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NFC South Fantasy Preview

Drew Brees
The NFC South is a story of two “haves” and two “have-nots.”

The ultimate “have” are the reigning Super Bowl champs, the New Orleans Saints. From top to bottom, on both sides of the ball, the Saints are stacked with stars that will no doubt have New Orleans thinking repeat, all season long. From there, the Atlanta Falcons seem to be the only squad that could maybe pose a challenge to the Saints in the division. Atlanta has the talent to match up with New Orleans, but after sub-par years from QB Matt Ryan and RB Michael Turner, the Falcons will turn to these franchise players to bounce back big time if the Falcons hope to return to the playoff picture.

Then we have the “have-nots.” Granted, the Carolina Panthers do have three worthy fantasy starters on their roster, with the two-headed backfield monster of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, along with veteran wideout Steve Smith (that’s the original Steve Smith). But with the unproven Matt Moore behind center for Carolina, with no one but rookie Jimmy Clausen challenging him for the starting job, the Panthers will likely be going through some growing pains this season, and maybe for a few seasons to come. Losing Julius Peppers on the defensive side of the ball will sting also.

But at least Carolina has some stars to feature. That can’t be said for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If I were to bet on one NFL team to go winless this upcoming season, here’s where my money would go. The Bucs have little to no chance of finishing anywhere but in last place in the NFC South. Unless you’re a Tampa fan (I’m sorry), I challenge you to even name five players on the roster.

So now that we’ve painted the divisional picture, let’s highlight some of the colorful fantasy talent featured in the NFC South.

Team Profiles

Atlanta Falcons

As I mentioned earlier, for the Falcons to go anywhere in 2010, they’ll need more out of the players at the skill positions. QB Matt Ryan got off to a solid start last season, but then the sophomore slump went into effect. By all accounts, he’s working harder than ever to progress further in his development, so look for a nice comeback season ahead for the former B.C. Eagle.

In the backfield, Michael Turner will look to rebound from the ankle injury that cost him action through much of the latter half of last season. If he can remain healthy, Turner’s worth a look late in the first round, especially due to Atlanta’s rather weak schedule. Behind Turner are role players Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood, neither of which are worthy of anything more than a late round flier pick, unless of course you aim to handcuff Turner.

On the outside, the passing game will feature top 10 fantasy WR Roddy White, and on the inside, Ryan will turn to All Pro TE Tony Gonzalez. White is likely to be drafted in the second or third round of your draft, while Gonzalez’s draft position has slipped significantly from prior years. He’s no longer in the top 5 at his position, so if your heart is set on drafting the former Chief, you can probably wait until after the top tier of tight ends are off the board, like Dallas Clark, Antonio Gates, and Vernon Davis. Behind these guys however, you won’t find much. Receivers Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglas will vie for targets, but neither receiver is worth any serious consideration in fantasy land before the last few rounds.

Carolina Panthers

Long time QB Jake Delhomme was shown the door in the off-season, as the reigns of the offense are handed to Matt Moore for the short term, while the Panthers groom rookie Jimmy Clausen into the team’s next franchise QB. Moore won’t light up the stat sheet, but he could be worthy of a bye-week replacement pick for your starting QB. His Week 8 start against the awful Rams might act as a good filler if your starting QB is on bye that week, like Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, or Joe Flacco will be.

Moore will throw to Steve Smith, but after that, who knows will get the targets. Smith has been the only show in town for years now, as the Panthers’ brass tries to find someone who can compliment him in the passing game. They drafted Brandon LaFell, and have Armanti Edwards and Dwayne Jarrett, but none of those guys should even sniff a roster spot for your fantasy team. Tight end Dante Rosario was supposed to be an up-and-comer at the position, but he’s been lapped by several more talented players, making Rosario worthless in the fantasy world as well.

So where do you turn for fantasy studs in Carolina? You head to the running back position, where you’ll find a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Now I will say that I’m not as high on these two as other fantasy gurus seem to be, but that’s not because of a lack of talent on their behalf. It’s more because the team’s lack of talent will likely lead to falling behind early in games, thus the need will arise to abandon the run in favor of the deep ball, in a comeback effort week after week. But Williams and Stewart surely belong on fantasy rosters without question, with Williams being drafted in the late first or early second round, and Stewart being taken off the board by the fifth or sixth round.

New Orleans Saints

Fantasy talent is featured up and down the New Orleans roster, and it all starts with Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees. If Brees isn’t the top quarterback picked in your draft, you better believe he’ll at least be the second one off the board, as he and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers duke it out for that top spot.

Brees has a handful of offensive weapons at his disposal, including receivers Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson, and Lance Moore, along with a still productive Jeremy Shockey at TE. All five, believe it or not, have fantasy value, with Colston a definite starter, and the rest acting as good depth to have for your fantasy roster.

Running the ball for the Saints will be the bruising Pierre Thomas, who is poised to have a breakout season this year. With no Mike Bell in the backfield to siphon away carries, Thomas will shoulder the brunt of the ground game’s workload, with Reggie Bush used more on third down passing plays. Lynell Hamilton will also see some action at the running back position, with the possibility of him stealing away some of the goal-line, red zone carries from Thomas and Bush. He may be worth a look in the late rounds, knowing that points will be plentiful for any Saint you can put on your fantasy team.

The Saints also have the best options at kicker and team defense in the division, with the D-unit loaded with playmakers and kicker Garrett Hartley ready to pile on the points for New Orleans.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If you’re not riding in the Cadillac, you shouldn’t be riding with any Buccaneers this upcoming season, plain and simple.

Cadillac Williams, if he can remain healthy, provides some value at the RB position, and he should be able to be had in the middle rounds. Derrick Ward, the former Giant, and big man Earnest Graham should also be drafted, but not until the tail end of the draft, if you’ve got RB spots to fill.

Otherwise, QB Josh Freeman is a turnover machine and still has no value for you and your fantasy team. And, who is he going to throw to? Sure, Kellen Winslow will get some touches at the tight end spot, but only because Tampa has no other reliable, proven options. The Bucs drafted a pair of receivers, second-rounder Arrelious Benn and fourth-round pick Mike Williams, and both will be leaned on heavily right from game #1. If you want to take a gamble with either one, go right ahead… but don’t bother with either until the last few rounds of your draft.

Top 5 NFC South Studs (Players Worth Early Picks)

  • Michael Turner, RB Atlanta
  • Drew Brees, QB New Orleans
  • DeAngelo Williams, RB Carolina
  • Marques Colston, WR New Orleans
  • Steve Smith, WR Carolina

Top 5 NFC South Duds (Players I Think Will Flop)

  • Jonathan Stewart, RB Carolina
  • Tony Gonzalez, TE Atlanta
  • Kellen Winslow, TE Tampa Bay
  • Derrick Ward, RB Tampa Bay
  • Jason Snelling, RB Atlanta

Top 5 NFC South Sleepers (Players Whose Value Will Increase)

  • Matt Ryan, QB Atlanta
  • Pierre Thomas, RB New Orleans
  • Robert Meachem, WR New Orleans
  • Mike Williams, WR Tampa Bay
  • Michael Jenkins, WR Atlanta

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