32 Teams, 32 Questions: The NFC East

Jacob Feldman


It’s training camp time, which means we get to see all 32 teams doing something at least relatively meaningful. It also means there are only a few weeks left until the rosters and depth charts are set for the start of the season. We are going to take a little trip around the league and take a look at all 32 teams and address one of the biggest questions about each team that you need to be thinking about.

After all, in terms of dynasty leagues if you aren’t thinking about these things you’re already behind!

Previous editions:

NFC North
NFC South

Right now it is time to take a look at the media focal piece that is the NFC East. Because of it’s location, the NFC East seems to get a disproportionate amount of media coverage each and every year and its teams are often hyped up to levels they can’t possibly live up to, causing everyone to look down on them with disappointment at the end of the season for no fault of their own. All four teams can’t be playoff teams after all!

Let’s take a look at the essential dynasty questions for each team.

Dallas Cowboys

What will the pass catching group look like this year and in the next few seasons?

With all the attention going towards the playoff disappointments and regular season mediocrity for the team as a whole, it is easy to forget the Cowboys have actually had a top ten passing offense led by Tony Romo pretty much year in and year out. He is getting older, but I think there are still a few more good years in the tank – that means there are definitely some pass catchers worth your attention. The long running cornerstone has been Jason Witten, but age is starting to slowly catch up to him. Fortunately for Witten and his fantasy owners, his game isn’t built around supreme athleticism which means he might be able to stick around into his mid-thirties, but the clock is ticking.

[inlinead]When it comes to the wide receiver position, the clear starting spot is with Dez Bryant. A top three talent at the position when his head is on right and he is healthy, Dez is clearly the focal point for Romo. The problem is he is in the last year of his contract and the Cowboys are one of the worst managed teams in the league from a salary cap perspective. This has caused some to speculate he might be playing for a new team in 2015. Unless Dez gets himself in trouble or suffers a major injury, I think the Cowboys will find a way to make it work. It might take some sacrifices and big cuts elsewhere, but you just don’t see players of Dez’s talent level hit the free agent market. I think you can lock him in at Romo’s top target for several more years.

As for the rest of them, Dallas has finally moved on from Miles Austin after admitting what pretty much everyone else knew – you can’t trust his hamstrings. Terrance Williams had a very nice season for a rookie last year filling in for Austin and posting 44 receptions for 736 yards and five touchdowns. He is locked in opposite Dez and should see a major uptick in his numbers. The second receiver for the Cowboys, assuming they are healthy for the season, can easily produce upwards of 65 receptions, 950 yards and six touchdowns even though they are third on the pecking order. This is especially true with pass happy Scott Linehan in town.

Behind Williams, things get pretty interesting because there really isn’t much there. Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris are the only two players of note and given how much the Cowboys will be passing, they deserve a moment. Beasley seems to have the edge as of right now. He’s very undersized at 5’8” and only 180 pounds, but his has the skill set to be effective, though not great out of the slot. Harris is bigger than Beasley at 5’10” and 200 pounds, but he lacks the height you like in an outside receiver. He excelled on special teams and that might be his niche. The short version is that I don’t see any receiver on the roster behind Bryant and Williams with a whole lot of upside. None of them have the talent to be a long term solution.

Instead, I think the answer for production from the high volume passing attack is going to come from other positions. I think Lance Dunbar is in for a monster year in PPR leagues, much like what we saw from Joique Bell last year. Bell only had 166 rushes for 650 yards, but the 53 catches for another 547 yards put him in the RB2 discussion. Dunbar has the talent to do the same thing and maybe even more with the injury history of DeMarco Murray. I know there is talk that if (when?) Murray gets hurt, others might fill the void instead of Dunbar, but I don’t buy it. While it would likely still be a committee, Dunbar has the skill set to handle the majority of the work.

New York Giants

Will the real Eli Manning please step up? Is it the 2011 version with over 4,900 yards and 29 touchdowns or the 2013 version with 3,800 yards and nine more picks than scores?

When the topic of Eli comes up, I often find myself wondering how the discussion would be different if his last name wasn’t Manning. His two Super Bowl wins put him in pretty elite company. His 4,933 passing yards in 2011 were the tenth most all time for a single season. In fact, it was more than his brother ever had in one year until last year. In some ways he should definitely be thought of quite a bit higher than the good, but not great, franchise quarterback many of us view him as.

The problems come when you start to look a little deeper at his body of work and not just the highlights. His completion rate is typically right around 60 percent, give or take a few points, which is very average if not below average. Toss in the fact he is a virtual lock for 15 or more interceptions and the picture gets a little more grim. He has had 20 or more interceptions three times with 2013 being the worst with 27 of them. Considering he’s topped 30 touchdowns only once in his career, thanks to Tom Coughlin’s very strong preference to run in the red zone, the fantasy upside seems a bit limited for him and the rest of the passing game.

Looking back at the last few years, the over/under on any given year for Eli seems to be right about 61 percent completion rate, 4,000 yards, 27 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. While teams like Oakland, Minnesota and Tennessee would gladly take a year like that, it would likely mean the Giants miss the playoffs and limit them to only two relevant targets in the passing game, which would be Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle. If someone like Odell Beckham, Jerrel Jernigan or a tight end are going to have fantasy value this year, Eli is going to need to do better.

The question of course is if he can do better.

The answer is yes. A big part of the equation is going to be the system fit. Gone is the vertical passing game of Eli’s past and it has been replaced by Ben McAdoo’s quick hitting, West Coast offense of Green Bay Packer fame. I think this is going to be a much better fit for Eli and it wouldn’t surprise me to see career bests in everything but yards. I don’t think he’ll surpass the 4,933 yards in 2011, but 4,500 isn’t out of the question. The scheme fit seems to be a great match for the players on roster, including Eli. While I don’t think he’s elite, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him finish as a top ten quarterback this season and as long as McAdoo sticks around – that’s good news for all his receivers.

Philadelphia Eagles

After a spectacular 2013, we all need to wonder… are Chip Kelly and Nick Foles the real deal?

I think it all comes down to the level of expectation you put on the pair heading into the 2014 season. Before we get there, let’s take a quick step back. We all knew Kelly coming to the NFL was going to be exciting. We were going to see some things we hadn’t seen before, or at least that is what we were hoping. It was going to be a lightning fast, high octane offense. We also knew Nick Foles wasn’t an ideal fit for that style of game with a mobile quarterback and lots of designed runs. For that reason, none of us saw the 2013 season coming.

What ended up happening is Kelly adapted his system quite a bit to fit what Foles was able to do. The offense wasn’t nearly as fast as we expected. In fact, it wasn’t even in the top ten in plays per game. It also didn’t revolve around the mobile quarterback keeping defenses off guard. Instead, Kelly came up with a system that seemed to fit perfectly into the skill set of his new quarterback and allowed Foles to rack up nearly 3,000 yards to go with 26 touchdowns and only two interceptions over the 11 games he started. If you expand it out, you’re talking about nearly 4,500 yards, close to 40 touchdowns and only three picks. Those are MVP-type numbers!

I don’t think Chip Kelly receives nearly the amount of credit he deserves for the 2013 season. He took someone who isn’t an MVP level of talent and created a system which would allow them to produce at that level. That’s a rare ability indeed and one Eagles fans should be very excited about. If Kelly continues to show this ability to change his style to best fit the skills of his players, and I think he will, the Eagles will be a very good offense while he is there.

When it comes to Foles, I think there is going to be some regression. Foles isn’t the kind of quarterback who produces 4,500 passing yards and 40 touchdowns. He just isn’t that type of talent. Don’t get me wrong, I think Foles can be a high quality starter with Kelly at the helm, he just isn’t elite. Looking at his 11 starts, I see three games under 200 yards passing with three more between 200 and 240 yards. That’s over half of his games where the passing yards were below average – not a great sign when the passing yards are that low that often.

So, what made things work in 2013?

Playmakers who are elite in space and could turn nothing into something. LeSean McCoy is the player who really made the offense run. He’s easily a top three talent at his position and defenses know it. He received a lot of attention, which made things a little easier on Foles. Not to mention, if Foles got in trouble he could toss a quick screen to McCoy and watch him go ten yards for a first down. It was a great security blanket to have. Toss in DeSean Jackson and you have a duo of elite playmakers. Of course Jackson isn’t there anymore, but McCoy will keep defenses focused on the running game and ensure that while Foles will likely take a step back in 2014, he’ll still be a solid, though somewhat inconsistent fantasy start.

Washington Redskins

The Shanahans are out and Gruden is in. What does this mean for the offense moving forward?

Mike and Kyle Shanahan have been known for a lot of different things in the fantasy world. Turning late round or undrafted running backs (like Alfred Morris) into fantasy stars is one of them. Amplifying the production of the top receiver on the team (Pierre Garcon) is another one.Their time in Washington is now over and there is a new sheriff in town.

[inlinead]When most people hear the name Gruden, they instantly think of the older brother Jon who is best known these days for talking…a lot. He seems to love every quarterback to ever walk the earth and he says some rather ridiculous things on Monday Night Football. He was a really good coach once upon a time, becoming the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl. The younger brother, Jay, is getting his first shot as an NFL head coach this year and while he won’t break the record for youngest to win a Super Bowl, Jay might actually be the better offensive mind between the two.

Jay is most recently coming from the Bengals after three years running their offense, so let’s take a look back at those three years to see what he was able to accomplish.

2011: He took a rookie quarterback and managed to get nearly 3,400 yards and 20 touchdowns out of him, compared to 13 interceptions. This was with the only real weapon in the passing game being a fellow rookie. Then again, it was AJ Green, but he was still a rookie. He also made Jerome Simpson look like a very serviceable wingman with 50 catches for 725 yards and four touchdowns. Jermaine Greshman was also highly involved with 56 catches for 596 yards and six touchdowns. In the backfield, Cedric Benson managed yet another 1,000 yard campaign at age 29, but only caught 15 passes.

2012: Dalton’s numbers continued to rise across the board with almost 3,700 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Green became the stud we now know him as while Gresham’s usage also increased to 64 receptions for 737 yards. Andrew Hawkins became the second receiver with 51 catches for 533 yards and four scores. In the backfield, the aging Benson was replaced by a slightly younger BenJarvus Green-Ellis who also managed over 1,000 yards but only 22 receptions.

2013: Gruden continued to get the most out of Dalton with nearly 4,300 yards, 33 touchdowns and 20 picks. Green does what he does yet again while the rest of the team stepped up a bit. The tight end position, now split between Gresham and Tyler Eifert accounted for 85 receptions for 903 yards. The second wide receiver role, split between Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu was also much more productive with 51 receptions and 712 yards for Jones and 47 receptions for 455 yards for Sanu. The biggest change might have been in the backfield while a significant committee approach was used for the first time. The primary rusher, Green-Ellis, managed just 756 yards as he was often replaced by Giovani Bernard. Bernard managed just under 700 yards on 170 carries but 56 receptions for another 514 yards.

A few things stand out to me. First and foremost is Gruden has the ability to get the most out of above average talents. Dalton, Simpson, Hawkins and lots of others named above aren’t exceptional talents, but they were productive in the system. Speaking of the system, the second item of note is Gruden is willing to adapt his system to fit the personnel on the team. When he has multiple talented players, he has no problem splitting the load. If he has a pass catching back, he will use them. The system is very fluid to find what works best. That’s the biggest takeaway for me.

What does it mean for the 2014 Redskins?

It tells me Gruden is going to tailor the offense to the strengths of his players. He isn’t going to force something which isn’t there. Looking at the running back position, I don’t see a highly talented pass catching back on the team, so I’m expecting a season from Alfred Morris very similar to the 2012 Green-Ellis or 2011 Benson. That would be about 275 carries for about 1,075 yards, about six touchdowns and around 20 receptions. It would be a touch below where Morris was last year at the bottom of the RB2 ranks.

When it comes to pass catchers, both Garcon and DeSean Jackson will be leaned on heavily and given the lack of depth behind them could both approach high end WR2 value in fantasy leagues. I don’t buy into the talk about “who is going to play the AJ Green role” because I don’t think it applies. The reason there was an AJ Green role is because he was so much better than the others. When the playing field is more even, the usage will be more even as well. I think Garcon is going to be the better and more consistent play of the two, but Jackson should be a solid WR2 in his own right with some boom or bust factor. Jordan Reed will also get a lot of use and if he can stay healthy (a big if for him), he could push for top five tight end numbers. You know Gruden is going to make a point to use a weapon like him.

Finally we come to Robert Griffin III. For me, his usage is the toughest to predict since Gruden hasn’t ever had a mobile quarterback like RG3. I do know he is likely to see a high volume of pass attempts and Gruden will get the most out of him, probably pushing close to but falling a little short of Dalton’s 2013 passing numbers if RG3 can stay healthy. The question is the rushing numbers. Gruden has a history of using every weapon he can, which makes me think there will be a fair amount of rushing from the quarterback position. The big question is if RG3 can stay on the field. If he does, he should be a very solid QB1.

That’s it for the NFC East. Next stop, the division which just might be the best in the entire NFL. They definitely have the best defenses! We take a trip to the NFC West.


jacob feldman