This week, the Last Word On Sports NFL department will be selecting starting lineups consisting of the best players from each division. In this article, the NFC East offense is the focus.
2016 NFC East All-Division Team: The Offense
Quarterback: Eli Manning
As discussed a couple weeks ago, Eli Manning is the best quarterback in the NFC East. He has the edge over Tony Romo heading into 2016 because of his durability and his sensational play in 2015. Romo would have received the nod after his impressive 2014 campaign, but his injury concerns are troublesome. Kirk Cousins had a solid season in his first full season as a starter, but he needs to prove himself for multiple seasons before he can be placed in the same category as Manning and Romo.
Running Back: Ezekiel Elliott
Ezekiel Elliott has not played a snap in the NFL yet, but he is already the best running back in the division. Behind arguably the best offensive line in football, Elliott should be able to easily rush for over 1,000 yards as a rookie. An argument could be made for Darren McFadden because of his impressive 2015 performance, but Elliott will be the lead rusher for the Cowboys in 2016. Ryan Mathews, Rashad Jennings, and Matt Jones have not done enough to steal this spot away from the talented rookie.
Wide Receiver: Odell Beckham Jr.
This list would be a joke without Odell Beckham Jr. on it. Beckham Jr. is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL and he made the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons in the league. He set the record for the most receiving yards in the first two seasons of a career last year and he is only going to get better in 2016.
Wide Receiver: Dez Bryant
Dez Bryant had a poor season in 2015, but much of that can be attributed to nagging injuries and the quarterback situation in Dallas. Now that Bryant is healthy and Romo is set to lead the team in 2016, expect Bryant to return to elite wide receiver form. After Beckham Jr., no other receiver in the division comes close to the talent that Bryant has on the outside.
Slot Receiver: Jordan Matthews
This spot could go to a few different guys, but Jordan Matthews is the most proven slot receiver in the division. He recorded nearly 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in just his second season in the league and he will look to build on that in 2016. A few years ago, Victor Cruz had this position locked down, but nobody knows if he will ever be the same player that he was in 2013. Sterling Shepard and Jamison Crowder are intriguing slot options who are destined for productive seasons in 2016, but Matthews did enough in 2015 to earn this title for now.
Tight End: Jordan Reed
Jordan Reed managed to stay relatively healthy for the first time in his career in 2015. There is no questioning his talent on the field, as he recorded 952 yards and 11 touchdowns in 14 games. He may not be a great blocker like Zach Ertz or Jason Witten, but his dominance as a red-zone threat can’t be overlooked. To put his numbers into perspective, Reed had more touchdowns in 2015 than Ertz has recorded during his entire career. Furthermore, throughout his illustrious career, Witten never had a double-digit touchdown season and he is clearly not in his prime anymore.
Left Tackle: Tyron Smith
Tyron Smith is arguably the best left tackle in the league heading into 2016, so he has definitely earned this spot. He was the second-best tackle in the league in 2015 (after Joe Thomas) according to Pro Football Focus, who assigned him an overall grade of 93.3. Smith excels in both pass protection and run blocking, so he can do it all.
Left Guard: Justin Pugh
Justin Pugh made the switch from right tackle to left guard in 2015 and it certainly paid off. Pro Football Focus awarded Pugh with an overall grade of 85.3 for his efforts. He was adept in both pass protection (grade of 84.0) and run blocking (grade of 88.4). Brandon Brooks is Pugh’s only real competition for the other guard position after Zack Martin, but Pugh was the better player in 2015 and he will only get better in his second season at his new position.
Center: Travis Frederick
Travis Frederick and Weston Richburg were two of the best centers in the league last season, but Frederick has the edge. After being labeled a reach after the Cowboys selected him in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Frederick proved himself and earned Pro Bowl honors in each of the last two seasons. Pro Football Focus awarded Frederick with an overall grade of 91.3 for his efforts in 2015, which was the highest grade among centers. Richburg would be the best center in most divisions, but Frederick just happens to be the best in the league.
Right Guard: Zack Martin
Zack Martin is clearly the best guard in the division, as he has earned Pro Bowl honors in both of his two seasons in the league. Pro Football Focus assigned him an overall grade of 89.6 for his performance in 2015, which was the fourth-highest grade among guards. No other guard in the division comes close to taking this slot away from Martin.
Right Tackle: Trent Williams
Trent Williams is a very good left tackle, but since Tyron Smith occupies that position, Williams has to slide over to the right side. Pro Football Focus assigned him an overall grade of 85.6 for his efforts in 2015, which was the eighth-highest grade among tackles. Jason Peters and Lane Johnson are solid tackles as well, but Williams certainly deserves this spot over them.