Dominick Petrillo @Envisionff
Taking a look at all the divisions in the NFL, it is clear the NFC South is at the top of the heap along with perhaps the AFC South and potentially the NFC North. Does this translate into fantasy goodness though? Well, yes. But for a better idea of how let’s look at a team by team breakdown.
After a Super Bowl run in 2016, the Falcons came back down to earth in 2017. With the loss of Kyle Shanahan to the 49ers came the arrival of Steve Sarkisian. Normal first year comfortless followed and while the Falcons still made the playoffs, the offense and Matt Ryan were not the same.
Entering the second year under Sarkisian, the offense should take a step forward and this bodes well for taking both Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman at their current ADP’s. While many people felt Matt Ryan regressed last season, he in fact just returned to his norm. His MVP season in 2016 was the outlier in his career and the 2017 Matt Ryan is more what to expect going forward. Being taken as the sixth quarterback in 2017 was drafting him at his peak and now, with his value returning to normal as the quarterback 13 to 15, he will be less maligned as you will not be a victim of the recency bias you were last season.
With Julio Jones back in camp after ending his “holdout” and Devonta Freeman seemingly healthy, both should return great value on their spots in the second round of fantasy drafts. The concern with Jones has always been and will always be his touchdown production. With possible sleeper pick Calvin Ridley on the other side of the field and Freeman as well as Tevin Coleman in the backfield, this is not likely to change much. He is though going to still garner over 90 catches and at minimum 1,300 yards making him still a top five wide receiver for fantasy. The health of Freeman should be better this season as it was not a soft tissue injury which held him out but rather a concussion. These can be tricky as no one knows when they will happen, but if he can return to the running back he was under Shanahan in which he finished as the number one and seven running back respectively, his late second or early third round draft price is a gift to his owner.
If you want to grab possible values on the Falcons, there are a few players available later in drafts who should perform this season. Tevin Coleman is not the traditional backup in Atlanta. He has the same type of skill set at the starter Freeman and is also in a contract year meaning he is looking to get paid a la Jerick McKinnon. He is going to be determined to prove himself in his last season in Atlanta and with a draft price hovering in the seventh-round range, he could be a steal. Others to look at in the offense are previously mentioned Calvin Ridley across the field from Julio Jones and Tight end Austin Hooper. While the Falcons are not known to use the tight end since the retirement of Tony Gonzalez, Hooper may get some traction this season in his third season making him a dart throw in the last rounds of drafts if you plan on streaming the position.
Finally, the defense. Fast, young and hungry, the defense should be a good choice in fantasy drafts. While currently not going off the board as a top defense they should finish this way. Look for them as a defense to draft and keep on your team for the season. Much like Jacksonville and Minnesota defenses, the Atlanta defense will be one you will not want to let go of once you have them on your roster.
With injuries on the offensive line and a defense sure to be porous, the Carolina Panthers are a prime candidate for regression this season. This does not mean there will not be players you want n fantasy though. Their defense is so bad potentially, they will have to score and score a lot to keep up.
Cam Newton is the first player to look at in the offense. Not for his passing ability for sure, just ask Kelvin Benjamin, but for his running ability. Even in his seventh season, he will continue to be the best goal-line back perhaps in the league, but for sure on the Panthers. In leagues which award four points for a passing touchdown compared to six for rushing and receiving touchdowns, this gives him an advantage over other quarterbacks who may throw around the same 22 to 25 touchdowns. This will likely make Newton a top-five scoring quarterback again over the likes of a Ben Roethlisberger or Matthew Stafford who are not known as runners.
When Cam Newton does throw the ball there will be some weapons for him to use in last seasons breakout Devin Funchess, perennial top-level tight end Greg Olsen and Rookie D.J. Moore who could finish as a wide receiver one in his rookie season. There is not much to say about Greg Olsen. He is the main target for Cam Newton and if his foot is entirely healthy, he will be again. He will have 80 receptions for 900 yards and although not great, he will most likely get you four or five touchdowns as well. In the den of mediocrity which is the tight end position, you could do worse, although his draft price of the fifth round may be a little higher than some want to spend on a tight end not named Gronkowski, Kelce or Ertz.
Devin Funchess was the number one receiver in Carolina by attrition last season but now with rookie D.J. Moore arriving he can go back to his role as a second receiver. A role in which he is far more fitted for. D.J. Moore had a line of terrible quarterbacks throwing him the ball at Maryland and despite his accuracy deficiency, Newton is far better for sure. Moore is an 11th round pick who will bring great value to your team at this price. Come next year this time he should be in the fourth or fifth round of drafts so if you are in a keeper league or a start-up dynasty, get him now.
In the backfield, the duo of Christian McCaffrey as the pass-catching back and C.J. Anderson as the running back should provide opportunity in both areas depending on your league type. In a PPR league, McCaffrey is the player to target with your second-round draft pick. While this may be a little high and he is being drafted close to his ceiling, he should be among the league leaders in receptions from a running back, right up there with David Johnson and le’Veon Bell. As for his rushing ability? This is yet to be determined but don’t believe the coach talk from Ron Rivera about him being in line for 30 touches a game. This is where C.J. Anderson comes in. If you are in standard leagues, Anderson, not McCaffrey should be the target. He is being drafted five rounds later in drafts and he will have whatever goal line work does not go to Cam Newton. This could lead Anderson to end up with 800 to 1,000 rushing yards and eight to ten touchdowns on the ground as a player you can get as your third or fourth running back. He quietly had over 1,000 yards last year in Denver and he should do the same in Carolina this season.
New Orleans Saints:
Last season was a bone for fantasy with the Saints. No, not from the normal Drew Brees, but from the running backs. Both Mark Ingram and rookie phenom Alvin Kamara finished in the top 10 at the running back position leading the way to a division title for the Saints. While this year will be some of the same, it will not be entirely. With the suspension to start the season for Ingram, the Saints will again rely more on Brees for at least the first four weeks meaning his stats should rebound. This should make him again a top-five quarterback play in fantasy. With a current draft price of the ninth round, this is delightful for players who wait at the position. Alvin Kamara should again have a great year and taking into account his draft price of the seventh pick in the draft, he better. He will have a great season although it will not be as efficient as 2017 when he had the support of Ingram the entire season. With him missing time, Kamara will get more chances, yes, but it will not all go to him as the Saints do not want to use him up as he is their future at the position with Ingram being a free agent after the end of this season.
Look for a more pass-friendly offense again. Not back to the good old days, but Brees should again return to his 30 touchdown ways and Michael Thomas, who with over 100 catches last season was great should become a no doubt elite receiver as he increases his touchdown numbers. With Cameron Meredith coming in across the field he will have a solid receiver on the other side the way Willie Snead failed to do so in 2017 before his departure to Baltimore.
When it comes to the tight end position, the Coby Fleener experiment is mercifully over in Nola’ and may I say thank god. In comes returning old guy Benjamin Watson who after two seasons in Baltimore, one spent on injured reserve with an ACL, comes back to where he had his best season as a pro. While he may not be up to the same standards as he achieved in 2015, he will be a lot better than Fleener in the offense and will be a very attractive option at the position with a chance to finish top 10.
The Saints defense, after the ridicule of the league for years, is now no laughing matter. They are young and only getting better since the departure of Rex Ryan. The secondary is great and with the rest of the defense being solid, it is no longer a given that teams will throw it all over the field when playing New Orleans. Not quite the level yet of the Jaguars or Vikings yet, they are a rung below with the likes of the Rams and Chargers, but never the less they are a defense worth drafting and using all season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
So many good thoughts coming into the season for Tampa Bay went out the window with the suspension of Jameis Winston. With the suspension of Winston for three games being far less than what was deserved, it is still a death nail to the season of the Buccaneers. With games against the Saints, Eagles and Steelers during the games missed a 0-3 start is not only possible but likely. In his week four return, the team will get to play an improving Bears team followed by a bye week. Basically, you will be without Winston for the first five weeks making him a no draft. Especially with the depth at the position in one quarterback leagues.
His weapons, on the other hand, could still bring some value in 2018. Starting with Mike Evans, the big receiver will continue to be a target hog which is a necessity since he does not get many yards after the catch and his touchdowns fluctuate drastically year after year. With the Winston suspension, Evans has become a value in the early to middle of the third round and getting him here could bring you upside after Winston return. When it comes to the second receiver, second-year receiver Chris Godwin has seemingly taken over the role from Desean Jackson making Jackson the slot receiver in the latter part of his career. Godwin is a great draft pick in the double-digit rounds as he should have a break out year in his new role across from Evans and with the duo of tight ends also in the mix.
Speaking of the tight end duo, don’t look for either of them to have monster seasons. While everyone loves O.J. Howard and he is currently being drafted ahead of teammate Cameron Brate, Brate just got a massive contract and is not going anywhere. He should have a major role in the offense and with a draft price less than Howard, he is the one to draft in this offense. Coming out of Alabama, Howard was known more for his blocking than his receiving and with Brate finishing last season as the 12th ranked fantasy tight end, why would the Bucs want to go away from him? This will mean more blocking plays for Howard as the running game tries to get going.
As for that running game. Rookie Ronald Jones Jr. comes into a great situation to succeed this season. While not as highly touted as Saquon Barkley or Derrius Guice, he landed in the perfect situation with Tampa Bay. They are desperate for a rush game especially with Winston out and with only Peyton Barber to beat out for the starting job, he looks to be solidly heading in that direction. Jones may not have the hands of Barkley or Kerryon Johnson, but he is a good enough pass catcher to get 30 to 40 receptions if the starter and he can be had as your fourth running back. A price well worth the risk over other players in the same area like a Rex Burkhead, who may have a lingering knee injury or Latavius Murray who will be the Backup to a hopefully fully healthy Dalvin Cook in Minnesota.
With the offense taken care of, much as with Carolina, there is not much to talk about with the Defense. If you are desperate for a bye week fill in, they “might” be able to be useful. Otherwise, avoid like five-day-old fish in your refrigerator.