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Did Giants close talent gap? Ranking NFC East defenses position by position

Where do the Giants land?

New York Giants v Washington Commanders Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The New York Giants had the second-most points in the offensive position-by-position review of the NFC East.. Here’s the breakdown of the offense from Part 1.

Eagles: 25 points
Giants: 20 points
Cowboys: 16 points
Commanders: 9 points

Today, we turn our attention to the defense.

Interior defensive line

4 points: Giants
3 points: Eagles
2 points: Commanders
1 point: Cowboys

The NFC East may have the best quartet of defensive lines in the league, especially with the trio of New York, Washington, and Philadelphia. Arguments for either of the top three teams to earn four points in this exercise are understandable. However, the top talent and depth of the Giants make them the choice.

Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne are an excellent stout duo who can rush the passer and stop the run. I go back and forth between the Commanders and the Eagles. The neophytes of Philadelphia still have to prove their immense potential. Fletcher Cox is older but still better than any third option on Washington, and Milton Williams is a productive - athletic - backup. There’s more depth and upside on the Eagles.

The Cowboys have a quicker, less bullying, type of defensive line. First-round pick Mazi Smith is supposed to bring more physicality to the unit. I like Smith and believe Osa Odighizuwa is a good player, but they’re the clear fourth unit of the group.

Edge defenders

4 points: Cowboys
3 points: Eagles
2 points: Giants
1 point: Commanders

Micah Parsons is arguably the best defensive player in the league. When healthy, Demarcus Lawrence is a pass rusher who can take over games. Dallas is my easy one, which is saying a lot because the Eagles are a top-3 edge group in the league. Philadelphia had 70 sacks last season and added Georgia edge Nolan Smith to a rotation that consists of Josh Sweat, Haason Reddick, and Derek Barnett.

The Commanders and Giants are close. Both Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari have a lot to prove. The addition of Carlos ‘Boogie’ Basham gave the Giants depth to pair with versatile 290-pound Jihad Ward. Both Montez Sweat and Chase Young are very good football players. Sweat is underrated as a talent, but Young is ailing from a serious knee injury. Casey Toohill is an adequate rotational player, as is James Smith-Williams, but reports suggest Young isn’t certain for Week 1 because of a stinger. Because of Young’s uncertainty and recent serious injury history, Washington came in last.


4 points: Giants
3 points: Cowboys
2 points: Commanders
1 point: Eagles

I classified Isaiah Simmons - a player who won’t, and shouldn’t, start next to Bobby Okereke - as a linebacker, which put the Giants as the number one at the position. It’s a little inexact since Simmons is more than just a linebacker and also not really a true linebacker, but that’s the reality of a player like Simmons with a coordinator like Wink Martindale.

Leighton Vander Esch is still with Dallas, along with 2022 fifth-round pick Damone Clark. They’re a long physical unit with speed that ranks second in the division. Philadelphia has historically ignored investing assets into their linebacker room. Nakobe Dean fell to the third round of the 2022 draft. Dean looks to start next to Zach Cunningham. This still may be a very fun and respectable linebacker room, especially with the rest of the defense as a buttress.

Washington is last at linebacker. Jamin Davis hasn’t fully blossomed or lived up to his first-round pedigree. Cody Barton was a hustle player for Seattle last season and looks to replace Cole Holcomb, who is now a member of Pittsburgh. Former Giant David Mayo is the primary backup MIKE for Washington.


4 points: Cowboys
3 points: Eagles
2 points: Giants
1 point: Commanders

Dallas traded for Stephon Gilmore in the offseason to go along with the aggressive Trevon Diggs. Gilmore is 32 years old but was effective on a bad defense in Indianapolis last season. Jourdan Lewis is a good option in the slot for Dallas, making the Cowboys’ nickel package formidable. The Cowboys traded for former Miami first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene last week.

Philadelphia retained both aging corners - James Bradberry and Darius Slay. Both players are still solid and expect to start on the outside. Avonte Maddox is a perfectly fine option in nickel. Howie Roseman drafted Kelee Ringo this past draft, who was once thought of as a top-10 pick. Roseman selected Ringo in the fourth round out of Georgia.

The Giants are concerningly young at cornerback, but the ascension of sixth-round pick Tre Hawkins III has been a pleasant surprise. Retaining Darnay Holmes on a cheaper contract as a nickel option provides depth if injuries do transpire. Cor’Dale Flott is the primary outside backup. Nick McCloud is reportedly moving back to cornerback, which should help the room. Adoree’ Jackson is the best of the bunch and will likely take more slot snaps if both the rookies - Hawkins and Deonte Banks - continue to improve.

I love Washington’s young cornerback Emmanuel Forbes Jr. and Jartavius Martin, who is projected to play in the slot with 2021 third-round pick Benjamin St. Juste. Still, I believe Adoree’ Jackson has more to offer than Kendall Fuller, so the Giants slide in ahead of the Commanders.


4 points: Cowboys
3 points: Giants
2 points: Commanders
1 point: Eagles

Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has always invested in speedy and versatile safety options. Jayron Kearse will see a lot of Darren Waller this year; he’s an exceptional coverage safety who is physical, and Donovan Wilson is an underrated player who does a lot of Quinn’s defense. When healthy, Malik Hooker has elite range as a single-high safety in Quinn’s Cover-1 defense. The Cowboys have a very capable three-safety set with diversified skill sets.

Xavier McKinney may have the most upside of any safety in the division. His running mate, Jason Pinnock, has a ton of upside as well. He’s very athletic and just 24 years old. Dane Belton joins Pinnock in the safety youth movement. Even though he isn’t a starter, I wouldn’t be shocked if Belton led the team in interceptions. Martindale needs a deep safety room since he runs so much BIG DIME and Quarter.

I have long been a fan of Kamren Curl’s ability on the football field, and Darrick Forrest is a smart physical safety entering his third season. However, there isn’t much behind those two at the safety position. I’m sure we’ll see Jartavius Martin play a little safety, but for this exercise, he’s classified as a cornerback.

Terrell Edmunds joined the Eagles from Pittsburgh and will start next to Reed Blankenship, the undrafted rookie last season who played 292 snaps down the stretch of the year. The selection of Sydney Brown in the third round helps the safety room in many ways, but the Eagles lack top-end talent at the position. I put Washington slightly ahead due to Curl’s skill set.

Final thoughts

Cowboys: 16 points
Giants: 15 points
Eagles: 11 points
Commanders: 8 points

According to this exercise, the Cowboys have the strongest defense. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the best overall defense, even though that could be the case. Philadelphia had only two points between their linebacker and safety rooms, but I don’t think their defense is going to be bad because of that. Sean Desai will maximize that unit.

So, let’s tally all the scores up and see how the division shakes out:

Eagles: 36 points
Giants: 35 points
Cowboys: 32 points
Commanders: 17 points

The Giants ranked second in this exercise. I think the Cowboys have a good roster, but getting three ones brought their score down. The Giants didn’t have any ones. The Commanders, however, had several. I’m not writing the Commanders off as a pushover team, as this exercise may suggest, but I don’t think their roster is as talented as the other three teams in the division.

Did the Giants close the gap? This suggests that they did. I’m still uncertain. The Giants got a total of 12 points between the running back, tight end, and defensive line positions. Saquon Barkley is an excellent asset, but so is Tony Pollard, and this model had the Cowboys at one point because there’s little to no depth behind Pollard.

The tight end room is clearly better and deeper than the other teams in the division, but are those four points for that position the same as offensive tackle or quarterback? With offensive tackle, the Giants received three points. However, if Evan Neal doesn’t develop like we hope and expect, it could crater the season.

The defensive line is obviously important, and the Giants have an exceptional unit. But is the talent gap between the Giants and Eagles (four and two points) as big as the Cowboys and Giants at edge, where Dallas has superstar Micah Parsons?

This exercise was fun but not fool-proof. The gap between the top of the division and the Giants is still evident but is much more narrow than the previous season. The distance between the teams can be closed if key Giants players progress; those Giants are quarterback Daniel Jones, tackle Evan Neal, both young edge defenders, and the pair of young cornerbacks.

The Giants are one of the youngest teams in the NFL, and the trajectory is ascending, but I’m not certain the gap is fully closed with Dallas, and it’s not quite there against Philadelphia. However, coaching can do wonders, and the Giants could have an edge in that department.