This week and each week of this NFL season, we're heading behind enemy lines to discuss the Fantasy Football implications of each weekly matchup.
This week we're talking with Philadelphia Eagles fan (and a quite reasonable one at that) and Fantasy Football Analyst, Zack Marmer. Zack is a senior writer for The Fantasy Authority. Follow Zack Marmer on Twitter @L for Philadelphia Eagles and other Fantasy Football insights.
John (Inside The Star): Zack, thanks for taking the time to join us here at Inside The Star to offer some insight into the Fantasy Football world surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles. From your perspective as a Fantasy Football Analyst and Eagles fan, what has allowed rookie quarterback Carson Wentz to have the success he's had over the first seven weeks of the season?
Zack Marmer (The Fantasy Authority): The Eagles have done a particularly good job setting up Carson Wentz for success. This is not dissimilar from the way the Cowboys have set up Dak Prescott for success.
Through 6 games, Philly ranks 3rd in points allowed per game. This has kept Wentz from feeling a great deal of pressure to shoulder a load that may be too heavy for him at this point in his young career.
Philadelphia has also done an outstanding job of controlling the football and limiting the amount of plays Wentz has to run. The Eagles trail only the Cowboys and Cardinals in time of possession per game. Philadelphia ranks 9th in rushing attempts per game, (averaging a respectable 4.1 yards per carry) which assures that the rookie doesn’t have to run a high-volume passing offense right out of the gate.
Wentz only committed a single turnover through his first 5 starts. The lone interception came on a throw he had to make to try and pull the Eagles back with little time against the Detroit Lions. In fairness, it wasn’t an awful throw and well-paid cornerback Darius Slay made a stellar play on the football to take it away from Nelson Agholor.
Against the Vikings in week 7, Wentz threw 2 more picks. It’s not like Wentz is the only QB to struggle against Minnesota’s defense, however. They have at least one interception in every single game this year. Coming from a non-FBS school, it has been impressive to watch the kid be smart with the football and make some big-time throws.
John (Inside The Star): Certainly Carson Wentz has been good for much of the season. It's made Dallas Cowboys fans wonder what would have happened had Wentz fallen to number four. Interesting hypothetical for another day. Turning our attention to Wentz's backfield mates, it seems like they don't commit to one running back. With Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, and Wendell Smallwood, what can we make of the Philadelphia backfield?
Zack Marmer (The Fantasy Authority): When healthy, Ryan Mathews is the unquestioned starter, and there shouldn’t be much question as to why. He is easily the most talented between-the-tackles rusher the Eagles have, and he is underrated as a receiver. The problem is that Mathews is rarely healthy.
In a very small sample size, Wendell Smallwood has looked decent as the primary replacement for Mathews. I didn’t love Smallwood coming out of college and don’t think he is much better than a change-of-pace back in this league.
Darren Sproles, despite his age, is still a dangerous threat who can still take it the distance from anywhere on the field. He is the primary 3rd down back and does a pretty darn good job with this role. He won’t catch as many passes as say a Theo Riddick, but that is more due to the conservative nature of the offense that he plays in.
The loss of Lane Johnson could have a big impact on the offense as a whole. If Halapoulivaati Vaitai (Johnson's replacement) can’t move defenders in the run game, the Eagles may get predictable with their runs to the left side. On top of that, on plays where backs may go out for a screen they may need to provide extra protection on passing plays.
While capable, the Eagles backs are limited by the offense that they play in, and aren’t anything particularly extraordinary. The best case scenario for them would be for Mathews to stay healthy and get 15-18 touches per game.
John (Inside The Star): Halapoulivaati Vaitai is an alumnus of my high school alma mater, Haltom High School in Haltom City, Texas (along with Lance Dunbar). Sunday will be a great day to be a Buffalo. Just a little fun fact there. Back to your regularly scheduled programming. In Fantasy Football circles, people know about Jordan Matthews, but between Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham, who do you think will have the better second half of the season?
Zack Marmer (The Fantasy Authority): Personally, I haven’t been overly impressed with either Agholor or Green-Beckham. If I had to choose one player to have the bigger 2nd half, I would pick Agholor.
Success at the receiver position (especially early in a career) is most correlated to route running. Coming out of school, the 2 receivers were on opposite ends of the spectrum in this category. DGB was a headcase who ran a limited route tree, while Agholor was highly touted for his quickness and route running prowess.
Ultimately, Agholor has the better opportunity to succeed. Through 6 games, Agholor played 80% of the offensive snaps whereas Dorial Green-Beckham only played 49.9%. To me, this is enough of a difference to tip the opportunity scale in favor of Agholor.
While I wouldn’t put much money on either to break out, I will take the player with the better opportunity over the lazy, less-used player.
John (Inside The Star): It's interesting that Dorial Green-Beckham was drafted as high as he was and then given up on as quickly as he was by the Tennessee Titans. I, too, like Agholor more of the two. He look to be the more fluid wide receiver. Now let's take a look at your opponent for week 8, the Dallas Cowboys. Which Dallas Cowboy do you expect to have the biggest impact for fantasy teams in the second half of the season?
Zack Marmer (The Fantasy Authority): This one is easy for me: Ezekiel Elliott.
I don’t see any reason why Elliott shouldn’t be one of the top-3 fantasy backs for the 2nd half of the season. If he gets even more involved in the passing game, watch out.
John (Inside The Star): I agree completely. I agree that Ezekiel Elliott and the offensive line are the answers to every question surrounding the Dallas Cowboys. As they go, so will the team in all three phases. What is your impression of the week 8 matchup between the two teams? Who's going to pull out the victory?
Zack Marmer (The Fantasy Authority): These two teams both have rookie quarterbacks who are exceeding expectations. They also play similar styles of football. I see Dallas winning this game, and here is why:
Both teams have the goal of running the ball to control the clock, and playing good defense. Now that Ezekiel Elliott seems to have properly acclimated to the NFL, I don’t think there is a whole lot that teams can do to slow him down. If Dez Bryant can come back from his injury and establish any kind of rapport with Dak Prescott, the rest of the league will have to be put on notice.
On the flip side, Philadelphia hasn’t been able to establish a steady rhythm with the run game. The Cowboys may be top-10 against the run from a yards-per-game perspective, however, this is due to their clock-control style of play. Dallas ranks 21st in yards per carry against. Simply, people run well against Dallas but are limited in opportunities to do so. Despite this, I can’t bet on Philly’s run game to play at a level where they can just jam the ball down the Cowboy’s throats. You can bet that the Cowboys will make it their goal to stop the run and let Wentz and his lackluster supporting cast beat them.
The big X-factor is Philadelphia’s defense. If they can hold Dallas to under 16 points, I would say they have a decent shot to win this football game. If Dallas can break 20 points, I think it significantly decreases their chances. After coming off a game where they made Sam Bradford’s day absolutely miserable, they will meet a Cowboys offensive line that is light-years better. I don’t believe they will have the disruptive capabilities they showed against the Vikings, and this is why I see Dallas exceeding that 16-point threshold.
Score prediction: Dallas 20, Philadelphia 16
Is Dak Prescott a Player to Avoid in Fantasy Football in 2018?
For the Dallas Cowboys, the plan is to stick with Dak Prescott to hopefully turn him into a successful long-term franchise quarterback. Going into his third year in the league, this could be a season that defines his future on America's Team.
However, after the entire team struggled in 2017 while trying to overcome several key absences (including Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith), Prescott's level of play has been questioned by plenty around the league. Fans, analysts and writers everywhere aren't as sure as they were in 2016 about the quarterback's future.
And now, according to NFL.com, Fantasy Football players should beware of drafting Dak Prescott once their "friendly" (we all know they're anything but friendly) seasons begin.
Earlier this week, NFL.com Fantasy Editor Marcas Grant published an article telling us ten players to avoid for the 2018 Fantasy Football season. Perhaps it may come as a surprise to some that Dak Prescott is in there among names like Ty Montgomery and Jack Doyle. You can read his full article here.
To be honest, I see his point here.
It's more than fair to say that it's not going to be an easy year for Dak. He's got to prove a lot in a year that could have a juicy extension at the end of it. After going through a sort of an expected sophomore slump, Prescott's third year in the NFL should be his best one yet.
There's a big but, though. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are long gone, leaving Dak Prescott with a promising yet unproven set of pass catchers.
Will a dominant running game led by five great offensive linemen and Ezekiel Elliott be enough to help Dak and the rest of the offense? Probably. but how much will Prescott be able to accomplish?
Through a painful 9-7 season in which the Cowboys never seemed to be able to find a steady pace, #4's stats took a hit. Here are his numbers from his two years in the pros:
- 2016: 311 completions, 67.8% completion percentage, 3,667 yards, 23 TDs and 4 INTs.
- 2017: 308 completions, 62.9% completion percentage, 3,324 yards, 22 TDs and 13 INTs.
- He also ran for six touchdowns in each of his two seasons.
Per FantasyData.com, his fantasy points dropped from 286.88 in 2016 to 260.66 in 2017.
Despite his numbers dropping, Dak certainly took huge strides as a passer. From taking command of the offense as a captain to making throws he wouldn't make as a rookie, Prescott was able to demonstrate improvements during a rough sophomore slump.
Even with Dez gone, the receivers the front office brought in throughout the offseason are expected to be Dak-friendly. If the receiving corps actually make his strengths shine, the Cowboys' offense will take a huge step in 2018.
Maybe, as Jason Witten mentioned on Adam Schefter's Podcast, Dez is as good as anyone going up for the football. But that's not what will make Dak shine. This revamped WR room might be just what he needs, though.
At the end of the day, even though I truly believe he'll have a good career in the NFL and that he's the future of the Dallas Cowboys, I doubt he should be marked as an early target in the Fantasy Football world.
As of right now, from a Fantasy Football perspective, I would barely rank him as a Top 15 quarterback for many reasons.
First of all, the Cowboys' game will revolve around Ezekiel Elliott. Secondly, it doesn't matter how much faith we put into these pass catchers, they haven't proved anything yet.
Dak is not a bad player at all. But taking Prescott in the middle or even late rounds of a Fantasy Draft might be the safest way to go right now.
Lastly, I leave you with some "Fantasy Nuggets" from fellow Inside The Star writer and Fantasy Football Guru John Williams:
- Dak failed to score 10 standard format fantasy points only four times last season. He scored 15+ points nine times and 20+ six times in 2017.
- In 2017 - even with a down second half - he finished as the 13th best QB in points per game and as the tenth best in total QB scoring.
- In 2016, he was in the top 10 in both categories mentioned in the previous bullet point.
- His ability to run and score touchdowns on the ground easily make him one of the best 12 QB options for fantasy football.
Fantasy Football Implications of Ezekiel Elliott’s Suspension
Ezekiel Elliott has been suspended by the NFL for 6 games for violating the league's Personal Conduct Policy. This will leave a void in the backfield for the Dallas Cowboys and on many fantasy football rosters around the world. As it is with the real league, it's a next man up philosophy in the world of fantasy football as well.
At the moment, that next man up is Darren McFadden.
Just two years ago, with Dallas still clinging to playoff hopes in the wake of Tony Romo's injury, McFadden rushed for more than 1,000 yards. He finished fifth in the NFL that season despite not seeing more than 10 carries a game until week six. From week 6 until the end of the season, McFadden had 7 games with more than 90 yards rushing.
McFadden's touchdown total from that season leaves a lot to be desired, but let's not forget the quarterbacking chaos that went on that season. Between Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore, defenses weren't worried about being beat in the passing game.
Frankly, it's a miracle that McFadden rushed for 1,000 yards.
Over 11 games from weeks 6-17, McFadden averaged 21.45 touches per game and 108.27 total yards per game. At that pace, stretched over a 16 game season, McFadden would have totaled 1,732 yards, which would have led all running backs in total yards that season.
If you still have to draft, I would take a chance on McFadden around the 7th or 8th round in 10 or 12 team drafts.
As for Alfred Morris, he will get some touches as much as the Dallas Cowboys will look to run the ball. That being said the second half of 2016 showed who the coaches preferred as the backup.
The last time Morris ran for more than 1,000 yards was in 2014. In 2015, if you'll remember, he lost his job to Matt Jones who has since lost his job to UDFA Rob Kelley, who is starting but is being threatened by 2017 draft pick Samaje Perine.
When Morris played last year he was pretty ineffective averaging a career-low 3.5 yards per carry.
With McFadden's injury history, you can take a shot on Alfred Morris late in your fantasy drafts around the second to last or the last round.
How Should You Value Ezekiel Elliott in Upcoming Fantasy Drafts?
That's a difficult question to answer, because a lot will depend on your league settings. My simple answer is, if you can get any discount on Ezekiel Elliott from his average draft position of 3.0, then you're getting a good value for at least the second half of the season.
Just a week ago I wrote to not allow this absence to sway you too much. I stand by that.
Fantasy football is about getting as much value as you can with each draft pick. Elliott is a top 5 value in any setting, even if he has to sit out. I think you can comprise a roster good enough to get into the playoffs, then you'll want Elliott for a playoff run.
Just like the Dallas Cowboys, all you need to do is tread water while he's out. If you can make it through the suspension at or around .500, you will still be in good position to win your fantasy football league.
When Elliott comes back, he will be the starter.
Even if they make him earn it, it won't take long. He's just better than McFadden and Morris. If your league lets Elliott somehow slip outside of the first round, snatch him up and make sure you draft McFadden. You'll thank me for it later.
While many will look at this situation as a detriment to Dak Prescott and may feel deterred from drafting him as the 9th quarterback in your league, I actually see it the opposite. While Dak was very efficient in Dallas' run-first offense, he showed throughout the 2016 season that he could be leaned upon in a shootout or to bring the team back from a large deficit.
In fact, Dak might have played his best game of the season during the playoff loss to Green Bay when the team got down 21-3. Forced to pass, Prescott completed 63% of his passes for 302 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in nearly leading the team back to victory.
With a full offseason in the Dallas offense and a really good compliment of receivers led by Dez Bryant, I fully anticipate Dak to have an excellent sophomore campaign.
Dallas may lean more on the pass during Elliott's absence, which will make Dak more valuable to me. Remember fantasy football is about acquiring stats and with Elliott out, Dak will have a great chance at putting up even bigger numbers. Especially if the run game is ineffective.
Fantasy Football: Draft Ezekiel Elliott Early, Don’t Be Swayed
Plenty of fantasy football drafts have come and gone, but many still remain as training camp is in full swing. The question has come up in the fantasy football Twitter community; what do you do with Ezekiel Elliott amidst rumors of a suspension? And the short answer is nothing.
Investigations into whether or not Ezekiel Elliott has violated any of the NFL's policies have persisted. Supposedly, those investigations have come to a close. The personal conduct policy, the domestic violence policy, and the substance abuse policy seem to all be in play as the league decides on the appropriate punishment for the Dallas Cowboys' star running back.
You could go the safe route and drop Ezekiel Elliott down your draft boards or you could take a chance at having one of the top scorers in fantasy football on your roster.
Say a suspension does come down. At worst, a drug suspension would be four games.
The domestic violence issue seems to be circumstantial evidence that even the Columbus Police and District Attorney declined to pursue. The NFL's personal conduct policy could apply, but that seems to be more of a threat than anything. So the question is, if Elliott is out for four games, does he lose his value somehow. I'd say no.
We don't have to go back very far to see a similar star running back with a similar suspension. In 2016, Le'Veon Bell was suspended for the first three games of the season and many people slid him down their draft boards. In some mocks, I saw him going outside of the first round.
Sure he missed the first three games of the season, but he finished as fantasy football's No. 3 running back and was there when you needed him most. Playoff time.
Bell only had three games where he failed to score less than 15 standard fantasy points during his 12 game season (didn't play in the season finale). The point being, anyone who drafted Le'Veon Bell in the first round or the top of the second was quite happy with the results.
If Ezekiel Elliott misses time, it will be at the beginning of the season, but like Bell, he will be around at the end of the season when you're trying to put away a championship win.
If you're drafting at the top of the first round, don't let Ezekiel Elliott's consistency and scoring ability get by you because of a threat of suspension. He'll be available to you when you need him most.
The first few weeks of the season are tough matchups for Elliott anyway.
Dallas will face the New York Giants, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, and Los Angeles Rams in the first four weeks--all teams with tough defenses. Though Elliott is a guaranteed starter for those four weeks, it's likely you're lowering expectations for him against some of the top run defenses in the NFL.
For me in 2017, the reward of having Ezekiel Elliott on my roster far outweighs the risk of any potential suspension. Draft Zeke and reap the benefits.
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