From the Gut: The NFC East
By Sigmund Bloom
August 28th, 2012

This is a good time to review where we are at on offenses as a whole, and the possible downstream effects on the players within those offenses. The height of draft season is upon us and sometimes the level of quality and risk in an offense can be a good tiebreaker between similar players when you are making decisions on the clock.

Dallas Cowboys

The sharks might already be circling the Cowboys offense. The center and guard positions on the offensive line are unsettled, Jason Witten got hit so hard his guts bled, Miles Austin can't keep his hamstrings healthy, and Dez Bryant had to promise Jerry Jones he would behave. Like Philip Rivers, when you're on the clock and you can take Romo or wait a few rounds for Griffin/Cutler/Luck, it feels like the right choice is to punt and pass on Romo.

It makes sense that these factors would dampen enthusiasm about Demarco Murray, but as a clear feature back who didn't get hurt this preseason, he is getting into the first round. Whether or not to take him comes down to attitudes about positional scarcity. I won't talk you out of taking Tom Brady or Jimmy Graham over him. Felix Jones might not even be the backup by the time the season is over, his star is fading. Phillip Tanner could be a name to remember in deep leagues.

After the way last year went for Miles Austin, his hamstring issues scream "stay away". There's just too much depth at wide receiver to take Austin over a wideout with a ceiling almost as high and much less current risk. Dez Bryant has been tough to figure out. On one hand, he is one off-the-field incident away from being suspended and otherwise being branded as a bad seed (if he hasn't been already). On the other, there is word that his conditioning and approach to the game are maturing, and that could mean an ascent to the top five for a talent like Bryant. If his conditioning and health can keep him a factor late in games and late in the season, you'll be real happy you took him in the 4th.

Laurent Robinson made hay as the third receiver last year, but the Cowboys had no strong candidates for the spot going into training camp. That plus Tyron Smith moving to left tackle (which will hopefully improve Doug Free at his more natural spot on the right side) seemed to create fertile fantasy soil for Jason Witten to farm this year. Fast forward to a lacerated spleen (which does seem to be improving at a clip to get Witten back on the field soon), and Witten is a dicey call in fantasy drafts. He has been ultra-durable over the course of his career, so chances are those that are getting him in the 7th right now will look real smart for doing it.

In the meantime, Dwayne Harris has made his name known with one of the biggest games of the dress rehearsal week of preseason football. Harris shouldn't be on any deep dynasty waiver wires, and he could have terrific value if Austin's hamstring issues nag him again this year.

New York Giants

Hakeem Nicks is on track to return for week 1, which is good news for Eli Manning, and for Victor Cruz, who became the focus of opposing defenses in the playoffs. Manning still feels a little overdrafted to me with Matt Ryan going around the same time, but he does deserve to go a round or more ahead of Philip Rivers, and probably Tony Romo, too.

Nicks and Cruz are both going in the third. I don't like going wide receiver that high, but both have proven top 10 upside, so they could made good on the choice. Rueben Randle would probably be the hot waiver wire pickup if either one goes down this year. Keep an eye on Ramses Barden, who showed up in preseason week 3.

I might be talking myself into liking Ahmad Bradshaw because he has become my "in case of emergency, break glass" running back in the late third when I go QB/RB or TE/RB to start my draft. He won't be a classic feature back, but he should still get the most work of any back in what should be a very productive offense. He has risk in the form of durability and a rookie running back who is demanding more work with his talent, but Bradshaw should be a solid RB2, albeit one without RB1 upside. Wilson is a potential "mancrush" player who has an 8th/9th ADP, but could go in the 7th after his sensational game last weekend.

Philadelphia Eagles

Michael Vick's multiple preseason injuries have put a chill on his draft stock dropped him to QB7 behind Matt Ryan in the latest consensus ADP. Vick's injury risk to either leave games early or miss them entirely looms, but if he is there in the late sixth, I'll be tempted to take him. In the seventh, I won't be able to resist. He has demonstrated elite QB1 upside and the depth at quarterback this year makes it easier have a quality backup warming up in the pen.

LeSean McCoy is the 1C back, and you should be happy to get him at #3. I won't talk you out of taking him at #1. Dion Lewis is the closest thing there is to a primary backup, but I suspect Bryce Brown or Chris Polk (whichever one makes the team) will also get work if McCoy misses time. Don't worry about a handcuff for Shady.

The story that Jeremy Maclin will have a career year because he isn't coming off of a mystery illness is easy to believe, but Maclin still seems like the kind of player who will always be nicked up to me. I'll still take him in the fifth, but not earlier. DeSean Jackson admitting he didn't go all out last year is worrisome, but it is also reason to think that he could outperform his 6th round ADP, especially in leagues that give bonuses for long touchdowns. I'd be happy to roll him out as my WR3, but not ahead of Torrey Smith, who has been moving up draft boards over the last week.

Brent Celek got back on the field after multiple offseason surgeries and he is poised to return to the fantasy top 10 at his position. He was finally on the same page with Vick late in the season last year, and the presence of Jackson, Maclin, and McCoy will continue to create room for him. He should be a target if you wait until the late rounds to take your tight end.

Washington Redskins

Robert Griffin III hasn't been as dynamic this preseason as we'd envisioned when the Redskins drafted him, but I still feel that his fantasy upside is undeniable. The injury risk of a running quarterback a la Michael Vick is still there, but you'll hedge against that with a selection of a strong QB2. Andrew Luck has outshone Griffin during August, but it is hard to imagine Mike Shanahan showing his hand in the preseason when he has been given a weapon like Griffin.

Remember, Shanahan made a viable fantasy quarterback out of Jake Plummer. Look for him to get Griffin out in space on rollouts and otherwise bring his running ability into play by design along with his deep arm. I expect the offense we see against the Saints to open the regular season will look different than what we saw in the preseason.

One of the big differences I expect to see is a lot more of Fred Davis getting targeted downfield. He had a quiet preseason, but when have you ever known Shanahan to ignore the tight end in the passing game - especially one as physically talented as Davis? I'm seeing him in the 9th round sometimes now, which is a good reason to wait on tight end if no great values present themselves earlier in the draft.

The running back situation is a mess (no surprise). No running back has fallen as hard on draft boards as Roy Helu since the spring, but if he's still there in the 11th or later, I'm biting. There's no doubt that he's the most talented runner in what should be a terrific running game. His achilles issues could keep him from having a consistent impact, but you should be ready to dump him if it still looks that way after a month. If the pick pans out and Helu can get 12-18 touches a game, he'll be an explosive RB2/flex option.

Otherwise, I'm still open to Evan Royster, Alfred Morris, and Tim Hightower after the 12th. You may regret cutting them before their value matures, but any could have a flash of strong flex and trade value if the wheel in Shanny's head lands on them for a few weeks in a row. Heck, injuries could make the jackpot winner, like Morris was in week 3 of the preseason. I am all for taking more than one if you can.

Pierre Garcon is the number one Redskins receiver, and you can get him as your WR4 in the 7th round in most drafts. Take advantage of that if you aren't harvesting value at QB/RB/TE in the round. Griffin and Kendall Wright hooked up downfield at will, and Garcon has a good chance of being at the receiving end of a lot of deep balls this year. Santana Moss could become the reliable intermediate target. Both he and Leonard Hankerson are worth late round picks in what could be a very productive fantasy offense.

As always, thanks for reading. Questions, comments and suggestions are always welcome to bloom@footballguys.com.

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