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From The Gut: NFC - Footballguys

A collection of observations and gut feelings about every team in the NFC

NFC East

Dallas

The loss of Travis Frederick for an indefinite period is huge for the Cowboys offense. Zach Martin already has an injured knee. This isn’t the 2016 Cowboys line and I can’t decide how much to ding Ezekiel Elliott for it. He’ll remain at RB4 for the time being, but the case for passing on him in the mid first is strong. Part of that case is the underwhelming Cowboys pass offense. The Cowboys don’t have a true WR1 and they don’t have two consistent durable proven starting quality receivers on the roster. They’ve resorted to playing Cole Beasley outside. Michael Gallup has had a promising rookie summer, but expecting consistent value from a rookie with a refined but limited skillset out of this passing offense is a stretch. I won’t knock any pick in the second half of the draft, but I’ll take my shots at wide receiver elsewhere. Five wide receivers will play roles in the offense this year in what will likely be an inefficient passing game in a run-first offense. In a Jacksonville, that’s a good thing for the offense as a whole, but given the track record of the receivers in Dallas, it’s a bad thing for the Cowboys and the fantasy value of their skill players across the board. We saw how fragile the Cowboys offense was when Elliott went out last year. It is less equipped to handle shocks and change than it was last year. Nothing is certain, but the bust range of outcomes for this offense is glowing red right now.

Schedule Note: At Carolina, the Giants, at Seattle, and Detroit isn’t a particularly negative start, although the Giants and Seattle can be tough to run on and might get this offense out of its comfort zone. Philadelphia, at the Colts, and Tampa give the offense three indoor games, but I don’t know if we can trust them to convert on the potential.

New York Giants

We haven’t really gotten to see a glimpse of what this offense could be with Engram, Barkley, Shepard, and Beckham and a functional offensive line. Much like Cincinnati, this team’s offense collapsed last year and they made big moves on the offensive line to try to turn the tide, in addition to sacking the coaching staff and bringing in Pat Shurmur, originally of the Andy Reid tree that is bearing fruit right now. Much like Cincinnati, the collection of talents on offense and potential for a bounce-back year draws you in, but the wide range of outcomes can also make you hesitant at the moment of truth. Barkley and Beckham will cost first round picks. I can’t take Barkley over Fournette, Gordon, and Cook, especially with Barkley already nursing a hamstring injury. If the Shurmurula offense can come together, Barkley could deliver that mid-first ADP, but he’s being drafted at his ceiling. Wayne Gallman has had a great summer and looks like the back to roster over Jonathan Stewart if Barkley misses time. Beckham is a good pick to pair with Gordon or Fournette near the turn, although I’m not sure his ceiling is significantly higher than the next three wide receivers off of the board. It appeared he had a very severe ankle injury (the word shattered had been used), but there haven’t been any reports that indicate worry about his ability to return to previous god-like form. Evan Engram seemed a potential odd man out when looking at distorted 2017 target shares without Beckham and projecting a role this year, but the Giants have reportedly been playing him at outside receiver at times and appeared committed to keeping him central in the offense. He could still be a hit, assuming decent play from Eli Manning. Shepard has all kinds of injury upside, as we saw him create big peak games, but two of the three came when Beckham was out. I prefer Graham to Engram and lots of names to Shepard, but they aren’t bad picks at ADP. Manning is the elephant in the room here. His decline might not be as steep as big brother’s, but his play hasn’t exactly inspired confidence in recent years. On the other hand, the Giants pass offense actually looked fine when Beckham was healthy for a blink of an eye last year. While the changes could create an updraft of fantasy value growth, Manning is still the pilot who has to navigate the voyage - one that he has the potential to steer into the mountain. That’s probably part of why I can’t get behind stumping vigorously for any Giant this year.

Schedule Note: Jacksonville in Week 1 means that the gloom and doom scenario could look very real. A trip to Dallas Week 2 is encouraging, but Week 3 at Houston and Week 4 vs. New Orleans aren’t pushovers and will test this offense.

Philadelphia

With all of the talk of regression to the mean in the air this time of year, should we be worried that the Eagles offense seemed to function at an extremely high level last year? The offense produced passing touchdowns in bunches, which helped it transcend a fantasy value-killing approach that often included as many as 8-10 players touching the ball regularly. The offensive line is still a huge strength, and perhaps we will learn this year that it’s the true foundation of the Eagles offense. Elsewhere, there’s uncertainty at quarterback - at least early in the season. When will Carson Wentz start? When will he be physically comfortable? How will his injury affect his method of attack on defenses? How much of his success last year depended on his mobility? Wentz not returning to 2017 play levels this year is very much within the range of outcomes. Nick Foles will keep the offense more than functional, but he doesn’t add nearly as much as a healthy Wentz did. At running back, there’s the riddle of Jay Ajayi. We know he can make history if a team feeds him, and LeGarrette Blount being gone means Ajayi’s role is sure to grow. But how much? Will he consistently get his number called at the goal line? Will he consistently get 15+ carries? He’s a borderline RB1 if his usage is heavy and predictable. He’s a matchup flex if it is not. That’s a lot of downside for a fourth-round pick, but I understand the allure and won’t talk someone out of taking Ajayi at ADP. There probably isn’t a scenario where Corey Clement or Darren Sproles are consistent plays, although they will produce useful best ball spikes. They’re not part of my end game list. At wide receiver, we can’t say when Alshon Jeffery will take the field, which opens the door to conditioning hiccups and rust in his first few games back. It isn’t like Jeffery had a high weekly ceiling in this offense anyway. The prospect of seeing him healthier than 2017, when he played with the torn rotator cuff that is delaying his return, was exciting, but now it appears we might not truly get to see that until 2019. His ADP hasn’t fallen far enough for me to take him. While Jeffery’s absence creates an opening for Nelson Agholor to get off to a hot start, he’s already dinged and was inconsistent last year with this offense at its peak, so he should level off to a matchup WR3/Flex at best once Jeffery is up to speed. He’s still undervalued because of the potential for Jeffery to have a lost year and Agholor is still on the upslope of his career. Mike Wallace can still play and could be a waiver wire subject if Jeffery is slow to return. At tight end, Zach Ertz’s ADP feels the most out of whack of any tight end this year. His touchdown spike is reliant on the Eagles offense remaining at the top of its game, and he was joined by a tight end whose specialty appears to be catching touchdowns. Taking him within a round of Gronkowski or Kelce seems too optimistic when Ertz has already shown that his ceiling isn’t within shouting distance of theirs. Goedert, on the other hand, is very enticing as a late round streamer, and he could get out of the gate fast if Jeffery misses time which could get Goedert’s number called more often in the red zone.

Schedule Note: The Eagles open on a Thursday vs. Atlanta, and then go to Tampa and face Indianapolis at home and Tennessee on the road. There are lots of secondary deficiencies to exploit in those last three matchups. A trip to face the Rams in Week 15 will be a test, and Week 16 at Houston could be anything from a shootout to a defensive struggle with the players on both sides of the ball.

Washington

This offense could be very good with Alex Smith. I see him as a better fit with Jay Gruden than he was with Andy Reid, hopefully being on the move more often among other things. Kirk Cousins was a low QB1 in this offense, there’s no reason Smith can’t be after being a Top 5 fantasy quarterback last year. The offensive line was a sinkhole last year and that should be factored in when calculating the baseline for the offense and Smith this year. Adding Derrius Guice could have taken this offense into the Top 10 and helped grow the size of the pie, but that won’t happen this year. The running game did produce some fantasy relevance between Rob Kelley and Matt Jones this year, Adrian Peterson could do that this year. I’m feeling tempted to throw a late pick at him. Chris Thompson could be at the high end of his opportunity range with Guice out, but he won’t be 100% to begin the season by his admission and that doesn’t seem the opening chapter in a triumphant season story. Jamison Crowder has the best fit with Smith by far and could be in store for a career year if he can stay healthy. He wasn’t for the first half of the year and his numbers suffered, but he was producing over an 80-1000 pace from Week 8 on. Paul Richardson Jr and Josh Doctson are probably going to be limited to supporting roles, although they will provide best-ball, big-play, and touchdown spikes. I have cooled on both as the summer has gone on, although if Jordan Reed can’t stay healthy and Doctson can, he has double-digit touchdown potential. Remember the name Maurice Harris if Richardson goes down. Reed’s ADP is down three or four rounds from last year, he’s healthier than last year, and he has a quarterback who fits well with his game. I’m getting drawn in at times when I don’t get Gronkowski in the second.

Schedule Note: Washington gets to open with the new look Arizona defense on the road, then has the Packers and Colts come to them in what could create a lot of offensive momentum going into their Week 4 bye. A road game with Jacksonville lurks in Week 15, but home games against the Giants and Tennessee in Weeks 14 and 16 are manageable.

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