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This series of articles will examine the fantasy impact of the offseason moves, both via free agency and through the NFL Draft.
The Cowboys seem to always come into the season with high hopes, only to disappoint. However, expectations are tempered already with the sad state of the defense. All of the pressure will be on the offense to win games.
Tony Romo returns to run the Dallas offense. His lack of postseason success will haunt him (and the team) until he leads the Cowboys deep into the playoffs. The Dallas quarterback puts up solid numbers, but it often seems after the outcome is settled. Veteran Brandon Weeden will back up Romo after the retirement of Kyle Orton. The starter is coming off a back injury so the ex-Browns passer could play a sizable role this season. He is an experienced passer and could be a fantasy starter if given the chance with the Cowboys receivers.
DeMarco Murray has battled injuries throughout his short career. But, when he has been on the field, the former Oklahoma star has flashed explosive ability and has improved every year as a pro. Lance Dunbar is his backup and will share touches this season. Dunbar glides with the ball in his hands and is an outstanding receiver. Last year, Dallas drafted Joseph Randle in the fifth round out of Oklahoma State to possibly be Murray's backup. Randle racked up the numbers in Stillwater, but his professional outlook is shadowed by the overall lack of explosiveness and inability to make tacklers miss. He has looked better this preseason. The improvement has come from better vision, seeing holes to cut back through. A runner lacking speed and quickness needs good vision and anticipation. With the poor defense, there may be an emphasis on the running game.
From most all accounts, Dez Bryant seems to have matured on – and off – the field. The hopes are high that Bryant will put up numbers similar to the top receivers in football. While still young, the sky is the limit for Bryant. He has a shot to be special, but needs Romo to play well. Miles Austin is now in Cleveland after Dallas allowed him to depart without much effort. Second-year Terrance Williams was selected in the third round in last years draft. Players are not drafted that high without high expectations for a long-term impact. Williams is a local product from Baylor and the expectations are rising for the youngster to replace Austin, and possibly have a larger role in the offense. Battling for a playing time in the slot will be Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley. Dallas will vary between utilizing three receivers and two tight ends so the third receiver may not be fantasy viable. In this year's draft, the team selected Devin Street. He is the player to own as insurance against the two outside receivers. Street has some size and upside.
Jason Witten has put up big numbers the past few seasons. He has a great rapport with Romo, and it shows on the field. Unless injured, the big tight end should be a favorite to finish in the top five players at the position again in 2014. Gavin Escobar was drafted a year ago to possibly be the heir apparent at the position. He is very athletic and could see the field more as the team uses two tight end sets more. Escobar will battle James Hanna for playing time. Both are better as receivers than blockers.
New York Giants
The Giants are an experienced team who may be lucky to win eight games. Much will depend on the play of the defense, especially the pass rush and secondary. One thing we know is to not count Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning out even with a terrible preseason worrying the fan base. They could surprise as the underdog for the division.
Eli Manning is back under center to direct the New York offense. His leadership qualities go overlooked at times. However, the younger Manning brother has the play makers to put up points if the defense can return to the glory days. A caveat is that Manning has not played well in training camp this year. If he is not performing at a high level, the Giants are a horrible offense. Curtis Painter and Ryan Nassib are battling to be the backup for Manning. Nassib has a big arm, but struggles with pocket movement and consistency on the passes good NFL starters are expected to make with regularity. Painter has a lead as of this writing.
New York has re-made the running back position each of the past three years. First, it was Brandon Jacobs who was sent packing. Then, last offseason, starting tailback Ahmad Bradshaw was shown the door. He has since joined the Indianapolis Colts. Next was the last pick of the first round of 2012 NFL Draft, David Wilson. He was very fast and explosive, but injured his neck early in the 2013 season and has since retired. Also gone is bruising Andre Brown. Rashad Jennings was signed from Oakland to lead the ground attack going forward. Jennings is a good runner and solid receiver. He is a passable player, but not strong enough to take over games. Peyton Hillis returns and will provide depth for the position. New York drafted Andre Williams in May to add depth and talent at the position. Williams was highly productive at Boston College. He is an inside runner who may get goal line carries, but is not a polished receiver of yet. His role could increase as the season progresses.
Hakeem Nicks found a soft free agent market for his services and signed a one-year deal in Indianapolis in hopes of reviving his career path. Victor Cruz is back and looks to lead the receiving corps in the new short-passing offense. Keep an eye on Rueben Randle. He did not play much the past two seasons, but is poised for a breakout campaign. Randle is a smooth athlete who glides into and out of his cuts. Odell Beckham, Jr was drafted in May to provide a speed element to the offense. Overall, this is a solid group of receivers who should give Manning an ample at a good campaign.
After Martellus Bennett was allowed to leave after one season in the Big Apple, the Giants have struggled to find a solid starter at tight end. This position is unsettled. Players competing for the starting gig are Adrien Robinson, Larry Donnell, Daniel Fells, and rookie Xavier Grimble. At this point, Donnell has a slight edge on the rest. Still, he is not on the fantasy radar.
Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly was a huge success in his first season running a NFL team. His fast-paced Ducks ran an unique offense and were successful in the collegiate ranks. It did not take long for Kelly to shape the Philadelphia offense into his vision.
The Kelly offense puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback position. We expect the Eagles to run a high number of plays in comparison to other teams, just like last year. This gives his offense a huge advantage. Nick Foles stepped up and showed tremendous composure and accuracy running the Kelly offense. He performed so well that many pundits are unsure he can duplicate the 2013 success. The Eagles signed Jets castoff Mark Sanchez to back up Foles. He will improve under Kelly and may be a starting quarterback again in the NFL. The team drafted Matt Barkley in last year's NFL Draft. Kelly has three former PAC 12 stars at the quarterback position. He has seen each play several games.
LeSean McCoy is a superstar and Kelly's offense puts him in positions to succeed. Most forget that he is still just 25 years old and is signed through 2017. Keep an eye on McCoy's nagging toe injury. It could impact his season. Bryce Brown was traded to Buffalo and could surprise for the Bills. Brown is talented. However, Philadelphia would not have traded Brown if the team lacked confidence in Chris Polk to complement McCoy. Polk is a player few are talking about this offseason but could have a huge role in the offense down the stretch. The running game should be the strength of the Eagles offense.
DeSean Jackson signed to play with arch-rival Washington. His speed will be missed. Jeremy Maclin will line up as a starter once again this season. This is a big season for Maclin to show he is healthy and can perform at a high level. He has been more promise than production so far in his young career. Riley Cooper and rookie Jordan Matthews will be the other two starters. Cooper is solid, but not a big play-maker. Matthews has not been consistent this preseason. He is a very talented rookie and will get an opportunity for a huge role in the offense. Veteran Brad Smith, Arrelious Benn, rookie Josh Huff, and Ifeanyi Momah will vie for playing time and a roster spot.
Philadelphia has plenty of depth at the tight end position. With Brent Celek and James Casey at the position, the selection of Zach Ertz in last year's draft was a swing for the fences. Celek and Casey are exceptional blockers and will be on the field often, especially with the way the offensive line played last season. Ertz is more of a receiver than blocker, but makes a strong complement. This is the year Ertz makes a strong play for the starting role. He is very talented and could be a future star at the position.
The expectations are rising in Washington this season. The team is filled with a core of young players anchoring the skill positions. Many would see this season as a failure if the Redskins miss the playoffs. The addition of head coach Jay Gruden has hopes for an improved offense. Any improvement has to begin at the quarterback position, Gruden's specialty.
Robert Griffin III III is still trying to shake the rust off after the knee injury – and subsequent surgery – that ended his 2012 season. In 2013, he looked to favor the knee and seemed to be limited. Griffin was an elite fantasy option before the injury and should return to that status once fully healthy. He has not looked confident – in his knee or the offense - this preseason. Fellow third-year player Kirk Cousins will play if Griffin misses action. Some have reported that Cousins has outplayed Griffin so far in training camp. In an interesting move, Colt McCoy was added as the third quarterback on the roster. He is just looking for reserve roles at this point in his career.
In 2012, Alfred Morris exploded onto the scene as a rookie but had a lackluster season last year. He is the lone tailback assured of getting major touches and could approach the 300-carry mark again. Behind Morris are Roy Helu, rookie Lache Seastrunk, Evan Royster, and Chris Thompson. Helu has disappointed since being drafted out of Nebraska but will be the change-of-pace back for the team. The rest are just middling options in a shallow backfield.
Pierre Garcon is healthy and expected to be very productive in the new Washington offense. He can get deep and make big plays in the open field. As mentioned above, DeSean Jackson was added in free agency. Jackson's speed should help the play-making of the receivers. These two pass catchers rival any in the league. Andre Roberts was signed from Arizona and looks to be the third receiver. He is a solid player, adding depth to a once-thin position. The one rookie to monitor is Ryan Grant. He has received rave reviews throughout training camp.
Jordan Reed is back and hopefully over his concussions. The concussions ended his rookie season prematurely. Reed's athleticism will make him a focal point in the offense once again. Behind him on the depth chart are Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul, neither are fantasy factors.
This division is Philadelphia's for the taking. Washington has a chance to sneak in with better play from Griffin. Both the Cowboys and the Giants will struggle to win eight games. This might be a very long season for both organizations.
Feel free to email me (Tefertiller@Footballguys.com) with feedback. Also, I am on Twitter (www.Twitter.com/JeffTefertiller), LinkedIn, and Google+, so you can ask me questions on one of these as well.