I'll go ahead and admit something that makes me look pretty stupid in retrospect – I wasn't terribly impressed with Robert Griffin III.
I wouldn't go as far as to say I thought he'd be a bust, but I certainly thought he was going to struggle in his first season as a pro. Factor that ill-advised opinion with the emergence of Redskins running back Alfred Morris, who I had literally never heard of until he gashed New Orleans for 96 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1 of 2012.
Thanks to those two, it's pretty fair to say the Redskins came out of nowhere on their way to breaking the Cowboys' hearts and making the playoffs.
My goal for 2013 is not to get snuck up on. It was a bit tricky monitoring every NFC East teams' roster with the entire division carrying 90 players during the preseason. But we're just four days away from the first week of the season. Not only is each NFL roster trimmed down to 53, but most teams have released their starting 22 on an official depth chart.
As you might expect, between the NFL draft and free agency, each of the Cowboys' rivals have some unfamiliar names with potential for exposure.
Griffin and Morris aren't going to sneak up on anyone this year, and that doesn't seem to concern anyone in Washington. Griffin looks likely to start the season after completing a torrid rehab this offseason. With him in the lineup, the Redskins' offense is virtually the exact same as the unit that led the league in rushing last year.
Playmakers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo return to the defense after missing most of 2012 with injuries, but they aren't exactly new names.
Those reside in the secondary for the Redskins.
Brandon Meriweather, S:He technically isn't a new name, either – Washington signed Meriweather from free agency in the spring of 2012. But an ACL injury kept him out of all but one game last year, where he notched seven tackles and an interception. That rehab process still has Meriweather as a question mark for the season opener against Philadelphia, but he should be more readily available in 2013.
Bacarri Rambo, S:You probably remember Rambo as a potential Cowboys target during draft season. The Georgia standout was one of two rookies the Redskins spent high draft picks on to shore up the safety spot, along with Phillip Thomas. Thomas was lost for the year because of a foot injury, however, which puts even more pressure on Rambo to shine early. I'm betting the Redskins want Meriweather available as soon as possible to help bring the young gun along.
New York Giants
As usual, the Giants remain a pretty veteran-heavy squad with a few new free agent acquisitions. Ideally, there'd be no rookie starters on this team – that's not typically the Giants' way. But injuries all over the offensive line have forced that plan to the wayside.
Justin Pugh, T:Another potential Dallas target from this year's draft. Pugh was the understudy to long-time veteran David Diehl, but Diehl is now set to miss six or so weeks with a thumb injury. That'll put the first round pick front and center for at least the first month or so of the season. If he can keep Eli Manning off the ground, maybe it'll turn into a full-time gig.
Brandon Myers, TE:Tight end has become a bit of a revolving door for the Giants in recent years, and Myers is the latest to get a shot after he posted an 800-yard, four-touchdown 2012 season in Oakland. He's off to a decent start through the preseason with five catches for 67 yards.
Cullen Jenkins, DT:Same face, new team. The Eagles were a disappointment after they made Jenkins one of several marquee signings a few years ago, but Jenkins hardly had a bad stint with them. He started every game he was with the team for, registering 66 tackles and 9.5 sacks. Here's guessing he'll fit well with Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul helping him.
Dan Connor, LB:More inter-division turnover. Connor helped the Cowboys' depleted defense reach the finish line in 2012, but it wasn't enough to extend his stay. The Giants signed Connor this past spring and have hopes he can hold down the middle of their defense.
Ryan Mundy, S:The Cowboys aren't the only squad in the division relying on a former Steeler at safety. Chalk this one up to injury as well. Returning starter Stevie Brown was having a great preseason before his ACL injury. * *Enter Mundy, who signed in March after his contract with Pittsburgh ended. He has yet to miss a game during his four-year career, but he has made just five starts.
Lane Johnson, T:Johnson was a bit too high on most draft boards to consider him a true Cowboys' target back during the draft. But with the emphasis on offensive line during draft season, fans are sure to remember his name. Johnson will probably move into the left tackle spot at some point, but he'll start out his career on Michael Vick's right side. It's worth pointing out, however, that Vick is left-handed – putting Johnson on his blind side.
James Casey, TE:Casey's signing in free agency sounded good, but he hasn't lived up to the billing to this point. Casey missed spring practices after having his knee scoped, and he appeared to injure his hamstring during the Eagles' preseason finale. He finished the preseason with just two catches for 10 yards. But Casey has proven he can be a weapon during his time with Houston. If he catches on, the combination of Casey, starter Brent Celek and rookie draft pick Zach Ertz could be a good one. [embedded_ad]
Cary Williams, CB:The Eagles are attempting to revamp nearly their entire secondary, starting with a classic example of a championship payday. Williams put in some strong work as a 16-game starter for the eventual champion Ravens last season. The Eagles signed him to a $17 million contract in the spring, and he's been inked in as a starter ever since. Williams was brought in to help boost the worst secondary in the league last year, and he's been vocal about improving on that.
Bradley Fletcher:Not quite the marquee name that Williams was, though he comes in at the same time. Fletcher was a four-year player for St. Louis after the Rams drafted him in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He started a full season in 2010, but that number dropped to just eight starts in 2011 and 2012 combined.
Patrick Chung, S:Just like the Redskins, the Eagles will be hoping a former Patriots safety can improve upon their fortunes. Chung was a consistent contributor during four seasons with New England, though he never broke into that next level of production. He has seven career interceptions and 152 tackles in just 29 combined starts.