As part of the O’Zone’s launch, I’m putting together a four-part ‘Studs and Duds’ series. These won’t be obvious picks. Anyone can say Adrian Peterson is poised for a big season. I’m here to list players that might not come to mind when thinking of a particular team. I will list one stud and one dud for each NFL team, listing players from one division per article. In this column, I’ll take on the NFC East. Let’s get to it.
Stud: Ezekiel Elliot, Running Back
Jerry Jones and the Cowboys turned a lot of heads when they selected Elliot with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Instead of addressing a need at cornerback, Jones and his staff decided to select the electric back out of Ohio State, filling the void DeMarco Murray left when he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles last offseason. Behind Dallas’ league-best offensive line, Elliot should put up monster numbers. Quarterback Tony Romo is back and healthy, which will keep defenses guessing, making their game plan less predictable than last season. Expect Elliot to finish as a top 10 running back this year.
Dud: Jason Witten, Tight End
Witten is one of the greatest tight ends of all-time, but it’s time to stop considering him as a legit fantasy option. In his past 32 games, he’s finished with double-digit fantasy points only four times. He still has good hands and blocking ability, but he simply has too many quality receiving options ahead of him to consider picking him as anything more than a backup.
New York Giants
Stud: Eli Manning, Quarterback
Like the Saints, the Giants’ defense is atrocious. Manning will be behind in plenty of games, forcing him to throw the ball frequently. Odell Beckham Jr. is one of the game’s best receivers. Rookie Sterling Shepherd has impressed in the preseason. The Giants have pass-catching back Shane Vereen to dump the ball off to. Manning finished sixth among quarterbacks in passing yards last season with 4,436, and second in passing touchdowns with 35. Expect similar numbers for Manning this season.
Dud: Any Giants Running Back
The Giants look to have a running back-by-committee approach this season. Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Andre Williams and rookie Paul Perkins will all compete for touches, with Jennings and Vereen receiving most of the work. If Jennings gets hurt, Williams looks like the next man up, but Giants running backs are nothing more than bye-week fill-ins unless someone sustains an injury.
Stud: Jordan Matthews, Wide Receiver
My logic for Kamar Aiken is similar to my logic for Matthews. His main competition for targets (Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham and Reuben Randle) averaged 37 receptions last year. Matthews logged 85. Entering his third season, Matthews will look to increase his yards and receptions for the third straight season. As the team’s only proven receiving option, expect Matthews to finish as a top 20 receiver.
Dud: Darren Sproles, Running Back
Sproles has been one of the NFL’s most electric players over the course of his career but finished outside the top 40 among fantasy running backs last season, even with added touches thanks to an atrocious season from Demarco Murray. This season, the Eagles bring in Ryan Matthews, who has shined when healthy. Matthews has rushed for over 1,000 yards twice in his career. He will be the feature back as long as he is healthy, with sprinkles of Sproles here and there in the passing game.
Stud: Kirk Cousins, Quarterback
Cousins was a top 10 fantasy quarterback last season. YOU LIKE THAT? Cousins also had the third-most rushing touchdowns among quarterbacks. YOU LIKE THAT? Lastly, DeSean Jackson is finally healthy, the Redskins drafted standout TCU receiver Josh Doctson and second-year receiver Jameson Crowder was a pleasant surprise last season. KIRK LIKES THAT. If Kirk likes it, you’ll like it for your fantasy team. Simple as that.
Dud: Matt Jones, Running Back
Jones has been labeled as a breakout candidate for this season, but I remain cautious on the second year running back. Jones scored 95 points last season, but over 50 of those came in two games. Jones tallied two 24-plus point games, but failed to reach 10 in any other game last season. The Redskins will likely use a pass-heavy attack this season, making it hard to justify picking Jones in the seventh round; where he is currently being selected, according to ESPN’s average draft position,