Philadelphia Eagles Fantasy Football 2017 Preview: Is Carson Wentz a Sleeper?
It’s not always sunny in Philadelphia, as Eagles fans know, but dawn is breaking in the City of Brotherly Love after two consecutive losing seasons. The Eagles appear to have won last year’s game of rookie-QB roshambo with the Rams, and an offseason talent infusion has helped make Philly a legitimate contender for the NFC East crown. A date with Apollo Creed looms, and the Eagles are at the point in the training montage where they’re chugging raw eggs and pummeling sides of raw beef.
As I’ve preached before, offensive line play is the secret sauce in fantasy football, and the Eagle’s O-line is a rich béarnaise. Pro Football Focus ranks it as the top O-line in the league entering the 2017 season. The yeoman’s work done by the big uglies up front should improve the odds of various Eagles skill players approaching the top end of their range of possible outcomes.
|Carson Wentz||QB19||QB22||Consider late|
Carson Wentz is still a mere prince, but he flashed enough potential as a rookie to make the Philadelphia faithful believe they’ll soon be bending the knee before Good King Wentz-eslas. Thrust into the fray immediately without the benefit of an apprenticeship, Wentz completed 67.4% of his throws in his first four games, with seven touchdown passes and one interception. But Wentz struggled from his fifth game on, throwing 13 interceptions and only nine TD passes. It didn’t help that the Eagles were short on wide receiver talent, or that Wentz had to cope without stalwart right tackle Lane Johnson, whose 10-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy coincided with the rookie quarterback’s tailspin.
The addition of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith upgrades the WR corps, and that first-rate offensive line should keep Wentz’s confidence level high after his predictably uneven rookie year. Wentz’s Fantasy Football Calculator ADP is QB19, which isn’t unreasonable. I don’t rank him quite that high, but he’s worth considering as a second quarterback in 2-QB leagues or as a backup in deep 1-QB leagues.
|Alshon Jeffery||WR17||WR17||Draft around|
The aforementioned Alshon Jeffery comes to Philadelphia with the hope of deodorizing his fetid final season in Chicago. He missed four games due to a PED suspension, dealt with hamstring and knee problems, and scored only two touchdowns in 12 games. Jeffrey is a nice receiver for a young quarterback to have. He’s 6-3, 218 pounds, with a huge wingspan and hands like catcher’s mitts. Jeffery was terrific in 2013 and 2014, averaging 87 catches, 1,277 yards and 8.5 touchdowns over that span, and his per-game catch and yardage numbers the last two years have been fine.
One potential problem with Jeffery is that he’s been susceptible to soft-tissue injuries – groin, calves and hammies. The other is that he faces a murderous schedule. He now plays in a division with coverage aces Josh Norman (Redskins) and Janoris Jenkins (Giants), whom he’ll each see twice. Jeffery also has dates with Marcus Peters (Chiefs), the Jason Verrett/Casey Hayward combo (Chargers), Patrick Peterson (Cardinals) Aqib Talib (Broncos) and Richard Sherman (Seahawks). Jeffery’s ADP of WR17 is fair, but I’ve been drafting around him rather than paying retail.
Jordan Matthews has hung up some solid numbers over his first three NFL seasons – 225 catches, 2,673 yards, 19 touchdowns – and he just turned 25, but fantasy owners have turned their backs on him. After a promising rookie season in which he had 67 catches for 872 yards and eight touchdowns, J-Matt entered 2015 with an ADP of WR11. His numbers were even better than in his rookie year (85-997-8), but he did some late-season stat padding, and his ADP slipped to WR35 in the run-up to last year’s drafts. Now, after scoring only three touchdowns in 2016, he carries a rock-bottom price of WR51. His ADP could conceivably sink even lower based on recent chatter that Nelson Agholor has a chance to steal Matthews’ job. I don’t really buy that. We have a pretty convincing body of evidence that Matthews is the superior player. I’ve been buying J-Matt repeatedly in early drafts. The combination of a young quarterback and in-house target competition will probably prevent him from having a true breakout year, but Matthews should have no trouble returning value on his garage-sale ADP.
Agholor, a first-round pick in 2015, has reportedly been an early standout in training camp, but he’s been no more than a peripheral contributor in his first two seasons. It’s not too late for his light bulb to turn on, but Agholor isn’t draftable in most leagues.
I’m not sure whether Torrey Smith is draftable either. After a good (but never great) four-year run with the Ravens, Smith spent two years in the witness relocation program in San Francisco, where his existence was little more than a rumor. After catching 53 balls in two years with the 49ers, Smith will try to reclaim relevance back on the East Coast, but his third-wheel status on the Eagles’ depth chart doesn’t bode well for his fantasy utility.
|Zach Ertz||TE12||TE11||A decent Plan B|
Zach Ertz played college ball for Stanford, not for Pac-12 rival Washington, but if the big tight end were a breed of dog, he’d be a Siberian husky. Ertz is clearly most comfortable in colder weather. In his four NFL seasons, he’s had 94 catches for 1,048 yards and seven touchdowns in December games. He’s had 40 more receptions in December than in his second most productive month (November, naturally). He’s scored more touchdowns in December than in every other month combined. Ertz has played only two games in the frosty month of January, but of course he thrived in the cold like a White Walker, with 22 catches for 291 yards and two TDs.
Ertz has also established a distinct pattern of high reception and yardage totals and low TD totals. He’s averaged 70.3 catches and 790.3 yards over the last three years, but he’s never scored more than four touchdowns in a single season.
At an ADP of TE12, Ertz is fairly priced. The addition of Jeffrey, a big-bodied end zone target, tamps down the likelihood of a spike in Ertz’s TD total. Jeffery’s arrival also reduces the likelihood of Ertz exceeding 70 receptions and 800 yards, as he has for the past two seasons. Still, Mr. December seems well cast as a back-end fantasy starter.
|LeGarrette Blount||RB24||RB31||Be skeptical|
|Darren Sproles||RB64||RB49||Take one last ride|
LeGarrette Blount probably has a better chance of winning the Nobel Peace Prize than matching his touchdown total (18) from a year ago. Everyone knows that, of course, but I’ve seen a number of people set the new TD expectation for Blount in the 8-10 range, which might still be a stretch. After all, Blount never had more than seven touchdowns in any of his six previous seasons before the confetti cannon went off last year. The Patriots’ favorable game scripts (i.e., huge leads) allowed them to use Blount like a battering ram. His 299 carries were 98 more than he had in any other season. And before he ran for a career-high 1,161 yards last year, he’d had more than 781 rushing yards only once – in his rookie year with the Buccaneers, when he ran for 1,007 yards.
Blount is a lock to get the Eagles’ goal-line carries, and Philly’s offensive line should give him a YPC boost. (He averaged 3.9 yards per carry last year.) But with season-long game scripts destined to be less run-friendly than last year, Blount is in for a serious haircut in volume – not just a little off the top; more of a crew cut. And of course, Blount adds precious little value as a pass catcher. His ADP of RB24 seems awfully rosy.
Darren Sproles is back for a final curtain call before his planned retirement. The 34-year-old Sproles will again own the passing downs, and we can pencil him in for the same sort of numbers he’s consistently produced during his three years in Philadelphia: about 300-400 rushing yards, 400 receiving yards, 50 catches and a handful of touchdowns. He’s startable in PPR leagues and has high-floor bench value in standard leagues.
Other notable members of the Eagles’ current RB corps: Ryan Mathews, Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey and Corey Clement. Mathews is a lock to be released and could become draftable depending on where he lands. Smallwood failed to impress last year as a rookie and may have trouble finding a foothold in the Philly offense. Pumphrey, a fourth-round pick from San Diego State, is a 5-8, 176-pound Sproles clone who figures to serve as an understudy for a year. Clement, an undrafted free agent from Wisconsin, might have a chance to steal Smallwood’s roster spot.