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Division Links: Talk about the State of the NFCE, Deshaun Watson, DLs and injuries

Blogging the Boys

State of the NFC East: A look at the 2021 New York Giants

Are the Giants ready to take the next step?

When thinking of the offseason, Iannaconi had this to say:

The single most positive development for this team over the offseason was the receiving class. Last season, the Giants’ receiving corps, for better or worse, was known mostly for Evan Engram’s drops. They lacked explosive and consistent playmakers. This offseason though, New York made a conscious effort to improve its receiving room. The Giants signed Kenny Golladay in free agency and added veterans Kyle Rudolph and John Ross before selecting wideout Kadarius Toney in the 2021 NFL Draft. After finishing dead last in the league last year in average yards after the catch per reception, New York is well-positioned for improvement next season.

But the offseason wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, according to Iannaconi:

I think the lack of development at one position group is cause for significant concern: offensive line. Over the past two years, New York’s offensive line combined to produce the fifth-worst overall grade in the league. This trend looks like it will continue as the Giants have many question marks on the offensive line. Former first-round pick Andrew Thomas was just ok in his rookie season, Nick Gates is inexperienced at center and guard remains a toss up between Will Hernandez, Shane Lemieux and Zach Fulton. Daniel Jones may have more weapons to throw to but it remains to be seen how much that will help if there is little protection up front.

The next step is winning the division, or at least making the playoffs, a goal that Iannaconi thinks is very much doable:

The expectations for this Giants team are to finish above .500 which means they should conclude the 2021 season with at least a 9-8 record. According to NFL.com, New York has the eighth-easiest schedule based on the 2020 records of the Giants’ opponents which is 128-142-2. The Giants have not finished with a record above .500 since 2016 but a combination of opponents and an improved roster should result in a winning record. Pushing for a wild card berth is the ultimate goal (and it is plausible), but getting back on the winning path is the No.1 priority.


Blogging the Boys

State of the NFC East: A look at the 2021 Philadelphia Eagles

Are the Eagles in tank mode?

Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation joined me to offer some insight on the Eagles’ offseason after such a rough transition, and the first thing he pointed me to was his article from earlier this month where he touched on the Roseman issue:

Barring some unequivocal disaster where the Eagles become the first team in NFL history to go 0-17, it doesn’t seem like Roseman is in any jeopardy of losing his job. Jeffrey Lurie already set the stage for lowered expectations by saying the Eagles are in a “real transition period” that is “not unlike 2016.” A key difference from 2016, however, was that Roseman was returning to power to fix the mess that Chip Kelly created.

This time, Roseman is being tasked with coming up with solutions to self-created problems. And it’s natural to think if he actually had the right answers, the Eagles wouldn’t be in the poor shape they currently find themselves in.

But having that extra pick next year is really [huge]. The Eagles might have three first-round selections between their own pick, the Indianapolis Colts’ pick (if Carson Wentz trade conditions are met), and the Dolphins’ pick. Having that ammo could allow them to pivot to a new quarterback (Deshaun Watson? Russell Wilson) if Jalen Hurts struggles. Or, if Hurts excels, they’ll have prime picks to help build a strong foundation around him.

It’s easy to be excited about Smith as he’s the first wide receiver to win the Heisman in nearly three decades, and Smith was nearly unstoppable at Alabama. Gowton loves him so much that he even defaulted to him when talking about breakout player candidates:

Did I mention I like DeVonta Smith? I guess it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Heisman Trophy winner and No. 10 overall pick excel in the NFL. But he legitimately has a chance to be the best rookie wide receiver in Eagles history. And their first 1,000 yard receiver since 2014.

As for more under-the-radar options … I’m not especially bullish on anyone. Maybe Jalen Reagor takes a step after disappointing as a rookie but I’ll believe when I see it.

As Gowton pointed out, Hurts’ small sample size in 2020 didn’t offer much to feel confident about in that regard, but it’s also far too early to be solidifying any opinions.

It’s not like Hurts, who turns 23 in August, can’t improve. But is he realistically going to go from being one of the league’s worst starters to one of the very best? That seems like a gap too far to bridge for me. And while his running ability is certainly a nice weapon in his arsenal, he’s ultimately going to have to improve from the pocket for the Eagles to have meaningful success.


Bleeding Green Nation

Howard Eskin believes there’s a 90% chance Deshaun Watson will be traded to the Eagles

We have another new entry to the “Deshaun Watson being connected to the Philadelphia Eagles” timeline this week. Here’s the latest from Howard Eskin (who also recently reported Zach Ertz is reporting to training camp) in a conversation with Joe DeCamara and Jon Ritchie on the SportsRadio 94WIP Midday Show.

But the Eagles have the three first-round picks, and that’s what they’re gonna have, and this is the prediction I’m going to make: based on the information that I got, when — and I’ll say WHEN — he is traded, I think there is a 90% chance that he will be with the Philadelphia Eagles. And just based on all the information that I’ve gotten, that’s what I’ve come down to.

Given how much we’ve written about Watson to this point, there isn’t even much new to say about the merits of this possibility. But this update still feels worth highlighting and documenting. It’s not nothing that the Eagles’ official radio sideline reporter is confidently saying there’s a “90% chance” Watson is going to end up in Philly. Especially when you consider this pre-existing timeline of rumors:

March 17 (CBS Sports) “Do not discount the Philadelphia Eagles as a strong suitor for Deshaun Watson. Too many sources with ties to ownership have whispered that sentiment my way for me to ignore.”

March 19 (Inquirer)“Howie will give up everything he has for Watson,” an NFL source familiar with the Eagles’ thinking said.

March 22 (Houston Chronicle)The Eagles are among teams that remain interested in Watson despite uncertainty moving forward.

April 6 (Houston Chronicle) — “Several NFL teams, including the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins, are monitoring the latest Watson legal developments, which have complicated any efforts to trade for him.”

April 9 (Pro Football Talk) — “ As one league source explains it, the Eagles are sufficiently determined to upgrade the team that they would pursue Watson, if the window opens for doing so.”

April 14 (Sports Illustrated) — “The Philadelphia Eagles are trying to find a direction. So are the Houston Texans. And according to an NFL source, despite their various issues, the two teams could still get together on a Deshaun Watson trade. this we know: The Philadelphia Eagles’ interest in trading for Deshaun Watson remains in play.”

May 10 (Peter King) — “Eagles are in perfect position to deal with three first-round picks (if Carson Wentz plays three-quarters of the Indy season). ”

May 12 (Pro Football Talk)“Peter King offered up some rough odds in his latest Football Morning in America column. And it’s clear that he’s been hearing the same things we’ve been hearing: Watch the Eagles. [...] Watson will become available — and the Dolphins and Eagles likely will be the two teams at the front of the line, in our view.”

May 14 (Dianna Russini) - “ I’ve heard, and even just continually talking with them, that [a Watson trade] is still on the table. And even though he has to deal with those lawsuits, I think that’s going to go away. And I think this is going to come back to light this summer, guys. And I think the Eagles could be a team in on it.

July 14 (Adam Schefter) - “The Eagles are more equipped to make a run at Deshaun Watson than any team out there.”


Big Blue View

Saquon Barkley among 6 Giants who will start season on PUP list

Matt Peart, Oshane Ximines among others

Saquon Barkley, coming back from a torn ACL that forced him to miss 14 games last season, will begin training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. The New York Giants announced Thursday that Barkley is one of six players who will begin training camp on PUP.

[Note from BiB: Don’t forget that WFT plays the Giants in Week 2; there’s a real chance that Barkley may not be active for that game.]

In addition to Barkley, center Jonotthan Harrison (hamstring), tackle Matt Peart (back), tight end Kyle Rudolph (foot), linebacker Oshane Ximines (hamstring) and rookie cornerback Aaron Robinson (core muscle), the team’s third-round draft choice, will begin on PUP.

Players on the Active/PUP list can be activated at any time during training camp. If they are still on the list at the final roster cutdown to 53, they must either be activated or moved to the Reserve/PUP list. Players on the Reserve/PUP list must be inactive for the first six weeks.


Big Blue View

Ranking the defensive lines of each NFC East team

Which team’s defensive line should be feared the most next season?

2. Philadelphia Eagles

Defensive line: Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Javon Hargrave, Ryan Kerrigan, Josh Sweat, Hassan Ridgeway, Milton Williams

The Giants and Cowboys’ defensive lines were ranked 18 and higher by PFF while the next two NFC East teams both fall within the top five rankings. The Philadelphia Eagles received a No. 5 overall ranking.

The Eagles’ defensive line is led by six-time Pro Bowler Fletcher Cox. He might be 30 years old, but Cox has shown no signs of slowing down as he has been named to the Pro Bowl in six straight seasons.

Cox has been the mainstay on the Eagles’ defensive line alongside Brandon Graham on the edge for the past decade. Together, they have helped turn Philly’s defensive line into one of the NFL’s best at generating pressure without blitzing. In 2020, the Eagles were one of just two teams with a pressure rate above 40 percent without the help of the blitz, per PFF.

In addition to Cox, Javon Hargrave adds more depth on interior. He got off to a slow start with the Eagles in his first season with the team last year, but began to show more potential down the stretch. On the edge, Derek Barnett is a projected starter alongside Graham and Ryan Kerrigan (formerly of the Washington Football Team) and Josh Sweat will provide additional depth.

The Eagles also have a new defensive coordinator in Jonathan Gannon, who spent the past three seasons as the cornerbacks coach of the Indianapolis Colts. The 2021 season will be his first in the coordinator role and he already has a strong rotation of players to work with.

1. Washington Football Team

Defensive line: Chase Young, Da’Ron Payne, Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat, Matt Ioannidis

While Philly is amongst the top defensive lines in the league, the Washington Football Team has the potential to be the best.

Unlike the Cowboys, who kicked off our defensive line analysis as the worst in the division, Washington has focused heavily on this position group. The Football Team has invested four consecutive first-round picks into this unit. Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen will anchor the middle of the line while 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young and Montez Sweat will continue to bring pressure on the edge. Last season, Young recorded 7.5 sacks, 12 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles.

Young’s heroics likely overshadowed Allen’s progression. Allen’s 17.1 percent pass-rush win rate was a top-10 mark among all interior defenders, according to PFF. Matt Ionnidis will be an additional pass rushing threat on the inside. Washington released Ryan Kerrigan after his 10-year run with the team, but the move made sense considering the strong reinforcement the team has in edge rushers Young and Sweat.

This group, which already looked strong in 2020, is poised to carry that same momentum into this upcoming season.