Insiders

Players Ready to Breakout in the NFC East

on

When it comes to entertainment value, it doesn’t get any better than the NFC East. This isn’t the best division by any means, but you’ll never be bored following this wacky division.

Heading into every year, we truly don’t know who will come out on top.

For instance, who expected the Redskins to win it last year with a record of 9-7?

Keeping all of that in mind, there’s key players on each team that are primed to breakout in 2016. Let’s see who these guys are.

Tyrone Crawford, DT, Dallas Cowboys – After winning the NFC East in 2014, the Dallas Cowboys suffered their fair share of misfortune this past season. When guys like Tony Romo and Dez Bryant go down for an extended amount of time, it just becomes nearly impossible to make up for their production.

Dallas finished the season dead last in the division with a record of (4-12).

Despite the injuries offensively, the Cowboys didn’t give themselves much of a chance on the other side of the ball. They finished 25th in team sacks, only gathering 31 on the season.

As Dallas looks to improve their pass rush moving forward, they’re holding out high hope for 26-year-old tackle Tyrone Crawford.

Back in September, Crawford agreed to a five-year, $45 million extension, with $25.7 million guaranteed.

Executive vice president Stephen Jones fully believes in Crawford’s ability.

“He’s really shown us everything that we need to see to know that he can be one of the elite under tackles in this league,” Jones stated.

Although Crawford experienced career-highs in tackles (35) and sacks (5), there’s still room for growth.

Former teammate Jason Hatcher agrees with that notion.

“He hasn’t really scratched the surface of what type of player he can be,” Hatcher stressed. “Once he can get his confidence on the field, I see times that he’s just not really sure, not really sure, confident in himself. But once he can get that figured out. It takes time with a young guy like him.”

With the Cowboys window presumably closing, a breakout season from Crawford would be more than welcomed.

Brandon Graham, OLB, Philadelphia Eagles – There may not be a player on the Eagles roster that benefits from new head Doug Peterson more than Brandon Graham. Under Chip Kelly, Graham was asked to drop back in coverage, but now he’ll be able to put his hands on the ground.

“I’m excited because I don’t have to worry about who I have in coverage,” he said. “I’m just excited to get after the quarterback every down and just go out there and do my job as best I can.”

Despite having to play in coverage, Graham still managed to obtain 6.5 sacks this past season to go along with 51 combined tackles.

With Graham transitioning to defensive end, you’d have to believe his production will experience a great leap this upcoming season.

As a team, Philly finished in the middle of the pack with 37 total sacks. Expect for that total to increase under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

Matt Jones, RB, Washington Redskins – With their leading rusher for the past four seasons, Alfred Morris bolting in free agency to division rival Dallas, all eyes will be on second-year running back Matt Jones.

During his rookie campaign, Jones showed flashes of what he’s capable of. The Florida product generated 490 yards on 144 carries, while hauling in 19 catches for 304 yards.

All in all, Jones totaled four touchdowns. 

“Matt played well and we’re very excited about him,” head coach Jay Gruden said on Jones. “We let a heck of a running back, and a very productive back, go because we have Matt.”

Gruden continued.

“We need him to protect the ball a little bit more. He’s a big, strong powerful back that I think can handle the workload; time will tell on that. We’re taking a bit of a gamble here, but based on our professional opinion, we believe he can handle it and be very, very effective at it toting the rock.”

Defenses will be more cautious of Kirk Cousins in 2016, so it’ll be vital for Jones to prove his worth going forward. The team showed confidence in him by letting Morris walk in free agency, and now it’s up to him to take the next step.

Will Tye, TE, New York Giants – New head coach Ben McAdoo has his work cut out for him as he attempts to bring competitive football back to New York.

The Giants have numerous of needs across the board, but tight end isn’t one of them.

Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells are two promising prospects, but Will Tye may be the most stable out of the three.

In 2015, Donnell’s season was cut short due to a neck injury and Fells was hospitalized with MRSA.

As Tye was presented with plenty of opportunity, the undrafted rookie took full advantage as he finished the season with 42 catches for 464 yards to go along with three touchdowns.

General manager Jerry Reese is looking forward to the growth of Tye.

“Will Tye who came out — he was on the practice squad and we brought him up — he did a nice job for us,” Reese explained. “We expect for him to continue to develop and grow and be a big piece for us at that position.”

Considering the amount of attention Odell Beckham Jr. will continue to receive, the middle of the field should open up for Tye.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.