The Cowboys come off a shocking season where they greatly outperformed expectations and won the NFC East on the shoulders of DeMarco Murray and a deceptively good defense. When Sean Lee got hurt last year, people wrote off this team as nothing more than an afterthought because on paper the defense scraped the bottom of the barrel in terms of talent and didn’t project to stop anyone. They weren’t GOOD, to be sure, but they kept a revamped offense in the game as DeMarco Murray went on an inhuman tear behind an elite offensive line. Well, DeMarco Murray is gone, but the offensive line remains and that should bode well both in the running game as a plug and play option (There’s talk that DARREN MCFADDEN could be relevant. Cool your jets guys.) and especially keeping Tony Romo upright with enough time to not make a terrible football decision.
Bustworthy Beauty: Joseph Randle, RB
For all the accolades that the offensive line gets, there is talk (even though it’s by their rival Eagles) that the line is overrated. Regardless of whether it’s ill-founded, there is SOME merit. Owners are just assuming that Joseph Randle/Darren McFadden (good joke) can step in and replace DeMarco Murray. The fact is, they can’t. The Cowboys will miss DeMarco Murray and they’ll miss him a lot. A lot of critics are saying Murray’s work was a function of that offensive line, but I’m not so sure it’s that simple. DeMarco Murray is a GOOD running back. We don’t know for sure if Randle is, and we know for a fact that Darren McFadden is horseshit (Did you know he hasn’t averaged even 3.5 yards per carry in the last three seasons?) I can go on and on about DeMarco’s skill versus the unknown of Randle or McFadden, but this covers it quite effectively. Maybe a combination of Randle and McFadden gets within the ballpark of Murray but even then I am skeptical. I’m surprised the Cowboys didn’t reach out to a proven running back like Ray Rice to shore up the run game after failing to land Adrian Peterson. It’s not like Jerry Jones cares about the bad press from signing Rice.
Sleeping Sweetheart: Cole Beasley, WR
Meet Cole Beasley: Fantasy Enigma (short for “Why the hell is this small white man able to catch footballs with huge men covering him and chasing after him?”). He’s a frustrating little pest to anyone who owns Jason Witten or Dez Bryant, sneaking short touchdowns and catching more than his fair share of footballs. He’s not a consideration in most leagues, but I like to highlight him as a thorn in people’s side when they expect huge things from Bryant.
PPR Princess: Jason Witten, TE
This might end up being one of Jason Witten’s last relevant seasons at age 33, but he’s still such a reliable value at tight end. Look, tight ends suck. If you’re not getting one of the top few guys you’re throwing darts and Witten is at worst a 20, and that’s not even bad. You don’t always hit the bulls-eye but the floor is here. Romo certainly appreciates Witten, and their chemistry maintains a decent floor of production. Even in his worst season since his rookie year, it wasn’t his skill set that was lacking, it was the sheer dominance of the run game, requiring him to be used as a blocker (which he is more than capable of doing as well). With Murray gone and the running game not nearly that caliber, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him return to 75-80 receptions which is incredible for a tight end. Even the bad season last year resulted in 65 catches and 700+ yards. Quit complaining.
Dynasty Darling: Dez Bryant, WR
Five years and 70 million dollars is considered too much by many for such a diva, but those people have never seen this diva play football. Dez Bryant is a MONSTER and at just 26 he’s one of the safest options at wide receiver in dynasty formats. Now that he’s locked up for five years, I expect his stock to go up even more. He’s happy now that he’s making an obscene amount of money and he and Romo will get along well for the next few years. The only receiver I would consider over him is Antonio Brown in dynasty formats, and he falls safely in the top five to me (Right now, that top five is Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Andrew Luck, and Julio Jones in some order). And out of those he’s probably the second safest option after Andrew Luck.
For some reason, no matter what Eli Manning does, for some reason it’s not enough for much of the fantasy community to buy in. Eli Manning quarterbacks a deceptively good offense and with Victor Cruz healthy there are weapons here at Eli’s disposal, secretly making Eli a great value as well. He was a top ten quarterback last year and with returning pieces he should be a top ten quarterback again this year, if not better. The Giants aren’t a good team, especially since their best defensive player is now missing a finger, but they have an explosive offense spearheaded by a very good triple-headed receiving corps (Odell Beckham Jr., Cruz, and Reuben Randle (Don’t sleep on him, as we say that for what seems like the 50th year in a row.). There are numbers available in this offense and I would recommend grabbing a share of their passing game.
Bustworthy Beauty: Rashad Jennings, RB
Rashad Jennings is 30 years old. He missed five games last year in his first year as a full-time starter and honestly, I’ve never thought he was that good to begin with. He’s fine as a good backup and is a great asset for a running game, but I don’t believe in signing a guy and giving him starter-level carries just because of what he did in limited touches. Just because a guy gets 50 yards on five carries doesn’t mean he’s giving you 200 yards on twenty carries. Jennings was good in his limited work last year, but isn’t that the major concern? The work is limited by injury too often. He doesn’t have much competition on the ground. Vereen can’t be a three down rusher and Andre Williams is probably awful (3.3 yards per carry last year as a rookie), so it’s almost solely injury that we should worry about. In the sixth or seventh round, I’d bite, but not hard.
Sleeping Sweetheart: Victor Cruz, WR
The most obvious sleeper on the team after being drafted highly last year and overshadowed by rookie phenom OBJ as he chilled on the bench the rest of the year. Well he’s back and woefully underdrafted in the tenth round. I expect a serious bounce back season as defenses try to contain the threat of Odell Beckham. It’s been just two years since it was debated whether it was Cruz or Wes Welker taking the mantle of best slot receiver in the NFL and the injury doesn’t change the skill set. He’s still among the better slot receivers in the NFL and is definitely worth snapping up as a WR3 or WR4 in this offense.
PPR Princess: Shane Vereen, RB
Vereen’s value as a PPR running back is well-known. I’m not sure how much work he’ll get in the offense, but he should be out there consistently on passing downs. The Giants line is a concern and if opposing pass rushes become too strong, Eli might well become the mayor of check-down city making Vereen a RB2 in PPR formats with flex considerations in standard leagues. He won’t see much work in the running game unless Rashad Jennings gets hurt (we kind of expect this), in which case he has RB1 upside in PPR formats, but four or five receptions a game with a six or seven total touchdowns could be a nice ceiling to aim for. A must own for Rashad Jennings owners.
Dynasty Darling: Odell Beckham Jr., WR
Let it be known that I’m not fully on the OBJ bandwagon for 2015. His talent is glaringly obvious, but the return of Victor Cruz and arrival of Shane Vereen means there are a lot of mouths to feed on this team and Eli will be hard pressed to find a way to get everyone the ball. The hype has cooled down a little as he’s no longer projected in the top five at receiver for 2015 and even in dynasty formats there are a few guys I’d rather have at this moment (Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, and Demaryius Thomas, in that order) but OBJ is firmly planted right behind them. This is a special kid and I’ll buy in once I see the larger body of work with similar success.
The Eagles run the definition of a plug-and-play system offense. Outside of DeMarco Murray, we’re not exceedingly impressed with the weapons they have. Jordan Matthews is still relatively unproven in the slot, Nelson Agholor is a rookie, Sam Bradford doesn’t have a knee, Josh Huff has limited upside, Riley Cooper is a racist, and we THINK Zach Ertz will be good this year, but we thought that last year and he… wasn’t really. I’m a little concerned about the Eagles offense because Chip Kelly is insane and he seems to throw away explosive pieces in the offense on a whim (He didn’t like DeSean Jackson, so he was shown the door, didn’t care for Jeremy Maclin, so out he went, he didn’t like Shady McCoy, so Rex Ryan earned himself a new plaything). This offense is driven by athletes finding pockets in space. Right now… I don’t LOVE any of the athletes in the receiving game.
Bustworthy Beauty: DeMarco Murray, RB
I was surprised by the Murray signing for the Eagles. I was even more surprised when it seemed like they were getting Frank Gore, but this is a similar situation. DeMarco is another bruising (but thankfully younger) runner but not without concerns. He amassed an insane 392 carries last year and there is a risk that he falls off a cliff with that incredible usage. The wear and tear on the body is also a big reason the Eagles brought in Ryan Mathews for insurance. That means good things for the Eagles on the field, but it’s concerning for the fantasy owners looking at Murray. I don’t think DeMarco will bust if he’s healthy the entire 16 games, but I definitely have my concerns if he’s nicked up at any point, and the sheer volume of work he received leads me to believe that could very well happen. I believe in this offensive line even without Evan Mathis, but I think that it’s a combination of Murray and Mathews that is the elite running combination and not just Murray himself. There are some running backs out there where grabbing the handcuff is a necessity and this may be the most important one (Others that come to mind are Ajayi for Miller, Blue for Foster, Ball for C.J. Anderson, Abdullah for Bell.). I’d buy ONLY if you can guarantee that you can grab Mathews as well.
Sleeping Sweetheart: Sam Bradford, QB
The Eagles system offense is quarterback-friendly and regardless of the talent level (Bradford has talent. That’s never been the knock on him.) quarterbacks have had success under Chip Kelly. Nick Foles looked like a borderline god in his 27-2 season (He’s actually terrible. Never buy in. He got lucky.), Mark Sanchez looked relevant, and I expect Sam Bradford to end up somewhere between the two. Question marks remain because of his ACL injury, but torn ACLs have become commonplace in today’s sports world and it doesn’t have the same severe implications it once had. After reconstructive surgery on the ACL, the knee could actually be stronger than ever (The problem becomes the meniscus, as we’ve seen most recently with Derrick Rose’s issues.). So, assuming the knee holds up for Bradford, he might be in line for a sneaky good season.
PPR Princess: Jordan Matthews, WR
I don’t expect Matthews to move out of the slot this season. I think Agholor and Huff will get the first shot at lining up outside, which means Jordan Matthews will be the focal point of the offense between the numbers. I don’t expect Sam Bradford to be very capable of airing it out consistently, so shorter options to Jordan Matthews or our other consideration as PPR Princess, Darren Sproles, will be very prevalent. I think Matthews is currently getting drafted too high as a fourth or fifth round receiver, but Maclin’s targets do have to go somewhere and I don’t think Chip Kelly will give as much to Nelson Agholor as people expect. Chip doesn’t love his rookies (Matthews really took off in Week 9) and because of the increased role with limited downfield upside, I expect a safe WR2 option here.
Dynasty Darling: Zach Ertz, TE
Last year, there was a Zach Ertz hype train. It stopped at disappointment station and stalled there. He was improved from his rookie season, but 58 catches for 702 yards and three scores was less than expected overall. As a team that ran the most plays in the league and was top ten in both rush plays AND pass plays, Brent Celek had to spend a lot of time on the field as an elite run blocker.This year, there’s another Zach Ertz hype train, but maybe we should stall that one before it reaches disappointment station. Now with more focus on the power running game, that may continue as the Eagles figure to run the ball even more this year. I think Ertz has great talent and is too quick and agile for any linebacker to cover, but I’m afraid there aren’t enough targets to go around here. Brent Celek gets a lot of goal line work since with him on the field it’s usually a run package, giving the offense more options to fake him as a blocker and use him as a receiver. Ertz is good value long-term, but he may not reach his potential in Chip’s offense unless he can greatly improve his blocking ability.
We should preface this by saying that if I have an option, I’m taking no part in the Redskins offense. Alfred Morris will do as a bruising, plodding running back but he’s not special. At best he’s safe, but the lack of reliable talent on the roster limits his upside. I understand DeSean Jackson is a burner and in theory Pierre Garcon is closer to 2013 than 2014, but the offense starts and ends with a quarterback and regardless of whatever we saw or were supposed to see from RGIII given his rookie season, not only do I question his ability to stay healthy, but I start to question his talent as well. I’m not happy about it, but I just can’t fall in love with a quarterback that projects to be a poor man’s Michael Vick with less talent and worse decision-making skill. Any reasonable floor he has to keep this offense afloat with his legs is immediately nullified by the fact that he can’t take a hit.
Bustworthy Beauty: DeSean Jackson, WR
6, 1, 17, 0, 21, 17, 4. Those are the fantasy outputs from DeSean in the first seven weeks of the season (I could go on for the rest of the season and get similar varying numbers, but y’all get the point.). DeSean Jackson is the prototypical boom or bust player in fantasy and while he still ended up as a top-20 receiver at the end of the year, he provided his fair share of headaches to fantasy owners. He did all his damage on just 56 catches, so the volume won’t be there, but he’s got burning speed and can definitely make your fantasy week in just one play.
Sleeping Sweetheart: Niles Paul, TE
Jordan Reed is the better option in the long run, but Niles Paul showed some flashes last year in Reed’s absence. He scored 33 fantasy points in the first four weeks last season (Jordan Reed missed the first four games.) and 12 for the rest of the season, less than his week two output itself. I’m not saying he’s a tight end for a standard league, but I am saying he needs to be on your radar, especially if you settle for Jordan Reed as a TE1 (It must have gone poorly for you. Did you forget you needed to roster a tight end?). I don’t particularly buy handcuffing receiving options because you can get value elsewhere, but if you’re in a spot where you have to take Jordan Reed, you might as well keep an eye on Paul as well.
PPR Princess: Pierre Garcon, WR
Even as a major disappointment last year, Garcon led the Redskins with 68 receptions. They were only for 752 yards, but he amassed a huge 113 catches in 2013 and a bounce-back season may be on the cards, especially if the Redskins can find SOME sort of quarterback stability (read: RGIII needs to prove he can stay on the field and that his rookie season wasn’t a fluke. Colt McCoy is below-average at best, and Kirk Cousins isn’t as good as I hoped.). I think 113 catches is out of question, but somewhere in between 2013 and 2014, say 90 catches and 1,000 yards or so with four or five scores is attainable and definitely worth his current ADP. Also, here we have Garcon doing his best OBJ impression.
Dynasty Darling: Jordan Reed, TE
If Jordan Reed could stay healthy, we could have something special. Also if the Redskins weren’t garbage. Also if RGIII/Colt McCoy/Kirk Cousins were remotely competent as NFL quarterbacks. Reed has missed almost half of his games since entering the NFL but the talent makes people consider him every year. In a one year standard league, he’s not really a consideration because tehre are at least 15 tight ends I would prefer but in a dynasty format or a 16 team league, he WILL be rostered and WILL carry value. I’d be wary when drafting him but as an upside flier he’s worth a look.
Last Friday: AFC West
Check in tomorrow for our NFC North Breakdown.
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