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NFC East projected starters: Cowboys leaning on loaded offense; Giants could surprise

With the 2021 NFL Draft and most of free agency in the rearview, Gregg Rosenthal will project starting lineups for all 32 teams because that's his idea of fun. Check out the NFC East breakdowns below.

NOTE: This file was updated to reflect the news that Washington is parting ways with right tackle Morgan Moses.

Table inside Article
QB Dak Prescott DE DeMarcus Lawrence
RB Ezekiel Elliott DT Neville Gallimore
WR Amari Cooper DE Randy Gregory
WR CeeDee Lamb LB Micah Parsons
WR Michael Gallup LB Leighton Vander Esch
TE Blake Jarwin LB Jaylon Smith
LT Tyron Smith CB Trevon Diggs
LG Connor Williams CB Kelvin Joseph
C Tyler Biadasz CB Anthony Brown
RG Zack Martin S Donovan Wilson
RT La'el Collins S Damontae Kazee
  • All 11 starters return for the NFC's most loaded offense, in theory. In reality, no one has seen what this group can do when fully intact. Just five of those 11 were healthy enough to top 10 starts last season, making the Cowboys' offense a strange mix of continuity combined with a lack of experience playing together under Mike McCarthy.
  • The ability to recover from injury will tell this offense's story. It's not just Dak Prescott trying to pick up where he left off following a broken ankle. Starting tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins played two games combined last year. Tight end Blake Jarwin tore his ACL in Week 1.
  • The clock is ticking on this unit. Smith and Zack Martin won't be around forever. Michael Gallup is an impending free agent. Ezekiel Elliott could be a candidate for release after 2022 given the structure of his contract. It's hard to imagine this group staying together much longer.
  • Tony Pollard was better than Elliott with the ball in his hands last year. Pollard had a higher Pro Football Focus grade, averaged half a yard more per touch and fumbled six fewer times than Zeke. Helping Elliott play with greater efficiency is a must, but more touches for Pollard should also be on the agenda. He's one of the best backups in football.
  • I took the easy way out by listing Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch and No. 12 overall pick Micah Parsons as starters. There's a world where all three rotate, but Parsons should ultimately take someone's job. Smith has a similar skill set to Parsons and has not played well the last two seasons, while Vander Esch hasn't stayed healthy. If Smith's salary wasn't already guaranteed, he'd be at risk of getting cut.
  • Adding to the linebacker confusion: Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn made his former Falcon friend Keanu Neal a priority free agent and said he's switching from safety to linebacker. Fourth-round pick Jabril Cox is also a promising prospect at the position. In a league that is de-emphasizing putting resources into off-ball linebackers, the Cowboys have excessively loaded up at the expense of other groups, like safety and defensive tackle.
  • This secondary is as unproven as any in football. Safety has mostly been ignored and the team's top corner is second-year pro Trevon Diggs, who showed promise in a hot-and-cold rookie year. The Cowboys drafted second-round pick Kelvin Joseph to start and don't have great depth.
  • To put it another way: The Cowboys are counting on Quinn's scheme to solve their coverage problems when his track record in Atlanta doesn't suggest that's likely.
  • Randy Gregory is an X-factor. He played well after returning from suspension last year. In Quinn's dream world, the front seven will cover up any coverage issues. The trio of DeMarcus Lawrence, Gregory and promising second-year defensive tackle Neville Gallimore has a high ceiling.
  • Tony Romo led the Cowboys to top-five scoring offenses four times. Dallas' defense was average at best in all of those seasons and that appears to be the team's game plan again.
Table inside Article
QB Daniel Jones DE Leonard Williams
RB Saquon Barkley DT Austin Johnson
WR Kenny Golladay DE Dexter Lawrence
WR Darius Slayton OLB Lorenzo Carter
WR Sterling Shepard LB Blake Martinez
TE Evan Engram OLB Azeez Ojulari
LT Andrew Thomas CB James Bradberry
LG Will Hernandez CB Adoree' Jackson
C Nick Gates S Logan Ryan
RG Zach Fulton S Jabrill Peppers
RT Matt Peart S Xavier McKinney
  • It's easy to love the weapons surrounding Daniel Jones. There is a significant injury history with many of them, but the group is nearly injury-proof because it has so much depth.
  • Kenny Golladay can open up the field for Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram like Odell Beckham Jr. once did. Darius Slayton could be even better as a third or fourth option. The group above doesn't even include shifty first-round pick Kadarius Toney and pricey backup tight end Kyle Rudolph
  • The challenge for Jones and coordinator Jason Garrett will be to creatively spread the ball around. Garrett's track record doesn't scream creativity or a pass-first approach like this roster begs for. 
  • Giants GM Dave Gettleman has a lot more faith in this offensive line than outsiders. There is decent continuity, if nothing else. The second-year tackle duo of Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart could make or break the entire season for the Giants. Nate Solder is back as a swing tackle. 
  • Azeez Ojulari profiles as one of the NFL's most important second-round picks because the Giants don't have much edge rush juice otherwise. Lorenzo Carter, coming off a ruptured Achilles, and former Viking Ifeadi Odenigbo also figure into the mix.
  • Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham's old boss Brian Flores built his defense back-to-front in Miami with a strong secondary, just like Graham's old boss' boss Bill Belichick once did in New England. The same is happening in New York, where two incredibly talented cornerbacks are supported by three versatile starters at safety. This group can match up in a lot of creative ways and has improved depth off the bench.
  • Adoree’ Jackson might be the key to it all. He's as streaky a cornerback as there is, capable of Pro Bowl play alongside another Pro Bowler in James Bradberry.
  • I'm not sure why the Giants are viewed as huge underdogs in the NFC East. This is an intriguing roster if Daniel Jones can be average. (Big if!)
Table inside Article
QB Jalen Hurts DE Brandon Graham
RB Miles Sanders DT Fletcher Cox
WR DeVonta Smith DT Javon Hargrave
WR Jalen Reagor DE Derek Barnett
WR Greg Ward LB Eric Wilson
TE Dallas Goedert LB Alex Singleton
LT Andre Dillard CB Darius Slay
LG Landon Dickerson CB Avonte Maddox
C Jason Kelce CB Craig James
RG Brandon Brooks S Rodney McLeod
RT Lane Johnson S Anthony Harris
  • Zach Ertz is still on this roster. I don't expect that to remain true in September, but the Eagles might bring him to training camp to see whether a potential trade pops up. If Ertz sticks, he'll play more than Greg Ward
  • Ward has developed into a serviceable slot receiver. The Eagles can also crowd the field with vertical threats when DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor and Travis Fulgham are on the field at the same time.
  • This is not a bad group for first-time head coach Nick Sirianni to work with. The offensive line is above average, possibly even a top-five unit with some luck. He has two first-round receivers, an excellent young tight end and a complete back in Miles Sanders
  • Developing Jalen Hurts is obviously the biggest priority here. I've made mistakes judging small sample sizes in the past, but Hurts' terrific running ability and early success in play-action gives him a foundation to build off.  
  • International Player Pathway Program success Jordan Mailata will battle 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard for the starting left tackle job. Mailata played well last season, but I suspect the Eagles want to see what Dillard can do. Second-round pick Landon Dickerson will likely battle for one of the guard spots. 
  • The Eagles are viewed as a big rebuilding job, but they have depth and talent on both lines. That formula once led them to a Super Bowl and that should help them stay competitive. 
  • Quick, name the Eagles' defensive coordinator and the scheme he's running! If you didn't say Jonathan Gannon and "I don't know," then you are incorrect. Gannon's last stop was in Indianapolis, but importing two starters from the Vikings indicates the team might take plenty from Mike Zimmer's scheme in Minnesota, where Gannon coached for four years. 
  • One of those former Vikings starters is linebacker Eric Wilson. The Eagles are the leaders in the "off-ball linebackers don't matter" movement, to increasingly unpleasant results.
  • I was surprised the Eagles didn't add more bodies at cornerback despite taking a lot of swings at the position in recent years. 
  • It's possible that the NFL is sending me subliminal pro-NFC East messages through my company computer because every one of these teams looks better than expected on paper. The favorite division of all your favorite broadcast partners should be more competitive and entertaining than last year's nadir, with every team having a legitimate chance to win.
Table inside Article
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick DE Chase Young
RB Antonio Gibson DT Jonathan Allen
WR Terry McLaurin DT Daron Payne
WR Curtis Samuel DE Montez Sweat
WR Cam Sims OLB Jamin Davis
TE Logan Thomas LB Jon Bostic
LT Charles Leno CB William Jackson III
LG Ereck Flowers CB Kendall Fuller
C Chase Roullier S Kam Curl
RG Brandon Scherff S Jeremy Reaves
RT Sam Cosmi S Landon Collins
  • It's been so long since Washington had such a fun offense. If Ryan Fitzpatrick can continue to follow the Tom Brady career arc of peaking around 40, this might be the team's best offensive talent since 1991.
  • Antonio Gibson is even more important to this offense than free-agent pickup Curtis Samuel. Gibson showed traits of a top-five back as he adjusted to the pro game and is ready to explode.
  • Cam Sims made a lot of big plays down the stretch last season, so I gave him the edge in playing time over Adam Humphries. With third-round pick Dyami Brown also in the mix, a promising pass catcher like Kelvin Harmon might not even make the team.
  • After signing Charles Leno Jr. to play left tackle, Washington surprisingly is releasing Morgan Moses so second-round pick Sam Cosmi can take over at right tackle. While finances are a driving factor here, I don't understand why the team is so eager to deplete depth when it's now an injury away from major problems. Having an extra tackle is an amazing thing!
  • While the offensive tackle depth might be taking a hit, I love the flexibility elsewhere on this offense. The skill sets of all the pass catchers are diverse and versatile. Don't be surprised if offensive coordinator Scott Turner earns some head-coaching interviews after orchestrating this group.
  • Ron Rivera inherited a beautiful defensive line to build around. The edge rush tandem ranks with any in football and the defensive tackle depth is even better with quality players Matt Ioannidis and Tim Settle coming off the bench.
  • I'm not sure where Landon Collins fits on this team. Kamren Curl, a seventh-round pick in 2020, played Collins' position as well or better than Collins has lately. The team's relative lack of cornerback depth could lead to some three safety lineups because Jeremy Reaves played well last season. Collins has said he won’t move to linebacker but a hybrid role wouldn't be a surprise.
  • Jimmy Moreland is the team's slot cornerback behind the sneaky good starting duo of William Jackson III and Kendall Fuller.
  • Washington hasn't won a playoff game in 16 years. It's won just two playoff games in the last 28 years! I don't blame the Football Team's fans for daring to dream because this is the sturdiest their roster has looked in a long, long time.

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