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Redskins deep at RB, WR

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Michael Harmon

Mike is a fantasy contributor for>>

Is it the best division in the game? I typed out a few lines in support of the NFC South in my review of that division during this division-by-division breakdown. Of course, I received some notes from rabid Eagles fans and my Dallas friends.

Upon further consideration, perhaps I should have just succumbed to the usual media run and slapped the tag on the NFC East. It’s a competitive division for 2012, to be sure, full of new blood and rebound hopes. Everybody’s curious to watch Robert Griffin III in his Washington debut and to see whether his game immediately translates to the NFL. Of course, recent headlines have been dominated by the Cowboys and the Eagles. The Giants have been able to go through their paces quietly in Albany, New York, though there were suddenly some headlines about bad beds in the dorms.

Let’s start with the defending champs.

New York Giants

Overview: Will there be a Super Bowl hangover? We ask this at the beginning of every preseason, and this year is no different. We know that Eli Manning and his big-time receiving options will move the ball and put up points. The defensive front is dominant. It comes down to turnover counts and health in the rough-and-tumble NFC East.

Quarterback: Eli Manning remains a consistent option in fantasyland. He hasn’t missed time because of injury to date and logs 4,000 passing yards per annum. Manning’s turnover count leaves something to be desired, to be sure, but there aren’t many questions to be asked about this unit.

Running Back: Ahmad Bradshaw performed well for the Giants in 2011, but he once again succumbed to injuries. Bradshaw amassed 926 total yards with 11 total touchdowns in his 12 games. He’ll offer great production from the RB2 slot. However, fantasy owners selecting Bradshaw would be wise to stash rookie David Wilson on the bench. Wilson, a first-round selection in 2012, will serve in a workload split with Bradshaw out of the gate and represents tremendous handcuff value.

Wide Receiver: Hakeem Nicks has been activated by the squad from the PUP list and is reportedly progressing well from his broken foot. Deep ball threat and playmaker Victor Cruz returns for an encore. I’m looking for big things from rookie Reuben Randle out of LSU in the spot vacated by Mario Manningham. He’s a big receiver who knows how to create space and works the seam well.

Speedster Jerrel Jernigan, a 5-foot-8 third-round pick in 2011, has been impressive in camp. Jernigan may become a PPR option in the vein of former Giants receiver Steve Smith.

Tight End: The Cowboys’ former second-round selection, Martellus Bennett, jumps to division rival New York. Bennett caught 85 passes in four seasons behind Jason Witten, but hadn’t scored in three seasons. He represents a sneaky TE2 option in this offense, particularly in the red zone where Eli Manning can use his 6-foot-6 frame.

Kicker: The New York offense affords Lawrence Tynes ample PAT opportunities (45, 43 and 43 in the past three seasons). Field goal chances have been sparse behind Eli Manning during the past two years. Tynes attempted 47 field goals in the 2010 and 2011 seasons combined, converting 38 of them. He’s a Bye week replacement.

Defense: The Giants will cause offensive coordinators nightmares because of the myriad looks and persistent pressure coming from the defensive front. The sheer number of pass rushers is frightening and strike fear in the hearts of quarterbacks. Of course, they’ll need that pressure to aid a secondary that will likely be without Terrell Thomas.

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Philadelphia Eagles

Overview: Much has been written about the death of Andy Reid’s son and how it may affect the team in 2012. I choose not to judge how people deal with grief. Reid and his family made a decision regarding his return to the team. He’s back with a talented offense and, on paper, a potential dominant and terrorizing defense. Will the team rally? Will they struggle? Only time will tell.

Quarterback: Vick regressed markedly last season following his dominant 2010 campaign. He produced 11 fewer touchdowns, while his turnover count increased by nine. Expectations are high (Vick has asserted such, as well) for a rebound effort in 2012 with such explosive options surrounding Vick. Obviously, fantasy owners need to account for the fact that Vick will miss time because of injuries at some juncture. That certainly factors into the fantasy value of both DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.

Running Back: LeSean McCoy positively dominated opposing defenses and lifted fantasy lineups to great heights in 2011. His 20 total touchdowns and 1,600 total yards put him on the Mount Rushmore last season. He’s expected to generate another huge year, but we anticipated a regression in his touchdown count. Vick will operate at the goal line more frequently, and I expect more success in the passing game.

Dion Lewis, a second-year player from Pittsburgh, stands as the backup option to open the season. Lewis carried the ball 23 times for 102 yards as a rookie.

Wide Receiver: Fantasy owners were left wanting by big-play threat Jackson in 2011. He caught 58 passes and nearly recorded 1,000 receiving yards, but he trotted into the end zone only four times. He’s consistently topped 900 receiving yards in his career and has played through hamstring and other leg ailments.

Maclin nearly matched his reception and yardage totals from 2010, though his touchdown total dropped in half. Regardless, Vick has two steady, trusted options in the receiving corps and a third option that steps in seamlessly in Jason Avant (41, 51 and 52 receptions in the past three years). Riley Cooper represents an interesting red zone option once healthy.

Tight End: Brent Celek quietly posted a 62-reception, 811-yard season for the Eagles last year. Following a slow start, Celek caught four or more passes in nine of the Eagles’ final 11 games. He’s being drafted as a high-end TE2, but there’s definitely upside in what could be an explosive Philadelphia offense.

Kicker: Alex Henery produced tremendous fantasy numbers as a rookie last year. He logged 46 PATs while converting 24-of-27 field goal tries. Interestingly, only six of Henery’s 27 field goal attempts came from distances of at least 40 yards. I suspect that the PAT total remains elevated behind a more consistent Michael Vick, and that his number of field goal chances rises as well.

Defense: The Eagles promise to be one of the most aggressive units in the game, led by sackmaster Jason Babin (18 last year). The unit generated 50 sacks overall with 24 turnovers. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha present one of the most formidable lockdown cornerback sets in the game. Veteran DeMeco Ryans solidifies the heart of this unit that ranked tenth in total defense last year (20.5 points allowed per game).

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Dallas Cowboys

Overview: Jerry Jones just wants the regular season to start. The team was already in the news because of the Dez Bryant situation. On Wednesday, news broke regarding tight end Witten (see below).

Quarterback: The much-maligned Tony Romo returns for another run in the highly-publicized Dallas offense. Romo returned from an injury-shortened 2010 season to produce 4,100 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2011. He’s an annual fantasy hero, say nothing of the wins and losses that don’t matter here. Obviously, there are questions concerning all of his top receivers as the preseason develops, but it’s too early to push him down in the rankings. Kyle Orton has proven capable of posting big numbers in his previous spots. He was signed as insurance should Romo sustain an injury.

Running Back: DeMarco Murray was an all-world option for fantasy owners before he was lost for the season because of an injury. He amassed nearly 1,100 total yards, including five contests with at least 105 total yards. Murray’s introduction to the NFL and the myriad questions surrounding other running backs elevate his status for the draft season.

Felix Jones returns to the second slot. The former first-round selection averaged 4.5 yards per carry in 2011 before Murray burst onto the scene.

Wide Receiver: We’re enamored with the talent possessed by Miles Austin and Bryant. Austin’s persistent hamstring issues and Bryant’s off-field issues are less than inspiring. Both players are drafted as WR2s, with some anticipating a breakout season for Bryant. Kevin Ogletree has the inside track to run in the third receiver role vacated by Laurent Robinson (Jacksonville).

Second-year receiver Dwayne Harris, who spent his rookie campaign in the return game, remains in the mix for reps. The winner of the competition will

Tight End: The Dan Patrick Show reported that Witten sustained a serious injury during Monday’s preseason snoozer against the Raiders. Witten reportedly has a spleen injury that will put him on the shelf for the 3-4 weeks, at a minimum. I bounced him down to ninth in my latest tight end rankings pending additional details.

Kicker: Dan Bailey performed fantastically as a rookie in 2011. Bailey converted 32-of-37 attempts (12-of-16 from distances of at least 40 yards) with 39 PATs. He’s an upper-division K1 this season.

Defense: The Dallas secondary gave up countless big plays in 2011, failing to take advantage of the persistent pressure (42) sacks administered by DeMarcus Ware and the defensive front. The Cowboys allowed fewer than 100 rushing yards per game, thereby setting up advantageous defensive sets. Unfortunately, they were unable to capitalize.


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Washington Redskins

Overview: Mike Shanahan puts his offense in the hands of rookie Robert Griffin III. All reports from camp have been positive, and the team has done well to surround him with solid receiving options.

Quarterback: I might be the only man wishing Rex Grossman was still the starter in Washington. OK, I’m over it. Heisman winner Griffin III takes over Mike Shanahan’s offense for 2012. The heroics of Cam Newton for the Panthers in 2011 have certainly raised expectations for Griffin III’s introduction to Washington. He’s expected to make plays with his legs while using his big arm to elevate the passing game. I would caution against using Newton’s dominance as a baseline, as Griffin III’s frame is more in line with Michael Vick’s than Newton’s linebacker makeup. That is to say, I don’t anticipate a mountain of goal-line runs in RGIII’s future.

Running Back: You don’t dare tread into this dangerous minefield with an early selection. We love the versatility of Roy Helu and, at times, the work between the tackles of Tim Hightower. Maybe former Penn State running back Evan Royster is your dark horse in the positional battle. Fantasy owners know to tread lightly and not to invest in the notoriously fickle Shanahan backfield until RB3 territory and then hope for a true winner to force the venerable coach’s hand.

Wide Receiver: I’m slightly surprised by the fact that Santana Moss rates no better than a WR4 slot this preseason. However, in producing my rankings, he kept sliding back in favor of newer, shinier options with upside. Moss could be a steal in his current draft slot.

Pierre Garcon amassed 947 receiving yards for the horrendous Indianapolis offense last season with six touchdowns. He signed a huge deal to be the No. 1 option for Griffin III and the new-look Washington attack. Garcon became a more consistent option in 2011, producing 70 receptions. He rates as a high-WR3 to start draft season, but his big-play potential certainly could elevate his status if RGIII develops quickly.

Leonard Hankerson has turned heads on the field, but remains part of the second unit given the veteran options available to Mike Shanahan. The 6-foot-2 second-year player out of Miami has the ability to get downfield and could maximize RGIII’s arm. He’s a sneaky “sleeper” in deeper leagues to start draft season. He’ll compete with Josh Morgan for reps.

Tight End: Fred Davis scored three touchdowns in 12 games for the Redskins prior to his season-ending suspension, but he’s a fantasy darling with RGIII under center. Remember, Davis logged 59 receptions and 796 yards in those 12 contests, including six games with at least 80 receiving yards. Former fantasy hero Chris Cooley returns to action after missing nearly the entire 2011 season. Cooley produced 849 receiving yards in 2010 and could become part of a two-tight end (fullback work?) set in support of Griffin III.

Kicker: Neil Rackers posted a huge year for the Texans in 2011. He’s in camp with the Redskins, working to wrest the job away from Graham Gano. Rackers is the more consistent option, but Gano has a bigger leg. The eventual winner rates as a Bye week option.

Defense: The Redskins posted 41 sacks and generated 30 turnovers last season. With Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo leading the way, Washington fans are optimistic that improvement from the 22.9 points allowed per game (21st in the NFL) is imminent.

Tagged: Cowboys, Giants, Jets, Eagles, Redskins, Panthers, Michael Vick, Jason Witten, Tony Romo, Jason Babin, Eli Manning, Jason Avant, Ahmad Bradshaw, DeSean Jackson, Tim Hightower, Jeremy Maclin, Dez Bryant, Cam Newton, Ryan Kerrigan, DeMarco Murray, Dan Bailey, Robert Griffin III, Robert Griffin

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