Free Agency & Draft Analysis:
What rookie and veteran players to watch
The NFL is constantly changing and evolving to meet the demanding standards each season. NFL teams spent the entire off-season carefully crafting their rosters through the draft and free agency to bring a Lombardi trophy home in February. So while teams kick off training camp signifying the return of NFL football. Let's lock in on two players from each team I see making a significant impact for their teams during the 2022 season. This idea was inspired by the Move the Sticks Podcast (@Movethesticks) hosted by Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks, which highlighted rookie and second-year players to watch. However, I wanted to give some spotlight to the older players in this league added via free agency that we see make big-time plays every year for their new teams. So I will cover both a rookie and new veteran Free Agent to keep an eye on from each NFL roster beginning here in the NFC East.
New York Giants
The Giants have yet to have a winning season since their last playoff berth in 2016. Which was a product of General Manager Dave Gettleman's free agent spending frenzy. A frenzy that fizzled out rather quickly, with the Giants winning only 24 games in the following five years. In 2022 the Giants overhauled the entire organization by plucking away both General Manager Joe Schoen and Head Coach Brian Daboll from the Buffalo Bills. Expectations are not high but even the slightest sign of progress and a change of culture would be a win for the new regime. If they are going to recapture the soul of Giants football they will need to regain control of the line of scrimmage. This of course begins with the big guys upfront in the trenches.
Kayvonn Thibodeaux: The Giants selected defensive end Kayvonn Thibodeaux with the 5th overall selection in the NFL Draft with the intention of this young man rejuvenating their pass rush. There are few players that possess both the length and get-off #5 possesses. Thibodeaux racked up 19 sacks during his three-year collegiate career along with 84 tackles. The Giants are in desperate need of a pass rush after a down year for Leonard Williams. If Thibodeaux can unlock his potential in New York the Giants could have a deadly pass-rushing duo with last year's rookie Azeez Ojulari, who lead the team in sacks with 9 in 2021. Thibodeaux has all of the talent and charisma needed to survive in New York, but with effort concerns during the draft process can Thibodeaux handle the high expectations?
Mark Glowinski: The 30-year-old Veteran guard looks to provide leadership and quality experience to a group that was downright awful last season. In Indianapolis, Glowinski was part of a dominant unit that guided Jonathan Taylor to the rushing crown in 2021. The New York Giants have been abysmal on the offensive line dating back to the Eli Manning era. A flurry of bad signings after another coupled with poor drafting have plagued the team for nearly a decade. Now with left tackle Andrew Thomas showing major signs of promise and the team drafting Evan Neal to fill their right tackle spot there is potential for the Giants to convert a weakness into a strength. Glowinski could be the mentor these young linemen lean on, while they pick up the intricacies of the NFL game.
The Dallas Cowboys left a sour note in the mouth of their fans last season following yet another playoff blunder. However, the Cowboys still appear to be the front runners in the NFC East with Dak Prescott leading the way on offense and the young superstar Micah Parsons on defense. The Cowboys also managed to keep both Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore and Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn, both of which interviewed for Head Coach positions this off-season. Still, it is likely that the Cowboys take a step backward this season after it seemed like almost everything lined up for the team last season. The number of turnovers the Dallas defense generated last season is simply not replicable. The emergence of Trevon Diggs shouldn't be taken lightly, though his interception production of 2021 is not likely to be repeated. The departure of Amari Cooper looms as well leaving the young star CeeDee Lamb to seize the number one spot. If the Cowboys are going to break their streak of playoff losses and keep coach McCarthy in town they will have to count on these players to step up.
Tyler Smith: In the NFL Draft the Cowboys took tackle Tyler Smith with the 24th overall pick. In 2021, it became apparent that the old reputation of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line was exactly that, old. Left tackle Tyron Smith missed five games in 2021 leaving the 31-year-old Zack Martin playing with strangers. Right Tackle La’el Collins departed to Cincinnati leaving the spot open for Tyler Smith. The Cowboys are at their best when the offensive line is moving people and Elliot is carrying the rock. Tyler Smith could be the next piece of the puzzle while the Cowboys piece their line back together with young players like Connor Williams and Tyler Biadasz.
Expectations are starting to build in the city of brotherly love after what many view as an exciting off-season for the Eagles. Building off their playoff season in 2021, second year head coach Nick Siriani is looking for young Quarterback Jalen Hurts to take the next step. Hurts surprised many with his leadership style and rushing ability, but left plenty to be desired in the passing game. The Eagles seem to have found gold in receiver Devonta Smith and doubled down at the position by trading for Aj Brown on draft night. Lessening the blows from the struggles of former first round pick Jalen Reagor, who's been plagued by drops and mental mistakes. The Eagles off-season even prompted running back Miles Sanders to refer to the feeling around the team as, " We all feel like we’re on an All-Star team…We feel unstoppable…" The Eagles will need these new additions to play a major role in getting philly back into the postseason and meeting those All-Star expectations.
Nakobe Dean: The Eagles elected to end Nakobe Deans slide down the draft board by selecting him with their 3rd round draft choice. Dean went into the draft expecting to be a first round selection until a late report about injury concerns scared teams away from the linebacker. Dean was a first team All-American and All-SEC selection while also adding a CFB Championship Title to his resume. Dean captained a dominant Georgia defense leading the unit in tackles with 72, while also snagging two interceptions and six sacks. The speedy linebacker lacks traditional size but should fit in nicely behind Philly's massive defensive front. The 3rd round pick should start for the birds, look for him to be shooting running lanes early and often in 2022.
It was an off-season of change in our Nation's capital, as the Commanders were born. The team had spent the two previous seasons under the title of "Washington Football Team." Now with a new name, new uniforms, and new logo will the results change as well? Washington's defensive unit looked poised to continue its dominant ways but injuries and lack of consistency plagued the unit. Both linebackers Chase Young and Montez Sweat suffered season ending injuries early in the season derailing a majority of their defensive front. The offensive side of the ball could never quite find its stride either under feisty Quarterback Taylor Heinicke. While players like Terry McLaurin remain constant, not much else did with Antonio Gibson, Curtis Samuel and Logan Thomas all missing time due to injury. Now with a new Quarterback in town and the flashy new uniforms can Washington find its way back to the top of the east?
Brian Robinson Jr: Running back Antonio Gibson is the main man in Washington no doubt, but as we have seen across the league you need two backs to carry the load. I expect Robinson to start as a short yardage back and blossom into the full fledged rotation for the Commanders down the stretch. Robinson stacked up 1300 yards for the Crimson Tide last season along with 29 touchdowns. His physical running nature is the perfect complement to Gibson's speed. Not to mention Gibson has been turning over the football far too often, with six fumbles in 2021. The commanders struggled to close games out last year. Now armed with a healthy dose of Gibson and Robinson the Commanders can only hope that the clock will keep churning and the chains will be moving.
Carson Wentz: I wanted to avoid picking Quarterbacks since they get so much spotlight anyway. Yet, it's not too often a quarterback who performed as statistically well as Wentz did in 2021, finds himself on a new team via free agency. Last year Carson Wentz threw 27 touchdowns to 7 interceptions for the Colts in a campaign that ended in embarrassing fashion against the division rival Jacksonville Jaguars in week 18. That horrific final stretch for the Colts seemed to doom Wentz’ future in Indy. Now, back in the NFC East I expect Wentz to have a similar season for the Commanders. Wentz plays the position in a fearless manner not afraid to "risk it all." His turnover troubles appeared to disappear last season despite his quick departure. Now armed with Scary Terry, first round rookie Jahan Dotson, and speedy Curtis Samuel Washington could storm out the gates. It is easy to forget that Wentz was the front runner for MVP only a short while ago. The only concern now is can that offensive line keep Wentz upright and can Wentz garner the trust of those around him to be the leader Washington needs?