8 Critical Fantasy Football Questions: NFC East - Footballguys

Examining the critical fantasy football questions for each NFL team heading into the 2018 season

Each NFL team is its own fantasy football organism. Will they thrive or die in 2018? This series outlines the critical questions for each team across their skill position depth charts. In this edition: NFC East

What's the upside of the No.1 receiver in Dallas?

The notable changes for the Cowboys wide receiver corps this offseason include releasing Dez Bryant, drafting Michael Gallup, and signing Allen Hurns.

Verdict: One of the starting points for establishing the outcome spectrum for a receiver is the fantasy quality of their quarterback. Dak Prescott has finished as an above-average option (non-elite). By quadrant, Prescott has fit into the No.2 zone (QB9-16). Historically, the WR1 for those quarterbacks have averaged a mid-WR2 finish. The full breakdown is 43% as a WR1 and another 27% as a WR2. Only 14% of the time did the WR1 of these quarterbacks not finish in the top-36. The outstanding news is no Dallas receiver resides in the top-45 of positional ADP as of early July (myfantasyleague.com). Michael Gallup and Allen Hurns the two preferred targets by drafters in the WR45-55 zone and clear target players at their price. Rookie receivers are a dicey bet and Hurns, while sapped by injuries and a lackluster Jacksonville passing game the past two seasons, does have a 1,000-yard and 10-touchdown season (2015) under his NFL belt. Terrance Williams is the wild card with a low ADP and spurts of being the No.1 option when Dez Bryant has been out in recent seasons. Williams is recovering from a broken foot this offseason and an off-field intoxication charge which still looms.

Who wins the Dallas starting tight end job?

Jason Witten outlasted plenty of potential successors over his long tenure in Dallas, but the future hall-of-fame tight end retired this offseason leaving a hodge-podge of options on the depth chart.

Verdict: Dallas sits with Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Rico Gathers, and Dalton Schultz on the Witten-less depth chart at tight end. Between them, they have nine career receptions. Rookie tight ends, especially Day 3 picks are historically sluggish out of the gate to gain traction, eliminating Schultz for 2018 impact. Swaim enters Year 4 with Dallas, having a decent athletic background and the most experience of the group. Blake Jarwin also has some physical appeal (a similar profile to Swaim) and enters his second season. Rico Gathers is the notable name of 2017 preseason fame with a strong showing in a supersized frame, but reports this offseason are checkered about any potential progress. Swaim and Jarwin are the leaders in the clubhouse heading into training camp. The target turnover for the Dallas passing game makes this depth chart a watchlist item, but considering the talent level and lack of clarity, the winner is reserved for deeper tight end premium and dynasty formats more than more shallow redraft leagues.

Is Eli Manning one of the league-winning quarterback values in 2018?

Eli Manning has been one of the higher variance quarterbacks over the past 15 years, oscillating from impactful to forgettable. The Giants passed on a quarterback at No.2 overall in the NFL draft, surrounding Manning with more skill position talent in Saquon Barkley.

Verdict: Manning has largely been a QB1 with a healthy Odell Beckham dating back to 2014. Manning hit rock bottom in 2017 with Beckham missing a chunk of the season (Sterling Shepard too) and rookie tight end Evan Engram being the long viable target for games at a time. Fast-forward to 2018 and Beckham and Shepard are expected back and Saquon Barkley is a notable addition from the rookie ranks. Manning is coming off his second-worst statistical season dating back to 2004. Last time (2013), Manning bounced back to 30 touchdowns and 4,400 passing yards as the fantasy community passed him over. Manning's ADP is easily outside the top-20 quarterbacks and sometimes closer to QB30 depending on the draft. Manning is the perfect late-round quarterback to bet on regression and see a sturdy profit.

Is Evan Engram an avoid player?

Evan Engram had a historic rookie season for a tight end. Now he enters Year 2 with lofty expectations.

Verdict: In dynasty, Engram is a strong core player. However, for 2018 the risk is high. Engram excelled last season in large part to the supporting cast being on the sideline. The best equation for elite tight end production is a quality quarterback and the lack of a No.1 receiver presence. Engram had both in 2018. However, this year Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard are back and add Saquon Barkley as a threat out of the backfield (plus the Giants could finally have balance to their offense with a viable run game). Engram is priced at TE3-5 ADP, where he would need a repeat of his 110 or more targets from a year ago, a season where Beckham and Shepard combined for only 125 targets in partial time. Engram resides in the middle ground (after Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski) and before the later values at tight end where there is more risk than reward.

Is Zach Ertz set for a down season?

Zach Ertz emerged with a career year in 2017, posting eight touchdowns and clearing 200 PPR points for the first time, finishing as the TE3.

Verdict: The first variable is establishing Ertz's status as a talent. Historically, buying tight ends off the big year has been a mistake outside of the overt talents like Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, Rob Gronkowski, and Travis Kelce. Is Ertz in that category? His profile says no as a middling athlete without strong ancillary metrics. Ertz was a lagging touchdown rate producer before Carson Wentz's regression-worthy 2017 breakout. Ertz effectively doubled his career touchdown rate in 2017. Ertz finished as the TE3 last year and is priced at TE3 in 2018. Beyond the regression, incoming rookie Dallas Goedert offers a challenge from the No.2 depth chart position. Goedert offers a stronger prospect profile than Ertz and more upside than recently departed No.2 tight end, Trey Burton.

What's the upside for Derrius Guice?

Derrius Guice fell in the NFL Draft compared to projections, landing in Washington late in Round 2. Guice is projected as the early-down back of choice (over Samaje Perine) with Chris Thompson the preferred pass-catching option.

Verdict: For 2018, Guice's two main projections are his touchdown upside and how much receiving work he can siphon from Chris Thompson. If limited to less than 30 receptions (likely), producing in the top-12 PPR standing will be a tall order. Jordan Howard was the lone back in 2017 to finish in the top-18 with less than 35 receptions and he churned out 1,100 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Guice will need to push for double-digit touchdowns and 1,000 rushing yards if he does not carve into Thompson's passing game numbers. Thompson was a revelation last season, averaging more than 50 yards-per-game through the air and scoring four times in 10 games. Guice has an aggressive ADP compared to his range of outcomes as a mid-RB2 by early July myfantasyleague.com data.

Is the upside worth the risk with Jordan Reed?

Jordan Reed had strong-to-dominant per-game production in three of his five NFL seasons. Injuries have plagued the move tight end, however, as he has missed 35% of games in his career, including 14 over the past two seasons. Reed has played more than 12 games in a season just once in five years.

Verdict: Reed had 17 touchdowns over his 26 games in 2015-16, the peak of his career to-date. Injuries are the watchword for Reed, who is now recovering from toe surgery, looked like a shell of himself in 2017 as he posted career-lows in yards-per-game and yards-per-reception. The good news is new quarterback Alex Smith has fueled quality season from Travis Kelce and Vernon Davis in his career and the wide receiver depth chart is far from settled in Washington with a strong No.1 option. Looking at surrounding ADP options like David Njoku, O.J. Howard, Trey Burton, and George Kittle, Reed has the best combination of past production, situation, and top-5 upside of the subset. Delanie Walker would be the other option in the draft zone with more security and a preferred option to Reed on many fronts.

Is Josh Doctson a post-hype sleeper or player to avoid?

Josh Doctson has flashed over 17 career games spanning two seasons but has not emerged to the zone of trustworthy in weekly fantasy lineups yet. Washington is an offense in transition this season with a new quarterback, new running back, and No.1 receiver role up for grabs.

Verdict: The best news about Doctson is his price, down in the WR50-60 range, a handful of rounds later than teammate Jamison Crowder. Crowder led the team in targets in 2017 but is in the limited upside camp as a slot receiver. Doctson has shown promise as a vertical and jump-ball target, but yet to round out his game with short-to-intermediate prowess. As mentioned in the Dallas receiver section, the WR1 for a top-half fantasy quarterback averages a mid-WR2 fantasy finish. Even the WR2 attached to that level quarterback average finish is WR46, a profit from Doctson's cost. The risks include Jordan Reed staying healthy (for once) and quality receivers in Crowder and Paul Richardson Jr also on the depth chart. The limitation of targets for Doctson, topping out around 100 is very real, which would keep him in the WR3 range even if he develops. Doctson is a worthwhile target as few in his draft range (Allen Hurns, Kelvin Benjamin, Marqise Lee) have No.1 depth chart upside and Doctson has the best quarterback of the quartet.