We continue our series breaking down each NFL division and the fantasy implications that each team faces. Let’s dive into them and continue with the NFC South.
One Big Fantasy Question – NFC South Edition
Atlanta Falcons – Can Devonta Freeman Be As Dynamic With Dirk Koetter Returning As The Offensive Coordinator?
Freeman is now the lead running back in the Falcons backfield. Tevin Coleman has left for the West Coast and signed a contract with the San Francisco 49ers. Freeman is looking to rebound in 2019 after having his 2018 campaign shortened with knee and groin injuries. Having the lion’s share of the carries should lead to him being valued in fantasy circles. Throwing a wrench into these lofty plans for Freeman and fantasy owners is the return of Koetter to the Falcons’ coaching staff.
Koetter is a well-respected coach in the NFL for what he can do with the passing game. Unfortunately, on the flip side, the running game has had a tendency to take a hit. His only seasons where the running game was a focal point of the offense was back in his days being the offensive coordinator for Jacksonville. There he was able to put together Pro Bowl seasons for both Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Even with those two seasons, Koetter has had only three total seasons in the league where his unit finished top-five in rushing attempts and rushing yards. Coming into his 13th season, this means that he is not a run-first type of coordinator. The cherry on top of that sundae is that none of those three seasons were in Atlanta (two with the Jaguars and one with the Buccaneers).
So while the aspect of Freeman having a bounce-back season is great to think about, the reality is that it might not happen. Koetter as the offensive coordinator means this is a better sign of things to come for the passing offense instead of Freeman and the rushing attack. Freeman will have value, there is no doubt about that but it may not be as high as initially expected. Draft him to your roster, but there is no need to reach for him.
Projected Draft Round:
Devonta Freeman – 4th, Tevin Coleman – 6th
New Orleans Saints – Should Alvin Kamara Go #1 Overall In Fantasy Drafts?
In the NFL, there are a couple of candidates that can go number one overall in fantasy drafts. Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, and Kamara would be the prime choices for that selection. While any of these players are capable of being that number one overall pick, let’s look into why Kamara should or shouldn’t be.
The biggest factor that is helping Kamara to be the number one overall is that Mark Ingram is no longer in New Orleans. He left in free agency to sign with the Baltimore Ravens and now Kamara can take over the lead role in New Orleans. The Saints did go out and sign a couple running backs like Javorious Allen and Latavius Murray, but they shouldn’t affect Kamara too much. In the four games that Ingram was suspended to begin the 2018 season, Kamara was tearing it up. In those four games, he had 611 total yards and six total touchdowns. He was a one-man wrecking crew and that should continue in 2019.
Another factor for Kamara is that even on a team that is more balanced than it used to be, Kamara was second on the team in passing targets, only behind Michael Thomas. Not only was he second, but he and Thomas were the only players with over 100 targets and the third player in targets was Ben Watson, who was a very distant third at 46 targets. This offense clearly flows through both Thomas and Kamara. So, we know that Kamara is going to be one of the top candidates going with that first pick. The question is, does he deserve this selection more than the other players listed earlier?
McCaffrey and Barkley are great players, but the lack of other weapons in that offense limits them slightly from being fully free from bludgeoning opposing defenses. The boxes will be stacked when they run and they will be keyed on in the passing game when they emerge from the backfield. With Elliott, he is in a more balanced offense and could very well become the league’s best running back this year. The only thing with Elliott is that he is still holding out for a new contract, so it is unsure if he will even be the starter in Week 1. Also, with Dak Prescott developing more of a rapport with Amari Cooper, there is a slim chance, but a chance nonetheless, that Elliott’s number doesn’t get called as often.
Listing all this out, Kamara seems like the safest choice but honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of these guys. The bigger question becomes how to supplement this pick with the rest of your selections. If you are lucky enough to draft in the top-five, you are walking away with a bonafide fantasy star, whether that is Kamara or not.
Projected Draft Round:
Alvin Kamara – 1st, Saquon Barkley – 1st, Ezekiel Elliott – 1st, Christian McCaffrey – 1st, Michael Thomas – 1st, Latavius Murray – 8th, Javorius Allen – Undrafted
Carolina Panthers – Who Can You Trust In This Offense Besides McCaffrey?
We all know that the offense will flow through McCaffrey in Carolina. After recording the most receptions by a running back in a single-season, McCaffrey has cemented himself as one of the premier fantasy running backs in the NFL. In fact, head coach Ron Rivera has stated that he thinks that McCaffrey can both rush for 1,000 yards and also receive for 1,000 yards, so no question McCaffrey is going in the top half of the first round in any draft, but who is worth keeping tabs on in the Panthers offense besides him?
Let’s keep it in the backfield and look at the quarterback Cam Newton. Newton is one of the top fantasy quarterbacks in the league, when healthy. That modifier is needed because of when he hurt himself back in week eight of 2018. Since then, he was dealing with shoulder pain and then opted for surgery to repair his shoulder and clean up debris in his joint. So while he is on track to be fully healthy before the first game of the season, Newton may not feel comfortable putting the team on his back just yet. This could mean that while drafting him late could lead to good value for you, it may be better off going with an option that has more upside in the passing game or running game. Newton is no longer the runner he once was and his passing is average to just above average. The value is certainly there, but not enough to warrant taking him over other quarterbacks like Jared Goff, Kyler Murray, or Carson Wentz.
Switching over to pass-catchers, D.J. Moore is a name worth being aware of. His former teammate, Devin Funchess, is catching balls from Andrew Luck now. This means that Moore is ready to take over the top spot in the Panthers passing attack. He was steadily getting better as the season went along last year and this season is where he needs to put it together and be the top wideout. Besides Moore, Curtis Samuel is going to be used more in this offense but as more of a utility guy. He will line up at receiver more often than not, but his versatility may make him more of a Swiss-army knife type of player than a traditional receiver.
Tight end will be an interesting position to monitor. Greg Olsen has been the leader, but his nagging injuries have kept him off the field the past two seasons. When on the field, though, there are very few that are better than Olsen when it comes to fantasy tight ends. Can he stay on the field to make an impact over the course of the season or is it better to invest in the young-gun, Ian Thomas? Loads of pundits are pegging Thomas to make that leap this year because Olsen will have trouble staying on the field. One thing to keep in mind thought regarding Olsen’s health, those injuries he suffered have been to his feet (various fractures). So while the optimism is there for Olsen, let’s see what he can do week-to-week instead of pegging him as a Comeback Player of the Year already.
So McCaffrey is worth owning in all leagues. Newton is an interesting case, on the other hand. While he is more than capable of putting together a solid year, there are better options you can wait on that may deliver more value than Newton. So unless he falls into a double-digit round, let someone else worry about Newton. Wide receivers are going to be interesting to watch as well. Moore is worth owning in all leagues as his skills are going to continue to develop over the course of the season and he will just continue to get better. Samuel has some value, but his versatility may be good for an NFL roster but not necessarily a fantasy one. Olsen is going to be worth drafting, but may not be worth sticking into your starting lineup, just yet. Thomas has the same evaluation as this position group may take a couple of weeks to sort out for you to get a better idea on who is more reliable in the Panthers offense. To sum things up, for sure draft McCaffrey and Moore. Everyone else is based on value and playing time.
Projected Draft Round:
Christian McCaffrey – 1st, Cam Newton – 9th, DJ Moore – 7th, Curtis Samuel – 11th, Ian Thomas – Undrafted, Greg Olsen – 12th
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Is This The Year Jameis Winston Puts It All Together?
Bruce Arians is going to have a tough challenge in front of him. He owns a pedigree where he has developed some of the great quarterbacks that the league has seen. He helped Ben Roethlisberger continue to grow his career, coached a young Peyton Manning, then a rookie in Andrew Luck to a stellar first season, and revitalized the career of Carson Palmer in Arizona. Working with Winston and turning his career around can cement Arians’ case for the Hall of Fame.
While Winston is not a terrible quarterback, he does lack focus and consistency to lead a team to the Super Bowl. His career started well when he made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season and then led the Buccaneers to a winning season, the next year. An injury to his shoulder halted further progress and he was suspended to begin the 2018 season for performance-enhancing drugs. Then a little thing called Fitzmagic struck the nation and Winston was becoming an after-thought. Ryan Fitzpatrick’s reign in Tampa Bay is over as he now leads the Dolphins passing attack. So this is a huge year for Winston to put it together and become the franchise quarterback they thought he would be when they drafted him number one overall back in 2015.
Winston just needs a stronger supporting cast to get things rolling offensively. If Ronald Jones II or Peyton Barber can establish a stronger running attack, the pressure gets lifted off Winston to have to do it all by himself. Ranking 29th in rushing yards last season, the Buccaneers really need to get things situated in the backfield for Winston to succeed. Arians is big on establishing the run to set-up the pass, so this issue will be resolved one way or another.
Switching to the receivers that Winston has to throw to, he couldn’t ask for a better receiver than Mike Evans. Evans is a physical freak and has no trouble getting receptions and yards to move the ball down the field. Pairing him with Chris Godwin should make a good one-two punch, now that Adam Humphries has left for Tennessee. Let’s also remember that Winston has a solid tight end duo in Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard to help with those tough conversions and red zone scoring chances.
This is the final year on Winston’s contract and the Buccaneers need to see serious improvement from him in order to label him their quarterback of the future. With the addition of Arians as his head coach, Winston has a good shot of earning a serious payday with Tampa Bay. While he is sure to improve, there are tons of options at quarterback this year. The idea of Winston being a starting fantasy quarterback is a little optimistic. The more likely scenario is that he is a BYE week replacement or a match-up based streaming option.
Projected Draft Round:
Jameis Winston – 14th, Ronald Jones II – 10th, Peyton Barber – 11th, Mike Evans – 2nd, Chris Godwin – 6th, OJ Howard – 6th, Cameron Brate – 14th