NFC South Fantasy Breakdown: Post NFL Draft

Here is a breakdown of skill players for each respective team in the NFC South after the 2012 draft to give owners an idea where each team’s offense currently lies before camp…

Roddy White

Atlanta Falcons

After making a huge deal during last year’s draft for Julio Jones, the Falcons spent only three draft picks on the offensive side of the ball – two offensive linemen and a fullback.  Sexy stuff, eh?  With that in mind, the 2012 Falcons will look like the 2011 Falcons at the skill positions.

So, the curious case of Matt Ryan will continue.  Ryan put up some really good numbers in 2011 (29 TD & 12 INT), but that wasn’t the whole story.  If you look closely, 17 of those touchdowns came in five games.  Doesn’t take a mathematician to tell you that in the other 11 games Ryan threw 12 touchdowns.  As far as picks go, it’s much of the same story.  In four games, Ryan threw eight interceptions and threw only four of them in the other 12 games.  He has all the weapons around him, but needs to find consistency.

Michael Turner hasn’t replicated his 2008 season, but is one of the more predictable players in fantasy.  He’ll get his carries and his yards.  You can also bet on double digit touchdowns.  Jacquizz Rodgers is a change of pace back whose value will come mostly as a pass catcher out of the backfield.

The Falcons have one of the best receiving corps in the NFL; Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas.  White is a beast and a no doubt #1 wideout, but some of his steam will be taken by Jones who missed three games last season due to injury and started to figure things out later on in the season.  Harry Douglas is a nice piece whose value will increase in case of injury.

Tony Gonzalez returns for yet another fantasy season.  It’s tough to bet against a guy who caught 80 balls at the age of 35.  But, age again will be a factor.  And, so is Gonzalez’ history of consistency throughout his NFL career.

Carolina Panthers

Most peeps thought Cam Newton would take a while to mature in the NFL as a quarterback.  Well, do you count his first preseason as “a while”?  It didn’t take Newton long to become one of the elite quarterbacks in the league.  He returns this season, amid incredible expectations, while attempting to avoid a sophomore slump.

One of the more interesting backfields in the NFL this season is shaping up to be in Carolina.  Apparently not happy enough with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, the Panthers went out into free agency and signed former San Diego Charger Mike Tolbert.  There have been rumors that Stewart may be gone sooner rather than later, which would make sense.  There are not enough footballs for all three to carry.

If there’s a big-time question about the Panthers offense, it’s no doubt the pass catchers.  Steve Smith returns after a surprising comeback effort in 2011, but is 32 as of this writing.  You’ve got an aging number one, a number two with nothing but “potential” and two largely unknowns in David Gettis and 4th round draft pick Joe Adams.

Finally, Greg Olsen will be the main tight end target after Jeremy Shockey’s departure.  Olsen has the size and skills to be a productive member of this Panthers team.  With the other receiving options (outside of Smith) being somewhat murky, he might get the chance to do just that.

New Orleans Saints

It’s a good thing that “bountygate” has nothing to do with the offensive skill positions for the Saints, as that side of the football remains scary for the opposition.  Drew Brees, contract aside, is free of drama and back for another year.  In the dome, surrounded by weapons, it’s again, steady as he goes.

If the Carolina backfield looks interesting above, check out this position list:  Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory.  Four backs who have all produced at various times during their respective careers.  The Saints used a first round pick in 2011 on Ingram and the returns were disappointing.  He remains an injury risk.  Ditto for Thomas and Ivory, who have both put up numbers when called upon, but haven’t been able to stay on the field.  The smallest of the bunch (Sproles) has proven to be the healthiest, most consistent and productive.  This is, in the least, a fluid situation.

What is one of the most irritating things in fantasy football?  Answer:  Trying to pick the right Saints receiver to start in any given week.  It’s not for lack of skill, because there’s plenty of it.  Even with Robert Meachem headed to San Diego, the Saints receiving corps still includes Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and newly added 4th round draft pick Nick Toon (yes, Al’s son).  Talent?  No question.  Who to go with in week 3, 4 or 5?  No answer.

No matter who will carry the ball or who the top wide receiver, stats wise, will be in a given week, there’s still one Brees weapon that will put up numbers no matter what:  Jimmy Graham.  Big things were predicted for Graham in 2011 and he came through.  This Saint will be one of the first three tight ends off the board in 2012 fantasy drafts.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Josh Freeman followed in the footsteps with the rest of his team in 2011.  After an overachieving season in 2010, Freeman was incredibly disappointing.  He’ll be back under center this season and look to fulfill his potential that many spoke and wrote out before last year’s drafts.

LaGarrette Blount went from undrafted fairy tale to a mostly invisible sophomore season.  With that in mind, the Bucs used a 1st round draft pick on Boise State RB Doug Martin.  Martin has been compared to everyone from Ray Rice to Matt Forte.  The Buccaneers could go running back by committee here, but the popular opinion is that Martin will eventually win the #1 job.

The makeover in Tampa doesn’t stop at running back, with the Buccaneers going out and snaring big free agency fish Vincent Jackson. Jackson will be the top receiving threat, while Mike Williams looks to rebound from a disheartening second year.  Intriguing prospects Preston Parker, Arrelious Benn and Dezmon Briscoe will fight for the third spot.

Finally, Kellen Winslow is still a productive tight end in the league, but no longer a top fantasy option.  With Jackson now in the mix, don’t expect much improvement on what Winslow’s done over the past three years in Tampa.

Update:  The Buccaneers have signed Dallas Clark and are looking to deal Kellen Winslow.  Expect Clark to get plenty of looks, as the perfect compliment to Jackson and Williams.  As for Winslow, wait to see where he lands before evaluating him…he still has talent.

You can follow Nick Cattles on twitter at twitter.com/NickC941

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