With preseason action underway, 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, take a look at all 32 teams and address one of the biggest questions about each team 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!
Today, we’re taking a look at the NFC East.
How will the run game fare without DeMarco Murray?
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It isn’t often an NFL team lets the rushing title holder walk in free agency, but the Cowboys did just that over the 2015 NFL off-season. A topic of much debate this off-season has been how Dallas will be able to replace DeMarco Murray. My personal feeling is you don’t simply replace someone who is capable of winning a rushing title. A more appropriate question is how their run game will fare without him. Given the number of players Dallas has brought in this off-season, it is fair to believe a combination of players will take his place, despite them stating Joseph Randle is their guy.
Darren McFadden was brought in this off-season along with Ryan Williams, Lache Seastrunk and the recently signed Gus Johnson. While Williams has been released, the rest of the group is added to the holdovers in Randle and Lance Dunbar. One thing stands out about the group of players they brought in – at one time or another, they were all thought of as a high quality running back. McFadden’s issue has been his injuries while Seastrunk is seen as a great rusher but a big zero in the passing game. The bottom line here is Randle may perform well and put a strangle hold on the top running back spot for Dallas, but if he doesn’t they won’t be lacking hungry players with a “next man up” mentality.
Also, we can’t discount the fact Dallas is fielding one of the top offensive lines in the NFL, again. The line that turned Murray into a star is going to be opening up holes for whomever the running back is. This quality of line play can turn an average running back into an above average fantasy running back.
Whether it’s one back or multiple backs filling the shoes, the Cowboys shouldn’t hurt for running back production in 2015. Of course, for fantasy purposes, we would love to see one player secure the role.
Can RGIII return to form?
Robert Griffin III burst onto the scene as a rookie before falling to injury and ineffectiveness. Under coach Jay Gruden, 2015 may be his last opportunity in Washington to claim his stake on the starting job. If he can return to form, now would present an excellent buy low opportunity for the embattled quarterback.
History is on RGIII’s side. He broke out as the number five scoring quarterback in 2012 as a rookie. Among quarterbacks to crack into the top six in their rookie or sophomore years, the average number of top six performances throughout a career is four, and the number increases to 6.5 for top 12 performances. There are outliers that only reach those lofty numbers once or twice in their career, but the majority have multiple years of production. Having said that, it doesn’t mean he will return to form either in 2015 or even in a Redskins jersey.
No matter how you slice it, we are still discussing one of the top prospects at the quarterback position over the past decade. The man has skills, and he’s playing for a coach who made Andy Dalton look pretty good. The coaching staff is in place, the receiving options aren’t too shabby either with Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson flanking out wide. What we really need to see is Griffin focusing on fundamentals and mechanics. He needs to ditch the hero mentality and play within his system to work out under Gruden. Dalton played within his system, got results and Jay Gruden became a Head Coach.
The biggest question for me isn’t whether RGIII can return to form, but rather when will he return to form. If he gets his head on straight, it could be this year and the results would be fantastic. If he doesn’t, he may have to put it together for a new team.
How durable are they?
Through various moves this off-season, the Eagles have acquired Sam Bradford, DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. As of this writing, the trio projects to be the team’s QB1, RB1, and RB2, respectively. What’s troublesome about this trio is they have a checkered injury history. With an apparently injury prone trio at the helm of some of the vital skill positions in Philly, a big question is whether they can stay healthy.
Bradford has had multiple serious injuries in his career causing him to miss significant chunks of time. Sports Injury Predictor puts him in the high risk category, meaning there is a significant chance he does get injured this year and misses more time. From what we’ve seen of Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley and Tim Tebow thus far in their careers, it doesn’t inspire confidence in the Philadelphia passing attack if Bradford were to go down again. Sanchez was merely adequate in his time filling the role of quarterback last season, while Barkley appears to be strictly backup material and Tebow has been out of the league for years. Bradford is a great player when he is on the field. For the Eagles to make best use of their scheme and personnel, they simply need him to play.
Murray and Mathews are the leaders of the pack for running backs in Philadelphia, projecting to be part of a timeshare with Darren Sproles. As the lead back, Murray would stand to get over half of the carries, but Sports Injury predictor assigns him the medium risk category based on his checkered injury history. In the event he were to go down, Mathews would be the lead back; however, he also is given the medium risk designation. In a perfect world, both of these runners would stay healthy. They’ve proven to be productive when they are, but when they are has been a pretty big question mark thus far in their careers. There is a greater than zero chance they both go down this season, and they are forced to turn the reigns over to 32 year old Sproles and backup quality running back Kenjon Barner.
If the Eagles can stay healthy, the sky is the limit for them. In this case, the word “if” comes along with a pretty large asterisk.
New York Giants
Who will take over the backfield?
Last year in free agency, the Giants signed Rashad Jennings, then they drafted Andre Williams in the 2014 NFL Draft. After an injury marred season by Jennings and a mediocre season from Williams (at best), they added Shane Vereen in free agency in 2015 in addition to signing 2014 UDFA and Dolphins cast-off Orleans Darkwa.
Conventional wisdom would suggest Jennings will continue to be the go-to guy for the Giants. He is a solid-if-not-spectacular running back who has no glaring holes in his game. They signed him to a fairly sizeable contract just last year and one would expect them to utilize him in accordance with that. However, his troublesome history of injuries and his age (30) could help to persuade the coaching staff to look in another direction as the season wears on. It could also influence this situation to become a full on RBBC.
The second most intriguing option for the Giants is Vereen, often viewed as a passing down specialist from his years in New England. While he has certainly been used in a passing down specialist role, he has posted rushing stats that indicate he could produce if given more volume. The past three years, his average yards per carry have been 4.0, 4.7, and 4.1 respectively. Between his obvious versatility in the passing game and his efficiency in the rushing game compared to Jennings (3.8 YPC in 2014) and Williams (3.3 YPC in 2014), Vereen is a dark horse candidate to lead the Giants backfield this year. My biggest question about him is whether he can be a volume back, as he has proven fragile thus far in his career as well.
Then we have the rest of the bunch, Williams and Darkwa. For full disclosure here, I am a Giants fan. I hated the Andre Williams pick when they made it and not a single thing he has done since becoming a Giant has influenced my opinion towards the positive. He appears to be an adequate bruiser with low efficiency and little to offer in the passing game. Simply put, he looks to be a role player in the likely RBBC. Darkwa is the sleeper darkhorse of the bunch. He is a do-it-all kind of back, appearing to be efficient in all facets of the game. The trouble for him is he has neither the draft pedigree nor the contract which would indicate an easy climb up the depth chart. In preseason week on, he rushed four times for 21 yards and a touchdown while adding two catches for 17 yards. Those stats are pretty good, but he played well behind Williams.
Ultimately, I believe the Giants devolve into a full blown RBBC this year. I don’t expect anyone to take hold of the job and run with it. Jennings has a shot, but his age and tendency to get hurt should limit his touches. Vereen is more efficient, but has proven injury prone and hasn’t carried the load before. Williams can likely carry the load if the team is willing to give up efficiency. Darkwa appears capable, but he would need injuries to Jennings and Vereen plus the coaching staff would have to give up on Williams for him to see significant playing time.