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NFC East: A Pre-Draft Fantasy Assessment

Things continue to heat up in the fantasy football realm with the NFL Draft less than a month away. The free agency market has slowed down and deals trickle in as opposed to the early flood of movement.

We continue our early fantasy breakdown with a look at one of the more intriguing divisions. The NFC East will feature a pair of first time head coaches in 2016 and a bevy of new faces in new places for fantasy purposes.

Let’s get to it!

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

 

QB- While Eli Manning was visibly upset when former head coach Tom Coughlin stepped (was forced out) down, fantasy owners rejoiced at the naming of Ben McAdoo as Coughlin’s replacement. With McAdoo as the offensive coordinator Manning has put together back-to-back top 10 fantasy seasons. A brief recap of the past two years show that Manning is averaging 600 pass attempts and completing over 62% of those attempts. He has thrown 65 touchdown passes (and even rushed for one) and averaged over 4,400 yards passing. The 28 interceptions Manning has thrown in the past two years is one more than he threw in the 2013 season. The bottom line is that Eli is playing some of his best football and at age 35 has a few good years left in him. I am a firm believer that no one holds grudges like fantasy football owners and there are bound to be one or two in every league that have suffered through a “Bad Eli” campaign. That’s fine, as it will contribute to Manning once again being undervalued on fantasy draft day allowing the savvy owner to grab him at a position of great value.

According to 2015 MyFantasyLeague.com average draft position (ADP) of real drafts (a sample of 6,891 drafts) Manning was the 13th QB selected, going off the board at roughly 99th overall. Chances are that Manning will be valued in that same range this season and with McAdoo guiding the ship he will once again finish with top 10 numbers. It appears that Ryan Nassib will finish out his rookie contract as Manning’s backup despite some rumors a year ago that teams were interested in trading for him.

 

RB- There isn’t a whole lot to get excited about when examining the backfield options currently on the roster. If there is one solid but unspectacular RB to consider for fantasy purposes it will be Rashad Jennings. Jennings was the leading fantasy back from New York last season finishing with 1,159 total yards and four touchdowns which was good enough to barely crack the top 20 in standard scoring formats. Even though Jennings will turn 31 this season he was rarely used early in his career and should have plenty of gas left in the tank. Once the offense abandoned the RBBC Jennings stepped up and produced down the stretch. From Weeks 14-17 he averaged 108 rushing yards per game and scored a pair of touchdowns. Even if Jennings remains the top dog in the Giants’ running game (I expect them to add RB competition through the draft or free agency) it’s hard to imagine him having anything more than low-end RB3 value as his ceiling in 2016.

After being all in prior to last season on the drafting of Shane Vereen early in PPR leagues, his 26th place finish in that scoring format was a disappointment. While Vereen did manage to haul in a career high 59 passes and four receiving touchdowns, his touches varied dramatically from week-to-week. He saw four-or-less targets in eight games and had two games in which he saw no targets at all. A further look at Vereen’s usage also reveals that there were 13 games in which he had 10-or-fewer total touches. It’s difficult to make fantasy hay when you don’t get the ball and it’s hard to see Vereen’s touches increasing enough to make him anything other than a late-round flier as a flex play in PPR formats.

Despite recent reports that head coach Ben McAdoo says the team hasn’t given up on him, the Andre Williams era in New York has failed to gain traction and the kid may be battling to keep a roster spot. After averaging only 3.3 yards on his 217 carries as a rookie, Williams averaged only 2.9 yards last season. He also saw his carries reduced by 129 and the writing appears to be on the wall that despite rushing for seven scores in 2014, Williams is now an afterthought in the offense. Want a little more proof that he’s never going to be a fantasy factor? In the final seven games of 2015, Williams averaged merely six snaps per game. “Turn out the lights…the party’s over.”

While he may not need to be drafted as such, keep an eye on Orleans Darkwa as the back to snatch off the waiver wire should Jennings go down to an injury. Darkwa averaged 4.3 yards per carry in very limited action last year and has scored a rushing touchdown in each of his two seasons in the league.

 

WR- Despite being suspended for Week 16 due to a penalty-filled showdown with Josh Norman that resulted in a suspension, Odell Beckham posted his second consecutive top-5 fantasy WR season. Beckham also managed to surpass Randy Moss for most receiving yards by a WR in their first two seasons. Not bad young man. Not bad at all. With former OC Ben McAdoo ascending to the head coaching position there is no reason to doubt that Beckham will continue to shine. In his first two seasons, Beckham is averaging a hefty 16 targets per game and has posted an impressive 25 receiving touchdowns. We can pencil in Beckham as a top four overall option in 2016 fantasy drafts.

After Beckham the WR position is very thin for fantasy purposes. Victor Cruz has played only six games in the past two seasons and has just resumed running as he recovers from a calf injury. Prior to injuring the calf last season, Cruz was attempting to come back from a brutal patellar tendon injury suffered in 2014. It’s tough to gauge any fantasy value for Cruz until he’s back on the field and we see how healthy he looks. At this early stage it’s hard to have Cruz inside the top 70 WRs.

With Rueben Randle now a member of division rival Philadelphia Eagles, there are currently no other fantasy options on the Giants roster. Look for the G-Men to address the position in the draft (Laquon Treadwell at #10 perhaps?) and to sign a veteran free agent or two.

 

TE- It appears as if there will be a training camp battle to determine the number one TE between Larry Donnell and Will Tye. After a surprisingly effective 2014 campaign in which he posted 63 receptions and six scores, injuries limited Donnell to playing only eight games last season. In those eight games Donnell faltered badly failing to top 40 yards even once while only hauling in two touchdowns. That opened the door for Tye to see more playing time and the youngster responded down the stretch. From Weeks 12-17, Tye racked up 27 receptions for 312 yards and three touchdowns. While Donnell has recovered from the neck injury that ended his season, he will be hard pressed to beat out Tye for the starting gig.

Unfortunately, the TE position just doesn’t produce fantasy numbers for the Giants. The last time they had a TE finish in the top 10 of both standard and PPR formats was back in 2007 when Jeremy Shockey finished 6th and 7th, respectively. No matter who wins the starting gig, it’s hard to see either tight end cracking the top 15 in TE rankings for this season.

 

K- Veteran Josh Brown held down the job last season and had a top-five fantasy finish. He is currently a free agent so we need to wait and see who ends up as the kicker for the Giants in 2016. Whoever gets the job will warrant being selected in fantasy drafts as this offense will put up points.

 

D/ST- Once free agency kicked off it was apparent that the Giants had one plan in mind and that was to address the defensive side of the ball. More specifically, they looked to address the defensive line and a meager pass rush. New York finished with the third fewest sacks last season managing to get to the QB only 23 times. They began throwing money at the problem right away signing emerging DE talent Olivier Vernon to a huge deal and brought Jason Pierre-Paul back with a team friendly “prove it” deal. Vernon graded out as Pro Football Focus’ number one 4-3 defensive end last year amassing 61 total tackles and 7 ½ sacks. They also signed DT Damon Harrison away from their cross town rival New York Jets to plug up the middle of the defensive front.

After allowing Prince Amukamara to walk in free agency, the Giants went out and signed former Rams CB Janoris Jenkins to a big contract to bolster the secondary.

The linebacker position was addressed when they signed ILB Keenan Robinson to likely man the middle of the defense. While we could argue that New York has overpaid for these players (they did) that doesn’t really matter for fantasy purposes. What does matter is how quickly this unit can get on the same page and produce big plays. There are still some holes to fill at LB and in the secondary but as of right now, this unit has enough talent up front to warrant a top-10 fantasy ranking heading into 2016.

About Wally Spurlin

Wally Spurlin is a Fantasy Football Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writer Association (FSWA). Spurlin’s work has appeared in print publications, including the FSWA award winning 2014 USA Today Fantasy Football magazine as well as the 2015 edition. Wally is also a weekly co-host on the Fantasy Football Feeding Frenzy pod cast on Fantasy Sharks Radio at Blog Talk Radio.Follow him on Twitter @WaltonSpurlin