The Franchise will be giving you a fantasy football preview for all of the teams from the NFC and AFC divisions week by week counting down to the first week of the 2016 NFL regular season!
Last week we covered the NFC West. This week we will preview the NFC South.
If you want offensive firepower and great fantasy players, this division is the best in the league. All four teams finished inside the top 11 in total offense last season. Two quarterbacks, Cam Newton and Drees Brees, finished in the top 10 scoring of fantasy quarterbacks last season. Two running backs, Devonta Freeman and Doug Martin, finished in the top 3 scoring of fantasy running backs- . Two wide receivers, Julio Jones and Brandon Cooks, finished in the top 12 scoring of fantasy wide receivers. I’m sensing a trend here.
Let’s start our preview with the defending NFC Champion, Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers have their head coach, Ron Rivera, going into his sixth season in Carolina. Although Rivera is known to be a defensive coach, his offensive coordinator, Mike Shula, has been tremendous for Cam Newton and the Carolina offense. Carolina started last season at 14-0 before finishing 15-1 in the regular season and eventually losing in the Super Bowl to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Carolina’s offense looks to repeat the success it had last season putting up 500 total points. But the issue is that history doesn’t normally repeat itself. I predict a slight decrease in fantasy numbers this season.
Cam Newton, the reigning NFL MVP, was the top fantasy scorer in the league last year with 373 points. He finished passing with 3,837 yds, 35 TDs, 10 INT, including 636 yds rushing with 10TDs. All this without his #1 wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, out for the season with a torn ACL. While these numbers are absurdly good, the Panthers did have the comfort of a light strength of schedule to work with. This season, the Panthers have the 12th highest strength of schedule, which should make the road a little tougher. Since coming into the league in 2011, Cam Newton has made great improvement as a passer. The Panthers aren’t necessarily a pass-oriented offense. Newton was in the bottom 10 of NFL quarterbacks last season averaging around 240 yds a game, which puts him with the likes of Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Brock Osweiler. The thing that makes Cam Newton a top 5 fantasy quarterback is his production on the ground. He tough to tackle with his large frame and speed, which always makes him a threat inside the red zone. He is predicted by most sources to be the #1 quarterback to come off fantasy draft boards around the 3rd to 4th rounds. Some people will get quarterback happy and make a reach for him in the 1st round knowing that he was the top fantasy scorer last season. I just don’t see the value there this season. It’s just tough to follow up a season like Cam had last year. Derek Anderson is a viable backup to Cam Newton posting two career wins as a starter a couple seasons ago. He is more a pure pocket passer with less mobility. We all know that Cam Newton likes to run the ball, so there is some susceptibility to injuries.
The backfield of the Carolina Panthers doesn’t have the fantasy value you’d like to see. Cam Newton steals many runs and touchdowns away from the running backs. Jonathan Stewart is the running back for the Panthers who will see the most carries. Stewart had 989 yds on 242 att, and 6 TDs last season. The Panthers are not a team that passes to their running backs. They were dead last in the league last season for passes thrown to a running back. This makes Jonathan Stewart’s value better in standard league formats rather than PPR (points per reception). Stewart is projected to be a steady RB2 and go right around the 5th round in fantasy drafts. The Panthers offensive line is ranked close to the The bad part about Stewart is that he is known to be injury prone. This gives opportunity to the Panther’s most likely backup this season, Cameron Artis-Payne. He managed 45 carries for 183 yds and 1 TD last season. I see Artis-Payne passing Fozzy Whitaker on the depth chart as well as getting more carries than fullback, Mike Tolbert. The fantasy problem with Artis-Payne is that Mike Tolbert will vulture some touchdowns from him at the goal line because he’s a big, bruising back. Also, Artis-Payne does have some issues with taking care of ball. I do see him being a good pickup on the waiver wire as the season progresses. A name to keep an eye on is Brandon Wegher. He could see a few carries to utilize his speed, which he is the fastest back on the team.
The Panthers wide receivers are a mix of players who don’t necessarily have high talent. Kelvin Benjamin is now back after his ACL injury and will work to be Cam Newton’s #1 target. Benjamin is a big target at 6’5, 245lbs. The question for Benjamin with whether he will be in shape after he’s had some issues with weight and now coming off of reconstructive knee surgery. Most fantasy sources have an ADP (average draft position) for him at the 3rd to 4th rounds and dropping. I am hesitant to go for Benjamin during my fantasy draft because there are a lot of questions in the air right now. Ted Ginn Jr. was the #1 wide receiver for the Panthers last season. Let me repeat that. Ted Ginn Jr. was the #1 wide receiver for the Panthers last season. Ginn came out of no where last season putting up 10 touchdowns. Ginn was able to beat secondaries with his speed for long touchdowns. The problem with Ginn are his drops. He had the worst drop rate in the league last season. I don’t know if I can rely on someone who is dependent on the deep ball most of the time. I only see Ginn as a deep league flex play on a good match up. Devin Funchess has some upside to him as he will be the #2 wide receiver for the Carolina offense. Funchess has good size just like Benjamin but not much speed. He should be getting more targets this season as the Panthers did not resign Jerricho Cotchery. Funchess is a late round flyer at best. Philly Brown had the same amount of catches as Funchess last season with less yards and touchdowns. I don’t see Brown having a big role in the offense with his lack of play-making ability.
Greg Olsen is one of the most reliable tight ends in the league. Olsen put up 77 catches for 1,104 yds and 7 TDs last season and was the 4th overall fantasy scoring tight end in the league with 144 points. He has had over 100 targets in four straight seasons and has eclipsed 1,000 yards in the past two seasons. Over the last three years, he’s caught more passes for more yards than any other tight end in the league. Olsen has a decent number of catches in the red zone but not an elite amount. This is mostly due to the Panthers looking to run the ball with Cam Newton around the goal line. Olsen is Newton’s blanket and will get a lot of targets. Olsen’s ADP is around the 3rd to 4th rounds. You can’t go wrong with Olsen in your lineup. Ed Dickson is the 2nd tight end in the Panther’s offense but doesn’t very many targets because of his use as a run blocker.
The Panthers were the 4th best fantasy scoring D/ST in the league last season. They were 6th in total defense last season only averaging 235 yds passing and 88 yds rushing allowed a game to opposing offenses. The success of the Panthers defense starts with their front 7, which could be the best in the NFL. Players like Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Star Lotulelei, and Charles Johnson, just name a few. Over the last three years, the Panthers have lead the league with 144 sacks. The Panthers decided to let Josh Norman go on to free agency where he ended up landing to the Washington Redskins. The Panthers will need to replace the hole that Norman fills in the secondary. They emphasized this by drafting three secondary players who could see some valueable paying time this season. Carolina picked up a 2nd round cornerback, James Bradberry, who they hope can fill the shoes of Josh Norman with his large frame. The Panthers also drafted West Virginia cornerback, Daryl Worley, who is looking to be the starting right cornerback. Also, former Sooner, Zach Sanchez, got drafted to the Panthers and will be their main nickelback. Tedd Ginn Jr. is still a good punt returner with speed and can make an impact on special teams. Panthers look to be a top 5 fantasy D/ST again this season. ADP for the Panthers D/ST right now is going in the 7th to 8th round area.
The Falcons were one the hottest teams in the NFL after Week 5 going 5-0. After week Week 5, the Falcons finished the regular season 3-8 to go 8-8 for the year. The Falcons head coach, Dan Quinn, will be in his 2nd season now. Quinn is defensive-minded coach who trying to revamp the Falcons defense with their recent struggles. Quinn
Matt Ryan is entering his 8th season now with the Falcons. Fantasy owners who have Matt Ryan in their leagues can only sum up their relationship as love/hate. If Matt Ryan had a fantasy theme song it would be U2’s “With or Without You.” Matt Ryan always has weapons around him but never seems to get his team over the proverbial hump. The Falcons have everything aligned on paper for them to be one of the better offenses in the league this season. Matt Ryan’s understanding of Kyle Shanahan’s offense will be the key. Ryan threw a disappointing 21 TDs last season but was able to throw for almost 4,600 yds. This seems to be the theme with Ryan lately- high passing yardage and average touchdowns. Factor this with his lack of mobility, and his production only makes him to be a QB2 in most leagues. I look for his numbers to increase this season after a year under the belt of Shanahan’s offense. Matt Schaub is the backup quarterback for the Falcons. No fantasy value to show as he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns the past three years. If Schaub were to get some playing time, it would be a major effect on Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman’s fantasy value.
Devonta Freeman burst onto the fantasy scene last season like gasoline on a fire. Freeman entered into the fantasy world after Tevin Coleman sustained a rib injury against the Giants. Freeman ended up being the top fantasy scoring running back with 230 points. He rushed for 1,056 yds, 11 TDs and had 73(!) receptions for 578 yds and 3 TDs. If you were able to pick up Devonta Freeman on the waiver wire last season, then were a very happy fantasy owner and most likely won some leagues. The problem that came up with Freeman was that his production declined during the second half of the season. Teams started to figure Freeman out and the numbers show with less touchdowns and yards per carry. Freeman is a smaller back who likes to run outside of the tackles and not get too many hits on the inside. Freeman is an excellent PPR option with his pass catching ability. He has a top 10 offensive line to help with Jake Matthews at left tackle and Alex Mack at center. Freeman has an ADP in the 1st round of fantasy leagues. If he can produce consistently and not drop off like he did at the end of last season, then he’ll have the chance to be a top 5 fantasy running back. As mentioned, Tevin Coleman sustained a rib injury at the beginning of last season which ultimately lost him his job because of Freeman’s insane fantasy explosion. Remember that before the injury, Coleman won the starting job over Freeman. That says something. Coleman is very talented running back who could end up winning the starting job back if Freeman does not produce. He is a fast, physical back who likes to run between the tackles. Coleman is not the best pass catcher but the Falcons are looking to improve his pass catching for use as the third down back who can move the chains. The Falcons backfield will mostly have a “running back by committee” approach by giving Coleman a good amount of touches due too Freeman’s durability at just over 200 lbs. Coleman is an excellent handcuff to Freeman and will be coming off the fantasy draft boards in the 9th to 12th rounds.
Julio Jones. The dude is an absolute stud. He finished as the 2nd best fantasy scoring wide receiver behind Antonio Brown. Julio was first in reception yards with 1,871 and tied for the most receptions with 136. He only posted 8 TDs but had the most targets in the league with 204. Matt Ryan likes to target Julio early and often. Why wouldn’t you with his size and speed? Jones is an easy top 5 pick overall in your drafts. The Falcons looked to get a replacement for Roddy White and signed Mohammed Sanu from the Cincinnati Bengals. Sanu will be on the opposite side of Julio which could give him targets when defenses double team Julio. Sanu is more of possession receiver who doesn’t have great speed with his size. He’s never finished with over 800 yards in his career and doesn’t look improve on that. He will be a late round flyer on most draft boards. Someone to keep an eye on is Justin Hardy. Hardy will fit the slot position and work to make tough catches in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Eric Weems is still on the depth chart for the Falcons. Will mostly be used as just a special teams specialist being the punt returner and kick returner in Devin Hester’s retirement absence. The Falcons drafted a 7th round wide receiver, Devin Fuller, who looks to move up the depth chart during training camp and find some playing time with his 4.4 speed. Fuller could also see time as a kickoff returner.
The starting tight end for the Falcons is Jacob Tamme. He doesn’t really bring any fantasy value to have on your team. He had 59 catches for 657 yds and only 1 TD. Levine Toilolo is another tight end that the Falcons use but he is mostly a run blocker. The person keep a look out for is the 3rd round rookie, Austin Hooper. Hooper is big target at 6’4, 250lbs with great athleticism. Look for him to take over the starting tight end spot once he gets some development. Next season I think we’ll be looking at Hooper as a viable fantasy tight end to put in lineups.
The Falcons finished as a bottom 12 D/ST fantasy scoring team last season. The Falcons are right in middle at 16th in total defense last season. The problem they have is their pass rush. They were last in the NFL this past season with only 19 sacks. Dan Quinn put emphasis in the draft on defense with his first two picks, Keanu Neal (S) and Deion Jones (LB). The Falcons also added some pieces on the defensive line to help with their pass rush- Adrian Clayborn, Courtney Upshaw, and Derrick Shelby. The Falcons secondary was 10th in the league last season in interceptions and look to stay atop with their new safety, Keanu Neal. Until the Falcons pass rush is improved, they don’t look to be a draftable D/ST.
New Orleans Saints
Sean Payton is back at again with New Orleans. Rarely do you hear this, but the Saints are looking to improve offensively. Tough to say when they finished 2nd in total offense last season. They haven’t necessarily been the Saints of old in the top 3 of scoring offenses. Over the last couple years, the Saints have been just inside the top 10 of scoring offenses. The Saints finished their 2015 season at 7-9 and 3rd in the division. The NFC South is a tough division to win with all the offensive firepower to keep up with. The biggest problem with the Saints has been their terrible defense which, as a result, doesn’t help their offense. Though the Saints offense has declined recently, they are still one of the better offenses in the league with their veteran quarterback, Drew Brees.
Lots of people think that Drew Brees had down year in fantasy last season. I would beg to differ. Brees still puts up ridiculous numbers in the air, leading the league with 4,870 yds passing. Over the last three years, he’s lead the league in completion percentage at 69 percent. He finished 6th in fantasy scoring last season. Brees did all of this without his main target, Jimmy Graham moving to Seattle and dealing with a bum shoulder. Pretty damn good. Yes, Brees is 37 years old. Yes, he doesn’t have the velocity he used to have. But until Brees proves he can’t put up crazy good numbers, he will be a top 5 quarterback to target in your drafts. His ADP is around the 5th round. Luke McCown looks to still be the backup to Drew Brees. McCown is serviceable as a backup and filled in well with Brees’ absence against Carolina last season.
The Saints running game has some good depth. Mark Ingram was one of the better fantasy running backs in the league last season before his injury in Week 13. He had 166 carries for 769 yds and 6 TDs last season including 50 receptions for 405 yds. Ingram still finished the season as a top 10 fantasy scoring running back. Sean Payton loves to get the ball in the hands of his running backs, especially through the air. For the last 10 years, the Saints have been in the top 3 of the league in passes to running backs. This makes Ingram an excellent pick in PPR formats. He can also run the ball well with his 4.6 yds per carry last season. The Saints have a good offensive line with steady veterans like Zach Strief at tackle and Max Unger at center. I expect Ingram to be a steady RB1 and should come off of fantasy boards in the early to mid 2nd round. Tim Hightower will be the backup to Ingram. He got some carries toward the end of the season with Ingram’s injury and produced very well. He will most likely be a good waiver wire pickup and good handcuff to Ingram. C.J. Spiller looked to be in line as the 3rd down back for the Saints last season, but he didn’t prove to be a good signing. Spiller is creeping up in age and has had recurring knee issues. Tavaris Cadet will be fighting for Spiller’s spot as a 3rd down back but no fantasy value to show.
Sean Payton loves to give Drew Brees lots of targets to throw to. Brandin Cooks finished last season as the 12th highest fantasy scoring wide receiver with 84 catches for 1,138 yds and 9 TDs. Cooks looks to be a future superstar who can put up big numbers every year. He is a great playmaking receiver who can score anytime he touches the ball. The issue with Cooks is his inconsistency. He’ll put up big numbers for a few weeks and then taper off another few weeks. This can happen when Brees has so many targets to throw to. Cooks’ ADP is right around the 3rd round and he’ll be a steady WR2 this season. One of them that has made a big jump in fantasy value is Willie Snead. Snead is a great story going undrafted out of Ball State and Sean Payton giving him a chance to shine. Snead has taken full advantage by putting up 69 catches for 984 yds and 3 TDs last season. Snead is reliable pass catcher who will be seeing more red zone targets especially with Marques Colston being cut. I see Snead reaching the 1,000 yd mark with more touchdowns this season. He is a late 11th to 13th round pick and a good flex play in your lineups. The guy who could hinder Snead’s targets this season is second round draft pick, Michael Thomas. He has good size at 6’3 with great hands and should be used in the slot. I see Thomas as a waiver wire pickup later in the season. Brandon Coleman had some targets last season. He is a big 6’6 talent who can be used to catch passes inside the red zone. Not much fantasy value with Coleman.
Benjamin Watson was the steady tight end for the Saints last season. He now gone to the Baltimore Ravens. The Saints got a great replacement in Coby Fleener. His size and speed makes him a matchup nightmare for linebackers trying to cover him. I see Dree Brees having a good connection with Fleener and produce big numbers like the former Jimmy Graham and Benjamin Watson did. Fleener’s ADP is going right around the 7th to 8th rounds. Fleener is solid TE1 with a lot of upside and should be a top 5 fantasy scoring tight end this season. Josh Hill is the second tight end who will get a few targets this season but no fantasy value to pick up.
The Saints defense is one of the worst in the league. They were 31st in D/ST fantasy scoring and total defense last season. Rob Ryan’s time as defensive coordinator was long overdue after being in the bottom of league year after year under his direction. He was fired during the middle of last season and defensive assistant, Dennis Allen, stepped in to Ryan’s place as defensive coordinator. Allen is in need of some talent to step in as the Saints look get the Rob Ryan days in the rear view mirror. The Saints went to the draft and got some talent will likely step in quick this season. They drafted first rounder, Sheldon Rankins, out of Louisville to for the interior defensive line. The Saints were in the bottom 6 of the league in sacks with 31. They also picked up second rounder, Von Bell, to help at their safety spot. The Saints are looking to improve upon giving up the 2nd most passing yards to opposing offenses. For the Saints defense you can’t really go any other direction than up. C.J. Spiller and Brandin Cooks will both see time as punt and kickoff returners. Spiller has two career kickoff returns for touchdowns in his sixth season in the league. Cooks has yet to score on any punt or kick returns going into his third season. Saints D/ST does not have any fantasy value in drafts and probably won’t have any value throughout the season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay has new man at the helm, Dirk Koetter. Koetter was promoted to head coach from his offensive coordinator position after the Bucs fired Lovie Smith. He is an offensive-minded coach who looking to develop Jameis Winston into a good NFL quarterback. He brought in offensive coordinator, Todd Monken, from Southern Miss and also the former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator. Tampa Bay finished at 6-10 last season which is a vast improvement on their previous 2-14 season. The Bucs also finished in the top 10 of total offense and defense last season. With Winston’s development and a reloading defense, the Bucs look to be a contender in the NFC South this season. There is definitely good fantasy value going with the Bucs.
Jameis Winston got through his rookie season as the 14th fantasy scoring quarterback in the league. Not too bad for a rookie. Most people thought Winston would have a tough time transitioning into the NFL mentally but he showed that he can handle it well. Winston threw for 4,042 yds, 22 TDs, and 15 INT as well as 54 rushes for 213 yds and 6 TDs in his rookie campaign. Winston did have his rookie mistakes throwing 15 interceptions, but that is to be expected in your first year. Winston will look to improve in a lot of different areas, one being his red zone passing efficiency. So far, Winston looks to a valuable quarterback in the league with his strong arm, mental aptitude, and pocket presence. I think Winston will slowly creep into the top 10 of fantasy quarterbacks as he develops. His ADP is right around the 12th to 14th rounds. He would be an excellent draft pick if you have a two quarterback league. Other than that, he is a solid QB2 who can be used in good matchups and bye week fill-ins.
Doug Martin is the bell cow for the Bucs running game. Martin finished as the 3rd best fantasy scoring running back last season rushing for 1,402 yds and 6 TDs. His rushing yardage finished just short of Adrian Peterson’s 1,485 total. He also had a decent amount of catches with 33 for 271 yds and 1 TD. When Doug Martin is healthy, he can put up great numbers for your fantasy team. You would think that his rushing yardage last season would translate to more touchdowns than 6. This is where new quarterback, Jameis Winston, vultured touchdowns from Martin. The issue with Martin is whether he will stay healthy with all the carries he is getting. Doug Martin is a better play for standard formats than PPR. Martin’s ADP is right at the early to mid 2nd round. He looks to be very undervalued and should be a good pick for anyone who gets him early. Charles Sims is a great handcuff to Doug Martin and good value as late round PPR play. As a backup, Sims caught 51 passes last season with an average of 11 yards a catch. If Martin does get hurt, Sims should be able to fill Martin’s production without any drop off. Sims had the same yards per carry average as Doug Martin at 4.9 and is more of a threat catching the ball. Right now, Sims ADP is going in the late 13th to 14th rounds. My suggestion is to grab him earlier on your draft boards. He is still valuable as a flex play on good matchups.
Mike Evans is developing into one of the top 10 receivers in the league. His ceiling is very high with his ability to stretch the field for big catches and long touchdowns. Evans had 74 catches for 1,206 yds and 3 TDs last season and missed the first two games with a hamstring injury. The problem with Evans last year was the drops. He had a league-high 11 drops last season. The good thing for Evans is that he is still young and developing. I don’t see Evans having as many drops as he did last season, which should translate into more production. The weird thing about last season was Evans touchdown number, 3. He is a big red zone target and is able to jump high for contested passes. I think the more experience that Winston has with Evans, the more the touchdowns will come. Evans ADP is in the late 2nd round range. I would look to get him more in the early 2nd round if possible. He is a solid WR1 in all formats. The ageless wonder, Vincent Jackson, is still putting up decent numbers and long catches averaging 16.5 yds a catch. Jackson isn’t the 1,000 yd receiver we’ve come to know before. His top fantasy value will be as standard format flex play on good matchups. The guy to keep an eye on during training camp is Kenny Bell. Bell was out last season with a groin injury. He’s looking to take Vincent Jackson’s spot on the depth chart as WR2. Adam Humphries is the slot receiver in the Bucs offense but doesn’t produce enough for fantasy value.
The Bucs tight end situation is a work in progress. Austin Seferian-Jenkins was out for 9 games last season with a shoulder injury. Seferian-Jenkins is very athletic tight end who, when healthy, can put up top 10 fantasy tight end numbers. He got some flack for his reluctance in getting back on the field from his shoulder injury. Seferian-Jenkins ADP is around the 15th-16th rounds but i’d expect his value to be much better further in the season. Definitely keep an on eye on him this season as a waiver wire pickup. Cameron Brate is the 2nd tight end in the Bucs offense. He posted 23 catches for 288 yds and 3 TDs in Austin Seferian-Jenkins absence from his shoulder injury. Brate shouldn’t be much a factor in fantasy.
The Bucs finished 10th in total defense last season and only 18th in fantasy scoring D/ST. The Bucs defense has good mix of veteran players with young talent. Tampa Bay is projected by most fantasy experts to be right around the 20th fantasy scoring D/ST. The Bucs used the draft to get some more talent on defense. Their first round pick, Vernon Hargreaves, is projected to be the week 1 starting nickelback. Free agent pick ups, Brent Grimes and Chris Conte, should provide some stability in the secondary. The front 7 has good depth with pro bowlers, Gerald McCoy and Levonte David. The Bucs also picked up Robert Ayers in free agency to add to their pass rush. Adam Humphries looks to be the punt and kickoff return specialist. He has no experience yet as a punt/kickoff returner. The Bucs D/ST don’t look to be a draftable team this season and should only be used in certain favorable matchups.