2017 NFL Divisional Draft Needs – NFC East
Dom Murtha breaks down the draft needs of each NFC East team, pick-by-pick, and then considers what each team's biggest fantasy rookie ringer could be in 2017
With nearly all four teams finishing above .500 last season, there is no doubt that the NFC East was the gauntlet of the NFL in 2017. This came as a surprise, believe it or not, as just one year prior the division was being mocked as the NFC “Least” by pundits and football fans alike. With such an incredible turnaround, many are questioning what led to this meteoric divisional rise.
While a team like the Giants made most of their big improvements through an incredibly expensive free agency period, I would contend that the rest of the division’s improvements came from an excellent collective draft class; hell, even the Giants did a great job in that department too, now that I think about. To the NFC East alone, potential stars and already impact players such as Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, Sterling Shepard, Eli Apple, Paul Perkins, Carson Wentz, and Su’a Cravens were added. Looking to maintain the high bar that was set last season, this division is looking for another stacked draft class in 2017. Below are the draft needs and potential fits for the Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, and Redskins – the NFC East.
2016 Record: 13-3
2017 Draft Picks: 28, 60, 92, 133, 211, 228, 246
For a team that won an incredible 13 games just a season ago, the Cowboys sure do have a lot of needs. The main reason for this is because of what now can only be described as an exodus of talent during this past free agency period. In total, they lost an entire secondary (two starting corners and two starting safeties) three defensive lineman, a starting guard, and a starting right tackle (retirement). Considering all of this, there is no doubt that a lot of work has to be done, particularly in the draft, just as was the case last season. The 2016 class couldn’t have worked out much better for Dallas, as they hit on four immediate starters, so below I will look to try and make that happen again, all the while remaining realistic.
I have narrowed down their top needs to the following positions in descending order, ranked by importance:
| Edge, Cornerback, Safety, Offensive Tackle, Tight End |
In the first round Dallas can go in a variety of ways due to their aforementioned ample roster holes. In my most recent mock draft, I have them addressing the edge player issue – their most glaring need for the last three years – in the selection of T.J. Watt. As I explained in my mock draft, Watt offers Dallas everything they could want at 28th overall. He’s position versatile (base linebacker/edge rusher), had great production in 2016 with 11.5 sacks, is an athletic freak, and has an incredible motor. Other players in consideration at the position in the first round are Charles Harris out of Missouri – who I also outlined in my mock draft – and Takkarist McKinley out of UCLA. “Takk” as most call him, is another twitched up edge player who ran a blazing 4.59 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. He recorded 10 sacks for UCLA this past season, and frankly if it weren’t for his shoulder surgery this offseason that is going to keep him out for at least the next four months, I would be considering him as a top-10 player. I love his ability to capture the edge and bend around offensive tackles with his pure speed, while his ability to close down on backside run support is a trait that gives him a mature sense at the position.
Moving on to the second and third rounds, Dallas is going to likely play the board as it goes – most call this approach “BPA” or “best player available,” but they will use it through the lens of their needs in no particular order. The biggest hope for Cowboys fans is that Ashland tight end Adam Shaheen is available when they are picking at 60 because his massive build (6-foot-7, 280 lbs.) and impressive tape are enough to drool at despite him playing at such an obscure school. The belief in this selection would be that Shaheen could learn the nuances of the position from future hall of famer Jason Witten, and then eventually take over the starting tight end spot for the next decade as Dak Prescott’s favorite weapon.
Supposing he’s not available when the Cowboys are picking, I expect them to go with the best defensive back available. Considering the depth of this class, names like (CB) Adoree Jackson out of USC, (CB) Fabian Moreau out of UCLA, both Colorado corners Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon, (CB/S) Desmond King out of Iowa, (S) Josh Jones of N.C. State, and (S) Justin Evans of Texas A&M may all be available for the taking. In the third, offensive tackle would be the best option for Dallas, especially if they already have taken a defensive back and an edge player with their first two selections. Taylor Moton out of Western Michigan and Roderick Johnson of Florida State are actually my two favorite tackles in the whole draft, so getting them in the third would be excellent value.
As for the fourth through seventh rounds, you almost have to go for potential over need, as these picks rarely make an immediate impact (exclude: Dak Prescott). Luckily for Dallas though, I think they can fill both criteria with most of their day three picks. A cornerback like Jeremy Cutrer is a nice flyer pick in the sixth or seventh round, as is towering 6-foot-10 offensive tackle Dan Skipper out of Arkansas. In the fourth round, if available, a player who best fits what Dallas is trying to do is Daeshon Hall – bookend pass rusher opposite Myles Garrett at Texas A&M. Hall possesses a long frame and even longer arms, which gives him an excellent initial punch on bull rushes. Having said this, he also possesses the speed and bend needed to capture the edge against offensive tackles.
2016 Record: 7-9
2017 Draft Picks: 14, 43, 74, 119, 139, 155, 194, 230
Philly finished last in the NFC East in 2016, but a 7-9 record in the NFL is nothing to spit at, especially when you are starting a rookie quarterback. Looking to build off of that successful campaign, the Eagles plan on following the generations old adage about building around a young quarterback once you find one that you believe in. While working on the offense is critical to insuring Carson Wentz’ growth, it’s just not as simple as plugging in linemen and skill players with your draft picks, provided the ultimate goal is to put together a complete and winning football team. The Eagles enter the post-free agency chapter of the offseason with still ample glaring holes on both sides of the ball, including having no returning starting cornerbacks and having a gaping defensive end hole after the departure of starting end Connor Barwin.
Below I have narrowed down their top needs to the following positions, in descending order, and ranked by importance:
| Cornerback, Defensive End, Running Back, Wide Receiver |
While I have made it pretty clear that the Eagles biggest need is at cornerback, I still believe that their best chance at quickly improving is by adding a game-changing weapon to their offense. Because of this, I mocked them running back Dalvin Cook out of Florida State in my most recent mock draft. Luckily, the nature of this deep cornerback class allows the Eagles to go all in on a value pick like this, as I could see a world in which Cook brings the type of franchise altering impact that Ezekiel Elliott did to Dallas last season.
Having said this, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next two of Philly’s picks were used in the secondary. Corners that I like for the Eagles at both 43rd and 74th overall include Teez Tabor out of Florida, who possesses first round ability and third round combine numbers, Cordrea Tankersley out of Clemson, who has all of the talent, toughness, and press man cover ability in the world, but looks lost in space, and Sidney Jones out of Washington, who would be locked into the top-15 if he hadn’t torn his achilles during his pro day workout.
The day three selections for Philly give them the opportunity to add some much needed depth all over. In the fourth and fifth rounds it would be best if they addressed their final two needs – defensive end and wide receiver – however overall depth picks and BPA should be taken into consideration as well. Ends that fit the bill early on in day three include Tashawn Bower out of LSU, Deatrich Wise out of Arkansas, and freakish athlete Tanoh Kpassagnon (6-foot-7, 289 lbs.) out of Villanova, who conveniently wouldn’t have to travel very far to play for the Eagles. I particularly like Kpassagnon for Philly in the fourth because of his versatility and seemingly endless potential. He’s incredibly long, strong, and athletic; he’s drawing Jason Pierre-Paul comps for his future and at worst can bring immediate special teams contributions to this team.
With defensive end taken care of there, I would like to see the Eagles go after a wideout towards the end of the draft. A speedster like K.D. Cannon (4.41 40-yard dash) out of Baylor would be a perfect fit to develop into a vertical weapon for Carson Wentz if newly signed Torrey Smith doesn’t work out, while Malachi Dupree out of LSU – former number one WR recruit in the country – is a player oozing with talent who saw his stock dip dramatically because of awful quarterback play throughout his collegiate career. If Philly gets any combination of these players or even positions, I would be completely fine if they address further their defensive back and offensive line depth in the remaining rounds, while looking to add another linebacker would be acceptable as well. Just to throw one more name out there at you, Lindenwood – yes, little old Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri – linebacker Connor Harris is a guy who may fly under the radar into day three. Despite being undersized and playing at a small school, this guy jumps off the tape. He posted some pretty good combine numbers and has a reputation of smacking the crap out of opponents. If he ends up being too slight for the NFL linebacker position, he certainly has a future on special teams at the very least.
New York Giants
2016 Record: 11-5
2017 Draft Picks: 23, 55, 87, 140, 167, 207, 241
Despite finishing 11-5 last season, the Giants have some serious issues throughout their roster. They basically got by with unconscious play from their high-priced defense and one-to-two game breaking plays per game from Odell Beckham Jr. While impressive is an understatement for their 2016 accomplishments considering what they were working with, you can’t with a straight face argue that this is a repeatable recipe for success going forward. Serious changes are needed throughout this Giants roster…
Below I have narrowed down their top needs to the following positions, in descending order, and ranked by importance:
| Offensive Tackle, Linebacker, Tight End, Quarterback, Running Back, Defensive End |
In my most recent mock draft, I have the Giants acknowledging their biggest need and addressing it immediately. Look, I know this class isn’t stacked with future hall of fame offensive tackles, but there are some guys at the position in this class who can come in and contribute right out of training camp. I believe that Garrett Bolles is one of those guys, and despite his lack of functional strength and already advanced age (turns 25 prior to OTA’s) I think he is good enough right now to bump Erick Flowers over to right tackle. Getting an above replacement level left tackle could transform the way this offense runs going forward. Other positions considered in the first round include tight end – if the Giants didn’t like any of the tackle talent and one of the top two (Howard or Njoku) were still there at 23 – and linebacker – if either Zach Cunningham or Reuben Foster were still available.
In the second or third rounds, I would like to see the Giants make a push for the tight end that they skipped in the first round. My favorite fit for them is either Adam Shaheen out of Ashland, who I mentioned earlier for the Cowboys, or Gerald Everett out of South Alabama. Everett posted combine numbers that would pigeon hole him as a “matchup” or “move” tight end who could only be truly utilized as a receiver in the slot or as an H-back, however on tape the 6-foot-3, 240 lbs. tight end actually showed a flair for run blocking that was quite refreshing for today’s mold of the position. I believe that despite his small school and low level of competition, Everett would join the Giants as their best tight end from day one.
If the Giants went tight end in the second, their third and fourth round selections would be best served upgrading the running back and backup quarterback positions. To get the QB out of the way, my third favorite signal caller in the draft behind the clear-cut numbers one and two (Watson and Trubisky in no particular order) is Brad Kaaya out of Miami. Luckily for the Giants, according to many NFL Draft experts, Kaaya is going to be drafted behind about five or six other quarterbacks, so their chances of getting the Miami product are pretty good in the middle rounds. (for more on my QB rankings for 2017, click here)
As for the running back position, I would expect the Giants to look for a bigger bodied guy in the fourth, in hopes of complimenting incumbent Paul Perkins properly. My favorites that fit the mold and range include D’Onta Foreman out of Texas – who just ran for over 2,000 yards this past season – James Connor out of Pittsburgh – who was considered in the top-tier at the position before his cancer diagnosis two seasons ago – and Joe Mixon out of Oklahoma. Mixon is clearly the most intriguing because there are many scouts that have gone on record claiming that he is the best – yes, best – back in this draft in terms of pure on-field talent. The problem is and why he is potentially sliding all the way into the second or third day is because of his awful off-field incident. He was captured on video a couple of years ago during an act of domestic violence, and while he and the woman seemed to have moved on from it, there is no question that this is something that will still crush his draft stock. If the Giants do the extensive work that needs to be done on Mixon’s background and he checks out clear beyond this singular heinous offense, they might be able to steal a future pro bowler in the middle rounds of the draft.
Rounding out the Giants draft, they still need help on defense with their remaining picks. Players to keep an eye on: linebacker Blair Brown out of Ohio, defensive end Avery Moss out of Youngstown State, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin out of Tennessee, defensive end Brian Cox Jr. out of Florida, and again, linebacker Connor Harris out of Lindenwood.
2016 Record: 9-7
2017 Draft Picks: 17, 49, 81, 114, 124, 154, 201, 209, 220, 235
It was a promising year for Washington, despite failing to defend their NFC East crown, as the rest of the division caught up to them and then some in terms of talent, yet they still held their own. They will be looking to reclaim what they believe is theirs – the division title – headed into next season, but not without some serious holes to fill. One thing I can say is that their offense is largely set. I mean I know they can always improve in certain spots offensively, but who couldn’t use an extra lineman, backup running back, or developmental quarterback? Generally these are just luxuries that typically are fleshed out later in the draft, if at all. If I were drafting for Washington, I would potentially go defense with their first four selections and it shows in how I prioritized their draft needs below…
I have narrowed down their top needs to the following positions, in descending order, and ranked by importance:
| Defensive End, Nose Tackle, Inside Linebacker, Safety, Quarterback |
Talk about upgrading a spot of need in a hurry, I have the Redskins taking arguably a top-five talent in Michigan State’s Malik McDowell in my most recent mock draft. As I outlined in the mock, McDowell is a versatile, strong, and athletic defensive lineman. He’s very talented against both the run and the pass, while he can today slot into the starting lineup and make an impact. The only problem with him is his questionable motor and subsequent inconsistencies. Despite this, the Skins will be willing to look past his shortcomings, as his talent is one that they have been lacking along the defensive line for what seems like a decade.
In the second and third rounds, Washington can go in a variety of directions considering the incredible depth at the rest of their positions of need. Depending on who is still available, I like a handful of players for either pick 49 or 81. At linebacker, Jarrad Davis out of Florida will be in serious consideration if available still in the second round, while Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan would be a nice consolation prize in the third if Davis wasn’t there. At nose tackle, while one of the thinner positions depth wise, they should be able to still get a really good player, such as Alabama’s brick wall Dalvin Tomlinson or UCLA’s Eddie Vanderdoes, who would be my second choice. The most intriguing options for Washington in this range though I believe are at safety, as the talent is probably the deepest there. If they go the safety route, it would have to be a free safety, as they already have two strong safeties on the roster (D.J. Swearinger and Su’a Cravens) that both figure to start – one at SS and the other at some form of a roaming hybrid linebacker spot. Free safeties that fit the range and scheme include Utah’s Marcus Williams, Boston College’s John Johnson, and most intriguingly Iowa’s Desmond King. King is a former Jim Thorpe Award winner and consensus All-American… As a cornerback. Considering this, you can just imagine the ball skills that this guy possesses. The reason he’s being considered as a safety in the NFL is because his perceived lack of closing speed and because of his incredible tackling ability and toughness. He could come in and immediately serve as the Skins single high in three safety sub-packages, while he can also be used as an extra corner in off zone looks. Eventually he would be out there every down, but to know you can get guaranteed production from a player right out of the gates is usually good enough for the second/third rounds.
Beyond the third, a quarterback wouldn’t be the worst thing to think about, as it is no secret that Kirk Cousins is pretty upset about being franchise tagged for the second consecutive season. There are rumors a plentiful about him leaving for San Francisco next season in hopes of reuniting with his former QB guru Kyle Shanahan, so the Redskins would be wise to start planning for the future. My vote, again, would be to give Brad Kaaya a kick on the tires because I love his brain, arm, and mechanics. He’s got ample experience in a pro style offense, and he has produced efficiently over his three years in the system. Other quarterbacks to consider: Wildcard gunslinger (apparently literally) Chad Kelly, Pittsburgh’s Nathan Peterman, and Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans, who is built in the Tim Tebow mold.
Once these needs have been filled, the rest of the draft can be taken BPA. Potentially good fits for Washington wrapping up the draft include: Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware, Louisiana Tech safety Xavier Woods, USC nose tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, and Illinois defensive end Dawuane Smoot.
I am dedicating this section to not necessarily the likeliest of scenarios, however I plan on keeping it as realistic as possible. Essentially I want to give you an idea of what selection could end up being the most fantasy impactful for the 2017 season for each team in the division. It doesn’t have to be someone that I have discussed for the team above, but rather a realistic scenario in which the team picks a player who would be a fantasy ringer for 2017.
As I said, I plan on making this as realistic as possible, so I’m not going to say, “Dallas trades up and takes Leonard Fournette, switches to a wishbone offense, and both Fournette and Zeke rush for 1,500 yards and 15 TD’s.”
Now that you get the idea of what I won't do, here’s the most reasonable scenario…. If the Cowboys take any of the three tight ends – David Njoku, Adam Shahaeen, or Jake Butt – you can expect them to produce as quality red zone options with 45 catches, 400-plus yards, and five-touchdown upside in 2017.
My darkhorse pick for a fantasy impact performer out of Dallas though would be if they got a legit strong safety in the first two rounds. If someone like Budda Baker or Jabril Peppers ended up in Dallas, they could potentially end up being IDP monsters just as Barry Church was for the last half decade in Rod Marinelli’s defense.
I have far less pontificating to do for Philly because their biggest potential fantasy impact performer is already laid out in my above analysis. Dalvin Cook could be franchise altering if taken by them in the first round. The same goes for any of the top three backs, but in Cook I think he can get most of it done by himself, while Fournette will need a better offensive line and McCaffrey will need a highly intelligent offensive coordinator.
New York Giants
As I said in my analysis of the Giants draft, if they pulled the trigger on Joe Mixon in the middle rounds, they could be getting their hands on arguably the most skilled and versatile back in the draft class. Adding a talent like that to a Giants offense that already has a handful of dynamic playmakers could completely change their offensive identity. Mixon would have rookie of the year potential in this offense.
The Redskins potential fantasy ringer is far less exciting than the rest of the teams in the division, but that is because they don’t have nearly as many offensive holes. Their best chance at having an impact fantasy rookie next season likely comes from the defensive side of the ball. Someone like Jabrill Peppers the playmaker, Jarrad Davis the rangy linebacker and sideline-to-sideline tackler, or Desmond King the ball hawk would all make at least IDP starters in most fantasy leagues.