Recently, Pro Football Focus released its "All Division Teams.". For Giants fans, of course, we're interested in the All- NFC East team. There's some interesting selections taking place here, though I found that we'd agree for the most part, but there were a few questionable choices in my eyes. Read the excellent piece here: Pro Football Focus NFC East Team.
Let's take a look at the choices one by one.
QB: Tony Romo
There's no complaint from me, and there shouldn't really be any from anyone. I wouldn't say it's a slam dunk, but the choice is pretty clear. Romo had a much better offensive line and the NFL's leading rusher, but irregardless, he was lethal. He had 34 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions and was extremely accurate. He did all of this while having a lingering back injury.
PFF doesn't do runner ups, but the obvious choice for this should be Eli Manning. Eli's 30 TDs and 14 INTs are among the best of his career in the regular season. He had fewer weapons and a porous offensive line, but he still made a few more mistakes.
RB: Demarco Murray
Yeah, does this really need much of an explanation. Murray was borderline unstoppable. Forced the fourth-most missed tackles in the league (so it wasn't just all his OL) and had 27 15+ yard runs, nine more than the next highest guy.
WR: Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham, Jeremy Maclin
Another gimme. Bryant led the league in touchdown catches. Odell Beckham destroyed almost every rookie receiver record known to man. Maclin had a 1,200-yard season. All are deserving and represent the division's No. 1 wide receivers. Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson had mediocre seasons, combining for a final score of 0.0. Beckham had PFF's second-highest receiving grade, Dez had PFF's fourth, and Maclin had 14th.
FB: Henry Hynoski
Not a hugely easy pick, but Hynoski earned it over Darrel Young. Hynoski rated as PFF's second-best fullback on the strength of his run blocking, however Darrel Young was sixth. No other NFC East teams had fullbacks worth mentioning. Hynoski should be a priority signing for the Giants this offseason.
TE: Jason Witten
Witten finished as PFF's second-rated TE in the league, mostly due to his reliability (almost never dropped balls) and his balance as a pass catcher and run blocker. I'd argue that Zach Ertz (who finished fifth despite 400 less snaps than Witten) was a more valuable player per snap, and could have a reasonable argument to put him in there over Witten, who produced because of volume.
OT: Jason Peters and Lane Johnson
Here's where I have a bit of an issue. Peters is the easy choice at left tackle, finishing the regular season as the top-rated OT, period. PFF likes to actually choose a right tackle to play the position, but I'm of the opinion that the top two tackles in the division should get the honor. Here's how the grades in the division played out:
1) Jason Peters, +38.2
2) Tyron Smith, + 21.6
3) Lane Johnson, +14.3
4) Will Beatty, +13.0
5) Trent Williams, +10.5
As you can see, the division is flush with elite tackles. The top five in this division dwarf any others except for the AFC North (Joe Thomas and Andrew Whitworth are incredible). It should be Jason Peters and Tyron Smith, who holds a decisive edge over Lane Johnson (who had a great under the radar season, by the way).
OG: Evan Mathis and Zack Martin
Shouldn't really be up for debate. Martin was an All Pro in his first year at guard and Evan Mathis was the 2nd rated guard in the league despite missing seven games. He's always been a PFF favorite.
OC: Travis Frederick
There really is no surprise that the Dallas offensive line will be getting some love. Who else do you pick? Jason Kelce, who is in and out of the lineup as often as Sean Lee? Whoever Washington's center is? J.D...
(excuse me while I stop laughing)
Edge Defender: Jason Pierre-Paul and Ryan Kerrigan
It could actually be argued that neither of these players belong here. JPP actually had a worse grade than team mate Robert Ayers (+16.9 vs +17.6) and Ryan Kerrigan had a worse grade than Brandon Graham at 3-4 OLB (+19.3 vs +22.8). However, it seems like PFF is discounting players that only played a fraction of the season. You could combine Graham's and Ayers' snaps and they still would not approach Pierre-Paul's.
Still, it would seem only right that if these players made enough of an impact in fewer snaps, they need to be recognized.
Defensive Interior (Ends): Fletcher Cox and Tyrone Crawford
No secret here. Fletcher Cox ended up as PFF's 5th rated 3-4 DE with a grade of +30.5. He was unbelievable against the run and very, very disruptive against the pass. I'm not sure there's much of an argument against him.
The other selection of Crawford is a bit of a headscratcher. A player from the much maligned Washington Redskins was absolutely snubbed. Jason Hatcher had a very strong season, and there really was no reason for Crawford to be selected above him. First, compare the grades. Hatcher was +17.1 whereas Crawford was a +11.9. On top of that, Crawford was hailed for his pass rush (4 sacks, 9 hits, 17 hurries). Hatcher crushes him in that too, with 8 sacks, 6 hits, and 26 hurries.
Defensive Interior (Nose): Johnathan Hankins
This really is Hankins and everyone else. Nobody comes close to touching his +20.2 grade as he was equally proficient rushing the passer and stopping the run. Despite not being a household figure, Hankins has emerged as a true star for this defense and is one of the cornerstones to build around.
Off Ball Linebackers: Mychal Kendricks and Rolando McClain
These were two easy choices as well according to PFF's grades. Kendricks graded out +19.1 and McClain graded out at +13.9. Both easily the highest grades in this division. The next-highest, interestingly enough, was Devon Kennard at +4.7. Definitely a candidate for this position next year.
Cornerbacks: Orlando Scandrick, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Brandon Boykin
Oh Prince. If Prince Amukamara had stayed healthy this season and he had continued his level of play (+4.7 in 9 games) he would've easily made this team over Boykin (+6.5). DRC had a solid season for the Giants at +7.8 and Scandrick surprisingly led the division with a +10.9 grade. Something also tells me that if DRC wasn't hobbled by his IT band the entire year, and Walter Thurmond was healthy, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch for the Giants to clean sweep this category. Alas, injuries are no excuse. Funnily enough, the top three Redskins corners in Bashaud Breeland, David Amerson, and E.J. Biggers combined for an incredible -45.6 grade.
Safety: Malcolm Jenkins and Nate Allen
This is how bad the safety play was in the NFC East. Aside from Stevie Brown (+0.2), Allen (+3.9) and Jenkins (+8.3) were the only safeties to have a positive grade. Disgusting. This is coming from 2013 in which Will Hill and Antrel Rolle both landed in the top 10 among ALL safeties for the Giants.
Kicker: Dan Bailey
Based off grades, Bailey wins this easily as his +13.6 overall grade dwarfs the next highest in Cody Parkey at +1.7. Josh Brown comes in third with +0.5. However, I think Brown was the best kicker in the NFC East last season, and I have zero idea why his grade was so low. On kickoffs, he had the lowest percentage of kickoffs returned with 40 percent of them being returned. Bailey had 44.8 percent. Brown went 21-28 (including 4-4 from 50+ yards) while Bailey went 24-28 (5-7 from 50+ yards). I don't get it.
Punter: Tress Way
No doubt about this one, he was a revelation for the Redskins. He had a 77-yard punt, and his net average was best in the division at 40.3 yards.
Returner: Darren Sproles.
Don't think I even need an explanation for this one. 13.0 yards per punt return and 2 TDs from returns. Odell Beckham Jr came in at a distance second place.
Special Teamer: James Casey
Burton was in a three-way tie for first place at +8.0 with teammates Bryan Braman and Trey Burton. Damontre Moore, Spencer Paysinger, Orleans Darkwa, Henry Hynoski, and Nat Berhe were all top 10 in the division however.
Here are how many representatives per team:
Dallas Cowboys: 10
New York Giants: 5
Washington Redskins: 2
There's a clear divide among the top two teams in the division and the bottom two teams. However, there's hope for the Giants to close the gap. There's definitely places the Giants can make some noise next year. Eli Manning, with Odell Beckham and hopefully Victor Cruz can push for the starting QB spot. Cornerback (especially if Walter Thurmond is re-signed) is one area that the team can easily make up ground. Devon Kennard looks like he's ready to take the next step and become one of the division's best linebackers. Despite the issues, there IS talent on the offensive line and a big step from any of the young ones can pay dividends. Robert Ayers looked like he was snubbed this year, look for him to be in the conversation as well.
I'm also certain that Josh Brown was snubbed. If Steve Weatherford doesn't suffer more injuries, he could find himself on this list as well. Plenty of chances for the Giants to rise. They have to make smart decisions and stay healthy. Easier said than done, but it can be done.