After a few years that saw each of the four teams of the NFC East apparently lose their way and crumble, the division is once again back to being the “NFC Beast”.
Each team in the division boasts playmakers that rank among the best at their positions in the whole NFL and need to be respected by any defense they face.
Let’s take a look at the top five offensive playmakers in the NFC East.
5 - Brandon Marshall (WR, NY Giants)
I went back and forth whether or not to include free agent additions on the list, but ultimately they’re a part of their new teams now. And while it remains to be seen how they will play, be used, and fit in with their new teams, they do have track records that we can use to evaluate them.
A poor 2016 in a chaotic and broken New York Jets offense aside, Marshall has been one of the most dominant receivers in the NFL ever since he entered the league and for a variety of teams. He figures to return to form (if not the raw numbers) with the Giants. He has reportedly worked hard throughout the off-season and has been diving into the minutiae of the offense with Eli Manning — who, by the way, is the best quarterback Marshall has ever played with.
No longer a de facto number one receiver, Marshall will still figure heavily in the Giants’ red zone packages and could emerge as their touchdown leader while defenses still have to attempt to deal with Odell Beckham Jr.
Note: Had I elected to not include free agents, this slot would be for Giants’ receiver Sterling Shepard. He had a strong rookie campaign in which he showed himself to be the most dangerous slot receiver in the division, and only looks to improve in his second year. The Giants’ last three second round picks have all become among the very best at their positions in their second seasons, and Shepard could well follow in their footsteps.
4 - Dez Bryant (WR, Dallas Cowboys)
The Cowboys’ top receiver has seen a dip in production the last two years, but has consistently been a top wide-out for most of his career.
Bryant has been slowed the last two years with a foot injury (similar to Hakeem Nicks’ in 2012), and a changing offense with Dak Prescott, but his playmaking ability is still evident. Bryant is still athletic, physically imposing, and skilled — and a handful for cornerbacks not named “Janoris Jenkins.”
Whether Bryant can find his pre-injury form and how he fits into the new offense built around Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott’s chemistry with Cole Beasley will be interesting to watch — and go a long way to determining whether or not he stays on the list.
3 - Jordan Reed (TE/WR, Washington Redskins)
The prototypical “Hybrid” or “Move” tight end, Reed is a dangerous receiving regardless of what you call him. Able to line up pretty much anywhere in the offensive formation, he has terrific chemistry with Kirk Cousins and is a match-up nightmare for defenses.
Too big for most defensive backs to deal with and too athletic (and skilled) for most linebackers in coverage, Reed is a consistent headache for defenses. The biggest thing slowing him down is health, but when he is healthy, he is a problem.
2 - Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Dallas Cowboys)
Elliott doesn’t have the track record of some of the other players on the list, and benefits from one of the most elite units in the NFL (the 2016 Cowboys’ offensive line), but what he did in his rookie year was impressive by any measure.
He was expected to be good coming in, but he carried a significant portion of the Cowboys’ offense -- to the tune of 322 carries and 32 receptions — and rewarded them with 1994 yards from scrimmage and 16 total touchdowns (15 rushing, 1 receiving).
With 354 total touches, Elliott came perilously close to the “370 Curse,” and it remains to be seen whether or not he will be able to back up his rookie season. But, he is young and has the benefit of modern strength and conditioning practices, so defenses should count on having to deal with him for years to come.
1 - Odell Beckham Jr. (WR, New York Giants)
Was there ever any question that OBJ would be top the list?
He might just be the most electrifying playmaker in the whole NFL. Combining speed, explosiveness, and quick-twitch agility, Beckham is an athletic handful. What vaults him into the ranks of the Elite are his detailed route running, football IQ, body control, and passion. Beckham is so good that even in a broken offense, with the defense keying on him, he was still able to record over 100 catches, 1,300 yards, and notch 10 touchdowns — and it was considered a “down” year.
Jokes might get made about Beckham getting into a fight with a kicking net, and pearls clutched over a hole in the wall at Lambeau Field, but that passion is what drives him to perfect his craft.
No other single offensive player in the division is capable of taking over a game like Beckham. Whether it is dominating with a 200-yard performance as he did against Baltimore or making one game-breaking play that completely flips the momentum and breaks a defense’s will, Beckham makes highlight reel plays look as effortless as breathing.