32 Teams, 32 Questions: NFC East

Mo Brewington

It’s preseason 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 fantasy questions about each of them. After all, in terms of dynasty leagues, if you aren’t thinking about these things now you’re already behind.

The Dallas Cowboys shocked the world by winning the NFC East in 2016. Despite losing their longtime leader, Tony Romo to injury, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott powered the Cowboys to a 13-3 record — becoming fantasy football stars in the process.

This season, the Cowboys will have to manage at least six games without Elliott, as the running back serves a league-mandated suspension as punishment for his off-field transgressions. With their leadback missing over a third of the year, the balance of power in the division is on the verge of shifting, once again.

No team has repeated as NFC East champion in 12 years. The Giants, Redskins, and Eagles have each constructed fascinating rosters this off-season, in an effort to dethrone the Cowboys and claim the division crown as their own. As we prepare to enter our dynasty seasons, there are a number of pressing questions we need answered about these about these franchises and their 2017 outlook.

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Washington Redskins

Who will be the Redskins’ leading receiver in 2017?

With Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson out of the picture, the Redskins are looking for someone to step in and produce for what should be one of the league’s more potent air attacks.

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Some will pencil in Jordan Reed as the leading candidate to lead the team in receiving. Yet, Reed’s never played more than 14 games in a season, or started more than nine contests.

Reed’s best season came in 2015, when he caught 76.3% of his 114 targets, posted an 87/952/11 stat line, and finished second behind Rob Gronkowski in tight end PPR scoring. Reed was the only top five tight end who failed to exceed 1,000 receiving yards that season. Last year, he slipped to TE9, going just 66/686/6 in 12 games.

Reed is currently TE3, with an ADP of 46.5, overall. He could miraculously put together a full season, but there’s no reason for dynasty owners to risk a fourth-round pick on that possibility.

The Redskin with the biggest breakout potential is Terrelle Pryor, who’s entering his second season as a full-time wideout. He posted 1,007 yards and four touchdowns, on 77 receptions for an abysmal Browns’ team, with putrid quarterback play.

Playing with Kirk Cousins, who narrowly missed tossing a 5,000-yard season in 2016, should entice owners to place Pryor’s name in their queue on draft day. Yet, there hasn’t been much fanfare for Pryor, or Cousins in the community this off-season.

With both players on one-year “prove-it” deals, Cousins and Pryor will be looking to cash-in next off-season. You should be looking to cash-out in your dynasty and daily fantasy leagues, as the allure of the “contract-year bump” motivates them both to big seasons.

If Pryor and Reed are too risky for your taste, then Jamison Crowder is the player for you. He’s done nothing but impress in limited opportunities behind Garçon and Jackson the past two seasons. Now, entering the pivotal third year of his career, Crowder finally has a clear path to fantasy stardom.

Through his first two pro seasons, Crowder’s statistics look incredibly impressive next to another stand out dynasty performer… the Steelers’ Antonio Brown.

Report Created on Pro-Football-Reference.com 


Report Created on Pro-Football-Reference.com 


Understanding this comparison reeks of blasphemy to many readers, considering Brown was buried on the depth chart behind Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, and Antwaan Randle-El during his rookie season. By year-two Brown had surpassed everyone of those players and turned 124 targets into a 69/1,108/2 stat line.

Crowder has this type of breakout potential in an offense where the football will often be airborne. With defenses focused on stopping Pryor and Reed, Crowder could turn into a PPR-machine, giving Cousins an outlet who’s consistently open across the middle of the field.

Philadelphia Eagles

Do the Eagles have a Top-12 fantasy performer on their 2017 roster?

It’s been a topsy-turvy off-season for the Eagles. After their receiving corps suffered one of the least productive seasons of any NFL team, Philadelphia set out to find players who could help second-year quarterback Carson Wentz’s progression.

The Jordan Matthews’ trade to Buffalo allowed Nelson Agholor to step into the slot full-time. Agholor had a strong off-season. Yet, dynasty owners should proceed with caution when projecting a breakout campaign. The third-year wideout has suffered major issues with confidence and consistency.

It’s odd to have a player who was the top free agent target at his position, simultaneously playing to resurrect his career. Yet, that’s exactly what Alshon Jeffery is attempting to do. The Eagles’ unquestioned No.1 receiver must prove he can stay healthy, productive, and out of the league’s P.E.D. program.

LeGarrette Blount is a career RB3, who’s cracked the top-24 just twice. Last season was his first inside the top-12. He isn’t likely to accrue the yardage or number of touchdowns required to do it again for the Eagles.

Wentz has a wealth of weapons aside from the players mentioned above. Darren Sproles, Torrey Smith, Trey Burton, Donnel Pumphrey, and potential rookie stand-out Mack Hollins.

The loss of Jordan Matthews is a bigger blow than most in the fantasy community realize, however. No, Matthews would not have been the most successful, or explosive player in this offense. He was, however, Wentz’s most trusted target. The two had built a rapport and a genuine friendship off the field.

With Matthews gone, the role of the Wentz’s most trusted confidant now falls the one Eagles’ player with a legitimate shot at finishing inside the top-12 this season — tight end Zach Ertz.

Ertz has been a top ten PPR tight end each of the last two years — finishing ninth in 2015, and sixth in 2016. What’s more, he’s been a top ten fantasy tight end over the final five weeks of every one of his four pro seasons.

The reason for this late-season uptick in scoring is the fact Ertz has played with six different starting QBs over his four-year career. While the volatility at quarterback has repressed his season-long output, he’s excelled once given a chance to settle into a rhythm with his passer.

Consider that Ertz jumped from TE23 over the entire 2013 season, to TE10 over the final five games. In 2014, he was TE13 for the year, and TE8 for the final five tilts. He he jumps from TE9 in 2015, to TE2 down the stretch. And last season he went from TE6 overall, to TE1 in the last five contests.

The difference in 2017 is that Ertz and Wentz will start out the year on the same page. This instant chemistry should allow both players to hit the ground running and post some elite numbers relative to the NFL’s other QB/TE duos.

If you find a site that has Ertz ranked among the top five fantasy tight ends for 2017, let us know. There are very few sites with the fifth-year pro in their top ten at the position. This is a mistake. Rarely is it this easy to identify a player the entire community is undervaluing. Ertz is that player. His year-end standing among tight ends has improved every season of his career. There’s no reason to believe he won’t improve upon the sixth-place finish he registered in 2016.

Some believe Jeffery will dominate the target share in Philly. It’s more likely the Eagles run a balanced passing attack, where Jeffery winds up around 110 targets, based on the season-highs of previous No.1 receivers in the Andy Reid/Doug Pederson incarnation of the West Coast offense.

Weighing the injury histories of guys like Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed, Tyler Eifert, and Kyle Rudolph against their ADPs should give fantasy owners pause. Greg Olsen, and Delanie Walker each have a larger cast of pass catchers to share the wealth with this season.

Yet, Ertz is primed to dominate for 16 games. The chemistry between he and Wentz is the most dependable aspect of the Eagles’ passing attack. Ertz has a legitimate shot at a top five campaign, and you should be buying in now. His ADP is currently four picks behind Eric Ebron’s, which is utterly laughable.

New York Giants

Can the Giants generate a top-24 running back this season?

Last year, New York’s top running back was Rashad Jennings, who finished RB36 in PPR. Then-rookie Paul Perkins was RB60 in 13 games. Perkins posted a 112/456/0 on the ground, with 15 receptions, for 162 receiving yards tacked on through the air. Failing to score limited Perkins’ final point total. This season, he’s on pace to start the year as the Giants’ lead dog.

The team lost Shane Vereen after just five games. Yet, Vereen matched Thomas Rawls, Jalen Richard, and Mike Gillieslie on a per game basis, and outscored Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry. Should Perkins show any signs shakiness in his new role, Vereen is a player who could steal away a solid helping of work in the passing game.

Rookie Wayne Gallman is the x-factor here. How quickly he earns the coach’s trust as a blocker for Eli Manning may determine the types of opportunities available to him. Gallman is a tough runner, and the best-equipped of the three main backs to handle between the tackles work. However, this should be Perkins’ gig to capitalize on, or lose early in the year.

As for whether any of these players can generate a top-24 season for your team, Perkins is the best bet. Vereen is fascinating bounce back candidate, but may not warrant enough carries in the ground game to boost him into the top-24. He could have RB3 potential is starts leaning on him on third down. Gallman is worth keeping an eye on. However, it’s difficult to watch him without seeing shades of T.J Yeldon.

Dallas Cowboys

How good can Dak Prescott be without Zeke Elliott for the first six weeks? How good can he be overall?

It’s been a tired, trite, overused, lazy narrative. “Dak Prescott only played as well as he did in 2016 because he had Zeke Elliott, and that line!” There’s no question those two factors afforded the rookie QB a greater margin for error. However, Prescott deserves credit for the work he did on his own.

There aren’t many QBs who could step in and replace Tony Romo in that environment and not suffer some type of setback during the season. Prescott dealt with the pressure and played virtually mistake-free football. He racked up the first top ten campaign by a rookie quarterback since Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin did it in 2012.

Prescott completed better than 70% of his throws in nine games. He had ten multi-touchdown games, and only failed to score a TD in two contest. Andy Dalton was the only QB other than Prescott to post a top 12 season without having a single top 30 receiver, or top ten tight end.

Now, he’ll be asked to keep Dallas afloat while they await Elliott’s return from a six-game, league mandated suspension. Dallas’ schedule looks pretty rugged at this point in the preseason. They kickoff against the rival Giants, who swept the Cowboys, holding them to 26 total points in two matchups, last season.

After that opener, the Cowboys face some of the league’s toughest defense over the ensuing four weeks. Games against the Broncos, Cardinals, Rams, and a Packers’ team with an improving defense test the Cowboys’ offense without their star running back to take the pressure off the passing game.

Things get no easier after a week six bye. Elliott’s suspension will wrap-up after a game against the 49ers. But with the Redskins, Chiefs, Falcons, Eagles, and Chargers next on the schedule, Prescott will have to contend with some of the NFL’s best pass rushes.

Duplicating his standout rookie season will be a tall task. Dynasty owners banking on the Cowboys’ starter may want to have a solid backup to give them options on weeks the matchup doesn’t favor Dallas’ offense. Prescott truthers may be able to acquire the signal caller during that initial six-game stretch without Elliott, as the defense he’ll face could make him look as if he’s on the verge of regression, thus lowering his trade value.

In the long run, however, Prescott is likely maintain his standing as one of the best young QBs in fantasy football. As Dallas recovers from the damage done by Tony Romo’s dead cap hit, they’ll be better equipped to surround Prescott with weapons, and make his job that much easier.


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