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Ranking how NFC East teams are set up for future at wide receiver and tight end

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Giants are No. 2 in this long-term look at NFC East teams

NFL: New York Giants-Minicamp Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

In the time between OTAs and the start of training camp, it’s a good opportunity to asses where teams sit for the upcoming season. But teams aren’t just built for the upcoming season, especially ones like the New York Giants, who are looking to the future as much if not more than 2019.

With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at how the teams in the NFC East stack up at each position, not only for 2019, but over the next three seasons. For these rankings, we’ll consider the starters, overall depth, and salary cap implications to get a full view of how each of these position groups is set up for the next few years.

Today we’ll take a look at wide receivers and tight ends.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints
Nelson Agholor
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

1. Philadelphia Eagles

For 2019, the Eagles might be too deep with pass-catching options. At wide receiver, they have Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, and second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. All but Agholor, on his fifth-year option, are signed through at least 2021. Jeffery has been a true No. 1 since he showed up in Philadelphia and that helped through a season that saw up and down quarterback play from Carson Wentz and Nick Foles in 2018. Last season, Jeffery was 19th among skill position players in receiving EPA, per Sports Info Solutions, 14th among wide receivers in Football Outsiders’ DYAR (a counting stat) and 13th in DVOA (efficiency). He was also one of the best wide receivers in the league at creating more receptions than expected. His contract is through his age-31 season in 2021 and his AAV of $13 million per year is only 15th among wide receivers and is likely to go down as more top-tier receiver contracts are signed over the next two off-seasons.

Jackson is still one of the league’s most dangerous deep threats at 33 years old. Last season he was tied for the 12th most targets on passes that traveled at least 20 yards down the field. Agholor is likely in his last season on the Eagles, but Arcega-Whiteside was drafted to be the next in line in three wide receiver sets. Agholor was 54th among skill position players in EPA, though 77th among receivers in DVOA. There is even some promise in 2017 draft picks Shelton Gibson and Mack Hollins, though they’re also likely to not be on the roster.

The Eagles will also rely on tight ends with heavy usage of 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers). Only the Houston Texans (36 percent) used 12 personnel more than the Eagles (35 percent) in 2018. For that, Philadelphia has the 29-year old Zach Ertz and 24-year-old Dallas Goedert. Ertz is on the sixth-biggest deal for a tight end, though his cap hits will jump over the next few seasons due to a restructure in order to clear 2019 cap space for the team. Goedert will be on his rookie contract through 2021 that will pay him no more than $1.8 million in any single season.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants
Evan Engram
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

2. New York Giants

Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate offer a solid receiving duo the Giants will have through 2022, though more likely through 2020 or 2021 with the ability to get out of Tate’s contract following his age-32 or age-33 season. 2019 will be a big season in figuring out the future of the duo with two players having similar strengths and Shepard likely to take a bigger role in the offense. Despite the Giants giving significant contracts to both Shepard and Tate, they aren’t spending a whole lot on the position compared to the rest of the league. They currently have the 16th-most cap space spent on the position for 2020 and when not factoring in the dead money for Odell Beckham this season, they’re just 24th in 2019.

The Giants have struggled to find a productive third wide receiver over the past few seasons. Even though the Giants had one of the league’s lowest rates of 11 personnel last season, they still used it 57 percent of the time. The group of Corey Coleman, Cody Latimer, Russell Shepard, and Bennie Fowler isn’t one that will spark a lot of fear in opposing defenses. Rookie Darius Slayton has the potential to sneak into that role — at least as a deep threat — but his ability is still unknown. Depth is a serious question behind the top two receivers.

At tight end, the Giants have what should be one of the league’s biggest mismatches in Evan Engram, but between usage and injuries, full potential has yet to be reached. Engram, who will turn 25 years old in September, has two years remaining on his rookie contract at a total of $5.3 million. Rhett Ellison, the Giants’ backup tight end, is making $5.75 million in 2019 alone. With that cap hit, the Giants have the 11th-most cap space used on tight ends for the upcoming season. Ellison was fine as the No. 2 tight end and filled in well during Engram’s absence, but he provides little more than average play for an above average price. Scott Simonson and potentially the undrafted C.J. Conrad could add more youthful depth to the position.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams
Amari Cooper
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

3. Dallas Cowboys

It’s impossible to deny Amari Cooper’s impact after he was traded to Dallas for the second half of the 2018 season. It’s also impossible to deny there is little depth behind him. Cooper is in line to get a big contract extension — one that should be a priority just behind Dak Prescott but before Ezekiel Elliott. With a slew of wide receiver extensions likely to be handed out over the coming months — Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, and A.J. Green stand out — it’s unclear where Cooper will fall in that hierarchy but he’s still just 25 years old and resembles the only legitimate receiving threat the Cowboys have on the roster.

Without Cole Beasley, the rest of the Dallas depth chart features no sure things. Randall Cobb will fill that role, but injuries have slowed Cobb down over the past few seasons and it’s been a while since his breakout 2014 season. Behind him, there is some young hope but not much more. Michaell Gallup (23) flashed in his rookie season as a third-round pick and could continue to grow into a useful No. 2 option. Allen Hurns has been an underrated player unfortunately on the receiving end of Blake Bortles passes, but he’s coming off a severe leg injury suffered in 2018. Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, and Devin Smith were all favorites by certain sections of Draft Twitter, but have yet to get a chance on the field.

The tight end situation in Dallas was so dire in 2018, Jason Witten came out of retirement for 2019. Witten will be in his age-37 season and he had already lost multiple steps when he last played in 2017, though he could figure to be a useful red zone target. 25-year-old Blake Jarwin was the closest Dallas had to a threat at tight end and he eventually got four starts in 2018. He should get a bigger role even with Witten back in the mix — he was 12th among tight ends in DYAR and fourth in DVOA last season. 2018 fourth-round pick Dalton Schultz will stay as the No. 3 tight end.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Washington Redskins
Jordan Reed
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

4. Washington Redskins

Only four teams have less 2019 cap space invested in wide receivers than Washington and it shows. This is not a pretty group. Josh Doctson was a standout college wide receiver but has yet to make a significant impact in the NFL. He’ll be on the last year of his rookie deal after Washington declined his fifth-year option earlier this offseason. Doctson has yet to eclipse 600 receiving yards in a season. He’ll be the No. 1 receiver this season. Behind him is Paul Richardson, the former second-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, who was signed to a five-year, $40 million contract in 2018. Richardson appeared in just seven games last season and has only played in 16 games one time in his five-year career. Washington used a third-round pick this April on Ohio State receiver Terry McLaurin to pair with Dwayne Haskins. McLaurin was an underrated receiver and a Target Yards Added favorite. He could be a useful piece of familiarity for a rookie quarterback and a productive deep threat down the field.

While Washington is spending little money at wide receiver, no team has more 2019 cap space invested at tight end. Much of that is tied to Jordan Reed, who is still just 29 years old, but has never played a full 16-game season in his six-year career. His 13 games played and eight starts in 2018 could be considered pretty good for him. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very good when he was on the field — 48th among 49 qualified tight ends in DYAR and 43rd in DVOA. Most of Washington’s tight end work has gone to the surprisingly 35-year-old Vernon Davis — though I’m never sure which side the surprising part comes on. He’ll likely continue to play a big role when Reed is unavailable. That responsibility will also fall on 2017 fifth-round pick Jeremy Sprinkle, who only had five receptions in 2018. It’s a group that has little to offer in the present and even less for the future.