Team-by-Team Analysis: NFC East (2021 Fantasy Football)
With the recent completion of my AFC West article in this Team-by-Team Analysis series, we’re ready to embark on our trek through the NFC. In case you’re new to the Team-by-Team Analysis series, I use FantasyPros data to analyze the primary fantasy positions (i.e., QB, RB, WR, and TE) for each team in a given division. Through these articles, I hope to better understand how players on each team fared in 2020 and how certain offseason transactions may impact fantasy performances in 2021. Similar to our AFC exploration, we’ll begin our study with the East division, which is comprised of the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and Washington Football Team.
The below visualization reveals each NFC East team’s total points ranking, along with their positional ranks in fantasy and associated mean and median values. The NFC East features an aerial assault offense whose star QB will hope to rebound from a devastating ankle injury in 2020, a team hoping that its highly valued QB takes a Josh Allen-esque third-year leap in performance, an offense that will enter its first season since 2016 without its “star” QB, and a young, modernized offense with an impressive defense that will be led by a long-time NFL journeyman and fan-favorite.
After signing Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Ezekiel Elliott to long-term deals and drafting Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb in recent years, the Dallas Cowboys positioned themselves to have consistent offensive success in the near future. The New York Giants, alternatively, are still trying to find their offense after drafting QB Daniel Jones sixth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Philadelphia Eagles recently parted with former number two overall pick QB Carson Wentz and may institute a high-tempo, run-heavy offensive attack with sophomore QB Jalen Hurts and third-year athletic RB Miles Sanders at the forefront. Lastly, after surprising many teams by making the playoffs and narrowly beating the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round, the Washington Football Team went out and beefed up their offense by signing Ryan Fitzpatrick and Curtis Samuel while drafting WR Dyami Brown in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
We can see this division really surprise people in 2021 with some overlooked but potentially high-powered offenses.
Taking a step further into the divisional breakdown, we can see the fantasy point distribution across each team’s generally startable roles (i.e., QB1, RB1, RB2, WR1, WR2, WR3, and TE1). By breaking the analysis out and ranking them accordingly here, we can better understand 2021 opportunity from analyzing production distribution.
There are a few major observations and takeaways that can be made from the above chart:
- Despite the total points breakout for QB1 looking rather grim for the Cowboys, QB Prescott actually led the league in fantasy PPG (27.8) before his gruesome injury. He was torching defenses – as were offenses facing the Cowboys defense – and feeding his incredible WR trio: Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb.
- What was seen as a “down year” for superstar RB Elliott was actually a 10th-place finish across the season. Elliott’s performance perfectly reflects the “running backs don’t matter” crowd as he was absolutely crushing it when Prescott was healthy, but once Prescott went down, fantasy managers were oftentimes panic-selling Elliott due to his underwhelming performance.
- It all comes down to Prescott’s health. If Prescott can return to full health by Week 1, this offense should go bonanzas in 2021. WRs Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb are young and should continue producing well. I’ll buy all three in fantasy next season, with Cooper being a fringe WR1, Lamb as a solid WR2, and Gallup as a WR3/flex that has WR2 upside.
- The biggest gamble will come down to Elliott, as he’s been a first-round fantasy pick every season of his career. Following the “disappointing” 2020 season and Prescott’s health potentially in question, his ADP finds itself at the lowest point in years. I would gladly take Elliott as a late-first- or early-second-round pick in my redraft leagues.
New York Giants
- Superstar RB Saquon Barkley was the only truly desirable fantasy option for the Giants heading into drafts last season. As such, it’s not surprising that following his season-ending ACL injury, no single player on this offense finished above 16th against like-positioned players.
- QB Jones underwhelmed in his sophomore season, finishing as the QB24 with just 12 total touchdowns (11 passing, one rushing) and 12 turnovers (10 interceptions, two fumbles lost). After signing top free agent WR Kenny Golladay in the offseason and selecting WR Kadarius Toney at pick 20 in the 2021 NFL Draft, this team is trying to support their young QB as best they can.
- Just like my first point in the Cowboys takeaways section, the Giants’ offensive success will rely on Jones’s ability to rebound from a tepid start to his career. None of the Giants, outside of Barkley, possess a particularly expensive ADP, so there’s definitely some opportunity for fantasy managers here.
- Barkley should be expected to be your team’s RB1, while Golladay, Slayton, and Engram can fill in as complementary pieces. WR Golladay can be had in the middle rounds, providing managers with a great WR3 option on their teams.
- The Eagles’ 2020 season was quite the rollercoaster, with offensive line play leaving much to be desired and an underwhelming WR corps. Even after selecting WR Jalen Reagor with the 21st pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, one pick before superstar WR Justin Jefferson was taken, the Eagles offense sputtered much of the season with QB Wentz at the helm.
- Once Wentz was benched, however, 2020 second-round pick Jalen Hurts lifted the offense, at least in fantasy. Hurts won fantasy leagues with his Week 14, 15, and 16 performances, producing 19.3, 37.8, and 20.6 points each week, respectively.
- Hurts is one of my favorite targets in 2021, as he possesses elite rushing skills and an underrated passing ability. Currently selected as the QB9, Hurts offers immense upside akin to Ravens QB Lamar Jackson entering his sophomore season. Hurts may be a league-winning pick in all formats.
- The remaining desirable fantasy pieces of this offense, RB Sanders and TEs Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz, may present marginal value to managers. Sanders is one of the most athletic RBs in the league and is currently going as the RB14 in 0.5 PPR leagues, while Goedert and Ertz are the TE7 and TE23, respectively. If Ertz can rebound from a down year and return to among the elite TEs in the league, he can also win leagues for managers considering he’s essentially free.
Washington Football Team
- Washington entered 2020 hoping that young QB Dwayne Haskins could recover from a horrible rookie campaign; however, Haskins’ relationship with new Washington Head Coach Ron Rivera quickly fractured, leading to Haskins being benched and ultimately released. Following Haskins, Washington saw below-average QB play from (albeit Comeback Player of the Year) Alex Smith, Kyle Allen, and Taylor Heinicke.
- Sophomore WR Terry McLaurin and rookie RB Antonio Gibson (and RB J.D. McKissic to a lesser extent in PPR leagues) produced despite the poor QB play, and TE Logan Thomas finished as the TE6 due to some crazy high-volume games late in the season.
- After signing gunslinger QB Ryan Fitzpatrick in free agency, the Washington offense looks to be one of the most improved and exciting in 2021. Rivera and Offensive Coordinator Scott Turner have built a young, athletic core of playmakers around Fitzpatrick. Currently, Gibson and McLaurin retain rather high ADPs entering this season but can surely match the lofty expectations with improved QB play.
- Personally, I’ll be targeting McLaurin in the third – or fourth for sure – round and Gibson in the late-second-to-early-third round of my drafts this season, as they offer solid floors with elite upside if things go right. I’d love Gibson to be my RB2 if I went RB early in round one (e.g., selected Barkley, Dalvin Cook, or Christian McCaffrey). McLaurin, similarly, could be a solid WR1 if I went RB-RB or RB-TE (or some variation of this process) but offers great upside if I can get him late to be my WR2 alongside someone like Davante Adams or Tyreek Hill as my WR1.
Beyond our fantasy football content, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you prepare for your draft this season. From our free mock Draft Simulator – which allows you to mock draft against realistic opponents – to our Draft Assistant – that optimizes your picks with expert advice – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football draft season.