by Michael Nazarek - 7/10/2019
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...
Buffalo Bills: The Bills flopped to 6-10 in 2018 after making the playoffs in 2017. That said, rookie QB Josh Allen came on late in the season, and there is hope he can turn things around in 2019. That said, his ceiling doesn't appear to be one of a fantasy starter, at least not yet. In the running game, veteran RB LeSean McCoy returns after a dreadful season to remain the starter. Veteran RB Frank Gore was signed to back him up, while the team drafted RB Devin Singletary with an eye on the future. They also addded veteran RB T.J. Yeldon. With veteran RB Chris Ivory gone, what would I do here? Avoid the veterans in my draft and consider taking a flier on Singletary late. In the passing game, WR Zay Jones returns, but veteran WR Kelvin Benjamin is gone, while the team signed free-agents WR John Brown and WR Cole Beasley to boost the unit. Apparently, Allen likes Brown, since they hooked up well in OTAs, while Beasley is said to be favored to lead the team in catches playing out of the slot. That said, I wouldn't classify any of the Bills receivers as anything more than fantasy depth picks this summer. Veteran TE Charles Clay is gone, as the team signed TE Tyler Kroft and TE Lee Smith in free agency. Unfortunately, Kroft broke his foot in May, while Smith is just a blocking TE. Kroft could begin the season on the PUP list, so it's best to avoid this position in Buffalo during your fantasy draft. At kicker, veteran PK Steven Hauschka returns, but the Bills offense still seems unlikely to provide Hauschka with enough scoring chances to be a clear fantasy starter.
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins went 7-9 in 2018. QB Ryan Tannehill struggled most of the season, and was traded to the Titans this offseason, where he will back up QB Marcus Mariota. That left a big hole to fill, as the Dolphins signed veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to possibly lead the team in 2019 until a QB of the future enters the picture. That player may be QB Josh Rosen, whom was acquired in a trade from the Cardinals. If the Dolphins are smart, they will allow Fitzpatrick to start, giving Rosen time to develop, but who knows what will happen, which is why I'm avoiding the situation in fantasy. In the running game, RB Kenyan Drake returns, and could possibly be more of a workhorse starter with former HC Adam Gase now in New York. Veteran RB Frank Gore is gone, leaving second-year RB Kalen Ballage to share time with Drake in the backfield. Notice that I said share time, not back up. Some believe Ballage should start. That is why Drake still makes for a shaky #2 RB for fantasy in 2019. In the passing game, WR DeVante Parker and WR Kenny Stills return, while WR Jakeem Grant (leg) and WR Albert Wilson (hip) are still rehabbing injuries. With the QB situation unsettled, Stills may be your best bet for fantasy, but he's always been hit/miss in his production. At tight end, second-year TE Mike Gesicki is expected to start, but struggled his rookie season to gain much traction. Buyer beware if you draft him as anything more than a late-round flier. Veteran TE Dwayne Allen was signed for depth. Second-year PK Jason Sanders returns as the kicker. You can avoid him in your draft due to the inconsistent scoring that will occur with this unit in 2019.
New England Patriots: The Patriots won it all again last season. QB Tom Brady remains the key cog to a team that can do just enough to win, at least he did in 2018. This season may be different, as players such as TE Rob Gronkowski (retired) are gone. As a result, Brady is no longer a solid fantasy starter, but more of a good backup, one that will likely produce a few big games here and there. As for the running game, second-year RB Sony Michel returns as the starter, while pass-catching RB James White and RB Rex Burkhead also remain on the roster. Michel had off-season knee surgery, so the Patriots took no chances by drafting RB Damien Harris. If Harris develops quickly, Burkhead could be the odd-man out. In the passing game, slot WR Julian Edelman returns, but WR Chris Hogan was not re-signed. WR Cordarelle Patterson flew the coop in free agency, leaving WR Phillip Dorsett and rookie WR N'Keal Harry as the other starters. That is, unless newly signed WR Demaryius Thomas can recapture some of his lost youth coming off a torn Achilles. Frankly, there is talk that Thomas may not make the final roster come September. The team did manage a late signing of free-agent WR Dontrelle Inman, and he's an intruging option. At tight end, with veteran TE Rob Gronkowski retired, veteran TE Ben Watson was signed to come out of retirement, but he's suspended for the first four games. That leaves TE Matt LaCosse as a possible deep sleeper option, at least in September. TE Stephen Anderson and rookie TE Andrew Beck are also deep options. PK Stephen Gostkowski remains a solid fantasy kicker, even if he's no longer an elite player. Bottom Line: He should still see plenty of scoring chances once again in 2019, and maybe more FGAs than usual.
New York Jets: The Jets failed to field a winner again in 2018, but there is hope that a new GM and coaches will finally turn it around. At least they seem to have a quality starting QB in QB Sam Darnold. He showed some growth in a rookie season that was derailed a bit by injury. As such, Darnold may be worthy of a fantasy backup pick in larger leagues this season, but does have the talent to become a fantasy starter down the road if things break right. Journeyman veteran backup QB Josh McCown retired, so it's Darnold or bust this year. In the running game, veteran RB Isaiah Crowell is gone, as the team went all in to sign RB LeVeon Bell. Bell took all of last year off, so he should be fresh and ready to show he deserves that big contract. That, and his many talents, make him a clear top 10 fantasy RB. Meanwhile, RB Elijah McGuire is in line to back him up, but the team also signed RB Ty Montgomery and re-signed veteran RB Bilal Powell. Those three will battle for the scraps Bell leaves behind. In the passing game, WR Quincy Enunwa and WR Robby Anderson return, while WR Jermaine Kearse and WR Terrelle Pryor are long gone. Veteran WR Jamison Crowder was signed to man the slot, while WR Josh Bellamy was signed for depth. Anderson likely has the most value from this group, but barely cracks my top 25 fantasy WRs. At tight end, second-year TE Chris Herndon made his mark with 500+ yards receiving and four scores his rookie season. He is a nice fantasy sleeper for 2019. TE Daniel Brown and TE Eric Tomlinson will provide depth at the position. Veteran PK Chandler Catanzaro was signed to kick, replacing PK Jason Myers, who took a Pro Bowl season with him to Seattle when the Jets didn't want to pony up the money to keep him. I'd think twice about drafting Catanzaro, since his recent kicking has been less than desirable.
Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys made the playoffs last year, and nearly made it to the big game. Much of that was due to QB Dak Prescott, whom returns as the team leader in 2019. He was one of the most productive fantasy QBs in the second half of 2018, and is a solid top 10 fantasy QB this year. Yes, believe it. In the running game, RB Ezekiel Elliott produced another elite season, and returns as the do-all back. He caught even more passes last year, and remains a top tier fantasy option. Backup RB Rod Smith is gone, leaving RB Darius Jackson as the new backup. At wideout, the big trade to acquire WR Amari Cooper worked out to propel the Cowboys into the playoffs in 2018. He returns as the lead receiver, and top 10-12 fantasy WR. Second-year WR Michael Gallup is primed for a breakout season in 2019 as the #2 WR opposite Cooper. He is a great fantasy sleeper to target in the middle rounds of your draft. Veteran WR Randall Cobb was signed to man the slot, with WR Cole Beasley moving on in free agency. I'm not a fan of the injury-prone Cobb. Veteran WR Allen Hurns (broken ankle) returns for depth, while WR Terrance Williams was not re-signed. At tight end, veteran TE Jason Witten unretired, but is two years older since retiring, and should not be counted upon for consistent fantasy numbers in 2019. That said, he could be considered as a fantasy backup, one with a few good games left in him. TE Blake Jarwin will back up Witten. PK Brett Maher settled into the kicking role last year and returns in 2019. He is a middle-of-the-pack fantasy kicker, so you can do better elsewhere.
New York Giants: My favorite team struggled again last year. GM Dave Gettleman decided to get rid of all distractions, and traded my favorite player, WR Odell Beckham Jr., to the Cleveland Browns. Not smart. Yes, I'm pissed. But what can we do? Anyway, veteran QB Eli Manning returns as the starter for his 16th season. With the loss of OBJ, Manning is not even a decent fantasy backup. In addition, rookie QB Daniel Jones is likely to take over at some point in 2019. In the running game, the team got it right by drafting RB Saquon Barkley last year. As a result, they not only got the rookie of the year, but also the top fantasy RB for 2019. Barkley can do it all, and in 2019, he will be forced into that role without OBJ to take the heat off him. Backup RB Jonathan Stewart is gone, leaving RB Wayne Gallman, RB Paul Perkins, and newly signed RB Rod Smith to battle for the scraps left behind Barkley. In the passing game, the Giants signed WR Golden Tate to replace OBJ. Tate is good, but he's not OBJ. Tate will start opposite WR Sterling Shepard, as both rate as decent #3 fantasy WRs in larger leagues. WR Cody Latimer, WR Corey Coleman and WR Bennie Fowler are likely to battle for the #3 WR job, which has little to no real fantasy value. At tight end, third-year TE Evan Engram returns as a top 5 fantasy TE. He can do it all, but his scoring chances could be limited without OBJ to spread the field. TE Rhett Ellison returns as the backup behind Engram. Third-year PK Aldrick Rosas returns as a quality kicker, but sporadic scoring chances make him only a middle-of-the-road fantasy option.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles snuck into the playoffs a season after winning it all. Once again, an injury took down QB Carson Wentz (back), as veteran QB Nick Foles led the team nearly back to the big game. The Eagles let Foles walk in free agency, as they believe Wentz remains their starter of the present and future. When healthy, Wentz is a top 10 fantasy QB, but it's been two seasons in a row where an injury has ended his season early. If you want to gamble that Wentz will stay healthy, by all means go for it. QB Nate Sudfeld will back up Wentz in 2019, so the Eagles better hope he stays healthy. In the running game, RB Jay Ajayi (torn ACL) was not re-signed, as the team traded to acquire RB Jordan Howard from the Bears. They also drafted RB Miles Sanders in April, a more all-around talent. Add in RB Corey Clement, RB Wendell Smallwood, and RB Josh Adams, and you have one heck of a RBBC. That is what the coaches want to use in 2019, but I believe at some point Sanders will earn a bigger role. In the passing game, WR Alshon Jeffery returns as the #1 WR, but they also acquired WR DeSean Jackson from the Buccaneers to fill the deep role. WR Nelson Agholor also returns to man the slot. Do not overdraft Jeffery, as his time in Philly has made him TD-dependent for the big games. WR Mack Hollins returns for depth, while the team drafted WR J Arcega-Whiteside for the future. At tight end, TE Zach Ertz returns as an elite fantasy producer, but second-year TE Dallas Goedert made an impact his rookie saeason, and looks to grow into a more complete TE in 2019. Third-year PK Jake Elliott returns, coming off an inconistent season. He is still a top 10 fantasy kicker in 2019.
Washington Redskins: The Redskins failed to make the playoffs in 2018 once again, and lost QB Alex Smith to a devastating leg injury as well. Smith is not expected to play this year, and his NFL career could be over. As a result, the team signed veteran QB Case Keenum to compete with returning QB Colt McCoy and rookie QB Dwayne Haskins. This is one situation to avoid unless you want to draft Haskins as your #3 fantasy QB and take a wait-and-see aproach. In the running game, rookie RB Derrius Guice tore his ACL last summer and missed the entire season. As a result, the team signed veteran RB Adrian Peterson, and he produced another 1,000-yard season. That said, the team expects Guice to be ready to start come week #1 this season. They did hedge their bet by re-signing Peterson for 2019. RB Chris Thompson returns as the pass-catching back. RB Samaje Perine returns for depth, while RB Rob Kelley is gone. In the passing game, WR Josh Doctson and RB Paul Richardson return, but WR Jamison Crowder flew the free agency coup to New York. The team drafted WR Terry McLaurin and WR Trey Quinn is expected to man the slot. Who? Yup, the cupboard is fairly bare here. At tight end, TE Jordan Reed is a clear STUD when healthy, but a toe issue limited his effectiveness in 2018. Sound familar? He may be on his final chance to keep a starting job with Washington, but they badly need him to produce. I'm avoiding him in all my drafts this summer. Veteran backup TE Vernon Davis returns as the handcuff to Reed. PK Dustin Hopkins returns, but let's just say you can do better elsewhere 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!
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