I spent the better part of five months educating myself about the Cowboys' draft prospects, and I spent the last three days watching and writing about their actual draft. My opinion about how Dallas fared in the 2014 NFL Draft is much more informed than my opinion about their division rivals.
Still, that's not going to stop me from taking a crack at it, because if there's any division where one draft can make a huge difference, it's this one.
A pair of rookies, Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, were the catalyst in Washington's run to the division title in 2012. Last season, Nick Foles turned in a phenomenal quarterback performance as a second-year player, and the Eagles captured the crown. On the Cowboys' front, first-round center Travis Frederick helped solidify what had been a shaky offensive line.
Clearly, one or two players can make a world of difference in a division that's this tight, and I expect that to be the case again in 2014.
With that in mind, I figured I'd take a look at the highlights of each team's draft:
New York Giants:I mocked Zack Martin to the Cowboys at No. 16, but to be honest I was convinced he'd go to New York in the No. 12 spot. The Giants have signed veteran free agents like Charles Brown and Geoff Schwartz to bolster their offensive line, but I really thought Martin would be a solid pick alongside last year's first-rounder, Justin Pugh.
Instead, they got Eli Manning a terrifying new weapon in Odell Beckham Jr. Call me a homer if you want to, but I think Beckham is a Day 1 difference-maker at both receiver and returner. The combination of him, Victor Cruz and fellow LSU product Rueben Randle sounds like a formidable matchup for the Dallas secondary.
The second pick looks like a winner for those offensive line problems, though. Weston Richburg was widely considered the best center in this rookie class, and he could be a Day 1 starter, or at least a solid insurance policy.
Also coming on the offensive side of the ball was Andre Williams, the running back who got Heisman buzz for his fantastic season at Boston College. Williams was a fourth-round pick, but he might be the second-best running back on the roster behind free agency acquisition Rashad Jennings.
The Giants' defense wasn't the problem last year, it was a woeful offense. And it looks like that offense improved over the weekend.
Philadelphia Eagles:I kept calling the decision to select pass-rusher Marcus Smith at No. 26 overall "the Travis Frederick pick." The Eagles clearly got a guy they valued, and maybe he will turn into a quality starter right away – like Frederick did. To the rest of the league, though, it certainly looks puzzling that they spent a first-round pick on a guy who could have potentially been there 15 to 20 picks later.
The two picks following Smith look much more value-appropriate. Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews and Oregon's Josh Huff were both guys talked about in Dallas as potential picks who could contribute immediately. Philadelphia landed both, with the No. 42 and N. 86 picks, respectively. Combine them with the weapons already on hand, and Philly's offense looks even more formidable.
After those two offensive picks, the Eagles went defense with their next four. Much like the Cowboys, the focus was clearly to clean up a horrendous unit in 2013. If they can get production out of either Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins or Stanford safety Ed Reynolds, it could go a long way to improving a lackluster secondary.
Washington Redskins:Washington was bound to have the least high-profile draft when you remember their No. 2 overall pick went to St. Louis as a result of their deal for Robert Griffin III. [embedded_ad]
With their first actual pick, the Redskins instead went with linebacker/defensive end tweener Trent Murphy – again, another guy many considered a possibility in Dallas. I didn't like the thought of Murphy as a down lineman in a 4-3 scheme, but he could add solid depth behind Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan as a rush end linebacker. If Murphy pans out, he could give the Redskins flexibility to let the franchise-tagged Orakpo walk next offseason.
It's going to be interesting to see who gets out to the faster start between Murphy and new-Cowboy Demarcus Lawrence, since the Redskins selected Murphy with the No. 47 pick given to them by Dallas. The same goes for Spencer Long, the Nebraska guard taken at No. 78.
Lawrence could very well turn into a quality pass rusher, but he'll be forever linked to these Redskins rookies, whether for good or bad.
Speed-demon running back Lache Seastrunk is bound to garner attention, but I'll have my eyes on how effectively the Redskins can use him. Alfred Morris is one of the best young backs in the league, and Roy Helu Jr. has found a role on the offense as well. It's going to take a concerted effort from Jay Gruden and Co. to find the right spots to use the speedster.
Honestly, I don't see anything too horrendously bad from anybody in the division. There were some reaches for need, and some value picks, but all four squads come out of this draft looking decent.
As far as immediate impact, though, I'm going with New York. The Giants have their question marks, but this doesn't look like a team that's starting 0-6 again.