To help prepare for the upcoming season for all you fantasy footballers, we will examine every team in the league in the month of July. This effort will be organized through divisions and we will go roughly in order of overall strength of offenses from worst to best. Since teams in the same division play roughly to same schedule, it can be helpful to consider the defenses each division will face. I use team stats from Football Outsiders (DVOA), Average Draft Position (ADP) from Fantasy Football Calculator, and standard fantasy scoring on Yahoo. As always, comments, disagreements, and questions are welcome.
Today we cover the NFC South. I love this division. Good to great offenses with 3 bad to terrible defenses. Sure, the Panthers D is pretty good, but Tampa and Atlanta are not good and the Saints! Oh, the Saints defense is a wonderful dumpster fire that fantasy championships are built on. A lot of stars throughout this division so make sure you get your favorite.
23rd Passing DVOA, 25th Rushing DVOA
QB: Matt Ryan
RB: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman
WR: Julio Jones, Mohammad Sanu, Justin Hardy
TE: Jacob Tamme
The Falcons struggled on offense under first year Head Coach Dan Quinn, the defensive guru from the vaunted Seahawks defenses. The problem with the Falcons is that you think they should be a lot better because of the star power on offense. For our fake game purposes, Julio Jones is about as big as it gets. He’ll be in the first round conversation and is really starting to hit the peak of his career. The opposite receiver spot will likely be manned by Mohammad Sanu, the former Bengal who was tired of being in A.J. Green’s shadow… You have to figure Sanu will get some work in this offense and is worth rostering at the end of your bench. If Julio were to miss time, he’s the most likely candidate to blow up as well. Matt Ryan has fallen off from the heights once expected of him. With a stacked position group, he has fallen well outside the top 10 and can be nabbed with in the later rounds. He’s a good candidate to pair with Philip Rivers or Derek Carr and play matchups.
Investing in this running game comes down to one simple question – how much faith do you have in Devonta Freeman to repeat? Freeman was a revelation last year, exploding onto the scene with over 1,600 yards from scrimmage and 14 TDs. He was even more valuable in PPR where he nabbed 73 balls. The crazy thing about Freeman is that about 15 seconds before the year started, this looked like Tevin Coleman’s backfield. There is renewed talk this preseason about getting Coleman more involved so as to not overwork Freeman. The fantasy community has responded by picking 7 backs ahead of Freeman, drafting him in between Jamaal Charles and Eddie Lacy. Given the risk, laying off of Freeman in the first round is advisable, but a second round choice is completely worth it. Coleman is a must-have handcuff for owning Freeman.
17th Passing DVOA, 11th Rushing DVOA
QB: Jameis Winston
RB: Doug Martin, Charles Sims
WR: Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Kenny Bell, Louis Murphy
TE: Austin Sefarian-Jenkins
Doug Martin had a resurgent year after a down 2014, resulting in a big time payday to stay in Tampa. He competed for a rushing title until the last week of the season with Adrian Peterson. The Muscle Hamster faces little competition from his backfield and should benefit from the continued progress of the passing game. He’s currently the 10th running back off the board, which makes is a bit low, but makes an excellent target in the second round. If you are aiming for a top end WR in the first, Martin is a good bet to give you RB1 returns.
The passing game features second year QB Jameis Winston throwing to two gigantic WRs in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, and a big TE named Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. It’s fair to expect progress in Winston’s game this season, but he’s not worth more than a late round pick. I’d rather have the upside of Tyrod Taylor or Marcus Mariota. Vincent Jackson is one of those perpetual teases who you think is a good WR but appears and disappears from your lineup at will. He’s currently drafted as a WR5, so it appears the fantasy community has finally gotten wise. The real prize of this passing offense is Mike Evans. The third year man out of Texas A&M, Evans went over 1,000 yards in his first two seasons. His trips to paydirt dipped from 12 in 2014 to just 3 last season, but we have to give discount to the fact he had a rookie under center. His draft status is currently basically identical to Alshon Jeffery and Keenan Allen at the back end of the second round.
New Orleans Saints
7th Passing DVOA, 15th Rushing DVOA
QB: Drew Brees
RB: Mark Ingram, CJ Spiller
WR: Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Michael Thomas, Brandon Coleman
TE: Coby Fleener, Josh Hill
No one ever lost money betting on Drew Brees. He annually flirts with 5,000 yards, eclipsing that mark 4 times in his career, is a good bet for more than 30 TDs, and even has kept interceptions down in recent years. Plus, with the papier-mâché defense the Saints trot out, he gets to fire the ball around the field over 600 times a year. Brees can be had in the 5th or 6th round. His weapons have changed since last season. Ben Watson is gone, replaced by the enigma that is Coby Fleener. The Saints also matched the Chicago Bears tender for Josh Hill. Fleener projected as a pass-catching tight end for Andrew Luck and failed miserably. So, if Drew Brees can’t make him relevant, no one can. The receivers are led by Brandin Cooks, the speedy deep threat who has flashed big time potential. Cooks is an interesting WR2 option with the ability to break weeks open for you or disappear completely. Willie Snead had some nice games last year but will need to compete for targets with rookie Michael Thomas. The second round pick has the size to play like a #1 receiver and will make for an interesting pairing with the dynamic Cooks. Currently drafted in the late rounds, he’s worth a flier.
The running game was a middle of the road 15th in DVOA last year and the steady but unremarkable Mark Ingram returns to the primary roll. He’ll have C.J. Spiller occasionally sub in, mostly in passing situations, but Ingram is the bell cow and gets plenty of work in the passing game. He’s maybe the safest and most boring pick of a running back you can make, in the same category as Frank Gore. If you’re building your team with high volatility guys, Ingram may be a good target for you in the 3rd to add stability to your squad.
9th Passing DVOA, 16th Rushing DVOA
QB: Cam Newton
RB: Jonathan Stewart
WR: Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Ted Ginn Jr., Corey (Philly) Brown
TE: Greg Olsen
Let’s start with league MVP Cam Newton. He led all QBs in scoring last year and it wasn’t particularly close. His 636 yards and 10 scores on the ground would make him a viable starting running back for your fake squad. Now, maybe he’s due for some Super Bowl hangover – who knows? But he’s got a tantalizing skill set with a track record of amazing success and is a perfect asset to build a championship roster. What’s even better for Cam is that Kelvin Benjamin, the big bodied receiver who missed 2015 with a torn ACL, appears to be fully healthy and ready to provide a legit #1 receiver. Funchess, Ginn, and Philly Brown will likely be relegated back into the shadows of Benjamin and the amazing Greg Olsen. For many Bears fans, Olsen’s success hurts as the former fan-favorite has flourished in Carolina. Olsen is my favorite tight end after Rob Gronkowski and is an easier pill to swallow at his 5th round price. He may regress back some this season is Benjamin’s presence redistributes red zone targets significantly, but his rapport with Cam cannot be overstated enough.
Jonathan Stewart is maybe a poor-man’s Mark Ingram, as he’s the main guy in the backfield on a league-average running game but he’ll never be the focal point as long as the superstar QB is taking snaps. Stewart always seems to get nicked up and miss some games, so he really needs to be part of a stable of running backs if you invest in him. Part of Stewart’s problem in fantasy is that he might be the 3rd best option at the goal line behind Cam and Mike Tolbert.
NFC South Review
There are so many quality names in this division, it’s no wonder their divisional games turn into shootouts. This division boasts 2 top 5 QBs, 2 top 10 running backs, 3 top 15 wide receivers, and the best tight end not named Gronkowski. Simply put: it’s the best division for fantasy football in 2016.
All NFC South Fantasy Team – The ideal roster as chosen from only NFC South squads:
QB: Cam Newton
RB: Devonta Freeman
RB: Doug Martin
WR: Julio Jones
WR: Mike Evans
WR: Kelvin Benjamin
TE: Greg Olsen