The Fantasy Breakdown – NFC South Edition

Welcome to the ultimate Fantasy Breakdown! As we head into the pre-season when most fantasy football drafts will be taking place, we will break it down team by team and player by player for every team in the NFL. Let’s continue our look at the NFC by examining the NFC South.

Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers are hoping that Cam Newton will be right for the regular season. The team overall is poised to contend in the division but will be hard pressed to win out against the Falcons and Saints. Outside of star running back Christian McCaffery, this offense seems to have more questions than answers, and the defense is still good, but not what it has been in the past. Luke Kuechly is one of my favorite players, but he is approaching the tail end of his career. The Panthers are a team with a lot of upside, but I don’t think they will be able to do more than break even in a very tough division.

Here is a player by player breakdown:

Cam Newton – All signs are pointing to Cam Newton being available for the regular season. The setback with his foot injury has been reported as a foot sprain, and he returned to practice on Monday without the walking boot he had been wearing. Even if Cam was in tip-top shape, I’d be generally avoiding him in fantasy football drafts because of how high is being drafted. I would much rather have a combination of Lamar Jackson, Kirk Cousins, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Josh Allen, etc than to spend a single digit round pick on Cam Newton, or any quarterback for that matter.

Christian McCaffrey – CMC is one of the four horsemen, along with Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliott (if he doesn’t holdout). He is a surefire, 300 touch running back, especially valuable in PPR, and worthy of being one of the top three picks in any fantasy football draft regardless of format.

Elijah Holyfield – The son of former Heavyweight Champion Evander Holyfield, Elijah is fighting to make the Panthers roster, and emerge as the back up to CMC. Despite going undrafted due to a poor 40 yard dash time, Elijah Holyfield has impressed coaches as a hard, between the hash style of runner. If Holyfield can lock down the backup job on this roster, he could have some upside as a flex option. For now, he is simply a guy to watch out for.

DJ Moore  – DJ Moore is a solid young wide receiver who will look to make the leap entering his sophomore season. Although fellow rookie Curtis Samuel is considered a more explosive player, Moore displayed positive traits en route to 788 yards while only starting 10 games (though he played in 16). The only thing that makes me hesitant about drafting Moore is his high draft capital. Besides, if DJ Moore doesn’t perform, Steve Smith Sr will fight him.

Curtis Samuel – The prototype wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers used to be giant, lumbering wide receivers who could post up and win on contested catches purely by boxing out opponents. Curtis Samuel is the deviation that has seen the Panthers transition to a speed-based wide receiving corps. Though he’s still being touted as a sleeper, Curtis Samuel is wide awake and is climbing up draft boards. If I had to pick between Samuel and Moore, I think I would lean on Samuel progressing into his third year as the explosive deep threat on the team.

Greg Olsen – Father time has not been kind to Greg Olsen, who has struggled to stay healthy the last two years. Even when he’s been on the field, he’s been a lesser version than he was even two years ago. I’m disinterested in drafting Greg Olsen in fantasy football, as he’s past being a top ten tight end, even when he’s healthy.

Panthers DST – Although the Panthers defense has taken a bit of a step back in recent years, I think they do have a solid defense, enough to compete against the high powered offenses in their division. The defensive line could be scary if Gerald McCoy is right, and the secondary is young but talented. The biggest question for this team will be if their defensive leader, Luke Kuechly, is able to stay healthy and lead this unit to a top ten finish. The Panthers could potentially surprise people if they are able to be a top defensive team.

New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints were a penalty away from being in the SuperBowl. The call was, in fact, so egregious that the NFL has ultimately changed the rules in a reactionary response to the robbery that was the pass interference non-call during the final plays of the NFC Championship game against the Los Angeles Rams. Drew Brees and Sean Payton are returning to try and make another run at the SuperBowl, and I’m of the opinion that this time they will be playing for a championship in 2019/20.

Here is a player by player breakdown:

Drew Brees – I don’t want any part of Drew Brees in fantasy football. In real-life football, Brees is arguably one of the all time greats, as he is the leading passer in yards over a career in the history of the NFL at 74, 437 and counting. For fantasy football purposes, the words “load management” should frighten people. The Saints have a viable backup in Taysom Hill, and after seeing Brees slow down somewhat during the back half of the season, I don’t think it’s crazy to consider that the Saints might use Hill even more often than they did last year, and not just as a gadget player. This is why I would not be looking at Drew Brees considering how high he is being drafted.

Taysom Hill – I’m starting to wonder if Taysom Hill isn’t just a gadget player, but a legitimate quarterback who will become the next franchise leader for the New Orleans Saints. It’s hard not to react to his work during the preseason this year, and yes, I know, “it’s just the preseason”. Well, as long as Drew Brees is on the roster and healthy, this is likely the only time we’ll see Taysom Hill. He’s not worth drafting unless it’s as a deep stash in dynasty leagues.

Alvin Kamara – Super Kamario is one of the top running backs in the NFL. In any format of fantasy football league, Kamara is worth consideration as the number one overall pick. Although I would still lean towards Saquon Barkley as a complete back, Kamara is perhaps the most electric running back in the NFL. Through the first 4 weeks of last year, Kamara was the number one running back in fantasy football, and though he did drop off slightly as the year wore on, he was still dropping double-digit fantasy points on a weekly basis.

Latavius Murray – I’m not sold on Latavius Murray, especially with his ADP pushing Murray up to the 8th round or higher. He definitely has value, but when I draft a handcuff, I prefer to do so in the double digit rounds. Now, if Alvin Kamara were to be injured, Murray would walk into a heavy volume workload, but I don’t want to count on injuries to elevate a player, I prefer to rely on talent. If Murray is hanging around the 10th round, I’ll absolutely take a shot on him, but he’s been going too early for my liking in most drafts that I’ve partaken in.

Michael Thomas – Since entering the league, Michael Thomas has made a valid argument to be considered the best wide receiver in the NFL. He is now the highest-paid receiver in the league, and I believe he earned every cent. He has improved on receptions and yards every single year he’s played, and yet he still has untapped value, having only caught 9 touchdowns as a career high in a single season. I’m convinced that the only players I would take before drafting Michael Thomas are the four horsemen and Nuk, and he’s somehow going later than this, making him an incredible value as a late first round pick.

Tre’Quan Smith – A potential breakout player, Tre’ Quan Smith provides an excellent value for those willing to take a shot on him in the latter parts of their drafts. Last year, the third round rookie failed to make an impression upon fantasy football owners, which is perhaps why is stock is still relatively low. Smith is being overlooked far too often for the likely second receiver in the Saints vaunted passing attack. I’m not saying he’s going to approach Michael Thomas levels of production, but he’s certainly a viable flex starter with WR2/3 upside.

Ted Ginn – Ted Ginn’s inconsistency means that I want no part of him in any of my fantasy football leagues, however, if you happen to play best ball, he’s a valuable late round pick. That is all.

Jared Cook – In spite of his inconsistencies in the past, Jared Cook is my favorite tight end to draft in fantasy football. Part of it is his suppressed ADP, as people seem to be cautious about drafting Cook. Cook is coming off a career high receptions, yards and touchdowns this past season, and is entering the best offense with the best quarterback that he’s ever played with. Even if Cook simply repeats his production from last year, I’ll be relatively happy considering I drafted him as a mid rounder with high upside.

Saints DST – Nawlins defense was middle of the pack last year, finishing 14th overall in defensive rankings in 2018. Fortunately, the defense only needs to be average in order for the Saints to have a winning chance in any football game. As far as a fantasy football option, I’m not ecstatic about the Saints defense, but they’re going much later than most stalwart defenses and still have the ability to produce. If I’m waiting until the last two or three rounds to draft two defenses for streaming purposes, the Saints will often be one of them.

Atlanta Falcons

The Hotlanta Falcons have effectively cooled off, seemingly having never recovered from arguably the worst SuperBowl collapse in NFL history. Last season was marred in injuries and disappointment, as they failed to achieve a .500 record. This season, the Atlanta Falcons are poised to make some noise, as they look to reclaim the division from the reigning division champion Saints.

Here is a player by player breakdown:

Matt Ryan – The Falcons record certainly did not reflect Matt Ryan’s statistical dominance last season. In 2018, Ryan threw for 4924 yards and 35 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions. That is a 15 touchdown increase from his 2017 season. While I don’t expect Ryan to surpass 40 touchdowns, I wouldn’t be surprised if he dropped another 30 this year. Ryan is appropriately valued in fantasy football drafts, but my motto is to wait on a quarterback, so I probably won’t have Matty Ice rostered in any of my leagues.

Devonta Freeman – Health is the primary concern for Devonta Freeman, however, I’m also concerned about his utilization in the offense. Freeman excelled under Kyle Shanahan but has not been able to play in full under Steve Sarkisian. In fact, Freeman was slightly less productive under Sark, but this was displaced by added volume. Now, former Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter will take over the offense. As long as Freeman is healthy and can adapt to his third scheme in 3 years, I view him as an RB2 with RB1 upside, but those are some mighty big IF’s. 

Ito Smith – When you look at Ito Smith’s stats, you wouldn’t think that his game film would be so underwhelming. However, this is the case with Ito, as he is a product of his environment as opposed to a truly talented running back. With that said, he is valuable strictly as a handcuff for Devonta Freeman owners who are looking to mitigate their injury risk.

Julio Jones – What more is there to say about a guy who’s had no less than 1400 receiving yards in 5 straight seasons? Pray for touchdowns, that’s all. 

Calvin Ridley – Calvin Ridley had one of the better rookie wide receiver performances in recent memory, pulling in 64 receptions for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns (although nearly 30% of his touchdowns came in one game). Ridley is being touted as the most likely breakout player, and for good reason. He is a talented player with an all time receiver across the field from him drawing coverages, and he is entering his sophomore season with (arguably) a better offensive coordinator at the helm. I’m very excited about Calvin Ridley this year, and I’m drafting him where I can as my WR2/3 in standard and PPR formats.

Mohammed Sanu – Mohammed Sanu still exists. More than existing, Sanu has thrived as the third wide receiver for the Falcons, picking up 66 and 67 receptions in 2018 and 2017 respectively. His role on this team is cemented but could take a step back if Calvin Ridley emerges as the true number 2 in the offense. It will be interesting to see how the pecking order breaks down, but I believe Sanu is still 3rd on the list, behind only Jones and Ridley for targets.

Austin Hooper – In PPR leagues, Austin Hooper has value. In standard leagues, his value is depreciated. It’s really that simple.

Falcons DST – The biggest reason for the Falcons disappointing season last year was the regression of the defense. The Falcons ranked 28th in team defense in 2018, a far cry from their 8th ranked finish a year before. This is rather disconcerting, given that Dan Quinn is a defensive-minded head coach. I feel Quinn may be stretching himself thin this year, as he is not only the head coach but has also declared himself the defensive coordinator. The defense is young and fast when healthy, so it will be interesting to see if Quinn can turn this defense back into a top ten unit, but it’s best to take a wait and see approach as far as drafting the Falcons defense for fantasy football.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been perennial underachievers, having finished last in the division 6 of the last 8 years. The 2 years they didn’t finish dead last in the NFC South, they amassed meager 7-9 and 9-7 seasons. This team has been stuck in the mud, having never capitalized on the immense talent the team has had, especially the last 3-4 years. Bruce Arians brings a level of success that the Bucs have never been able to achieve consistently, and the hope in Tampa is that Arians can turn this team into playoff contenders instead of basement dwellers.

Here is a player by player breakdown:

Jameis Winston – The crab leg stealin’, wheelin’, dealin’, W eatin’ quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jameis Winston, has been the poster boy for underachieving quarterbacks since entering the league. Winston definitely has the skills and talent to be a viable starter in the NFL, in spite of his awkward pre-game speeches. Hopefully, new head coach Bruce Arians will be able to whisper sweet nothings into Winston’s ear, turning him from a good player (if you squint hard enough), to an actual star quarterback in this league.

Peyton Barber – Peyton Barber is the Michael Myers of running backs because he just won’t die. I don’t mean literally, so you can calm all the way down, I mean for fantasy football. Barber is an average NFL running back, the definition of “3 yards and a cloud of dust”. However, he is a volume play, and since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seemingly refuse to address their running back depth (especially given the talent that is already emerging from the 2019 rookie running back class), Barber retains value simply because there isn’t anyone else who can take the job from him that is currently rostered.

Ronald Jones – I’m firmly out on Ronald Jones as a fantasy value. If he were going undrafted, as a guy I was grabbing off the wire pending positive camp reports, that would be one thing. However, Jones is regularly being drafted as a flier late in fantasy football drafts, and I think there is still a lot of value going late in drafts that I would rather take my chances on. Rojo remains an enigma, but not one that I’m looking to solve.

Mike Evans – The consensus number one receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mike Evans is somehow still an underrated wide receiver, despite posting at least 1000 yards every single year that he has played in the NFL. He just finished posting an absurd 1524 yards on only 86 receptions! If Bruce Arians can actually improve Jameis Winston’s pass mechanics, that only serves to help Evans ascend even higher. If you took a running back in the first round, look to grab Evans in the 2nd, which is a ridiculous value as I feel he could be considered a first round overall player.

Chris Godwin – There may not be a more hyped player in fantasy football than Chris Godwin, but in this instance, I feel the hype is justified. The dearth of targets that has become available following the departures of Desean Jackson and Adam Humphries has led to a projected increase in volume for Godwin. Similarly to Calvin Ridley, Godwin also has a superstar wide receiver across the field from him, preventing teams from focusing their primary coverage on Godwin. Finally, much like Evans, if Bruce Arians is able to unlock the potential of Jameis Winston, Godwin will also be a beneficiary.

OJ Howard – OJ Howard is going much too early for my liking, as he has struggled to remain healthy, having finished his last two seasons on injured reserve. Howard is a talented player on a team that will look to target the young tight end, but he is being drafted ahead of other tight ends that I tend to prefer, so I’m generally avoiding him in my drafts.

Buccaneers DST – Tampa Bay’s defense has seen a lot of turnover in the past two years. Following a failed foray into free agency in 2018, the Bucs finished 27th in overall defensive rankings. This year, they’ve added Ndamukong Suh to replace Gerald McCoy, and they hope the rest of the team will begin to live up to expectations. Personally, I have no interest in this defense. Even if they are able to play up to expectations, they’re still in a loaded division with offensive juggernauts in the Saints and Falcons, and a very capable offense in the Panthers. I don’t believe this team will be eating many more W’s than they did last year.