Thursday, February 9, 2023

2022 preseason All-NFC East Team: Dak Prescott, A.J. Brown headline division on the rise

We’ve been using this space of late to unveil our preseason All-Division teams, as is our annual tradition around this time of year. As always, the rosters were compiled largely by a panel of one, though there was significant input from the writing and editorial staff at CBSSports.com after I took an initial run at the rosters on my own. 

We began last week by working our way through the AFC. Here are the rosters for the AFC EastAFC NorthAFC South, and AFC West. This week, it’s on to the NFC. We’ll begin today with the NFC East, and finish the rest of the conference throughout this week. Without further ado …

Offensive skill positions

QB: Dak Prescott (DAL)

RB: Saquon Barkley (NYG)

WR: CeeDee Lamb (DAL), A.J. Brown (PHI), Terry McLaurin (WAS)

TE: Dallas Goedert (PHI)

FLEX: Dalton Schultz (DAL)

Even with Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith set to miss most of the season, Prescott is still pretty clearly the best quarterback in this division. Over the past three seasons, he is averaging 5,000-plus yards and 35 touchdowns against only 11 interceptions per 17 games while completing 67 percent of his passes at an average of 7.9 yards per attempt. Now fully healthy after dealing with injuries in 2020 and 2021, he should be able to reach the heights of early last season. 

Running back in this division was a tough call, due to the various factors seemingly holding back each of the division’s starters. Antonio Gibson has seemingly been surpassed by Brian Robinson and/or J.D. McKissic. Miles Sanders still looks to be splitting work with Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott. Ezekiel Elliott has been outplayed by Tony Pollard in each of the past three seasons, and has increasingly dealt with injuries and ineffectiveness. Barkley has been injured in each of the past two seasons as well, but when healthy, seems like the best bet for a big season. So he gets the nod. 

Lamb is set for a monster year. Dallas no longer has Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup may miss a portion of the season as he works his way back from last season’s ACL tear. Lamb might lead the league in targets as a result. He’s been very efficient with the targets he’s gotten so far in his career, but had been working in a much more crowded pass-catcher room. Brown is an outright superstar, and has already proven that he can put up huge numbers in a low-volume passing offense. There’s no reason that should change much — if at all — in Philadelphia. McLaurin has similarly put up huge numbers despite consistently poor quarterback play, so having Carson Wentz as his signal-caller shouldn’t undermine him this year. 

Goedert and Schultz should each operate as the top secondary options in their respective passing games. We at first had Kadarius Toney penciled into the flex spot, but his persistent injury issues during camp led us to turn to Schultz instead. 

Offensive line

OT: Andrew Thomas (NYG), Lane Johnson (PHI)

G: Zack Martin (DAL), Landon Dickerson (PHI)

C: Jason Kelce (PHI)

With Smith out for the year, the second tackle spot in this division was up for grabs between Thomas and Jordan Mailata. Both are worthy of strong consideration, but we decided to go with the emerging young star who has more of a pedigree. Johnson, meanwhile, remains one of the top right tackles in the NFL and the best player on arguably the league’s best offensive line. 

Martin is either the best or second-best interior offensive lineman in the league, alongside Quenton Nelson. He’s missed just nine games in eight NFL seasons, and the one he missed last year was due to COVID-19, not an injury. Dickerson stepped into the lineup at guard last season and excelled right away. With strong protection on either side of him, he should continue to progress. Kelce is coming off yet another Pro Bowl and All-Pro season, has not missed a game since 2014, and didn’t come back for one last year to not play at an extremely high level. 

Defensive front

EDGE: Demarcus Lawrence (DAL), Haason Reddick (PHI)

IDL: Jonathan Allen (WAS), Javon Hargrave (PHI)

LB: Micah Parsons (DAL), Blake Martinez (NYG)

FLEX: Leonard Williams (NYG)

There’s an interesting group of edge rushers in this division. In addition to Lawrence and Reddick, there’s Chase Young and Montez Sweat in Washington, Brandon Graham and Josh Sweat in Philly, and Kayvon Thibodeaux in New York. But Lawrence, when healthy, is the best individual player among this group due to his game-wrecking ability against the run and upside as a pass rusher. Reddick has reached new heights since moving to the edge full time. Graham is getting up there in age and Sweat has yet to become an elite rushman; Young will miss several games recovering from his ACL injury; Montez Sweat took a step backward (like most of Washington’s defense) last season; and Thibodeaux is now dealing with an injury of his own. That all made our decision here much easier. 

There were even more options on the defensive interior. In addition to Allen, Hargrave, and Williams, there’s still Fletcher Cox and Jordan Davis in Philly, Da’Ron Payne in Washington, Dexter Lawrence in New York, and Osa Odighizuwa in Dallas. We ultimately leaned to Allen due to his pass-rush ability, Hargrave because he might be the best run/pass penetrator among the entire group, and Williams because he could be unleashed in new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s highly-aggressive scheme. 

Parsons was an absolute no-brainer here. He’s not a linebacker — he’s an alien. Martinez played in only three games last year but prior to that was a consistent force against the run and showed improvement in coverage. We’re betting on a bounce-back. 

Defensive backfield

CB: Trevon Diggs (DAL), Darius Slay (PHI), Kendall Fuller (WAS)

SAF: Jayron Kearse (DAL), Xavier McKinney (NYG)

Diggs presumably won’t intercept 11 passes and take two of them back for six points again, but he also presumably won’t give up over 1,000 yards in coverage again. He might not be a First Team All-Pro, but anybody who makes as many plays on the ball as he does is a damn good player, even if a flawed one. Slay bounced back to his typical Pro Bowl form last year, and with the Eagles adding talent at every level of the defense, he should be in position to succeed. Fuller keeps chugging along as a solid slot corner, and we’re betting on him continuing to do that. 

Kearse was the unsung hero of the Dallas defense last season, a safety who can essentially play linebacker but also lock up tight ends in coverage. He’s an important chess piece for Dan Quinn, and so long as he’s healthy, there’s no real reason to expect a step backward. McKinney is likely to be a bit lonely on the back end of the Giants defense as one of the few players who isn’t a liability. But he should be able to emerge as a capable center-field type safety nonetheless — he already made strides last year. 

Specialists

K: Jake Elliott (PHI)

P: Bryan Anger (DAL)

RET: KaVontae Turpin (DAL)

I won’t lie … I asked our resident kicking expert (John Breech) who he thinks are the best kickers and punters in each division, and copy/pasted those names onto each All-Division team. We already saw during the preseason how dangerous Turpin can be as a return man. He should continue to make plays once the real games begin.

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