The NFC East was a historically bad division in 2020, which is why all four teams were in the race deep into the season. Eventually, Washington took it.
This season, the division is up for grabs yet again. We’re ranking the division by position group. So far we have looked at:
Up today: Linebackers
1. Cowboys: Micah Parsons, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Jabril Cox, Keanu Neal
This is obviously a very talented group of linebackers and it now starts with No. 12 pick Micah Parsons. You can certainly question the amount of resources the Cowboys have put into the linebacker position but when it comes time to rank them among the division leaders, they’re clearly at the top. Parsons might have been the best overall defensive player in the 2021 draft. He’s a true sideline-to-sideline backer who can stop the run and play the pass. The Cowboys got Parsons at the No. 12 spot after trading back with the Eagles.
The big question for the Cowboys is how the heck are all these guys going to get playing time. They still have Vander Esch and Smith and then they drafted Parsons and Cox and they also added Neal in the offseason and called him a linebacker. It’s obviously that Neal, a former safety, will be a coverage guy but Smith has a big contract. Vander Esch has struggled with injuries, so how much can the Cowboys rely on him?
2. Giants: Blake Martinez, Tae Crowder, Reggie Ragland, Carter Coughlin
Putting the Giants second is really just a reflection of Martinez. It might have seemed like it was foolish for the Giants to give Martinez a three-year, $30 million deal last offseason but he proved to be worth it. In his first year with the Giants, he had 151 tackles, 3 sacks, 5 pass breakups, 1 interception and 6 QB hits. He ended up being one of the main centerpieces of that defense and if the Giants’ unit improves in 2021, he’ll be a big reason why.
After Martinez, the Giants have journeyman Ragland who was a second-round pick back in 2017 but has played with the Chiefs and Lions since 2019. Still, he had a decent season in Detroit last season, with 52 tackles in 16 games with just 6 starts. And Crowder returns after a nice rookie season for a 7th round pick. He played in 11 games with 6 starts.
3. Washington: Jon Bostic, Jamin Davis, David Mayo, Cole Holcolmb, Joe Walker
Bostic, 30, returns for his third season with Washington after piling up 223 tackles in his first two seasons. They’ll simply plug him into the middle of that defense and go.
Washington’s linebacker group will have a new look aside from Bostic as Kevin Pierre-Louis moved on after one year in free agency, signing a new deal with the Texans. Washington then signed David Mayo, who spent the last couple years with the Giants, but was with Carolina under Ron Rivera. He started 13 games for the Giants in 2019. But the biggest move this offseason was drafting Davis with the 19th pick in the draft. The linebacker from Kentucky was the sixth defensive player taken and the third linebacker after Parsons at 12 to Dallas and Zaven Collins at 16 to Arizona.
4. Eagles: Alex Singleton, Eric Wilson, T.J. Edwards, Davion Taylor, Shaun Bradley, JaCoby Stevens
The Eagles might be last on this list but this is actually a more respectable group than they put together last season. One of the biggest reasons for that is the emergence of former CFL All-Star Alex Singleton, who became a starter during the season and ended up leading the team in tackles with 120. If he has that kind of pace this season, he’ll demolish the Eagles’ single-season record.
The addition of Eric Wilson on a one-year deal was a nice pick up. Not only is Wilson still an emerging player, but coming from Minnesota, he also has familiarity with the type of defense Jonathan Gannon will want to run in Philly. After that, the Eagles have some young players with potential in Taylor, Bradley and Stevens. It’ll be fun to see how much playing time they get in 2021.
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