NFC East Roundup: Elliott A Lock For Rookie Of the Year?

Plus, more on the Kirk Cousins contract situation down in Washington.

Ezekiel Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott (USA Today Sports)

Now that the draft is over, let’s check in with the rest of the NFC East to see how their new pieces fit, and what the teams’ moves mean for their rosters going forward.

Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus thinks Ezekiel Elliott will be the consensus Rookie of the Year behind the Cowboys offensive line.

Ezekiel Elliott to the Dallas Cowboys was an NFL draft dream scenario, in terms of a prospect landing in the right spot to dominate from the very first day. Without Tony Romo for most of the season, the Dallas offensive line got Darren McFadden to over 1,000 rushing yards despite a negative PFF grade for McFadden for his part in the production.

This was the best offensive line in football, and if anything should be better this season if La’el Collins takes a step forward in his development and approaches his potential more regularly than the occasional crushing, highlight reel block.

A healthy Ezekiel Elliott running behind this line will win Rookie of the Year —  it’s almost inevitable. What makes me say that?

Let’s first look at what Elliott can do all by himself. His game is all about yards after contact. He may not have the elite high-end speed to take it to the house every time there is a gap big enough, but he will drag people for three extra yards on most plays, which on a down-to-down basis is a far more useful skill. Last season in college, Elliott averaged 3.6 yards per carry after contact. That was second only to Jordan Howard in the draft class and Elliott carried the ball 95 times more than Howard did. Obviously the NFL is a different beast, but only two NFL backs with 150+ carries last season topped three yards per carry after contact. Even pro-bowl performers were around a full yard lower than Elliott’s final year at Ohio State.

Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports details the Cowboys’ hopes for second-round draft pick Jaylon Smith.

Six months ago, Jaylon Smith was destined to be a top-5 pick in last week’s NFL Draft. But he suffered a serious knee injury in Notre Dame’s bowl game and the linebacker fell out of the first round altogether. But he didn’t have to wait long to hear his name called; the Cowboys selected Smith 34th overall, though with the understanding that he would almost certainly miss the 2016 season while he rehabbed his knee.

That was conventional wisdom, anyway. Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones, who appears to be rebounding nicely from missing out on Paxton Lynch, said Thursday that “We will not IR” Smith.

This means that the plan isn’t to redshirt Smith in 2016 and have him ready for 2017, but hope that he’ll be able to take the field by January. Yep, the implication is that the Cowboys are going to the playoffs.

Now all the Cowboys have to do is get back to the playoffs, and that’s not as ridiculous as it sounds for an outfit coming off a 4-12 record. Remember, Tony Romo and Dez Bryant missed most of last season, and a team without a franchise quarterback is destined to have a top-10 pick in the draft.

As for the Giants, apparently center Weston Richburg isn’t too happy with his fellow lineman. Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News brings us the story.

Third-year center Weston Richburg called out his Giants offensive linemates on Wednesday night, questioning their heart and desire.

In a roundtable interview posted on, Richburg suggested that his teammates on the Giants line were relaxing right now instead of focusing on improving for the season to come. Richburg has spent his offseason training at O-Line Performance Center in Arizona.

“The percentage of guys who are just OK to be there (in the league) is pretty high,” said Richburg in the interview. “This is pretty rare. The majority of my offensive line is not doing anything right now.”

It’s hard to fault any player for taking time off during their accorded time off, but Richburg seemed to hint that players should be training during their time off.

“I know a lot of guys are just happy to be there,” he said. “That’s the difference between them and the guys who are here.”

Richburg’s comments come during an offseason that’s seen the Giants offensive line portrayed as a weak link for a club desperate to rebound from a second straight 6-10 campaign. Embattled general manager Jerry Reese has drawn criticism for not selecting an offensive lineman in last week’s NFL draft, and he did not address the position in any meaningful way in free agency, either.

Speaking of the critical response to Reese’s 2016 draft, Paul Schwartz of the New York Post details Reese’s response.

General manager Jerry Reese does not know why anyone made a big deal that the Giants — for the first time in franchise history — went an entire NFL draft without taking either an offensive or defensive lineman.

“I’m not sure why that’s a big story,’’ Reese said Monday on WFAN. “I guess in this market it’s a big story. I’m not sure why that’s a big deal for people.’’

Reese also played down the majority outside opinion that the Giants are in trouble if they begin the 2016 season the way they ended the 2015 season, starting John Jerry at right guard and Marshall Newhouse at right tackle.

“We have a couple of veterans out there on the right side that people don’t give enough credit, and they get bashed and blamed on a lot of things on the right side,’’ Reese said. “They’re solid pros.’’

This does not mean the Giants are standing pat with their offensive line.

“We’ll continue to monitor the waiver wire and look for help with respect to the offensive line,’’ Reese said. “It’s not like we can’t get out there and play at a high level with the players we have on our offensive line.’’

Reese balked at the suggestion he was blindsided by the Titans and Bears trading up ahead of the Giants to select, respectively, offensive lineman Jack Conklin and linebacker Leonard Floyd, leaving cornerback Eli Apple at No. 10 for the Giants.

“Well, when somebody doesn’t know what they’re talking about, it’s easy to depict it that way because they don’t know what they’re talking about,’’ Reese said. “We clearly went through this scenario that Apple could be the player we would pick.’’

Mike Jones of the Washington Post examines a weak spot on Washington’s roster: defensive line.

Redskins General Manager Scot McCloughan passed on the opportunity to draft a defensive lineman in the early rounds last week and didn’t address the position until Saturday’s fifth round.

Coaches like the potential that Temple’s Matt Ioannidis boasts and think that he could possibly bulk up some more and play nose tackle, although right now, he’s best suited as an end in their 3-4 scheme, and a tackle in their four-man nickel package fronts.

McCloughan and Coach Jay Gruden say they feel good about their defensive line despite the fact that they didn’t add the early-round prospects they initially expected to. Both say they do still have a collection of good players for defensive coordinator Joe Barry to work with as he looks to improve that front.

But a fair amount of questions loom over just about every member of the defensive line. A lot of players will have to step up this season if the Redskins are to improve in this department.

In the wake of the contract extension Washington gave to Jordan Reed, and Josh Norman‘s mega-deal with the team, CSN Washington’s Rich Tandler wonders why no such deal has come for Kirk Cousins.

Those are some important pieces of the puzzle for the Redskins going forward. But the one big puzzle piece that is not yet signed. Kirk Cousins is still slated to work off of his franchise tag. He will make a hefty salary of $19.95 million but it’s for one year only. He would like to get the security of a long-term deal while the Redskins would like to have the most important position on the field settled for the future.

According to reports, one of the factors that is holding up an agreement is the Redskins’ desire to see more than just one good season as a starter out of Cousins. At the end of the 2014 season he was buried on the bench after being unable to shake turnover problems and he spent the 2015 offseason as the backup to Robert Griffin III. But Cousins was elevated to the starting job in late August and, after a slow start, he had a stellar season, breaking some of the team’s major passing records.

So the organization reportedly wants to make sure that Cousins is not a one-year wonder before committing to a big contract. That’s understandable but wait a minute . . .

Let’s take a look at the book on Norman’s career. The first two and a half years of his career he spent time as either a shaky starter or on the bench.  He made it as a full-time starter in the second half of the 2014 season and then achieved All-Pro status last year. So that’s a good year and a half from him.

As for Reed, he showed promise from the beginning but injuries got in the way. He missed 12 games in his first two seasons with a concussion and with knee and hamstring injuries. The 2013 third-round pick of the Redskins broke out last year, leading the team in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. The Redskins could have had him play out 2016 on the final year of his rookie contract but they negotiated a deal that will keep him with the Redskins through the 2021 season.

To recap, the Redskins have given big money to Norman, who has been a full-time starter for a year and a half and an All-Pro for one season and to Reed, who has one big money type of season on his resume. So tell me again why they won’t give Cousins a franchise quarterback deal?