Saturday, September 30 2023

The grades for the drafts of all four NFC East teams were generally very good. The teams all seemed to take good players with good value where they were selected and they all filled plenty of positions of need.

But those meaningless, too-early grades don’t often translate to the field, especially right away. Even the best rookies can’t have a big impact on their new team if the opportunity isn’t there. They need a chance to play and to play a lot. They need a path to achieve their greatness.

So with that in mind, which NFC East rookies will have the biggest impacts on their teams this season? Here’s a look at the top 10:

1. DT Jalen Carter, Philadelphia Eagles (1st round, 9th overall): He’s the obvious choice for the top spot considering the Eagles have a Javon Hargrave-sized hole to fill in the middle of their defensive line (and keep in mind Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh are gone, too). The Eagles were aggressive in their pursuit of him because they believe he can have an immediate impact, and he’s a lock to be a Day 1 starter next to Fletcher Cox.

They don’t expect Carter to duplicate the 11 sacks Hargrave had last season, but the Eagles can see him easily doubling the 3 sacks he had last season at Georgia and more. He’ll have plenty of opportunity to prove he can be a dominant interior pass rusher, and he’s got the perfect supporting cast around him to help him do it.

2. WR Jalin Hyatt, New York Giants (3rd round, 73rd overall): If this feels a little high for a third-round pick, consider these two facts: 1. The Giants nearly took him in the second round, and 2. The rest of their receiving corps isn’t very good. They have Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins and a bunch of players coming off injuries (Parris Campbell, Wan’Dale Robinson, Sterling Shepard, Jameson Crowder).

If the 6-foot, 176-pound Hyatt with his 4.4 speed is what the Giants think he is, he should have no trouble separating himself from that group.


It’s a good bet he will. Hyatt is not only the explosive deep threat that quarterback Daniel Jones has never had, the Giants think he’s got that potential on shorter routes too — someone who can take a quick slant and turn it into a huge gain. Even with good health, nobody else on their roster has the ability to do that consistently. It shouldn’t take long for Hyatt to become Jones’ favorite receiver and go-to guy.

3. CB Emmanuel Forbes, Washington Commanders (1st round, 16th overall): If you can get past his size (6-foot-1, 166) the only thing standing in the way of Forbes’ impact potential is that the Commanders’ starting corners from last year — Kendall Fuller and Benjamin St-Juste — are both back. But even if they stay in the lineup, Forbes will see plenty of action as the nickel corner.

And that, in fact, could enhance his value. With Fuller and St-Juste locked onto the better receivers, Forbes will have more of a chance to roam and do what he does best — go get the ball. That’s what the Commanders want. They don’t need him to lock down bigger NFL receivers. They need him to be the guy who had six interceptions last season, 14 in three years, and an NCAA Division I record six Pick-6s.

He’s not likely to be that productive as a rookie. But he’ll be put in position to get his hands on plenty of errant passes, which could transform a Washington defense that was already pretty good.

4. TE Luke Schoonmaker, Dallas Cowboys (2nd round, 58th overall): There are certainly flashier players picked in this division and several better tight ends taken in the draft, but there is no denying the huge opportunity in front of this 6-5, 251-pounder. The Cowboys didn’t re-sign tight end Dalton Schultz and this was their first attempt to replace him. And while he may have to compete for catches with CeeDee Lamb, a healthy Michael Gallup and newly acquired Brandin Cooks, it’s not like Dallas will abandon throwing to the tight end spot.

Schoonmaker may not put up elite-tight end numbers — he certainly didn’t in college — but with defenses focused elsewhere he’ll have plenty of underneath opportunities to catch passes from Dak Prescott. Schultz had 57 catches for 577 yards and 5 touchdowns in what was considered a down year last season. That would be a pretty good start for Schoonmaker even if he turns out to be option No. 4.

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5. CB Deonte Banks, Giants (1st round, 24th overall): Even if the Giants aren’t ready to admit it, he’ll be a Day 1 starter opposite Adoree’ Jackson in a secondary that was pieced together last season by basically signing whoever was available. And if Jackson is healthy — admittedly a big “if” — Banks can expect to be tested by defenses a lot.

Expect some ups and downs, of course, but the Giants believe Banks is already pretty polished. And while he’s not the interception machine that Forbes was in college, he’ll have a chance to get his hands on a few balls. The hyper-aggressive, often-confusing Wink Martindale defense will certainly help create those opportunities, too.

6. LB Nolan Smith, Eagles (1st round, 30th overall): There should be plenty of opportunities for the 6-2, 238-pound Smith to work into the edge-rushing rotation and flash his 4.39 speed. He figures to see more opportunities on obvious passing downs at first, though even then he’s the third wheel to Hasaan Reddick and Brandon Graham.

Graham, though, is a part-time player these days, so the only limitations on Smith will be on how the edge rushers are used in Sean Desai’s defensive scheme. Don’t expect Reddick to come off the field much, but it’s a good bet Desai will find a use for two speedy pass rushers off the edge.

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7. DT Mazi Smith, Cowboys (1st round, 26th overall): This 6-3, 323-pound anchor in the middle of the Dallas defense isn’t likely to have a flashy impact. Even though the Cowboys seem to believe he has the ability to rush the passer, that’s not why they drafted him. His impact should come in a much-improved rushing defense that ranked in the bottom third of the NFL last season.

With Smith and Johnathan Hankins, the Cowboys finally might have a DT duo that can at least compete with the dominant DT duos in the rest of the division. They’d still probably rank fourth, but Smith gives them an upside. And it won’t be easy to run up the middle on the Cowboys anymore.

8. C John Michael Schmitz, Giants (2nd round, 57th overall): It is a virtual lock that this 6-3, 301-pounder will be the Giants’ starting center, and probably the best one they’ve had in years. He should help vastly improve the interior of an offensive line that has mostly been terrible for more than a decade.

And while his presence will mark an improvement that will be obvious to anyone who’s watched the Giants’ offensive line, he’ll likely be judged by the play of the line as a whole. They have some good young players and a bright future, but it’s hard to say if this is the year the line finally arrives. Schmitz could be what finally pushes them over the hump.

9. RB Deuce Vaughn, Cowboys (6th round, 212th overall): The Cowboys think they got the steal of the draft when they selected the son of their scout, Chris Vaughn. He was dynamic at Kansas State, where he ran for 2,962 yards, caught 91 passes for 846 yards, and scored 34 touchdowns the last two seasons.

Sure, it’s a concern that he’s only 5-5, 179 pounds, and maybe he won’t hold up to an NFL pounding. That’s certainly why he lasted as long as he did in the draft. But if he does hold up, he’s got a huge opportunity in front of him. When the season begins, Cowboys running back Tony Pollard will only be eight months removed from “tightrope” surgery to repair torn ligaments in his ankle. The Cowboys did sign Ronald Jones to cover for Pollard, but if he’s limited or out Vaughn could still play a huge role.

Even if Pollard is back, expect Vaughn to get a shot in some third-down situations. So if nothing else, the deck seems stacked for Vaughn to at least have a chance to show what such a little guy can do.

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10. S Sydney Brown, Eagles (3rd round, 66th overall): The Eagles let both their starting safeties go and replaced them by taking one-year fliers on veterans Terrell Edmunds and K’Von Wallace. So while Brown’s opportunities might be limited at first, they figure to grow as the season goes along. He’s an aggressive safety (sometimes over-aggressive) who was good at covering tight ends in college. So it really all depends on how Desai uses him. But again, an opportunity will be there.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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