Dallas Cowboys (13-3; 1st in NFC East)
Dak Prescott – No matter what way you slice it, Prescott had one of the best rookie seasons for a QB ever, and he was the eighth QB taken in the 2016 draft. Thrown into the starting lineup by a Tony Romo back injury during the preseason, Prescott never relinquished the starting gig, even when Romo was healthy. In 16 games, Prescott went 311/459 passing (67.8%) for 3667 yards with 23 TDs and just 4 INTs. He added 57/282/6 rushing (4.9 YPC) to finish with 21.2 FPG, which tied him for 14th among QBs. But removing his Week 17 game, in which he barely played in a meaningless game, Prescott averaged 22.5 FPG, which tied him for 7th at the position. At 0.77 FP/PA, he was second to only Matt Ryan among QBs. Prescott finished as a top-12 QB in 10 separate weeks, which made him the draft-day value at the position, as he often wasn’t even drafted. And his revelation will mean that the Romo era in Dallas is officially over – unless Romo is comfortable being a backup, he will be playing somewhere else in 2017. What was amazing is how the Cowboys replicated their 2014 success, but with Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott instead of Romo and DeMarco Murray. There’s no doubt that Prescott was insulated by the NFL’s best line and best run game, but he also answered the bell and nearly led the Cowboys to a win in the playoffs despite Aaron Rodgers building a three-score lead on Dallas. That showed a ton about Prescott’s resolve, especially since he bounced back from a terrible interception in that game to tie the game multiple times late. All in all, though, Dallas still didn’t want Prescott throwing the ball a ton – only once all year did he attempt 40-plus passes, and that came in Week 1’s loss to the Giants. He threw for 300 or more yards twice, so he was far more efficient than a high-volume passer. Prescott was at his worst – and that was rarely – when under pressure and forced into third-and-longs. But that’s not uncommon for a rookie QB, or really any NFL QB. For the most part, the Cowboys were able to stick to their game, which involved running it early and often, and allowing Prescott to take shots and pick up manageable third downs in clean pockets. In that regard, he was nearly flawless. The only real question is whether everything will line up perfectly for the Cowboys in 2017 as it did in 2016. It may be foolish to expect that, but from what little of what we saw of Prescott facing adversity, he will handle it well. He will be drafted as a top-12 QB in 2017.
Tony Romo – It’s hard not to feel bad for Romo, who has given his body to the Cowboys and still got unseated by a hurricane in rookie QB Dak Prescott. Romo suffered a back injury in his first series of the preseason, and never regained his starting job. Romo’s only action of the 2016 regular season came in Week 17’s meaningless game against the Eagles, when he led Dallas’ only TD drive, going 3/4 for 29 yards and a TD. Romo’s arm was live on that drive, and he clearly looked like he was having fun – his only incompletion was a deep ball on the first play of the drive. If Romo wants to start in 2017, unfortunately he’ll have to do it somewhere else, and we’d assume he’d want to latch on with a contender. We also assume the Cowboys would prefer to trade him out of conference. Will that be Houston? Denver? There could be more options down the road, as well, in what is sure to be a tumultuous QB off-season. But Romo is a good QB who ran into some brutal luck in 2016. Assuming he still wants to play, he will likely make a team very happy next season.
Ezekiel Elliott – The Cowboys were criticized for using a top-5 pick on a running back in this day and age of the “replaceable” asset at the position, but it was obvious from the time they made the pick that they wanted to replicate the success they had with an efficient QB and dominant run game behind the NFL’s best offensive line in 2014. Well, they got that part right with Elliott, who played in 15 games (sitting the final game because it was meaningless) and led the NFL in rushing with 1631 yards. He carried 322 times for those 1631 yards (5.1 YPC) and 15 TDs. He added 32/363/1 receiving on 40 targets to rank third among RBs with 21.8 FPG. Elliott played 71.3% of the Cowboys’ snaps when actually taking part in the game, so he was clearly a true bell cow back. On the season, Elliott finished as a top-12 RB in PPR 11 times, and finished outside of the top 24 just once – Week 14. He was a blind first-round pick for fantasy in August, and paid off that investment beautifully. Elliott ran for 100 or more yards seven times, failed to top 100 yards from scrimmage just four times, and in every game in which he didn’t top 100 yards from scrimmage, he scored at least 1 TD. At 0.47 FP/snap, he was behind only Devonta Freeman and LeSean McCoy among RBs with 500 or more snaps. He and Dallas’ elite offensive line make a ridiculous combo, since the line opens gigantic holes for him, and Elliott always finishes his runs. So though the QB in 2016 was Dak Prescott instead of Tony Romo, Elliott did an amazing DeMarco Murray mach-2014 impression for the Cowboys. Everything lined up so well for the Cowboys, who overall were ridiculously healthy, and were able to play their game (well, except for that Romo guy). Assuming everything stays the same, Elliott is a slam-dunk first-round pick, and almost certainly top-3, in August 2017. However, he remains under investigation by the league for an alleged domestic violence incident that predates his time in the NFL, and a suspension is possible. That will be the #1 story of the Cowboys’ off-season.
Alfred Morris – Morris got a rough deal. The Cowboys signed him to a two-year deal in March, ostensibly to start at RB. Instead, they spent a top-5 draft pick on Ezekiel Elliott, and Morris barely played. In 14 games, he posted 69/243/2 rushing (3.5 YPC) and 3/11 receiving on 6 targets. When active, he played just 14% of Dallas’ offensive snaps. And then, by the end of the year, he was a healthy scratch as Darren McFadden returned to action. Morris has another year on his contract, and both McFadden and Lance Dunbar are free agents, so it’s likely Morris returns as Elliott’s backup in 2017. And he may actually be forced to start for a time if Elliott is suspended in relation to an alleged domestic violence incident that preceded his time in the NFL. But there’s no doubt Morris signed with Dallas expecting more, and by the end of the year, the Cowboys clearly weren’t happy with him either.
Darren McFadden – McFadden ran for over 1000 yards in 2015, but he was cast aside in April when the Cowboys spent a top-5 pick on Ezekiel Elliott, this after Dallas signed Alfred Morris to a contract in March. Then, McFadden missed most of the season when he injured his elbow in a freak accident at his home in June. McFadden returned from the NFI list in December to play in just three games, posting 24/87 rushing (3.6 YPC) and 3/17 receiving on 5 targets. The Cowboys activated him ahead of Morris late in the season, showing they preferred him to Morris, but McFadden is also a free agent heading into 2017, and he’s also heading into his age-30 season. He’s likely on the one-year deal portion of his career. Could he stay with the Cowboys?
Lance Dunbar – Dunbar played in 11 games in 2016, posting 9/31/1 rushing (3.4 YPC) and 16/122/0 receiving on 24 targets. He missed semi-significant time in the middle of the season with a knee injury, and when active, he played just 16.2% of the Cowboys’ snaps. Dunbar is a free agent, and in theory there’s a role for him here in Dallas as a change-of-pace back, but he’s a gifted receiver who barely played in 2016. He’s just 27, so he could go somewhere else with a bigger guaranteed role.
Dez Bryant – Dez had an up-and-down season, partly due to injury and partly due to the fact that he was playing with a rookie QB in Dak Prescott, but he ended up playing his best football at the end of the season and in the playoffs. In 13 games (missing three early in the year with a knee injury), Dez posted 50/796/8 receiving on 95 targets (15.9 YPC, 52.6% catch rate). He averaged 14.0 FPG, which ranked him 19th among WRs. However, if you discount the Cowboys’ meaningless Week 17 game, in which Dez barely played and didn’t catch a pass, he averaged 15.2 FPG, which would have ranked him 13th at the position. Dez didn’t have a single top-12 WR finish in PPR until Week 8, but from that point until the end of the season, he had five of them. Dez was clearly getting healthier as the season wore on, and he was also getting much more comfortable with Prescott. Dez had three 100-yard games (four if you include the playoffs), so he wasn’t as dominant as you’d like to see, but he was still one of the most effective red-zone and goal-line receivers in the NFL – he turned 5 of his 13 red-zone targets into TDs. All in all, Dez was still a pretty efficient receiver. His 1.92 FP/target was enough to rank him 19th among WRs with 50 or more targets, though he was bested by two teammates (Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley) in that department. At this stage of his career, Bryant has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency. He hasn’t led the Cowboys in total receiving since 2014, and hasn’t been able to consistently stay on the field, and he’s now entering his age-29 season. If Dez is healthy, the sky is the limit for him with Prescott, but he simply hasn’t been in two years. His draft position in 2017 will be fascinating.
Cole Beasley – Raise your hand if you predicted Beasley would lead the Cowboys in receiving in 2016. He was assisted by Dez Bryant dealing with injuries of course, but he also became Dak Prescott’s favorite chain mover. Playing in 16 games, Beasley was one of the most efficient receivers in football. Beasley posted 75/833/5 receiving on 98 targets (11.1 YPC, 76.5% catch rate). He averaged 11.8 FPG, which ranked him 42nd among WRs, though he took a hit late in the year when Dez was healthier, as he failed to post 10 FP or more in five straight games to end the year, and in seven of the Cowboys’ final 10 games. All in all, Beasley was PPR option for fantasy who had a pretty safe floor, but overall a low ceiling. He finished as a top-36 WR six times, including five times as a top-24 WR, and once as a top-12 WR. Beasley caught 4 or more passes in 13 of 16 games, but averaged 15 or more YPC in just three games. And after a hot start in which he posted 10 or more FP in six consecutive games to open the year, he did it just three times in the final 10 games of the year. But Beasley was way more valuable to the Cowboys in a real-life sense – the offensive line often gave Prescott plenty of time to throw, and Beasley is a slippery receiver who is often able to work himself open when Prescott has time to throw. In ways, Beasley plays a similar role as Jason Witten as a savvy receiver who knows how to get open on third down. And for a guy who played just 57% of the Cowboys’ snaps on the year, it’s impressive that he led the team in receiving. At .31 FP/snap, he was well above the league average of 0.18, so when he was on the field, he was making an impact. He will return as the Cowboys’ slot specialist in 2017, and will be an appealing late-round PPR bench option.
Terrance Williams – Williams wasn’t typically useful for fantasy, but overall he turned in a solid, efficient season in 2016 with Dak Prescott at QB. In 16 games, Williams posted 44/594/4 receiving on 61 targets (13.5 YPC, 72.1% catch rate). All in all, he averaged just 8.0 FPG, which ranked him tied for 79th among WRs. He finished as a top-36 WR in PPR just five times, and only two of those were top-24 performances. He never once finished as a top-12 PPR WR, even when Dez Bryant missed action (and Williams has been consistently better and more productive in his career without Dez). Williams’ season-high of 88 receiving yards came in Week 3, and he still has just two 100-yard performances in his four-year career. Additionally, Williams’ occasional bonehead mistakes and drops have made him a scapegoat for Cowboys fans over the last four years. Nonetheless, Williams goes into free agency armed with one of the most efficient seasons of any WR in 2016 – among WRs with 50 or more targets, Williams finished 8th with 2.09 FP/target, also leading the Cowboys in that department. He’s likely to get more guaranteed playing time (and money) elsewhere.
Brice Butler – A talented, raw player, Butler may get a bigger role in 2017 if Terrance Williams leaves in free agency, though he is a free agent himself. Playing in 16 games in 2016, he posted 16/219/3 receiving on 32 targets (13.7 YPC, 50% catch rate). Butler had some drops and some mistakes, including dropping a dime from Dak Prescott that would have been a TD in the Cowboys’ playoff loss to the Packers. He caught more than 2 passes in a game just once, and overall played just 40.5% of Dallas’ offensive snaps. Butler is someone to watch in dynasty – with Williams entering free agency, will the Cowboys address the position, or will they find more pressing needs, like on the defensive side of the football? If so, they could need to elevate Butler to a bigger role, and he’ll likely be cheaper than Williams.
Jason Witten (Dal) – It was yet another boring season for Witten, and that’s a compliment at this stage of his career. Playing in all 16 games for the 13th consecutive season, Witten posted 69/673/3 receiving on 95 targets (9.8 YPC, 72.6% catch rate). He averaged 9.6 FPG, which tied him for 16th at the position, though if you take away the Cowboys’ meaningless Week 17 game, Witten averaged 10.2 FPG (still would have put him 16th for the full season). Witten posted just five top-12 performances at the TE position, and was more often a low-ceiling option – he had seven finishes between 13-24 at the position. Witten had just one 100-yard game, and had more than 50 yards just five times. One of the biggest issues for Witten lately has been his lack of TDs – he has just 11 in the last three seasons. And Witten, never exactly the fleetest of foot, is not someone you can expect to get significant YAC. He’s a more important player in reality for Dak Prescott than for fantasy, as he’s exceptional at getting himself open on third downs, as Prescott navigates immaculately clean pockets behind the game’s best offensive line. Typically, Witten is overdrafted for fantasy.
New York Giants (11-5; 2nd in NFC East)
Eli Manning – If you want to cut right to the gist of the point, Eli was not good this year, turning in a weak performance after arguably the best season of his career in 2015. We were excited about Eli’s prospects given new head coach Ben McAdoo was promoted from OC to HC, but something was lost in translation for Eli. On the year, Eli went 377/598 for 4027 yards (63.0%, 6.7 YPA), with 26 TD and 16 INT. He ran 21 times for -9 yards and averaged 19.0 FPG, which ranked him 23rd at the QB position, a year after finishing 10th in the same offense (and, arguably, with a worse receiving corps). Despite throwing to one of the NFL’s best receivers in Odell Beckham and a gifted rookie in Sterling Shepard, Eli looked shaky and inconsistent behind a poor offensive line. Yes, the line and the lack of a consistent run game absolutely hurt, but that’s no excuse for a veteran QB like Eli to look as bad as he did at times. Overall, Eli had just four finishes as a top-12 QB on the year, and never above 7th – at best, he was competent for you. He threw for 350 or more yards four times, but in only one of those games did he throw multiple TDs. In those games, he totaled 5 TDs and 7 INTs. On the flip side, he threw for under 200 yards six times. So even when Eli had a big game, he wasn’t putting the ball in the end zone enough for it to be a week-winning performance. Among QBs with 200 or more pass attempts, Manning finished 9th-worst at 0.51 FP/PA, which is just unacceptable from a veteran throwing to a solid receiving corps. Again, the poor line and lack of run game made the Giants one-dimensional, but Eli struggled with his decision-making in a major way. He must be better next year, or the Giants won’t be. He was one of the major reasons their much-improved defense went to waste.
Rashad Jennings – We’ll try to make this quick to avoid putting you to sleep. Jennings “led” the Giants in rushing in the same way that someone always has to be first for something, but he had a miserable season. Playing in 13 games (missing three with a thumb injury), Jennings posted 181/593/3 rushing (3.3 YPC), with 35/201/1 receiving on 42 targets (5.7 YPC, 83.3% catch rate). He managed 10.6 FPG, which ranked him 35th among RBs on the year. In all, Jennings played 50.8% of the Giants’ backfield snaps, which easily led the team, when active. But for fantasy, he was barely useful behind a poor offensive line. Jennings didn’t even register a top-24 RB week until Week 10, which coincidentally was his first top-12 week of the season. He managed to turn in a run of three top-12 weeks over a four-week span from Weeks 10-13, but then didn’t finish as a top-24 back the rest of the season. Jennings ran for no more than 87 yards all season, and in only three games did he top 10 carries and 4.0 YPC. Among RBs with 200 or more touches, only Todd Gurley averaged fewer FP/touch than did Jennings (0.64). He turns 32 in March, and with Paul Perkins emerging late in the year as a somewhat active option in the backfield, you wonder if the Giants will be moving on from Jennings this off-season.
Paul Perkins – It was an up-and-down rookie season for Perkins, who never seemed to fully earn the trust of his coaching staff, even though Shane Vereen got hurt early in the season and Rashad Jennings stunk. In 14 games of action (he was a healthy scratch early in the year), Perkins posted 112/456/0 rushing (4.1 YPC), and 15/162/0 receiving on 24 targets (10.8 YPC, 62.5% catch rate). He averaged just 5.5 FPG, which ranked him 73rd among RBs, but keep in mind he just didn’t score any TDs, which obviously will hurt him. In fact, of Perkins’ 136 opportunities on the year, only 9 of them (6.7%) came in the red zone. Perkins never finished as a top-24 PPR RB on the year, and in fact only twice finished as a top-36 option. On the year, Perkins played 33.6% of the Giants’ offensive snaps when active, but actually turned in the Giants’ only 100-yard rushing performance of the season in Week 17 – 21/102 rushing in which he grinded up Washington in a must-win game for the Giants’ divisional rivals. The Giants should spend this off-season truly evaluating their run game. Jennings was awful, Bobby Rainey is a free agent, and Shane Vereen is always hurt. If the Giants don’t feel Perkins is a true lead back, they must at least give him more of an opportunity, as he was their best option in terms of creating explosive plays in the backfield.
Shane Vereen – Vereen played in three games to start the year, before going down with a torn triceps that would eventually end his season. He finished as a top-36 RB in all of them, including as the #16 PPR RB in Week 3, the game in which he’d get injured. That finish was the highest Giant RB finish in PPR until Week 10. In all, Vereen played in five games, posting 33/158/1 rushing (4.8 YPC) and 11/94/0 receiving on 19 targets (8.5 YPC, 57.9% catch rate). He averaged 8.4 FPG, which tied him for 54th among RBs. Of course, that counts the two games Vereen played in Weeks 14 and 15 after returning from IR-DFR, in which he totaled just 5 touches before reinjuring his triceps. Vereen has one year left on his contract, but could the Giants choose to release him and just totally rebuild their backfield?
Odell Beckham – Beckham was a consensus top-3 fantasy pick prior to the 2016 season, and overall, his bottom line doesn’t look bad – 101/1367/10 receiving on 169 targets (13.5 YPC, 59.8% catch rate). At 18.7 FPG, he finished 5th among all WRs, and was 4th among WRs who played 10 or more games. But it’s fair to think that his year wasn’t as good as many had expected. First of all, OBJ didn’t even turn in a top-12 finish until Week 6 (to be fair, he was #1 that week). In all, he had eight on the season (mostly late), which is very good, but still below what you’ve come to expect of him. And only once – that #1 finish in Week 6 – did OBJ finish as a top-5 WR. So he accumulated a ton of fantasy points, but wasn’t the truly dominant option he was in years past. So what went “wrong?” (Understanding, of course, that “wrong” is relative here). First of all, and the Occam’s razor explanation, is that Eli Manning and the offensive line were not good. Second of all, OBJ had his own problem with drops during the season, never more apparent than in the Giants’ blowout playoff loss to the Packers. It’s fair to suggest that OBJ is over-criticized for his personality, while also realizing he needs to calm down, as teams have been able to bait him into hurting himself and the team. But for our purposes, we’ll assign most of the blame to an offense that was just out of sync all year. Believe it or not, OBJ’s catches per game, yards per game, yards per catch, and TD totals were all career lows, despite setting a career-high in games played and total targets. His FPG has declined from 24.8 as a rookie, to 21.3 in 2015, to 18.7 in 2016. Again, we’re nitpicking one of the best three-year starts to a career ever, but it is fair to feel like Beckham didn’t provide the expected return-on-investment for a top-3 pick. Our blame, as said, goes to Eli and the offense in general, and the fact that OBJ was still a pretty damn good fantasy asset and will be a locked-in first-round pick in 2017.
Sterling Shepard – All in all, Shepard maintained solid fantasy value on the lower end as a rookie, and we think his season will overall go underappreciated if simply for the fact that the Giant offense in general was broken in 2016. In 16 games, Shepard posted 65/683/8 receiving on 104 targets (10.5 YPC, 62.5% catch rate). He finished tied for 44th among WRs with 11.5 FPG. Shepard was helped by a disproportionate number of his red-zone targets going for TDs – he saw just 13 targets inside the 20, but turned 6 into scores. Shepard had just one 100-yard game, all the way back in Week 2, which coincidentally was Shepard’s only top-12 WR finish on the year (he was the only Giant WR to post one outside of Odell Beckham). More often, he was an excellent “lineup filler” – he turned in a top-36 performance in nine different weeks, six of which were top-24 weeks. So if you started Shepard, there was a reasonable bet any given week that he was going to turn in a WR2 performance, which is pretty good overall for a rookie receiver playing with a struggling QB in Eli Manning. Shepard played 94.7% of the Giants’ offensive snaps on the year, which actually led the team at the position, as New York played almost exclusively 3-WR sets, and Shepard was predominantly the Giants’ slot option. He saw at least 4 targets in all but one game (a bizarre Week 12 game in which he wasn’t targeted), and he saw 7 or more targets in 10 of 16 games. For the most part, he was one of only two Giants even worth considering for fantasy in the passing game. We’d like to see some improvement from Eli, and that’s a huge factor in Shepard’s fantasy outlook for the future, but he consistently got open in the slot, and will be a tough cover for years to come. He should once again be a great option to fill out rosters in 2017.
Victor Cruz – Cruz made an incredible comeback from a torn patellar tendon in 2016, an injury that cost him basically two years of his prime (2014 and 2015), but unfortunately he was pretty much useless in 2016, at least for fantasy. In 15 games, missing one with an ankle injury, Cruz posted 39/586/1 receiving on 72 targets (15.0 YPC, 54.2% catch rate). At 6.9 FPG, Cruz finished tied for 88th at the WR position. Ironically, Cruz’s only TD came in Week 1 against Dallas (at least he got to salsa dance in a division rival’s home), and his season-high in yardage (91 yards) came in Week 2. After that, his production went completely downhill. Cruz finished as a top-36 WR just twice, and the two weeks were so far apart that likely no one caught either one – Weeks 1 and 16. Cruz played 77.7% of the Giants’ snaps on the year when active, but he simply couldn’t move the way he could before his injury. Cruz has expressed his desire to return to the Giants, but he’d have to take a massive paycut to do it.
Will Tye – Tye played in a rotation with Larry Donnell early in the season for the Giants, but eventually took over as the “lead” TE for New York about midway through the year. That was important, since the Giants rarely played multi-TE sets in 2016. He still wasn’t particularly useful for fantasy. In 16 games, Tye posted 48/395/1 receiving on 69 targets (8.2 YPC, 69.6% catch rate). He tied for 36th among TEs with 5.8 FPG. Just six times did Tye finish as a top-24 TE, and one of those six times was he a top-12 TE. Though he was getting playing time, he topped 50 yards receiving and 10 FP just one time each. In all, he played 64.1% of the Giants’ offensive snaps, and that was not nearly enough for him to make a fantasy impact. He’s an exclusive-rights free agent, so he’s likely to be back, but we’d bet the Giants will upgrade this position in the off-season if they don’t believe Jerell Adams to be the answer.
Jerell Adams – A rookie, Adams found his way in and out of the Giants’ rotation. Playing in 13 games, Adams posted 16/122/1 receiving on 21 targets (7.6 YPC, 76.2% catch rate). He averaged 2.6 FPG, which ranked him 61st at the position. At times, the Giants preferred him to Larry Donnell, making Donnell a healthy scratch in favor of Adams. But Adams still played just 23.6% of the Giants’ offensive snaps when active, and though his finish as the #11 TE in Week 10 was actually the Giants’ best overall TE finish of the year, he ranked as a top24 TE just once more on the season. He’s an exceptional athlete, but we didn’t see a ton to make us confident he’s the Giants’ TE of the future.
Philadelphia Eagles (7-9; 4th in NFC East)
Carson Wentz – It was a whirlwind rookie season for Wentz, who wasn’t even supposed to play, but a week before the regular season was thrust into the Eagles’ starting lineup following the trade of Sam Bradford. And remember, this was a guy coming from FCS competition who played in just one preseason game – he missed the final three games of the preseason with a rib injury. In 16 games, Wentz posted 379/607 passing (62.4%) for 3782 yards (6.2 YPA) with 16 TD and 14 INT. He added 46/150/2 rushing (3.3 YPC) to average 17.6 FPG, which ranked him 27th among QBs. From a bottom line standpoint, that probably shouldn’t be surprising for a rookie QB who played at tiny North Dakota State (though an FCS powerhouse), especially a rookie QB who wasn’t supposed to play at all. But Wentz got off to a ridiculously hot start, leading the Eagles to a 3-0 record prior to their bye, without turning the ball over once. Then, things started to go downhill, especially once RT Lane Johnson was suspended for 10 games, beginning in Week 5. Wentz, who had two top-12 finishes over the first three games of the season, never again finished in the top 12 at QB. He finished outside the top-24 four times. And he started forcing throws and making bad decisions, leading to turnovers. While his offensive line was rarely terrible – like, say, Jared Goff’s – the loss of Johnson seemed to show how fragile the Eagles’ whole offense was. And that’s without even mentioning what was arguably the league’s worst WR corps. Wentz still threw for 300 or more yards four times, but he threw multiple TDs in only one of those games. And he was likely dropping back far too many times for coach Doug Pederson to be truly comfortable – he attempted a whopping 60 passes in Week 13 alone. It all led to an overall inefficient season. Among QBs with 200 or more pass attempts, Wentz was third-worst with 0.47 FP/PA. However, unlike Goff, Wentz never looked lost or incapable. A lot of his issues were mechanical and trying to force things, which can be problematic but can also be corrected. And it didn’t help that his receiving corps was downright awful. On the flip side, by the end of the year, Wentz was also showing plus mobility and elusiveness (perhaps the rib injury was affecting him early on?). All in all, Wentz stayed healthy and showed his resolve. The next step for him is to improve, and he needs help from his supporting cast to do so.
Darren Sproles – Darren, please never retire. Sproles is entering his age-34 season in 2017, but he might as well be entering his age 24 season. In many ways, he looked like the Eagles’ best offensive player in 2016. Playing in 15 games (missing one with a concussion), Sproles posted 94/438/2 rushing (4.7 YPC) and 52/427/2 receiving on 71 targets (8.2 YPC, 73.3% catch rate) to finish 33rd among RBs at 10.8 FPG. At 511 total snaps and a 48.9% snap rate when active, he led all Eagle RBs. He turned in eight top-24 RB finishes and one more as a top-36 RB, so there was a reasonable expectation for fantasy that Sproles would be a viable PPR flex. Twice he went for over 100 yards from scrimmage, and six times did he touch the ball 10 or more times on offense. In terms of total touches, Sproles’ 146 were his most in a single season since he had 173 with the Saints in 2011. And he never once looked like he lost a step, showing the same elusiveness that has made him famous. Sproles has another year left on his deal, and though the Eagles could save money by cutting him, they’d be foolish to do so given he was their most dynamic offensive weapon in 2016. He will return to this backfield, which may be rebuilt.
Ryan Mathews – Mathews continues to be one of the most frustrating backs in the NFL, because he looks awesome at times, but injuries and fumble problems have derailed his career on more than one occasion. In 2016, Mathews played 13 games (missing two with a knee injury, then Week 17 with a broken neck), and posted 155/661/8 rushing (4.3 YPC) and 13/115/1 receiving on 14 targets (8.8 YPC, 92.9% catch rate) to rank 31st among RBs with 11.1 FPG. Mathews was most effective in the short area, where he turned 7 of his 17 carries inside the 5 into TDs. Mathews had five finishes on the year as a top-24 RB, but three of them came in the first four games of the season – in that fourth game, Mathews lost the trust of coach Doug Pederson when he fumbled away a sure victory for the Eagles in Detroit. Mathews’ two 100-yard rushing games were the Eagles’ only such games of the year, but he still played only 31.3% of the offensive snaps when active, again likely because Pederson just didn’t trust him fully. And then, of course, the biggest story for Mathews (and we’re burying the lead here) were the fractured bones in his neck suffered in the Eagles’ penultimate game in Week 16. It’s a serious injury that could be career-ending. The Eagles can save about $4 million if they cut Mathews this off-season, and while Mathews clearly still has something to offer as a runner if healthy, that health has never been a bigger question than it is now. The Eagles likely need that money to allocate to bigger weaknesses, and Mathews above all must get healthy for his quality of life.
Wendell Smallwood – The big question about Smallwood heading into 2017 is if he is what he is already, or if he can be more. In his rookie season in 2016, the former West Virginia star played in 13 games (missing the final three with an MCL sprain), posted 77/312/1 rushing (4.1 YPC) and 6/55 receiving on 13 targets (9.2 YPC, 46.2% catch rate) to rank tied for 86th among RBs with 3.7 FPG. Smallwood played just 17.9% of the Eagles’ snaps when active, but certainly showed some positive traits and burst. He saw 10 or more touches in just four different games though, so we don’t have a large sample on him. He also made some rookie mistakes – a late fumble against Dallas in Week 8 pretty much cost the Eagles a win (it was a foolish move by Doug Pederson however, handing Smallwood his first carry of the game in the fourth quarter in his own territory). Perhaps Smallwood’s most impressive showing as a rookie was posting 79 yards from scrimmage on the road in Seattle, so he should feel good overall about his rookie campaign. The problem is he barely weighs 200 pounds soaking wet, and though the Eagles likely need a new early-down grinder in 2017, do they view Smallwood as that guy? He will likely compete with Byron Marshall and Terrell Watson for a role in training camp.
Jordan Matthews – For the second consecutive season, Matthews was the Eagles’ best WR, which was an inherent issue for Philly. Matthews is by no means a bad player, but he’s predominantly a slot mismatch guy and has struggled to win on the outside. That type of player goes best with at least some level of dynamic ability on the perimeter. In 14 games – missing two with an ankle injury, apparently the first two missed games of Matthews’ life – JMatt posted 73/804/3 receiving on 113 targets (11.0 YPC, 64.6% catch rate). At 12.2 FPG, he tied for 38th among WRs. Matthews’ best overall game of the year came in Week 1, when he hauled in 7/114/1 on 14 targets, including Carson Wentz’s first career TD pass. It was the only time Matthews would top 90 yards receiving all year. Once more he finished as a top-10 WR, but just twice on the season was he even a top-12 PPR WR – what’s more, he ranked as a top-24 WR just four times. Part of this, of course, was the fact that he was playing with a rookie QB. But Matthews still struggled with drops, which have been a consistent issue for him in his career, and when the Eagles attempted to move him outside, he just didn’t win with consistency. Matthews is at his best when he can exploit smaller corners or slower safeties in the slot, when the Eagles have a receiver on the perimeter who actually commands coverage from the opposition. He hasn’t had that since Jeremy Maclin in 2014. We would expect the Eagles to make a concerted effort to significantly improve their receiving corps this off-season, and while Matthews may not be peppered with targets next year, it may overall make him a more efficient and effective player. He’s the only Eagle WR currently on the roster guaranteed to have a role next year.
Nelson Agholor – According to Pro Football Focus, Agholor has been the worst WR in the NFL in two consecutive seasons. That’s not good, since he’s only been in the NFL for two seasons. Watching Agholor play, it’s not hard to see why PFF ranks him that way. Agholor played in 15 games in 2016, sitting one as a healthy inactive to try to get his mind right. In those 15 games, he posted 36/365/2 receiving on 68 targets (10.1 YPC, 52.9% catch rate). He averaged 5.7 FPG, which ranked him 101st among WRs. What’s worse is that, when active, Agholor played 82.2% of the Eagles’ offensive snaps. Among WRs with 500 or more snaps (and Agholor had 883), he was by far the worst at 0.10 FP/snap, less than half the league average of 0.21 among such receivers. And remember, this is now two different QBs (Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz) this has happened with. Agholor’s season high of 57 receiving yards came in Week 1, and only once more (Week 16) did he even top 10 FP. He was, by every stretch of the imagination, useless. Not only did he struggle mightily with drops, but mental errors (like lining up in the wrong spot) have literally cost the Eagles points. If there’s any hope for Agholor, you might look in the direction of Davante Adams, who was one of the least efficient WRs in the NFL over his first two years, and then broke out in 2016 in his third year. But even Adams flashed more than Agholor has in his two brutal NFL seasons. Agholor would cost money for the Eagles to cut, so he’s likely to stay put unless traded, but any role in 2017 he’ll have to actually earn.
Dorial Green-Beckham – The Eagles traded backup lineman Dennis Kelly to the Titans for DGB in August, which goes to tell you exactly how much the Titans valued DGB. While he made some plays for the Eagles this year, we’re still left asking too many questions about him to feel good going forward. In 15 games (he didn’t record a target in two games), DGB posted 36/392/2 receiving on 68 targets (10.9 YPC, 52.9% catch rate). At 5.8 FPG, he ranked 100th among WRs, one spot ahead of Nelson Agholor. DGB was only slightly more efficient than Agholor – among WRs with 500 or more snaps, Agholor was the least efficient in terms of FP/snap (0.10). DGB was 12th-worst, at 0.14 FP/snap. Though DGB’s issues with drops weren’t as bad as Agholor’s, the more frustrating thing was how poorly he used his 6’5” size. On multiple occasions, he lost out to much smaller corners on end-zone fade balls. DGB actually hauled in both of his targets inside the 5 for TDs, but from further out, he was a non-factor. In all, he finished as a top-36 WR just twice in 2016, and as a top-24 WR just once. There is something to work with here (his three games of 50+ receiving yards outranked Agholor’s one), but the Eagles may decide to move on from DGB in what is almost certain to be a rebuild of their whole receiving corps.
Zach Ertz – Ertz continues to be one of the more productive TEs in the NFL, and one of the most frustrating. That’s because, for the third time in three years, Ertz had a December explosion. In 14 games (missing Weeks 2 and 3 with a rib injury), Ertz posted 78/816/4 receiving on 105 targets (10.5 YPC, 74.3% catch rate). At 13.1 FPG, Ertz tied Kyle Rudolph for 3rd among TEs. But for Ertz, 40 of his 78 catches came after December 1, much like 37 of his 75 catches in 2015 came after December 1. But it’s the consistency that always drives us nuts about Ertz – though he was the #3 overall TE in FPG, he actually finished as a top-3 TE just twice, in Weeks 14 and 17 (thanks for that Week 17 game, Zach…). Still, in eight of his 14 games, he was at least a top-12 TE, which means despite the frustration, he returned on a mid-round investment in fantasy drafts. Moreover, Ertz has a valid excuse for his early struggles in 2016 – the rib injury occurred in Week 1, and it’s possible it was limiting him until midway through the season or so. Additionally, both Sam Bradford in 2015 and Carson Wentz in 2016 have expressed a growing chemistry with Ertz that built toward the end of the season, and Ertz benefited from Jordan Matthews being inactive twice in December of 2016. And barring something catastrophic, Ertz will have the same QB in 2017 that he had in 2016, the first time this has happened since 2014 (Nick Foles). He’s the Eagles’ most dynamic weapon currently on the roster, but that may also change this off-season if the Eagles greatly improve their receiving corps, as is expected. All in all, Ertz had a career-best season, but before Week 13, it was looking like a bust. We’re getting tired of saying that, but he’s still going to be drafted as a top-5 TE in 2017.
Trey Burton – An intriguing athlete, Burton played in 15 games in 2016 and posted 37/327/1 receiving on 60 targets (8.8 YPC, 61.7% catch rate) and ranked 42nd among TEs with 5.0 FPG. Though Burton played just 31.3% of the Eagles’ offensive snaps overall, by the end of the year Philly was flexing him out as a WR given their lack of options at that position. Burton actually had two top-12 TE weeks on the year, and he topped out with 7 catches for 65 yards in Week 14 against Washington. A gifted player, Burton may not be fantasy relevant in 2017, but he’s worth keeping an eye on in dynasty leagues in the event he goes somewhere else (he’s a restricted FA), or Zach Ertz gets injured.
Washington Redskins (8-7-1; 3rd in NFC East)
Kirk Cousins – Cousins was a popular mid-round QB pick for those who opted to wait on the position, and he more than came through for fantasy purposes. Playing and starting all 16 games for the second consecutive season, Cousins went 406/606 for 4917 yards (67%, 8.11 YPA), with 25 TD and 12 INT. He added 34/100/4 rushing to finish 6th among QBs with 23.7 FPG. On top of some of the league’s most efficient passing numbers, Cousins now has 9 rushing TDs over the last two years, third in the NFL behind Cam Newton and Tyrod Taylor over that span. Nine times this year Cousins finished as a top-12 QB, and three more times he was inside the top 15, so in those weeks he didn’t kill you. Moreover, four of those nine times he was actually a top-5 QB, so he was a week winner. Cousins threw for 300 or more yards seven times, giving him 14 over the past two seasons, third behind only Drew Brees and Carson Palmer over that span. Yes, Cousins came up very small at the worst possible time – he played poorly in Week 17 in a must-win game against a Giants team that had nothing to play for, and it called Cousins’ future with Washington into serious question, given he played 2016 on the franchise tag and is due big money, ostensibly, as a free agent. But the question now becomes “how can Washington possibly do better?” Cousins has been propped up by Jay Gruden’s well-coached offense, though how much influence OC Sean McVay (now head coach of the Rams) could be an issue. He was also propped up by a great offensive line and one of the NFL’s best supporting casts. Nonetheless, at 0.63 FP/PA, Cousins ranked 5th among QBs with 500 or more pass attempts. Watching Cousins turn the ball over and struggle under pressure in Week 17 was almost certainly tough for Washington fans, but it’s just unlikely the club can do better. We expect him to be back, and barring the receiving corps being totally decimated, we’ll once again like him as a fantasy starting QB.
Rob Kelley – While Ezekiel Elliott went a long way to proving that sometimes, elite RBs require an elite cost, Kelley did his best to prove the opposite is true. Or, at least, that a serviceable option at the position is available for practically nothing. A UDFA out of Tulane, where he was neither productive nor athletically dominant, Kelley made his presence felt in training camp and eventually became Washington’s starting RB in 2016. In 14 games of action, Kelley posted 168/704/6 rushing (4.2 YPC) and added 12/82/1 receiving on 19 targets (6.8 YPC, 63.2% catch rate) to rank tied for 41st at 9.5 FPG. But from Week 8 on, when Kelley truly took over for the disappointing Matt Jones, he actually averaged 12.8 FPG and ranked 19th at the position, so he was a solid RB2. From Week 8 on, he had five top-24 RB performances and one more as a top-36 option. That’s not so bad for a guy who was readily available on the waiver wire, both in real life and in fantasy. A physical runner who almost never went down on first contact, Kelley had only one game of 100 or more yards from scrimmage, but he provided Washington with a heck of a sustaining element on the ground for a team that was typically built to throw the ball. On the year, Kelley played just 36.6% of Washington’s offensive snaps, although that number rose to 52.5% from Week 8 on. “Fat Rob” fought through a knee injury late and impressed his coaches, and Jay Gruden told reporters in early January that he’s anticipating making Kelley the Washington feature back in 2017 (provided his knee, which may require a scope, checks out). That said, Kelley averaged barely over 3.0 YPC over the final six games of the season, and we know that so often these “deep finds” at the RB position are cast aside just as quickly for the next flavor of the week. He had a great rookie year, but it doesn’t guarantee Kelley anything in 2017.
Chris Thompson – By total snaps, Thompson was Washington’s lead back. He played 489 snaps on the full year, and at 46%, both his total and snap share led all Washington RBs. However, you wouldn’t know it by his final stat line. In 16 games, Thompson posted just 68/356/3 rushing (5.2 YPC) and 49/349/2 receiving on 62 targets (7.1 YPC, 79.0% catch rate). He averaged 9.3 FPG, which tied him for 44th among all RBs. The reason? Among all RBs with 400 or more snaps, only James White touched the ball on a lower percentage of snaps than Thompson (24%, league average of 42%). So among “bell cow” RBs, or at least RBs who were actively part of a rotation, Thompson could only be expected to touch the ball about half as much as the average RB. It led to a reasonable floor for fantasy, but a miserably low ceiling. On the year, Thompson ranked as a top-36 RB 11 times in PPR, but ranked in the top 24 just twice. So he was a viable flex option in deeper leagues, but was never much more than that. In ways, he was a lower-case Darren Sproles type of player. We were actually disappointed that Thompson didn’t do more as a fantasy option given he was the “top” passing down back on a team that threw the ball so often, but he had a solid season overall and should still have a role in 2017, provided he’s back in Washington (he’s a restricted FA).
Matt Jones – Draft pedigree doesn’t mean anything if you don’t earn the trust of your coaching staff. Though Jones entered 2016 as Washington’s lead early-down back, the 2015 third-round pick was quickly cast aside for UDFA Rob Kelley. Overall, Jones played in seven games and finished with 99/460/3 rushing (4.6 YPC) and 8/73/0 receiving on 8 targets. His average of 11.3 FPG actually ranked him 30th among RBs, the best finish of any Washington RB, but the problem – as was the case in his rookie year – was his 3 fumbles. Jay Gruden completely lost trust in Jones, who was a healthy scratch for each of the final eight games of the regular season. He now has 6 lost fumbles in just 20 games, and it’s clear that outweighed his 4.6 YPC for Washington. And though Jones had several big games (including two top-10 finishes at the RB position), he was also an inconsistent player from run-to-run, let alone from game to game. Washington wouldn’t save much by cutting Jones in 2017, but he also very clearly has to earn his way back onto this roster.
DeSean Jackson – DeSean played through a variety of injuries in 2016, including to his ankle, hamstring, and shoulder (the shoulder was the injury that actually cost him a game), but he missed just one game total, and turned in a very DeSean-like line, posting 56/1005/4 receiving on 98 targets (17.9 YPC, 57.1% catch rate). At 12.0 FPG, he ranked 41st at the WR position, one spot behind teammate Jamison Crowder. But it was really a tale of two seasons for DJax. Between Weeks 4 and 8, when he was dealing with a variety of ailments, he had five consecutive games below 10 FP, the longest such streak of his career. But after missing Week 10 with his shoulder injury, he turned it on for the playoff stretch. Over that span, he averaged 14.7 FPG, ranking him 18th at the position. Seven times did Jackson finish as a top-24 WR, and five of those seven times came after Week 11, when he was clearly feeling healthier. And frankly, he could have been better than that. We’d need two hands (and perhaps some toes) to count the times QB Kirk Cousins missed him on a potential huge gain down the field, if not a TD. Sometimes it was an inaccurate throw, and others Cousins just flat out didn’t see him or didn’t pull the trigger. For our money, DeSean was playing some of his best football of his career down the stretch, as if he knew he was about to earn his last big contract. He still has elite burst and is the best deep-ball tracker in the entire league. He’d help just about anyone, but will Washington have to choose between him or Pierre Garcon, who is also a free agent?
Pierre Garcon – For a guy who was practically free in drafts, Garcon provided consistent value, especially in the second half of the season. Playing in all 16 games, Garcon posted 79/1041/3 receiving on 114 targets (13.2 YPC, 69.3% catch rate). He averaged 12.6 FPG, which ranked him 30th among WRs, and first among Washington WRs. At a 76% snap share on the year, he led all Washington WRs. He had 10 finishes as a top-36 WR, and in Week 17, in a must-win game for the club (they lost), Garcon looked like the only guy on offense who actually wanted to win the game. A physical route runner with sure hands, Garcon was one of Kirk Cousins’ preferred third-down options. It’s also worth noting that Garcon’s role increased in the second half of the year, and from Week 10 on he averaged 14.9 FPG, tying him for 16th at the position. Garcon had just one 100-yard game on the year, but he caught at least 4 passes in all but two games. In his last four years with Washington (five total), Garcon has not missed a game. He was as reliable as receivers come, even if he wasn’t always dominant for fantasy (though he did lead the NFL in receptions in 2013). Garcon enters his age-31 season, and is entering free agency. He may not draw a big contract like teammate DeSean Jackson, but our guess is he makes some team very happy.
Jamison Crowder – Crowder’s breakout season came at the perfect time, because Washington’s top two receivers – DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon – are entering free agency. In 16 games, Crowder posted 67/847/7 receiving on 98 targets (12.6 YPC, 68.4% catch rate). With 12.1 FPG, he ranked 40th among WRs, one spot ahead of DeSean. Crowder, typically Washington’s slot receiver, played 73.8% of the club’s offensive snaps on the year. He had nine finishes as a top-36 WR on the year, though a late-season slump buried plenty of fantasy playoff teams – he totaled just 17.0 FP over the final four games of the season. Nonetheless, Crowder had eight games with 4 or more receptions, and this was with playing a less-than-full role. Jay Gruden overall did a phenomenal job scheming up plays to utilize Crowder’s speed, and with Washington unlikely to re-sign one of Jackson or Garcon, his role should increase next year, especially if Washington has to bring second-year WR Josh Doctson along slowly.
Josh Doctson – It’s been a rough couple of years for rookie WRs in the NFL, after the historically great 2014 class. Doctson was one of our favorites prior to the 2016 draft, but we barely saw him as a rookie. The TCU product played in just two games, and posted 2/66 receiving on 6 targets. Doctson dealt with an Achilles injury practically from the time he was drafted until the end of the season, and though he tried to make a go of it, he landed on IR after Week 2. Then, after the season, coach Jay Gruden appeared frustrated talking about Doctson, alluding to potentially two different injuries for Doctson, then ESPN.com’s John Keim reported in early January that Doctson was dealing with tendinitis in his left foot. We’d love to project a big role for Doctson in 2017, especially with Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson entering free agency, but he’s got to get healthy.
Jordan Reed – Pound for pound, Reed may be the best tight end in the NFL. Unfortunately, major injury concerns – most seriously his extensive history of concussions – have dimmed his star a bit. In 12 games, missing two with a shoulder injury and two with a concussion, Reed posted 66/686/6 receiving on 88 targets (10.4 YPC, 75% catch rate). At 14.2 FPG, he was #1 among TEs, though you also have to take into account the fact that after injuring his shoulder on Thanksgiving (Week 12), he was either out or limited the rest of the year. Up to and including Week 12, Reed averaged 16.9 FPG. Still, in his 12 games, he was eight times a top-12 TE, including the #1 overall TE twice, and once more the #2 overall TE. Reed didn’t have a single 100-yard game, but he caught 5 or more passes in eight of his 12 appearances. We’d love to see what he could do with consistent health, but will we ever get it? Reed will still be just 27 in July, but in four seasons, he’s missed a total of 18 games, meaning he’s lost more than a full season to injury. With his frightening concussion history, we have to wonder how much longer he can hold on. Until then, Reed remains a high-risk, high-reward fantasy pick, since he’s guaranteed to go early in drafts.
Vernon Davis – Talk about a career revival out of nowhere. In 2016, Vernon was obviously forgotten headed into the season, which he played at age 32 (he turns 33 on January 31). But he was overall an important player to Washington’s offense, playing in all 16 games and posting 44/583/2 receiving on 59 targets (13.3 YPC, 74.6% catch rate). For the full season, he ranked 29th among TEs with 7.1 FPG. Believe it or not, he finished as a top-12 TE five times, including twice when Jordan Reed didn’t play, so he was a viable streaming option. But the fact that he three times finished as a top-12 TE when Reed did play shows that he can be an effective #2 TE for a team, and perhaps Washington would be wise to re-sign him with Reed’s injury history (and Niles Paul’s injury history, for that matter). Vernon is entering free agency, and could draw some interest from a team looking for a #2 TE.