No other division boasts such major metropolitan hubs as does the NFC East. New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Dallas. No wonder the NFC East is one of the most highly visible divisions in football.
And within fantasy circles, the division should be watched just as closely. There are some major fantasy talents here that deserve a close look. This is the final of my divisional fantasy previews. Don’t miss the rest: AFC South, AFC North, NFC South, NFC North, AFC West, NFC West and AFC East
Philadelphia Eagles: Out with the McNabbs and Kolbs and in with the Vicks. That is, of course, Michael Vick. The QB who broke out in major ways last season in a comeback story that could make the producers of the Hallmark Channel blush. He was a fantasy force in 2010 and many expect a repeat in 2011 at the very least. I’m not as high on Vick. My thoughts on his 2011 fantasy outlook have been well documented here.
His receivers are impressive in their own right. DeSean Jackson is one of the fastest players in the NFL. Jeremy Maclin seemed to gel well with Vick last season and made his mark, especially in the TD department. New addition Steve Smith is dinged up at the moment, but has No. 1 receiver talent.
Out of that group, watch Smith, who could be a very nice value at the moment due to his injuries and worries that he’s No. 3 in the pecking order. Jackson, while fast, is also considered an injury threat with a small frame and high-impact play. Maclin, while having a nice 2010, is a guy I just can’t bring myself to trust yet in fantasy circles. I didn’t draft him in any of my leagues and don’t feel intimidated in the least when facing a team that starts him. A preseason mystery ailment adds to my skepticism, but it is mostly an unexplainable gut feeling about Maclin in 2011. That leaves Smith, who could sneak his way up the depth chart when he gets fully healthy.
The running game goes through LeSean McCoy, and he proved to be a versatile back in the mold of Brian Westbrook last season. A PPR goldmine, McCoy has top 3 fantasy back potential despite his middle to late-first round ADP.
Brent Celek never seemed to jive with Vick last year despite the tight end’s obvious abilities. Talk this offseason out of Philly was that Celek was going to be utilized more in the game planning this year. If he is, he could be a sneaky good value at the moment.
Dallas Cowboys: While Vick is a high-end QB that you’ll need to burn a first-round pick on, Tony Romo has elite QB potential this season and comes much later on draft day. His upside is due to a lot of different factors, most importantly his weapons.
Miles Austin is back, and is a favorite of Romo. Look at Austin’s numbers prior to Romo’s 2010 injury to get a better feel of his 2011 potential in fantasy circles. Dez Bryant showed flashes of brilliance last year and should only get better in his second season. Tight end Jason Witten had his best season from a fantasy production standpoint. All three will elevate Romo in 2011 … the question is how each will affect the play of the others. Obviously there will only be so many passes to spread around. How that affects the pecking order remains to be seen. Because of that, I can’t bring myself to feel comfortable with Austin or Bryant as my true WR1 in fantasy circles just yet.
The running game has finally, after what seems like forever, been turned over to Felix Jones. Sure Tashard Choice and rookie DeMarco Murray are on the roster and will get some carries over the course of the season, but Felix has always been a favorite of owner Jerry Jones and will be streamlined into prominence in 2011. We saw flashes of what he can do in fantasy circles in the past, and while many are skeptical due to a shaky injury track record, Felix did make it through 2010 unscathed. Matt Schaub was once a major injury concern, too, but paid major dividends for those who took the risk for pennies on the dollar. Felix has that potential.
Witten continues to be a top tight end option. His TD production was sketchy in the past, but Witten really emerged last season. How much of that was due to Romo’s absence? How will he compete for catches with Austin and Bryant and even Jones out of the backfield? Stay tuned.
New York Giants: Despite the spike in interceptions in 2010, Eli Manning has been one of the most under-appreciated fantasy commodities in the game. Part of the skepticism involves his streakiness. You want consistency with your starting fantasy signal caller. But I’m more than willing to take the risk this season.
Part of that has to do with Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. Nicks is a bonafide receiving fantasy bonanza. He has the potential to be the most prolific fantasy scorer at his position this season and a Week 1 matchup with Washington will get the ball rolling in that direction. Manningham is more of a dark horse option, but looking at what he did in a more limited role in 2010 makes most everyone a believer as far as his value for the 2011 season.
The running game is more of a work in progress. Many are high on Ahmad Bradshaw this season and there is little doubt he has the potential for big things in 2011. I’m a little more reserved on him for the simple fact that Brandon Jacobs seems to have forced his way back into the discussion again. He outshined Bradshaw numerous times late last year and this preseason, too. Some experts suggest a 50-50 split in carries between the two, which would limit the upside of both. It is a situation worth watching closely this season.
Washington Redskins: While the other team teams in the division have QBs that are either elite or going in the right direction, the Skins are saddled with Rex Grossman and/or John Beck. Yuck. Neither is a fantasy option you want to hitch your wagon to. Perhaps on certain weeks against weaker competition.
Part of their lack of allure is the receiving situation. Santana Moss still projects as the top pass-catcher in Washington … but there is little doubt the aging option has lost a step or two or three. Chris Cooley, currently dinged up somewhat, falls in the same category. Who else is in the receiving stable? No one you want to count on for weekly production.
The running back situation is a little more colorful. Ryan Torain, rookie Roy Helu and Tim Hightower are all in the mix. Penn State product Evan Royster may get involved, too, as the season progresses.
With Mike Shanahan at the helm, picking one RB to go with is a risky maneuver. He is known to change his mind quicker than a five-year-old girl changes clothes when playing dress-up. However, I’m still liking Hightower in fantasy circles. He comes cheap enough to be worth a risk and did produce well at various points with the Cardinals. He looked in a zone this preseason and is penciled in as the starter out of the gates. Expect Helu to get his carries and for Torain to be involved, too, but Hightower is the guy to gamble on at the moment.
Fantasy MVP: Tony Romo, DAL. (Vick could easily outshine Romo in overall stats, but the true value based on ADP and upside is Romo, especially with those weapons. LeSean McCoy deserves mentioned in this discussion, as well.)
Rookie of the year: Roy Helu, WAS. (More a product of having the best opportunity, while I think Hightower is the main cog for the Washington backfield, Helu will get enough work to generate more fantasy points than other offensive rookies in the division.)
Sleepers: Steve Smith, PHI. Tim Hightower, WAS. Mario Manningham, NYG. Felix Jones, DAL.
Bust: Michael Vick, PHI. (I’ll get heat for this one. My argument is outlined here.)
Comeback player of the year: Tony Romo, DAL.