To help prepare for the upcoming season for all you fantasy footballers, we will examine every team in the league before the start of the season. This effort will be organized through divisions and we will go roughly in order of overall strength of offenses from worst to best. Since teams in the same division play roughly to same schedule, it can be helpful to consider the defenses each division will face. I use team stats from Football Outsiders (DVOA), Average Draft Position (ADP) from Fantasy Football Calculator, and standard fantasy scoring on Yahoo. As always, comments, disagreements, and questions are welcome.
Today we cover the NFC East. Plenty of changes in this division – all seemingly for the better. Buckle up because this is a fun division for fantasy.
New York Giants
21st Passing DVOA, 26th Rushing DVOA
QB: Eli Manning
RB: Paul Perkins, Shane Vereen, Wayne Gallman
WR: Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard
TE: Evan Engram, Will Tye
When you have an all-world talent like Beckham in the offense, you tend to tilt the offense to his side of the field. If you don’t have anyone of consequence other than your #1 all-star, that guy is going to be less efficient with his opportunities. Signing Brandon Marshall (still a productive target monster in his own right) will likely reduce Beckham’s targets but hopefully increase his efficiency. Second year man Sterling Shepard can settle in as a #3 in the tree and learn from Marshall. In other words, tip of the cap to Giants GM Jerry Reese, who has given Eli Manning plenty to work with this season. Add to that group Ole Miss rookie Tight End Evan Engram, and I would expect Manning’s play to track back into the low-end QB1 tier. Beckham will cost you a 1st rounder and I would draft Marshall before Shepard but consider both to be worth roster spots.
The running game has been consistently bad for the Giants the last couple years and I’m not sure we’re going to see the sea change this year. Paul Perkins projects as the starter in camp with Vereen likely to fill the 3rd down / hurry up offense back. Rookie runner Wayne Gallman adds some intrigue into the mix. Perkins was a 5th rounder last year and Gallman was selected as a 4th rounder this year. It’s not a bad thing to get a stable of backs as a football team, but for fantasy purposes, a timeshare is a death sentence. Caveat Emptor.
25th Passing DVOA, 9th Rushing DVOA
QB: Carson Wentz
RB: LeGarrette Blount, Donnell Pumphrey, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles (Ryan Mathews)
WR: Alshon Jeffery, Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Torrey Smith
TE: Zach Ertz
The Wentz Wagon rolls into year 2 and is picking up steam and some passengers along the way. Last year, Wentz’s receiving corps left much to be desired so the top priority in the offseason was signing a couple of veterans in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Pairing the jump ball specialist Jeffery with Matthews and 2015 top pick Agholor should provide Wentz with ample options on the outside. The health of Zach Ertz seems to be a recurring question. If he can stay on the field, he’s a useful piece in our fake game. Overall, I like Wentz to fill a QB2 role this year with priority ranking of Jeffery and Matthews, in that order. Torrey Smith and Agholor could fill a bench slot and have play in bye weeks, but keep an eye on the early weeks to see how the target share works out. I don’t think we’re at the stage where Wentz can keep more than 2 players viable. This is an offense I expect to take a step up this year so there may be value at the draft table.
The running game was pretty efficient behind a collection of backs last year. Ryan Mathews was surprisingly effective when he was on the field but the word on the street is that Mathews will be cut once he returns to the team healthy. So the running back room starts off with Blount, a guy who has bounced around a bit in his career but owns two rings as a member of the New England Patriots. Entering his age 30-season, Blount is coming off the highest usage of his career (299 carries) but is a relatively low-mileage back thanks to New England’s varied offensive game plans. Blount can be an effective goal line back at a minimum but should get the first crack at workhorse load. Pumphrey profiles in the same vein as Sproles and is likely being groomed to take over that type of scat back role in the offense. That leaves Smallwood, who had some good moments as a rookie last year. If Blount gets hurt or shifts to a short-yardage specialist, Smallwood is the likely candidate to take over.
5th Passing DVOA, 4th Rushing DVOA
QB: Kirk Cousins
RB: Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson, Samaje Perine, Matt Jones
WR: Terrelle Pryor, Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder
TE: Jordan Reed
The Kirk Cousins drama rolls on in Washington. It sure seems like Cousins will hit Free Agency next year and sign with Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. For now, he’ll return to Jay Gruden’s offense and throw passes to some new names and faces. Terrelle Pryor was the big offseason acquisition this year and he was paid like a #1 WR. Josh Doctson enters year 2, hoping for better results than the injury-plagued rookie season. Doctson projects as a jump-ball artist (think Alshon Jeffery) and that theoretically leads to big plays of chunk yardage and TDs. Crowder is an intriguing slot specialist with a fair amount of buzz. Arguable the best threat in this offense is the tight end, Jordan Reed. Health has been elusive for the talented pass catcher and at some point, you just have to expect some missed time. When he plays, there are few that can justifiably rank above him (Gronkowski, Kelce, Olsen). In the early draft market, Pryor is coming off the boards as the #14 WR while Crowder is sneaking into WR3 conversation. The bargain may be in the talented Doctson, drafted near the bottom, comfortably slotting into a WR5 slot.
This team had a huge jump in running efficiency last year despite underwhelming performances by Matt Jones. Fat Rob has taken over as the top dog with Chris Thompson holding down the 3rd down duties. Rookie Samaje Perine brings an interesting skill set to the mix and could fight Kelley for time. I’m always interested in running backs drafted in the mid rounds who back up unproven guys. Kelley lacks the pedigree (undrafted) and only held the starters role at the end of the year. Sometimes, backs with fresh legs look good at the end of the year but can’t keep it up the following year after they win the job. I have no insight into any kind of camp battle, but keep your eyes on Perine.
3rd Passing DVOA, 2nd Rushing DVOA
QB: Dak Prescott
RB: Ezekiel Elliot
WR: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Ryan Switzer
TE: Jason Witten
Wow. That 2016 season from the Cowboys offense was stellar. So, let’s run out and draft every Cowboy possible, right? Right?! I’m not so sure. The Cowboys lost a couple pieces of their dominant offensive line in the offseason. While they’re confident in their replacements, offensive lines take time to gel and could be an adjustment. Ezekiel Elliot can’t stay out of the headlines and the volatility of Dez Bryant is always a wildcard. I would also bet on some reversion to the mean here for Prescott. His efficiency ratings were out of this world but the sample size is too small to know if this is exactly who is or if he’ll settle in at some less than Brady-esque in his turnover numbers. He is a threat with his legs and those bonus points play just fine. If you want Dak, I’d recommend investing in a premium backup in case he hits some sophomore slump issues. Switzer is an interesting name to compete with fan-favorite Cole Beasley.
I was all-in on Elliot’s rookie year. I thought he was going to absolutely crush it and he did. Maybe the offensive line will be fine and he’ll continue to roll through opponents. Maybe he’ll keep himself out of controversy. Maybe he’ll stay focused and stay hungry. You want your top pick to be able to win you games and possibly the league. Elliot has that ability. You just have to decide if the rest of the context will hold or if you would be better off drafting Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, or even Antonio Brown and Julio Jones.
NFC East Review
The NFC East takes on the NFC West and the AFC South. So, for as good as all of these teams can potentially be on offense, they will each take on the Cardinals, Seahawks, and Texans in addition to the strong defenses of the Eagles and Giants. Despite the east-coast bias in coverage for these guys, there are plenty of top-flight names that will be on everyone’s wish list and potential bargains at the QB position.
All NFC East Fantasy Team – The ideal roster as chosen from only NFC East squads:
QB: Kirk Cousins
RB: Ezekiel Elliot
RB: LeGarrette Blount
WR: Odell Beckham Jr.
WR: Dez Bryant
WR: Alshon Jeffery
TE: Jordan Reed