Who is the rising star in the NFC East? There are a few choices to consider as our NFL Nation reporters discuss.
Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter: Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence. How do we define rising star? Carson Wentz is entering only his third season, but he was having an MVP-type season before he got hurt last year. Is he still a rising star or is he already a star? Same goes for Odell Beckham Jr. He played in only four games last year, but he is already a star. Dak Prescott? Ezekiel Elliott? They’re already stars, right? I’m going with a player who had his best season in 2017 once he was healthy. It’s Lawrence. He had 14.5 sacks in 2017 and was named to the Pro Bowl. He had nine total sacks in his career entering 2017 but was limited by foot and back injuries, as well as a suspension during his first three years. He showed last year he can be the “war daddy” Jerry Jones craves and the Cowboys put the franchise tag on him to keep him off the free-agent market. In order to get the long-term deal he craves, Lawrence will have to have another great season. Oh, and he’s just 26. There is room to grow.
John Keim, ESPN Washington Redskins reporter: Eagles DE Derek Barnett. DeMarcus Lawrence took that step last season with 14.5 sacks; his trick now will be staying at the level. If he goes higher, watch out. But Barnett is the one who can take a big step for a couple reasons. One, it’s hard for pass-rushers to make instant impacts, especially those who do not rely on their speed. Barnett is a technician and the more guys like that play the better they become. Barnett will get more reps this season with the loss of Vinny Curry. And he’s helped by playing with a talented line – the Eagles have good edge and interior rushers — that takes some of the pressure off him. Barnett is talented and surrounded by good talent and he’ll play more. It adds up to taking that next step this season.
Tim McManus, ESPN Philadelphia Eagles reporter: Eagles’ Barnett. The Eagles’ D-line was stacked last season, yet Barnett carved out a significant role as a rookie, playing 41 percent of the snaps for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. He rewarded his DC by posting five sacks and coming up with a number of clutch plays, including a fumble recovery on Brandon Graham‘s strip-sack of Tom Brady to seal Super Bowl LII. Barnett, the all-time sack leader at the University of Tennessee, has a chance to earn a starting gig opposite Graham this season. The want-to and skillset are there. He’s got a real shot at having a breakout year, and will be more of a household name nationally before long.
Jordan Raanan, ESPN New York Giants reporter: Eagles’ Barnett. Barnett had a promising rookie season with the Eagles. His 37 total pressures were equal to No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett‘s, despite almost 100 fewer snaps. This is the year Barnett bursts onto the scene with his ability to bend around the edge and get after the quarterback. Barnett had 5.0 sacks as a rookie, despite being on the field for just 41 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps. Even though Philadelphia likes to rotate its defensive ends, that should increase in Barnett’s second season, especially with Brandon Graham coming off surgery and offseason acquisition Michael Bennett expected to be used in a part-time role. The opportunities will increase for Bennett, and so will his production and stature around the league. Barnett’s going to be a force.