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NFC East Draft Picks Spell Trouble For Dallas

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Eagles OT Lane Johnson prevails among NFC East draft picks who spell trouble for Dallas. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.
Eagles OT Lane Johnson prevails among NFC East draft picks who spell trouble for Dallas. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

The bell has rung, the participants have left the building and draft report cards for the NFL are being shelled out faster than head-trauma lawsuit motions against it.

As many writers have pointed out, it’s presumptuous to evaluate a draft class immediately after the draft — at least beyond assessing the basic logic of picks. It takes time for players to develop, learn the scheme and improve statistically.

That said, the Cowboys (being the Cowboys) generated plenty of fodder for debate with their early-round selections. But let’s change gears. How did the Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants fare in the 2013 draft, and how might their proceedings over the past weekend affect the balance of power in the NFC East? For the sake of concision, we’ll focus on the top picks for each team.

Washington

Unlike Dallas, the Redskins heeded the media clamor and bolstered their secondary immediately. The second-round selection of CB David Amerson out of N.C. State and fourth-round nabbing of S Phillip Thomas from Fresno State gives Washington the NCAA leaders in interceptions for the last two seasons. A scouting report on TE Jordan Reed from Florida, a third-rounder, likens him to New England’s Aaron Hernandez: a fast, shifty tight end with excellent hands that’s stout enough at 245 pounds to play between the numbers.

Even with the addition of E.J. Biggers to the secondary, expect both rookies to compete and contribute. Same with Reed, as starting tight end Fred Davis is coming off a torn Achilles.

Translation? The Redskins have another playmaking receiver who can test the fledgling cover skills of the Cowboys’ outside linebackers — offhand, Bruce Carter’s name comes to mind. Offensively, Dallas looks equally committed to the pass after the draft; Washington has, on paper, another corner fast enough to cover Miles Austin or Dwayne Harris. The acquisition of Thomas, a natural ball magnet and a steal at 119th overall, seemingly puts a premium on screens, slants and quick outs — routes that give the Cowboys’ receivers space to run and use their strength advantage to move the chains.

Philadelphia

Chip Kelly added some valuable discs and cogs to his run-and-gun offensive machine. No. 4 overall pick Lane Johnson out of Oklahoma is billed as an exceptionally athletic blocker — with a 4.65 40-yard dash time — both at the line and downfield. He’ll be an asset to a unit that surrendered 48 sacks last year, and a tough match for DE Anthony Spencer, a strength pass rusher.

The skinny on TE Zach Ertz from Stanford labels him a precise route-runner with deceptive speed and excellent hands — all conducive to Kelly’s system. DT Bennie Logan from LSU can be an immediate contributor to a pitiful run defense and, of course, we can’t rule out the possibility of seeing Matt Barkley USC under center sometime this year.

With Brent Celek back to complement Ertz, the offensive line getting healthy again while encompassing Johnson and Jeremy Maclin returning from injury, the Eagles offense looks dynamite again — especially if Michael Vick controls his turnovers. Consequently, Vick is still the key to Dallas thwarting Philly’s attack. It’s a top-to-bottom process: safeties can’t bite every time he rolls out of the pocket and linebackers can’t abandon their zones when he drops back. For the big men, it means shutting down LeSean McCoy early and with authority. Force Vick to carry the weight of the outcome on his shoulders, to make throws on the run and to pass in the red zone — that’s where he tends to slip.

New York

Despite ignoring what many considered to be glaring defensive concerns, the Giants’ 2013 draft displayed insight, if not glamor, according to a pool of informed opinions. First-round pick Justin Pugh from Syracuse is widely heralded as a versatile lineman who can rotate between guard and tackle. Second-rounder Johnathan Hankins out of Ohio State has been acutely praised for his run-stopping skills. And third-rounder Damontre Moore’s scouting report ascribes him the length, upper body strength and instinctive quickness to function as a defensive end or outside linebacker.

The Giants’ defense needs tweaking after 2012 — the unit finished 28th and 25th in passing yards and rushing yards allowed per game, respectively — but passed on opportunities to trade up for a marquee cornerback or safety. Ultimately, they drafted more offensive players than defensive. Hankins should be a nice boost in the immediate future, but Moore’s short-term impact hinges on his placement in the scheme — New York really needs an outside linebacker. The other notable pick, QB Ryan Nassib from Syracuse, is as surprising as it is meaningless for the next couple seasons barring injury to Eli Manning.

This class shouldn’t have much impact on the Cowboys’ game plans — it’s built for the future. And when you have two Super Bowl rings in five years, that’s an acceptable approach.