NFC East Fantasy Football Preview: Studs, Sleepers, and Division Winners and Losers
We're inching closer to the start of football season, which means two things: your favorite team is about to embark on a hopeful journey to the Super Bowl, and your fantasy football drafts are about to take place.
So, to get you prepped for both things, we'll be covering each team -- division by division -- over the next week in order to help you set expectations (analytically, of course) for what's about to happen on both the real and fake football field.
Let's count down the AFC South from worst to first, ranked entirely by our nERD metric, which measures the number of points we'd expect the team to win or lose by against an average one on a neutral field.
4. Philadelphia Eagles | nERD: -2.82 | Projected Record: 7.2-8.8
Fantasy Football Stud: Ryan Mathews
With DeMarco Murray out of the picture, Ryan Mathews has a chance to be the clear lead back in Philadelphia. Despite only getting 106 carries in 13 games last season, Mathews proved he can still perform in this league -- he averaged a career-best 5.1 yards per carry and found the end zone six times.
Here at numberFire, we use our own Net Expected Points (NEP) metric to quantify the value added or lost on each play. You can read more about NEP and our other metrics in our glossary. Among all running backs with 100 or more carries in 2015, Mathews’ 0.00 Rushing NEP Per Carry ranked 13th and outpaced the league average of -0.04.
With new Eagles head coach Doug Pederson as their offensive coordinator, the Chiefs finished each of the past three seasons in the top-10 in the NFL in rushing yards per game.
With a current fifth-round average draft position (ADP) as the 25th running back off the board, Mathews is shaping up to be a value pick.
Fantasy Football Late-Round Target: Zach Ertz
Saving his best for last, Zach Ertz ended last season with his four best fantasy performances of the year during the Eagles’ last four games.
|Week||Fantasy Points||Tight End Rank|
In his three years in the NFL, Ertz has improved his fantasy points each year and completed 2015 as the 10th-best tight end in fantasy football.
Now, Ertz will be playing under Doug Pederson, who coached Travis Kelce to two top-10 fantasy seasons at his position over the past two seasons.
At his current 10th-round ADP, Ertz is not much of a risk and has the potential to be an every-week starter on fantasy teams.
3. New York Giants | nERD: -2.40 | Projected Record: 7.5-8.5
Fantasy Football Stud: Odell Beckham Jr.
If you have been playing fantasy football over the past two years -- or even remotely paying attention to the NFL -- you already know who the stud on this team is.
Odell Beckham has been the fifth-highest scoring fantasy wide receiver each of the past two seasons, including 2014 when he only played in 12 games. In his short career, he already has nine games with 20 or more standard fantasy points. That’s an incredible one-third of his career games.
We project him as the third highest scoring non-quarterback in fantasy football this year, and his career average of 10.78 targets per game provides a very safe floor. Beckham needs to be taken in the top five of every standard or PPR fantasy draft this year.
Fantasy Football Late-Round Target: Rashad Jennings
With a seventh-round ADP, Rashad Jennings isn’t exactly a deep sleeper. However, it's hard to get interested in any truly late-round Giants player, with the exception of possibly Will Tye if he can cement himself as the top tight end on the team.
Still, getting a starting running back in the seventh round or later is a bargain.
The Giants oddly chose not to give Jennings the lead back role last season until Week 14, and he proved he was capable of handling the load -- averaging 130 total yards over the last four weeks of the season.
Despite being part of a committee for the 12 weeks prior to Jennings’ breakout last year, he still finished as the 20th-best fantasy running back. At 31 years old, his age prompts some need for caution, but if he remains the clear top running back in New York, he will be a steal in the seventh round.
2. Dallas Cowboys | nERD: -1.83 | Projected Record: 7.6-8.4
Fantasy Football Stud: Ezekiel Elliott
Talent, supporting cast, opportunity -- Ezekiel Elliott has them all.
Check out Elliott’s rushing statistics from his last two seasons at Ohio State:
Those aren’t typos. He actually averaged 6.58 yards per carry and 20.50 rushing touchdowns over the past two years. And he hauled in 55 receptions over that span.
According to Pro Football Focus, he reeled in 92.9% of passes thrown his way and gained over 1,000 yards after contact during his final college season.
Now he’s running behind the best offensive line in the NFL, and -- given that the Cowboys spent the fourth-overall pick in the draft on him -- he will be given every opportunity to be the workhorse back.
A Dallas running back has been in the top five in rushing yards per game in each of the last three seasons, and now Elliott will have every opportunity to continue that trend and pay off his first round fantasy value.
Fantasy Football Late-Round Target: Jason Witten
When talking about consistency and a safe floor, Jason Witten has been the poster boy over the past 12 seasons. In that span, he has not missed a single game and has been a top-12 fantasy tight end every single year.
Witten has been targeted at least 90 times in each of those 12 seasons and had 5 or more receptions in 11 games last season despite the Cowboys' carousel at quarterback.
He can’t be relied upon for close to double-digit fantasy scores each week, but at his 14th-round ADP, he is a solid bargain for anyone waiting on tight end or wishing to pick up a second tight end in deeper leagues. For anyone drafting a tight end with question marks early in the season -- such as Tyler Eifert -- Witten is a great streaming option who can be found toward the end of drafts.
1. Washington Redskins | nERD: 1.17 | Projected Record: 8.3-7.7
Fantasy Football Stud: Jordan Reed
Despite missing two games last season, Jordan Reed finished with the third-most fantasy points among tight ends and set new Redskins franchise records in both receptions (87) and receiving yards (952) along the way.
By giving him a new five-year, $46.5 million contract, the Redskins have already shown that he is a key piece of their team moving forward. We project Reed to lead Washington in receptions this year, while trailing only DeSean Jackson in both yards and touchdowns. Our algorithms suggests that his ceiling is the second-best fantasy tight end behind only Rob Gronkowski -- and Reed can be found three rounds later in fantasy drafts.
Fantasy Football Late-Round Target: DeSean Jackson
Jackson missed six games last year and finished the season as only the 59th-best fantasy wide receiver, which has led his ADP to drop significantly for 2016. While we project him to be the 21st-best fantasy wide receiver this season, he currently has an eighth-round ADP as the 39th wide receiver off the board. That’s two full rounds after Josh Gordon, who has not played in two years and is suspended for the first four games of the coming season.
Just one year ago, in 2014, Jackson had the 16th-most fantasy points among wide receivers while playing in only 15 games.
In each of Jay Gruden’s first two seasons coaching the Redskins, their top wide receiver has been targeted more than 100 times, and we project Jackson to lead the team in both yards and touchdowns in 2016. If he can stay healthy, our algorithms says his ceiling is 179.7 standard fantasy points -- that would make him the fifth-best player at his position! Jackson needs to be snatched up long before the eighth round.