the team in receiving last year and has some big-play abilities.
Two wild cards are Mario Manningham and Sinorice Moss. Neither is particularly big, but they can get deep. Manningham in particular could take a big step forward this year, while Moss needs to step up to see the field.
The Giants also used a third-round selection on Ramses Barden. His stature is extremely impressive, but he looked overwhelmed at the Senior Bowl and I expect that to be the case in Year One for someone trying to make the transition from a tiny school like Cal Poly. He is a long-term project.
Overall, this is a very good team. Even with Steve Spagnuolo now in St. Louis, I expect the defense to be much improved -- which is really saying something. The running game should once again be among the top few in the league. Manning did a better job of valuing the football last year and that improvement needs to continue. He also needs to be more confident in spreading the ball around -- he clearly missed his safety blanket when Burress was out. A wideout or two could step up as well. Even without a true No. 1 option at that position, the Giants should win plenty of 13-9, grind-it-out games. It would just be much easier with someone of Burress' or Edwards' caliber in the mix.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
I commend the Cowboys for acquiring Jon Kitna. Heaven knows that backup quarterback was a gaping hole in their roster in 2008 -- and it cost them games after Tony Romo was hurt. Also, trading Henry for Kitna should be considered fair market value. But wouldn't it have made more sense to send draft picks to the winless Lions for Kitna instead of one of their only proven cornerbacks? Instead, the Cowboys used second-day pick after second-day pick on players whom they may not even have room for on their already impressive roster. That is bad business, and they could use Henry right about now.
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|Dallas' Terence Newman will have to improve from 2008 to make up for the Cowboys weakness at cornerback.|
Newman didn't have his best season in 2008, but he's still considered an upper-tier player at his position. But his performance last year is worrisome and should not be ignored. He appeared in only 10 games and is now 30, so we already may have seen the peak of Newman's career.
Jenkins and Scandrick both have ability and speed. Jenkins is bigger and more physical and probably the more impressive overall specimen, but it can be argued that he was outplayed last season by Scandrick. Needless to say, both young men need to take substantial steps forward in year two.
In this past draft, Dallas used a pair of late picks on cornerbacks from the University of Cincinnati, DeAngelo Smith and Mike Mickens. However, Smith may be best suited to play free safety and Mickens is not a sure bet to be healthy in time to contribute this season, which is why this once-touted prospect fell to round seven. Those two are long shots to improve this ailing situation immediately.
The safety situation is more stable than at corner, but it is far from a star-studded group and questions abound there as well.
Also gone is Greg Ellis. Dallas led the league in sacks last season by a substantial margin and will get after the quarterback well once again led by DeMarcus Ware, but losing a proven edge player like Ellis does bear noting. Though the Cowboys got to opposing quarterbacks a whopping 59 times last year, they only intercepted eight passes. Only Denver and Detroit had fewer picks. That falls on the defensive backs, as clearly the pass-rushers were doing their job to create big plays.Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.