2018 First Fantasy Football Thoughts: AFC/NFC East

by Michael Nazarek - 7/10/2018

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 actually made the playoffs in 2017, but still decided to trade QB Tyrod Taylor to the Browns this offseason. As a result, the team is left with unproven QB A.J. McCarron, second-year QB Nathan Peterman, and rookie QB Josh Allen to battle to start. What's a fantasy owner to do? Wait until a starter is named, and then consider him as an interesting #3 fantasy QB to be possibly targeted late in your draft. In the running game, veteran RB LeSean McCoy returns as the sole consistent fantasy STUD on the team (his current legal issue not withstanding). As long as he stays healthy, McCoy should be a top 10 fantasy producer even if he's getting older. Veteran RB Chris Ivory was signed to back up McCoy as his handcuff. In the passing game, WR Sammy Watkins is long gone, as the team drafted WR Zay Jones last year. He struggled in his rookie season, while the team acquired WR Kelvin Benjamin via trade mid-season. Benjamin should be the #1 WR in 2018, but how well he produces is unknown due to the uncertainty at the QB position. WR Andre Holmes returns for depth, while the team signed WR Jeremy Kerley to fill the #3 slot WR role. How much Kerley has left in the tank is a big unknown. Veteran TE Charles Clay returns as the starter, but balky knees keep his fantasy value iffy at best, and the QB situation doesn't help. TE Nick O'Leary is the backup, but hardly a consistent fantasy producer. At kicker, veteran PK Steven Hauschka returns, but the Bills offense (with inexperience at QB) seems unlikely to provide Hauschka with enough scoring chances to be a clear fantasy starter.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins slumped to 6-10 in 2017. Veteran QB Jay Cutler was signed to replace injured QB Ryan Tannehill (torn ACL), but struggled for consistency. No big surprise. Cutler is gone now, and Tannehill is healthy and ready to start. Too bad I still don't care for him. He's too inconsistent, and now he's lost WR Jarvis Landry to the Browns. I'm avoiding Tannehill this summer in my fantasy drafts. QB Brock Osweiler replaces QB Matt Moore as the primary backup. I'll just say that Tannehill better not get hurt again. In the running game, RB Jay Ajayi was traded last mid-season, allowing RB Kenyan Drake to emerge was a serious starter with breakaway speed. RB Damien Williams is gone, as the team signed ageless RB Frank Gore to back up Drake. Well... the coaches want you to believe Gore has a chance to start, but that is not happening. That said, if you draft Drake, you would be smart to also draft Gore as a handcuff. In the passing game, with Landry gone, WR DeVante Parker and WR Kenny Stills are left as the lead wideouts. Parker has always suffered through nagging injury issues, and showed to be nothing more than an inconsistent producer. I'd prefer to wait in my draft and consider Stills for depth. WR Leonte Carroo and WR Jakeem Grant return to battle for the #3 WR job, but that slot is unlikely to produce much for fantasy. At tight end, veteran TE Julius Thomas is gone, as the team signed TE MarQueis Gray to battle rookie TE Mike Gesicki to start. Gesicki should eventually start, but he struggled during OTAs, making him a risky pick for fantasy, at least in the short term. TE A.J. Derby and TE Gavin Escobar could make this battle interesting. Rookie PK Jason Sanders was drafted to kick. You can avoid him in your draft due to the inconsistent scoring that will occur on this unit in 2018.

New England Patriots: The Patriots nearly won it all again last season, but ultimately lost to the Eagles in the big game. 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. Backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo was traded to the 49ers last mid-season, as the team signed QB Brian Hoyer in November to back up Brady in 2018. As for the running game, RB Dion Lewis left via free agency for Tennessee, but the team re-signed RB Rex Burkhead and drafted RB Sony Michel to compete to start. Look for Michel to eventually start, while Burkhead sees a lot of action in the red zone and in the passing game. RB James White remains the pass-catching back, while RB Mike Gillislee returns for depth. In the passing game, slot WR Julian Edelman returns, but faces a four-game suspension to begin the season. WR Brandin Cooks was traded to the Rams, leaving WR Chris Hogan as the other starter, while veteran WR Jordan Matthews was signed to play the slot, at least until Edelman returns. Veteran WR Danny Amendola also is gone, leaving WR Cordarelle Patterson, WR Malcolm Mitchell, and veteran WR Kenny Britt to vie for playing time. It may not be ideal, but the Patriots and Brady always seem to make it work. At tight end, veteran TE Rob Gronkowski returns and should stay near the top of the fantasy tight end category as long as his health holds up. Veteran TE Dwayne Allen returns as the #2 TE, although he disappointed in a major way in 2017, meaning he could be gone come September if he doesn't improve this summer. TE Troy Niklas was signed, and could push Allen off the roster. PK Stephen Gostkowski remains an elite fantasy kicker. Bottom Line: He'll see plenty of scoring chances once again in 2018.

New York Jets: The Jets surprised in a good way for much of 2017. That said, they still missed the playoffs. Journeyman QB Josh McCown was re-signed and will likely begin the season as the starter, but QB Sam Darnold was drafted in April and will push to start soon. The Jets said adios to QB Christian Hackenberg, and still have QB Teddy Bridgewater on the roster. The smart fantasy move here is to consider Darnold as a #3 QB for your roster and avoid the rest for now since the starter is uncertain. In the running game, veteran RB Matt Forte retired, as the team signed RB Isaiah Crowell to likely start, while veteran RB Bilal Powell sees action in the passing game. There is some talk that Powell could be released, as the team goes with RB Elijah McGuire and veteran RB Thomas Rawls as the backups. In the passing game, WR Quincy Enunwa returns from a neck injury that cost him all of 2017. WR Robby Anderson is the other starter, while veteran WR Jermaine Kearse will be the #3 WR. Anderson is the big play receiver, but could face a suspension due to his law troubles, making Enunwa a very interesting late round fantasy sleeper. WR Terrelle Pryor was also signed, but will have to make a very positive impression in camp if he's to stick on the roster. WR ArDarius Stewart and WR Devin Smith return for depth, but have little value. TE Austin Seferian Jenkins flew the coop to Jacksonville in free agency, leaving TE Clive Walford and TE Jordan Leggett to battle to start. Yuck. The kicker is PK Cairo Santos, but can only hope to be a decent fantasy backup at best due to inconsistent scoring chances in 2018.

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys struggled when RB Ezekiel Elliott was suspended and it cost them any chance at the playoffs in 2017. Entering 2018, QB Dak Prescott returns as the team leader, but loses two big targets in WR Dez Bryant (cut) and TE Jason Witten (retired). It is these two losses that make him more of a good fantasy backup then an excellent starter. QB Cooper Rush is the inexperienced backup. In the running game, RB Ezekiel Elliott remains one of the elite tailbacks in the league and should be drafted with a top 4 pick this summer. RB Alfred Morris is gone, leaving RB Rod Smith as the primary backup. In the passing game, the release of WR Dez Bryant opens the door for every wideout to step up and try to replace an inconsistent and aging veteran. The Cowboys signed WR Allen Hurns, and he's worked hard to develop quick chemistry with Prescott to fill that void. Hurns is an interesting mid-round fantasy sleeper this summer. Veteran WR Terrance Williams was re-signed, and WR Cole Beasley returns to also help the situation. WR Brice Butler and WR Lucky Whitehead are long gone. At tight end, the team has nothing but questions with Witten retired. TE Rico Gathers, TE Geoff Swaim, and undrafted free-agent TE Blake Jarwin will compete to start later this summer. This could get ugly. Veteran PK Dan Bailey returns as one of the best kickers in the league, but the offense is likely to be more inconsistent without Bryant and Witten, making Bailey a better fantasy backup than starter.

New York Giants: My favorite team struggled with injuries and such to finish 2017 with the second worst record in the league. That said, all the coaches were fired, and veteran QB Eli Manning returns as the starter with the new coaching staff's full support. Manning is still good enough to help the team get back on track, but his days as a fantasy starter are over. He's a decent fantasy backup in larger leagues this summer. Second-year QB Davis Webb is the backup. In the running game, RB Paul Perkins is gone, as the team drafted RB Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick in April to start. He's an elite tailback, and a solid first round fantasy draft pick. RB Orleans Darkwa and RB Shane Vereen are gone, as the team signed veteran RB Jonathan Stewart to compete with RB Wayne Gallman for the backup duties. Don't be surprised if Gallman beats out Stewart in camp for the job, since Stewart looked slow in OTAs. In the passing game, WR Odell Beckham Jr. is coming off a broken ankle that limited him to a handful of games in 2017. That said, he's healthy now and remains one of the biggest playmakers in the league at wideout, keeping him an elite fantasy WR. WR Brandon Marshall is gone, leaving WR Sterling Shepard as the #2 WR, while the team signed WR Cody Latimer to compete with WR Roger Lewis and WR Travis Rudolph for the #3 WR job. At tight end, second-year TE Evan Engram emerged as a real scoring threat in his rookie season. Some say he's an elite performer right now, but I say he needs a bit more seasoning. TE Rhett Ellison and TE Jerell Adams provide depth behind Engram. Second-year PK Aldrick Rosas needs to kick better to keep his job this summer, meaning he should be avoided in fantasy drafts.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles surprisingly won it all in 2017. QB Carson Wentz led the way for most of the season, but a torn ACL knocked him out late, giving veteran QB Nick Foles the reigns, and he got the job done. Wentz should be good to go for week #1, making him a solid fantasy starter. Foles will back him up once again. In the running game, RB LeGarrette Blount is gone, leaving RB Jay Ajayi as the workhorse back. That should make him a decent #2 fantasy RB despite the presence of veteran RB Darren Sproles and RB Corey Clement. RB Wendell Smallwood also returns for depth. In the passing game, WR Alshon Jeffery returns as the #1 WR, while the team signed veteran WR Mike Wallace to replace the departed WR Torrey Smith. WR Nelson Agholor surprised in a good way, and returns as the slot receiver. WR Mack Hollins returns for depth, and WR Markus Wheaton was added in the off-season. At tight end, TE Zach Ertz returns as an elite fantasy producer, but TE Trey Burton signed with Chicago, leaving rookie TE Dallas Goedert to battle TE Richard Rodgers for the #2 TE job. Veteran TE Brent Celek is gone. Second-year PK Jake Elliott returns, coming off a big rookie season. He is a top 10 fantasy kicker in 2018.

Washington Redskins: The Redskins failed to make the playoffs in 2017 once again, and the team decided to acquire QB Alex Smith and let QB Kirk Cousins go via free agency to the highest bidder (Minnesota). Smith got a sweet deal coming off a career year in 2017 as a Chief. This is a downgrade for the Redskins, but they don't seem to care. There is no way Smith comes close to repeating his numbers from last year as a Redskin in 2018 with less talent around him. QB Colt McCoy returns as the backup. In the running game, RB Rob Kelley suffered through an injury-plagued season, but returns in 2018. That said, it's pretty clear that rookie RB Derrius Guice will start, while second-year RB Samaje Perine is likely the primary backup. Kelley could be traded if he impresses this summer. Pass-catching RB Chris Thompson had a breakout season until he broke his leg last year. He returns healthy and could lead this team is production again from the tailback position if Guice struggles. In the passing game, WR Terrelle Pryor is gone, leaving WR Josh Doctson and WR Jamison Crowder as the likely starters, while RB Paul Richardson was signed to be the #3 WR. WR Brian Quick and WR Maurice Harris are on board for depth. WR Ryan Grant flew the coop in free agency. At tight end, TE Jordan Reed is a clear STUD when healthy, but a toe issue kept him off the field for most of 2017, and may not be 100% even now. Not good. Regardless, if you draft Reed this summer, you must also draft veteran backup TE Vernon Davis as a handcuff, since he would start if Reed can't play. PK Dustin Hopkins returns, but 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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