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Ranking the secondaries of each team in the NFC East

Which team in the division has the strongest secondary?

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New York Giants v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

In a mediocre 2020 season for the NFC East, there were flashes.

A triumphant return by a veteran quarterback who proved everyone wrong. A fumble recovery in the fourth quarter of a division game by a Giants player who proved he is not Irrelevant. A surprising onside kick recovery by the Cowboys to secure the win. A touchdown catch by Boston Scott with under a minute play in an important division matchup.

These types of moments happened for all four teams on both sides of the ball throughout the 2020 season. But we know that explosive moments alone do not win football games.

As we begin to rank our final position group heading into next season, it is important to remember that each team in the NFC East is seeking two relatively boring but important concepts: balance and consistency.

We will take a closer look at the secondaries of each club in the division and then do a final roundup of where each team stands across the board heading into the 2021 season.

4. Dallas Cowboys

In order to understand the Cowboys’ pressing need for help on the secondary, look no further than the 2021 NFL Draft.

Dallas spent both its second- and third-round draft selections on cornerbacks, picking Kelvin Joseph and Nashon Wright. While secondary is a clear position of need for the Cowboys, it remains to be seen how much value Joseph and Wright will add in their rookie campaigns.

Trevon Diggs, who is entering his second season in the league, has the potential to emerge as the Cowboys’ No. 1 corner but he left something to be desired in 2020. Diggs improved as the season progressed, but his 651 receiving yards allowed ranked 21st-most among all cornerbacks despite him playing just 12 games, according to Pro Football Focus.

Anthony Brown brings veteran experience and can play on the inside and outside. Newcomers Joseph and Wright will likely compete with Brown for a starting role. Then, Dallas will probably aim to have Donovan Wilson start at one safety spot, leaving the free safety position open to some combination of Jayron Kearse, Damontae Kazee and Darian Thompson. Kazee may be the favorite for playing time if he can return to 2018 form when he recorded nine combined pass breakups and interceptions in Dan Quinn’s defense.

3. Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia’s secondary features a big name in cornerback Darius Slay but his performance has dropped in recent seasons. Over a five-year stint in Detroit, Slay posted a Pro Football Focus grade of 90.0. But in the past two seasons, that number has dropped to 59.5. If he can return to the version of himself that dominated in Detroit, the Eagles will be in good shape but that remains to be seen.

Behind Slay, the cornerback depth in Philly is scarce. Avonte Maddox posted a 37.1 coverage grade in 2020 and whether or not Zech McPhearson’s, a fourth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, will transition smoothly over to the NFL is still uncertain.

The Eagles did add safety Anthony Harris this offseason who, on a one-year, $4 million contract, is a high-value addition. He will line up opposite Rodney McLeod who’s ability to play is uncertain due to the torn ACL he suffered last season.

Overall, there are more questions than answers on the Eagles’ secondary.

2. Washington Football Team

Washington’s secondary was one of the biggest surprises of last season despite not having a No. 1 outside cornerback. This team invested heavily in its defensive line and reaped the rewards. But the secondary was less of a priority and yet it still developed into a strong part of Washington’s defense, ending the year ranked sixth in team coverage grade per PFF.

Ronald Darby signed a deal with the Denver Broncos this offseason but Washington replaced him with a strong player in Williams Jackson III. Jackson has posted an 80.0 coverage grade in man-to-man concepts since 2017 - a mark that is 15 points higher than Darby’s coverage grade on the same subset of plays (64.3).

Kendall Fuller had a strong 2020 campaign and remains one of the best slot players in the league. Third-rounder Benjamin St. Juste will look to make an impact and Washington also brings back cornerback Jimmy Moreland who can play both inside or outside.

The safety position will be well taken care of by Kamren Curl, who recorded 88 combined tackles, five quarterback hits, 2.0 sacks and three interceptions last season. He will be joined by All-Pro Landon Collins.

Under the guidance of Jack Del Rio, who is entering his second year with the Football Team, this position group is poised to return for a strong year in 2021.

1. New York Giants

It took ranking many position groups but the Giants are in fact No. 1 in the NFC East in one aspect of the game. Their secondary is ranked No. 7 by PFF heading into the 2021 season - the top mark in the division.

New York is expected to start James Bradberry and Adoree’ Jackson at outside cornerback next season. Bradberry posted a 79.9 coverage grade in 2021 and ranked seventh among qualifying cornerbacks. Jackson posted a an 82.5 mark in 2019 - his last full active season - which ranks sixth overall. There is potential for Bradberry and Jackson to be one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL.

The Giants also have depth at the safety position with Jabrill Peppers, Logan Ryan, Xavier McKinney. and Julian Love. In four games last year, McKinney recorded 25 tackles, including one tackle for loss, one pass breakup and one interception. When fully healthy, he has the potential to have a breakout year.

New York also added rookie Aaron Robinson out of the University of Central Florida in the 2021 NFL Draft. Darnay Holmes is expected to play in the slot while Love can play cornerback or safety.

Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has many versatile players to work with in the secondary. This position group is poised to lead the way for the Giants this season.

NFC East Position-by-position rankings

Quarterback:

  1. Dallas Cowboys
  2. Washington Football Team
  3. New York Giants
  4. Philadelphia Eagles

Wide receiver:

  1. Dallas Cowboys
  2. Washington Football Team
  3. New York Giants
  4. Philadelphia Eagles

Running back:

  1. Dallas Cowboys
  2. New York Giants
  3. Washington Football Team
  4. Philadelphia Eagles

Offensive line:

  1. Dallas Cowboys
  2. Washington Football Team
  3. Philadelphia Eagles
  4. New York Giants

Tight end:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles
  2. New York Giants
  3. Washington Football Team
  4. Dallas Cowboys

Defensive line:

  1. Washington Football Team
  2. Philadelphia Eagles
  3. New York Giants
  4. Dallas Cowboys