by Nick Chidiac
SC Staff Writer
April is here, which means springtime, flowers, and the beginning of warm weather. But to a football fan, April also means that it’s time for the NFL draft. It is a time when starry eyed collegiate athletes become cornerstone pieces for the team which selects them on April 26. No exception is made in the NFC East, where what is often called the most competitive division in football is gearing up to add a few more key pieces to what they hope will be a Super Bowl winning puzzle.
While the Washington Redskins hope to add a spark to ignite them after the past few disappointing seasons, the Super Bowl champion New York Giants are trying to stay on top, while the always competitive Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles are gunning to take the division title right out from underneath them. And although the draft is just a stepping stone, you better believe each team is fighting for the athlete who will positively change the face of its team.
New York Giants
After a 2011 campaign in which the New York Giants won the NFC East title and beat several heavily favored teams en route to winning the Lombardi Trophy, one might think that they would be content with the team they have, a team that we already know is capable of great things. However, as the rest of the league continues to get better, the Giants know that they must do the same. Every team has its weaknesses, and the Giants are no exception. With the release of Brandon Jacobs, look for them to possibly spend an early draft pick on a running back. Ahmad Bradshaw will likely be their starter, but depth is key at this position and the team’s “thunder and lightning” rushing strategy over the past few seasons has been affective. Although their defensive line was one of the best in the NFL last season, I also expect some of the picks from the Giants to be spent on filling up the holes left by free agency. The offensive line will also be a point of emphasis in the draft, as tackle Kareem McKenzie will no longer be with the team.
The Philadelphia Eagles are coming off of a year in which they were touted not only to win the division, but in many eyes they were Super Bowl contenders. After being dubbed “dream team” by the media, the Eagles floundered to start the season and settled for a disappointing eight wins, easily warranting the term “over-rated”. This season, the Eagles are poised to extinguish thoughts of last season. They have already signed free agent, linebacker Demeco Ryans which will sure up a defensive core which was poor at best last season, and with the draft coming up, you can be sure the front office has a few more tricks up their sleeves. Over the course of Andy Reid’s tenure as head coach, defensive tackle has always been a draft day concern. This year probably won’t be much different, as Trevor Laws has been a disappointment and Derek Landri may not be back with the team. I also think that an inside cornerback would be a great pickup. Assante Samuel is owed a lot of money over the next two years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was replaced by a younger talent. It would also be a good idea for that talent to include a kick returning skill set. The Eagles were one of the worst teams in the league at returning kicks and punts. A good return man would grant them better field position on a weekly basis.
The Dallas Cowboys may be one of the most undecided teams in the league when it comes to Draft Day 2012. Like the Eagles, the team finished with a disappointing eight wins and missed the playoffs. Also like the Eagles, defense will be their biggest emphasis in the draft. General Manager Jerry Jones has already made several small moves in free agency to bolster the defense, signing Brandon Carr and Dan Conner among others, but the draft will be an opportunity to find young stars that will shine for years to come. Even though DeMarcus Ware has been one of the best pass rushers in the league throughout his career, defensive end and outside linebacker will be major areas of concern in the draft. More pressure on the opposing team’s quarterback should snub out big plays and with the addition of a good young cornerback, maybe the Cowboys defense can become a strength instead of a weakness. Emerging concerns about quarterback Tony Romo may also be addressed in the later rounds of the draft.
After another poor season in 2011, the Washington Redskins were poised to make some changes. As is the case with almost every off-season, the Redskins had the intent to make a big splash in the free agent market, however, hefty cap penalties handed down by the NFL have decreed a smaller budget for the team this year. They are still locked up in negotiations with their veteran defensive leader, linebacker London Fletcher and unless the front office is able to free up more cap space, the purse strings will be tight for the foreseeable future. The good news is that many experts see the Redskins trading up in order to draft Robert Griffin III as the number two overall pick. This would give the team a standout quarterback for the future who, with the right coaching, could be a star in the NFL. The bad news is that this is just speculation and if they don’t trade up the team’s first pick of the draft comes in the fourth round, making it less likely to obtain a key contributor. Look for the Redskins to draft linebacker and safety help with their later picks.
Once again, the NFC East is shaping up to be one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL in the 2012 season. The draft is an excellent opportunity to get better as a team and find new stars for a league that is full of them. As these boys become men, they will take on the added pressure of playing professional football. When they dawn uniforms in the fall, the whole world will be watching in anticipation. I can’t wait.
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