The NFC East was one of the most interesting divisions in 2020 for both real-life and fantasy football. Fantasy stars Dak Prescott and Saquon Barkley missed the majority of the season with injuries, Carson Wentz played his way out of town in Philly, and Washington won the division with a 7-9 record. Let’s take a look at how the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, and Washington Football Team profile for fantasy football heading into 2021.
The Cowboys didn’t make any additions of note to their offense over the offseason. They didn’t select an offensive player in the NFL Draft until taking Simi Fehoko with their eighth pick in the draft late in the fifth round. Most importantly, Dallas gets Dak Prescott back, who was lighting up the league before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5, They also get last year’s breakout tight end candidate Blake Jarwin back from the torn ACL he suffered in Week 1.
Before his season-ending injury, Dak was on pace for 7,182 passing yards over a 17 game season
Over the first four weeks of 2020, he averaged 30.6 fantasy points/game. If you include the Week 5 game that he left early with the injury, he still averaged a league-high 27 fantasy points/game.
He never finished worse than the QB12 in his first four full seasons in the NFL.
Dallas averaged 31.5 points/game for the four full games with Dak under center, equalling the 31.5 points/game that Green Bay averaged on the season to lead the NFL.
Given his early 2020 success and his supporting offensive weapons, Dak comes with league-winning upside in 2021.
Entering his sixth NFL season, Elliot has never finished worse than RB11, which is where he finished in 2020.
Through the first four games of the season (while Dak Prescott was still healthy), Zeke averaged 19.2 fantasy points/game.
Zeke’s rushing yards/game has decreased every season of his NFL career. After starting off with a ridiculous 108.7 rushing yards/game in his rookie season of 2016, he racked up just 65.3 rushing yards/game in 2020.
He’s logged exactly 71 targets in back-to-back seasons.
It’s tough to determine whether Zeke is still among the rare workhorse class or if he’ll concede more playing time to Tony Pollard in 2021.
When Zeke sat out of Week 15 due to injury, Pollard racked up 28.2 fantasy points on his way to the RB2 finish on the week.
He continues to threaten Zeke’s workhorse-style usage. He saw increased numbers in every offensive volume metric in 2020, including doubling his targets from 20 in his rookie season to 40 in his second year.
Pollard is arguably the most valuable “backup” running back in the NFL
Cooper is turning just 27 years old in June and has been a top-24 wideout in five of his six NFL seasons, including finishing as WR16 last season despite catching passes from Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci, and Garrett Gilbert.
During the first four games of the 2020 season, when Dak Prescott was healthy, Cooper was pacing for over 1,700 receiving yards over a 17 game season.
He tied his career-low with just five receiving TDs in 2020. Given the return of Dak Prescott and general mathematical probability, we should expect a higher TD total in 2021.
Lamb broke a 55-year-old team record by hauling in 74 receptions for Dallas as a rookie in 2020.
He finished as the WR20 in 2020, as a rookie, catching passes from four different quarterbacks.
Lamb lined up in the slot nearly 85% of the time, the second-most among qualifying wideouts in 2020.
He’s poised to become an elite fantasy wideout for the foreseeable future.
Since being drafted in 2018 Gallup has seen his time on the field increase each season, He saw the field on 88% of Dallas’s offensive snaps in 2020.
Despite topping his fellow wideouts in snaps played, he was third on the team in targets (105) and receiving yards (843).
In sharp contrast to Lamb, Gallup only ran out of the slot 6% of the time in 2020.
Last season he finished as a top-12 receiver three times but also finished outside of the top-36 wideouts twelve times.
He’s a potential sleeper and a great best ball target with a full season of Dak Prescott in 2021
The Team Rise or Fall Study Hub, seen above sorted for Dallas WR, was an invaluable tool for researching the information in this division preview.
Jarwin may have been poised to breakout in 2020 with the departure of Jason Witten. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL early in Week 1.
From 2018 to 2019 he averaged 336 receiving yards and three touchdowns per season.
Dalton Schultz filled in nicely in 2020, finishing as the TE14 on the season.
The Eagles have gone through a complete offensive overhaul in the last season. Considered their franchise quarterback just a year ago, Carson Wentz was shipped to Indianapolis after a disastrous season in Philadelphia. Now, mobile second-year quarterback, Jalen Hurts gets a chance to turn the team around with first-year head coach Nick Sirianni. Devonta Smith was added high in the 2021 NFL Draft to theoretically be the number one target in the passing game. Meanwhile, Alshon Jeffery has been released and Zach Ertz trade rumors continue to pick up steam.
Hurts was handed the keys to the Eagles offense in Week 14 of the 2020 NFL season. Over his four games as the starter, he averaged 23 fantasy points/game.
During that stretch, he was pacing for 3,906 passing yards and 1,156 rushing yards over a 17-game season.
That 17-game pace also includes 196 rushing attempts, which would top the NFL record of 176 set by Lamar Jackson in 2019.
His 52% completion percentage ranked dead last among the 44 NFL quarterbacks to attempt at least 100 passes in 2020.
Hurts will get every chance to succeed in 2021 but if he fails, the Eagles will likely move on given their four draft picks in the first two rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Sanders appeared well on his way to fantasy stardom when finished the 2019 season as the RB15 during his rookie year, but he followed it up with an underwhelming RB23 finish in 2020.
Despite playing four fewer games in his second season, Sanders increased his rushing yardage total by 49 yards. He did so on 15 fewer rushing attempts but an extra 0.7 yards/carry
His fantasy points took the biggest hit in the receiving game, where he saw 11 fewer targets, 22 fewer receptions, and 322 fewer receiving yards in his second season.
All of his volume metrics increased from 2019 to 2020 but he may be threatened in the passing game by fifth-round pick Kenneth Gainwell in 2021.
Smith was drafted with the tenth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
He was one of the most productive wideouts in college football history, totaling 3,965 receiving yards and 46 receiving touchdowns over his four years.
Smith broke fellow rookie Ja’Marr Chase’s SEC records by logging 1,856 receiving yards and 23 receiving touchdowns in a single season in 2020.
He absolutely dominated Ohio State in the 2021 College Football National Championship, hauling in 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns in the first half.
He’s primed to immediately step in as the number one target for Jalen Hurts, who he caught passes from early in his college career at Alabama.
As a first-round draft pick in 2020, Reagor disappointed with a mediocre 396 yards and one touchdown over 11 games played.
He struggled through injuries and failed to put up a single top-24 weekly performance all season. His top outing came as WR26 in Week 8, which included his lone TD reception of the season.
If all goes as planned, Reagor will team with Smith as a lethal one-two-punch for Jalen Hurts. If things go awry, he could be unusable again for fantasy football in 2021.
Fulgham took the league by storm from Weeks 4-8 of 2020. Over that span, he averaged 16.4 fantasy points/game while putting up a 17-game-pace of 1,479 receiving yards.
He led all Eagles with 539 receiving yards in 2020.
Things fell off a cliff after the Week 9 bye, when he averaged just 1.9 fantasy points/game over the final eight games of the season.
He could be the odd man out for the 2021 Eagles receivers, though his athletic profile as an outside wide receiver gives him a chance to hang on to fantasy relevance.
Ward was the most targeted Eagle in 2020 with 79 passes thrown in his direction.
He also led the Eagles in receiving touchdowns (6).
Ward lined up in the slot 81% of the time in 2020. That was the third-highest rate in the NFL, though his role could be threatened if rookie Devonta Smith lines up primarily in the slot.
Goedert, who finished as the TE10 in 2019, saw most of his offensive production numbers regress in 2020.
Despite the regression and seeing seven fewer targets than Zach Ertz, Goedert had the second-most receiving yards (524) for the Eagles in 2020.
He still has the potential to become a top-five fantasy tight end in 2021, especially if any of the Zach Ertz trade rumors come to fruition.
Ertz finished as a top-six tight end for five consecutive years from 2015-2020 but crashed down to TE32 in 2020.
Despite his history of success, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that he’ll be traded before the start of the 2021 season.
He makes a sneaky best ball target if he lands on the right team and has anything left in the tank.
The Giants have struggled in recent seasons. Still, there are reasons for Big Blue fans to be optimistic about their offense heading into 2021. Daniel Jones will be surrounded by offensive weapons to start the third season of his career. Generational talent Saquon Barkley is returning from his season-ending ACL tear, top free-agent wideout Kenny Golladay has come to town, and the Giants used their first-round draft pick on electric wide receiver Kadarius Toney.
As a rookie in 2019, Jones finished as a top-12 in four separate weeks, including two weeks of finishing as the QB1. In 2020, however, he only posted two top-12 weeks and never finished better than QB8.
He put up nearly identical passing yards, completion percentage, and yards/attempt in his first two seasons. The massive drop in touchdown passes, where he threw just 11 in 2020 compared to the 24 he threw in his rookie season.
Turnovers have been a big problem for Jones. He’s thrown 22 interceptions over the past two seasons and leads the NFL with a combined 29 fumbles since entering the league.
He offers some rushing upside, averaging 26 rushing yards/game for his career.
2021 will be a make-or-break season for Jones’ long-term future in New York.
Barkley was an elite fantasy running back during his first two seasons in the NFL, averaging 19.3 fantasy points/game over that span.
Unfortunately, he tore his ACL after touching the ball just 25 times on 67 snaps played in 2020.
We haven’t seen a top-end performance from Barkley since December of 2019, so there’s likely to be some hesitation when considering selecting him near the top of fantasy drafts in 2021. If he returns to his pre-injury form, he’ll be well worth a top-four pick.
Golladay is another player that missed most of the 2020 season. He only played four full games due to hamstring and hip injuries, coupled with the general uncompetitiveness of the Lions.
He was productive with his limited time on the field. His four full games played had him on a 17 game pace for 85 receptions, 1,436 yards, 8.5 TDs
Before his injury-plagued 2020 season, Golladay was trending in the right direction. In his first three seasons, he finished as the WR67, WR21, and WR6.
He led all wideouts with 11 receiving touchdowns in 2019. That total would’ve placed him tied for fifth in 2020.
He’s been a red-zone maven in recent years, racking up 31 red-zone targets combined in 2018 and 2019. He was on pace for another 17 in 2020.
Shephard has never been a fantasy stud but he’s always had a safe floor when on the field. He’s averaged 7.2 targets and 4.8 receptions/game over his career.
He’s been even better recently, seeing at least five targets in 28 straight games played (7.7 targets/game)
Like many receivers, Shepherd has always been more productive out of the slot. He saw his slot snap rate decrease from 40.6% in 2019 to 23.6% in 2020. Golden Tate, who ran out of the slot 82% of the time for New York last year, has been released from the team.
Slayton had the most targets and yards among Giant wideouts but finished with fewer fantasy points than Sterling Shepherd, despite playing four more games.
He saw an increase in snaps, targets, completions, and receiving yards in his second season but finished with fewer fantasy points than he did as a rookie. That will happen when your receiving touchdowns decrease from eight to three.
Slayton’s average depth of target (aDOT) of 12.6 yards was on par with the most notable deep threats in the league, such as Marquise Brown (12.9) and Will Fuller (12.5).
Drafted in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft with the 20th pick overall, Toney is the wildcard of the Giants offense heading into the season.
He was an option quarterback in high school that didn’t become a full-time wide receiver until his senior season at the University of Florida.
It remains to be seen how Toney will be utilized in the Giants offense. He could be moved all over the formations, frequently lining up or motioning in the slot, out wide, or out of the backfield. However he gets the ball in his hands, his game-breaking athleticism will always give big-play upside.
For the first time in his four-year NFL career, Enrgam played in all 16 games last season.
He led the Giants with 109 targets in 2020. That ranked fourth among all tight ends behind only Travis Kelce (145), Darren Waller (145), and Logan Thomas (110)
Despite the solid target total and playing in every game, he finished as just the TE16 on the season.
Part of the discrepancy between volume and production came from Engram’s 11 dropped passes, the second-most in the NFL among all players last year.
Given his elite athleticism at the position, Engram still has tremendous upside. His outlook on Giants, however, is cloudy given the plethora of other viable pass-catchers on the team.
Washington snuck into the playoffs last season on the back of a stout defensive unit. The offense was another story. The Football Team ranked 25th in points scored and 30th in total yards led by a combination of Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins, and Taylor Heinicke at quarterback. That will change in 2021, as gunslinging veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick has been brought in to liven up the offense. Curtis Samuel and rookie Dyami Brown were also added to the mix to team up with Terry McLaurin, Antonio Gibson, and Logan Thomas.
Fitzpatrick will be playing on his ninth NFL team in his seventeenth NFL season. The last time he finished as a top-12 fantasy quarterback was with the Jets in 2015.
He hasn’t had much season-long success but he has finished the week as a top-12 quarterback 16 times in 32 games played over the last three seasons.
Last season Fitzpatrick averaged 7.8 yards/attempt, the eighth-highest in the NFL and the third-best of his long career.
Gibson finished as the RB12 overall as a rookie in 2020.
He had a dominant five-game stretch from Weeks 7-12 where he averaged 20.3 fantasy points, second to only Dalvin Cook (25.9) over that span.
Despite his history as a wide receiver in college, Gibson was only targeted 44 times last season. That ranked 25th among all running backs, behind the likes of Chris Carson (46) and Josh Jacobs (45).
His 11 rushing touchdowns were the third-most among running backs with fewer than 200 rush attempts on the season, behind only Alvin Kamar (16) and Nick Chubb (12)
Gibson has the potential to break into the elite fantasy running back tier if his touches increase as expected in 2021.
McKissic, another wide receiver turned running back, led all running backs with 110 targets in 2020. That’s more than he accumulated in his first four seasons combined with Seattle and Detroit.
He only rushed the ball 85 times on the season, which was still easily a career-high.
Washington reportedly wants to involve Antonio Gibson more in the passing game and Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t exactly known as a check-down quarterback, so it’s unlikely that McKissic repeats the pass-catching production in 2021.
McLaurin built off a strong rookie season, improving from WR28 in 2019 to WR21 in 2020.
His fantasy gains are even more impressive considering he had three fewer touchdowns in 2020. He saw a significant increase in targets, receptions, and receiving yards.
He came out of the gates hot, averaging 14 fantasy points/game over the first ten weeks. Unfortunately, his fantasy production faltered down the stretch. He averaged just 9 fantasy points/game from Week 11 on, in part due to battling an ankle injury over the last several weeks.
McLaurin has spent his first two NFL seasons catching passes from Case Keenum, Dwayne Haskins, Colt McCoy, Kyle Allen, Alex Smith, and Taylor Heinicke. There’s hope that Ryan Fitzpatrick can offer some consistency for McLaurin, if only for one season.
Samuel has improved his fantasy standing in each of his four NFL seasons. His end-of-season fantasy finishes in order are WR126, WR48, WR36, and WR25
He got off to a slow start in 2020, averaging just 6.8 fantasy points/game through the first five weeks. That turned around after he missed Week 6 due to a knee injury. He returned in Week 7 and more than double his start-of-season average with 13.9 fantasy points/game over the final ten games.
His 200 rushing yards on the season were second-most among wide receivers, just behind Cordarrelle Patterson’s 232 yards on the ground.
It remains to be seen how he’ll be used in Washington but he’s teaming back up with Ron Rivera and Scott Turner, who previously coached him in Carolina. In their last season together there, Samuel ran out of the slot just 21.8% of the time, compared to his 53.3% slot rate in 2020.
The Football Team drafted Brown in the third round of the 2021 NFL draft with the 82nd overall pick
He averaged a ridiculous 20.1 yards/reception on 106 catches over his final two seasons at the University of North Carolina.
His deep threat ability would seem to pair well with Ryan Fitzpatrick’s gunslinger mentality.
Thomas came out of nowhere in 2020, finishing as the TE6 after never cracking the top-50 in his previous six NFL seasons.
The former quarterback racked up more targets, receptions, and yards in 2020 than the rest of his career combined.
Thomas’s 19.25% target share was second on The Football Team behind Terry McLaurin’s 24.91%. That kind of market share may be tough to duplicate in 2021 with the arrival of Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries.
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