NFC East Offseason Breakdown
Authors: Matthew Gifford (MattGiffordFFA) & Trevor Penesso
YouTube: The Fantasy Football Advice
New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, A Rebuilt Offensive Line and Healthy Big Blue
Within the NFC East, the New York Giants have had the most exciting and eventful offseason by a significant margin. The most compelling offseason addition was their selection of Saquon Barkley, college football’s most polished rusher over the last three seasons. Drafting him second overall is a clear message that Barkley is projected to be a cornerstone of the Giants’ franchise for years to come. He will undoubtedly be one of the focal points of their offense, alongside three-time pro bowler Odell Beckham Jr. The 5’11’’ college star rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons with the Nittany Lions, averaging just under six yards per carry. Barkley has also refined his pass-catching ability after breaking 400 receiving yards in his past two seasons. And let’s not forget, Barkley is a touchdown machine with a combined 36 rushing touchdowns in the last two years of his collegiate career. If Barkley can translate these numbers onto the professional platform, he can easily be seen as an RB1 and selected no later than the end of the first round in all fantasy leagues.
Furthermore, Barkley isn’t just a valuable commodity on the fantasy market but also a huge influence on the rest of the Giants’ roster. With the addition of Barkley, Eli Manning could become a sturdy secondary option for a fantasy team even with the saturation at the quarterback position. Having the option of handing off the ball to Barkley should take a significant amount of pressure off of Manning, in terms of the passing game. Barkley’s presence will keep defenses honest, so he will likely be facing plenty of loaded boxes. This should prime Odell and company for one-on-one matchups that could result in more big plays this year for a Giants offense that just could not find their footing throughout all of last season.
Although, this being said, many fantasy owners are still skeptical of drafting a rookie running back in the first round of their fantasy drafts, simply because of their unknown performance in professional football. While this skepticism may seem warranted at first, if we look at a few of the highly-graded rookie running backs of the past two years, it is evident that collegiate success generally translates to pro success at the RB position. Two recent examples are Elliott in 2016 and Leonard Fournette in 2017. After garnering a 7.09 draft rating and the 4th overall pick to the Cowboys, Elliott exploded for 1,631 rushing yards and 15 rushing TDs in his 2016 rookie campaign. Likewise, Fournette put up 1,040 rushing yards and 9 rushing TDs during his rookie season, keeping in mind he missed two games due to injury and an additional game for violating team rules. Fournette landed in Jacksonville after being selected as the 4th pick in the first round of 2017 with a draft rating of 6.80. With the dominant performances of the two running backs, it’s hard to believe Barkley won’t at least match it, being the second pick in the 2018 draft with an astounding 7.45 draft rating.
Even though it is difficult to project it precisely before training camp begins, the depth chart for the Giants’ running backs will likely be Barkley as the clear-cut workhorse, Jonathan Stewart as the two, and Wayne Gallman as the third RB. For those who are worried about the possibility of a seasoned veteran like Stewart eating into Barkley’s carries, don’t be, the rookie phenom should see a workload similar to that of Elliott and Todd Gurley in terms of touches per game. Stewart’s days of fantasy relevancy are probably numbered, given Barkley's goal line efficiency. Gallman will get some touches here and there as well, but this backfield is far from a committee.
The second area of concern and the area of most importance for the Football Giants was the rebuilding of the tattered offensive line. As many coaches and general managers will echo, one of the fundamentals of creating a great team comes from building inside out and it all starts with the offensive line. The New York Giants experienced a seemingly endless string of struggles offensively last season. Many of those struggles could be traced to poor offensive line play. The two most solid starters on the line last season, C Weston Richburg, and G Justin Pugh, have now both signed with different clubs this year. Aside from them, the Giants’ O-line got exposed severely last year, which was made clear by their lack of a run game and Manning’s troubles in the pocket. However, new General Manager Dave Gettleman made it a point to address the O-line situation as best as possible in his first year, adding veteran T Nate Solder via free agency, and selecting promising G Will Hernandez with the 34th overall pick in the draft. These two additions should help to stabilize the offensive line play, particularly Hernandez, who is an absolute mauler on the interior and should help create some massive holes for Barkley.
The last key point in improving from the abysmal season last year remains in the health of the players, most notably at the wide receiver position. Last year, the top four receivers on the depth chart all battled injuries last year with three missing more than half the season on the injured reserve list. On October 8th, 2017, Odell, Sterling Shepard, Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris all left the field with ankle and foot injuries during their Week 5 regular season game against the Chargers. Shepard would be the only member to return for the next game but would continue to fight other ailments throughout the rest of the season. Moving into this upcoming season, OBJ and Shepard will be returning with the Giants alongside a now proven Evan Engram, who was the only outlet for Manning after the massive wide receiver hole. With a strong receiving corps, don’t expect too many opportunities for successful double coverage, offering Big Blue the chance to unleash their talents and gain a shot at redemption.
Dallas Cowboys: Filling the Holes and a Rejuvenated Ezekiel Elliott
The Dallas Cowboys’ offensive depth chart will look significantly different in this upcoming season as the coaching staff and front office look to fill gaps caused by the loss of two long term pieces of the franchise. The first hole was created by the decision to release Dez Bryant on April 13, 2018 as the Cowboys decided “to go in a new direction”, according to Jerry Jones. With Bryant gone, this leaves the opportunity for Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, the newly-added Allen Hurns, and third-round draft pick Michael Gallup to divide up those targets. Though none of these receivers are of the caliber of Bryant, one of them will likely emerge as Prescott’s go-to target upon the start of preseason and into the regular season. Hurns probably has the best shot as the team’s number one wideout as he’s shown that he can put up big numbers, specifically in 2015, when he posted 64 catches for 1,031 yards and 10 TDs. While he hasn’t put up impressive stats the past two seasons, much of that can be attributed to poor QB play from Blake Bortles, as well as some nagging injuries. Hurns has a career 14.1 yards per reception average, which is excellent coming into this vacant position. There has been some speculation over the past few weeks of Williams’ availability heading into the season after the news broke that he was arrested for public intoxication. A possible suspension could cause changes to the Cowboys’ WR depth chart, as Gallup could quickly earn a spot as the team’s number two wide receiver.
The second loss came with the announcement of Jason Witten’s retirement on May 3rd. This creates a massive hole at the tight end position as the 36 year old, 11-time pro bowler moves off the field and into the commentary booth. In an offense that has traditionally leaned on Witten’s reliable hands, it is now time for a new prospect to step up and become the team’s next TE1. As of right now, their TE depth chart includes fourth-year Geoff Swaim, second-year Blake Jarwin, rookie fourth-round pick Dalton Schultz, and third-year Rico Gathers. Once training camp gets going, we should have a better idea of who is emerging as the top candidate to fill Witten’s absence. It will be interesting to determine who takes over as the four tight ends have a collective nine catches recorded in the NFL, all belonging to Swaim. In comparison to Witten’s greatness, the future Hall of Fame tight end has seen 19 games, throughout his career, with nine or more catches. Although, having to choose a tight end off the bat, we expect Swaim as the early leader to fill the hole having the most professional experience and time to play under Witten.
The last piece to the puzzle for the Cowboys is the third year running back, Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott had an interesting 2017 season after being investigated for domestic violence allegations throughout the second half of last summer. He spent the first nine weeks of the season battling the suspension before dropping the appeal and serving the six week suspension from Week 10 through Week 15. Now moving into this upcoming season suspension free, Elliott can focus on the game and begin where he left off in his rookie season two years ago. By proving that he can rush for over 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns in a season, he should easily be within the top four picks in any league, both PPR and standard in 2018.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Return of Wentz and the Running Back Dilemma
As the Super Bowl LII champions, the Philadelphia Eagles can celebrate this offseason with few changes necessary to become contenders in this year’s race for the Lombardi trophy. The first and biggest concern for the Eagles heading into training camp is ensuring Carson Wentz makes a full and proper recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in Week 14 of last season. Expect the almost NFL MVP to make a perfect recovery as there are no indications at this time stating otherwise. At QB7, Wentz is going off the board earlier than where more experienced fantasy football players might be comfortable drafting him. He should, nonetheless, still be considered because of his top flight skill-set. Wentz is an exceptional passer from the pocket, but can also make Rodgers-esque throws from difficult angles when rolling out, as he proved time and time again during his 2017 campaign. His mobility is also a trait that ups his fantasy value, but the question remains whether or not he will take off and run as frequently after sustaining such a major injury. In 13 games last season, Wentz threw for 3,296 yards, 33 TDs,and 7 INTs, while rushing for 299 yards with 0 rushing TDs. However, it is worth mentioning that he scored 2 rushing TDs in his 2016 rookie season. If Wentz is falling in your draft and you find yourself able to grab him at a steal, it would be wise to do so, as it is likely that we haven’t seen his ceiling yet.
Another position worth questioning within the Eagles’ organization is running back. Philadelphia made a trade with Miami midway through last season for RB Jay Ajayi, sending the Dolphins a fourth rounder in this year’s draft in return. Ajayi had a rough start to the season with the Dolphins, rushing 138 times for only 465 yards, averaging a paltry 3.4 yards per carry and recording zero rushing TDs. However, his performance made a noticeable improvement once he was traded to the Eagles. In seven regular season games with Philadelphia, he carried the ball 70 times for 408 yards. Those numbers might not jump off the screen, but from an efficiency standpoint, he was outstanding, averaging 5.8 yards per attempt. He did only post 1 rushing TD, but that is likely to increase considerably this year since LeGarrette Blount was being utilized as the primary goal-line back and has since signed with the Detroit Lions. However, the Eagles will still look to use a committee approach, being that they have a myriad of capable RBs coming into 2018, including Ajayi, Clement, Donnel Pumphrey, Wendell Smallwood, and the return of Darren Sproles. Therefore, Ajayi’s market share of touches is a big question heading into the season. But as the RB1, Ajayi should be the beneficiary of some positive game scripts and should therefore see a healthy amount of touches per contest.
Second-year RB Corey Clement is a name to keep an eye on going into your 2018 fantasy drafts. He did not start a single game for the Eagles last season, but made the most of his opportunities during his rookie year. On 74 carries, Clement rushed for 321 yards (4.3 YPC) while scoring 4 rushing TDs. He also proved to be a valuable asset in the receiving game, posting 10 receptions on 15 targets, 123 yards and scoring an additional 2 TDs. These numbers show that the young back has loads of potential in a dynamic offense as both a rushing and receiving threat. His upside alone is what makes him a nice under-the-radar late-round pick at RB for fantasy teams. Again, Blount’s departure should net him some additional carries this season, so it may very well be a smart investment to snag him in drafts.
Philadelphia has one of the better WR corps in the league heading into 2018. Alshon Jeffery is coming off of a solid season in which he posted 789 yards and 9 TDs. The yardage seems underwhelming, but expect that to increase after having a year in a new offense under his belt. Nelson Agholor had a breakout 2017 in the slot after a disappointing start to his career in 2015 and 2016, nearly matching Jeffery in yardage (768) and TDs (8). The newest addition to the Eagles WR corps is 9th year veteran Mike Wallace. Wallace is basically going to assume the role that Torrey Smith played last season now that Smith is gone after signing with the Carolina Panthers this offseason. The speedster will look to open things up as a deep threat for Wentz, while playing opposite Jeffery. It is difficult to project yardage totals for Wallace since he is yet again on a new squad after bouncing around the league the past 5 years, but it helps that he is now on a dangerous offense. However, as the likely fourth option as a pass catcher in this Eagles offense loaded with weapons, he is going undrafted in a lot of leagues due to the question marks around the volume he will receive. It is worth noting that he did put up solid numbers in his two seasons in an atrocious Ravens offense, with 1,017 yards and 4 TDs in 2016 and 748 yards and 4 TDs last year.
The last noteworthy addition to the Philadelphia Eagles offense heading into the 2018 season is rookie tight end Dallas Goedert. The second round draft pick from South Dakota state was arguably the best prospect coming into the draft at that position. However, the Eagles already have one of the top 5 tight ends in the league in Zach Ertz, so it is unlikely that Goedert receives bountiful playing time in his first season, barring an Ertz injury. But, it is worth noting that Doug Pederson is known for utilizing two- tight end sets at times, as shown by Trey Burton’s success the last two seasons (he posted 248 receiving yards and 5 TDs in 2017). Goedert is instantly on the fast track to winning the TE2 spot, with his only competition being former Packers TE Richard Rodgers, and will fill the void left by Burton after signing with the Chicago Bears.
Washington Redskins: Goodbye Cousins, Hello Smith and is Guice the Guy?
After an exciting offseason with plenty of quarterback movement, the dust settles with Alex Smith as the head of the Redskins offense after Kirk Cousins decided to take his career in a new direction with Minnesota. In Smith, the Redskins are getting a polished veteran quarterback who has made three pro bowl appearances, and is coming off of the best statistical season of his 13-year career. Smith has historically been known for his good decision-making and ball security. He has only thrown more than 10 interceptions in a season three times, one of them being his rookie year. Although Smith has never put up gaudy touchdown totals (aside from last year, with an above-average 26 TDs) or yardage totals, much of that can be attributed to the run-heavy offenses that he has been a part of. This includes seven seasons with the 49ers, whose offense was built around a prime Frank Gore, and five seasons with the always run-heavy Chiefs. It is tough to project whether Smith will be an upgrade for the Redskins offense over Cousins, as Cousins annually has thrown for more yards and touchdowns than Smith, but also had higher interception totals. It is likely that Washington will run a west-coast offense that is tailored to Smith’s strengths, which could mean big things for TE Jordan Reed if he is able to stay healthy, as Smith has preferred leaning on his talented tight ends throughout his career (Vernon Davis with SF and Travis Kelce with KC). While Smith has never been known as an elite deep ball thrower, he improved significantly in that category last season, throwing for a league-best 1,344 yards on deep balls, with a 131.4 adjusted passer rating in the same category, which also was first in the NFL. Smith is definitely a solid late-rounder to target in this year’s fantasy drafts.
The Redskins also ushered in some young blood in the form of LSU running back, Derrius Guice. Although originally projected as a first round prospect, the 21 year old, Louisiana native wasn’t selected until 59th overall in the second round. After further digging, it has been determined that his plummet in the draft was primarily due to concern of immaturity and control of emotions. Guice’s role in a verbal altercation during a pre-draft meeting with the Eagles marked the talented back as an off-field liability and not worth the risk for most football clubs. Despite the drama, Guice will be joining the likes of Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine as the foursome compete this offseason for the starting position. Guice had a spectacular collegiate career as he rushed for 3,074 yards and 29 TDs in his three year college campaign. Even more impressive, he ran for those numbers while averaging 6.5 yards per carry. It is easy to say that Guice could follow in the footsteps of his former teammate, Fournette. Fournette had a successful rookie season despite a few setbacks and generated large point totals for fantasy teams weekly. Guice is more of the same as an explosive back with high elusiveness who finds the open field and rarely gives it up. After watching film of the rookie, it’s difficult to find instances where he doesn’t fight for every inch and give every ounce of effort. Guice adds great value to a team and snagging him at the beginning of the fourth round in PPR leagues is a great place to aim. Although keep in mind that players with attitudes end up in one of two places, using it as fuel to play on another level or spending their time serving suspensions and trash talking off the field.
Another highlight for the Redskins this offseason is bringing Reed back onto the active roster. Reed has had an injury plagued career and has yet to successfully complete an entire NFL season. With injuries ranging from concussions to hamstrings, Reed’s talent has been severely limited with only one year to truly determine the potential he is capable of. Reed’s best and most reliable season of reference was three years ago in 2015. In those 14 games he played, Reed recorded 952 yds with 11 TDs while averaging 10.9 yards per reception. Additionally, in the 111 targets he saw that season, Reed successfully caught 87 of the 90 catchable throws. He has continued to display similar numbers in more recent seasons but at a smaller scale due to limited gameplay. The other area where Reed excelled during his career is in the red zone. During his time with the Redskins, he has become one of the favorite targets when in scoring range. Now, with Smith in charge of the offense, don’t expect anything to change as Smith utilized Kelce to his full extent throughout his five seasons with the Chiefs. Although touchdowns are an unreliable stat to project in fantasy, expect Reed to see a healthy amount of targets in the end zone this season. So the big question at the end of the day is where do I draft him? Currently, he sits in the rankings as TE10 and is going off the board primarily in the eighth and ninth rounds in 12 team PPR leagues. The ninth round is a comfortable place to take him and if he is still on the board in the tenth round don’t be afraid to pull the trigger. Although injury prone and a red flag to many fantasy owners, his upside definitely outweighs the risk you take drafting him in this position.