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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. This year should be no different. All of the pressure will be on the offense to win games. The team has not invested much on the defensive side of the ball. A suspended Greg Hardy is not enough.
Tony Romo returns to run the Dallas offense. His lack of postseason success will haunt him (and the team) until he leads the Cowboys to the Super Bowl. The Dallas quarterback puts up solid numbers with great receivers in a division full of weak defenses. He will continue to be a fantasy starter option. Veteran Brandon Weeden will back up Romo once again. The team will only go as far as Romo can take them. Weeden has struggled throughout his professional career.
After allowing him to carry the ball a whopping 393 times a year ago, the Cowboys decided not to re-sign pending free agent DeMarco Murray. Murray had 450 total touches on the season and the team wondered if the star ball carrier would be worth the money needed to re-sign. He bolted for division foe Philadelphia. Dallas thought that much of Murray's success was due to the mammoth offensive line. Time will tell. Darren McFadden was signed from Oakland and he will play a part in the running back committee. He does not have much explosion left. There is talk that Joseph Randle could be the lead back. We have our doubts. Yes, Randle put up yards and scores in Oklahoma State's wide open offense. For the record, that was the same offense (in 2012) that Brandon Weeden shined. We now know it was the offensive scheme, not the talent. Randle should only be viewed as a bit player. Lance Dunbar could also play well enough to earn playing time. Dunbar glides with the ball in his hands and is an outstanding receiver. Ryan Williams is also in the picture if he can return to his pre-injury self, but it is unlikely. One player to monitor is recent signee – and Baylor alum – Lache Seastruck. While each of these players has things they do well, the lack of talent is apparent, no matter the quality of offensive line play. We still think a veteran ball carrier could be signed to lead the group in touches.
From most all accounts, Dez Bryant seems to have matured on – and off – the field. His only negative is a possible holdout as he pushes the Cowboys for a contract extension. Bryant is a free agent after the season and wants to sign a long-term deal. While still young, the sky is the limit for Bryant. He has put up numbers at a Hall of Fame pace, but needs Romo to play well. Third-year Terrance Williams has looked great so far in training camp and could emerge as a quality weapon opposite Bryant. Williams is another local product from Baylor and the expectations are rising for the youngster. Cole Beasley will be the slot receiver after Dwayne Harris signed a surprisingly large contract with the New York Giants. Dallas will vary between utilizing three receivers and two tight ends so Beasley as the third receiver may not be fantasy viable many weeks. In last 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 in the past, but those are in the rear view mirror. While still trusted by Romo, the ability to pick up yards after the catch is now a thing of the past. Gavin Escobar was drafted two years 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.
The Giants are an experienced team who may win enough contests to squeak into the playoffs. 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. 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. The weapons are there for Manning to have a career season. If he is not performing at a high level, the Giants are a horrible offense. Ryan Nassib should 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. Needless to say, but the team has NO SHOT at the playoffs if their starting quarterback goes down to injury. However, this could be said about most every team.
New York has re-made the running back position each of the past three years. First, it was Brandon Jacobs who was sent packing seemingly in his prime. Then, last offseason, starting tailback Ahmad Bradshaw was shown the door. He joined the Indianapolis Colts, but is currently suspended one game and a free agent. 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. This year, the new dimension will be the addition of Shane Vereen. He will be an asset in the passing game. Vereen is a mismatch for a linebacker in coverage. Rashad Jennings returns to lead the ground attack, especially on early downs. Jennings is a good runner and solid receiver. He is a passable player, but not strong enough to take over games. Second-year Andre Williams 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.
As stated above, Manning has an awesome group of receivers to target. Odell Beckham, Jr. came on strong the second half of his rookie season. He should be the “go to” receiver in year two. Victor Cruz is working his way back from injury and looks to be on track for starting week one. Add in Rueben Randle and it is easy to see why many are excited about the Giants passing attack. Randle did not play much the past two seasons, but is poised for a breakout campaign. Dwayne Harris and Corey Washington offer great depth. With this group of receivers, Manning will have some monster games.
Larry Donnell emerged to become the starting tight end and excelled. He has good hands and has earned the trust of Manning. Daniel Fells will play in two tight end sets, or if Donnell is injured. Adrien Robinson is also in the mix.
Few coaches have been as controversial as former Oregon coach Chip Kelly. He has tasted success with the Eagles and is looking to do things his way. His fast-paced Oregon Ducks ran an unique offense and were successful in the collegiate ranks. It did not take long for Kelly to similarly shape the Philadelphia offense into his vision. He has gotten rid of almost all of the players remaining from the previous regime.
The Kelly offense puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback position. When Philadelphia traded for Sam Bradford, the expectations soared. It is not as though many believe in Bradford's talent or ability to remain healthy, but it was more of an indictment of departed Nick Foles. The team traded for an expensive quarterback in the last year of his rookie contract. There is even talk of Philadelphia extending Bradford before he plays a down. Last offseason, the Eagles signed Jets castoff Mark Sanchez to be the backup. He will improve in year two under Kelly and may regain the starting job by midseason in the NFL. The team drafted Matt Barkley in the 2013 NFL Draft. Tim Tebow is also with the team this offseason.
LeSean McCoy was traded to Buffalo in a deal that brought in linebacker Kiko Alonso and a draft pick. McCoy was not happy with the transaction, but seems to have made peace with the situation. Philadelphia then signed DeMarco Murray from Dallas. We are leery that Murray will be able to find the same level of success in Philadelphia given the large downgrade in offensive lines to run behind. Also signed was Ryan Mathews from San Diego. In fact, Mathews agreed on the deal before Murray signed and many wondered aloud whether the Eagles would honor the deal. The answer was a “yes.” This duo gives Philadelphia one of the better running back tandems in the NFL. Darren Sproles also returns to his role in the passing game. This is a formidable trio of backs and we have faith in Kelly to get the most out of each, even if it is at the expense of fantasy owners.
In each of the last two seasons, the Eagles have lost their top-perfoming receiver. First it was DeSean Jackson in 2014 who signed to play with arch-rival Washington. Then, this offseason, Jeremy Maclin bolted for Kansas City to be reunited with former head coach Andy Reid. Jordan Matthews was drafted last year to assume the WR1 role one day. This is that day. He played well as a rookie. Even with the strong season, his ceiling is limited as Matthews excels more running routes than breaking tackles after the catch. This season, Nelson Agholor was drafted. Agholor is fast. We will not be surprised if/when the rookie passes Matthews as the top receiving option. This is a promising pair of pass catchers. Riley Cooper, Josh Huff, and Miles Austin will vie for the WR3 spot. None of the three inspire confidence, but Kelly likes making lemonade out of lemons.
Philadelphia has plenty of depth at the tight end position. Zach Ertz has emerged to be the starting tight end. He is a strong receiver who has improved his blocking. Veteran Brent Celek will be used as a blocker at the position. Ertz is a budding star and will ease the void at the WR3 position.
The expectations are rising in Washington after a pitiful 2014 season. Last year was disappointing on many levels for coach Jay Gruden and staff. The team is filled with a core of solid players anchoring the skill positions. Many will see the 2015 campaign as a “make or break” year for the coach who could be jettisoned with another poor season. His future is tied to the play of his quarterback.
Robert Griffin III III is still trying to return to his pre-injury form from the knee injury in 2012. He does not seem to have the same level of confidence in the knee to make plays with his feet as before. We are hopeful that year two in the Gruden offense will bring comfort and confidence to the still-young quarterback. Griffin was a strong fantasy option before the injury and could return to that status. Fellow fourth-year player Kirk Cousins will play if Griffin misses action. We are of the belief that Cousins would be the starter if the Shanahans still ran the show in Washington. Gruden likes Griffin more than Cousins so that is not an option. Last year, Colt McCoy was added as the third quarterback on the roster. He is just looking for reserve roles at this point in his career. The success – or failure – of the offense will rest on the quarterback position.
In 2012, Alfred Morris exploded onto the scene as a rookie but has not been able to approach that success since. Morris is a grinder who is at his best when the focal point of the offense. The offense needs Morris to play well in order to keep the pressure off the tenuous quarterback position. With Roy Helu signing in Oakland, the team drafted Matt Jones to play behind Morris. Jones is a thumper who has good explosion but is limited by his vision. He frequently runs into the backs of his linemen. Jones is a good receiver and could supplant Morris on passing downs. Silas Redd and Chris Thompson will offer depth and wait for an injury in order to see the field. Thompson was a speedster at Florida State and could offer situational value if recovered from the neck injury.
Even though Pierre Garcon was healthy and expected to be the top receiver a year ago, it was DeSean Jackson who became Washington's top pass catcher in 2014. Jackson offers big-play ability the offense desperately needs. He can get deep and make big plays in the open field. There has been talk from Gruden and the offensive coaches that they need to get Garcon more involved this season. While it sounds like coach speak, the team needs Garcon and Jackson to make plays in order to help Griffin. Last year, Andre Roberts was signed from Arizona and looks to be the third receiver. He is a solid, yet unspectacular player, adding depth to a once-thin position. Rookie Jamison Crowder was drafted to push Roberts for slot receiver duties. Crowder could easily win the job by midseason. The one receiver to monitor is Ryan Grant. He received rave reviews throughout the 2014 training camp and will benefit from his second training camp.
Jordan Reed should be back from his knee procedure by training camp but there is trepidation regarding the athletic tight end's future. He has battled concussions throughout his professional career, and added knee problems to the mix. For those who do not remember, it was a series of concussions which ended Reed's rookie season prematurely. When healthy, Reed's athleticism make's him a focal point in the offense. Niles Paul played well when Reed was injured last season. There have been great reports out of training camp regarding Paul. He is a player to pick up off the waiver wire (or cheap via trade) until we know more about the health of Reed's knee. Logan Paulsen is not a fantasy option and should be avoided regardless of what happens to the two players above him on the depth chart.
This division is Philadelphia's for the taking. Many think Dallas has a chance to be in the mix, but we have major doubts regarding the running game sans Murray and the team has not addressed the defense. If all goes perfectly, the Giants have a shot to win the division, even though making a wildcard push is more likely. Washington has a chance to break .500 with better play from Griffin. Many talk about the offenses of these four teams, but each has lost major talent on the defensive side of the ball the past three years.
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.