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Sparknotes: NFC East

Over the next few days, we’ll publish a series entitled Sparknotes, each article will take a birds eye view into each NFL division and it’s most important fantasy players. 

Last season saw the rookie duo of Zeke Elliot and Dak Prescott carry the Dallas Cowboys to a division championship and an 8-2 run to close the season pushed the Giants into the wild card round in what looks to be one of the most stacked divisions in football once again. Both teams have plenty to be concerned with as Philly and Washington both closed the gap in the offseason.

Philadelphia Eagles

Notable Fantasy Stars: Carson Wentz (QB21), LeGarrett Blount (RB28), Darren Sproles (RB55), Alshon Jeffrey (WR13), Jordan Matthews (WR45), Zach Ertz (TE10)

Synopsis  – While the Eagles managed a 3-0 start to the season, by the end of the year it was painfully obvious that young QB Carson Wentz needed more reliable weapons. He receives those in the form of jump ball specialist Alshon Jeffrey and bruising running back LeGarrett Blount to complement an improving Zach Ertz. Nelson Agholor falls off the radar completely, but Jordan Matthews figures to man the slot and Darren Sproles should reprise his role as the primary passing down back.

Washington Redskins

Notable Fantasy Stars: Kirk Cousins (QB7), Robert Kelley (RB31), Samaje Perine (RB35), Terrelle Pryor (WR20), Jamison Crowder (WR32), Josh Doctson (WR55), Jordan Reed (TE5)

Synopsis – One massive franchise tag later and the Washington Redskins return their wildly successful QB under center, and as the fates would have it Cousins has a new toy to play with. Converted QB Terrelle Pryor has elevated himself to WR2 status after a monster year in Cleveland and expects even better this year in Washington. Still, there are plenty of targets to go around for Crowder and a healthy Doctson. In the backfield, Kelley is expected to reprise the starting role, but rumors persist that Perine may be in line for some work should he falter.

Dallas Cowboys

Notable Fantasy Stars: Dak Prescott (QB9), Ezekiel Elliott (RB3), Dez Bryant (WR9) Cole Beasley (WR71), Jason Witten (TE16)

Synopsis – Prior to last year we had no idea Dak Prescott would push Elliott for the rookie of the year. This year, there are no such misconceptions as Dallas returns its potent two headed monster and hopes for a healthy year out of Dez Bryant. Under appreciated slot man Cole Beasley expects to far outperform his draft position with another 70 receptions, and the ageless Jason Witten is a safe TE2 who could score a bunch of TDs.

New York Giants

Notable Fantasy Stars: Eli Manning (QB19) Paul Perkins (RB30), Shane Vereen (RB72), Odell Beckham Jr. (WR4), Brandon Marshall (WR34), Sterling Shephard (WR54)

Synopsis – Not to be outdone by the rest of the East, the Giants went out and added former WR1 in Brandon Marshall, pointing towards a year in which Eli Manning does most of the offensive work. Paul Perkins should still see plenty of work on the ground (and Vereen on third downs) but this team is going to pass first and pass often. OBJ will still be the teams #1 but Sterling Shephard may take a bit of a hit with attention being given elsewhere.

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Offensive Snaps: A valuable stat?

(Baltimore 365 ) Owings Mills, MD -- 05/30/2012 -- Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith hauls in a pass during the second team OTA at the Ravens training facility Wednesday, May 30, 2012. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff) [FBN RAVENS OTA (_1D32323.JPG)] ORG XMIT: BAL1205301627204600

(Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff) 

As with any offensive statistic that falls under the Team instead of an individual player, these must be taken with a large grain of salt. The NFL is a pretty fluid league, and contributors both on and off the field change so regularly, to expect numbers to be consistent year over year could be disasterous. Still, it can be valuable to at least look at a teams ability to create plays when attempting to value players who’s numbers may be more relient on the situation than their skills.

Below is a list of the top 10 teams in terms of total offensive plays in 2014.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (1,127 plays)
  2. Indianapolis Colts (1,105)
  3. New Orleans Saints (1,095)
  4. New York Giants (1,086)
  5. New England Patriots (1,073)
  6. Pittsburgh Steelers (1,068)
  7. Denver Broncos (1,067)
  8. Houston Texans (1,062)
  9. Carolina Panthers (1,060)
  10. New York Jets (1,052)

What’s important to understand is that this merely a baseline to understand how often a team puts its offensive players in position to score fantasy points. The uptempo offenses in Philly and Indianapolis enabled them to run 70.4 and 69.1 plays per game; this means players who line up in large percentage of their teams offensive snaps have a greater ability to procure fantasy points. This would seem rather obvious, but is important to note nontheless. Below is a list of the top 10 players ranked by participation percentage (using snap count statistics gathered at Sportingcharts.com)

  1. Torrey Smith* (1,098 total snaps, 96.7% of team snaps)
  2. Jordy Nelson (1,083, 96.5%)
  3. Dez Bryant (935, 93.7%)
  4. Vincent Jackson (969, 93.5%)
  5. Brandon Marshall* (988, 93.4%)
  6. A.J. Green (1,056, 93.3%)
  7. Mike Wallace* (951, 92.6%)
  8. Larry Fitzgerald (998, 92.1%)
  9. Demaryius Thomas (1,106, 91.6%)
  10. Alshon Jeffery (963, 91.0%)

*players have changed teams

What can be gained from these statistics? Well for starters, you can infer based on usage that a player like Kevin White in Chicago is in for a large number of snaps as Brandon Marshall vacates the roster. The same for Kenny Stills in Miami as  the new top target for Ryan Tannehill in place of Mike Wallace. It certainly appears that Chicago uses their two top targets an awful lot, running them out for more than 90% of their snaps on offense. You could also argue that Vincent Jackson and Larry Fitzgerald are both heavy target receivers with a better QB outlook this year, and if the numbers are consistent could be in for a bump in usage.

A few surprises on this list would be players who were used far less than surface stats indicated in 2014.

TY Hilton only saw usage on 71% of Indianapolis’ offensive snaps. A number that if rising could mean enormous stats for the possession beast. Doug Baldwin as the top target in Seattle only saw 74% of the snaps, proving again that Seattle doesn’t trust its passing game, this is likely an indication of Baldwins value in the future. Houston, one of the leagues leaders in terms of total offensive snaps, had both the departed Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins in the 88% range, this could mean a huge uptick in Hopkins usage considering the lack of weapons behind him.

Like anything, it’s important to view these kinds of statistics as secondary, I’m not suggesting that Vincent Jackson should be ranked even close to Antonio Brown (4% less usage), but it’s fair to say that he’ll have far more opportunity then someone like Michael Floyd in Arizona who sees the field less than 85% of their offensive snaps.