As we shift our previews to the southern divisions, we get into what I think are the most interesting divisions in the NFL for fantasy purposes. I’ll look at the NFC South first. All references to draft position are taken from the Fantasy Football Calculator.
One thing to note here is that these teams often play in good weather games. The Falcons and Saints play on turf a lot and Carolina and Tampa are also nice for late-season weather forecasts.
This is the only division where all four starting quarterbacks are being selected in the first 100 picks of drafts, on average. Drew Brees (New Orleans) leads this group, going around pick 40. Probably second in fantasy QB reliability behind Aaron Rodgers, Brees has seen his draft price slip a little in recent seasons. He should still have a couple of strong seasons left, and is a pretty good target for those that want to lock up a top QB.
There’s always a quarterback or two that comes from out of nowhere in fantasy, and Matt Ryan of Atlanta was that guy in 2016. He substantially outperformed most of his career highs on his way to a top two QB finish. While his pick 55 draft price isn’t terrible, the likelihood of some regression doesn’t leave a lot of upside here, either. To see my point, look at the next paragraph.
Cam Newton (Carolina) came out of nowhere to be far and away the number one QB in 2015. In 2016, he fell all the way down around 20th in fantasy QB rankings. His value is somewhere in the middle, but his pick 70 draft price is too aggressive for me. Cam does have some new weapons, but is also coming off of surgery and isn’t likely run as much.
Jameis Winton (Tampa Bay) could end up following the previous two in rising to the top this coming season. The Buccaneers have added multiple receiving weapons and play in a division without elite defenses. Currently being drafted around pick 95, He’s likely the best value in this division and has the potential to finish as a top 5 QB, although that’s far from a certainty.
There are multiple guys are in play here for fantasy, so I’ll look at each team individually.
Atlanta: Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman formed a terrific one-two punch for the Falcons last season (Atlanta finished as the top RB fantasy team in 2016), which was a bonus for many fantasy owners that drafted Coleman as a handcuff. That’ll be more difficult this season with Freeman going around pick 12 and Coleman around 50. I like Freeman’s price better, though, as Coleman was very reliant on big plays last season.
Carolina: Christian McCaffrey was drafted 8th overall by Carolina to bolster the offense. The fantasy community has responded by drafting him 40th in PPR (50th in standard). The price is fair, but it’s hard to know his overall usage because Jonathan Stewart (110 in PPR, 100 in standard) is still there. This isn’t really a handcuff situation, but both could find value depending on how the situation shakes out. Keep in mind that Cam does run for some short TDs as well.
New Orleans: This team is very underrated for fantasy RB production (top 8 fantasy RB team every year since 2011, usually top 3), but that’s because it’s always divvied up among multiple players. This season will probably be the same with Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson, and rookie Alvin Kamara all in the mix. This is probably a good handcuff situation with Ingram and then Peterson (although they’re currently being drafted close together around pick 55 somehow) with the potential for more if the Saints can stay in more games. Kamara is a rookie/dynasty target.
Tampa Bay: Another handcuff scenario. Doug Martin (pick 50) is suspended for the first three games of the season. That likely means that Jacquizz Rodgers (pick 130-150, depending on format) will lead the way early on. Charles Sims is also around for some possible PPR appeal.
Michael Thomas of New Orleans had a fantastic rookie season, finishing in the top 10 among WRs. With Brandin Cooks off to New England, his value has skyrocketed this offseason. Thomas is being drafted in the top 15 of most drafts, usually as the 9th wideout. There’s reason for optimism, but also concern now that he is the main receiving weapon. Due to that uncertainty, I prefer many of the running backs being drafted around his position.
Julio Jones (Atlanta) and Mike Evans (Tampa Bay) are the clear top two receivers in the NFC South. Both are consistently going in the top 10 of fantasy drafts, even top 5 in dynasty formats. Both are worth of such high selection, although Jones is always an injury risk and Evans could regress from his high TD total with new weapons in Tampa.
One of those new weapons is DeSean Jackson. Jackson and Willie Snead (New Orleans) are both being drafted around pick 75, but they might be format dependent for their success. Jackson’s big play ability plays well for standard scoring while Snead could be a PPR sleeper with Cooks out of the picture. In general, I prefer Snead here since he’s familiar with his team. However, I like both players more than Kelvin Benjamin (Carolina), who is being drafted about 15 picks before them. He had a very rough 2016 and is reportedly way out of shape this offseason.
The rest of the receivers here are either late-round fliers or rookie/dynasty targets. In Atlanta, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel both showed promise last season, with Gabriel having the better upside. The Saints signed Ted Ginn from Carolina, and his speed could lead to a few big games. Curtis Samuel (Carolina) and Chris Godwin (Tampa) are rookies to look at as well.
Greg Olsen of Carolina is Mr. Consistency at tight end by season although he was inconsistent game-by-game in 2016. He’s being taken in the 40s right now, which is okay for PPR. I’d probably reach for a RB or WR there, though, if I could.
Cameron Brate of Tampa was fantastic last season. However, Tampa drafted O.J. Howard in the first round this year, which means both will be difficult to predict for fantasy value. At best, they’re late-round fliers, along with Coby Fleener (New Orleans) and Austin Hooper (Atlanta).
That wraps up the NFC South. It’s a fun division for fantasy and reality, so feel free to get attached to it where you can in upcoming drafts.