We are past the halfway point of this website publishing 32 fantasy football team reports, including cheatsheet rankings plus projection forecasts from Dave Stringer and Mike MacGregor, and player commentary by Dave. For my part, I’ve given my “Second Opinion” on those team reports for half of eight divisions. This is number five, for the NFC South: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, forming one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL.
Saints are always expected to top double digit wins with their high powered offense. Falcons hit a speed bump last season, but expect to rebound with a healthy, talented roster. Buccaneers made a big splash this offseason with a prominent coaching regime change, active free agency period and great draft. Panthers have one of the top defenses in the NFL that propelled them to 12 wins and division champs last season. This division is not only extremely competitive, but also the least predictable.
Team Report – July 7
Talk about a roller coaster ride for the Atlanta Falcons. In 2012, they were on their way to the Super Bowl only to exit losing a grueling Conference Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers. Heading into 2013, they were a bigger Super Bowl favorite than the year before. However, a nagging injury to Roddy White, a freak injury to Julio Jones, and Father Time catching up to Steven Jackson left this team was in shambles, finishing with a measly 4-12 record.
For 2014, all those aforementioned players return, healthy, plus Harry Douglas has another year under his belt and rookie Devonta Freeman is getting set to step in should Jackson falter again. This team is ready to go, except they are missing future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. After giving it one more kick at the can last season, Gonzalez retired. The Falcons are expected to change up their offensive scheme somewhat to de-emphasize the tight end.
Note they will likely de-emphasize from a player of Tony Gonzalez’s stature, but they won’t eliminate the TE from their offense completely. Levine Toilolo is not a popular name in fantasy football, but expect some weeks this season he gets on the fantasy radar. This offense is too dynamic and quick not to involve their tight end, and it will certainly create open opportunities with defenses focused on the Falcons other weapons.
Currently, this website ranks Toilolo 24th amongst tight ends behind Travis Kelce, Marcedes Lewis and Coby Fleener. In 2013 and 2012, Gonzalez had 119 and 124 targets, respectively. Toilolo will not have that many targets, but I project him more than the current projections of 55, and he should get the most out of them as a solid red zone target, pushing Toilolo into the Top 20 at tight end.
Team Report – July 8
The Carolina Panthers did not make any big free agency moves this offseason to improve their offense. They are sticking with the same running game, relying heavily on Cam Newton’s mobility and a platoon of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, rendering each of the running backs rather useless for fantasy football. They released fan favorite Steve Smith, plus let Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. walk away in free agency, signing Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood to replace them. The offseason moves at wide receiver are curious at best, but perhaps it was all part of the Panthers grand plan that ultimately led them to drafting Kelvin Benjamin in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Benjamin should produce right away for the Panthers stepping in as a Week 1 starter. He is a big body (6’4”) which translates to many targets, especially in the red zone where he can out jump defenders. DraftBuddy.com has Benjamin projected at an extremely conservative 35 receptions, 450 yards, and 3 touchdowns. He is a rookie after all, which causes a natural tendency for conservatism. However, given the opportunity and talent, Benjamin could very well blow away these numbers. Draft him higher than his average draft position based on upside and see what the kid can do.
New Orleans Saints
Team Report – July 9
New Orleans Saints experienced a bit of a shake up this offseason. They lost two key cogs from their offense, Lance Moore and Darren Sproles. The two players combined for 143 targets, 108 receptions, 1,061 yards receiving, and 4 touchdowns last season. With the loss of that kind of production, someone on the team needs to take the opportunity and reap the benefits of having Drew Brees as their quarterback. The player that takes advantage of this is going to be first round draft pick Brandin Cooks.
Brandin Cooks has the tools to be a do-it-all wide receiver. If Drew Brees tops 5,000 yards again as expected, look for Cooks to produce at least 850 of those yards. This should easily put this offensive rookie of the year candidate inside the Top 40 at his position. This website currently has Cooks in their “On The Radar” section of the cheatsheets, but this falls after 65 other wideouts are already ranked. With Marques Colston getting older and Jimmy Graham drawing a lot of double coverage, Cooks will have a nice transition into the NFL to earn immediate fantasy returns for his owners.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Team Reports – July 10
Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a very active offseason. They hired Lovie Smith as their head coach. They signed journeyman QB Josh McCown to become their starter after he rejuvenated his career in Chicago. At the NFL Draft they added arguably the top rookie wide receiver in a deep, deep class at the position, Mike Evans, and one of the top rookie tight ends, Austin Serafin-Jenkins.
Tampa Bay is primed to make a run at the division this year, but if they’re going to do that they need someone else to step up in the passing game. Last season, the only player that truly played to expectations was Vincent Jackson. Multiple injuries and a quarterback soap opera hurt this team severely; however, the Buccaneers addressed their weakness with Mike Evans.
Evans is going to compliment Vincent Jackson in a very positive way. At 6’5”, the connection between McCown and Evans is going to be very similar to the McCown-Alshon Jeffery (6’3”) connection in Chicago last year. Throw it up (McCown) and watch him come down with it (Jeffery, Evans). I’m not saying Evans is going to have an elite year right out of the gate like Jeffery had last year, but look for him to sky rocket above expectations and potentially find himself inside the Top 30 wide receivers by the end of the season.