By Joey Esquire.
In 2017, I tried my hand at forecasting the performance of various position groups for all four NFCE teams. That series of articles was… epic. But this year, I am going to change it up a bit. These articles will try to predict how teams will perform byfunction: quarterbacking, run game, pass catchers, run defense, pass rush, and secondary. My reasoning for the switch is: 1) it’s too difficult to isolate the performance of one position group versus another; 2) there are some good metrics that will allow me to evaluate how my predictions wind up faring; and 3) TEs are basically just big WRs and I don’t give a shit about RBs.
As last year, parentheses in the depth chart indicate players who may or may not be on the 53-man roster. These predictions will be based on some 2017 performance, some evaluation of personnel changes since 2017, some thoughts on depth and a heavy dose of subjectivity. If there are any questions or concerns about the way I rank the teams in this series, fuck off. Write your own article. Lazy bastards.
With that in mind, Quarterbacks:
4. New York Giants
2018 Depth Chart: Eli Manning, Kyle Lauletta, (Davis Webb)
In 2017, I wrote that Eli Manning was cooked. I was right. Eli has declined pretty steadily since about 2012 (in fairness, the names Kevin Gilbride and Ben McAdoo probably deserve mention here), and his peak wasn’t exactly all that high in the first place. Eli has been in the league for 14 seasons. Of those 14 season, here is where his 2018 ranked: Yards – 10th; Yards/Attempt – 13th; Yards/Catch – 14th; TDs – 12th; QB Rating – 9th. You could maybe chalk this up to turmoil on the coaching staff and basically every WR winding up on IR, but 2016 wasn’t all that much better. And 2015 wasn’t much better than 2016.
The Giants drafted Kyle Lauletta in the 4th round, who apparently has a big arm and showed well at the Senior Bowl. I’m guessing Davis Webb is on the roster bubble and could be consigned to the ash heap that is Jerry Reese’s third-round draft picks.
How this team went into a draft picking 2nd with four top-10 caliber QBs and a 37-year-old starter in obvious decline and came away with a running back is beyond me.
3. Dallas Cowboys
2018 Depth Chart: Rayne Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
Dak followed up a historic 2016 season with a lackluster 2017. With Dallas missing some key players, they really needed Dak to be able to carry the offense for the first time, and instead Dak had substantial declines in basically every statistical category (Completion Percentage, Yards, TDs, INTs, Yards/Attempt, Yards/Completion, QB Rating) versus his rookie year. There are legitimate questions about Dak’s ceiling as a QB; I don’t believe the “sophomore slump” is a real thing, and I don’t buy the narrative that Dak was pressured into making bad throws to Dez and Witten. But that said, this is the same guy who elevated a dominant rushing attack in 2016 into one of the best overall offenses in football, and went punch-for-punch in a playoff shootout with Aaron Rodgers. And it’s worth noting Dak is an important contributor in the run game.
As far as depth goes, again not much to speak of. Cooper Rush has three career pass attempts and Mike White is a rookie 5thround pick. News out of Cowboys camp is that they are high on both guys, but it’s Cowboys camp. They say that about everyone.
Dak is the highest variance QB to predict in the division. If the offense stays healthy and can reestablish the dominant rushing attack it had in 2016, this offense can easily threaten the top 10. Ultimately I think Dak won’t be able to overcome a lack of pass-catching weapons, and I’m expecting mediocre results.
2. Washington Redskins
2018 Depth Chart: Alex Smith, Colt McCoy, (Kevin Hogan)
The only team to make a major change at QB in the division was the Redskins, and I think it’s basically a lateral move. Alex Smith is a solid starting quarterback, probably somewhere just shy of the top 10 league-wide. His game is built on efficiency, and he consistently posts high numbers for completion percentage, usually pretty strong yards/attempt, and is one of the best in the league at not throwing INTs. He also led the NFL in QB Rating in 2017 with the Chiefs, and he’s one of the best scrambling/running QBs in the NFL, which adds a dimension the Redskins never really had under Kirk Cousins. But in five seasons in Kansas City the team never ranked better than 13th in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage, and the team steadily declined in red zone TD percentage every year Smith was there, winding up 29th in the NFL in 2017. These high-leverage situations were two of the same problems the Redskins had under Cousins.
Colt McCoy returns for what feels like his 47th consecutive season as the Redskins backup. Alex Smith turns 34 in 2018, and you have to wonder when the Redskins will start planning for long-term QB succession.
Faced with having to replace a starting QB, the Redskins really could not reasonably have done better than Alex Smith. But on the other hand, they royally fucked up the Cousins contract situation (STFU, Splooz. They did.) and acquired a QB who was chased out of Kansas City because his ceiling is too low to make a team a legit contender. This is a good roster, top to bottom, but it feels like they picked up a QB who can maybe let them contend for a wild card berth, and not much more than that.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
2018 depth chart: Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld
Probably the easiest ranking I’ll do. Through the first 13 games of the season, Carson Wentz was the best quarterback in the NFL. The raw stats are strong although not eye-popping, but in those high-leverage situations I mentioned above (third downs, red zone, etc.) Wentz dominated. His 125.0 QB rating on 3rd/4thdown was the best in the NFL, 22 points clear of the second-best. He also led the league in yards, touchdowns and first downs both passing AND rushing on third down. Similar story in the red zone, where Wentz led the league in QB rating, yards, touchdowns, first downs and was 2nd in yards/attempt (to Eli; go figure). But an ACL injury is no small thing, particularly when it is suffered so late in the season. By all accounts Wentz is on track to start week 1, but it’s a legitimate question whether/when that knee will be 100%. Wentz made a lot of plays with his legs last year, either by extending the play or taking off and running, so the ACL is a legitimate question facing him in 2018.
The Eagles have the best depth situation in the NFL as well. No other team can claim to have a Super Bowl MVP as a backup QB (at least not until Joe Flacco and Eli Manning get benched eventually), and Doug Pederson shows he knows how to utilize Nick Foles’ strengths to run this offense.