By: Glen Levy, FFSpin.com and FantasyFootballCrystalBall.com Contributor
If you are looking for some of the best young talent in the NFL, well look no further than the NFC South. Yes, Drew Brees, Michael Turner, Roddy White, and Steve Smith are all getting older (30+), but it doesn’t take long to notice that the next wave of fantasy stars are also located in this up and coming division. Cam Newton, Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles, and Julio Jones are just a few of the legitimate fantasy studs that roam this division; and all have the chance to lead or be top 3 in their respective positions in fantasy points, (Sproles in PPR).
The Saints are fantasy gold, as far as the passing game goes. Drew Brees, fresh off his second 5,000 yard season (Holy Crap!) just keeps up putting numbers that have his fantasy owners doing the Tom Benson Boogie. With Sean Payton not around this year, things could be a little more run oriented, but we doubt it as Brees could become the defacto OC. Jimmy Graham, 100 catches anyone? The Falcons are looking to transition from a power running game (Michael Turner almost 1,200 carries since 2008) to a more pass happy approach as they look to get 2nd year WR Julio Jones the damn ball more often.
A new regime in Tampa Bay brings along a different offensive game plan that looks to take advantage of the skills Josh Freeman possesses (similar to Cam). Speaking of Cam, what can he do for an encore to his record shattering 2011 rookie season. He now has had a full training camp to hone his skills and become more dangerous. The talent around him has not changed much, but a more mature Newton could make a huge difference in how many players around him perform. That’s what the great ones do, right? The Saints and Falcons have switched up division winners since 2009, and it looks to be one of these two teams again. Although I love Greg Schiano, Tampa still needs some more offensive fire power and Carolina still needs a lot more defense to be mentioned in the conversation as Champs of the NFC’s Dirty South.
The chart below contains OFFENSE rankings from last season.
|New Orleans||18-1||34||6||133||4.9||27||16||New Orleans||1||334||46||14||24|
|Tampa Bay||75-1||18||30||91||4.2||22||9||Tampa Bay||16||228||17||24||32|
Here is how we see the NFC South Depth Charts entering training camp.
|ATL||Matt Ryan||Chris Redman|
|CAR||Cam Newton||Jimmy Clausen|
|NO||Drew Brees||Chase Daniel||Luke McCown|
|TB||Josh Freeman||Dan Orlovsky|
|ATL||Michael Turner||Jazquizz Rodgers||Jason Snelling|
|CAR||DeAngelo Williams||Jonathan Stewart||Mike Tolbert|
|NO||Darren Sproles||Pierre Thomas||Mark Ingram||Chris Ivory|
|TB||Doug Martin||LeGarrette Blount||Michael Smith||Mossis Madu|
|ATL||Roddy White||Julio Jones||Harry Douglas||Kerry Meier||Kevin Cone|
|CAR||Steve Smith||Brandon LaFell||Seyi Ajirotutu||David Gettis||Louis Murphy|
|NO||Marques Colston||Lance Moore||Devery Henderson||Adrian Arrington||Nick Toon|
|TB||Vincent Jackson||Mike Williams||Arrelious Benn||Preston Parker||Sammie Stroughter|
|ATL||Tony Gonzalez||Reggie Kelly|
|CAR||Greg Olsen||Gary Barnidge|
|NO||Jimmy Graham||David Thomas|
|TB||Dallas Clark||Luke Stocker|
Mark Ingram, like his former Alabama teammate Trent Richardson, was the rookie being talked about most last preseason. Many thought that if you simply put him in an offense like New Orleans, he would be automatic for 10+ touchdowns, and 1,000 rushing yards.
Well, his season did not go as planned and it ended with a turf toe injury that caused him to miss the last 4 games of the regular season including the playoffs. Ingram eventually had surgery on it early in the year and appears 1005 recovered as he suited up for the first preseason game and scored a TD. The Saints seem to be taking it very slow with their young running back and maybe a break-out is still a year away. He should be solid for 50-70 yards per game and 5-6 TDs as part of the Saints 3-headed backfield - not exactly what was expected from a former Heisman Trophy winner but he remains on the radar especially in dynasty leagues.
With Kellen Winslow now in Seattle, the Bucs will turn their starting TE role over to former Colt Dallas Clark. The 33-year-old TE has battled injuries the past two seasons that have cost him 15 games. With an improved WR corps, the TE could very well take a backseat in the Bucs offense leaving Clark barely on the fantasy radar.
As mentioned above, all the fantasy talk offseason has been about Trent Richardson and the impact he will have. It could be Doug Martin, though, that could turn out to be the Fantasy Rookie of the year. He has a more talented, veteran team behind him, and a coach that wants to take advantage of his new rookie’s skills.
The talk in Buc’s camp so far has been that both LeGarrette Blount and Martin look good and that maybe they can be one of the best 1-2 punches (sorry Legarrette couldn’t resist) in the NFL. That would be a nice story, but Martin wasn’t drafted early to split carries with a guy known for having minimal work ethic. It’s early right now, but I can see a scenario after a month where Martin takes over the starting job and doesn’t look back.
Free Agent additions:
Tampa made the biggest splash within the division by snagging Vincent Jackson away from San Diego. Mike Williams took a big step down last season, and an upgrade was desperately needed. Josh Freeman could see a moderate uptick with a legit WR1 at his disposal. Jackson brings is a big bodied WR that can get deep and be a force in the red zone. He has size, speed, and athleticism that Tampa has not had at wide receiver in quite some time.
His issue, much like so many, is staying healthy (missed 11 games in 2010). He might not be weekly dominant force, but there is no reason not to expect at least 1,000 yards and 8 touchdowns, provided he play 16 games. In 2011, V-Jax suited up for all 16 games and finished with 60 catches for 1,106 yards and 9TDs - a stat line that represents his ceiling in Tampa’s more run focused attack.
The signing of Mike Tolbert by Carolina was viewed as curious by most. Carolina did not need another running back and if Tolbert stayed in San Diego, well we have all seen how brittle Ryan Mathews is. Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams are both locked up long-term and Tolbert figures to lineup in more of a FB role diminishing his fantasy luster. Some backs need more carries to get better and stay in a rhythm – this will be very difficult in the crowded Panther backfield. Tolbert has more talent than just about an FB in the league as he’s flashed a solid receiving ability that most blocking backs lack. If injuries occur to any of Carolina’s backs, his value will sky-rocket. As it is now, he won’t be worth drafting except in very deep leagues.
The bounty scandal left the Saints coaching staff depleted. Sean Payton will miss the season, and the interim coach, Joe Vitt (also coaches the linebackers) will miss the first 6 games for his role. Pete Carmichael, the offensive coordinator, will lead the team in Vitt’s absence. Expect a little more running, but at the end of the day, the Saints still have Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles, and Marques Colston running the show in one of the league’s more high-flying passing games.
Greg Schiano takes over in Tampa Bay, after coaching at “The U” and Rutgers. He worked with Ray Rice at Rutgers, and many view Doug Martin as a Rice clone based on his short stature and ability to excel in the passing game. Expect a run-first offense, but one that is not afraid to take shots down the field. A dream scenario for Tampa, and fantasy fans of Tampa, is one where Freeman returns to his 2010 form, and Doug Martin is as good as advertised.
Atlanta has installed a new pass first offense under new Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter. He takes over for Mike Mularkey, who is now head coach for the MJD-less Jaguars. Disappointing offensive performances in the playoffs have led Atlanta to shift their offensive scheme, and some expect Atlanta to turn into passing gold, much like division foe, New Orleans. Matty Ice is a popular breakout candidate with arguably the best WR corps in the league at his fingertips in Julio Jones and Roddy White.
Vincent Jackson (ADP #51): Mentioned above, barring injury, there is no reason he can’t go for 1000 yards and 8 TDs. The problem is, he should be going for 1300 and 12, yearly. He has such advantages over all the corners that oppose him, it’s hard to imagine how he can just disappear at times, like he did in San Diego. Besides fighting the injury bug yearly, questions about his work ethic have dogged him since his holdout a few years ago. A change in scenery should do him good, but will he play all 16 games? Will he play hard every play? Will he run block and stay on the field?
Pierre Thomas (ADP – #146) – Has never topped 800 yards over any of his 5 seasons and will be limited to 10-12 carries – maybe less if Mark Ingram proves to be healthy. Could still be a solid flex play in PPR leagues (had 50 catches in 2011).
Josh Freeman (ADP #120) – After tossing 25 TDs and just 6 INTs in 2010 – Freeman regressed big time last season finishing with a 16:22 TD:INT ratio. His 551 pass attempts were 8th most in the NFL last season but those numbers should shrink under Schiano’s more run focused attack. Regardless the addition of Vincent Jackson makes Freeman well worth considering as a QB2 and potential starter when the matchup is favorable. His dual threat ability is an added bonus as the Kansas State alum has averaged 62 carries over the past 2 seasons.
Mark Ingram (ADP #80) - Missed 6 games in his rookie season but looked healthy in first preseason game. The 2011 first round pick is well worth a late round flier as he could emerge as the red zone back for the high octane Saints offense.
Jacquizz Rodgers (ADP #129) - Falcons look like they want Rodgers to play the Darren Sproles part of their offense. In a more pass happy attack – Rodgers should see his role expand.
Brandon Lafell (ADP #165) - The 3rd round pick in 2010 will be given every chance to win a starting job entering his 3rd NFL season. The LSU alum showed flashes of his potential averaging 17 YPC but has yet to crack 40 catches in either of his first two seasons. Steve Smith continues to defy father time but is 33 years old so LaFell has a chance to develop into a fine dynasty target (keep an eye on rookie Joe Adams from Arkansas as well).