Despite the fact that there are many NFL and fantasy football fans who pick over offseason news with a fine-tooth comb, we understand that there are still a lot of you out there who simply don't have time to keep up with player movements or the happenings of each team. That's why yours truly is here to give you the lowdown on the recent 2014 news of each team, both AFC and NFC and how it impacts your fantasy football league/team.
I thought I would do something a little bit different this time. Instead of loading up information on all four teams from each division in one article, I'd like to break down each team in each division for the NFC. The Philadelphia Eagles had a surprise first year under HC Chip Kelly, winning the NFC East Division with a 10-6 record. But how does the fantasy football value of each skill player look heading into 2014?
You can't talk about the Eagles offense without first mentioning QB Nick Foles' coming out party. A quarterback who many thought would be nothing more than a backup in Kelly's new up-tempo offense, Foles ranked as one of the top quarterbacks in the league as he finished in the top 10 in completion percentage (64.0) and ranked first in yards per attempt (9.12) and in passer rating (119.2). The biggest number that sticks out is Foles' 27 touchdowns to a mere 2 picks.
These numbers are a bit skewed as Foles was in and out for much of the early part of the 2013 season due to Michael Vick's injury status. But now that Vick is competing for the starting job with the Jets, Foles should be considered a top fantasy QB1 heading into 2014. He will have had a full offseason working with the first-stringers and is already comfortable in the offense. Some might disagree with this assessment now that DeSean Jackson is in Washington. But the Eagles have made enough upgrades through free agency and the draft that I really don't see a drop off in production. 30+ touchdown passes and 4,000 passing yards are clearly in range. The interceptions will rise, but isn't that to be expected?
Coming off the first rushing title of his career after carrying the ball 314 times for 1607 yards, LeSean McCoy will continue to be one of the main centerpieces of the offense in 2014. A top-5 running back in terms of pass blocking, running and receiving, McCoy's production with Foles at quarterback improved dramatically over the final seven games of the regular season as McCoy went over 130 rushing yards in four of those games. McCoy will be an RB1 again this year, but where he ranks amongst the top 3 is anyone's guess.
The addition of Darren Sproles could knock "some" value out of McCoy, but it won't be enough to make me avoid him entirely. At a dwarfish 5'6/190 pounds, Sproles doesn't have the body to carry the ball 20 times a game. And Sproles won't threaten McCoy's carries. His highest output on the ground came in 2011, when Sproles carried the ball just 87 times with a 6.5 ypc average. Sproles' bread and butter is his receiving abilities. Over the last three seasons with the Saints, he's averaged a little over 77 receptions per year. Clearly the Eagles see Sproles as an option to fill the gap that Jackson left behind in the receiving game. Sproles is valuable as a stand-alone option in PPR leagues as there is the possibility he could rack up 5-6 receptions a game. In non-PPR leagues, he's nothing more than a late-round flier and a handcuff for McCoy owners.
Like I mentioned a few times in this piece, the Eagles lost a big chunk of their identity after they released DeSean Jackson. Whether it was due to gang ties, or another T.O. like scenario, Jackson's 1332 receiving yards and nine touchdowns from last season won't be easy to make up. Sproles being in the mix will help, but the team has some question marks with their returning receivers. Coming off an ACL injury, Jeremy Maclin signed a one-year deal to stay in Philly. While Maclin has shown talent, he's also shown fragility. He already tweaked his knee during an early-June practice. It remains to be seen whether he can return to his pre-injury form. With question marks abound, I wouldn't draft Maclin as anything more than a WR3. There is simply too much risk with drafting him any higher.
Riley Cooper is yet another Eagles receiver who comes with just as many question marks. 2013 was a surprise after Cooper became Foles' favorite weapon on offense. He racked up 835 receiving yards, averaged over 17 yards per catch and found the endzone 8 times. The problem going into 2014 is that without Jackson taking attention, defenses are going to key in on Cooper a lot more this year. What does that do to his fantasy value? Just like Maclin, Cooper is a WR3 at best. With so many other weapons on the Eagles offense and the new defensive attention, I'd be hard pressed predicting a 1,000 yard season in Cooper's future. I'd actually be a bit shocked if he matched his 2013 numbers. On any other team, Cooper would be nothing more than a No. 3 receiver. He fits in well with the Eagles offense, but he played way over his head last season.
This receiving unit isn't all bleak. With his rookie year behind him, I expect TE Zach Ertz to take a big leap in year two and be the featured receiver ala Jimmy Graham. A 6'5/250 pound monster, Ertz has been concentrating more on his pass blocking in practice, the one thing that hurt his role last season. Is he a TE1? It's hard saying no as many predict 2014 to be his breakout year. However, I'd draft him as a high end TE2 with the hopes that the predictions many are making do come true. If you wind up with a stud as your TE1 and have the ability to start two tight ends, Ertz could have major value on your roster. In regards to Brent Celek, his time is almost up. His main role on the offense has gone down recently and he's mainly used as an in-line blocking tight end. Some might draft Celek due to his name, but I'd avoid him in all my drafts. He was a candidate for a deal restructure back in January due to his $4 million price tag.
While I usually don't bring up rookie receivers as fantasy sleeper options, especially on a team with so many other weapons already, it's hard to ignore what people in the media have been saying about second-round pick Jordan Matthews.
Philadelphia Inquirer's Jimmy Kempski had this to say about Matthews in a recent tweet:
In limited media access to OTAs so far, Jordan Matthews has looked like the best WR on the team, in my opinion, and it hasn't been close.
Eliot Shorr-Parks of the Newark Star-Ledger even went as far as comparing Matthews to Terrell Owens:
Looking at Eagles rookie receiver Jordan Matthews stand on the sideline during practice, it is hard not to think of former Eagles receiver Terrell Owens.
Like Owens, Matthew stands 6-foot-3. Also like Owens, Matthews is known for being a hard worker and a workout nut. Throw in the fact that they both wear No. 81, and it is hard not to think it is Owens out there catching passes during Eagles practices.
Matthews is expected to lock down slot duties in his first year. But if he can take the momentum he has now and bring it into training camp when the helmets and pads go on, we could be looking at some redraft appeal heading into the latter part of August. I'd like to caution owners though. There have been numerous reports about players looking better than expect early on in OTAs. This has gone on since as far back as I can remember. A player looks great in shorts, only to flop once training camp begins.
So while you should temper your enthusiasm about Matthews' value, this is someone you will want to be keeping on your radar. Because of the unknown involving Cooper and Maclin, Matthews could be a huge surprise.