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Friday, 22 August 2014 19:43

Fantasy Football 2014 Forecast: NFC South

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The NFC South is home to my favorite player in the NFL, and there should be no surprise that his team has the best Fantasy Football options in this division.

New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees is the heart and soul of the New Orleans Saints, and he’s also in my opinion the 2nd best fantasy QB in the NFL. Throwing for 5,000 yards doesn’t seem to be an issue and he continues to score at least 30 TDs a year. In the last 3 years Breesus has averaged just fewer than 43 TDs, and because he likes to spread the ball around he makes almost everyone in this offense worth a look for your fantasy team.

Who exactly in this offense am I referring to? Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills, Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson, Mark Ingram, and of course the best TE in the NFL, Jimmy Graham, are all draftable. Graham is being treated similar to Calvin Johnson, the only member of his position worthy of being drafted in the 1st round. 1,215 yards and 16 TDs last year was not a fluke, Jimmy Graham is worth the hype he receives.

So what about these other guys that I mentioned? Colston is still good for 100+ targets and although last year was his first under 1,000 yards since 2008, he went back to his old self towards the end of the season. There were stretches last year where it looked like Colston was losing it, but he played well in the last few games and had a great performance against the Seahawks in the playoffs (let’s ignore that horrible last second pass). Cooks and Stills will be fighting for the #2 WR spot on the team, but they both should have at least Flex value, especially Cooks who has been blowing up this preseason and will take up a lot of touches now available with Darren Sproles’ departure.

The RB trio of Thomas, Ingram, and Robinson make scare you, but Thomas is a borderline RB2 (definite in PPR leagues).  Ingram will reportedly have a bigger role in the offense and I honestly think this is his last chance to make a mark. I believe he and Khiry are Flex players, with the more effective of the two becoming the primary back by the end of the season. Finally comes the defense, which was tied for 10th last season. Rob Ryan deserves all the praise for turning around such a horrid defense, and the addition of Jairus Byrd will keep their pass defense strong. It’s still a question how they’ll play against the run, but I still think they’ll be a top-10 fantasy defense.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Before you close this window because of how absurd it looks for me to put Tampa above the Falcons, hear me out. The Falcons have one of the best WRs in the league in Julio Jones and a great QB in Matt Ryan, those are facts, but what else do they have that’s better than what the Bucs have to offer. The Bucs have a much better defense that is now under the defensive mind of Lovie Smith, and a far better rushing attack. I’m not a huge fan of Doug Martin, but am I really supposed to believe that Steven Jackson is going to have a better season that him? Sure, Tampa was last in the league in passing this year, but then have Josh McCown now and I have a hard time believing last year was a fluke. Sure he won’t have Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey, but Vincent Jackson is no pushover, and neither is Mike Evans.

Yes, the Falcons have the edge at QB and WR, but as a whole I think the Bucs have more to offer. Doug Martin is widely regarded as a top-15 if not top-10 RB, and his handcuffs Mike James and Bobby Rainey are worth a look in deep leagues. Vincent Jackson is right outside my top-10 WRs and the attention defenses place on him should certainly free up Mike Evans. I expect Jackson to have a better season than Roddy White, and Mike Evans should definitely be better than Harry Douglas. I would draft Evans as a Flex with WR2 upside.

The true X-factor for this team is Josh McCown. I don’t think he’ll be a starting caliber fantasy QB out of the gate, and unless you’re in a deep or 2QB league you may never start him outside of a bye week, but if he can put up good numbers then that’ll reflect well for Jackson, Evans, and Martin. I think Evans is really flying under the radar, so not only is he a sleeper for me, he’s also a guy that I think will help make McCown’s job easier. Another part of this team under the radar is the defense. They tied (along with the Saints and Colts) for 10th among fantasy defenses last year, and they could easily finish near that mark this year if Lovie Smith is able to make some expected improvements.

Atlanta Falcons

I may not have convinced you that fantasy wise the Bucs have a better team, and I could understand why. Matt Ryan is a top-10 fantasy QB and Julio Jones is right outside of my top-5. Roddy White hopes to have a healthy season and return to elite WR status, but we’ll have to see. I have him ranked 17th, but he could outperform that ranking especially since I think they’ll need to throw a lot. The Falcons were 7th in passing last year and Matt Ryan had to toss the pigskin a career high 651 times. Looking at that number you’d expect Ryan to have a career season, but he wasn’t able to surpass his prior year’s stats with the loss of Jones, White, and the lack of a running game. Jones and White are back, so Ryan should be right back among the top fantasy QBs and keep that in mind if you’re in the mid rounds of your draft and have yet to select a QB.

Back to Roddy White, if he can stay healthy he should have a good year. Defenses will focus most on Julio Jones, and White has historically been Ryan’s favorite target so don’t give up on him just yet. Again, the Falcons will be throwing a lot this year, and I think that’s due to a subpar running game. I’m not taking away anything from Steven Jackson in regard to how great he has been with the Rams. I wasn’t high on him going into last season, but even I didn’t see him doing so poorly last year with health and production. At the end of the day Jackson is 31, and he’s having hamstring issues in the preseason after a season full of issues. He is just inside of my top-30 RBs, and quite frankly I’m not drafting him. Instead, I’d say draft Devonta Freeman as a handcuff to hold onto if Jackson goes down. Even if Jackson doesn’t go down Freeman should get some touches to lighten Jackson’s workload, so he’s especially a solid pick in deep leagues.

Along with Freeman, I think you should take a look at Harry Douglas. His career best season was due to the injuries sustained by Jones and White, but Douglas will benefit from the departure of Gonzalez. Following along with my theme of the Falcons throwing the ball all day, I think Douglas could be a decent Flex player. In 10 team leagues you probably won’t think much of him, but Ryan won’t rely solely on his top 2 guys, so keep an eye on Douglas late in your drafts.

Carolina Panthers

The only question people seem to ask regarding the Panthers is “who is Cam going to throw to?” I think the answer to that question is very simple: Kelvin Benjamin. Am I insane in believing that he can be a great fantasy WR this year? It’s clear the Panthers need a better offense so to think Cam is all of a sudden going to stop throwing doesn’t make sense to me. Benjamin will get a ton of targets and he’s going to convert those to catches, yards, and TDs. I’m not saying he’ll be top-15, but I definitely think he warrants a seat at the top-25 table.

Speaking of Cam, throwing less doesn’t completely ruin his fantasy value. This team was 11th in rushing last year, and Cam played a large part in that. His 585 rushing yards were 2nd best on the team, and he was able to reach the end zone with his legs a team best 6 times. Now I can understand concern about his usage, his passing and rushing attempts dropped last year, but this team isn’t going too far without an offense. Even with his drop in usage and Steve Smith’s drop in production Cam still ended the season as the 3rd best fantasy QB. His rushing attempts may be dropping, but it’s still over 100 times. Stop doubting Cam, he’ll do just fine.

Aside from Kelvin Benjamin he’ll be throwing to Greg Olsen, who I think could easily end the season as a top-5 TE, but for now I have him ranked 7th. Olsen just might hit 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career, and I don’t think 6 TDs is out of the question, he might even get more. Let’s say Cam is having chemistry issues with Benjamin, who will he rely on? You guessed it, Greg Olsen. Olsen tied for team leader in targets with Steve Smith last year (109) and led the team in catches, yards and TDs. If you’re going to be low on Benjamin, then you have to have faith in Olsen because again, Cam has to throw to someone. Outside of these two, Jerricho Cotchery will catch some balls. I think his 10 TDs last year is a fluke, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he caught half of that this year. It’s hard to think he’ll have even close to the season he had last year, so at best I’d draft him as a Flex, IF I were to draft him at all.

When it comes to the running game the Panthers are great, but fantasy wise they’re extremely frustrating. I’m one of many who wish they’d trade one of these RBs away. DeAngelo Williams overall had a good season, but that was due to Jonathan Stewart being out for most of the year. Both RBs will see action this year, so I wouldn’t suggest drafting either guy as more than a Flex, with Williams the higher ranked of the two. What makes the predicament even more difficult is TD vulture extraordinaire Mike Tolbert. If you’re in a TD-only league then you’ll want Tolbert on your team, otherwise he can be pretty useless. He doesn’t do much yardage wise, so if he isn’t scoring a TD he’s wasting a spot on your starting lineup. Finally we come to the defense, which I have ranked 2nd. They shocked me with how well they played last year, and they should be great again this season. I’m not big on IDP leagues, but if you’re in one Luke Kuechly has to be one of your top picks.

For other rankings, check out the Fantasy Football Draft Central page, and follow me @CLNS_Marc for further coverage.

Marc Hurdle

Marc is a devotee of all things involving Fantasy Football and the New England Patriots. He enjoys following the NFL and the NBA and is currently the Fantasy Football contributing writer for CLNS Radio.

Follow him on Twitter @CLNS_Marc