2020 Fantasy Football: NFC East Team Previews
The NFC East compiled a league-worst 12-28 record in non-divisional contests 2019. Luckily for us, the division boasts plenty of firepower for fantasy purposes. Despite the poor showing in the win column, the NFC East sported two top-10 fantasy options at quarterback, running back, and tight end last season. The division also sported the overall WR7 in Amari Cooper. Dallas and Philadelphia figure to be the class of the division once again in 2020. But there are several intriguing options to choose from throughout the NFC East. Yes, even players on Washington are likely to be relevant this upcoming year. Maybe not a lot of them. Anyway, here is my 2020 NFC East fantasy football preview.
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NFC East Fantasy Football Team Previews
Dak Prescott finished as the overall QB2 in fantasy last season. He was a weekly top-nine fantasy quarterback in exactly half of his games last year. Prescott flourished in first-year coordinator Kellen Moore’s offensive scheme, throwing for 4,902 passing yards and 30 touchdowns. Both numbers were career-bests by a wide margin. The passing yards were 26.2 percent higher than Prescott’s previous career-high, and the touchdowns represented a 30.4 percent increase over his previous high. He had seven 300-plus yard games last year, more than he had amassed over his first three seasons combined.
Some fantasy players may be worried that the Cowboys’ offensive approach may change now that Mike McCarthy is their new head coach. However, Moore is still in tow and is expected to continue to call the plays. That appears to be a wise move by McCarthy, who has been very introspective about his strengths and weaknesses. The offense was certainly not the Cowboys’ undoing in 2019. Dallas scored at least 31 points in all eight of their victories. Though Dallas drafted a pair of cornerbacks and a pair of D-lineman, their defense figures to struggle once again in 2020. Unless the team can acquire a standout defender before the season (like maybe a player that I bought not one, but two jerseys of last year), the offense will likely be forced to put up a ton of points, and I expect them to be up to the task.
Ezekiel Elliott has been so dominant throughout his young career that his 111 scrimmage yards per game in 2019 were a career-low. He more than made up for that with 14 total touchdowns, resulting in an overall RB4 finish in standard scoring. Zeke tacked on 54 receptions, which boosted him one spot in PPR leagues. Elliott has now finished as a top-five back in three of his four seasons. And in the one year he failed to reach that threshold, he was the overall RB2 (RB3 in PPR) on a per-game basis. In a world where the dreaded RBBC (running back by committee) tends to limit upside, Elliott remains a true workhorse. He has averaged 24.3 touches and just over 125 yards over 56 career games, scoring 48 touchdowns in the process.
Elliott’s receiving numbers were a bit down in 2019 compared to 2018, and I think his 2018 output in that facet of the game was a bit anomalous. He still caught 54 passes last year, so it is not like we are talking about Derrick Henry here. However, I would not bank on him surpassing that total in 2020. Because of that, I view Ezekiel Elliott in much the same way I do Dak Prescott, at least for fantasy purposes. Elliott likely does not have the weekly ceiling that Christian McCaffrey or even Saquon Barkley possess. I think there are too many mouths to feed in Dallas for Elliott to have an overall RB1 season. But he is a safe pick to put up elite numbers every week and should be a top-five pick in all formats.
Gallup really picked up the slack late when Cooper seemed to falter. Over that same Week 11-16 stretch, Gallup had 28 grabs for 479 yards, though he failed to score. He rectified that in Week 17 when he hit pay dirt three times and crushed any hopes I had of another national championship. Week 17 Fantasy was not kind to my bankroll last year… not that I’m bitter or anything. Anywho, Gallup was really good last year. How good? Glad you asked.
Last year, he averaged 10.3 points per game in standard formats, despite sharing the field with an elite wideout. Now entering his third NFL season, he should continue to improve and is now being drafted inside the top 20 at his position. Oh, wait… that’s Calvin Ridley. Here’s my note on Michael Gallup.
Last year, he averaged 10.5 points per game in standard formats, despite sharing the field with an elite wideout. Now entering his third NFL season, he should continue to improve and is now being drafted outside the top 30 at his position.
In all fairness, I’m all about Calvin Ridley this year, and I do think he finishes this season with more fantasy points than Gallup. But is the difference between the two really three rounds worth of value? Probably not. Gallup put up borderline WR1 numbers last year and is now barely being drafted as a WR3. Weekly consistency may be an issue, but the same can be said of most wide receivers in this range.
Ordinarily, I would have preferred it if CeeDee Lamb had landed in a spot where he could exceed triple-digit targets. However, he is so dynamic that he will not need that volume to become fantasy relevant. If anything, I think this could present a buying opportunity. Dallas figures to run a bunch of three-receiver sets given their personnel, with Lamb mostly lining up in the slot. Randall Cobb had 83 targets as Dallas’ slot receiver a year ago. Consider that fantasy darling A.J. Brown had 84 targets last season. There is plenty of upside here for Lamb, especially given his current WR43 ADP. I will happily draft him at that price, especially in Best Ball leagues.
Blake Jarwin is not on most people’s top-10 list for 2020 fantasy tight ends. To be fair, he’s not on mine either. However, there is a case to be made for Jarwin in fantasy. Jason Witten, who was a year removed from retirement, finished as the overall TE11 in PPR leagues and caught 63 passes last season. Jarwin tacked on another 31. Though Witten is now in Las Vegas, I do not expect Jarwin to catch 94 balls this season. In fact, I would be surprised if Jarwin even got to 63. However, he should significantly improve on last year’s numbers. I think Jarwin is a safe bet for three catches per week. That does not sound like much, but it should make him a top-20 weekly tight end. If you can predict when he will score a touchdown, you are likely looking at a top-eight fantasy tight end.
New York Giants
Daniel Jones had an up and down rookie campaign, both in real life and fantasy. Jones had three different games with at least four touchdown passes and over 300 passing yards. But he also fumbled the ball 15 times in his last eight games and turned the ball over 22 times total in just 12 starts. I equated him to Jameis Winston in a previous article because of his erratic play. That volatility is a tricky proposition for fantasy players to navigate. The quarterback position is so loaded with talent that you can ill afford a dud from your QB1. At the same time, a player who possesses that ceiling is worth rostering if (and this is the million-dollar question in fantasy) you can stream him in the right matchups.
Ultimately, I find myself steering clear of Jones in one-QB leagues. On top of his scattered play, New York’s early schedule is rough. I fear Jones could get off to a bad start, and that can be a tough situation to overcome in those leagues. And, call me crazy, but I am not willing to bet on Jason Garrett to overcome an early slate that includes matchups against San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and the Los Angeles Ram. However, I do like him in Best Ball and SuperFlex leagues. He has lots of upside as a QB2, especially once the schedule softens up a bit. Jones may also be a buy-low in standard formats if he struggles during the first quarter of the season.
Saquon Barkley was seen as a huge disappointment in 2019. That is due in large part to the historic season that Christian McCaffrey enjoyed. McCaffrey scored an ungodly 471.2 PPR points last season, far and above beyond any other running backs. Barkley also suffered an ankle injury which cost him three and a half games. He struggled through four more upon his return before a Week 11 bye finally seemed to get him on track. Through all of the negatives, Barkley still ran for over 1,000 yards and averaged over 110 total yards per game. He finished 10th in running back scoring in total PPR scoring and seventh in points per game. So, sure, he fell short of season-long expectations, but it is not as if he was a complete bust.
Most fantasy players have put 2019 in the rearview mirror. Barkley currently sits as the second overall pick in most drafts. I find it hard to argue that position. If Barkley can score eight touchdowns in 13 games and average 110 yards per game with a bum ankle, a rookie quarterback, and a shoddy offensive line, the arrow should only point up in 2020. The Giants bolstered their offensive line through the draft, and Jones should hopefully be a bit more consistent in his second season. I would probably lean towards Barkley over Elliott myself, but the margin is razor-thin. Dion Lewis was signed to a one-year deal back in March, but his best days are behind him. He is currently being drafted outside the top 200, and I would be hard-pressed to make an argument to the contrary.
The Giants have an intriguing set of wide receivers in 2020. Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, and Darius Slayton each finished 2019 as WR4 in PPR leagues. Shepard led the group in fantasy points per game in PPR formats but was behind both Tate and Slayton in standard points per game. Further complicating matters was that none of them played in all 16 games. Slayton led the way with 14, while Tate suited up for 11 and Shepard 10. Tate and Shepard do a lot of the same things. They can catch passes underneath and move the chains. Considering Tate can be had roughly three rounds later than Shepard, he is the one I would prefer of the Giants’ possession receivers.
Slayton provides a different skill set, and a much higher weekly ceiling than either Tate or Shepard. Slayton finished as a top-three weekly fantasy wideout on multiple occasions. The rookie ended the season with 740 receiving yards and eight touchdown catches. Still, he had plenty of games where he simply failed to produce. He had 32 or fewer receiving yards in six of 14 contests last year. For that reason, I cannot value him as anything more than a WR4 in 12-team leagues. I also worry that the team’s early schedule could have a larger negative impact on Slayton than it may on Tate and/or Shepard. It would be difficult to draft someone in this range and then have to bench them so often early in the year. For these reasons, I would limit exposure to Best Ball leagues if possible.
Evan Engram has finished seventh among tight ends in PPR fantasy points per game in each of the last two seasons. That is the good news. The bad news is that he has missed at least five games due to injury in each of those two years. He is currently on the mend from a Lisfranc injury, which required surgery in December. Players coming off injury always carry some additional risk, and I think that goes double this season. Visits with doctors and trainers are few and far between, and news surrounding Engram’s recovery has been vague. I would expect that to be the case throughout the summer. Based on this uncertainty, I cannot recommend Engram at the tail end of the sixth round. My preference would be to either grab a sure thing at tight end or wait and draft a tight end with upside several rounds later.
Carson Wentz is currently the 12th quarterback off the board according to our ADP. He finished 13th in per-game scoring and ninth in total fantasy points at the position, so that seems about right. Now consider what Wentz was working with for most of the season. Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and Nelson Agholor combined to play in just 24 of a potential 48 games a season ago. Jeffery led the group with a mere 490 receiving yards last year. The team’s three leading receivers included two tight ends and a rookie running back. During Philadelphia’s improbable run to a division title, their top receiver was Greg Ward, a converted college quarterback. The Eagles drafted three receivers this April, including first-rounder Jalen Reagor. They also traded for speedster Marquise Goodwin. However, there are concerns regarding Wentz’s 2020 fantasy value.
First, Jeffery is no sure bet to start the season. Jeffery is also rehabbing from a Lisfranc injury, and reports last week suggested he is without a timetable for his return. I would not bet on Jeffery suiting up in Week 1 as things currently sit. I do not doubt that Wentz can survive and even flourish amidst Jeffery’s absence, particularly if the rest of the receiving corps is available. However, I do worry a bit about the presence of rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts. Philadelphia drafted Hurts in the second round of this year’s draft. I do not think he is a threat to the starting job in any way, shape, or form. But he will have a role on offense.
Specifically, Hurts figures to be a gadget player. That usage will be impossible to predict before a game and may hurt Wentz in the red zone. Consider this – Drew Brees finished as the overall QB8 in points per game last year. If you gave Brees the 55 passing yards (a very small amount) that Taysom Hill threw for last year, He would have been the QB5. Either way, Brees remains a QB1, but does Wentz? If Hurts is the primary ball-handler for four or five plays per game, particularly in scoring territory, that may be the difference between Wentz finishing inside or outside the top 12 in a given week. I would not go out of my way to avoid Wentz solely because of the Hurts factor, but I see it as a potential tiebreaker in drafts.
Miles Sanders enjoyed a productive second half of the season. Once Jordan Howard went down with an injury, the rookie thrived. In the six games Howard missed, Sanders was the overall RB7 in standard and RB3 in PPR scoring. With Howard now in Miami and no reinforcements brought in this offseason, Sanders figures to be the lead man in the Eagles’ backfield. While he has flashed top-five upside, I do not expect that level of production over a full season. As Meng Song recently pointed out, Sanders struggled with rushing efficiency even while putting up solid all-around numbers. Boston Scott also proved worthy of a role in this backfield with some late-season heroics of his own. Scott’s emergence combined with Doug Pederson’s preference for an RBBC may leave those investing an early pick in Sanders wanting more.
Currently, Sanders is coming off the board as the 13th running back in drafts. That is lower than I initially anticipated given his strong finish, but it seems to be a fair valuation in my estimation. I would love to target him as my RB2 at the end of Round 2 after selecting McCaffrey, Barkley, or Elliott. I would prefer not to pair him with an elite wideout like Michael Thomas unless I was confident I could get another solid starting running back in either Round 3 or Round 4. As for Scott, he is going right around the same spot that Tony Pollard is in drafts. I think I would lean towards Scott myself. He should have a bit more standalone value, and I would find it more likely Sanders goes down than Elliott does.
As I mentioned in discussing Wentz, the Eagles did plenty to strengthen their receiving corps this past offseason. That leaves fantasy players with some unanswered questions. One thing is for sure – there is value to be had amongst this group. Wentz threw the ball 607 times last year, and no current Eagles receiver is being drafted inside the top 100 overall. No Eagles wideout is being drafted as even a WR4! Alshon Jeffery, Jalen Reagor, and DeSean Jackson are all being selected in the WR5 range in 12-team leagues. (Jeffery is going at WR48 in PPR leagues.) With Jeffery being a question mark from a health standpoint, it will be interesting to see how the group’s ADPs fluctuate throughout the summer. Even though I would not bank on Jeffery being available Week 1, he could be an excellent value upon his return.
Reagor and Jackson are prime Best Ball targets at their current ADP. They can both stretch the field and take it to the house on any given play. However, because the Eagles run a lot of 12-personnel (two tight ends), their basic sets usually include only two receivers. If Jeffery is on the field, I would expect him and Jackson to be on the field more often than not. That would leave Reagor the odd man out. He will certainly get his fair share of looks. But the volume will be hard to predict on a weekly basis. I would not want to count on either Jackson or Reagor to be a starting wide receiver in Week 1, but they will provide solid depth to a fantasy roster. The rest of the group can largely be ignored barring further injury to Jeffery, Jackson, or Reagor.
I noted this is in a previous column, but it is worth repeating – the tandem of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert combined to score 106 more PPR points than last year’s overall TE1, Travis Kelce. Yes, that may have had to do with the team’s lack of other options. But I cannot take away what the duo accomplished in 2019. Ertz has averaged over 900 receiving yards per year since 2015, and Goedert emerged as a top-10 fantasy tight end last season. Both should be heavily involved again in 2020, though I would expect a slight dip from each. I think we will see a greater emphasis on the vertical passing game given the weapons Wentz will have at his disposal. I believe some of that will come at the expense of the tight ends, Goedert in particular.
Washington will enter the 2020 season with Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice as its expected primary ball carriers. Peterson is 35, while Guice just turned 23 this past weekend. Despite being an afterthought at this stage of his career, Peterson has eclipsed 1,000 total yards in each of his two seasons in the nation’s capital. As much as we have learned not to count Peterson out, it is not likely that he will make it a third. Peterson could get the bulk of early-down work, and may also be the primary option for goal-line carries. However, his floor will be painfully low, and he has essentially zero upside when Washington finds themselves in negative game script. Fantasy managers see the writing on the wall as well. Peterson is a mere RB5 in both standard (overall RB51) and PPR (overall RB55) formats, per ADP.
Welcome to the annual “is this the year that Derrius Guice stays healthy and breaks out?” discussion! We just cannot quit the third-year pro. He tempted us with a 129-yard, two-touchdown performance in Week 13 last year, only to suffer an MCL sprain the very next week, prematurely ending his season. This followed a two-month absence after a Week 1 injury. Guice has the opportunity to be a starting fantasy running back if he can simply stay healthy. And, since we are relegated to a lot of hearsay during the current pandemic, videos of him squatting 585 pounds are just enough to give us a taste of what could be. So, yes, this could be the year. I just would prefer to draft him in an area of the draft where I am not relying on him to produce.
Terry McLaurin began his NFL career like a house on fire. In his first five games, he had over 400 receiving yards and five touchdowns. He tailed off, which coincided with the insertion of Haskins at quarterback. McLaurin still finished the year with 919 yards and seven scores in 14 games. That is quite impressive as a rookie, and there is more goodness beneath the surface. McLaurin displayed extreme efficiency on a per-target basis. Of the 34 players who had at least 900 receiving yards last year, McLaurin’s 9.88 yards per target was seventh-best, ahead of names like Julio Jones and Michael Thomas. McLaurin finished 24th in standard and 29th in PPR and currently sits as the WR28 in both standard and PPR formats. At first glance, there isn’t much risk at his current price.
However, the inconsistency of Haskins and the lack of volume in Washington’s passing attack is a problem for McLaurin and fantasy players alike. When Haskins was the team’s primary starter from Week 9 through Week 16, McLaurin finished outside the top 30 in both total points and on a per-game basis. Haskins threw the ball as many as 30 times in just one of those seven starts. His six starts with fewer than 30 pass attempts are the same number that Dak Prescott, Daniel Jones, and Carson Wentz combined for over 44 starts in 2019. Simply put, the lack of volume makes McLaurin a riskier than normal WR3 given his skills. This is a situation where a player’s surroundings have a major impact on his value. McLaurin could easily be a top-20 fantasy wideout in the right environment. Alas, Washington is not that environment.
Beyond McLaurin, there is not a ton to get excited about. The lack of volume will have a trickle-down effect, and no other wide receiver on the roster can compare to McLaurin. Steven Sims has been talked up a bit by the coaching staff. He is similar to Gibson in that they will use him on end arounds and other gimmicky plays on occasion. Washington drafted Antonio Gandy-Golden in the fourth round of this year’s draft. He is a big body but lacks elite speed and fluidity getting in and out of breaks. Ultimately, the volume and talent are simply not there for anyone besides McLaurin to be considered startable, though I am intrigued by Gibson’s skill set. I just do not expect the offensive scheme to lend itself to consistent production.
Last but not least, we have the Washington tight end group. Allow me to change that to “last and least”. There is very little to see here from a fantasy perspective. Veteran Vernon Davis announced his retirement following the 2019 season. Washington then released Jordan Reed in February after a long history of concussions. Jeremy Sprinkle appears to be the team’s starting tight end for now. Sprinkle played in all 16 games last year and surpassed 20 receiving yards in exactly one of them. Richard Rodgers, Logan Thomas, and rookie free agent Thaddeus Moss round out the room. If I am iffy about starting an elite talent like Terry McLaurin in fantasy due to the contributing factors surrounding him, you can imagine how I feel about the fantasy prospects of the players at this position group.
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