NFC East Fillability Index

Cold, Hard Football Facts for May 18, 2007

DALLAS (last year's record: 9-7)
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
QB Brad Johnson (Minnesota)
T Leonard Davis (Arizona)
T Jim Molinaro (Washington) 
S Ken Hamlin (Seattle)
QB Drew Bledsoe (retired)
T Jason Fabini (Washington) 
C Al Johnson (Arizona)
DE Kenyon Coleman (NY Jets)
LB Ryan Fowler (Tennessee)
Draft picks: 
1 (26) Anthony Spencer, lb, Purdue
3 (67) James Marten, ot, Boston College
4 (103) Isaiah Stanback, qb, Washington
4 (122) Doug Free, ot, Northern Illinois
6 (178) Nick Folk, k, Arizona
6 (195) Deon Anderson, rb, Connecticut
7 (212) Courtney Brown, db, Cal Poly
7 (237) Alan Ball, db, Illinois 
The Cowboys of 2007 will look more or less like the Cowboys of 2006, at least on the roster. They swapped veteran T Jason Fabini for veteran T Leonard Davis, againg QB Drew Bledsoe for againg QB Brad Johnson. They added S Ken Hamlin, they lost DE Kenyon Coleman. 
No big deal. Neither was their draft. Although they pulled off an absolute masterstroke, effectively trading down five spots in the first round and giving up a third-rounder to get Cleveland's No. 1 pick in 2008, it doesn't help them this year.
And the Cowboys did need help. They had an excellent offense but a mediocre run game (15th, 4.10 YPA), and their defense was kind of a mess. The Cowboys have focused on D to a fault in the draft over the past decade, and have a secondary littered with hot-shot first-rounders. Yet Dallas was just 20th in defensive passer rating and 20th in scoring defense in 2006.
But because they have so many young players on defense, the Cowboys chose to add some flourishes rather than rebuild – the hope is that they'll do better under the new look offered by coach Wade Phillips than they did in the last season of a burned-out Bill Parcells. Does Phillips fill the hole left by the biggest of Tunas? Well, he's got a nice set of man-mammaries himself, and he's had decent first years in Denver (9-7) and Buffalo (10-6). A lifetime record of 48-39 as head coach isn't half bad for a guy who's been fired twice.
But Phillips has a huge albatross hanging around his neck: the Curse of Doug Flutie. Phillips benched Flutie heading into the 1999 playoffs when both were in Buffalo. The Bills went on to lose in excruciating fashion, in the famed "Music City Miracle." The Bills have never been back to the playoffs. Phillips, as a coach and coordinator, has suffered a series of crushing losses since his fateful, and stupid, decision. 
Coincidence? We don't think so.
But Phillips does have a good team to work with. The addition of Hamlin, a productive DB in Seattle, should prove a solid acquisition, while first-round LB Anthony Spencer led the nation in stops behind the line in 2006. That's bound to make the pass defense improve, especially if CB Terence Newman and S Roy Williams play to their lofty draft status. There's enough talent on the defense for an improvement, and we'll see if the measured approach works.
One hole the Cowboys chose not to fill was at WR, where they will again depend on Terrell Owens (33), Terry Glenn (34) and Patrick Crayton (the young guy at 28). It worked out well last year (except for Owens' amazing 16 drops), but they'll have to get younger there sometime.
The Cowboys are right back in the playoff mix in a division, and a league, where nine wins seems to get you into the postseason. But, despite a fairly consistent run, they haven't won more than 10 games in a season since that third Super Bowl in 1995. And judging by their offseason, they won't be breaking that string in 2007.
Fillability grade:
N.Y. GIANTS (8-8)
2006 rankings
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
QB Anthony Wright (Cincinnati)
RB Reuben Droughns (Cleveland) 
LB Kavika Mitchell (Kansas City)
DT Marcus Bell (Detroit)
S Michael Stone (Houston) 
RB Tiki Barber (retired)
T Luke Petitgout (Tampa Bay) 
TE Visanthe Shiancoe (Minnesota)
K Jay Feely (Miami)
CB Frank Walker (Green Bay)
LB LaVar Arrington (cut) 
Draft picks: 
1 (20) Aaron Ross, db, Texas.
2 (51) Steve Smith, wr, Southern Cal
3 (81) Jay Alford, dt, Penn St.
4 (116) Zak DeOssie, lb, Brown
5 (153) Kevin Boss, te, Western Oregon
6 (189) Adam Koets, ot, Oregon St.
7 (224) Michael Johnson, db, Arizona
7 (250) Ahmad Bradshaw, rb, Marshall

You can't replace a guy like Tiki Barber. But jeez, at least you could try. The Giants reacted to the loss of Barber like No. 21 was just another piece in the puzzle. Bring in Reuben Droughns, bump up Brandon Jacobs' workload, everything's golden.
Apparently they failed to notice that Barber was the only thing keeping this group of underachieving whiners in the playoff picture every year. Barber had back-to-back-to-back seasons of over 2,000 yards from scrimmage, and if that seems like a big achievement, it is. Only Marshall Faulk, Priest Holmes and Barber have done it, and you'll notice that when Faulk and Holmes faded away their teams replaced them with blue chippers (Stephen Jackson, Larry Johnson).
But in the Meadowlands, it's strictly blue plate. Jacobs, who looks good but was a fourth-round pick, and Droughns, who plays to his name with mediocre aplomb.
Meanwhile, the Giants' passing game (23rd in yards per pass) loses its best short option. They did add WR Steve Smith of USC in the second round, but lost starting LT Luke Petitgout to free agency. Seems like a veteran left tackle would help the passing game more than a second-round receiver, especially with such a shaky guy taking the snaps and throwing the ball, usually ineffectively, downfield (Eli Manning's career passer rating of 73.2 is lower than that of widely criticized QBs such as David Carr (75.5), Michael Vick (75.7), and Aaron Brooks (78.5)).
In the draft, the Giants added DB Aaron Ross of Texas to the secondary and Penn State DT Jay Alford to the defensive line. But free agency brought only role players. For a team that Giants couldn't put pressure on the QB (26th in negative pass plays forced) or keep points off the board (24th in scoring D), that's not enough. They needed a lot of help, and they just got a little.
And we hate to get all kicker-ish on you, but the Giants said goodbye to Jay Feely and have yet to replace him. Feely was 17 for 24 from 40-plus (a solid 70.8 percent) and 58 for 69 (84.1 percent) overall with the Giants. Going the cheap route here will probably hurt them.
Fillability grade: D
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
QB Kelly Holcomb (Buffalo)
WR Kevin Curtis (St. Louis)
WR Bethel Johnson (Minnesota)
DT Ian Scott (Chicago)
DT Montae Raegor (Indianapolis)
LB Takeo Spikes (Buffalo)
QB Jeff Garcia (Tampa Bay)
WR Donte Stallworth (New England)
DT Darwin Walker (Buffalo) 
LB Shawn Barber (Houston) 
CB Rod Hood (Arizona) 
S Michael Lewis (San Francisco)
Draft picks: 
2 (36) Kevin Kolb, qb, Houston
2 (57) Victor Abiamiri, de, Notre Dame
3 (87) Stewart Bradley, lb, Nebraska
3 (90) Tony Hunt, rb, Penn St.
5 (159) C.J. Gaddis, db, Clemson
5 (162) Brent Celek, te, Cincinnati
6 (201) Rashad Barksdale, db, Albany, N.Y.
7 (236) Nate Ilaoa, rb, Hawaii
It seems the Eagles have truly grasped the lessons learned in their passionate and highly publicized L'Affaire D'Owens of 2004 and 2005. They've stayed away from the riff-raff this year and trafficked in quality on the veteran market, both in outgoing and incoming transactions.
They added some of the better names available (LB Takeo Spikes, WR Kevin Curtis, DT Ian Scott), but also lost some (S Michael Lewis, QB Jeff Garcia, WR Donte Stallworth, DT Darwin Walker). So if you thought they were making some bold strokes down there in Philly, well, they really weren't. They were just kind of rotating the stock. Butt that's O.K. since Philly was a solid 10-6 team in 2006 and a few plays away from meeting Chicago for the conference title. This has been the NFC's most consistent organization, with five division titles this decade, so we tend to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Philly did a nice job of addressing its run defense, which was ranked 24th allowing 4.46 yards per carry and also 26th in rush yards allowed (136.4 YPG). They added DTs Ian Scott and Montae Raegor in place of Walker, and upgraded from LB Shawn Barber to the dynamic Spikes. And in the draft, after their surprise pick of QB Kevin Kolb in the second round, they went DE (Victor Abiamiri) and LB (Stewart Bradley).
All in all, they did a pretty nice job of addressing their only real weakness – the front seven (18th in our Defensive Hog Index). Jevon Kearse is also due back (fingers crossed, as always), and was playing as well as he ever had in Philly before going out with another season-ending injury.
Offensively, the Eagles were so good that they survived the loss of their franchise QB Donovan McNabb. With McNabb's health an issue, they moved aptly to fill Jeff Garcia's job with Kelly Holcomb and the rookie Kolb. But if McNabb does down again, they won't have a Pro Bowl-caliber QB to step in and pick up the slack.
The Eagles have won 10 or more games in six of the last seven seasons because they maintain a winning base around their franchise QB. This offseason has been no different.
Fillability grade: B-plus
2006 rankings
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
T Jason Fabini (Dallas)
LB London Fletcher (Buffalo)
CB Fred Smoot (Minnesota) 
CB David Macklin (Arizona) 
S Omar Stoutmire (New Orleans) 
RB T.J. Duckett (Detroit)
T Jim Molinaro (Dallas)
G Derrick Dockery (Buffalo)
LB Warrick Holdman (Denver) 
CB Kenny Wright (Cleveland)
S Mike Rumph (St. Louis) 
Draft picks:
1 (6) LaRon Landry, s, LSU
5 (143) Dallas Sartz, lb, Southern Cal
6 (179) H.B. Blades, lb, Pittsburgh
6 (205) Jordan Palmer, qb, UTEP
7 (216) Tyler Ecker, te, Michigan

If you ever feel like debating the wisdom of building with veterans instead of rookies, work this over for awhile: the Redskins have had eight first-day picks in the last five drafts. That's 8, as in just half of the 15 allotted to them. Not surprisingly, they've had just two winning seasons in the seven-year reign of Daniel Snyder (including the first year, when he didn't come on board until mid-spring, so hadn't had a lot of time to undermind the organization). Note to Dan: NFL teams are built through the draft, rarely through free agency. Read it. Learn it. Live it.
The Redskins keep trying to fill their winning void with free agents, and it's not working for them (33-47 record, one winning season since 2002). This off-season has been no different, as they added three more big-namers: T Jason Fabini, CB Fred Smoot and LB London Fletcher. No. 6 overall draft pick LaRon Landry comes on board as well, the only Washington pick in the first four rounds. It's dreadful management in the age of value: big-name free agents, almost by definition, provide little value. They eat up more of the salary-cap budget then you get from them in onfield performance. The elite teams in football, the Broncos, Patriots and Steelers for example, and to a lesser extent Indy, fully understand this. Why it's lost on Washington remains a mystery.
So, will those big-name acquisitions be enough? Not by a longshot. The Redskins were terrible on the defensive line last year: dead last in forcing negative pass plays (4.95 percent of opponents' attempt), 27th in our Defensive Hog Index, 27th in run defense (137.3 YPG) and 25th in yards per attempt allowed (4.47). 
So what has Washington done to bolster its weak, inept, porous defensive line?
They've added absolutely no one to the defensive line. Not in free agency. Not in the draft. Fletcher is a nice acquisiton at linebacker, but he's 32 years old and didn't help the Bills stop the run in 2006 (29th, 4.74 yards per rush against). He's not going to stem the tide. The Skins could be better in the secondary with Landry playing alongside Sean Taylor at safety. But this is a team that was dead last in pass defense last year (truly awful 97.8 defensive passer rating), so saying it will be better does not mean it will be good. Plus, who's going to provide the pass rush? But at least the Redskins in this area showed some self-awareness, some cognizance of its many failings: their No. 1 pick did go to fill their biggest statistical void.
But, in general, Washington failed to bolster its pathetic defense. So it comes as no surprise that it ignored its mediocre offense, too. The Redskins added nobody but Fabini and a couple late draft picks, which is nice for continuity but not great considering their No. 20 rank in scoring offense. There's talk of third-year QB Jason Campbell being a breakthrough player this year, and we'll say this – he'd better be. If not, the Skins will be the same aspiring-to-mediocrity mess they were in 2006. 
The Redskins needed to add 10-12 young players to the mix, and instead had another sparse draft. That's ugly – and not in a good way, like when fat men put on dresses and pig noses and revel in the almighty Hog.
Those glory days must seem so very far, far away. 
Fillability grade: F-minus 

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