NFC South Off-Season Changes
New Orleans Saints:
We are watching the Saints completely remake their offense. After finally finding a running game last year, they are moving towards making that their primary focus and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that unless you have QB Drew Brees in a Keeper league. They came to the realization that they cannot win consistently by throwing the ball 40 times a game. They also realized that they had one of the worst defenses in the league and they realized it before the draft and executed a plan to address that. Well, they did after drafting T Andrus Peat from Stanford with the first pick.
With their second 1st round pick, acquired from Seattle in the Jimmy Graham trade that also brought in C Max Unger, the Saints grabbed LB Stephone Anthony. His draft position may be a bit early but he will pair up nicely with their 2nd round pick; LB Hau’oli Kikaha from Washington, who lead the NCAA in sacks last season. Surprisingly, they grabbed QB Garrett Grayson from Colorado St in the 3rd round. With a number of quality QBs on the board for later rounds, this was definitely too high and no one seems confident that Grayson can grow into Brees’ replacement, though he has at least two years to learn. The following four picks were all made to bolster the defense and were all solid picks; CB P.J. Williams from Florida St, LB Davis Tull from Chattanooga, DT Tyeler Davidson from Fresno St and CB Damain Swann from Georgia. In addition to all of these defensive draft picks, the Saints added CB Brandon Browner from New England via free agency.
After losing Jimmy Graham, WR Kenny Stills and RB Pierre Thomas via trade and free agency in the off-season, they stayed pat in those positions except for RB. The picked up C.J. Spiller from Buffalo. Spiller has proven to be one of the highest hyped players year in and year out and one of the most disappointing ones. With Mark Ingram slated to be the workhorse, Spiller will be counted on to fill the old Reggie Bush role and, if he stays healthy, will be a game-changer for this offense. Josh Hill will never be Jimmy Graham, but he will drastically see an uptick in Targets this season.
Fantasy starters: QB Drew Brees, RB Mark Ingram, WR Brandin Cooks
Fantasy bench: RB C.J. Spiller, WR Marques Colston
Fantasy Sleeper: TE Josh Hill
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
The Bucs earned the first pick in this year’s draft after greatly underperforming last season. Much of their issues could be attributed to incompetency at the QB position and on the entire defense. The decided that they would roll the dice on QB Jameis Winston and hope it solves their QB riddle. Winston has many questions about maturity and whether or not he is mentally able to handle being the first pick in the draft and the face of the franchise. He definitely has the physical tools to succeed and has great weapons at the wide receiver position in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. That didn’t stop them from using their 5th and 6th round picks on additional WRs though; Kenny Bell from Nebraska and Kaelin Clay from Utah. Clay will be remembered for his brain fart against Oregon where he dropped the ball before crossing the goal line and it was returned for a TD by Oregon, resulting in a 14-point swing in the first half, which cost yours truly a nice 1st-half Utah wager.
While the offense is rounding into shape, the defense still has a long way to go. The Bucs added DE Henry Melton via free agency from Dallas and DB Chris Conte from Chicago, both who played under coach Lovie Smith when he was with the Bears. Neither figure to add that much to that unit though. One area to watch is what Tampa will do with their running game. Will they fully commit to Charles Sims or will Doug Martin have a chance to win his starting job back?
Fantasy starters: WR Vincent Jackson, WR Mike Evans
Fantasy bench: QB Jameis Winston, RB Charles Sims, RB Bobby Rainey
Fantasy Sleeper: TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Atlanta had two clear Needs going into the draft; upgrade their defense and upgrade their running game and they did both. They wisely focused on defense first and grabbed LB Vic Beasley from Clemson. Much like WR Kevin White falling to the Bears with their first pick, the Falcons hand was laid out in front of them due to the troubles associated with Randy Gregory and Shane Ray. Beasley will start immediately for them as should 2nd round pick CB Jalen Collins from LSU. The draft played out perfectly for the Falcons as RB Tevin Coleman fell to them in the 3rd round. As a Big Ten guy, I will tell you that Coleman’s 2014 stats (2026 yards and 15 TDs) were even more impressive than they look as QB Nate Sudfeld was lost for the season and the Hoosiers were a one-trick offense and Coleman still churned out big numbers even though he was the focal point of every defense. He will solve their current RB quandary.
The Falcons really only lost WR Harry Douglas to free agency but they quickly replaced him in the draft with their 4th pick; WR Justin Hardy from East Carolina. With Coleman, their offense will jump right back in as one of the tops in the league; provided their WRs actually stay healthy for a season. Their defense won’t be good, but it will be better. As shown last year, this division is prime for the taking by any team that can win half of their games. That should be Atlanta this season.
Fantasy starters: QB Matt Ryan, RB Tevin Coleman, WR Julio Jones WR Roddy White
Fantasy bench: RB Devonta Freeman
Fantasy Sleeper: WR Justin Hardy
The Panthers had little opportunity to improve themselves via the draft since they only had five picks available to them after trading two away to St. Louis to move up in the 2nd round. Unfortunately, they didn’t draft any real difference makers. Their defense declined last season and they will be fortunate to play up to that level. They drafted LB Shaq Thompson from Washington with their 1st round pick which seemed like a reach since he is a bit undersized. Aside from the Cam-to-Kelvin connection, there is nothing scary about their offense. They have been unable to sustain a consistent running game for the past few years due to injury. With their 2nd round pick, they grabbed WR Devin Funchess from Michigan. Funchess is almost a Benjamin close as he goes 6’4″ 232lbs. They have big WRs but they need some speed out of the slot since Cam seems to be under constant pressure. They added T Daryl Williams from Oklahoma in the 4th round in hopes that he can work himself into the starting lineup soon and help out.
The Panthers dipped a toe into free agency and appeared to have the philosophy that experience and wisdom shall prevail. They added Blind Side T Michael Oher for the offensive line and Charles “Peanut” Tillman for the secondary. Needless to say, both have been stars in their prime, but they are a bit past that. Don’t get me wrong, I admire both players, but I do not see them providing much benefit to either unit at this time in their careers. The Panthers did lose RB DeAngelo Williams in free agency so they added RB Cameron Artis-Payne from Auburn with their last pick (round 5). He becomes the immediate handcuff to china doll RB Johnathan Stewart.
Fantasy starters: QB Cam Newton, RB Jonathan Stewart, WR Kelvin Benjamin, TE Greg Olsen
Fantasy bench: WR Devin Funchess
Fantasy Sleeper: RB Cameron Artis-Payne