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NFC East projected starters for 2023 NFL season: Eagles, Cowboys boast conference's top two rosters

With the 2023 NFL Draft and most of free agency in the rearview, Gregg Rosenthal will project starting lineups for all 32 teams, because that's his idea of fun. Check out the NFC East breakdowns below.

Table inside Article
QB Dak Prescott Edge Micah Parsons
RB Tony Pollard DT Osa Odighizuwa
WR CeeDee Lamb DT Mazi Smith
WR Brandin Cooks DE Demarcus Lawrence
WR Michael Gallup MLB Leighton Vander Esch
TE Jake Ferguson CB Stephon Gilmore
LT Tyron Smith CB Trevon Diggs
LG Tyler Smith CB DaRon Bland
C Tyler Biadasz S Donovan Wilson
RG Zack Martin S Malik Hooker
RT Terence Steele S Jayron Kearse
  • It's weird to cover a Cowboys team so clearly built around defense. This group is loaded, and anything less than a third straight finish within the top five in defensive DVOA rankings will be a letdown.
  • Micah Parsons not only leads the best edge rushing starting duo in football (with Demarcus Lawrence), but the Cowboys also feature one of the best pair of backups in Sam Williams and Dorance Armstrong.
  • The Cowboys drafted for need when they selected run-stopper Mazi Smith 26th overall and tight end Luke Schoonmaker 58th. We'll find out if they reached too early, because both players will be asked to play a lot as rookies. They especially need Smith to start, although Johnathan Hankins can help at that spot, too.
  • On any other team, cornerback DaRon Bland would be getting a promotion and hype after an impressive rookie year. In this deep secondary, he will rotate after the heady trade for Stephon Gilmore.
  • The 32-year-old Gilmore can still be effective if he's put in a position for success. Dan Quinn won't ask him to play outside his comfort zone.
  • The Cowboys were ahead of the trend of playing three safeties together. This group's combination of continuity and flexibility gives Quinn a lot of options.
  • I only listed one off-ball linebacker, to highlight the Cowboys' secondary depth. Damone Clark will take a lot of the snaps Anthony Barr grabbed last year.
  • Cooper Rush appeared to receive scant interest in free agency, and the Cowboys showed scant interest in upgrading, so the team will go with "good enough for a very low price" at backup quarterback once again.
  • The Brandin Cooks acquisition makes the Cowboys more dynamic and complete. He can move between the slot and outside with CeeDee Lamb.
  • Michael Gallup should be more explosive another year removed from ACL surgery, but he reportedly underwent knee and ankle surgery this offseason. He fits well as a boundary receiver, a role none of the reserves on the team look able to play.
  • The Cowboys would love to get anything out of receiver Jalen Tolbert, a third-round pick last year who struggled as a rookie. Return man KaVontae Turpin should be able to do more as a gadget player, because he's so good with the ball in his hands.
  • It's concerning that Tony Pollard is set for the biggest role of his career while also coming off a leg/ankle injury that required surgery. Rookie sixth-rounder Deuce Vaughn could spell Pollard, and Ronald Jones II is there, but the team is likely to sign a traditional (code for BIG) early-down back. Yes, it could mean the return of Ezekiel Elliott.
  • There's a strong chance the offensive line ends up including the five names above, but in a totally different order, with Tyron Smith at right tackle, Tyler Smith at left tackle and Terence Steele, coming off a torn ACL, moving to left guard. Flexibility is an asset, but I was surprised the Cowboys didn't address their interior line earlier in the draft.
  • This was not a great pass-blocking group last year, partly because of injuries. The line is no longer a difference-maker until proven otherwise.
  • In a watered down NFC, the Cowboys have one of the best quarterbacks, one of the best defenses and few major holes. They are one of the conference favorites. On paper, the best two NFC rosters are in the NFC East.
Table inside Article
QB Daniel Jones DE Leonard Williams
RB Saquon Barkley DT Dexter Lawrence
WR Darius Slayton DT A'Shawn Robinson
WR Isaiah Hodgins OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux
WR Wan'Dale Robinson MLB Bobby Okereke
TE Darren Waller OLB Azeez Ojulari
LT Andrew Thomas CB Adoree' Jackson
LG Ben Bredeson CB Deonte Banks
C John Michael Schmitz CB Cor'Dale Flott
RG Mark Glowinski S Xavier McKinney
RT Evan Neal S Bobby McCain
  • The Athletic reported that the Giants were hoping to take a receiver in the first round, either Zay Flowers or Jordan Addison. Instead, they pivoted to cornerback Deonte Banks with the 24th overall selection and then traded two picks to move up for speedster Jalin Hyatt in the third round. Hyatt's skill set is duplicative of Darius Slayton and Parris Campbell, so I'm not assuming the rookie wins out.
  • The receiver camp battles will be wild. Wan'Dale Robinson, Sterling Shepard and Jamison Crowder all profile as slot receivers. While the Giants didn't upgrade in top receiver talent, they are at least way deeper now. They can survive injuries and field four or five solid rotation receivers, which is better than one could say over the last few years.
  • The depth extends to tight end. Daniel Bellinger was good for a rookie last season and will be ready if Darren Waller can't stay healthy. It feels like Waller is the top pass-catcher here, and then the Giants have about seven WR3s.
  • It's rare to draft two surefire starters, but that's what the Giants did with Banks and center John Michael Schmitz. The team simply doesn't have other quality options at those positions.
  • Schmitz is part of a great offensive line overhaul that began when general manager Joe Schoen arrived last year. Right tackle Evan Neal improving in Year 2 would be the greatest sign for hope this season.
  • The defensive front remains the strength of the team. Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari are young, productive edge players that only figure to improve. The newly paid Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams are plus starters in their primes who complement each other well. Free-agent pickups Rakeem Nunez-Roches and A'Shawn Robinson will rotate with each other.
  • I only listed one off-ball linebacker, because I can't imagine Jarrad Davis getting starter snaps. Another free-agent pickup to play next to Bobby Okereke makes sense.
  • The secondary punched above its weight last year. It's better overall now. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale asks a lot of his cornerbacks, however, so Banks could have typical rookie struggles.
  • The Giants set out to get deeper and faster this offseason. They did it. I love how quickly Schoen and Brian Daboll have transformed this roster in two offseasons. Then again, it still may be the least talented group in the division. Can Daboll and Martindale close that gap with coaching once more?
Table inside Article
QB Jalen Hurts DE Josh Sweat
RB Kenneth Gainwell DT Fletcher Cox
WR A.J. Brown DT Jalen Carter
WR DeVonta Smith SLB Haason Reddick
WR Quez Watkins OLB Nicholas Morrow
TE Dallas Goedert MLB Nakobe Dean
LT Jordan Mailata CB Darius Slay
LG Landon Dickerson CB James Bradberry
C Jason Kelce S Avonte Maddox
RG Cam Jurgens S Reed Blankenship
RT Lane Johnson S Terrell Edmunds
  • The changes on this Eagles' offense are cosmetic. If anything, they look better than the group that averaged 34.7 points in the playoffs.
  • Marcus Mariota would be interesting to see behind this offensive line if he needs to make a spot start.
  • The Eagles will likely rotate Rashaad Penny, D'Andre Swift and Kenneth Gainwell in the backfield in an effort to keep them all healthy. Don't discount Gainwell winding up with the most touches. He's an ascending player who led the team's running backs in snaps in the Super Bowl and is the only one of the trio signed past 2023.
  • It was surprising the Eagles didn't upgrade their slot receiver position beyond adding Olamide Zaccheaus. Perhaps the team is cognizant of keeping A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith both happy with enough targets.
  • The Eagles' offense shouldn't change too much under new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, but they are unlikely to ask Jalen Hurts to carry the ball 200 times (including the playoffs) again.
  • Jason Kelce's return forestalled Cam Jurgens' elevation to starting center by a year. Jurgens should replace departing free agent Isaac Seumalo seamlessly at right guard.
  • Nolan Smith found the perfect player to serve as a role model in Haason Reddick. Just don't expect Smith to play a ton of snaps as a rookie. He's behind Reddick, Josh Sweat and veteran Brandon Graham at edge.
  • The Eagles like to plan ahead, easing defensive players into roles. 2022 first-rounder Jordan Davis' snaps figure to tick up this year, while No. 9 overall pick Jalen Carter may not be needed for much more than 400-500 snaps. It's crazy how deep the Eagles' interior is, where promising third-year player Milton Williams will be fighting just to see the field.
  • Middle linebacker Nakobe Dean is another former Georgia Bulldog who will need to step up after barely playing as a rookie. The Eagles spent big up front and in the secondary to go cheap at off-ball linebacker, so Dean's development is huge.
  • Rookie safety Sydney Brown has a chance to play more than better-known first-round picks Carter and Smith. For now, I'm listing Brown as a backup, but he has a shot to displace Terrell Edmunds or especially Reed Blankenship. Brown would give the Eagles' secondary some Talanoa Hufanga-like playmaking juice.
  • I picked the Eagles to win the Super Bowl before last season because they had the best roster. This group is better now, so I'll probably do it again.
Table inside Article
QB Sam Howell DE Montez Sweat
RB Brian Robinson DT Daron Payne
WR Terry McLaurin DT Jonathan Allen
WR Curtis Samuel DE Chase Young
WR Jahan Dotson OLB Cody Barton
TE Logan Thomas MLB Jamin Davis
LT Charles Leno CB Kendall Fuller
LG Saahdiq Charles CB Emmanuel Forbes
C Nick Gates CB Benjamin St-Juste
RG Sam Cosmi S Kamren Curl
RT Andrew Wylie S Darrick Forrest
  • Both Commanders quarterbacks will probably end up playing. Jacoby Brissett got the top contract of any backup quarterback and could feel like a safer option for a staff that likely needs to win to survive an ownership change. Second-year pro Sam Howell was intriguing in Week 18 last season and has a better skill set than his fifth-round draft status indicates.
  • Antonio Gibson is the third-down back behind Brian Robinson. Their touch split may be closer to even than Robinson's fantasy owners want.
  • The Commanders are the rare team that was set at wide receiver this offseason. Curtis Samuel was quietly excellent last season, and Jahan Dotson looks like a keeper behind a true No. 1 option in Terry McLaurin.
  • Left guard is the only offensive spot beyond quarterback that appears up for grabs. Andrew Norwell may not make it to Week 1. It's a good enough offensive line overall to get by.
  • Ron Rivera and Martin Mayhew drafted defensive backs in the first two rounds, making the team more dynamic on the back end. It will be fascinating to see how Emmanuel Forbes (drafted 16th overall) holds up at 166 pounds against physical receivers in the NFC East. Second-rounder Jartavius Martin (47th overall) could win the nickel back job as a hybrid safety.
  • It's wild that 2020 second-overall pick Chase Young is probably the fourth-best defensive lineman on the team entering the season. That's likely partly why the Commanders passed on his fifth-year option, but Young could make that decision look short-sighted with a bounce-back year.
  • Washington's starting edge players and top backups are all free agents after the season. Defensive tackle Daron Payne just signed a four-year, $90 million extension after being franchise-tagged this offseason. At this point, Montez Sweat may be first in line for an extension.
  • 2021 surprise first-rounder Jamin Davis hasn't panned out for Rivera yet. If there's a weakness to this well-built defense, it's at linebacker.
  • This is a rock-solid roster. It's the roster you'd roughly expect from a Ron Rivera team that won between 7-8 games in each of the last three years. They profile similarly in 2023, unless Howell is one of the stories of the season. (Which I'm not totally ruling out!)

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