By Joey Esquire
This one might rankle some Cowboys fans, longing for the good old days.
1. Washington Redskins
2. Philadelphia Eagles
3. Dallas Cowboys
4. New York Giants
4. NEW YORK GIANTS
Depth Chart: Evan Engram, Will Tye, Jerrell Adams
Initially, I figured Evan Engram would be included in the WR group, but the Giants coaches have stated their intention to make him an in-line TE. That doesn’t change my rankings at all, because Engram or not the Giants still rank first at WR and fourth on this list. TE has been a weakness for the Giants since…. Mark Bavaro? I loved Engram as a prospect; at one point I said he might be a better WR prospect than John Ross, who went top 10 in the draft. He can’t block. If the Giants really do want a prototypical in-line TE who can block or go out in patterns, this pick wouldn’t make much sense, so whatever they call Engram I expect him to get his share of looks in the passing game. Bottom line, they got a talented player, and that’s the most important part.
As far as depth goes, Will Tye and Jerrell Adams are fringe NFL players. Tye has some starting experience, but he’s not a guy I think of as providing legitimate depth. If the Giants really do plan to make Engram an in-line TE and expand his blocking responsibilities from what he showed in college, that is a significant adjustment and will take some time. I don’t expect him to make a significant impact on the offense in 2017.
3. DALLAS COWBOYS
Depth Chart: Jason Witten, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers
Alas, after about a decade of greatness, Jason Witten has declined into mediocrity. In 2016, Witten had his fewest yards since his rookie year in 2003, his 2nd worst yards per target since 2003, his 3rd worst yards per reception of his career, his fewest total first downs since 2003, and his 2nd lowest first down percentage of his career. All that adds up to the 29th ranked TE on a per target basis in the NFL last year. You could maybe chalk it up as an aberration, but 2015 was also a decline year for Jason Witten, and he’s like 143 years old. As a pass catcher, he’s simply not top tier offensive weapon anymore, and at his age it’s unlikely at his age that that trend reverses. By all accounts he is still a great blocker, and that is important in a run-based attack the Cowboys utilize.
As far as depth goes, the Cowboys have Geoff Swaim who was getting significant snaps in 2 TE sets before heading to IR with a torn pec in 2016. He figures to be back in 2017 primarily as a blocking TE, but doesn’t offer anything in the passing game. The Rico Gathers hype machine appears to be running at full steam recently. I’ll believe it when I see it.
2. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Depth Chart: Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton
Zach Ertz is easily the most maddeningly inconsistent player on the Eagles. He will be mostly unremarkable for 75% of the season, then become a pass-catching machine in December. In the first three months of the season, Ertz averages 3.2 receptions and 35.7 yards per game, and has totaled four TDs in his four year career. In December/January, Ertz averages 6.0 receptions and 70.5 yards per game and has scored 9 total TDs. It’s uncanny how good late-season Ertz is compared to early/mid-season Ertz. Some of this ranking is based on projection and the hope for Eagles fans that Ertz can get it together and be a little more consistent through the season, because the flashes are definitely there. He CAN be a chain mover and a TD-producer. He CAN be a vertical threat down the seams. He CAN string together several consecutive games of elite-level production. He just hasn’t done it outside of December.
As far as depth goes, the Eagles still have Celek who is primarily a blocker at this stage of his career. Trey Burton also saw a bunch of snaps last season and saw 60 targets. To put that in perspective, Darren Sproles was the third-most targeted player on the Eagles with 76, so Burton got his share of looks, he just didn’t do anything with them. He’s a really good ST player, but I would be happy seeing his role in the offense decline in 2017. Hopefully with the addition of some legitimate pass catchers at WR, it will.
1. WASHINGTON REDSKINS
Depth Chart: Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, Niles Paul, Jeremy Sprinkle
This one isn’t really close. If the Redskins just had Jordan Reed OR Vernon Davis, the Redskins might still have the top spot in my rankings, but with both they are winning this one in a landslide. When he’s healthy, Reed is among the best move TEs in the game. It’s been a bit of a problem for the Redskins the past few seasons when Reed wasn’t healthy because there was usually a pretty big dropoff to their TE2, but last season they added Vernon Davis and I was surprised to see how much he still has in the tank. On a per-target basis, he was actually better than Reed last year.
The Redskins didn’t use a ton of 2 TE sets last year, only around 19% which was right about league average. I think both Reed and Davis have the kind of talent that should make Jay Gruden want to find ways to get them on the field, particularly in the red zone where the Redskins offense was so bad last year.
As far as depth goes, the Redskins are likely to keep Niles Paul and added Jeremy Sprinkle in the 5th round, who was once suspended for shoplifting from a Belk’s store at the Belk’s Bowl despite being given free money to spend at Belk’s.
Next installment: Offensive Lines