A team-by-team look at the players I expect to be the most dominant in the NFC East from 2014 to 2016.
As it pertains to our Dream Team of Tomorrow project, it's an oddly stacked little division we have here in the NFC East. The star quarterbacks of today will all be in their mid-30s by the time 2014 dawns, which means the prime years of Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Michael Vick probably will be behind them. The guys we're looking for, when we speculate on who will dominate from 2014-16, are the young guys -- mainly players who are in the first three or four years of their careers right now.
In the NFC East, that seems to mean receivers. Dez Bryant in Dallas, Hakeem Nicks in New York, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin in Philadelphia -- the division's emerging young wideouts, could represent a bumper crop of future stars at the position. We have some offensive linemen -- guys such as Trent Williams and Tyron Smith -- who are loaded with talent but still too young to really project. We have some running-back talent, especially in Philly and New York. And players like Brian Orakpo, Nate Allen and Prince Amukamara appear ready to lay the groundwork for future success.
With that in mind, here's a look at one player from each team I'm picking for the Dream Team of Tomorrow.
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver: Yeah, yeah, insert shopping mall joke here. Fact is, this guy's got as much pure talent as any young wideout in the division. And if you read that list two paragraphs back, you know I'm not saying that lightly. If he can stay healthy, stay out of trouble and refine his skills as an NFL route-runner, Bryant can be the kind of star that makes other stars stop what they're doing to watch him play. He's got a fine quarterback in Tony Romo and only Miles Austin and tight end Jason Witten in front of him in line for catches in Dallas as of now. And he's already a game-changer on special teams. So the opportunity is there, and all the pieces are in place. It's up to Bryant to make it happen.
Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants wide receiver: Nicks is already one of the best and most reliable wideouts in the NFL, and he's got just two years in. He's 23 years old right now, which means he'll play the 2014 season at age 26. In the meantime, he'll have been Eli Manning's No. 1 receiver in the Giants' pass-heavy offense and had enough skill-position talent around him (Ahmad Bradshaw, Steve Smith, Mario Manningham, etc.) to have put up big-time numbers. His physical gifts are clearly substantial, and they aren't going anywhere between now and 2014.
LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles running back: Why McCoy and not the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw? Well, because I picked Nicks for the Giants, and because I think McCoy has a better chance to hold up over the next three-to-six years. Not only is he already a reliable focal point of the Eagles' offense, he gets to be that in a way that doesn't wear him down. They don't run him between the tackles excessively. They don't ask as much of him in pass protection as the Giants do of Bradshaw. And they have enough other offensive weapons that he doesn't get overworked. McCoy has the talent, and the chance to make it to 2014 as a relatively unscathed 26-year-old back.
Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins linebacker: The switch to the 3-4 defense in Washington is likely to make Orakpo a star, especially now that he's got a year of it under his belt and will start to be surrounded with more complementary pieces. He'll be 28 at the start of the 2014 season, which is a little bit older than the rest of the guys on this list. But he's already got 19.5 sacks in his first two years, so his learning curve is fairly advanced. By 2014, he'll be one of the better-recognized sack artists in the entire league.