The NFL is entering that time during the offseason when rosters are largely set. We don’t yet know who will play at each position but we know the options. And with options, we can begin to predict who might be better than all of the rest.
In that spirit, I am taking a break from my weekly NFC East Notebook to focus on position groups in the division. This series will highlight one position group each week and rank them team-by-team.
First, let’s dive into the quarterback situation for each NFC East team, starting with best to worst.
Dak is back.
And for that reason alone, the Cowboys have the best quarterback situation in the league - a far cry from Ben DiNucci starting under center on primetime just one season ago.
Prescott has improved as a passer since entering the league as a fourth-round pick in 2016. Two seasons ago, Dak Prescott finished second in passing in the league with over 4,900 yards. Last year, he was on pace for more than 6,000 yards before suffering his season-ending ankle injury in Week 5. He had earned a Pro Football Focus grade higher than 85.2 in 2020 before the injury - the highest such grade in his career.
According to the rankings released by PFF, Prescott is the seventh-best quarterback in the league entering the 2021 season - and the highest-ranked amongst NFC East signal callers.
The expectations for Prescott are high after he finally signed a long-term deal this offseason. His contract is worth $160 million over four years. Last year, Prescott was on pace to break records but he was also playing on the franchise tag. Prescott had something to prove last season. Now, he has games to win.
Jerry Jones and second-year Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy want to make last season a distant memory as soon as possible. No more quarterback carousel led by Andy Dalton. The one knock against Prescott’s career so far is his inability to win in the playoffs. Since he has been in Dallas, the Cowboys have lost in the divisional round in 2016 and 2018. Prescott is already expected to have a fire under him due to missing most of last season, but the urgency to win will only make him more of a threat.
Oh, the quarterback situation in Washington. It’s never straight-forward, is it?
After a tumultuous season that saw four different starting quarterbacks beginning with former first-round pick Dwayne Haskins Jr. and ending with unlikely playoff hero Taylor Heinicke, Washington is hoping for stability. The Football Team signed journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year deal this offseason. It’s a temporary solution but it also has the potential to work.
Fitzpatrick enjoyed a strong season with the Miami Dolphins last year, famously recording a higher QBR than Tom Brady at 76.9. Fitzpatrick played an important role in leading the Dolphins, a rebuilding franchise that finished 5-11 in 2019, to a 10-6 record. He started seven games, completing 68.5 percent of his passes, throwing for 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Now, Fitzpatrick is 38 years old and preparing to enter his 16th NFL season and play for his ninth NFL team. Yet despite all of the moving around, he is ranked 10th among active quarterbacks with 34,977 passing yards and has thrown for 223 touchdowns with 169 interceptions in his career.
Fitzpatrick knows how to get receivers involved and he has the tools to embrace the strengths of Washington’s increasingly-strong receiving corps that includes Terry McLaurin, Adam Humphries and Curtis Samuel.
Normally, franchise’s build their teams around a quarterback. Washington has done the opposite but in the process, has gotten significantly stronger on both offense and defense this offseason. Fitzpatrick has yet to play in a playoff game in his long career. Washington has not won a division title since 2005, the year Fitzpatrick made his NFL debut. The two just might be exactly what each other needs.
As you must know if you are reading this on Big Blue View, this next season is a big one for Daniel Jones, who is entering his third year in the league.
New York has always been a tough market to play in but Jones has had doubters from the beginning. His first season under former head coach Pat Shurmur was confusing as Eli Manning was still a part of the team and the decision to bench him in favor of Jones came with many complications. Last season was a turning point because Manning was gone and the Giants were Jones’ team to lead. Yet the numbers, though better, were not significantly improved.
Jones fumbled 18 times in 2019 and 11 in 2020. In his rookie season, Jones threw for 24 touchdowns with 12 interceptions while, last season, he recorded 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He missed two games each season due to various ankle and hamstring issues.
We know that over the course of his first two seasons in the league, Jones has not had a lot of help. In 2019, he was sacked 38 times and in 2020, he was sacked 45 times. Some of those are his fault, but some are also of course the fault of the offensive line. Additionally, Jones has been short weapons. Evan Engram had crucial drops last season and Saquon Barkley played just two games before getting injured.
For these reasons, Jones ranks behind Prescott and Fitzpatrick as far as quality under center.
But for other reasons, he also ranks higher than the Philadelphia Eagles’ Jalen Hurts (more on him soon). The Giants focused on adding weapons this offseason, beginning with Kenny Golladay. John Ross and first-round pick Kadarius Toney will add depth to a receiving corps that still features Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton. Kyle Rudolph is joining the tight end room, Barkley is coming back and the team has invested draft capital in the offensive line.
If everyone stays healthy, Jones will finally have the weapons he has long been missing, which could in turn make him a more legitimate threat under center.
Last we have the Carson-Wentz-less Philadelphia Eagles. Wentz wanted out because he did not like playing behind Jalen Hurts, who the Eagles drafted with the No. 53 overall pick in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Hurts was always a surprising draft choice, but perhaps the bigger surprise was just how soon he was needed.
Wentz’s mediocre 2020 campaign has been well documented. Now, the focus shifts to Hurts who has not been publicly named the starter for next season but whom the Eagles have supported in such a way to suggest that he will be. Hurts is the clear favorite over the other quarterbacks on the roster - Joe Flacco and rookie Jamie Newman - for the starting job.
Hurts played in 15 games last season and tallied four starts. He recorded 77 completions in 148 attempts for 1,061 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. Hurts also collected 63 rushing attempts for 354 yards and three touchdowns. Certain performances, like the Eagles’ Week 14 upset of the New Orleans Saints, particularly stand out.
But last season was still too small of a sample size to get a real feel for Hurts at the NFL level. Philly was weak as a whole in 2020 - finishing with the worst record in the division at 4-11-1 - and that does not translate to quarterback success. It will be interesting to see how Hurts performs with more weapons around him and better protection up-front in this upcoming season.