After two straight Superbowl appearances, the NFC South is coming up faster than that lady from The Leftovers and this past season of Fargo. Yes, I know her name is Carrie Coon, I didn’t have to google it, and she’s become my favorite actress. Some of you already know that I think that the Leftovers is the best show ever made, but I’m also impressed that Fargo was able to pull off another good season for the third straight year. Fargo has a built-in setting, but coming up with a different cast, story line, and ending every year and doing it well blows my mind. To put it in perspective it only took a second season for True Detective to suck at the same format. Well, I guess it didn’t “suck”, the acting was awesome. I’m one of the few who bought into Vince Vaughn in his role. The story was a snoozer, I can’t defend that part.
Before we get into our second division preview, be sure to check out Zach’s preview of the AFC East. Zach will be covering the AFC while I cover the NFC. Also, we must rejoice that Jay has returned to give you his rankings and predictions for the 2017 season. Zach and I are going to try and record a podcast every week to get you ready for the football season. We plan on having a few surprise guests, but most of it will just be us two talking shop.
Football. Divisions. Fantasy. Reality. We will talk about all of these things in this post about the NFC South, that many of you know is near and dear to my heart. This is the best quarterback division in the NFL. I think that all four starters are top-15 caliber fantasy quarterbacks. There aren’t any elite show-stopping defenses within the division to watch out for. The Panther’s secondary last season proved to be full of soft kittens. Tampa is close, but the safety position wasn’t addressed correctly in the offseason. Atlanta can give up 25 points in any given half of a big game (had to fit one in there). New Orleans tightened some things up last year but their defense probably isn’t even a fantasy football streaming option yet. Let’s talk about some individual players, shall we? Let’s start with the former division champions, the Atlanta Falcons.
Matt Ryan had a career season in 2016. He threw for nearly 5,000 yards to go along with 38 touchdowns and a career low of 7 interceptions. Matt Ryan is not solely responsible for the noticeable spike in his production. Kyle Shanahan is legitimately the closest thing to a “quarterback whisperer” that actually exists. I expect Ryan’s numbers to regress back towards the high-end norm for him, as the chess pieces may not be laid out so nicely for him.
This is Devonta Freeman’s division, the rest are just trying to keep up. Freeman is coming off of his second straight season with 1,500+ all-purpose yards and double-digit touchdowns. Freeman went from 4.0 yards per carry in 2015 to 4.8 in just under 15 carries per game in 2016. I think he’s going to end up being right in the mix for top five overall in my running back rankings. Look for Tevin Coleman to remain a big part of Atlanta’s scheme, because having a one-two punch worked great for Kyle Shanahan to keep defenses on their toes. To go along with his 11 touchdowns last year, Coleman had 6 games with at least 70 all-purpose yards. I think his ADP being in the 50’s is relatively fair, especially with the potential of an injury to Devonta Freeman.
Not only has Julio had at least 1,400 yards and 6 touchdowns in each of the last 3 seasons, but he had a walloping 17.0/yards per reception last season. Drafting Julio at his ADP of #5 overall is very justifiable in standard leagues. I’m going to ignore Mohammed Sanu’s existence in my drafts because as Tehol says, he fell of like a bag of dope as last season went on. Taylor Gabriel is an interesting name to me, he had a couple of big games last year and I wouldn’t mind wasting a bench spot on him in deeper leagues just to see what happens.
The Atlanta Falcons coaching staff made it a point to report how impressed they were with the progress that Austin Hooper has made over the offseason. Usually guys who caught less than 20 balls in the previous season aren’t even worth mentioning but it seems like his role in the offense could see a spike and I like his talent, so keep an ear to the streets once training camp rolls around. Let’s move onto the team that has the most interesting tight end situation in the division.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers aren’t planning on phasing out Cameron Brate just because they drafted O.J. Howard. Brate is one of Jameis’ favorite red zone targets. The 8 touchdowns that he hauled in last season tell that story better than I can. When a freak athlete like O.J. Howard falls into your lap, a team that has lacked dynamic weapons in the past simply can’t ignore it. Naturally Brate is probably no longer a TE1 option, somebody has to suffer at Howard’s expense after all. I’m not chomping at the bit to over draft O.J. Howard this season. Besides being a rookie, Tampa’s receiving arsenal is now almost overloaded. I’d like to give him a year to grow in redraft leagues.
Jameis Winston should make the jump this season. There are no excuses not to put up 4,500 yards and 30 touchdowns this season. If you read my free agency post this spring then the next couple sentences will seem a little repetitive. For those just joining us, Desean Jackson is exactly what Jameis needed. Jameis lacks accuracy down field and having a speedy (that’s an understatement) veteran like Jackson catch up with those overthrown balls is going to add a lot of yards. Despite being a big tool at Winston’s disposal, I don’t expect Jackson’s value to be higher this season than last for the fantasy player. If you’re looking for touchdowns, look no further than Mike Evans who has 12 each in two out of his first three seasons. Evans is a top 5 receiver in redraft, no hesitation.
Doug Martin is the NFL equivalent of Forest Gump’s box of chocolate metaphor. No joke, in his five NFL seasons, his rushing yard season total has either been in the 400’s or the 1,400’s, no in between. All reports out of Tampa tell a story of Martin looking really focused and impressive physically. Of course, he has a three-game suspension to serve, but I think he will be worth the draft value that you should be able to get him at once August rolls around. If you are going to draft Martin, you better take Jacquizz Rodgers, who will start the first 3 games with Charles Sims’ chances of making the roster getting slimmer. Rodgers’ ADP of 173 is a great value consider the three probable starts and he’s a viable handcuff the rest of the season.
This season for Cam Newton is going to be an interesting case study. Last season was an ugly one for Newton, he’s been hobbled with various injuries the past couple of seasons and now we have to worry about his concussion history. Dudes don’t just ride down busy streets on a segway in Charlotte on gameday of a game they are held out of because of a head injury if everything is all good. Cam had the lowest rushing yard total of his career last season and his 6.9 yards/attempt was the lowest of his career as well.
What can the Panthers do to keep Newton on his feet? Draft Christian McCaffery and Curtis Samuel, a couple of the most dynamic talents in the draft that aren’t necessarily defined by position. Cam Newton is flat out not going to run the ball very often anymore now that he has dependable safety valves to pick up those yards. The passing yards are going to go up this year but you don’t draft Cam Newton where you do for the passing yards. He’s much less valuable without the rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.
Coach Rivera recently said that Jonathan Stewart is going to see the bulk of the carries out of the backfield, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to pursue him on any of my rosters. McCaffery is the guy I want, especially in PPR leagues. If McCaffery is going to see 12-15 touches per game, I think that he can do a lot of damage in his rookie season. I think he will be creatively used in the red zone where Cam Newton used to exert a lot of his fantasy value.
I was one of the biggest advocates for a monster return for Kelvin Benjamin last season and I got burned. I’m cautiously optimistic that I was just a year too early on the said breakout. I’m here for you, fat boy, don’t fool me again. George W. Bush was inaccurate in his famous quote, one can, in fact, get fooled again. Devin Funchess’ ADP is at a good value in the early 200’s. Although he has yet to crack 500 yards in a season, receivers often break out in their 3rd season. Let us not also forget that Funchess is a converted tight end. I think that new weapons on the squad and a Cam Newton that throws more often will be beneficial to the third year wide out. Greg Olsen remains the premier tight end option within the division and one of the best in the league as a whole. Olsen continued his consistent ways last year with his third straight 1,000 yard receiving season. His 80 catches in 2016 was the 2nd most of his career.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees continues to be one of the ageless quarterbacks of our current era. Brees had one less touchdown than Ryan although he did throw eight more interceptions, but quarterback interceptions don’t affect fantasy scoring enormously. He’s like Lebron James in the sense that no matter who you put around him, he’s going to get his numbers. Brees has 9 straight seasons with at least 30 touchdowns through the air and his ADP falls just inside the top 40. I think that’s great value.
It will be interesting to see how the Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson playing time saga plays out. Adrian Peterson ‘Stans’ need to come to the realization that Peterson is not going to cut Mark Ingram out of the offense. We have to manage our excitement when we hear how good Peterson looks at camps and work outs. After all, he’s missed 28 games over the past 3 seasons. Mark Ingram on the other hand, is coming off of a 1,000 yard rushing and 10 total touchdown season.
Michael Thomas is a beast in his own right. The departure of Brandin Cooks is only going to help Drew Brees target Thomas more often. In his rookie season, Thomas hauled in 92 balls for 1,137 yards and 9 touchdowns. I expect that reception total to creep into triple digits this season. Thomas isn’t the only beneficiary of the Brandin Cooks move, I think that Willie Snead is in line for his first 80 catch and 1,000-yard season. Snead was on the verge of really breaking out as a weekly fantasy starter last season in 3 WR leagues and I think he accomplishes that mission this year.
Coby Fleener was a breakout pick for a lot of fantasy analysts last season (thankfully, I was not one of them). Fleener had a pretty ho-hum year in his first season with Drew Brees. He crossed the 50 catch threshold for the fourth straight season but only totaled 3 touchdowns. A stat that gives me hope from last year is the 12 balls that he caught for more than 20 yards. There is hope for better things from Fleener in 2016 as this will be his second season with Brees.
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