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Where do the Giants’ position groups rank in the NFC East?

One NFL reporter has a dim view. See if you agree or disagree.

Carolina Panthers v New York Giants Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

There is much talk about the 2023 New York Giants’ potentially tougher schedule compared to 2022. But what is constant from year to year is that they compete in the NFC East. Derided as the “NFC Least” only three years ago, the division is now one of the toughest if not THE toughest in the NFL, having placed three teams in the final eight of last year’s playoffs and one in the Super Bowl.

How do the Giants stack up against the rest of the division? Last week we took a look at how each team’s projected starting lineups have changed since the end of last season. Ralph Vacchiano, Fox Sports’ NFC East reporter, recently made his own assessment of how specific position groups for each team compare. Not surprisingly, Vacchiano is enamored of the Philadelphia Eagles’ talent, which he ranks at the top of the division in a number of position groups. Let’s take a look at his assessments and provide our own opinions.


Vacchiano: Eagles (best), Cowboys (runner-up)

The NFC East quarterback situation is difficult to decipher. It comes down to how much credit/blame you give to each team’s quarterback for the team’s success/failure. No NFC East QB is among the top five in the NFL in my eyes. Vacchiano may feel differently. He argues that Hurts is the best two-way (pass, run) QB in the league and ranks him easily as first in the division. He might be. Did Hurts take a big step forward from 2021, when he was not viewed that way, to 2022? Or did adding A.J. Brown to an offense that already had Devonta Smith and the NFL’s best offensive line make the difference?

Some Giants fans believe that Daniel Jones is better than Dak Prescott. He might be. Jones has never had the receivers and offensive line that Prescott has had with the Dallas Cowboys, while Prescott has put up big numbers and gotten his team to the playoffs more often - but never to an NFC Championship Game. It’s a toss-up, edge to Prescott for now. It could change by season’s end. The only certainty is that the Washington Commanders rank last at the moment, with unproven Sam Howell the ostensible starter.

Rank: 1. Eagles. 2. Cowboys. 3. Giants. 4. Commanders.

Running backs

Vacchiano: Giants (best), Cowboys (runner-up)

This is a no-brainer (assuming that Saquon Barkley plays for the Giants in 2023). Barkley is one of the top five running backs in the NFL, and none of the others are in the NFC East. Draftee Eric Gray, who explodes through the hole and is very elusive, should make the Giants’ RB room even better, and Matt Breida is capable of making plays as well. Philadelphia let Miles Sanders walk and replaced him with D’Andre Swift and Rashaad Penny, both good but not great backs. Kenneth Gainwell showed promise last year, and Boston Scott awakens from the dead twice each season to score a touchdown against the Giants. That’s impressive depth but it all plays off the pass and the RPO threat of Hurts.

Tony Pollard is an excellent back who will finally get to carry the load for Dallas this season, and Deuce Vaughan is an intriguing addition. How they will do without Ezekiel Elliott to get the tough yards is to be determined. Brian Robinson is a formidable back in his own right who could one day be the division’s best, and Antonio Gibson, who fell out of favor with the Commanders last year, is still a talented back with pass-catching ability.

Rank: 1. Giants. 2. Eagles. 3. Cowboys. 4. Commanders.

Wide receivers

Vacchiano: Eagles (best), Cowboys (runner-up)

Philadelphia doesn’t have much depth at the receiver position. But when your starters are two of the top 20 wide receivers in the NFL (A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith), depth is the least of your roster problems. Dallas this year comes at opponents with a three-headed monster: CeeDee Lamb, perhaps a top ten receiver, Brandin Cooks, who keeps racking up 1,000 yard seasons but keeps getting traded, and Michael Gallup. They are not the Eagles’ equal but not far from it.

Washington has one elite receiver, Terry McLaurin, one potentially elite young receiver in Jahan Dotson, and a solid third option in Curtis Samuel. That’s better than anyone the Giants currently have at wide receiver, but for 2023 the Giants have accumulated an intriguing depth of talent and speed. Whether explosive draftee Jalin Hyatt can become a consistent deep threat, whether Isaiah Hodgins can consistently be the X-receiver the Giants have lacked for so long, and how healthy the Giants’ other receiving options such as Parris Campbell and Wan’Dale Robinson can remain, will have a lot to say about how this position group ranks a year from now.

Rank: 1. Eagles. 2. Cowboys. 3. Commanders. 4. Giants.

Tight ends

Vacchiano: Eagles (best), Giants (runner-up)

Daniel Bellinger looked like a steal of the 2022 draft before injuring his eye against Jacksonville, and he has a fan in none other than Travis Kelce. Who am I to argue with him? But for good measure the Giants traded for Darren Waller during the off-season. When healthy Waller is maybe the third best TE in the NFL behind Kelce and George Kittle. Will the Giants get 2019-2020 healthy Waller, or 2021-2022 injured Waller? If the former, it’s clear who has the best tight end room in the NFC East.

After Waller, the Eagles’ Dallas Goedert is the clear No. 2 in the division, but there is little behind him. Dallas was thin at tight end with only little-used 2022 draftee Jake Ferguson after letting Dalton Schultz leave. But things are looking up with intriguing 2023 draftee Luke Schoonmaker joining the team. Logan Thomas was a revelation for the Commanders in 2020 but has cooled off since then, and there is little behind him.

Rank: 1. Giants. 2. Eagles. 3. Cowboys. 4. Commanders.

Offensive line

Vacchiano: Eagles (best), Cowboys (runner-up)

Philadelphia has the best offensive line in the NFL. Period. They made Dexter Lawrence disappear during a season in which he dominated the rest of the league, and they opened gaping holes in the Giants’ line for their runners to gash through. That said, Isaac Seumalo is gone and unproven Cam Jurgens is there in his place, Jason Kelce is in his final year, and Lane Johnson is long in the tooth as well. But until they show signs of regressing, there is no discussion to be had.

The rest of the division? Lots of discussion. Dallas has traditionally had one of the league’s best offensive lines, but Tyron Smith and Zack Martin are not what they once were, and Tyler Biadasz is barely average at center. Tyler Smith performed admirably as a rookie, however. The Giants have one second-team All-Pro tackle in Andrew Thomas and four question marks. If we project Evan Neal to live up to his draft pedigree and John Michael Schmitz to slide in smoothly at center, maybe the Giants can overtake Dallas. If.

Washington has one good tackle in Charles Leno, a promising young guard in Sam Cosmi, and as many question marks as the Giants elsewhere, with three projected new starters.

Rank: 1. Eagles. 2. Cowboys. 3. Giants. 4. Commanders.

Defensive line

Vacchiano: Eagles (best), Commanders (runner-up)

First, let me state an objection. Admittedly, it’s all Lawrence Taylor’s fault. Defensive lineman and linebacker used to be two separate position types with two mostly different though complementary sets of responsibilities. Then LT came along and changed what linebackers do by rushing the passer.

Now we have “edge defenders,” some of whom play with a hand in the dirt like defensive ends and others of whom stand up like outside linebackers. The former usually but not always weigh more than the latter, with some edge defenders doing both. The former rarely drop into coverage, the latter sometimes do. It causes all kinds of confusion, e.g., at the NFL Combine. But in today’s NFL, players are asked to do all sorts of things. And there is no formally defined “edge” position. So what e.g. is Kayvon Thibodeaux? An edge defender definitely, but one who plays defensive end-type run support sometimes and one who drops into coverage like a linebacker sometimes. The only thing we can say is that job No. 1 for edge defenders is to rush the passer from the outside, while pass rushing is a secondary (if even that) responsibility for what are now called “off-ball linebackers.”

The preceding rant matters because Vacchiano mixes the two in ranking the NFC East teams. How do I compare Haason Reddick to Bobby Okereke, as Vacchiano does since they are both in his linebacker section? They have two completely different jobs. Sorry, I just can’t do it. I’m classifying “edge defenders” with the interior defensive line and making off-ball linebackers a separate category. With that in mind, here are my defensive line rankings:

The Eagles have the most fearsome defensive line in the NFL - edge, inside, you name it. They can bring Reddick, Josh Sweat, and Brandon Graham from the outside. Who else in the NFL can match that? On the inside, Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett have wreaked havoc for years, but Cox is aging and declining. No problem. They added Jordan Davis in last year’s draft and Jalen Carter this year. Sheesh. Throw in their other first rounder, edge defender Nolan Smith, and this fight is over in the first round.

The Commanders have their own impressive front four with Montez Sweat and Chase Young (pending his full recovery from an ACL tear) on the outside and Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne inside. The Cowboys have two dominant players on the edge in Micah Parsons (who actually did play linebacker a lot as a rookie but does so less often now) and DeMarcus Lawrence. They were weak inside last year but added Mazi Smith in Round 1 of the draft.

The Giants’ defensive front took a big step forward last year with Dexter Lawrence having a career year, Kayvon Thibodeaux showing great promise as a rookie, and Leonard Williams and Azeez Ojulari providing solid play but being compromised by injuries. They added run support depth during the off-season in A’Shawn Robinson and Rakeem Nunez-Roches. The potential is there, but the overall production has been inconsistent thus far. When I see this group rush effectively against the Eagles’ offensive line and set the edge consistently on running plays, they’ll rank higher, but in a division that is amazingly deep on the defensive line, not yet.

Rank: 1. Eagles. 2. Commanders. 3. Cowboys. 4. Giants.


Vacchiano: Eagles (best), Giants (runner-up)

Vacchiano’s rankings are mostly based on edge defenders, but I discuss off-ball linebackers here instead. I agree with Vacchiano that off-ball linebacker is the glaring weakness of the entire division. The Cowboys have Leighton Vander Esch, who is good but isn’t what he once was, and promising second-year player Damone Clark. The Eagles lost T.J. Edwards after he had his best season but have promising second-year player Nakobe Dean and journeyman Nicholas Morrow.

The Giants have arguably the best veteran in the division in Bobby Okereke but no one else who has proven he can play, though there are hopes for Darrian Beavers. The Commanders have disappointing Jamin Davis and little else.

This is a contest with no actual winners. You won’t mistake any of these linebacker groups for the 49ers’. But since I have to rank them:

Rank: 1. Cowboys. 2. Giants. 3. Eagles. 4. Commanders.


Vacchiano: Cowboys (best), Eagles (runner-up)

This is a tough one. Darius Slay reversed a recent decline and had a very good 2022 for the Eagles, joined by James Bradberry, who also rebounded to look more like his 2020 Giants self after a disappointing 2021. Reed Blankenship looked promising taking over at safety late in the season. For Dallas, Trevon Diggs is a gambler who intercepts a lot of passes but gives up lots of yards after the catch when he misses. His polar opposite is new addition Stephon Gilmore, not what he once was as a Patriot but still a cornerback that is very tough to complete passes against.

The Giants drafted Tae Banks to be their CB1. If he is, then paired with the very good Adoree’ Jackson as CB2, the Giants could have a very solid secondary. Xavier McKinney has played well in spurts but has been inconsistent and injured too much. Emmanuel Forbes is an intriguing rookie who will try to be the ballhawk for the Commanders that he was in college. Kendall Fuller is solid as the other boundary corner, as is Kamren Curl at safety.

Rank: 1. Eagles. 2. Cowboys. 3. Giants. 4. Commanders.


Vacchiano: Giants (best), Commanders (runner-up)

Aside from the fact that both use their foot, place kickers and punters have very different jobs. In my opinion, place kicker is the more important of the two positions since they more directly affect the outcomes of games and because the difference between the best and worst is more than it is for punters. Thus my rankings are weighted more toward the place kickers.

The Giants’ Graham Gano is the best place kicker in the NFC East and probably one of the three best in the NFL. Jake Elliott of Philadelphia is second best in the division, and Washington’s Joey Slye is close. Dallas is seeking to wake up from the nightmare that was Brett Maher in the 2022 playoffs.

On the punting side, Bryan Anger of Dallas has over the long term been the best in the NFC East, although Tress Way of Washington had an excellent 2022. Jamie Gillan had a very poor first half for the Giants but was better late in the season. Arryn Siposs provided one of the only 2022 Giants’ highlights against the Eagles when his punt was blocked in their first meeting.

Rank: 1. Giants. 2. Commanders. 3. Eagles. 4. Cowboys.

Final thoughts

These rankings are based on where I see the NFC East teams being before the start of the season. The Giants do not rank very highly at many positions because they had a deeper hole to climb out of than some of their NFC East counterparts, and that takes time. They chose (or were forced, given their cap situation in 2022) to build primarily through the draft, with few significant free agent signings last year. Even this year, with a better cap situation, they made mostly mid-level signings. By definition, then, they can’t rate highly at many positions, because first- and even second-year players are largely about potential that has yet to be fully realized. The potential is clearly there, though, and the arrow is pointing up.

The flip side of this is that the Giants have few question marks about aging players at key positions compared to their division rivals. By next February things could look very different. The Giants may have a better offensive line than Dallas, a better receiver room than Washington, a better secondary than Philadelphia. Maybe even the best quarterback in the division. I guessed that a lot of that potential would turn into production over the course of the season in predicting the Giants’ record this year. At the moment, though, as Brian Daboll likes to say, “We have a long way to go.