By Elliott Anderson (@darthpichi)
Welcome to the land of Cowboys and Indians where anyone has a chance to take home the divisional crown. Unlike their counterparts in the AFC where dominance and supremacy has been establish, no team in the NFC East has repeated as the division champ in over 12 years. The Cowboys are poised to break that trend with sophomore phenoms at both running back and quarterback, but with one of the toughest strengths of schedule in the league for 2017, Dem Boys will have their work cut out for them. There are new faces in new places and offensive skill positions were a point of emphasis for the Redskins, Eagles, and G-men both via the draft and free agency. This is a division that built their offenses the right way. The Quarterbacks and offensive line units in the East are collectively some of the most impressive groups at their respective positions. These strengths create dynamic and exciting offenses to watch and more importantly have equity in on your fantasy rosters. From the White House to Big D and the Big Apple to the City of Brotherly love, let’s start out voyage through the fantasy trenches of the NFC East.
Rush YPG: 149.8(2nd)
Pass YPG: 227(23rd)
Sacks Allowed: 28(Tied for 7th)
Key Losses: Ronald Leary (G)
Key Additions: Byron Bell (T) FA
The Cowboys have done a great job via the draft of building one of the strongest offensive line units in the NFL. Even with the loss of left guard Ronald Leary, they are the number one ranked o-line by Footballguys.com and are a consensus top three unit amongst NFL and fantasy analysts. Dallas excels in all areas of line play averaging almost 150 YPG rushing in 2016 with a stuffed rate of only fifteen percent. While the Cowboys ranked in the bottom third of the league in passing, it’s not due to poor execution or protection, but by the design of the offense and the key injury to Dez Bryant. Dak Prescott was one of the most efficient QBs last season; only Matt Ryan and Tom Brady had a better total QBR than Dak…impressive company for the rookie signal caller. The loss of Leary has created a position battle between Chaz Green and Jonathon Cooper at left guard, with Green being the early favorite to snag that spot. Both are capable replacements for this highly coveted starting gig and the competition for playing time will only elevate their game to near max potential. All the pieces are in place for the Cowboys to once again have a potent offense with a healthy Dez Bryant giving the passing game that big play potential it lacked until late last year. Dak and Dez developed a great rapport last season once Bryant got healthy and back on the field. Cole Beasly and Jason Witten were the marks of consistency that a young quarterback needed to gain confidence and that’s exactly what they provided in Bryant’s absence. The elephant in the room is the Zeke suspension, but with the talent the Cowboys possess in the trenches, McFadden will be a serviceable replacement for the sophomore sensation if he can stay healthy.
Rush YPG: 106.0(21st)
Pass YPG: 297(2nd)
Sacks Allowed: 23(4th)
Key Losses: None
Key Additions: None
The East is chalk full of exceptional offensive line units and the Redskins are arguably the best of the bunch. Left tackle Trent Williams was the highest ranked offensive lineman at any position by Pro Football Focus, grading out at an impressive 92.8 overall. His ability to maul defensive lineman in the run game and form an impenetrable wall between pass rushers and Kirk Cousin’s blindside might make Williams the most valuable player on the Redskins offense. He also showed the ability to play guard when asked to make the move for short stints due to injuries in the o-line. The Skins also found quality starters in Ty Nsekhe who filled in for Williams during his early season suspension and Spenser Long who excelled at the center position which was a necessary improvement from his 2015 performance. Washington had the 2nd ranked pass offense last season, but lost two key components to their deadly aerial assault with Jackson leaving to Tampa and Garcon heading out west to San Francisco. Washington addressed these losses by signing break out wide receiver Tyrell Pryor from Cleveland. The hope is that second year player Josh Doctson will stay health in 2017 and the trio of Pryor, Crowder, and Doctson will be an improvement from the corp they had in 2016. Rob Kelly was effective and even dominates at times, but the reality of the matter is that he is not a game changing back. The o-line in Washington has the capability to produce a top 5 back if the talent in the backfield is sufficient, with this in mind the Skins drafted running back Samaje Perine in the 4th round out of Oklahoma. The combination of Fat Rob and Perine look to be a one-two punch that gives Washington the run game needed to balance their offense in 2017.
Rush YPG: 113.3(11th)
Pass YPG: 224(24th)
Sacks Allowed: 33(Tied for 13th)
Key Losses: None
Key Additions: Chance Warmack (G) FA
This group is poised to explode onto the scene in 2017 in all facets of their offensive game. With a second year quarterback who’s looked great in camp, an upgraded pass and run game, and one of the most athletic offensive lines in the league, the Eagles could score early and often in 2017. The loss of Lane Johnson for ten games during the 2016 campaign due to suspension was near catastrophic for the Eagles that saw significant drops in there offensive production over that span. Even with Johnson unavailable for most of the season, Philadelphia found a way to have some success. They ranked 9th in stuffed rate and 15th in QB pressures. These numbers will undoubtedly improve this season if Johnson can keep his nose clean and the rest of the unit can stay healthy. Resigning center, Stefen Wisniewski and the addition of Chance Warmack will give the Eagles much needed depth and create the competition needed to push this group to excel. LeGarrette Blount finished last season in New England with a mind blowing 18 TDs on the ground. While reaching that number two consecutive years would be ridiculous to predict, Blount will have every opportunity to put up impressive scoring numbers once again. Free agent signing Alshon Jeffrey immediately gives Carson Wentz the number one receiver he lacked last year. Despite the risk of injury, Jeffrey bet on himself and signed a one year deal with Philidelphia in hopes to prove his worth and ink a long term contract in 2018. It’s always encouraging to own players in a contract year and Alshon has the upside to be a low end WR1 this upcoming season. We must also remember that there are a lot of mouths to feed in this passing game which can both hurt or help the Eagles pass catchers. Jeffrey, Agholor, Smith, and Ertz will all be competing for targets, but each brings a different element to the passing game. It will be critical to see which wide outs develop a much needed connection with Wentz during camp and the preseason so that we can gain clarity on what Eagles pass catchers to choose come draft day.
New York Giants
Rush YPG: 88.3(29th)
Pass YPG: 242(17th)
Sacks Allowed: 22(3rd)
Key Losses: Marshall Newhouse (T)
Key Additions: D.J. Fluker (T) FA
Underrated might be the best way to describe the Giants o-line. A line that was often blamed for the G-men’s struggles offensively in 2016. New York’s offensive line is truly a tale of two factions…the interior, which is anchored by center Weston Richburg and left guard Justin Pugh and the Tackles. The Giants are sound from guard to guard and have an inside presence that became one of the most consistent in the league as the year progressed. The tackles were where New York struggled. They signed D.J. Fluker from the Chargers to add competition at the position, and his four years of experience will bring a veteran leader to an offensive line group that is full of young talent. Left tackle, Ereck Flowers got a bad rap last season for his struggles protecting Eli, but what wasn’t mentioned was the fact that Flowers improved from his previous season’s numbers and is trending in the right direction in regards to his performance. The left tackle position is always under the media microscope, and Flowers did a great job of ignoring the noise and committing to his craft throughout the season. This group as a whole should make a substantial leap in 2017 due to sustaining no substantial losses and having yet another year to gain confidence and consistency with one another. New York finds itself in a similar situation as their division rivals in Washington. They have a capable offensive line, but lacked an explosive playmaker in the backfield to utilize the running lanes created on game day. The Giant’s had a stuffed rate of 17%, which is below the league average of 19%, yet fail to gain yards on the ground yielding the leagues 29th ranked rushing offense. Paul Perkins has showed promise this offseason, but only time and game experience will show if the second year back is up to the challenge. The Giants made significant additions to its passing game this offseason, by signing free agent wide out Brandon Marshall from the Jets and drafting tight end stand out Evan Engram in the first round. These pieces, in addition to sophomore Sterling Sheppard, who caught eight TDs in his rookie campaign, and arguably the most talented and electrifying receiver in the league, Odell Beckham Jr., Eli is going to have his way with opposing secondaries. The o-line proved last season that they can protect Manning, giving up only 22 sacks in 2016. If they can continue to give Eli time and Manning can keep the ball from the clutches of opposing DBs (which is easier said than done) then the Giants will be a force in the East and will compete for the division crown.