2022 NFC East Preview: Fantasy Football Outlook, Sleepers, and Busts

Marc Salazar breaks down the NFC East from a fantasy football perspective.

2021 Review

 

Points per Game 19.7 T-23rd
Offensive Snaps 1070 17th
2021 Record 7-10 T-22nd
2022 Vegas Win Projection 8 T-20th

 

Coming off of the 2020 season where the team won the NFC East with a 7-10 record, dealt with a pandemic, and saw coach Ron Rivera battle cancer, in 2021 WFT signed Ryan Fitzpatrick in the off-season with hopes he could lead the team to greener pastures. Fitzpatrick, unfortunately, only made it through a quarter of football before leaving the game with a season-ending hip subluxation injury. Taylor Heinicke stepped in and started 15 of 17 games but the team was not able to take a step forward, finishing third in the East.

This off-season the team made another attempt to reset by trading for Carson Wentz and they rebranded the team to be called the Washington Commanders. Wentz is with his third team in as many years, and he will again attempt to reset and find the magic he showed in 2018.

Washington made only minor coaching staff changes. Rivera is returning for his third season as head coach and both Scott Turner, offense, and Jack Del Rio, defense, are also returning for their third season with the team.

The Commanders were quiet in free agency, signing veteran guard Andrew Norwell from Jacksonville after they cut Ereck Flowers this spring. Norwell played with Rivera in Carolina and helps fill a gap on the line but won’t be a big upgrade. The team also resigned running back J.D. McKissic, who was coveted by the Bills, but ultimately the Commanders matched the deal the Bills offered.

Washington added three young players to the team in the draft, Jahan Dotson a wide receiver out of Penn State, Brian Robinson, the former Alabama running back, and quarterback Sam Howell from North Carolina.

 

Passing Game

 

Passing Yards per Game 202.4 22nd
Passing Touchdowns per Game 1.2 T-20th
Pass Attempts per Game 32.4 21st

 

Carson Wentz had a better season than folks want to give him credit for. Wentz finished as the fantasy QB16 and had a stretch of games mid-season where he finished as a weekly fantasy QB1 six times. Wentz threw 27 touchdowns with just seven interceptions and had a 94.6 passer rating. Wentz started all 17 games, staying healthy for all games for just the third time in six seasons. Still, Wentz struggled in three areas that likely led to the Colts moving on after just one season. First, Wentz’s mechanics and accuracy regressed and at times looked downright awful. Second, Wentz has also always had the hero ball aspect to his game, attempting throws with his left hand, scrambling for first downs against the more athletic competition, and forcing easy turnovers. The third area, perhaps the real reason Indy traded Wentz, were the same stories that followed Wentz throughout his career. He is said to be stubborn, almost uncoachable, and a leader who favors teammates to his detriment. Early reports out of OTAs from Washington are that Wentz has shown signs that he could turn things around. The Commanders’ season will hinge on Wentz revitalizing his career. Fantasy-wise, Wentz is a high-end QB2 with a bit of upside but a top-five QB season is not likely in his range of outcomes.

Washington does have a solid group of pass catchers. Terry McLaurin had his second straight one thousand-yard season, finishing with 1,053 yards but just five touchdowns. He operated as a true number one receiver, running routes on 91% of team dropbacks, 130 targets, and finishing 10th in intended air yards per game. McLaurin signed a massive 3-year 71 million dollar extension to remain with the Commanders and he gets an equally massive upgrade at quarterback. McLaurin finished as the WR24 last year and is currently priced appropriately as the WR17 in early drafts. Managers are factoring in the positive developments of the off-season and hoping Scary Terry takes the next step. Still, unless he can reach the 10+ touchdown threshold, he should still be thought of as a WR2 option on fantasy rosters.

Washington used their first-round pick, number 16 overall to select Johan Dotson out of Penn State. Dotson, a senior, dominated the Big Ten during his senior year with a massive catch radius for a player his size. Dotson’s ability to defeat press coverage and catch anything in his general vicinity should allow him to find his way into the Commanders’ starting lineup in Week 1. Dotson is a fantastic late-round choice, especially in best ball formats where rookies tend to close out seasons better than they started. Dotson is an excellent late-round flyer, with massive upside to outproduce his ADP.

Curtis Samuel has been a full participant in off-season activities, but the team chose to limit him late in the summer to prepare for a full training camp. Samuel signed a 3-year 34.5 million dollar contract just a year ago and by paying a player that money it would seem the team would want to get him on the field. However, Samuel is just one year removed from an overall WR25 finish in 2020. While he may be a solid depth piece, especially at his WR78 price, Samuel cannot be thought of as more than depth on your bench with plenty of upside but also heavy risk. Monitor his training camp though, to be sure he is fully healthy.

There are not many solid options at tight end in Washington. Logan Thomas is returning from a late-season ACL injury and is expected to miss the first few weeks of the season. At 31, there are plenty of better options for the position.

 

Running Game

 

Rushing Yard per Game 121.2 11th
Rushing Touchdowns per Game 0.8 T-22nd
Rushing Plays per Game 28.1 10th

 

In his first two seasons in the league, Antonio Gibson has been a highly productive fantasy running back, finishing as RB13 in 2020 and RB10 in 2021. Gibson was fourth in the league with 258 attempts, a remarkable number for a player who was a receiver in college. Still, Gibson fumbled four times and struggled in the red zone. Managers were also hoping to see an increased role in the passing game, and while he did haul in 42 receptions, Gibson was taken off the field in many critical long-yardage situations, splitting time with J.D. McKissic. McKissic is back and the team used a third-round pick on Brian Robinson, a power back out of Alabama to help in short-yardage situations. For Gibson, it would appear he is getting squeezed at both ends. Coach Rivera has stated that he would like to use Gibson and Robinson in a thunder and lighting type backfield, and the team opened up the books to pay McKissic this off-season.

What this all means for fantasy managers is tough to say. Gibson is currently being drafted as the RB19, number 37 overall. Even if his role is scaled back, his immense talent and rushing efficiency will still be enough to return his draft cost. But the questions also mean his ceiling is likely capped, even a low-end RB1 might be tough to achieve. For McKissic, the overall RB45 last season despite missing six games, it should be more of the same this season. Wentz targetted running backs the 6th most in the league last year, well over 20% of his targets were to backs. With the team wanting to cut Gibson’s workload, even a small bump in work will mean J.D. remains a solid Zero RB option. Robinson is not expected to have a large role in the rotation, but he could handle red zone work and there is always the chance that Gibson misses time. He should be on your radar in Best Ball leagues or at the end of your standard drafts.

 

Sleeper

 

Jahan Dotson, WR

Dotson will be a fun player to watch in the NFL. While just 180 pounds, Dotson possesses special speed and agility and excels in the deep passing game, an area we know Wentz loves to target. Dotson caught seven touchdowns that traveled more than 20 air yards down the field, only Chris Olave was better in the class. Dotson is a subtle route runner, with surprising ball skills for a player his size. With first-round draft capital, Dotson will be an immediate starter as a primary boundary receiver. Dotson will have plenty of opportunities and his route-running, wiggle, and YAC ability will surprise teams from Week 1. With a 13th-round ADP, he is a steal at his current cost.

 

Deep Sleeper

 

Brian Robinson, RB

Robinson’s path to fantasy relevance depends almost entirely on an injury to the running back room but he does profile as a back that can handle an early down role should he get the opportunity. And the opportunity is generally all that fantasy backs need. Robinson is your classic downhill runner, with fast feet, and has shown the ability to carry a heavy workload. Washington may lean on him early inside the red zone and should he get the backfield to himself for any stretch of games the COmmanders are a high-volume rushing attack.

 

 

Bust Candidate

 

Curtis Samuel, WR

Five seasons in and Samuel has just one season inside the top-30 receivers. Even in his best season, Samuel only produced as a weekly WR1 for just three games. After signing a large contract and battling injury last season, Samuel has much to prove. But with better, younger options in front of him, his opportunity could be capped even if he is fully healthy. Coach-speak has been positive for Samuel this off-season but managers will need to pay attention to training camp reports to monitor his situation. Still, Samuel is a slot receiver, behind two talented starters, and at his price managers should be looking for players projected to collect snaps and opportunities before reaching on a part-time player.

 

 

Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter) / Photography by Ken Murray, Andrew Dieb, Tony Quinn & Andy Lewis / Icon Sportswire

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