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 25.5 12th
Offensive Snaps 1186 16th
2021 Record 9-8 T-14th
2022 Vegas Win Projection 9.5 T-12th

 

The Philadelphia Eagles returned to the playoffs in 2021, for the fourth time in five seasons, under first-year head coach Nick Sirianni and a new starting quarterback. At midseason, the team decided to base their attack around strong run-focused gameplans and the team managed to take off. The team was not expected to make the playoffs but the young team rallied down the stretch, finishing 6-2 in the last eight weeks. While you play whoever is on your schedule, the Eagles beat up on non-playoff teams, going 9-2 but were 0-7 against playoff teams. The Eagles did have a quick first-round exit but overall the season was a positive one.

The Eagles were aggressive in the off-season, plugging holes and adding talent across the roster. With needs at linebacker, pass rush, and corner, the Eagles signed Kyzir White (LB) Haason Reddick (Edge), and James Bradberry (CB). GM Howie Rosman made a splash during the draft weekend by trading for star wideout A.J. Brown of the Tennessee Titans. He continued to add talent on defense by adding difference makers in Jordan Davis, a monster defensive tackle from Alabama, and Nakobe Dean, a team captain, and star linebacker out of Georgia.

Expectations are high in Philadelphia and plenty of hype surrounding the Eagles as favorites in the NFL East. With a talented roster, capable of competing for a championship, the season may come down to whether or not their young quarterback can take the next step.

 

Passing Game

 

Passing Yards per Game 202.7 21st
Passing Touchdowns per Game 1.2 28th
Pass Attempts per Game 29.8 29th

 

The Eagles threw the ball at one of the lowest rates of the year last season, beginning in a Week 6 contest against the Buccaneers. Prior to this contest, the team was allowing first-year starter Jalen Hurts to pass the ball at a high rate in the first five weeks. After Week 5 though, Hurts attempted more than 20 attempts in a game just once in the final ten games of the year. In fact, Hurts threw for less than 200 yards in eight of his final 11 regular season games. Hurts often missed open receivers or struggled to find his primary receivers at times. Still, Hurts ability to create with his legs allowed him to finish as the overall QB9 in fantasy. Hurts is currently going as QB8 in drafts, and feels appropriately priced. However, unless he improves as a passer, finishing inside the top-5 seems unlikely.

Perhaps we will see a leap from Hurts as a passer, after all the team did add a legitimate star receiver in A.J. Brown. Brown missed four games last season but still managed 869 yards receiving and five touchdowns. When healthy, Brown is a bully at the line and dynamic after the catch. Still, Brown finished outside the top-24 receivers on a fantasy points-per-game basis, finishing WR28. Digging deeper, most of Brown’s fantasy production came in just three games but this should not come as a surprise to former A.J. managers. Brown is a boom-or-bust receiver and his current WR11 cost may be at the very top of his range of outcomes. The top players at the position are often more consistent. For his career, Brown has finished as a weekly fantasy WR1 in just 33% of his starts in his career and he has finished as a WR3+ in 58% of his starts. Add to this Hurts’ inconsistent play, and it is difficult to see a true breakout for Brown. However, that doesn’t mean you should shy away from him, just don’t expect him to be the bedrock of your fantasy receiving corps.

DeVonta Smith broke franchise rookie records for receiving yards in a season, finishing with 916 and adding five touchdowns. Smith finished as the WR30 in fantasy scoring but was just the WR42 in weekly scoring. Still, Smith was 16th in air yards earned and the attention paid to Brown should free him up to work the opposite boundary, with elite route-running skills. His WR36 cost is platable, with plenty of room for opportunity to repay his draft cost.

Tight end Dallas Goedert enjoyed a breakout season after the team traded Zack Ertz mid-season. Goedert closed out the season with six top-12 finishes in his final ten games. He was highly efficient, scoring 41 points over expectation. For the season, he had eight top-12 weeks and ten inside the top 24. Goedert, how 27, is at a prime age to continue his ascension to fantasy stardom at the position. He has shown that he can be efficient in the offense, so the addition of Brown should not be a concern for fantasy managers.

 

Running Game

 

Rushing Yard per Game 156.1 1st
Rushing Touchdowns per Game 1.4 1st
Rushing Plays per Game 31.5 2nd

 

The Eagles led the league in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, and even after adding Brown in the off-season, the gameplans could still center around a strong rushing offense. Jalen Hurts led the team in rushing attempts, and yards and scored 10 touchdowns, also leading the team. It is tough to see a path where the Eagles decide to open up the offense and throw the ball around the yard. That plan failed at the start of last season, and Hurts is clearly comfortable in a college type of offense where he can make plays with his legs. Hurts should still be close to the team lead in rush share and while ten touchdowns may be hard to accomplish again, even six or seven would be enough to maintain his ADP value.

Last season, the Eagles gave four backs 50+ carries, but Jordan Howard, who earned 86 carries, is now gone, leaving more work for the rest of the running back room. The Eagles are still likely to split carries amongst Miles SandersKenneth Gainwell, and Boston Scott but the split could be more focused in 2021.

Sanders missed five games in 2021 and he had different roles before and after his injury. Prior to missing games, Sanders was splitting carries but seeing the majority of the work as the passing game back. After his return from injury, he carried the rock more often but his passing game work almost disappeared. Despite having 23 opportunities inside the 20, Sanders failed to find the end zone. If he is not scoring, Sanders’ upside is capped. His current ADP cost is RB27 and that might be at the top of his expected outcome.

Kenny Gainwell is one of my favorite late-round backs in the league this year. Gainwell is a playmaker, and when he had the opportunity he produced. Gainwell had just 68 carries but he earned 50 targets and scored five touchdowns inside the 20. With increased opportunity, Gainwell could carve out a nice role as a Zero RB candidate. Gainwell had five top-24 weeks in the game he played more than 30% of the snaps.

Boston Scott carried the ball 87 times last year and the team resigned him to a one-year 1.75 million dollar deal. He saw plenty of touches down the stretch but the team could look to clarify the depth chart heading into the season. Fantasy managers hope that he doesn’t have a large role in the offense and is just used on a backup basis. Otherwise, he will eat into fantasy production for Sanders and Gainwell.

 

Sleeper

 

DeVonta Smith, WR

Devonta Smith completed a successful rookie season, playing in all 17 games and earning 104 targets on the season. He finished as the WR30 in PPR scoring, in a passing offense that averaged just 200 yards per game. Smith ranked 16th in the league in air yards, right around 90 per game. The expectation is that the Eagles will pass the ball at a greater clip, which will mean greater opportunity for all the Philadelphia pass catchers but Smith especially. With A.J. Brown commanding attention opposite Smith, this will allow DeVonta to work the right side of the field, where he excels. 620 of Smith’s 916 yards came on the right side of the field, a direction Hurts likes to scramble. Hurts scrambled on 13% of his dropbacks, and a player like Smith has the instincts to get himself open for easy targets. A 230-point PPR season is within his range of outcomes, which would put him in the low-end WR2 range. His WR36 cost is a nice gamble heading into your drafts.

 

Deep Sleeper

 

Kenneth Gainwell, RB

Kenneth Gainwell saw limited playing time last season, just 68 carries and 33 targets. However, to anyone watching Eagles games, Gainwell was an explosive playmaker. Gainwell made PFF’s list of most elusive backs, forcing 13 missed tackles. He was 11th in yards per route run amongst backs and averaged 1.05 fantasy points per opportunity, good for 7th in the league. What’s more, he saw half the opportunities inside the 20-yard line, and scored five times, compared to Sanders zero. With more opportunities, Gainwell could see a big jump in fantasy production. While lead-back status is still a slim outcome, Gainwell should see enough playing time to pay off his RB41 draft cost.

 

Bust Candidate

 

Miles Sanders, RB

Miles Sanders finished outside the RB2 range of fantasy backs, a year after fantasy managers we expecting a big jump forward in fantasy production. Sanders’s issues can be traced directly back to injury and the fact that he did not score a single touchdown last season. In his three years, Sanders has yet to reach 1000 yards in a single season, and he has missed 9 games in the past two seasons. He caught 50 balls in his rookie year but since has not topped 30. Gainwell is hot on his heels, challenging for opportunities in the backfield. Sanders should still begin the season as the lead back but with Gainwell challenging for an opportunity, Sanders could find himself in a time-share that favors Gainwell. Sanders is being drafted as the RB27 but in this range, fantasy managers have plenty of other options with better situations.

 

 

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

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