Summer is upon us, which means it’s time to start looking towards the upcoming NFL season. While the Draft Guide is about to roll out into full swing, I think our devoted readers deserve even more. In the coming weeks, I plan on breaking down each NFL division and in the process will use my Nostra-Dom-Us foresight to predict several fantasy superlatives within each team. Follow along and you will realize the future is now… Nostra-Dom-Us has spoken.
What a season it was for the Cowboys in 2016, especially in a fantasy sense, as breakout rookies such as Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott proved to be potential cornerstone keepers in just about every fantasy format. Looking forward to 2017, the expectation is that not only these players, but several other Cowboys should be fantasy locks, including Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, and Jason Witten, making Dallas one of the most important teams to watch for this upcoming NFL season.
Fantasy MVP: Ezekiel Elliott
A legitimate argument could be made that Zeke was the league MVP last season, let alone the fantasy MVP, so this is pretty much a layup selection for me. Other players considered were Dak Prescott, and to a much smaller degree, Dez Bryant. What it comes down to is that while Dak had a phenomenal rookie season and looks poised to improve headed into year two, many believe that Zeke is already the best back in football and is running behind the league’s offensive line. As we saw last season, the Cowboys are intent on setting the tone with the running game, and with rumors swirling that this year they intend on using Zeke more as a receiver out of the backfield, chances are that Elliott will end up being the league-wide fantasy MVP in 2017.
Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Ryan Switzer
Due to his size concerns, some contend that the Cowboys jumped on Switzer a little early in the draft this past April, but the fact of the matter is that his collegiate tape and production are for real. In Switzer, the Cowboys see a supped up Cole Beasley and are already raving about his potential and work ethic in training camp. He should be featured far more often than a rookie fourth round receiver typically is, giving him legitimate fantasy potential in this high-powered offense.
Most Improved Fantasy Player: Dez Bryant
Dez missed three games early on in the 2016 season which, while playing with a rookie quarterback, is a tremendous blow to the goal of gaining a receiver/quarterback rapport. Subsequently, Dez and Dak took some time to get in rhythm with each other, which ultimately crippled Dez's fantasy impact in 2016. In all though, fleshed out through a 16 game projection, Dez was well on pace for over 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns. As for his 2017 potential, the good health of Bryant is one of the main reasons for my optimism, but you really needn't look further than his production down the stretch of the season, particularly his last game and the playoff game against the Packers, as he tallied a combined 13 catches, 202 yards, and four touchdown receptions. Now seemingly in perfect rhythm with his ultra-talented quarterback, Dez should be poised for a massive 2017. Fantasy owners – take notice.
Biggest Fantasy Disappointment: Terrance Williams
If I'm projecting an uptick in production for Dez, then it only makes sense that someone's is going to have to go down. With the addition of Ryan Switzer, the resigning of Brice Butler, and the rumored further involvement of Ezekiel Elliott in the passing game, T-Will appears to be the odd man out unfortunately. His touchdown production has gone down in each of the past two seasons, while his yards per catch average (13.5) dropped below 16.0 for the first time in his career in 2016. To top it all off, his role in the Cowboys offense has further developed into one of a "blocking receiver" – something that he seems to have embraced over the last year or so. Once a promising fantasy stud, T-Will has turned into someone to avoid on draft day.
New York Giants
Last season for the G-Men was an exciting one, as they made the playoffs and were led by one of the most intimidating defenses in the NFL. In a fantasy sense however, the Giants remained more or less one dimensional, as Odell Beckham proved to be much of their entire offense. Sure contributions from rookie reciever Sterling Shepard were nice, but their lack of any kind of running game left fantasy owners wanting much more from this talented roster. With shiny new offensive additions headed into 2017, this season appears to be headed for a fantasy rebirth of sorts out in the Big Apple, as Eli Manning, the runnning game, and the tight end position all should see significant improvement in the production department.
Fantasy MVP: Odell Beckham
I'm going to spare you a long winded explanation because this one is pretty obvious, but let me just make it clear that Beckham has been arguably the best fantasy receiver in the league since the day he entered it. Here are his year-by-year stats across his three year career (2014: 91 rec, 1,305 yds, 12 TD's; 2015: 96 rec, 1,450 yds, 13 TD's; 2016: 101 rec, 1,367 yds, and 10 TD's). At still only 23 years old, that trend doesn't appear to be slowing down any time soon. ODB will continue to be a fantasy beast for the foreseeable future.
Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Wayne Gallman
The addition of Gallman was a shrewd pickup in the fourth round by the Giants because while he's no star in any particular area, he's rock solid at just about everything, which should help compliment the deficiencies of incumbent starter Paul Perkins. I expect out of training camp that Gallman will earn a large portion of the goal line touches, which should translate into fantasy gold. Ultimately, Gallman is a sleeper name to keep an eye on later on in your drafts.
Most Improved Fantasy Player: Eli Manning
I went for Eli here because while he has posted very predictable fantasy production over most of his career, 2016 felt like more of a down season than usual. With an added arsenal of offensive weapons – the aforementioned Gallman, rookie hybrid receiver Evan Engram, and potential future hall of famer Brandon Marshall – Eli arguably has his best offensive unit yet. Already wielding an elite defense, the stage is set for Eli and the Giants to put up a lot of points in 2017.
Biggest Fantasy Disappointment: Shane Vereen
I've discussed Gallman and Paul Perkins positively so far, which means that someone in that backfield is going to have to be the odd man out. Vereen has struggled with health issues during his Giants tenure, thus he has fallen out of favor in the running back rotation. Sure his PPR skillset is tempting, but between Perkins and Gallman, the reps at the position should be handled pretty well for the foreseeable future. Barring an injury for one of the other two running backs, Vereen should play more of a reserve role in 2017.
2016 was a season of transition for the Eagles, as they started from scratch with a new head coach and a rookie quarterback. The returns on their new investments largely paid off, as they finished only one game under .500 and seemed to compete very hard each week in one of the league's toughest divisions. On the fantasy side of things however, there wasn't much to be had, as their offense relied largely upon quick hits and screen passes. They struggled to put a consistent running game together, while they lacked explosion on the outside in the pass game. This season appears to be different, as they now feature a talented rookie running back, a new starting running back who scored 18 touchdowns last season, and two explosive playmakers on the outside at the wide receiver position.
Fantasy MVP: Carson Wentz
It was an impressive rookie season for Wentz, especially considering the fact that he set the Eagles single-season record for most past attempts, but while that may have been the case, largely their offense consisted of "dink and dunk." It's hard to blame the quarterback for that though, as Philly lacked any semblance of a playmaker on the offensive side of the ball. Entering 2017, the Eagles have added a pro bowl wideout in Alshon Jeffery and a legitimate vertical threat in Torrey Smith. I expect that the Eagles will look to stretch it out far more this upcoming season, which should spell even more fantasy success for Wentz going forward.
Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Donnel Pumphrey
This is more of a decision by default, as the Eagles don't have many options for this category. I will say this though, he's talented as heck and has a more favorable contract than both Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood. Pumphrey finished college as one of the most accomplished backs in NCAA history, and to go along with that impressive resume, he has some rock solid game tape to boot. So despite his small stature, I see him ending up as the direct backup to LeGarrette Blount in this Eagles backfield sooner rather than later.
Most Improved Fantasy Player: Alshon Jeffery
This is another no brainer decision, as Jeffery – one of the league's most talented receivers – finally appears to be healthy and on a team that should be in contention. I expect him to once again reach the 80+ catch mark, the 1,000+ yards mark, and double-digit touchdown mark, working as the Eagles undisputed #1 wideout.
Biggest Fantasy Disappointment: Jordan Matthews
With a suddenly logjammed wide receiver stable, trade rumors have already begun swirling for the Eagles starting slot receiver. Carson Wentz reportedly has a better rapport with Nelson Agholor out of the slot anyway, so having Matthews moved make logical sense considering they could probably get a solid return for him. If they don't, Matthews appears to be the odd man out in terms of targets, which makes this prediction pretty easy.
Just a year after finishing as the division champs, the Redskins took a slight step back by missing the playoffs but still finishing above .500. In a fantasy sense however, this was a fun team to watch, as they featured playmakers all over. Kirk Cousins finished just a handful of yards shy of 5,000 on the season, while they trotted out one of the most dangerous receiving units in the game each Sunday, featuring the likes of Jordan Reed, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon, and Jamison Crowder. Even in the running game, Rob Kelley put together a month of glory, as he averaged 107 rushing yards and scored four touchdowns during November. While many names have changed over this offseason, the Redksins have reloaded with intriguing draft picks and free agent additions, so there is no reason that we can't expect a fantasy encore from Captian Kirk and the bunch.
Fantasy MVP: Kirk Cousins
Despite the trade rumors and contract negotiation failures, Kirk Cousins has an embarrassment of riches in terms of weapons to get the football to entering 2017. He fell just a handful of yards shy of 5,000 last season, which quietly made Captain Kirk one of the best fantasy assets all season long. With an even more talented and healthier array of weapons to throw to in 2017, there is no reason that Cousins can't repeat his incredible production of 2016.
Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Samaje Perine
Right now, Perine is the most talented back on the Redskins roster. Because he is a rookie though, he is going to have to earn his reps, which may keep him away from the starting role for the first few weeks. Give him time though and you will see that Perine is a true between the tackles workhorse and goal line stallion worthy of being on your fantasy roster. Don't risk missing out on him... Just draft Perine rather than banking on his likely non-existent mid-season waiver availability.
Most Improved Fantasy Player: Josh Doctson
This was an easy choice for me because here's a guy who is a first round caliber receiver, who had a full year of redshirt recovery to soak in the NFL game. Doctson is a legit red zone threat and has all of the makings of a true #1 receiver. Now healthy. Doctson will prove to be a huge addition to this offense in 2017 and he should more than compensate for the losses of Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson.
Biggest Fantasy Disappointment: Rob Kelley
Affectionately known as "Fat Rob," Kelley offered a big fat nothing down the stretch of the 2016 season after his month of excellent play in November. He fell out of favor with the coaching staff even before the season concluded, and now I firmly believe he will lose his job early on in 2017 to the rookie Samaje Perine. Unless you are looking for a Perine handcuff, I would stay away from Fat Rob in 2017.