2017 First Fantasy Football Thoughts: AFC/NFC East

by Michael Nazarek - 7/9/2017

The 4th of July has come and gone and training camps open in just a few short weeks. The first cut of our Pre-Season Draft Guide has been released, so the plan for this series is to whip through all 32 teams before the end of the month. As in years past, this series of articles will begin in the East and I'll work my way West. Let's get right to it, there's a lot to discuss...

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills: The Bills did their annual fade once again in 2016. QB Tyrod Taylor was an inconsistent producer for the team, and with another losing season, the team cut bait with HC Rex Ryan and his staff. New HC Sean McDermott and the staff decided to keep Taylor at a reduced contract as their starter for 2017. In fantasy terms, he remains an inconsistent producer, meaning you can likely do better, even as a fantasy backup. QB Cardale Jones returns to battle QB T.J. Yates for the backup job. In the running game, veteran RB LeSean McCoy returns as the sole consistent fantasy STUD on the team. As long as he stays healthy, with both RB Karlos Williams (long gone) and RB Mike Gillislee (left for New England) gone, McCoy should be a top 10 if not top 5 fantasy producer. Second-year RB Jonathan Williams returns as the new backup to McCoy, but has little experience. In the passing game, 4th-year WR Sammy Watkins returns as the clear #1 WR, but his value remains shaky due to continued foot issues. He'll likely be limited when camp opens, but the team hopes he'll be 100% by the start of the season. Sound familiar? Draft him at your own risk. WR Robert Woods left via free agency, as the Bills drafted WR Zay Jones to eventually fill the #2 starting WR job. Woods is not a stud, but the team needs some production from Jones or whomever fills that role. The Bills signed free-agents WR Andre Holmes, WR Corey Brown, WR Rod Streater, and WR Brandon Tate for depth, but overall, this is a weak corps in terms of talent. Veteran TE Charles Clay returns as the starter, but balky knees keep his fantasy value iffy at best. TE Nick O'Leary is the backup, but hardly a fantasy producer. At kicker, veteran PK Steven Hauschka was signed after a surprisingly inaccurate 2016 in Seattle. Let's just say the Bills offense seems unlikely to provide Hauschka with enough scoring chances to be a clear fantasy starter.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins surprisingly made the playoffs in 2016, but failed to make the big game. QB Ryan Tannehill (knee) missed the playoffs due to a partially torn ACL, something he says he's 100% healed from. Regardless, I've never liked him as a fantasy play due to his inconsistent play. More often than not, he disappoints, so you won't see me drafting him in 2017. Veteran QB Matt Moore returns as the primary backup. In the running game, third-year RB Jay Ajayi blew up in 2016 as the new starter. The team plans to give him even more touches this season, which should make him a top 10 fantasy RB. RB Damien Williams returns as his backup, while second-year RB Kenyan Drake will also provide relief. In the passing game, WR Jarvin Landry and WR DeVante Parker return as the starters, while WR Kenny Stills was re-signed as the #3 WR. Landry will see the most targets again, playing out of the slot, while Parker is being hyped as the breakout player from this team in 2017. I'll believe when I see it. His inconsistent play and curious injuries don't have me thrilled. Second-year WR Leonte Carroo and WR Jakeem Grant return for depth. At tight end, veteran TE Jordan Cameron is gone (retired after his contract ran out), as the team traded for TE Julius Thomas from the Jaguars. Like Cameron, Thomas has battle through injuries in recent seasons, which has hindered his fantasy performance. If you read my Fantasy Creeper preview, you will understand what I think of Thomas as a Dolphin. Veteran TE Anthonas Fasano was signed (his second time with the team) to back up Thomas. PK Andrew Franks returns as the kicker, but didn't see enough scoring chances for real fantasy consideration in 2016, and that seems unlikely to change in 2017.

New England Patriots: The Patriots won it all again last season when the Falcons blew a huge lead in the Super Bowl. QB Tom Brady remains the key cog to a team that can dominate here and there, but always seems to play well enough to win. With no suspension looming, he's still a top 5 fantasy QB on a per-game point average no matter the opponent. Fourth-year QB Jimmy Garoppolo returns as the backup. As for the running game, veteran RB LeGarrette Blount was not re-signed, as the team picked up RB Mike Gillislee from the Bills and RB Rex Burkhead from the Bengals. Gillislee is likely to fill the Blount role, while Burkhead will have to fight with RB James White and RB Dion Lewis for the rest of the scraps. White is likely to be the primary pass-catching back, but don't count out a fairly large role for Lewis. In the passing game, slot WR Julian Edelman returns as the most consistent producer, but that still doesn't make him an elite fantasy player. The Patriots acquired WR Brandin Cooks from the Saints, a player whom should easily remain a top 20 fantasy WR if not better. The rest of the corps will remain spotty in terms of production to include: WR Chris Hogan, WR Malcolm Mitchell, and WR Danny Amendola. At tight end, veteran TE Rob Gronkowski returns and should stay atop the fantasy tight end category as long as his health holds up. Remember, he is coming off another back injury. TE Martellus Bennett is gone, as the team signed veteran TE Dwayne Allen to fill the other pass-catching role. I like Allen in this role, but there will be weeks where he disappears from the stat box. PK Stephen Gostkowski had his first real down season last year, but should rebound and remains a top 5 fantasy kicker. Bottom Line: He'll see plenty of scoring chances once again in 2017.

New York Jets: The Jets were a huge disappointing mess last year, so they got rid of almost all their good players to save money and get younger. Gone is QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR Brandon Marshall, WR Eric Decker, PK Nick Folk, and much of their veteran defense. As a result, journeyman QB Josh McCown will likely start, and be followed by QB Christian Hackenberg at some point during the season. STAY AWAY. In the running game, veteran RB Matt Forte returns only because he has a guaranteed contract, and will share time with RB Bilal Powell, making neither good fantasy players each week of the season. In the passing game, WR Quincy Enunwa and WR Robby Anderson are the likely starters with TE Austin Seferian Jenkins starting at tight end after he serves his two-game suspension. Rookie WR ArDarius Stewart is a dynamic player, one whom could surprise if he gets the opportunities that he should get with the lack of experience on the roster at his position. But remember, these are the Jets. PK Chandler Catanzaro was signed to kick, but he won't see enough scoring chances for fantasy consideration. Good luck to any fantasy owners who draft Jet players this summer, you will need it!

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys surprised to win the NFC East last year before losing to the Packers on a late field goal in the playoffs. QB Tony Romo has retired, as second-year QB Dak Prescott replaced an injured Romo in 2016 to lead the team as they made their run. Prescott is a borderline fantasy starter, but with the team still focused more on the run, is a better fantasy backup. In the running game, second-year RB Ezekiel Elliott blew up in his rookie season, and returns as the fantasy STUD RB starter most expect him to be. The Cowboys say they will throw to him more, but it really doesn't matter when you get 20+ touches every week. RB Lance Dunbar left via free agency, so perhaps Elliott will become more of a pass-catching option. Veteran RB Darren McFadden is the new likely handcuff, as RB Alfred Morris is set to be possibly traded or released later this summer. In the passing game, WR Dez Bryant returns after another injury-filled season. That said, he is healthy, and remains a top 10 fantasy WR. Veteran WR Terrance Williams was re-signed as the other starter, but remains a very inconsistent producer in fantasy terms. WR Cole Beasley plays in the slot, and is worthy of some fantasy consideration as a late-round draft pick, especially in PPR leagues. WR Brice Butler and WR Lucky Whitehead return for depth. Veteran TE Jason Witten returns as the do-it-all tight end, but continues to slow down, to the point that his YAC is nearly negative. Regardless, Witten is a solid fantasy backup, especially in PPR leagues. TE James Hanna returns to back up Witten. Veteran PK Dan Bailey returns as one of the best kickers in the league. He's a top 5 fantasy starter, one whom can still be drafted very late in most leagues.

New York Giants: My favorite team made the playoffs in 2016 for the first time since winning the Super Bowl in 2011. Veteran QB Eli Manning finished as the #25 ranked fantasy QB in 2016, but returns as the clear leader of this team and should rebound with additional targets in 2017. I'm not saying I'd target him as my starter, but he is a solid option to pair with another veteran QB for your fantasy team. In the running game, RB Rashad Jennings is gone, as the team is turning to second-year RB Paul Perkins as their new starter. Perkins is a bit of an unknown, but showed promise last year and is a solid fantasy sleeper. RB Shane Vereen returns as the change-of-pace back and pass-catcher. RB Orleans Darkwa returns for depth. In the passing game, WR Odell Beckham Jr. produced another big season, and enters his 4th year as an elite fantasy WR. Veteran WR Victor Cruz is gone, as the Giants signed WR Brandon Marshall this off-season to start. Coming off a poor season as a Jet, Marshall should rebound nicely, giving Manning a significant upgrade at wideout, especially in the red zone. WR Sterling Shepard returns to play in the slot, and will have his moments. Veteran WR Dwayne Harris and WR Roger Lewis return for depth. At tight end, TE Larry Donnell is gone, as the team drafted TE Evan Engram to boost the passing game even more. Engram should start over TE Will Tye as the pass-catching TE. He's a nice fantasy sleeper. Rookie PK Aldrick Rosas will do his best to nail down the kicking duties, since the Giants didn't want to sign a veteran kicker in the off-season. It's best to take a wait-and-see approach here.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles failed to make the playoffs again in 2016, and new HC Doug Pederson made some strange decisions, most that failed to help the team win. That said, he returns with his staff to try to help QB Carson Wentz mature in his second season as the team's starter. Wentz has potential, and the fact that he underwent laser eye surgery and worked with a QB coach this off-season is encouraging, making him an interesting latter round fantasy sleeper. Veteran QB Nick Foles was brought back to back up Wentz. In the running game, RB Ryan Mathews was misused as the starter last season, often being pulled for series at a time during games for no clear reason. He suffered a serious neck injury, and will likely eventually be released when deemed healthy. Veteran RB Darren Sproles returns, but the team added RB LeGarrette Blount to keep him fresh and likely be used at the goal. RB Wendell Smallwood also returns, as this unit is likely to become a RBBC, making none of them a must-have player for fantasy. In the passing game, WR Jordan Matthews returns after a disappointing season. As a result, the team added WR Alshon Jeffery and WR Torrey Smith to boost the wideout corps. Jeffery immediately becomes the new #1 WR, while Smith provides a deep threat the team didn't have last year. WR Nelson Agholor returns, but is unlikely to see much playing time as an inconsistent #4 WR. At tight end, TE Zach Ertz is solid, but must work on his red zone play. He can dominate games with catches, but only scores sporadically. With an upgraded WR corps, that might not change so much in 2017. Veteran TE Brent Celek returns, but will continue to take a big back seat to Ertz in the passing game. PK Caleb Sturgis returns as the kicker, and is a solid fantasy producer, one on the borderline of being a fantasy starter in larger leagues.

Washington Redskins: The Redskins failed to make the playoffs in 2016, although they came close. QB Kirk Cousins had another big season, but the team franchise-tagged him again. If he doesn't sign a long-term deal by July 17th, he'll play out for them this year and likely become a free agent in 2018. Washington is screwing the pooch here. Pay the man. Otherwise, you could become like the Jets. Anyway, in fantasy terms, Cousins is overrated heading into 2017 without two big weapons in the receiving corps. We'll talk more about that later. QB Colt McCoy returns as the backup. In the running game, RB Matt Jones is still on the roster, but the team has moved on to RB Rob Kelley, coming off a decent half season of work. That said, the team drafted RB Samaje Perine, a player whom could take over the job by mid-season. With pass-catching RB Chris Thompson still on the roster, this looks more like a RBBC. In the passing game, WR DeSean Jackson and WR Pierre Garcon are gone, as the team decided to signed WR Terrelle Pryor and hope second-year WR Josh Doctson can stay healthy enough to start. Underrated WR Jamison Crowder's role will also expand, but questions remain surrounding the ability and productivity of this corps without Garcon and D-Jax. WR Ryan Grant returns for depth. At tight end, TE Jordan Reed is a clear STUD, but questions abound whether he can stay healthy. If you draft him, consider paring him with backup TE Vernon Davis (if you take a #3 TE), whom would start if Reed can't play. PK Dustin Hopkins returns after having a big first-half last year, but fading a bit down the stretch. Let's just say you can do better in terms of drafting a late-round fantasy kicker this summer.

That's a wrap for the two Eastern divisions. Be sure to join me over the coming weeks as I offer my First Thoughts on the other six divisions. All comments, complimentary or otherwise, are always welcome via our contact page. Let's talk fantasy football!

End.

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