Each divisional preview will have a consistent structure—highlighting two each of the following: (1) undervalued players compared to average draft position (ADP), (2) overvalued players compared to ADP, (3) sleepers, (4) breakout candidates and (5) bold predictions.
With that said, let's get to the NFC South divisional preview.
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers (ADP: 88, QB10)
A shoulder injury slowed him down and then prematurely ended his season, but Newton was third in fantasy scoring through Week 13. Before 2018, he had finished as the QB4 or better in five of his seven seasons in the league.
Ranked as my QB5, Newton offers value as the QB10 in terms of his ADP. Perhaps he rushes a little less in 2019, but it’s reasonable to expect him to finish with a rushing line approaching the range of 100/500/5. In addition to his dual-threat abilities, a young, talented group of playmakers that excel after the catch could make things easier for the veteran signal-caller.
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: 10, WR3)
Averaging more than 100 yards per game in five of the past six seasons, Jones has led the NFL in that category in three of the past four. Turning his 113 receptions into a league-high 1,677 yards last season, Jones is a lock for 1,400-plus yards as long as he stays healthy.
Scoreless through last year’s first seven games (53 receptions on 81 targets), Jones managed to score eight touchdowns over the final nine games of the season. Jones has a size-speed profile that should lead to more touchdowns than his actual production throughout his career, but Atlanta’s No. 1 wide receiver is my top receiver overall based in part due to his consistent volume.
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints (ADP: 84, QB9)
A model of consistency, Brees has finished as a top-10 fantasy quarterback in 15 consecutive seasons. The days of Brees slinging it 600-plus times appears to be over, however, as his pass attempts in 2017 (536, 33.5/G) and 2018 (489, 32.6/G) are the two lowest of his Saints’ tenure. With one of the highest win totals in the league, the Saints should be playing many of their games with a lead and continue their shift towards a more balanced or even run-heavy approach.
Ito Smith, RB, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: 175, RB59)
With Devonta Freeman missing almost all of 2018, Smith backed up starter Tevin Coleman. Now that Coleman is in San Francisco, there is a chance that Smith backs up Freeman, but it’s not a lock. Given that Atlanta invested a fifth-round pick in Qadree Ollison and Brian Hill has performed well, it’s possible that Smith, who averaged a pedestrian 3.5 YPC and 5.6 Y/R last season, loses or splits the RB2 job.
Note: For our purposes, a sleeper is defined as a player with a current ADP of Round 10 or later.
Ronald Jones, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: 130, RB44)
Terrible may be too kind of a word to describe Jones' rookie season—77 yards from scrimmage, 1.9 YPC and 4.7 Y/R. Without adding any serious competition to the backfield, however, last year's 38th-overall pick is in position to put his 2018 season behind him as he gets a fresh start with a new coaching staff. At a minimum, he’s worth a roll of the dice as the 44th running back off the board as I expect him to lead a committee backfield with Peyton Barber.
Breshad Perriman, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: 339, WR117)
A deep sleeper special, Perriman won’t replace DeSean Jackson’s level of production as a vertical threat, but he has elite speed to provide that element to the offense. Perriman had 16 catches for 340 yards (21.3 Y/R) and two touchdowns last season. Leading the NFL in passing last season, the Bucs had three top-36 wide receivers last season. While a top-36 performance is too rich of a prediction for Perriman, finishing as a top-75 receiver isn’t out of the question.
O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Injuries have cut short each of Howard's first two NFL seasons, but he has been extremely efficient with his opportunities. Howard's 11.46 yards per target over the past two years is the highest in the NFL amongst players with at least 50 catches during that span. In addition, his 16.62 Y/R leads all tight ends over that span. Only three other tight ends—Rob Gronkowski, Vernon Davis and George Kittle—have averaged more than 13.0 Y/R during that stretch. With good health, he's the best bet to challenge the top three—Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and Kittle—this season.
Curtis Samuel, WR, Carolina Panthers
Not only did he score seven touchdowns on only 47 touches, but Samuel ended 2018 with at least 70 yards in three of his final five games. His touchdown rate is likely to regress, but he's generated positive buzz this offseason and a breakout could be on the horizon as he enters his age-23 season.
Note: Perhaps it will take a best-case scenario for these predictions to become reality, but if that weren't the case, they wouldn't be bold.
Drew Brees finishes fourth amongst NFC South QBs in fantasy points.
While I expect the Saints to win the NFC South, it won’t take gaudy passing numbers from Brees to do it. As noted above, the days of counting on Brees to lead the league in passing attempts have ended. On the other hand, the Bucs led the league in passing in 2018, Matt Ryan scored the second-most fantasy points last year and Cam Newton has the upside to lead all of them in fantasy points.
Chris Godwin finishes 2019 with 90 catches.
Bruce Arians says that Godwin could be “close to a 100-catch guy” this year. Ninety is close to 100. Regardless of what the number turns out to be, there is plenty of breakout potential for Godwin in his third season with DeSean Jackson now back in Philadelphia.
Over the past two seasons, D-Jax has missed six games and Godwin has 98-plus yards in four of those games. Mike Evans may be the team’s clear No. 1, but the Bucs are going to find themselves on the trying-to-come-back side of many shootouts this season and Godwin should be one of the biggest beneficiaries of that game script.
Good luck in your league(s) and stay tuned for more divisional previews!
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