2021 NFC East Breakdown by Position: The Defense

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During the month of August, the Last Word On Sports NFL department will be breaking down every division in the league by position. This article contains a position-by-position breakdown of the NFC East defenses The breakdown will contain “the best” at each unit followed by “the rest” in descending order.

Defense Article: 2021 NFC East Defense Breakdown by Position

Defensive Line

The Best: Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles lead the NFC East’s group of defensive linemen. Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave are the strength of the entire Eagles defense. Cox is arguably the best defensive linemen in the NFC East and Hargrave is a young star ranking in the 91st percentile of qualifying interior defenders as a pass rusher since 2019.

Philadelphia also adds depth with Ryan Kerrigan. The former first-round pick signed a one-year deal with his former divisional rivals. This move adds depth to the defensive tackle position. With this breadth of talent, the Eagles have the best defensive line in the NFC East.

The Rest: Washington Football Team, New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys

Behind the Eagles, the Washington Football Team has the best defensive line. Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen are a tremendous pair of defensive linemen. The Crimson Tide duo are poised to have a great season against arguably the best stable of running backs in the NFL. The New York Giants are the next team following the Washington Football Team. The Giants play towards their strength at linebacker with three down linemen and four linebackers. Williams is the star of the Giants interior and the first line of defense for the much improved Giants. Danny Shelton looks to defend the interior at nose guard against possibly the division with the best running backs in the NFL. When Shelton is good, Williams and Dexter Lawrence can focus on getting to the passer rather than being tasked with stopping the run

The worst group among the defensive line position is the Dallas Cowboys. The Dallas defense will struggle to stop both the run and the pass this season. If DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory can control the interior, the battered secondary will be able to play with a much longer leash. The potential for the Dallas defensive line lies with the rookie Neville Gallimore alongside Carlos Watkins. The upfront defenders are clearly the weakness of this Cowboys team.

Edge Rushers

The Best: Washington Football Team

The Washington Football Team has tremendous talent at the edge rusher position. Chase Young and Montez Sweat are among two of the top edge defenders in the NFL. The Washington Football team has been rebuilding its defense for the last several years. Now, Young and Sweat are ready to wreak havoc on the NFC East and its quarterbacks.

The Rest: New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles

Dallas has the second-best edge rushers in the NFC East. Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are both hoping to return to form this season. Lawrence was one of the best pass rushers in the NFL in 2017 and 2018 with 25 sacks over those two seasons. Lawrence and Gregory will have to pressure the opposing quarterbacks to help their horrendous secondary. Philadelphia is next on the list, but not far ahead of New York. The Eagles are relying on Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett to set the edge and pressure the quarterback. These two are more relevant than New York’s Lorenzo Carter and Azeez Ojulari, but no one in these groups is a standout.

Linebackers

The Best: Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys boast the best linebacker core in the NFC East, and arguably the NFL. Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Mica Parsons are each standouts at the position. Dallas has done a tremendous job finding talent at this position.  The Cowboys will rely heavily on their linebackers to control the run in order to ease the pressure for their secondary to contain the opponents’ passing game. The starters are among the best in the NFL, but the Cowboys also have great depth at the position with Keanu Neal and Jabril Cox.

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The Rest: New York Giants, Washington Football Team, Philadelphia Eagles

The rest of the NFC East is lacking standouts at the linebacker position. The Giants are second-best behind Dallas with Reggie Ragland and Blake Martinez. Martinez had a tremendous season last year and should continue as a top-10 tackler.

The Washington Football Team is third on this list with Jon Bostic and Jamin Davis. These two are good tacklers despite lacking the star power of other teams in the NFL. The rest of Washington’s defensive team is absolutely loaded, easing some of the pressure on this linebacker core.

The Eagles will struggle at linebacker this year with Alex Singleton and Eric Wilson. Perhaps some of the guys lower on the depth chart can play their way into more time on the field and make a splash to back up Hargrave and Fletcher Cox.

Cornerbacks

The Best: New York Giants

The Giants command the entire secondary for the NFC East. The Giants skilled secondary is one of the best in the NFL. The cornerbacks include James Bradberry and Adoree’ Jackson. The Giants will look to get Isaac Yiadom and Darnay Holmes on the field to spell Jackson and Bradberry. With these skilled players covering receivers on the outside, opposing teams will have a hard time moving the ball through the air.

The Rest: Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Football Team, Dallas Cowboys

The second-best cornerback unit in the NFC East belongs to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles solidified their secondary when they added Darius “Big Play” Slay. Opposite to Slay is Steven Nelson. The veteran cornerback should add to his seven career interceptions this season with Slay covering each team’s alpha receiver. After the Eagles, the Washington Football Team is next. Kendall Fuller and William Jackson III command the outside of the secondary. Fuller leads here with his four interceptions in 2020 and 11 passes defended. With the pass rushers on the front line, these cornerbacks don’t have to defend for long and will continue to terrorize opposing wide receivers.

Last for this group is Dallas. Trevon Diggs is skilled but needs to take a big step forward if the boys in blue expect to defend the pass at all. Diggs’ three interceptions and 14 passes defended are a good starting point for this weak secondary. Opposite to Diggs is Anthony Brown. Brown struggled in 2020 with only 32 tackles, two interceptions, and three passes defended. There will be an opportunity, immediately, but Kelvin Joseph to push for playing time and use his physical frame to carve out himself a role. Brown and Diggs will both have to be better in 2021 for Dallas to be a real Super Bowl contender.

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Safeties

The Best: New York Giants

The Giants, once again, are atop the list for secondary positions. In addition to star power like Bradberry and Jackson, the Giants deploy players like Logan Ryan and Jabrill Peppers into the secondary. The Giants have four of the NFL’s best pass defenders in their secondary. When the Giants play the Cowboys, the NFC East’s strength on strength will be on full display.

The Rest: Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Football Team, Dallas Cowboys

After the Giants, Washington has the best safeties. Landon Collins and Kamren Curl are good players. Washington has a very skilled defense in every position. The safety position is the least talented, and the Washington Football Team has the second-best group in the NFC East. Much like the cornerbacks, with Chase Young and Montez Sweat rushing the backfield, the safeties will not have to defend pass catchers for long. With skilled tacklers at every level, these safeties shouldn’t have their eyes in the opposing backfield, so they can keep everyone in front of them.

Despite the weak secondary, Dallas is next on the list. Donovan Wilson and Damontae Kazee are both good safeties that fit well with Dan Quinn and the new Dallas defense. With the Cowboys skilled linebackers, Wilson and Kazee can keep pass catchers in front of them and worry less about playing up to stop the run. The worst group on this list is the Eagles. Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris, neither are players to turn heads at the safety position. Perhaps the Eagles can get some solid play from guys like Elijah Riley, Marcus Epps, or K’Von Wallace.

Check out the 2021 NFC East Breakdown by Position: Offense.

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