2020 Virtual NFL Draft Preview: NFC East

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Dallas Cowboys

Edward Bass, Matthew Frankle, Aaron Silverstein, and Eric Fishbin

The first round of the 2020 NFL Draft is set to take place virtually, with general managers and Commissioner Roger Goodell operating from their own homes, at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 23. It will be broadcast on ABC, ESPN and NFL Network, among other online streaming platforms. From across the nation and from their respective quarantines, Colgate Maroon-News sports writers put together a guide for each of the 32 teams in the league, offering insights on top prospects and projecting likely selections. Rounds two and three will be on Friday, April 24 and rounds four through seven are on Saturday, April 25. 

 

Dallas Cowboys 

Edward Bass, Maroon-News Staff 

The Dallas Cowboys have several positions that need strengthening if they want to contend in the NFC under new head coach Mike McCarthy. With quality talent spread across both sides of the ball, owner Jerry Jones and company need to draft smart, selective talent that can step in to fill roles from day one. 

With the loss of top cornerback Byron Jones, who signed with the Miami Dolphins during free agency, the Cowboys have a crucial gap to fill in their secondary. As the number one corner, Byron Jones led the Cowboys secondary alongside other defensive backs such as Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown to allow the ninth fewest passing yards to opponents in the 2019 season. However, it does not look like any of the supporting DBs have the potential to be the top coverage corner on the team. Cornerback C.J. Henderson from the University of Florida might be the guy. The team also lacks depth at the safety position. Alabama safety Xavier McKinney impressed in the SEC and is considered one of the top defensive players on the board. 

With multiple players on one to two-year deals in the secondary, cementing a strong backfield to pair up with the Cowboys’ already talented linebacking corps should be the first priority.

When looking at the draft preview for the Dallas Cowboys, it could be summed up in two words: quality and depth. The third wide receiver on the depth chart Randall Cobb departed the team in free agency, leaving a starting position open. Long-time Cowboys tight end Jason Witten signed with the Las Vegas Raiders, leaving the team with one less reliable pair of hands. With the likes of running back Ezekiel Elliot, receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup and tight end Blake Jarwin spearheading the attack for the team, more numbers are needed on the offensive side in skill positions in case the injury bug hits the team mid-season. Clemson’s receiver Tee Higgins could be a target for the Cowboys in the draft and for quarterback Dak Prescott in the near future. In the 2020 NFL Draft, the Cowboys will look to focus on finding complementary pieces to their overall scheme. 

 

New York Giants

Matthew Frankle, Maroon-News Staff 

The New York Giants struggled mightily last season, going 4-12, largely thanks to a defense devoid of talent. As a result, the team will be selecting at No. 4 in the 2020 NFL Draft. Fortunately, in last year’s draft, the Giants found their quarterback of the future in Daniel Jones. With Cincinnati and Washington likely to take quarterback Joe Burrow and defensive end Chase Young, respectively, and the Lions selecting third, the Giants will have plenty of options at four.

Versatile Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons is a physical (6’4”, 238 pounds) and athletic (4.39 second 40-yard dash time) freak. According to a tweet from ESPN’s Field Yates, he played snaps at linebacker, covered in the secondary and rushed the passer. While the signing of linebacker Blake Martinez adds depth, Martinez struggles in pass coverage, which is an area where Simmons excels.

Another viable option, depending on who is remaining, is Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah. Okudah never allowed more than 50 yards in a game against opposing wide receivers, according to Pro Football Focus, and he did not get called for a defensive pass interference or holding all season. The Giants secondary struggled last season, but adding Okudah along with free-agent signing cornerback James Bradberry might significantly bolster the unit.

If the Lions do not trade down to a team looking for a quarterback, then the Giants should think about doing so, since there are QB-needy teams like the Dolphins, Panthers and Chargers selecting behind them. Those teams would likely pay a heavy price to jump a few picks in the first round and find their quarterback of the future.

If the Giants do trade down, then they could look at offensive tackle prospects such as Alabama’s Jedrick Wills and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs. While Wirfs has the edge in athleticism (with a 4.85 second 40-yard dash at 320 pounds), Wills has better footwork as a pass protector and has experience protecting the blind side of the left-handed quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

Heading into the draft, the Giants currently have 10 total selections. General manager Dave Gettleman needs to nail this draft weekend, and if he does, he could save his job going forward.

 

Philadelphia Eagles

Aaron Silverstein, Maroon-News Staff

Usually, a 9-7 team is not all that impressive, especially when that same team won the Super Bowl two years prior.  Last year, the fact that the injury-depleted Philadelphia Eagles made the playoffs and won the NFC East was improbable. Their number one wide receiver during the end-of-season run was Greg Ward, a player who played quarterback in college and had no NFL experience. While starting quarterback Carson Wentz was phenomenal down the stretch last year, he is in desperate need of some help on the outside. Luckily, this year’s draft is one of the deepest at the wide receiver position in years. Since the Eagles have the No. 21 overall pick, look for them to take one of the many electrifying wideouts projected to be available in the late first round. Clemson’s Tee Higgins, Arizona’s Brandon Aiyuk and LSU’s Justin Jefferson are all great options for a team in desperate need of playmakers who can catch the ball. The Eagles have had a disappointing history with wide receivers in recent draft years, but this year is the perfect opportunity to change this narrative. 

Speaking of playmakers on the outside, the Eagles used free agency to address another huge team need at cornerback, signing lockdown ex-Detroit Lions corner Darius Slay to a three year, 50.5 million dollar contract. The team also brought in safety and Philly native Will Parks from the Denver Broncos to strengthen the secondary after team leader and defensive anchor Malcolm Jenkins signed with the New Orleans Saints. 

Despite these free agency pickups, look for the Eagles to use their second-round pick (No. 53 overall) to add more depth in the secondary. The defensive back position has been the achilles heel of this team for years. Defensive back Noah Igbinoghene out of Auburn is an appealing option who carries a ton of upside. To round out the draft, the Eagles will most likely opt for a linebacker to help a core that has struggled in recent seasons.

 

Washington

Eric Fishbin, Sports Editor

The Washington football team is set to get their edge rusher of the future in the 2020 NFL Draft. After winning the “Chase Young Bowl,” by losing to the New York Giants in Week 16 of the 2019 NFL season, Washington solidified their spot selecting second in the draft. With that all-important overtime loss comes the top defensive prospect in the draft, Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. 

If Washington selects Young at No. 2 overall, the team that finished 3-13 one year ago will bolster their defensive front four and put opposing quarterbacks in the NFC East on alert for years to come. But, trading down remains an option on the table (albeit, an unlikely one). 

As it stands, Washington is without a second-round pick. This draft class goes deep and missing out on players in the second round will not be easy for general manager Bruce Allen to watch on a monitor screen. If they could find a way to pick up an offensive lineman before the third round, without losing out on Young, it would be a successful weekend in Washington.

Still, the team is getting running back Derrius Guice back from injury and head coach Ron Rivera (who came over from the Carolina Panthers this season) should see improvement from second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins thanks to that addition in the backfield.