NFC East Fantasy Preview
Change is the name of the game in the NFL. Evolve or die. No division in the league epitomizes that more than the 2016 NFC East. The Dallas Cowboys may have the most to look forward to. They get key players back after a full offseason to recover and added possibly the most exciting rookie the league has seen in years. The New York Giants did not add much, but a coaching change should lead to a more wide open offense. The Washington Redskins let a couple of former stars walk and will be counting on some repeat, and improved, performances from 2015. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles have embraced change. They cleaned house, bringing in a new coach, a new quarterback, and made a change at starting running back.
Coach/Staff: Let’s be perfectly clear here, Jason Garrett has been the coach since 2010, but Jerry Jones runs the show. Mr. Jones has been kind enough to allow Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli to pretend to run the offense and defense, respectively. No anticipated scheme changes.
QB: Calling Tony Romo injury prone is a bit of a stretch. Since being named the Cowboys starter in 2006, he has played 15+ games in 7 out of 10 seasons. The fact does remain that he is 36 years old and only played 4 games in 2015. Going back to 2011, his best end of year finish is 7th and he normally falls in the 10 to 12 range, meaning he is a QB1 but his ceiling is low. With a 10th Round ADP, he is low risk, low reward. Just make sure you select a backup before the draft ends to hedge your bet.
RB: When the 2015 season ended, Darren McFadden probably thought he had found second life for his career. He rushed for over 1000 yards and managed to play in all 16 games without major injury. Then, April 2016 rolled around and Roger Goodell ended all that good will with 14 words: “With the 4th pick in 2016 NFL Draft the Dallas Cowboys select Ezekiel Elliott.” The hype began immediately: before the draft even ended that night the Cowboys were publicly reminiscing about 2014 and DeMarco Murray’s infamous season. The expectations are certainly lofty, but Elliott looks capable of living up to them. He is built to play all 3 downs, and with McFadden breaking his elbow in June, it looks like 300 carries is the goal. There aren’t many rookie backs with that kind of workload, but here are a couple of appropriate comparisons from 4 years ago:
It’s hard to argue that Elliott isn’t more talented and in a better situation than both Martin and Morris. He’s going at the end of the 1st Round in fantasy drafts, and I’ll take him there in every draft if possible. I’m not touching McFadden or any other Dallas back not named Ezekiel. This includes the previously mentioned Alfred Morris, who Dallas signed this offseason.
WR: Last year’s foot injury may have cooled some people on Dez Bryant, and that would be a terrible mistake. Here are 5 reasons Dez will be a top 5 WR next year:
- That foot injury is hard to recover from. It usually takes a full offseason, which Dez has had. Julio went for over 100 receptions and 1500 yards his first full season back from the same injury.
- The games Dez did play in 2015, he didn’t even have Romo with him. You try succeeding with Brandon Weeden.
- No WR in the NFL scored more TDs from 2010-2014 than Dez (56 TDs). When he and Romo are on the field he finds the end zone.
- Still no competition for targets. The Cowboys are clearly comfortable throwing him the ball a lot since they haven’t brought in any real threats.
- He has something to prove. People were questioning his commitment last year and then he got hurt. You can’t convince me he won’t be playing this season with a chip on his shoulder.
His current ADP is late 1st Round and he is worth every bit of it. If you’re looking for a good WR4 with absolutely no room for improvement, then you can grab Terrance Williams at the end of your draft. No Dallas WR2 has cracked the top 40 since 2012, so the upside is non-existent.
TE: Despite being 85 years old, Jason Witten was a top 10 TE last year and has been every season since 2004! Jason Witten has been a top 10 fantasy TE longer than most other starting TEs have been in the league. A healthy Dez should cut into his targets, but a healthy Romo means more scoring opportunity. In other words, I’m not betting against him and his old man strength making it 13 straight seasons as a TE1.
New York Giants
Coach/Staff: The Giants finally let Tom Coughlin walk after years of speculation and promoted Ben McAdoo from the OC spot. This is great news considering this offense was 6th in the league in scoring and 8th in total yards last year. McAdoo, in turn, promoted his QB coach, Mike Sullivan, to offensive coordinator and brought in Steve Spagnuolo to run the defense.
QB: Fresh off the best fantasy season of his career, Eli Manning is coming off the board in the 9th Round and is a prime QB late candidate. Manning has averaged 4400 yards, 33 TDs, and 14 INTs over the last two seasons with McAdoo running the offense. He is basically a lock to finish as a QB1, but is definitely a boom or bust type player. He had 6 games over 20 fantasy points last year and 4 games where he scored under 10. Despite his turnover shortcomings, Manning is a consensus top 10 QB and a worthy starter for your fantasy squad.
RB: At this point, Rashad Jennings may represent one of the biggest value picks in fantasy football. A bold statement, I know, but this guy was the #21 RB last year and was 2nd in rushing yards over that last 5 games with 446 yards. His current ADP? He is the last starting back being drafted, the 39th RB overall and in the 9th Round. Clearly his upside is limited: he’s 31 years old and never rushed for over 1000 yards in a season. However, getting a starting back in the 9th Round is a steal in any draft. Shane Vereen will still handle passing down duties. He had 59 catches for 495 yards last year and was a solid RB3. While there is a chance rookie Paul Perkins cuts into his targets, I see Vereen as a great value at his 13th Round ADP.
WR: Heading into 2014, nobody knew that Odell Beckham Jr. was going to take over the world. He proceeded to have an amazing rookie year capped by one of the best catches in NFL history. This certainly had him high on draft boards last season and he did not disappoint. Beckham improved his catches, yards, and touchdowns in year two and finished as a top 5 WR. Coming into his 3rd year, Beckham’s ADP is in the top 3 picks, and he is probably the 2nd lowest risk in the 1st Round, behind Antonio Brown. The other WR spot looks to be a battle between Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz. Before I tell you who I think wins the WR2 job, let me show you what that spot has done under McAdoo:
That stat line would be good for #30 among WRs based on 2015 stats. I have no faith in Cruz’s recovery from his knee injury, plus he plays better in the slot, so Sterling Shepard looks primed to take over that WR2 job. Shepard is currently being drafted as the 49th WR and offers fantastic value at that spot. Cruz’s history with Manning makes him worth a very late-round flier but not much else.
TE: A possible battle for the starting TE means you should probably be avoiding these guys come draft day. There are some that are confident in Will Tye taking this job, but Larry Donnell is still listed as the starter. If one of them were to be given sole ownership of the job, they would be a low-end TE1 based on last year’s numbers. But, with all of the other starting TEs available, you’d be safer using them as a streaming option, if at all.
Coach/Staff: Washington returns head coach Jay Gruden for his third year with the team. He is an offensive-minded head coach. He’ll call most of the shots with help from offensive coordinator Sean McVay, and Joe Barry is the defensive coordinator for the second straight season. With no changes in staff, expect no changes in scheme.
QB: For 2 years we heard that Kirk Cousins was the better option for the Redskins at QB, and last year he proved that right. The starter from Week 1, Cousins went for over 4000 yards and 29 TDs in 2015. Surprisingly, he added another 5 TDs on the ground and finished as a QB1. Cousins was pretty good throughout 2015 and had 8 games where he scored over 20 points, but he is another boom or bust QB who can give you a bad game here and there. He’s being drafted as the 14th QB and has a good chance to repeat last year’s performance…YOU LIKE THAT?!
RB: The Washington run game was a mess last year. They were in the bottom 10 in rushing yards per game and neither of their starting backs averaged 4 yards per carry. They decided to let Alfred Morris take his talents to Dallas, so 2015 rookie Matt Jones will be the starter. Jones did finish as a top 40 RB with limited touches in 13 games, but he also fumbled the ball more than any other NFC East RB in that limited time. It looks like he’ll get the volume and that alone gets him RB2 consideration, and with a 5th Round ADP, he’s going where he should be in drafts. Chris Thompson will take over the passing down role full time this year. In 2015, he caught 35 balls in only 13 games. Couple this with what his workload could look like if Jones keeps putting the ball on the turf and you have a flat out sleeper on your hands. He projects as a cheap RB4 candidate, and as of right now he can be had with your last pick in almost any draft.
WR: For the 3rd straight year DeSean Jackson will lead the Washington receiving corps. He is an electrifying player who is a TD threat every time he touches the ball…when he plays. He missed 8 games last year and has only played 16 games twice in his career. On top of the injury concerns, consistency is another issue. Jackson had 4 games above 10 points and 4 games below, and his best games didn’t always coincide with Cousins’ best games. He’s a tough guy to predict. If you’re going to draft him, do so as WR3. Behind him there are 3 guys competing for looks as the 2nd WR. Pierre Garcon is the incumbent and finished as a WR3 last year in Jackson’s stead. He finished with a 72-777-6 stat line, but with Jackson’s return, he is likely to lose targets. He is currently being drafted in the 13th Round, so he is very low risk. Rookie Josh Doctson will fight to steal Garcon’s job. He is far more talented than Pierre but will probably take some time to transition to the NFL. At 6’2″ he is one of the bigger WRs on the team and should be utilized in the red zone more than anywhere else. He is also low risk–13th Round ADP–but I fear the reward is probably low in his freshman year, as well.
TE: In 2015, Jordan Reed definitely showed owners why Rule #86 exists in the first place: if he’s playing, you play him. Reed played 14 games last year, was the #2 overall TE, and was actually better than Gronk on a points per game basis. He basically doubled his career numbers in every category. The best part is that you can get Reed two full rounds after Gronk in your draft, so his value is tremendous. Just make sure you have a good injury update app on your phone and a backup plan.
Coach/Staff: After showing Andy Reid the door in 2013, the Eagles experimented with, and regretted, hiring Chip Kelly. They then realized how good they had it and signed the most Andy Reid like coach possible, Doug Pederson. Pederson was a QB under Reid in Philadelphia and then his offensive coordinator in Kansas City. Expect a balanced offense that puts a lot of emphasis on the WR1 and the RB in the passing game. Pederson’s staff is impressive with former QB Frank Reich as his OC and former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz as his DC.
QB: The quarterback position in fantasy is so deep that there is no reason to gamble on the situation in Philadelphia. Sam Bradford appears ready to stop with his temper tantrums, but he was barely a QB2 with Chip Kelly. They drafted Carson Wentz with the 2nd overall pick of the NFL draft, but he struggled in minicamp and is currently 3rd on the depth chart. If you want Bradford, I question your sanity, but take him late and only if you intend on drafting two QBs.
RB: The starting RB in this Doug Pederson offense could hold great fantasy value. We saw that potential in Kansas City with Jamaal Charles. I’m not gonna tell you that Ryan Mathews is the next Jamaal Charles, but he is worth a look. Mathews averaged 5 YPC last year with limited carries and has been labeled the lead back of the Eagles’ RBBC. His current ADP is the RB24 in the 5th Round. The committee approach will limit his upside, but in the 5th Round all of the RBs have their problems. Darren Sproles represents a very interesting sleeper pick to me. He is currently being drafted in the 11th Round and will almost certainly be the passing down back in this offense. Sproles finished as the RB35 in fantasy as third running back on the Eagles last year, and he stands to see more work in 2016. He should improve on his 55 receptions from a year ago and could end the year flirting with the RB2 ranks. A final note worth mentioning: Ryan Mathews has only played 16 games once in his career. If (read:when) he gets hurt, rookie Wendell Smallwood, not Sproles, would replace him. Smallwood is well suited for this offense and is a low-cost handcuff in the 14th Round.
WR: Jordan Matthews’ 2015 season was a roller coaster. He started off on a tear with 16 catches for 182 yards and 1 TD in his first 2 games. Then he came crashing down to earth scoring fewer than 10 fantasy points in 6 of the next 10 games. He followed that up by finishing the last 5 games with 372 yards and 5 TDs, good enough for 8th best among WRs in that time frame. After all of that, he was the #16 WR in fantasy in 2015. Jeremy Maclin proved last year that the WR1 in Pederson’s offense could be fantasy relevant. Like Maclin, they experimented with moving Matthews to the outside, but almost immediately moved him back to his big slot role. This doesn’t worry me because they are feeling him out and seeing where he is the best fit. He should have little problem besting his 85-997-8 stat line and finishing the year as a top WR2. Based on his WR27 ADP, Matthews could end up being one of the biggest steals of 2016. It appears that Rueben Randle and Nelson Agholor will start on the outsides while Matthews in the slot. In his time in Kansas City, Pederson’s WR2 never finished in the positional top 50 and neither of these guys gives me any reason to believe they will change that. Avoid them.
TE: I found it oddly satisfying that Travis Kelce, the TE in Pederson’s 2015 offense, and Zach Ertz, the TE in Pederson’s 2016 offense, finished as the TE8 and TE9 last year. They are built similarly, play similarly, and had very similar 2015 stat lines. The major difference? Kelce is being drafted in the 6th Round, Ertz in the 10th. Ertz will certainly finish the year a TE1 and is a prime example of why you should wait on TEs if you don’t get Gronk or Reed.
As with all things in life, these situations can and will change, sometimes daily. Stay up to date with the Ultimate Draft Kit.
Here are the Divisional Breakdowns for the AFC East, AFC West, AFC North, AFC South, NFC West, NFC South, with one more to come.