In Part 4 of my 8-part series into fantasy football’s breakout stars for 2019, it’s time we explore our last division in the NFC conference, the NFC EAST. The current state of affairs for fantasy purposes in the NFC East is headlined by two of the game’s best running backs in Ezekiel Elliott and last season’s rookie of the year Saquon Barkley. But, beyond the two consensus Top-3 players in fantasy, there are many great young talented skill-players spread out across the landscape of the division for owners to take a swing at in 2019. Also, as an added treat, I will be revealing who I’ve crowned as the biggest breakout STAR of the 2019 season. As Terrell Owens told the media when he arrived in Dallas back in 2006, “getcha popcorn ready” because here comes the next class of rising beasts from the East. So, without further ado, here are potential breakout stars in points per reception (PPR) formats from the NFC East in 2019.
Dak Prescott, QB
Forty-eight regular season games played, forty-eight regular season games started. One thing you can count on from the former Mississippi State Bulldog is his ability to be available and his consistency on the field. At the quarterback position, being available and consistent is the most important stat for most fantasy owners and this is just what Rayne Dakota Prescott has offered fantasy players since entering the league just three seasons ago. In 2019, forget what you think you already know about this ultra-conservative, ultra-efficient passer. Prescott is about to break out of the mold of being a caretaker of a run-first offense and not a down the field thrower. New offensive coordinator and former Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore is here to make sure of that.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound quarterback is just beginning to scratch the surface of his promising abilities. Prescott truly epitomizes the phrase “duel threat.” as he is a pass-first quarterback whom loves to run. Usually, the stereo-type attached to duel threat quarterbacks is opposite, but not Prescott. When Prescott breaks the pocket, he is looking to make big plays down the field with his arm, not his legs.
This season is the first time he has had weapons at his disposal that make his unique talents really dangerous for defenses looking to stop him. Last year’s mid-season acquisition of Amari Cooper gave fantasy owners a sneak peak at what’s to come between these two. Then when you plug into the mix Jason Witten’s return, the free agent addition of former Green Bay slot-man Randall Cobb and last year’s third-round draft selection deep threat Michael Gallup, it becomes without a doubt the best collection of wide receivers Prescott has had available to him since Draft Day 2016. Oh yes, and I forgot to mention he has some guy named Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield to keep safeties in the box and not over the top shading his outside targets. Advantage Prescott!
With his current average draft position somewhere in the 120 range, I’m here to state that passing on him this season is a foolish move. Look for Prescott to take full advantage of his riches this season as he will surpass his three previous finishes of 10, 11, and 6, with a full blown Top-3 fantasy quarterback finish this year. I have Prescott rated as my No. 1 overall breakout player for fantasy football this year. He is a red-zone nightmare for opposing defenses to stop with his mobility and nose for finding the end-zone. In 2019, look for Prescott to have more than 30 touchdowns through the air to go along with 6-8 touchdowns on the ground and his first-ever 4,000-yard passing season en route to what might be one of those NFL MVP type performances that subsequently carries fantasy owners to their very own title.
Michael Gallup, WR
Well, if I’ve got Prescott on his way to an NFL MVP type year, then he is going to need all the help he can get along the way. One of those players designated to help facilitate this achievement is second-year wideout Michael Gallup. Gallup only started eight games of the 16 he played in as a rookie and in doing so, piled up decent numbers for his limited amount of snaps. His 33 receptions on 68 targets for 507 yards and only two touchdowns left something to be desired going into his sophomore season as a pro, however. By admission, he and Prescott missed each other several times on deep balls last year, where the former Colorado State Ram had blown passed coverage and Prescott just overthrew him by a step or two each time. Had the two of them been on the same page, then Gallup’s rookie year probably would have been a bit more memorable for those who selected him late in fantasy drafts last season.
Starting out this season, things from a fantasy perspective look very similar to last, as his current average draft position is well past the Top-150 players, which means he comes at a real bargain, and, with defenses surely looking to travel their top defensive backs with Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb, this could be a tasty situation for Gallup. His 66 targets last year leads me to believe that he gets open frequently enough to be a viable option to ascend this year to possible WR2 territory. Considering Prescott’s willingness to throw the ball where the coverage dictates it to go, it’s very plausible to think that Gallup feasts off of his teammates leftovers all year.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Sterling Shepard, WR
Here lies an interesting question for fantasy players – does the exit of Odell Beckham Jr. greatly effect the efficiency of the Giants offense? Most people I’ve spoken to about this issue agree that it does, without question. I’m going to argue for the opposite side in this case and here’s why. Beckham’s ability to make plays was overshadowed by his neediness to have the ball thrown his way, which eventually became a detriment to the Giants offense last season in similar ways that Terrell Owens was to the teams he plagued. Overwhelming the quarterback with the need for constant attention is never a good thing and now that the OBJ anchor has been lifted from the building, others will now be allowed to thrive. With that weight gone, it will bring Shepard’s natural progression to the front and center of the Giants passing game.
For as much attention as Beckham received in 2018, Sterling quietly made due with 66 receptions on 107 targets for a crowd-pleasing 872 yards. So, it’s not as if he doesn’t already have a rapport with Eli Manning built, it’s more about just finding extra opportunities to get him the ball which should be expected thanks to the departure of Beckham’s 124 targets from last season. Early Average Draft Position indicators are that Shepard is being drafted around WR 32-38 and in the mid-80’s overall. This is crazy value for a WR1. On volume alone in points per reception (PPR) leagues, Shepard should surpass his 2019 rankings and give those fantasy owners willing to draft him plenty of bang for their buck.
Evan Engram, TE
Engram becomes another welcome addition as a result of subtraction to the Giants’ offense this season, for many of the same reasons that I listed above with Shepard. What’s really interesting about Engram compared to Shepard is just how much better Engram has fared as a result of Beckham’s absence historically. In the 15 games Beckham missed between 2017-18, Engram had 71 receptions on 117 targets for 886 yards and six touchdowns. During that same time-span, Shepard produced slightly lower numbers of 58 receptions on 94 targets for 746 yards and only two touchdowns. I will note, however, Shepard only played in 12 of Beckham’s 15 missed games. In any case, the fact remains that readily made targets are now available thanks to the Giants finding a new home for Beckham.
Engram should be used more in the passing game than he ever has since joining the Giants in 2017. As I’ve said in my previous breakout players articles, this year is looking more and more like a tight end resurgence from a fantasy perspective. Over the course of the last few years, finding production outside of the top tight ends has been a challenge for most fantasy owners to the point of where to ensure an owner of filling the spot with any type of consistency, they were forced to draft the Travis Kelce’s and Rob Gronkowski’s of the world as early as the first round. Which is just ludicrous, especially when great talent is still available on the boards. Hopefully, with players such as Evan Engram, O.J. Howard, Noah Fant, T.J. Hockenson, George Kittle, Trey Burton, Hunter Henry and Dallas Goedert all entering the fold so to speak, we as fantasy players can forget about the days of trying to scramble to find a worthy candidate to fill our tight end voids on game-day.