NFC South Division Preview – Fantasy Football

By Joseph Herff, @FF_JoeH – Fantasy Football

Football season is upon us, which means fantasy football is as well. Training camp is weeks away, and training camp is the building block for us fans to see who will be starting. We also get to see where people will be playing, how much teams have improved, and many other things that get us extremely excited for the season. Here are three things to look out for each team in the NFC South.

Atlanta Falcons

7-9, Second in the Division

The Falcons passed the ball the fifth most in the NFL last season due to the fact that their defense was horrendous and full of injuries. The Falcons were also without star running back Devonta Freeman last season on the offensive side of the ball.

1. Devonta Freeman Injury, Workload

Last season, Devonta Freeman started off the year injured and played in only two games. There are a lot of questions surrounding the 27-year-old running back. He had surgery and says he is healthy, but how healthy can he be? He is a smaller back and he is getting older. Ito Smith is still there, so how much of the workload will he eat into?

Back in 2016, Freeman was the sixth-best running back in fantasy, and that was with Tevin Coleman stealing 120 carries. Training camp and preseason will really help to answer these questions before the season. Currently being drafted as the 18th running back off the board, he could be a steal in fantasy football if he performs as a top 12 running back.

2. Austin Hooper Fantasy Football Usage

According to coach Dan Quinn, tight end Austin Hooper is “ready to go to another level.” Last year, Hooper was somehow the sixth-best tight end in fantasy football. If Hooper’s usage increases, he potentially could become a top-four tight end. Hooper’s average draft position is the tight end 11 right now. If he can in fact improve from last season, he could be an absolute steal at that spot.

3. Offensive Line Improvement

Last year, the Falcons offensive line struggled with injuries and on-field performances. The unit allowed 42 sacks. This offseason, the Falcons drafted two first-round picks in Guard Chris Lindstrom and Tackle Kaleb McGary, while also adding four more offensive lines in free agency. If this offensive line improves, this could also help out Devonta Freeman and could give Matt Ryan more time to throw.

Carolina Panthers

7-9, Third in the Division

CHARLOTTE, NC – DECEMBER 23: Christian McCaffrey (22) running back Carolina during an NFL football game between the Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons on December 23, 2018 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. (Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Playing with an injured quarterback, the only bright spot in the Carolina Panthers offense was Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey broke the record for most receptions in a season. Cam Newton was having shoulder problems, so he was checking the ball down to McCaffrey a lot. The futures of Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore look very bright, but it all depends on Newton’s shoulder, which leads into my first point.

1. Cam Newton’s Shoulder

November 4, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Washington Redskins in the fourth quarter at FedEx Field. The Panthers won 21-13. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE ORG XMIT: USPW-81974 ORIG FILE ID: 20121104_jla_sb4_359.jpg

This offseason, Newton had surgery on his shoulder. The surgery Newton was similar to the one Andrew Luck had a few years ago. His recovery time is apparently more accelerated than Lucks. Last time Newton was healthy in 2017, he was the second-best quarterback in fantasy football. Can Cam repeat a top-five finish this season? This all depends on how much he will be running the ball, so training camp will help show this. His average draft position is currently rising to the eighth quarterback taken in mock drafts.

2. D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel’s Targets

These two look extremely good when they get the ball. How many targets will they be receiving? Will both of these two line up on the outside? Will one of them line up in the slot? Cam is going to have a go-to target, and which one of these two will it be? D.J. Moore is being drafted at a fair price, but if Samuel becomes the favorite, his current average draft position will be considered a huge steal. Look to training camp to see which of these two will emerge as Cam’s favorite.

3. Greg Olsen fantasy football relevant?

Back in his prime, this was Newton’s favorite person to throw the ball to. Olsen has been a reliable target for years, but last season he had injury problems with his foot. He will always have problems now, but he is going to try and play through them. If he can stay healthy, he can be a big-time sleeper tight end. Last time he stayed healthy was 2016 when he was the second-best tight end in fantasy. Olsen being healthy would help Cam Newton as well. Another side note though: how many targets will Ian Thomas take from him? A lot of questions that will be answered at training camp.

New Orleans Saints

13-3, First in the Division

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – DECEMBER 23: Alvin Kamara #41 of the New Orleans Saints runs with the ball during the first half against the Pittsburg Steelers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 23, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The Saints last year were an absolute powerhouse. They were one blown call away from the Super Bowl. Most of their main starters are back. Their window of opportunity to win another Super Bowl under Sean Payton is slowly closing.

1. Latavius Murray Usage

Jun 11, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Latavius Murray (28) during a minicamp session at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Latavius Murray was added this offseason to take place of Mark Ingram, who left for the Ravens. Ingram was fantasy relevant these past two seasons playing alongside Alvin Kamara. In 2017, Ingram finished as the sixth-best fantasy running back while splitting carries with Kamara. Now, a younger Murray has filled that role. Murray is more versatile than Ingram was. He is also very efficient in the red zone. He has the upside of being a great running back in fantasy and a huge sleeper since he’s being drafted behind 30 other running backs. Training Camp will show how much he is going to be used.

2. Who is the Wide Receiver Starting Alongside Michael Thomas?

Could it be Ted Ginn or Tre’Quan Smith? It could even be Cameron Meredith. No one knows who will get catches at the wide receiver position outside of Michael Thomas. Last year, before Ted Ginn got hurt, he was on pace for 68 receptions for 836 yards and eight touchdowns. This would’ve made him a top 24 wide receiver in fantasy. Tre’Quan now has another year under his belt, so could he take the next step and become a reliable wide receiver for quarterback Drew Brees? These two are both being drafted very late in drafts, so this could be a true diamond in the rough.

3. How will Drew Brees Utilize Jared Cook?

When Drew Brees has used his tight ends, they have been very efficient. It has been a while since Brees had an experienced, solid tight end. Last year, Brees had Benjamin Watson who is very old and inefficient. Now, he has Jared Cook who is coming off the best year of his career when he finished as the fifth-best tight end in fantasy with Derek Carr throwing him the ball.

Now, he has Drew Brees throwing him the ball. Last time Brees had a solid tight end was 2015 when it was a younger Watson. Watson was the seventh-best tight end in fantasy that year. The year before Watson, Brees had Jimmy Graham who finished as the third-best tight end.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

5-11, Fourth in the Division

Tampa Bay had a roller coaster of an offense, to say the least. They threw the ball the fourth-most in the NFL and for the highest yardage per game in the NFL. They didn’t have a good running back, but one of the best and deepest receiving cores in the NFL. Now, they lost two of those wide receivers and brought Bruce Arians in as their new head coach. This offense will be interesting to say the very least.

1. Who is the Starting Runningback?

Will it be Peyton Barber again? Will Ronald Jones step up to his draft pick hype? It’s safe to say Barber was extremely inefficient last year as a running back. He was just outside the top 25 running backs in fantasy football, while also receiving the ninth most carries in the NFL. He had more carries than Christian McCaffrey, James Conner, and Derrick Henry, but was so ineffective with those carries. Could Ronald Jones usurp Barber from his role? Jameis Winston and Bruce Arians have been talking up Ronald Jones during OTA’s saying that he has taken a big step and he looks improved. With the potential of being a starting running back in a Bruce Arians’ offense, both of these running backs could be considered a steal.

2. How Good will O.J. Howards fantasy football season be?

Sep 9, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard (80) gestures after a catch against the New Orleans Saints in the second quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Bruce Arians has never used a tight end extremely well in his career as a coach, but he also has never had a good tight end. He’s also never had a tight end as freakishly athletic as Howard. Last year, Howard was a top 10 tight end in fantasy while only playing 10 games. Jameis Winston is also known for loving his tight ends in fantasy football. If Howard plays all 16 games, he could easily be a top-five tight end and possibly take the spot of one of the top three tight ends (Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and George Kittle). Look to see how is being used and lining up in this new offense.

3. Can Jameis Winston be Trusted?

Jameis Winston now has the job to himself. There is no Ryan “FitzMagic” Fitzpatrick to take the job from him when he struggles. Jameis is now in a contract year, so he needs to prove it to his new head coach. He truly is a gunslinger in this offense, and Bruce Arians could skyrocket him to being a top-five quarterback in fantasy football. He slowly is creeping up the draft boards, but he still is a solid pick.

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