Normally, any time I write big articles that take a wide, sweeping look over a certain division, I always pick the AFC East. Being a Patriots fan I know that division very well and can speak with ease about all the teams and what’s the happy haps in each of them. That also means I tend to cover the NFC East since it’s easy to break down the NFL into each location and pair the AFC and NFC teams based on their local.
Now, all this preamble is to say that I basically picked the NFC East without really processing which teams and players I’d get to write about. But, as I was warming up the old computer and my typing fingers, I happen to remember that I GET TO WRITE ABOUT TERRELLE PRYOR! WOOT WOOT! Planned this perfectly. So, get excited for lots and lots of words about Pryor when I finally get down to Washington.
For now, let’s start with a grand overview of the division. While the AFC East has been all but decided for the past decade before the season even starts, the NFC East is much more fun when it comes to standings. Last year the division had two playoff teams—Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants—and only the Eagles finished below .500, and a weak “below .500” at that (they went 7-9). With the Giants, Eagles and Washington loading up on the offensive end this offseason, it seems like we could be in for another battle royal to determine who makes it out of the NFC East alive. Before we get into each team’s fantasy breakdown, here’s my thoughts on final NFC East standings:
- Dallas Cowboys 12-4 (think Dak and Zeke build upon strong rookie years, defense isn’t as strong as last year)
- Washington 10-6 (Kirk Cousins goes crazy with Pryor and Crowder)
- Philadelphia Eagles 9-7 (Wentz takes a big step forward now that he has receivers who can catch)
- New York Giants 7-9 (The Odell Brandon Marshall experiment doesn’t go as well as planned, but that defense is still good)
Here’s a look at the Cowboys, Giants, Eagles & Washington and the fantasy names they house. Plus, I give a sleeper and potential disappointment for each team. (Each player has their Top 200 ranking where applicable.)
Fantasy Names: Ezekiel Elliott (3), Dez Bryant (15), Dak Prescott (127), Jason Witten (176)
Sleeper: Ryan Switzer
Disappointment: Cole Beasley (173)
Let’s start with the man who led my fantasy team to a championship, the myth-breaker that running backs are no longer important or worth a high draft pick, the legend that brought Cowboys fans annoyingly back into everyone's twittersphere: Ezekiel Elliott. The biggest question heading into the 2017 season regarding Elliott is if he’ll be able to match his rookie year production. He led the NFL in attempts with 322, 23 more than the next running back. 300+ touches—not including the 32 catches he had—in a single season is a lot of work for any back and while we fantasy owners were lucky that Zeke neither tired out nor got injured, I don’t know for how long we can stay lucky. That being said, really I’m just trying to drum up some sort of controversy when it comes to Elliott because a) it’s fun and b) it’s harmless because no one is going to pass on Elliott for the reason that he may get used too much. In fact, that’s what we want. He is inches behind Le’Veon Bell in my rankings but I could easily talk myself into Elliott over Bell (please stay on the field for a full season Lev).
Now to the Cowboys’ passing attack, headlined by fellow sophomore player Dak Prescott. At the end of last season I was lukewarm on Dak’s fantasy value heading into 2017. I know that might sound ridiculous about a rookie who finished sixth among quarterbacks in total fantasy points but that’s how I felt. I didn’t think he’d be able to replicate his rookie success in his sophomore year. We still have no idea if he can, but a couple of months later and plenty of more research in the bank, my opinion of Prescott has taken a complete 180. While I don’t think he’ll be able to match his TD/INT ratio—23 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions—nor replicate his NFL leading six rushing touchdowns (among quarterbacks), there is plenty of room for him to still grow. He was 23rd in the NFL in pass attempts, behind the likes of Brock Osweiler and Trevor Siemian. Obviously a deadly rushing attack took the weight off of Dak’s shoulders but with another year under his belt, I could easily see the Cowboys giving him more opportunities to chuck the ball around the field.
And who will he be chucking these balls to you might ask? Dez Bryant baby! If he can stay healthy that is. While the Dak/Dez connection took a few weeks to get warmed up—thanks in large part to a hairline fracture in Dez’s right knee—they quickly showed us how good they could be together. From Week 7 onwards (including playoff game vs. Packers) Dez had 48 catches, 778 yards, an astounding 16.5 yards per catch and nine touchdowns. Stretch that across 16 games and that’s a pretty dang good season. I was initially worried about Dez’s receptions dropping sizably—his receptions per game in 2016 and 2015 (3.8 and 3.4 respectively) are well below his career average of 4.8—but reviewing how Dez ended his 2016 campaign, you can’t help but be excited about what he could bring to the table in 2017, especially when he’s fairly entrenched as a middle to late second round pick.
Cole Beasley was Dak’s favorite target last year leading the team in targets but sadly I’m not sure that’ll stay consistent in 2017. Beasley gets open just as well as any receiver in football and Dak quickly turned him into a security blanket. However a healthy Dez will cut into Beasley’s targets and the Cowboys did draft another small, white slot receiver in this year in Ryan Switzer. The Cowboys’ brass is already hyping up Switzer and he could see his role grow on the team if he can get his feet under him early. Beasley still will have some PPR relevance but his touches could decrease with Dez back and Switzer biting at his heels.
New York Giants
Fantasy Names: Odell Beckham Jr (7), Brandon Marshall (81), Sterling Shepard (132), Eli Manning (142), Shane Vereen (169)
Sleeper: Evan Engram (180)
Disappointment: Paul Perkins (64)
I’m very hesitant about this Giants offense. One, because there are a lot of pass catchers here who will all want the football and two because when they aren’t getting what they want, they will complain. Odell Beckham has done this in his career. So has Brandon Marshall. I’m willing to bet Sterling Shepard will do it at least once this year. Hell, even Eli Manning might complain about having too many receivers to feed. Needless to say, I’m not too high on the brotherly bonds that will be formed in New York.
But this isn’t a fantasy sports league where people get points for getting along with teammates—but if you want that, have we got the place for you.
The Giants do certainly offer plenty of fantasy excitement, especially in the passing attack as they finished eighth in the NFL last year in passing attempts. Much like many of the stars in fantasy, I don’t feel like I need to say too much regarding Odell. Last year he was second in the NFL in targets, third in yards, fifth in touchdowns and finished WR4 in total points. We know Odell can put up the numbers. However, things do get a little exciting with the addition of Marshall, particularly in terms of touchdowns. Both Odell and Marshall had 21 targets inside the red zone last year, tied for fourth best in the NFL. Odell led the league in red zone target percentage with 34.4. Marshall was fourth with 29.6. Now these two are on the same team. If you combine them, that’s almost 65% of the Giants’ red zone targets going to two people. Not sure that’s going to happen.
So what is going to happen? I’m almost certain Marshall won’t see 29% of the Giants red zone targets and Odell’s red zone targets might also take a hit. For Odell’s value though this doesn’t impact it much as Odell is still so talented he can score from anywhere on the field. Literally. Anywhere. Meanwhile, at this point in his career I think Marshall’s fantasy value is tied pretty closely to his ability to score touchdowns, especially with a young Shepard coming off of a very productive rookie season. I’m going to be very curious to see how the targets play out in New York but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Marshall finish third on the pecking order.
Clearly now that I’ve written the above, I could have easily picked Marshall as my disappointment but I’m instead going to turn to the running game for that. There has been a lot of buzz in the fantasy world regarding second year back Paul Perkins as a potential sleeper and I’m here to crush that dream. Just crumple it up and throw it in the trash can. For starters, the Giants don’t like to run the football. They were tenth in the NFL last year in fewest rushing attempts and averaged only 88.2 yards per game, good for 29th. Not great. To make matters worse, the Giants don’t like using their running backs once they get into the red zone. Last year they finished 30th in the NFL in terms of rushing plays inside the 20-yard line. AND, in those limited rushing plays called in the red zone, Perkins had just nine carries. For reference, Shane Vereen had seven. Eli Freaking Manning had six. So that you further understand this ridiculousness, Paul Perkins is currently being drafted ahead of Tevin Coleman, Mark Ingram, Derrick Henry and Bilal Powell. I’ll let you make the decision for yourself.
Quickly on Evan Engram: the Giants have needed tight end help across the middle for sometime. I could see Engram quickly finding a role for himself in this offense and making the most of it. It also doesn’t take as much to standout from the tight end pack as it does for wide receivers or running backs since there are just fewer of them.
Fantasy Names: Alshon Jeffery (25), Jordan Matthews (93), Darren Sproles (129), Carson Wentz (157), Wendell Smallwood (190)
Sleeper: Zach Ertz (103)
Disappointment: LeGarrette Blount (74)
The Eagles got themselves a franchise quarterback last year so it only made sense for them to go out a get a bunch of weapons to stockpile around young Carson Wentz. And he’s sure to benefit from it. Wentz finished QB24, well down the quarterback rankings which was mildly to be expected from a first year quarterback playing on a team with no one who can catch the football. Hopefully the addition of Alshon Jeffery and LeGarrette Blount will help the Eagles’ offense become both a little more balanced and give Wentz a true number one receiver to go to. I wouldn’t predict Wentz to be a starting QB in fantasy this year but he might be a nice guy to keep an eye on for the inevitable bye week.
Wentz’s new number one target is going to be an interesting guy to watch in 2017. Jeffery has battled injuries and suspensions in recent years but when healthy, he’s a monstrous receiver. Jeffery was a top 10 fantasy receiver back in 2013 and top 15 receiver in 2014. Even in 2015 he put up 11.6 fantasy points per game (though he did only play 9 games that year). The nice thing is that Jeffery was brought into Philly to be the number one guy so he will certainly rack up his fair share of targets and receptions. I wouldn’t be surprised if he returned to old form and posted a 80+ catch, 1,000+ yards, double-digit touchdown season if he can stay healthy and out of trouble. Fingers crossed.
Sadly this new logjam at receiver—don’t forget the Eagles also signed Torrey Smith—doesn’t help Jordan Matthews’ fantasy value. Matthews has been sniffing top 20 fantasy receiver for a while now but might never get to fill his nostrils with the beautiful aroma of fantasy success. Matthews first two years in the league (2014 and 15) he gained fantasy notoriety due to a high target rate and scoring eight touchdowns in each season. His first year with Wentz however didn’t go as well as his receiving yards (804), yards per catch (11), touchdowns (3) and catch percentage (62.4%) were all career lows. Wentz’s first year did go really well for tight end Zach Ertz though, who broke onto the fantasy stage last year, finishing eighth among tight ends in total fantasy points. He established himself as Wentz’s go-to-guy and led the Eagles in catches, yards and touchdowns, while finishing second in targets. Had to quickly plug him in since I’ve got him as my sleeper.
Now to the rushing attack. The Eagles were fifth in the league last year in rushing plays within the red zone (77) and I start with this stat with because that is how LeGarrette Blount is going to get you fantasy points. The Eagles brought Blount to be their battering ram on the goalline and to score them some points in the red zone. However, I don’t expect it to happen as much as it did last year, for both members. I don’t think the Eagles are going to run the ball as much in the red zone as they did last year and I’ll put real good money down on Blount not rushing for 18 touchdowns next year. Jeffery and the passing attack are going to take a bigger role in the red zone, leaving less opportunities for Blount to score touchdowns. Blount is also getting up there in age and is coming off a season in which he carried the ball 299 times. I do think that Blount is the perfect running back for the Eagles and offers good fantasy value, but I don’t think he’ll live up to his 4.10 ADP. That means taking him over backs like Ty Montgomery, Mike Gillislee (ironically Blount’s replacement in New England) and CJ Anderson.
Fantasy Names: Terrelle Pryor (34), Jordan Reed (45), Jamison Crowder (70), Kirk Cousins (90), Josh Doctson (133)
Sleeper: Samaje Perine (116)
Disappointment: Rob Kelley (83)
Whew, finally we make it to the last team of the division. If you’ve managed to read all the way to this point I’m impressed. I’m exhausted writing up to this point. But we work on, for fantasy, for football. Washington’s passing attack was downright deadly last year, finishing with the second most yards in the NFL. Kirk Cousins showed everyone that actually he’s a pretty darn good quarterback and that whomever thought it would be a good idea to draft another quarterback the same year you drafted a bajillion picks to draft a quarterback is kind of a genius. Well done dude. Cousins finished fifth in total scoring among quarterbacks and averaged 18.8 fantasy points per game. What’s impressive about Washington is that normally when there’s a mass wide receiver exodus in the offseason, the quarterback becomes kryptonite and no one wants to touch him. However, despite losing DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon in the same offseason, I still like Cousins because of who Washington still has and who they brought it.
Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder are on the verge of becoming household names and I would highly recommend having them on your team to watch it happen live. Reed has been increasingly productive when it comes to fantasy football despite his injury track record. While he has yet to finish a full season, his position rank has consistently improved over the past three years—TE25 in 2014, TE17 in 2015 and TE9 last year despite missing four games. Reed staying healthy is a big if but he’s proven that it doesn’t nessecarily hinder his fantasy output (or maybe it’s more of a commentary on the rest of the tight end pool). Crowder broke out last year catching 67 balls for 847 yards and seven touchdowns. While he only finished WR33 last year, this year is certain to bring more opportunity as there is an abundance of targets to go around Washington. Plus, the talk of the offseason has been incorporating Crowder into Washington’s two receiver package, giving him even more opportunities to make plays in the passing game.
And then there’s Terrelle Pryor. Do I really need to write anything on Pryor? He posted 136.4 fantasy points, finished WR18 last year while playing for the Browns. The Browns. He now has an actual quarterback, a year under his belt at the position, and plenty of weapons surrounding him to draw defense’s attention away from him. If I could I would now paste 100 money bag emojis to express how much I think you should be buying him.
Sadly who I’m not buying is Fat Rob. Before the draft, Rob Kelley was a fan favorite sleeper pick given both his awesome self titled nickname and his productive 2016 season. Then Washington drafted Samaje Perine. Perine is bully at running back, who runs with power and can take on any sized workload that’s handed to him. Plus, Jay Gruden thinks he’s the “total package” so I’m thinking Perine is going to get his chance sooner rather than later. And if Perine takes off, then that means Kelley falls flat.
Which NFC East receiver is going to have the better fantasy season? (Other than Odell)
This poll is closed
Did I mention Terrelle Pryor?