Overdue mailbag: Nicks vs. Jackson

Wow. With all this traveling and reporting and stuff that's been going on since the lockout ended, I realized this morning that it had been way too long since I'd check the mailbag. So here you go.

John from Silver Spring asks which receiver I'd rather have on my team, Hakeem Nicks of the Giants or DeSean Jackson of the Eagles?

Dan Graziano: I think it's a fascinating question, John, and I'm betting most people would answer Jackson because there's almost no one in the league who's better or more explosive with the ball in his hands. Add in what he brings in the return game, and you have a special, difference-making player. I do think it's a closer call than most initial reactions might indicate, however. Nicks is three inches taller and 30 pounds heavier, which makes him likely to be more durable and helps him be more physical against defenders. Nicks is a craftsman -- a film-room rat who works hard on things like creating space and locating the ball before the defender does. He's able to be a downfield threat, a red zone threat, an end-zone bruiser -- basically a more versatile wide receiver than Jackson is. So while I believe I would take Jackson this year if I were trying to win a Super Bowl, if your question is which guy I'd rather have for the long term, I believe Nicks is the better bet.

Weber Chen from Pasadena asks if I believe the Cowboys' secondary will be better with Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator.

DG: Yes, Weber, I do think the Dallas secondary will be better this year. And if it is, I'm sure Ryan will receive much of the credit for it. But I think much of the prediction has to do with the idea that Mike Jenkins can play a lot better than he did in 2010 and that Abe Elam is a major upgrade at safety over Alan Ball, who was miscast there and has returned to a backup cornerback role. Elam played for Ryan in Cleveland and could be a major help to other players on the defense as they get used to Ryan's scheme. So I think there have been enough changes there that they can bounce back.

Patrick from Richmond, Va., thinks the Giants are overrated at No. 11 in our ESPN Power Rankings and that they'll finish "at the bottom of the NFC East" this year. He wants to know if I agree.

DG: I do think 11 is a bit high for a team with as many question marks as the Giants have. They need to jell on the offensive line, figure out what the receiving corps and tight ends look like, and they have depth issues in some key spots. I may not have ranked them that high if I'd been one of the voters. But I have a hard time seeing at team that still has Eli Manning, Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs, Justin Tuck, Hakeem Nicks, Mathias Kiwanuka, Osi Umenyiora, Terrell Thomas, Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips finish at the bottom of the division.

Richard from Navrre, Fla., asked me to handicap the Redskins' running back situation between Tim Hightower and Ryan Torain, and why Roy Helu wasn't mentioned as a potential starter. Richard's question arrived before Washington's preseason opener Friday night.

DG: I spoke with Mike Shanahan in his office in Ashburn the day after the Hightower trade, and he was fired up. Loves the guy as a runner, loves him as a receiver, loves him in pass protection. I got the definite sense that he believed Hightower was better than what he already had on the roster, and assuming Hightower can overcome the fumbling issues he had in Arizona, I think he gets first crack at the job. Torain's not a factor right now because of the broken hand, but if he recovers from that I would not be surprised to see him get a preseason game in which he got the bulk of the carries. I also expect to see Helu have such a game here soon. Evan Royster got a lot of carries Friday night, and Shanahan likes to try and give running backs "whole games" or something close to it in the preseason so they can establish rhythm. He thinks it's more fair to evaluate based on that. But while all of these guys are in the mix for carries, I'm betting on Hightower to get first shot at the starter's job in Washington.

Michael from Chadds Ford, Pa., is worried about the Eagles' run defense, fearing the defensive line is built to be aggressive against the pass, the linebacker corps is weak and the safeties are young.

DG: Those are all legitimate concerns, Michael, and that's why a lot of eyes this preseason are on the defensive tackles and rookie middle linebacker Casey Matthews, who looks as if he really is going to be the starter there. But I don't get the sense that the aggressive line play is designed only to combat the pass. I believe Jim Washburn wants his linemen in the backfield quickly to attack whoever has the ball -- whether it's a running back or a quarterback -- and I don't get the sense they're ignoring run defense with this new line-centered scheme. I think Jamar Chaney at strongside linebacker is going to be an asset because of his speed, and his experience as the middle linebacker last year should help him react to what he sees as the play develops. And don't underestimate the idea that the Eagles plan to score a lot of points, which means opponents might have to pass to catch up. Anyway, I agree it's worth watching, but I don't think they're without a plan to stop the run.

Keep the questions coming. I promise I'll work harder to keep up with them.