Over the next few weeks I’ll give an overview of the fantasy-relevant quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends in each division. In the interest of keeping these columns under 10,000 words, rather than going into substantial detail on each player (there are plenty of sources for that), I tried to give you about a briefer Cliff Notes version of my opinion. I will update these entries as more news develops and once pre-season starts.
NFC East – Burgeoning Juggernauts – It hasn’t been the case for as long as I’ve been playing Fantasy Football, but the NFC East should produce a fairly sizable number of fantasy starters this season.
Dallas Cowboys: The problem with Dallas is consistency. They are frequently the preseason favorites in this division, and they frequently disappoint. I think this year, with the Giants and Eagles favored over them in most power rankings, they could be a dangerous underdog.
Tony Romo definitely a QB1 with upside if the Cowboys do well, but consistency and injuries could be an issue. If you don’t get the top-tier QBs, I’d still take Michael Vick, Eli Manning and possibly Philip Rivers over him.
Jason Witten is about as predictable as they come in the tight end position, which is nice, but thanks to Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, I think the price will be too high even for the tier-1b tight ends (anything earlier than round 6).
DeMarco Murray is on the cusp of being a top-10 running back and will be gone by the end of the second round. A broken ankle late last season may cause some people to pass on him, but he should be 100% healthy, and I would take him over Trent Richardson or Jamaal Charles, who are going around the same time.
Felix Jones is definitely not the workhorse back that Dallas suggested he could be, but with three 100+ yard games last year he showed flashes of greatness. I think he’s definitely worth a roster stash as a high upside flex option, and I will be looking for him around the 9th or 10th round.
Dez Bryant has the physicality and talent you’d want in a WR1, but a questionable work ethic and shady personal life (most recently arrested for beating on his mom) hold me back from endorsing him. He could have a breakout year this year, but there are plenty of safer options around his draft position (Mike Wallace, Jordy Nelson, Percy Harvin, Steve Smith.)
Miles Austin got everyone excited after his 2009 season and has been disappointing people ever since. I think 2012 will be a resurgent year for him, and I’d be happy to get him in round 4 or 5 as my WR2.
Philadelphia Eagles: The “dream team” is back, and, despite lackluster performance in 2011, are facing the same high expectations for 2012. Will they succeed? If Michael Vick can stay healthy, I think they will.
Michael Vick kicked off his career in Philly with a bang (I still can’t think about what he did to my Redskins in 2010) and was highly touted going into last year. Those who drafted him were sorry they did. But this year, facing more moderate expectations, I think he’ll make owners happy. I’d even take him over Cam Newton…just as long as I get a solid QB2 as well.
Brent Celek will be one of the last tight ends drafted in most leagues (if drafted at all), but I think will be a good value pick up for those who wait. His upside may be limited, but he’s an integral part of an Eagles offense that’s likely to put up a lot of points, so he should be fairly reliable.
LeSean McCoy is a clear featured running back in a good offense, making him easily the #3 player in this year’s draft but wouldn’t surprise people to be #1 by season end. His receptions make him especially useful in PPR leagues. The only downside might be if the old Vick is back and vultures a few TDs from McCoy.
Jeremy Maclin doesn’t have the name brand of DeSean Jackson, but is the clear #1 receiver in Philly and dominates the red zone. In early drafts, however, he appears to be going around the 4th round, which I think is a tremendous value. I think he’s worth a 3rd round pick, and definitely before Miles Austin and Vincent Jackson, who seem to be going around the same time as him.
DeSean Jackson threw some temper tantrums last year, catapulting him out of WR1 territory. His contract situation is now resolved, which helps, but he is generally just a big-play guy, making him too inconsistent to be an every-week starter. Draft him in a middle round as a flex option and play him in weeks he faces weaker secondaries.
New York Giants: Though I think the Super Bowl champs will have a disappointing record this season (and possibly miss the playoffs), their solid offensive line should help with respectable fantasy contribution.
I have disrespected Eli Manning for his entire career, but I think I have to change my tune. He has transformed from a game manager to the central part of the Giants offense, and he is one tough cookie to boot. He’s probably the most reliable mid-level QB1 out there, so draft him over Tony Romo, Philip Rivers and the other Manning for sure.
Ahmad Bradshaw is an injury-prone running back being drafted in RB1/early RB2 territory right now. If he stays healthy, he’s a solid starter, but with first-round pick David Wilson nipping at his heals, he’s to much of a risk for me to spend an early pick on.
David Wilson is an exciting rookie prospect with a history of fumble-itis. Of course, Tiki Barber showed us that if anyone can turn that around, it’s Tom Coughlin, but how long will it take? If Wilson falls to me in round 9 or 10, I’ll consider him, but I definitely won’t reach to get him.
Hakeem Nicks would easily be a top-5 receiver prospect, if it weren’t for that broken foot he suffered during OTAs. He should be ready to start the season, but will miss a lot of practice and probably won’t play all 16 games. Teammate Victor Cruz or Mike Wallace could arguably be better picks, but don’t be fooled into thinking Nicks will fall too far in the draft.
Victor Cruz is the “Call Me Maybe” of football–everyone is talking about him, and it’s impossible not to love him. His salsa dance alone makes me want to draft him. I don’t think last year was a fluke–Cruz is the real deal, and the Giants will use him plenty. Defenses will be more clued into him this year, but even if his stats come down a little bit, he’s still a solid WR1 play.
Drafting rookie receivers can be extremely high risk, but Rueben Randle has the physical presence to be a big red zone threat (the Giants love to throw jump balls to the corner of the end zone). If you’re bearish on Hakeem Nicks’ health, pick up Randle in one of the last rounds, and you could find him useful down the stretch.
Washington Redskins: Full disclosure–they are my home team, which usually makes me timid about their fantasy prospects (I’d rather see them flourish on someone else’s team than fail on my own.) But this year I think they are actually starting to gain fantasy relevance.
Robert Griffin III, aka The Messiah, has some pretty heavy expectations riding on his shoulders. He’s currently being drafted in late QB1 territory, which I think is too much of a risk. I would love to get him as a QB2 around round 7 or 8 and hopefully use him as a trading chip later in the season, but, unfortunately, I think someone else will snag him first.
Fred Davis is working with a new (albeit more talented) QB, and will share targets with new receivers–a little too much newness for me to think he’ll pick up exactly where he left off before his pot-smoking suspension last year. Between his early-season success last year and what’s going on with tight ends this year, I think he’ll be overvalued and will likely pass on him, unless he drops to the 8th or 9th round.
Roy Helu is an exciting 2nd year running back, and a great receiver, but he had some nagging injuries last year, and with Mike Shanahan’s committee approach, I think I’ll pass on Helu in the 4th or 5th round, where he seems to be going.
Evan Royster, on the other hand, represents a great deep-round pick with upside value. His late-season performance last year may have earned him a bigger role in the offense, with even more upside if Helu or Tim Hightower get re-injured.
Tim Hightower was thrilling to watch during preseason last year, but didn’t end up producing much before a knee injury ended his season early. Still, a 10th round pick (where he seems to be going) is a great value for any team’s potential #1 RB, even in a committee situation.