2018 Fantasy Football Divisional Preview: NFC East
Dom Murtha breaks down the NFC East division from a fantasy football perspective.
With free agency frenzy and the NFL Draft now firmly behind us, it is time to start looking towards the 2018 fantasy football season. Over the next few weeks, I will take you around the league, division by division, team by team, talking valuable fantasy commodities and potential busts. For each team in each division, I will flesh out... 1) Fantasy MVP 2) Fantasy Rookie of the Year 3) Most Improved Fantasy Player 4) Biggest Fantasy Disappointment. Through this process, you should gain a more well-rounded perspective of the league at large; who to target and who to avoid in your upcoming drafts. Sit back and relax, training camp is almost here...
Despite their 9-7 record, 2017 was a season of disappointment for the Dallas Cowboys. Not only did the Eagles win the Super Bowl, but this was also a season in which Dallas failed to make the playoffs, despite coming off of a 13 win season the year before. It can be argued that in a fantasy sense, the Cowboys disappointed even more actually, as every significant skill position player took a step back from the season prior. With many veterans now having walked or retired, this younger and new look Dallas offense has a lot of work ahead of them to return to real and fantasy prominence.
Fantasy MVP: Ezekiel Elliott
Coming off of a rookie season in which he led the NFL in rushing, it makes sense that Zeke would at least disappoint somewhat in his second year. Unfortunately however, the disappointment in 2017 wasn’t of his own doing... To make a long story short, Elliott was unjustly suspended for six games by the NFL and commissioner Goodell, despite evidence, police reports, and lead investigator advice to the contrary. While missing six games, fantasy owners largely had their seasons derailed, just as similarly happened to the Cowboys without their lead back.
With the suspension behind him, I see no reason that Elliott won’t return to prominence, as when he was on the field last season, he was just as effective as he was as a rookie. Still running behind the best offensive line in football, 1,500+ yards and 10+ touchdowns are in the work for Zeke once again in 2018.
Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Michael Gallup
There were a few rookies to choose from here, as the Cowboys really looked to get younger on the offensive side of the ball this offseason, however with all of the new faces, none look to pose the same fantasy impact as Gallup. While considered slightly raw by some, to me, on tape Gallup shows a well-rounded skill-set. He combines length and speed with technique and a reliable set of hands, to give him the look of the modern outside receiver in the NFL. With the departure of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten this offseason, combined with the fact that the Cowboys currently have no “go-to” target in the passing game, chances are that someone is going to have to step up into that role. My bet is that it’s Gallup, as he is already the most talented receiver on the roster.
Most Improved Fantasy Player: Tavon Austin
As I said, the Cowboys lost a lot of veteran talent on the offensive end this offseason and someone has to fill the void. Word so far has been that the recently acquired Tavon Austin is going to be utilized more as a scatback rather than as a traditional wide receiver. Stephen Jones – Cowboys Director of Player Personnel – has already gone on record this offseason claiming that the plan is to get Austin the ball “a dozen to two dozen times per game.” While that may not be realistic, it certainly appears that the plan is to have Austin far more involved in the game plan than he was last season in Los Angeles. My bet is that he receives at least 100 touches this season (rushing and receiving combined). For those who remember how Lance Dunbar, Lucky Whitehead, and Dwayne Harris were used over the last half decade; think of their Dallas days, but in a more expanded sense. The Cowboys saw what Alvin Kamara was able to accomplish in a similar role last season and they will be looking to replicate it.
Biggest Fantasy Disappointment: Dak Prescott
The theme for Dallas here has been that they lost a lot of offensive contributors this offseason. With a host of unproven guys set to take their place, things should only get harder for Dak Prescott.
Beyond that, while his stats were similar from his breakout rookie season to his disappointing sophomore season, in game this past year it was apparent that Dak is far more human than was previously believed. Knowing what we know now about Prescott, more specifically his exposed weaknesses in accuracy and quick decision making, it is easier to see the type of realistic progression he is capable of going forward.
He’s a guy who doesn’t throw his receivers open, he struggles to make throws towards the sideline, and he doesn’t look comfortable throwing a fade in the red zone. A change in offensive philosophy – maybe a more RPO or west coast oriented system would best benefit his progression as a franchise quarterback.
On top of all of this, Prescott has scored six rushing touchdowns in each of his first two years in the league. As the Cowboys become more heavily invested in the young quarterback, chances are that he will not be asked to run the ball as much going forward. Regression from 12 rushing touchdowns in two seasons from a quarterback is only natural.
Less rushing production, a passing prospect with flaws, and far less offensive talent surrounding him should spell fantasy disappointment for Dak Prescott owners in 2018, unfortunately.
New York Giants
Fantasy MVP: Odell Beckham Jr.
All of the talk this offseason has been about rookie running back Saquon Barkley, but lest we forget Odell Beckham Jr and the consistent fantasy monster that he has been over the last four years. Throughout all of the turmoil that has struck the Giants and their offensive production over the last half decade (make no mistake, Beckham is not clean in the turmoil either), OBJ has still managed to ball, year in and year out. Taking last year’s injury out of the equation, Beckham has served as a top-five fantasy wide receiver in each of his three seasons in the league. And all of this was accomplished in an offense with a terrible line, a horribly aging quarterback, and no running game to speak of. Seemingly fully healthy now and with a better supporting cast this season, it should be a no brainer that Beckham will return to form and potentially reach new heights in 2018.
Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley
Speaking of the aforementioned Saquon Barkley, here’s a rookie who is sure to make a massive fantasy impact. Not only are the Giants forced to give him the ball a lot after selecting him second overall, but Barkley also will do a ton with those touches due to his incredible talent. The combination of touches and talent is always a recipe for fantasy success. Don’t overthink this one people.
Most Improved Fantasy Player: Eli Manning
I know that I have bashed Eli over the years, but let’s look at this objectively. First of all, Eli is coming off of a terrible season, so the only way he can go is up. Then add into the fact that the veteran quarterback is getting back a healthy Odell Beckham Jr., will be playing behind a vastly improved offensive line (Will Hernandez and Nate Solder), and will be benefiting from the presence of rookie sensation Saquon Barkley… It seems like we’ve got ourselves the makings of a comeback season on our hands. I’m not going to go crazy here and predict that Eli will win the MVP or anything, but he’s going to look better than he has over the last two seasons.
Biggest Fantasy Disappointment: Saquon Barkley
I know this is going to sound very oxymoronic, but while Barkley will be the Giants best fantasy rookie, far and away this season, unfortunately he will also be their biggest fantasy disappointment. It’s not because he will be unproductive, but instead it’s because of the immense expectations that are already heaped upon his broad shoulders. Rookie backs like Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, and Kareem Hunt have spoiled us. With fans and even some experts already expecting the 1,500+ rushing yards and near 15 touchdowns that Zeke had as a rookie, and the 80+ receptions and near 1,000 receiving yards that Kamara had last season, there is almost no way that Barkley can live up to billing. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the rookie failed to score double-digit touchdowns. By all accounts, Barkley will be a great rookie, but to expect him to shatter records is unrealistic. I believe that at least early on, Barkley will have to learn to take less negative plays and become more physical through the hole. His between the tackles game has a ways to go before he is rushing over 1,500 yards in a season.
Fantasy MVP: Carson Wentz
I know that the Eagles are doing all they can to temper expectations for the return of Wentz, but throughout all of the veiled downplay, the expectation still is that Wentz will be back in time for Week 1. With that being said, he will be the starter (don’t give me Nick Foles). Prior to the injury, Wentz was the runaway MVP of the league and a bonafide fantasy stud. With a mostly improved roster (a scary thought), there is little reason to believe that Wentz won’t be the Eagles fantasy MVP next season too.
Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Dallas Goedert
I know that he won’t be the starter by any stretch of the imagination – that title belongs to Zach Ertz – but in this Eagles offense there has been a history of successful number two tight ends as well. Do Trey Burton or Brent Celek ring a bell? By my estimation, Goedert was the best tight end in the draft; a draft which featured a very strong field at the position. Despite his lack of “starting” reps, Goedert will see the field a lot and will subsequently see his fair share of targets. In an Eagles draft class that doesn’t feature a lot of offensive rookies, that’s enough for me to give Goedert the nod as their fantasy rookie of the year.
Most Improved Fantasy Player: Mack Hollins
Hollins emerged last season as the guy who popularized the backpack end zone dance, but beyond that he largely existed in obscurity. Entering this season however, with the departure of Torrey Smith, the flanker position opposite Alshon Jeffery is wide open. Yes they signed Mike Wallace during the offseason, but I see him more as an insurance signing in the case that Hollins doesn’t step up. As it sits right now, Hollins is penciled in as the starting number two wideout, and with training camp right around the corner he has the opportunity to solidify that role. His ability to stretch the field should play a pivotal role in this explosive Eagles offense, one that should lead to quality fantasy production.
Biggest Fantasy Disappointment: Jay Ajayi
While a good player, Ajayi is not someone the Eagles have a lot invested in. Not only does J-Train have just one year left on his deal, but Philly also only shed a fourth round pick in acquiring him last season. With a deep and capable stable of backs supporting him (Corey Clement, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey, Josh Adams, and Matt Jones), chances are that Ajayi will not be the workhorse back that people are anticipating he will be this season. While he will be efficient in his touches, the bulk production won’t be there like it was in Miami.
Fantasy MVP: Alex Smith
We saw what Kirk Cousins was able to accomplish in this Jay Gruden offense, and many argue that Smith is the better of the two quarterbacks. For a while last season, it appeared that Smith would run away with the MVP trophy, and while he regressed slightly in the second half of the season, Smith’s 2017 performance was eye opening to his true talents. Joining an improving offense, Smith should once again eclipse 4,000 passing yards (just as Kirk Cousins did in this offense for each of the last three years) and 20+ touchdowns.
Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Derrius Guice
I was tempted to put Guice in the “Fantasy MVP” slot, as I believe that he is in the ideal situation. Not only is he one of the more talented running backs to enter the league in the last few years, but he also will be joining an offense with no legitimate bell cow. Outside of injury, I can’t envision a scenario where Guice doesn’t easily secure this starting job in training camp. Going forward, expect Guice to handle the early down stuff, while Chris Thompson will remain the passing down specialist.
Most Improved Fantasy Player: Josh Doctson
Whether you believe he’s earned it or not, the Redskins are going forward with Josh Doctson as their number one receiver. Even if he continues to “disappoint” the sheer increase in volume of targets is sure to make Doctson the Redskins most improved fantasy player. While this doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement of the young receiver, understand that I actually am a fan of his talent. This was just an exercise in fleshing out the worst case scenario. Doctson should be drafted with confidence this season.
Biggest Fantasy Disappointment: Robert Kelley
For all of the nice things I said about rookie Derrius Guice, take them as a slight to the fantasy potential of “Fat Rob” Kelley. Truth be told, he’s actually my fourth favorite back on the Redskins roster, yet somehow he is being treated as a potential starter. This Fat Rob fad won’t last…