Football is close. Some rookies are reporting to team training camps this week. Most full training camps officially open at the start of next week. The 2017 season is almost here.
One other way we can tell football is on the horizon is with the release of preseason previews. CBS Sports did just that with their recently-posted 2017 Preseason All-NFC East Team. There were 25 roster spots given out and the Giants led the way with nine selections. The Dallas Cowboys followed closely behind with eight. Both the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles each had four.
Overall, there’s nothing too surprising about the list made up of the best players from these four teams. Still, let’s take a look at the selections and see where we agree and disagree.
QB - Dak Prescott, Cowboys
RB - Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
Both of these players were rookie sensations for the Cowboys in 2016. Heading into 2017, it’s hard to make an argument against these two finishing as the best at the position again. Dak Prescott might have a hard time replicating exactly what he did last year, but he was making adjustments as a rookie that usually take quarterbacks a few years to figure out. There’s also flaws for every other quarterback in the division. Kirk Cousins lost his top two receivers from last year -- both of whom were quite good. Neither Eli Manning nor Carson Wentz did nearly enough last season to be considered the preseason favorites at the position, either.
Ezekiel Elliott was the clear top back in the division -- and the league, really -- in 2016. His possible suspension might be a roadblock for that in 2017, but there’s no obvious alternative to put here. All three other teams have question marks at the position heading into the season.
WR - Odell Beckham, Giants
WR - Dez Bryant, Cowboys
WR - Jamison Crowder, Washington
TE - Jordan Reed, Washington
There’s really not much of an argument to made here among the pass catchers. Beckham and Bryant are the two best receivers in the division, so they’re easy selections. Crowder was Washington’s main slot receiver last season and my expect a breakout from him as the team’s leading returning receiver. However, he was just 43rd among receivers in DVOA out of the slot in 2016, per Football Outsiders. But the alternatives aren’t great options at this point. The next best returning receiver, Sterling Shepard, was just 47th in DVOA out of the slot. The likes of Brandon Marshall, Terrelle Pryor, and Alshon Jeffery could all be hits, but each of the three will be in his first year with his current team.
When healthy, Reed is one of the most dangerous tight ends in the game and that should give him the edge over Zach Ertz and Jason Witten. Everyone is excited for Evan Engram, but it’s tough to put that type of preseason expectation on a rookie.
OT - Tyron Smith, Cowboys
OG - Justin Pugh, Giants
OC - Travis Frederick, Cowboys
OG - Zack Martin, Cowboys
OT - Lane Johnson, Eagles
This is exactly what you would expect an All-NFC East offensive line to look like. Players like Weston Richburg and Trent Williams do get snubbed, but they unfortunately play behind two of the best at their positions in Frederick and Smith.
DE - Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants
DT - Fletcher Cox, Eagles
DT - Damon Harrison, Giants
DE - Olivier Vernon, Giants
The Giants dominate here and take three of the four defensive line spots, which makes sense. If I’m putting together the list, I might have put Brandon Graham as the second defensive end over Jason Pierre-Paul. Graham only had 5.5 sacks last season, but was second behind Vernon among all NFL defenders in pass pressures per Sports Info Solutions charting from Football Outsiders. That’s important in a Jim Schwartz defense that relies on the front four to create pressure and we all know why pressure matters.
LB - Ryan Kerrigan, Washington
LB - Jordan Hicks, Eagles
LB - Sean Lee, Cowboys
This is a weird one. My biggest issue is listing three linebackers to begin with. On offense, three wide receivers have become the base formation -- teams used 11 personnel on 60 percent of all plays last season. That’s caused defenses to rely more on nickel packages with one more defensive back and that has become the base for modern defenses. If you’re going to acknowledge that with three spots for wide receivers on offense instead of a second tight end or running back, why not do the same on the other side of the ball?
My list probably would have taken out Kerrigan, who would fall behind Vernon, Graham, and JPP classified as an edge rusher. Kerrigan is a “linebacker” but his main objective in Washington’s 3-4 is to rush the quarterback. I would have only listed two linebackers and added another defensive back in the next section.
CB - Josh Norman, Washington
CB - Janoris Jenkins, Giants
FS - Malcolm Jenkins, Eagles
SS - Landon Collins, Giants
The reason for the added defensive back spot is because Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie gets left off due to just two corner spots. There’s an argument to be made that DRC deserves the spot instead of Norman anyway, but Norman’s name recognition will always put him on lists such as this. Rodgers-Cromartie was criminally underrated last season outside of New York. He finished first among cornerbacks in yards allowed per pass and Success Rate last season, per Football Outsiders.
At safety, Landon Collins is an obvious selection. At the other spot, I might have leaned towards Dallas’s Byron Jones. The athletic safety is on the upswing and will be a key piece in the success of the Cowboys secondary in 2017. Jenkins has been great since he moved to Philadelphia, and he’ll only turn 30 in December despite this being his ninth year in the league, but Jones showed enough promise in his rookie season to potentially take that spot.
K - Dan Bailey, Cowboys
P - Brad Wing, Giants
KR - Dwayne Harris, Giants
A preseason all-division team is pretty low stakes on its own, but there’s nothing more low stakes than the special teams section of a preseason all-division team. Dan Bailey was great on extra points but so-so on field goals last season, but he’s still really the only known quantity among NFC East kickers. Brad Wing was name dropped in a Nicki Minaj song, which is reason enough to put him above the rest of the division’s punters.
CBS’s team only lists on kick returner instead of separating kicks and punts. With that, it’s fair to give the spot to Harris, who despite some struggles last season was one of just six players last season to have more than 20 kick and punt returns each. Jamison Crowder does deserve some recognition here. Though he did not return any kickoffs, he had the fourth best punt return average of 12.1 yards on 27 returns. Harris, on 29 punt returns, was last among 21 qualified returners at a 5.9-yard average.