NFCE Position Rankings – Year-end Review – Defense

    620 413 Sir Squatch

    By Joey Esquire

    Last summer I forecasted a ranking for the various position groups for each NFCE team: Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End, Offensive Line, Interior Defensive Line, Edge Defender, Off-Ball Linebacker, Cornerback, Safety, Special Teams. I checked back in mid-season to see how my rankings were faring. Now with the season over, here is a retrospective look at how each group did, and how the predictions fared.

    Interior Defensive Line
    Pre-Season: 1. Eagles; 2. Giants; 3. Cowboys; 4. Redskins
    Mid-Season: 1. Eagles; 2. Cowboys; 3. Giants; 4. Redskins


    1. Philadelphia Eagles – Probably the best interior defensive line group in the NFL. Fletcher Cox is the maybe the second- or third-best interior defensive lineman in football and dominated vs the pass and the run. Tim Jernigan started off very strong, but his production tailed off later in the season. He split time with Beau Allen, who was solid rotational depth, and Brandon Graham moved inside to rush the passer on third downs. This group was the engine that powered the Eagles to the best overall pass rush and the best run defense in the division.

    2. Dallas Cowboys – David Irving emerged as a serious pass-rush threat from the 3T spot, but Maliek Collins struggled as the 1T and this unit as a whole got killed against the run. No team in football was worse in short-yardage rushing situations than the Cowboys, but they did do a decent job racking up TFLs in the run game.

    3. New York Giants – I actually thought Snacks Harrison had a decent year and didn’t drop off too much from 2016, but the cast around him made his effort meaningless. Dalvin Tomlinson had an unremarkable rookie year, and the snap counts tell me that depth guys like Jay Bromley and Robert Thomas did, in fact, play last year. Who knew?

    4. Washington Redskins – I think Jonathan Allen flashed some serious ability, but he only played five games before landing on IR. The Redskins were just as bad as the Cowboys defending short-yardage runs, but without the TFLs. This might have been the worst defensive line in football. Again.

    Edge Defenders
    Pre-Season: 1. Redskins; 2. Eagles; 3. Giants; 4. Cowboys
    Mid-Season: 1. Eagles; 2. Cowboys; 3. Redskins; 4. Giants


    1. Washington Redskins – Ryan Kerrigan had another Ryan Kerrigan season: Double-digit sacks, solid run support, and against the pass… well, he had double-digit sacks. I love Preston Smith; I think he has the highest ceiling of any edge rusher in the division. Depth for this group was unimpressive, particularly after losing Ryan Anderson early in the season.

    2. Philadelphia Eagles – This unit could have been ranked number one; it was very close. I think this is the deepest group in the division, and maybe the Brandon Graham is still one of the best edge defenders in the league and might be the best DE vs the run, but the real strength of this unit was unmatched depth with Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Barnett rotating in.

    3. Dallas Cowboys – A true breakout season for Demarcus Lawrence, who was a stud all year. Alas, he was basically the Cowboys only legitimate edge defender. Taco Charlton played better in the second half of the season and I still like him going forward, but was not an impact player as a rookie. Tyrone Crawford is worthless.

    4. New York Giants – A season after racking up sacks, hits and hurries, Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul just didn’t have that impact in 2017. JPP finished with 8.5 sacks and an insane 91.5% of defensive snaps. This team was just such a mess all season that it’s tough to rank them above 3 or 4 in any position group.

    Off-ball Linebacker
    Pre-Season: 1. Eagles; 2. Cowboys; 3. Redskins; 4. Giants
    Mid-Season: 1. Cowboys; 2. Eagles; 3. Redskins; 4. Giants


    1. Philadelphia Eagles – Nigel Bradham deserves some serious credit for 2017. Playing out of position after Jordan Hicks went down he was a huge impact player for the Eagles. Best year of Mychal Kendricks’ career as well. The Eagles scrambled for depth down the stretch, with injuries to both of their top two MLBs, but Bradham and Kendricks stayed healthy and played well enough to get the Eagles the top spot.

    2. Washington Redskins – There is some chatter about Zack Brown being a liability in pass coverage. If that’s true it didn’t show up on the stat sheet. The Redskins ranked third in the NFL defending passes to RBs and fourth defending short passes overall. They did get gashed vs the run, but I chalk that up mostly the DL hanging the LBs out to dry. They also need to get him a running mate better than Mason Foster, who is just okay.

    3. Dallas Cowboys – Sean Lee is still the best linebacker in the division, but overall this group was a liability in 2017. Lee missed five games and most of a sixth to injury, Hitchens is JAG and Jaylon Smith was brutal for most of the season, though did show some flashes toward the end. Lee is still good for some impact plays when he is in the lineup, but overall this group got killed against the run (25th in second-level yards allowed) AND the pass (28th in defending passes to RBs; 23rd in defending short passes overall).

    4. New York Giants – The Giants haven’t had a good off-ball linebacker since… Carl Banks? BJ Goodson led this group in tackles with 37, and he only played seven games. The Giants would do well to munson this group out in the middle of nowhere. (Calvin Munson is another Giants LB. The fact that I had to explain that should justify this ranking.)

    Pre-Season: 1. Giants; 2. Redskins; 3. Cowboys; 4. Eagles
    Mid-Season: 1. Redskins; 2. Eagles; 3. Giants; 4. Cowboys


    1. Washington Redskins – I don’t think this group gets enough credit. They were one of the best CB groups in the NFL last year. Overall the Redskins defense ranked 11th by DVOA and 6th vs the pass, and they did that with a pass rush that was just okay and minimal coverage help from their safeties. Josh Norman and Kendall Fuller were the real stars, as the Redskins were 5th in the NFL against opposing teams’ No. 1 WRs and 4th defending the slot.

    2. Philadelphia Eagles –Jalen Mills is a perfect fit for what the Eagles want from their CBs. Patrick Robinson was outstanding in the slot, and rookie Rasul Douglas showed promise when Ronald Darby was injured. Darby was up and down, and had some games where he really got torched.

    3. New York Giants – This was probably the most disappointing position group in the division. I don’t think this ranking reflects their talent level, but ultimately the pass defense for the Giants just wasn’t very good. It probably didn’t help that Ben McAdoo was suspending somebody every other week. Eli Apple might be broken.

    4. Dallas Cowboys – It was difficult to have any real expectations for this group coming into the season, knowing they would be leaning heavily on some very young players. Jourdan Lewis looks like a seriously good slot CB, but they struggled everywhere else. Anthony Brown and Orlando Scandrick were terrible and Chido Awuzie only managed to be on the field for 29% of defensive snaps. Overall there was no area this group defended particularly well vs the pass, except the slot, where they ranked 8th.

    Pre-Season: 1. Eagles; 2. Giants; 3. Cowboys; 4. Redskins
    Mid-Season: 1. Eagles; 2. Giants; 3. Redskins; 4. Cowboys

    1. Philadelphia Eagles – Malcolm Jenkins is one of the most versatile defenders in the NFL. Rodney McLeod has the range to play single-high, and the Eagles ranked 7th in the NFL defending deep passes thanks in part to his umbrella coverage.
    2. Washington Redskins – DJ Swearinger surprised me a bit with how good he is around the ball, and it shows up in his impact play stats (passes defended, interceptions), but he is just so bad in coverage. The Redskins ranked 23rd in the NFL defending deep passes, despite a strong group of corners. The second safety position was a big liability for the Redskins, and Su’a Cravens might have been their second-best safety.

    3. New York Giants – Landon Collins took a huge step back from a near-DPOY season in 2016, but I’m not sure how much of that was his fault versus the supporting cast and general team dysfunction. He’s still a tackling machine, but looked a step slower in coverage. Still, if the Giants defense is to rebuild, I think Collins and Darian Thompson might be a group they can build around.

    4. Dallas Cowboys – Still can’t cover TEs. Still get killed by deep balls. Still an astonishing lack of impact plays, particularly from Byron Jones. Jeff Heath chipped in 3 INTs, so I guess that’s something.

    Special Teams
    Pre-Season: 1. Eagles; 2. Cowboys; 3. Redskins; 4. Giants
    Mid-Season: 1. Eagles; 2. Cowboys; 3. Redskins; 4. Giants


    1. Dallas Cowboys
    2. Philadelphia Eagles
    3. Washington Redskins
    4. New York Giants


    Sir Squatch

    Blurry, woods living, Scotch drinking, Mythical Creature.

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