USA Today/Pete Rogers Illustrations

NFC East Fantasy Football Deep-Dive: Best Picks, Sleepers, Draft Advice for 2021

A team-by-team deep dive, bringing you the best of the NFC East for 2021 fantasy football.

With the 2021 NFL season fast approaching, I’ve taken it upon myself to go division-by-division and breakdown each team for 2021 fantasy football. For each team, I’ve picked the best fantasy options and a few up-and-comers on the roster who could have sneaky fantasy value this coming season. I’ve also included Sharp Football’s Strength of Schedule Metrics for each team (1st = easiest, 32nd = hardest) and my own 2021 .5PPR rankings for the players were applicable.

Dallas Cowboys
Overall Strength of ScheduleOpposing Off. EfficiencyOpposing Def. EfficiencyOpposing Pass D EfficiencyOpposing Run D Efficiency
6th3rd25th24th9th

Although Dallas faces an uphill battle in the pass defense efficiency department, drafters should not shy away from the Cowboys’ passing game components as they found tremendous success last year against a similar slough of opponents. The Dak Prescott-led 2020 ‘Boys actually produced the NFL’s highest first-half early-down rate of first downs gained via the pass at 43%, per SharpFootballStats.com. Dallas continued their high-flying ways even after Prescott was lost for the season in Week 5, averaging 69.6 plays per game through 2020, second-most in the league, which reinforces the idea that a high-paced, pass-first approach is integral to the Cowboys’ offensive philosophies.

Certified Beasts

QB Dak Prescott (My 2021 rank: QB3)

Through four weeks last year, Dak Prescott was the highest scoring quarterback in fantasy football. Although the ankle dislocation/fracture that Prescott suffered last year may make him a little hesitant to utilize his scrambling ability at the beginning of the year, that should improve as the season progresses. Perhaps most importantly, the veteran QB will have a full training camp and preseason to deepen his connection with up-and-coming sophomore wide receiver, CeeDee Lamb. The duo flashed in their 4.5 games together last year but a real training camp is going to work wonders for them. Prescott should have no trouble returning value at his current 5.06, QB5 ADP.

WR CeeDee Lamb (WR11) & Amari Cooper (WR13)

In a recent piece for The Athletic (highlighted for free here by Adam Levitan) Jon Manchota quotes offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, saying the time has come for CeeDee Lamb to take on a larger role than he did last year. With little time to prepare him for the pros, the Cowboys’ coaches felt it best to keep Lamb in the slot on a near full-time basis (93.2% per PFF.com) where the rookie cruised to a WR20 finish in .5PPR scoring. With a healthy Dak Prescott and a chance to significantly increase both his targets as well as reps across the formation, Lamb has a chance to compete for top 12 honors at the position.

Related: Wide Receivers to Avoid in 2021 Fantasy Football

Amari Cooper, meanwhile, should continue operating as the route running savant that he is. Lamb’s ascension may ding Cooper in the target box a tad but the lessened coverage attention paid to Cooper, plus the return of Dak Prescott, keeps Cooper locked firmly on the WR1/2 borderline. Draft both Lamb (4.01, WR13) and Cooper (4.06, WR16) confidently at their current ADPs.

Injury update: Amari Cooper had a “cleanup procedure” on his ankle in early July. He has been placed on PUP and is expected to return in time for Dallas’ Preseason Week 2 game.

RB Ezekiel Elliott (RB5)

Although Zeke looked a little slow last season, he’s reportedly in phenomenal condition (seriously) and is still within the prime age group for bellcow RBs. With Dak Prescott back at the helm, Dallas should produce as a top 5 scoring unit. Expect Zeke to feast both between the 20s and in the red zone. Any concerns regarding Tony Pollard taking his job have been soundly put to rest over the last two seasons. Elliott’s 1.05, RB5 ADP is appropriate.

Sneaky Beasts

WR Michael Gallup (WR43)

Expectations were too high for then-third-year receiver Michael Gallup last year but his ADP is now at a more reasonable locale, making Gallup a great value add in the early 12th round (WR53). Through the four healthy Dak games last year, Gallup operated purely as a downfield receiver and we should expect him to return to the boom/bust role again in 2021. In the right match-up, say a team’s free safety is unable to play that week, Gallup will make for a fine plug-and-plug flex option.

Injury update: Michael Gallup tweaked his ankle during an entanglement with a fence at practice. It’s not expected to be serious.

TE Blake Jarwin (TE12)

Blake Jarwin was the darling of late round tight end drafters last year but a Week 1 ACL tear ruined his 2020 season. The molasses-like Dalton Schultz played well in Jarwin’s absence and the public seems to have forgotten about Jarwin as a result, given his current 14th round ADP.

The freaky athlete is cocked, locked, and ready to rock though and is fully participating in Dallas’ training camp. If Schultz can finish as the TE14 in .5PPR scoring, despite catching passes from Andy Dalton and Ben DiNucci for 11 of his 15 games as a starter, imagine what Jarwin can do in a 17-game Dak-propelled season. Draft Jarwin confidently at his current ADP.

RB Tony Pollard (RB48)

No matter how great Pollard looks, especially in the passing game, the team is committed to using Ezekiel Elliott as a workhorse back. Pollard remains one of the best handcuffs in the game though and his 9.05, RB43 ADP is a moderately fair price to pay for him.

New York Giants
Overall Strength of ScheduleOpposing Off. EfficiencyOpposing Def. EfficiencyOpposing Pass D EfficiencyOpposing Run D Efficiency
22nd6th29th31st21st

Despite playing in a talented division, the Giants’ schedule overall looks to be one featuring opponents who favor ball control and defense as opposed to running up the score (ie. Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings, and Baltimore Ravens). As a result, game scripts may not get away from them and it’s plausible that the G-Men remain in games longer than one might expect, given their lackluster coaching staff.

Certified Beasts

RB Saquon Barkley (My 2021 rank: RB3)

For injury analysis, it’s important to rely on the people with degrees. Dr. Edwin Porras of FantasyPoints.com makes an extremely compelling case for Saquon Barkley’s health in 2021. The short version: Barkley has a number of positive indicators going for him, with his ACL tear recovery. He’s at a slightly elevated risk of soft tissue injury but so are a number of the top running backs this year. The fourth-year running back has as good a chance as any to clear 350 touches this year and is absolutely worthy of his 1.06, RB6 ADP.

WR Kenny Golladay (WR33)

Film guru Matt Waldman is so pessimistic about Kenny Golladay’s fit in New York that he managed to shoehorn the subject into his Cam Akers/Achilles fallout piece—and his concerns are entirely valid. QB Daniel Jones’ downfield accuracy has not developed as many had hoped and he’s done no favors by the ignorant coaching staff duo of head coach Joe Judge and offensive coordinator Jason “The Clapper” Garrett with their archaic play-calling. As a result, Golladay meets the lowest possible Certified Beast threshold, simply by being the Giants’ (talented) No. 1 wide receiver who could see upwards of 130 targets. There will be ugly weeks but he’s likely to return high-end flex value at worst. His 5.07, WR21 ADP is really leaning on a ceiling outcome though.

TE Evan Engram (TE13)

Be bullish on Evan Engram this year. Last year was a let down for those that didn’t pay attention to the recovery period that Engram was set to endure after rupturing the Lisfranc injury in one of his feet. For those that did, you knew he was unlikely to find his fantasy ceiling due to the fact that NFL players generally see a 21% dip in their production in the first season back from this ailment, per Dr. Edwin Porras of FantasyPoints.com.

Given Engram’s current 13.09, TE18 ADP, it appears as though fantasy managers are frightened by the offseason signing of veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph. Unfortunately for Rudolph, he recently underwent surgery to repair a ruptured Lisfranc ligament. Although Rudolph is likely to play this season, he’s extremely unlikely to pose any threat to Evan Engram’s target total. Engram is firmly on the TE1/2 borderline entering 2021.

Sneaky Beasts

WR Sterling Shepard (R63) & Darius Slayton (WR65)

For the first time in years, Sterling Shepard doesn’t have a veteran receiver on the roster who’s also fighting for the primary slot receiver role. Some folks will try to point to 2021 first-round draft pick, Kadarius Toney, as competition but Toney was outrageously overdrafted as he’s more of an athlete than a route runner at this point. With Shepard going virtually undrafted, he’s an excellent value pick late in drafts.

Darius Slayton has flashed big time potential throughout his short NFL career. The signing of Kenny Golladay is likely to result in a dip in targets as both players prowl the deeper realms of the field though. That said, Slayton’s overall role of “downfield burner” is unlikely to change. It’s lazy analysis but Slayton is a preferred option in best ball rather than redraft as his production is going to be somewhat sporadic though. He’s another decent choice for one’s final fantasy draft pick.

Philadelphia Eagles
Overall Strength of ScheduleOpposing Off. EfficiencyOpposing Def. EfficiencyOpposing Pass D EfficiencyOpposing Run D Efficiency
3rd2nd19th21st11th

Philly’s strength of schedule is looking like a rushing bonanza this year. From a defensive perspective, they’ll be facing decently strong pass defense units but their expected slate of run defenses is soft as butter. On the other side of the ball, their opponents offer next to nothing in the offensive departments. Their opponents this year boast just the 11th-softest slough of rushing attacks and the softest group passing attacks. Even if Eagles’ QB Jalen Hurts struggles in his first full year as a starter, it’s unlikely many teams are able to tilt the game script so far in their favor that Hurts is frequently forced to rely on his questionable passing accuracy.

Certified Beasts

QB Jalen Hurts (My 2021 rank: QB10)

As mentioned above, Hurts should routinely be in position to rack up gaudy rushing totals throughout the 2021 season. An important note from Chris Raybon of The Action Network, Hurts scrambled on 13.5% of his dropbacks last year, “a ridiculously high rate”. Scramble rate is extremely important for rushing-capable QBs because it tends to be a “sticky” (read: consistent) style of play. With stud rookie Devonta Smith ready to take over as the team’s X-receiver, another year under the belt of Travis Fulgham, Dallas Goedert primed for a breakout with Zach Ertz all but off the roster, and a chance for Jalen Reagor to turn things around after a bleak rookie campaign, Hurts offers a high, top 12 floor and an elite QB1 ceiling. His 8.06, QB11 ADP is well worth the cost.

WR Devonta Smith (WR34)

For those concerned about Devonta Smith’s BMI, breakout age, etc., please take a moment to skim this thread physical therapist Adam Hutchinson. TLDR: Smith’s body and age are a-okay and he actually profiles similarly to guys like Adam Thielen, Calvin Ridley, and A.J. Green. The main concerns here are that he’s a rookie and he’s surrounded by a deep, talented receiving corps. Smith’s 7.06, WR30 ADP is a reasonable price to pay for someone who profiles as a weekly flex play with WR2 upside.

TE Dallas Goedert (TE10)

Dallas Goedert is set to do battle with Devonta Smith for No. 1 pass catcher status in Philadelphia this year, his cause aided by fellow tight end Zach Ertz unlikely to remain on the roster for much longer. The biggest hindrance to Goedert in his quest for the top 5 fantasy TE realm is his quarterback’s erratic passing. Hurts still has a long way to go if he’s going to last in Philly but the volume should be there for Goedert to establish himself as a problem for opposing defenses.

RB Miles Sanders (RB17)

Although Sanders is likely to take a slight hit in passing game usage with Hurts’ propensity for scrambling, 2021 could result in Sanders’ most productive season year. Given their run-friendly strength of schedule, it wouldn’t be a surprise for Sanders to see over 250 carries (especially in a 17-game season) after receiving just 179 and 164 carries, respectively, through his first two years. The drafting public seems to have overcompensated due to the receiving game fears, letting his ADP drop to the round 3/4 turn as the 20th back off the board. Sanders should produce as a steady RB2 this year.

Sneaky Beasts

RB Kenneth Gainwell (RB56) & Boston Scott (RB57)

A pair of talented pass catching backs, the rookie Kenneth Gainwell and the veteran Boston Scott, are in a battle for No. 2 RB duties at the moment (with the irritating banger back, Jordan Howard, lurking like the beast in a nightmare as a potential goal-line poacher). Gainwell has the long-term cost-control aspect going for him, from a front office perspective. Scott’s one-year $920K deal is plenty team friendly as well though. For those high on Gainwell, his 13.10, RB58 ADP is reasonable. Throwing a final pick of the draft on Scott is obviously a better value move though, as the veteran is largely going undrafted.

WR Quez Watkins (WR59)

Sophomore speedster Quez Watkins has taken over as the Eagles’ No. 2 wide receiver. Questions remain as the potency of this passing attack but both talent and volume appear solid. Watkins is looking like a late round steal right now.

Washington Football Team
Overall Strength of ScheduleOpposing Off. EfficiencyOpposing Def. EfficiencyOpposing Pass D EfficiencyOpposing Run D Efficiency
28th16th13th9th10th

On the surface, Washington’s strength of schedule looks like a tough one. However, when we parse the intricacies via SharpFootballStats.com’s Strength of Schedule tools, we can see that the “hardest” part of the 2021 slate is that of their opposing passing offenses, which comes in as the 11th-most efficient group in the league. The schedule is topped off my mid-to-low groupings of run games, run defenses, and pass defenses. Although the Football Team may struggle in the win column, their schedule sets up perfectly for a high-flying Ryan Fitzpatrick season.

Certified Beasts

WR Terry McLaurin (My 2021 rank: WR15)

Through two NFL seasons, with the subpar quarterbacking combo of Case Keenum, Dwayne Haskins, and Alex Smith, Terry McLaurin has quickly established himself as one of the league most exciting X-receivers. His 2.05 yards per route run (Y/RR) in 2019 ranked 13th at the wide receiver position, a year in which he took overall WR27 honors in .5PPR scoring.

His 2020 sophomore campaign saw a sharp uptick in targets (93 to 134), yielding 1.87 Y/RR (25th) and a WR21 .5PPR finish. With the human jugs machine, Ryan Fitzpatrick, at the helm and a schedule that’s expected to feature near weekly shootouts, the stage is set for a career year out Terry McLaurin. His 3.08, WR11 ADP is slightly high but still within reason for those interested.

RB Antonio Gibson (RB14)

Antonio Gibson’s rookie campaign was as bizarre as it was successful. Given Alex Smith’s leg issues, it made sense that the WFT wanted to frequently deploy a running back who was a capable player in the passing game. What was a little surprising though was that they opted to use journeyman running back J.D. McKissic in that role, instead of the 6-foot-2, 220 pound former college wide receiver in Antonio Gibson. The catch: JDM’s RB pass blocking grade of 61.7 was 6th best in the league (min. 65 PB snaps). Gibson, who was on the field for 20 PB snaps, earned a grade of just 22.9—understandable for a guy who made the switch from wide receiver to running back a few months before his first NFL season.

With Alex Smith out of the picture this year, it’s reasonable to expect the coaching duo that welcomed running back Christian McCaffrey to the NFL in Carolina, Ron Rivera and Scott Turner, will want more receiving production out of their lead back than they’ll want pass blocking reps. Gibson is a good bet to enter the dual threat bellcow conversation, as he proved unwaveringly last year that he’s a talented rusher. He’s a borderline RB1/2 and while his 2.02, RB11 ADP is expensive, it could pay massive dividends.

The biggest concern for Gibson though is the turf toe injury that he suffered last season. The injury plagued him for months, as it’s notoriously difficult to recover from. Whispers have begun to swirl, indicating the toe might be bothering him a tad. Per Dr. Edwin Porras, this is an injury that can be managed over time though. It’s possible we have a series of Did Not Practice designations throughout the season before Gibson suits up and handles 20 touches on Sunday.

Sneaky Beasts

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (QB14)

Like the Bishop in Caddyshack, Ryan Fitzpatrick was struck down by a Tua Tagovailoa lightning strike as he was well on his way to the best performance of his life last year. The pre-planned installation of Tua at QB after the team’s Week 7 bye, disrupted Fitzpatrick’s 2020 campaign. Fitzmagic’s 3.5% Completion Percentage Above Expectation (CPAE) was 7th best in the league, and the best ever personal performance by him in Next Gen Stats’ five-year database. As mentioned above, Fitz is going to be forced into pass-happy game scripts and the manic passer will no doubt provide an exciting show for WFT fans to watch. His 13.10, QB20 ADP is a steal.

WR Curtis Samuel (WR38)

Curtis Samuel has No. 2 WR duties all but sewn up right now and while there are promising players behind him, there’s no one ready to truly challenge him. A speedy player that can get open in the short and deep areas of the field, Samuel should be counted on as a regular flex play. His 10.04, WR44 ADP is a fantastic place to nab him.

Injury note: Curtis Samuel may be dealing with a serious groin injury, per Dr. Jesse Morse. Drafters should proceed with caution and give long looks to guys like Dyami Brown and Adam Humphries.

WR Dyami Brown (WR68 ) & Antonio Gandy-Golden (WR79)

Dyami Brown has a shot to take on full-time downfield receiver duties, although he’ll be fourth or fifth in the pecking order behind Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Logan Thomas, and (hopefully) Antonio Gibson. Still, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s No. 1 deep threat is a worthwhile player to have. Antonio Gandy-Golden is a promising player from the 2020 draft class. The jury’s still out on him but he’s worthy of a final pick.

WR Adam Humphries (WR63)

Wide receiver Adam Humphries is quietly having a good camp and appears to be locking down the slot receiver role. The last time they played together, in 2018, Humphries posted a stat line of 76/105-816-5. With Curtis Samuel ailing, Humphries may open the season as the No. 2 pass catcher in Washington.

RB J.D. McKissic (RB54)

Although McKissic is likely to see a reduced workload this year, if Antonio Gibson’s recovering turf toe were to become a problem, JDM’s PPR value would skyrocket.