The NFC East was the worst division in football last year by nearly every conceivable measure. The four teams combined for just 24 total wins on the season and posted a 12-28 record in non-divisional contests. Philadelphia used a season-ending four-game winning streak, all against divisional foes, to win the division with a 9-7 record. Dallas was their usual enigmatic selves, while the New York Giants and Washington spent much of 2019 rebuilding around rookie quarterbacks. It would appear to be a two-horse race again in 2020. Both the Eagles and Cowboys should be the class of the division once more. Each team made some interesting picks this year, both from a real-life and fantasy standpoint. Here is my take on each team in the NFC North now that we have turned the calendar to May.
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Post-Draft Fantasy Previews: NFC East
Dallas placed the franchise tag on quarterback Dak Prescott, who is set to enter his fifth season in the league. Prescott thrived in Kellen Moore’s offensive scheme last year. His 4,902 passing yards were over 1,000 yards more than his previous career-best. He had seven 300-plus yard games, which exceeded his career total before 2019. It was believed that bringing in McCarthy would lead to Moore’s departure. However, McCarthy is keeping Moore on as offensive coordinator and play-caller. McCarthy seems to have adopted a self-reflective and analytical approach as he tries to re-establish himself among the better head coaches in the league. His new outlook is a refreshing contrast to the norm, where head coaches are often too headstrong to get out of their own way.
Prescott has more than just the return of Moore to be excited about. He also has a returning Amari Cooper, who re-signed with Dallas to a five-year deal. Dallas then drafted stud wide receiver, CeeDee Lamb. The Cowboys passing offense should be among the most prolific in the NFL in 2020. That should lead to plenty of fantasy goodness for Prescott. He finished second in total fantasy points behind Lamar Jackson last year and third in points per game behind him and Deshaun Watson. All the ingredients are there for Prescott to post another top-five fantasy season. The team signed former Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton as an insurance policy. Dalton is worth a late flier in Best Ball drafts in case Prescott were to miss time with injury. Dallas also drafted quarterback Ben DiNucci in the seventh round, but he may not even make the team.
Lost in the Cowboys’ revamped passing attack was Ezekiel Elliott posting another terrific season in 2019. Elliott scored 14 total touchdowns and had 1,777 yards from scrimmage. His 111 scrimmage yards per game were a career-low for Elliott, which shows just how good he has been throughout his four-year career in Dallas. He contributes in all phases, adding in 131 catches over the last two seasons. Elliott is a true workhorse, averaging over 24 touches per game in his career and scoring 48 touchdowns in 56 career games. I think there are too many mouths to feed in the passing game for Elliott to have an overall RB1 season. But he is arguably the safest bet to put up a top-five caliber fantasy season.
With the selection of CeeDee Lamb in the first round of the draft, the Cowboys now have what should be the best trio of wide receivers in the NFL. After being acquired in the middle of the 2018 campaign, Amari Cooper was a top-10 fantasy receiver for the remainder of that season. He repeated the feat over a full year in 2019. Cooper finished seventh in total fantasy points in standard leagues and 10th in PPR. He has a maddening habit of disappearing in big games or when facing elite cornerbacks. Because of that, I would feel much more comfortable with him as my WR2 than WR1. His inconsistency coupled with the introduction of Lamb would make me balk at predicting another top-10 fantasy season. I do not think he will fall that far in drafts, which means I will probably have fewer shares than most.
Amari Cooper finished 12th among qualifying wide receivers in standard fantasy points per game last season. Care to guess who finished 11th? It was Cooper’s teammate, Michael Gallup. Gallup was one of the most valuable fantasy receivers in the league last year. I know this because not having him on one of my teams cost me a bunch of money. In addition to standard fantasy points, Gallup also averaged more yards and targets per game than Cooper. He is an important part of the passing game, and Prescott does not hesitate to look in Gallup’s direction. Before the Cowboys drafted Lamb, I thought Gallup was a great value as a WR2 that could be had at a discount. Now, much in the same manner that Lamb snatched his phone away from his girlfriend on draft night, he may have done the same to Gallup’s fantasy value.
I listed CeeDee Lamb as my most valuable fantasy wideout before the 2020 NFL Draft. I believed that he could immediately step into a role as an NFL team’s primary receiving threat. He will not need to be the top dog in Dallas, but he will certainly make an impact. Lamb should play in the slot in most three-receiver sets, where he will have a distinct advantage over most slot and nickel corners. He is simply too good to be a part-time player. I would expect all three wide receivers to take the field on a majority of snaps. Lamb’s presence will have a trickle-down effect on the other receivers, but I think Gallup will be impacted much more so than Cooper. As of right now, I would consider Cooper a WR2, Lamb a WR3, and Gallup a WR4 as we approach the 2020 fantasy season.
Blake Jarwin agreed to a three-year extension back in March, and should finally have a full-time role to himself now that Jason Witten has moved on to Las Vegas. Witten caught 63 balls last season, which is more than Jarwin has mustered in his three-year NFL career. Jarwin himself had 31 last year, meaning that Dallas tight ends caught roughly six passes per game. Jarwin should get a bigger piece of that pie this season, though some of that volume may be sucked up by the three receivers. Still, that is considerable upside for someone who can be had at the very end of drafts. Jarwin has some appeal as a late-round flier or streaming option. Witten finished as the overall TE14 in PPR points per game last year. Jarwin should enjoy similar production, making him a solid value in fantasy leagues.
New York Giants
The New York Giants benched Eli Manning just two games into the 2019 season. Manning made a two-game cameo appearance in December but announced his retirement from the game back in January. Last year’s first-round pick, Daniel Jones, will be under center for the foreseeable future in New York. Pat Shurmur was replaced as head coach by Joe Judge after a 4-12 season, and the Giants brought in Jason Garrett to be the team’s new offensive coordinator.
Jones had an up and down season, which is to be expected when dealing with a rookie quarterback. He was a poor man’s version of Jameis Winston. Jones showed considerable upside, with at least 300 passing yards and four touchdowns in three of his last seven games. However, he also turned the ball over 22 times in just 12 starts. The Giants only used three of their 10 picks on offense in this year’s draft, but all three were used to beef up the offensive line. Tackle Andrew Thomas could be a starter from day one, with tackle Matt Peart and guard Shane Lemieux providing solid depth. I still would not invest too highly in Jones in redraft leagues despite the additions. His volatility makes him attractive in Best Ball and SuperFlex leagues, but I would consider him nothing more than a streamer in standard 12-team leagues.
Saquon Barkley ran for over 100 yards in his first two games last year before an ankle injury derailed his season. He returned in Week 7 but lacked the explosiveness we were accustomed to seeing. Barkley ran for just 373 yards and one score in his next seven games. However, over the final three games of the season, Barkley finally looked like the player fantasy owners thought they were getting with the first overall pick in 2019 fantasy drafts. In those three games, the second-year pro had 539 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns. That upside combined with the additions upfront will make Barkley a top-five pick in 2020 fantasy drafts. New York signed Dion Lewis to a one-year contract, but his fantasy value was non-existent last year. Lewis averaged just 23.3 total yards per game and scored only once. He is a late-round dart throw at best.
New York’s receiving corps figures to be a bit of a hodgepodge in 2020. The trio of Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, and rookie Darius Slayton all exceeded 50 yards per game last year, with Tate’s 61.5-yard mark leading the pack. All three finished the year as WR4s in PPR leagues. Slayton is the lone wideout who can stretch the field, but Tate and Shepard each possess solid playmaking ability in open space. They will continue to cannibalize each other going forward, especially when Evan Engram returns to the fold. Slayton is the Giant wide receiver I would target most in Best Ball leagues. He flashed big-play ability and finished as a top-three weekly wideout on two occasions last year. Tate and Shepard are most valuable in PPR leagues, where I would consider each a Flex play.
For the second consecutive season, Evan Engram finished seventh among tight ends in PPR fantasy points per game. But for the second consecutive season, Engram missed at least five games due to injury. He was placed on Injured Reserve last December with a Lisfranc injury, which makes him a bit of a risk heading into 2020. Engram posted a video of him jogging on a treadmill last week, which is a good sign for his rehab. He should be ready for the season opener, and positive reports regarding his health over the next couple of months are likely to keep his ADP in the sixth round or so. I would not be willing to pay that price. I think I would rather have one of the elite tight ends, or just wait on the position altogether.
Eagles quarterbacks combined for 4,063 passing yards in 2019. Just 40.5 percent of those yards went to wide receivers. The group was decimated by injuries to the point that Greg Ward, a practice squad player, and former college quarterback, was thrust into a prominent role as the Eagles fought late to win the division. Philadelphia sought to acquire some reinforcements via the draft, selecting a triad of wide receivers in this year’s draft. The team made at least one other noteworthy move as well.
Considering the team’s depleted receiving corps, it was quite impressive to see Carson Wentz put together the first 4,000-plus passing yard season of his career. With the selection of explosive wide receiver Jalen Reagor in the first round, all seemed well for Wentz and his fantasy owners. Then the second round happened. Philadelphia chose Jalen Hurts, who started 42 games at quarterback between his time at Alabama and Oklahoma. In those games, Hurts accounted for 11,600 total yards and 113 touchdowns. His efficiency as a passer increased dramatically last season, as evidenced by his 11.3 yards per attempt. Hurts was the runner up for the Heisman Trophy award and finished with Pro Football Focus’ second-best grade at quarterback, behind only Joe Burrow in both instances.
The Eagles made a concerted effort over the last two weeks to add wideouts who can stretch the field with speed. They traded for Marquise Goodwin during the draft and added three wide receivers through the draft itself. DeSean Jackson is back after playing parts of just three games last season. Jackson should have a starting spot ahead of fellow speedster Goodwin, but he is also coming off surgery and is now 33 years old. Jackson is always a home-run threat, as evidenced in last year’s season opener. But he is a WR5 for me who makes more sense in Best Ball leagues than redraft leagues. Alshon Jeffery’s status for the start of the season is in a bit of peril after surgery in December to repair a Lisfranc injury. Jeffery is a risky WR4 whose stock up until the heart of draft season will be predicated on health.
Forget recapping Washington’s 2019 season. They went 3-13, second pick in the draft, blah, blah, blah. DID YOU SEE THAT E60 PIECE ON ALEX SMITH?!? I had a basic knowledge of what he was dealing with, having read about the situation after the initial injury. But I was nowhere near prepared for some of the images in that presentation. The fact that he is even thinking about a comeback after what he went through is amazing. Up until now, I did not think I could root harder for a guy who has made nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in his career and has never played for any team I follow. I highly recommend the piece if you have not seen it yet. Just be careful if you have a weak stomach.
A new regime in Washington led by Ron Rivera did not lead to the team drafting a quarterback, which is good news for second-year pro Dwayne Haskins. The team did acquire Kyle Allen, who played under Rivera last year, back in March. However, Rivera saw enough from Allen last year to know that he should not be considered a long-term solution. Instead, Haskins should be given every opportunity to build on what was an inconsistent rookie campaign. Even with some continued development and the team adding a pair of wide receivers through the draft, Haskins will not be a fantasy option in 2020 redraft leagues. Washington would prefer to win football games with their strong defense rather than rely on Haskins to do too much.
Washington will enter the 2020 season with Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice as its primary ball carriers. Guice was nine years old when Peterson was taken with the seventh overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft. The ageless Peterson has eclipsed 1,000 total yards in each of his two seasons in the nation’s capital. I do not expect the veteran to reach that threshold in 2020. Peterson should get the bulk of early-down work, while Guice figures to be in line for about 10-12 touches per game. That should include most of the reps in the passing game, as Chris Thompson signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars last week. Guice’s role is more likely to be fantasy friendly than Peterson’s. Guice will probably be in the Flex conversation in redraft leagues, whereas Peterson will be an RB4 with limited upside.
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 was predictably unable to keep up that pace but still finished the year with 919 yards and seven scores in 14 games. McLaurin was hyper-efficient 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 Michael Thomas and Julio Jones. As good as McLaurin is, I just do not know if Washington will throw the ball enough to support their young star as a top-20 fantasy wideout. He finished 29th in PPR leagues in 2019, and that is roughly what I would expect this season as well.
Washington drafted Antonio Gibson in the third round of this year’s draft. He is not your prototypical wide receiver and may be considered a running back in certain formats. Either way, Gibson was one of the most dynamic players in the country with the ball in his hands last season. I mentioned in my NFC South preview that Curtis Samuel’s fantasy value would be helped if he were utilized as both a runner and receiver. The same holds for Gibson, and there is a connection that may allow this scenario to come to fruition. Rivera brought in Scott Turner to be Washington’s offensive coordinator. He had filled the same position in Carolina last season when Samuel led all wide receivers in carries. I expect Turner to get Gibson 6-8 touches per game. That would be enough to make Gibson a WR4 with plenty of appeal in Best Ball leagues.
Washington released Jordan Reed back in February after a long history of concussions, and Vernon Davis announced his retirement following the 2019 season. The team signed veterans Logan Thomas and Richard Rodgers to replace the departed duo and inked rookie free agent Thaddeus Moss. As of now, it looks like Jeremy Sprinkle will be the team’s starting tight end this season. Sprinkle is not much of a receiving threat. He has just 33 receptions in 43 career games. Last season, Sprinkle finished outside the top 40 tight ends in fantasy production. He was only able to muster a 26-241-1 line despite playing 63.8 percent of the team’s snaps. Sprinkle and the rest of Washington’s tight end group can safely be ignored in all fantasy formats.
Check out Tayler Lambert’s take on the state of the AFC.
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