Atlanta Falcons: Rookies 7/18, Veterans 7/21
Dan Quinn enters his 5th season as the Falcons head coach and will be working with new OC Dirk Koetter. Koetter served as the Falcons OC for 3 years in 2012-2014 and had a top 10 passing offense in each of these seasons. The Falcons Defense was decimated by injury last year and should be a much better unit in 2019. We can expect the Falcons passing attack to remain one of the best in the league, but we should also be projecting an improvement from the running game as well. The Falcons spent two first round picks on Offensive Lineman and have Devonta Freeman returning from injury.
Matt Ryan is entering his 12th season at age 34 and is coming off of a top 5 QB season. Because of the injuries on defense and to Devonta Freeman, Atlanta was forced to throw a ton last year. Things should be different this season even with OC Dirk Koetter back in town. We can still project Ryan as a lock for QB1 production with upside for a top 5 finish, but we need to consider the state of the Falcons in 2018 and understand that they will be more competitive this year and running the ball more with Freeman, not always playing from behind. He is being drafted around QB6 and is likely being drafted at his ceiling this year, but if he falls beyond this point, feel free to secure him as your QB1. Not much to talk about behind him with Matt Schaub and Kurt Benkert.
All attention will be on Devonta Freeman in this backfield. Many will view Freeman as injury prone but it was really only last season where he missed a lot of time. In his first four years, he only missed 3 games out of 64. Last year skews things because he missed 14 games so people are quick to label him as injury prone. Freeman is still 27yrs old and will be getting the majority of touches in this backfield now that Tevin Coleman is gone. Freeman presents RB1 upside and can be had in the 3rd round of drafts. Behind him we have 2nd year Ito Smith. Smith showed good Red Zone ability in his rookie year with 4 TDs but only averaged 3.5yds per carry. We mentioned Atlanta’s offensive line improvements so perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much about that number. Smith is the clear #2 here and can be easily handcuffed to Freeman in the double digit rounds. If you’re nervous about Freeman but want some security, this would not be a bad pairing considering the cheap cost of both. The Falcons also drafted a banger in Qadree Ollison out of Pitt. If anything happens to Freeman, expect Ollison to get some looks next to Ito Smith. The Falcons still have Brian Hill and added Kenjon Barner so we’ll have to monitor this situation in camp to see who emerges as the number 3.
The Falcons have an exciting WR group led by Julio Jones of course. Julio led the league in receiving yards last year with 1,677 and also led the league in targets with 170. The knock on him is that he does not score TDs but he tallied 8 in 2019, mostly in the second half of the season. Julio is a perfect candidate for those drafting in the 12th spot this year as he has true WR1 upside and is the favorite to lead the league in receiving yards again. Behind Julio is rising second year WR Calvin Ridley. Ridley had a tremendous run in weeks 2-4 last year, scoring 6TDs and totaling 277yds in these three games. Most of the coverage was focused on Julio so teams were not paying close attention to Ridley. After this run, Ridley cooled off but had a few splash games throughout the rest of the year. He finished his rookie campaign with 64rec, 821yds and 10TDs on 92 targets. We should expect a bump in his targets, receptions and yards but to expect another 10TDs seems to be a bit much. I prefer him more in a best ball draft but he should finish somewhere around where he was last year, which was WR20. Don’t forget about Mohamed Sanu here. Sanu finished as WR31 in PPR leagues and is one of my favorite best ball targets late in drafts. We should expect a little more Ridley and a little less Sanu, but Sanu still had 9 games over double digits last year in PPR leagues and will be the WR with the least attention on him. I’m expecting another 60-65 receptions, 750yds and 4-5 TDs on roughly 90 targets. After this top 3, we have Justin Hardy, Russell Gage and rookie Marcus Green, drafted in the 6th round. They also brought in 4 UDFA WRs so we will need to watch this camp battle to see which rookies make the roster.
Austin Hooper leads this veteran group of TEs for the Falcons. Atlanta did not sign or draft any TEs so we can expect similar playing time from last year. Hooper had a career season and finished as TE6 but was very inconsistent. He’ll remain a better best ball target for me over redraft. He had 6 games out of 16 where he finished in double digits, sprinkled among many 5s and 7s. Hooper finished with 71rec, 660yds and 4 TDs on 88 targets. I’m open to him having similar numbers but am hoping to see a little more consistency. Behind him we have Logan Paulsen, Eric Saubert and Luke Stocker, none of which have any fantasy use for us unless Hooper misses time.
Carolina Panthers: Rookies 7/24, Veterans 7/24
Not much change at the top for the Panthers, as head coach Ron Rivera and OC Norv Turner are back. They ranked 10th in total offense last year, 16th in passing and 4th in rushing. Injuries to Cam Newton and Greg Olsen held this team back last year, but with both fully healthy, the Panthers will be an offense we want to get a piece of.
Cam Newton had a banged up shoulder last year and finished as the QB14. He missed two games, but his fantasy points per game average of 24.2 was 7th best. We should be expecting a much better 2019. He’s being drafted around the QB9 range and has top 5 upside this year. His young receivers DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel are expected to improve. A full season of Greg Olsen would also be huge. After Cam, we have Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen. They drafted Will Grier in the third round out of West Virginia. I’ll definitely be watching Grier this pre-season to see if he’s ready for the backup role.
Not much needs to be said about Christian McCaffrey. He’ll be a consensus top four pick in redraft leagues. Ron Rivera has mentioned taking a little bit off of his plate this year to keep him fresh, but CMC will still deliver a top 5 finish. The training camp battle to watch will be for the backup job. Cameron Artis-Payne is still there but will face competition from UDFA’s Jordan Scarlett and Elijah Holyfield. We won’t be drafting McCaffrey’s handcuff, but if he is to miss any time, you’ll want to know these names and how they fared this pre-season. Guys trying to make the team are Elijah Wood and Reggie Bonnafon.
Second year receiver DJ Moore and third year Curtis Samuel headline the young Panthers receiving group. Moore finished as the WR36 last year while Samuel finished as WR47. Samuel came on strong late to end the year and is a favorite sleeper among the draft community. Moore’s ADP is around WR21. Samuel’s is around WR44. Samuel presents a much better value at ADP. Free agent Chris Hogan and veteran Jarius Wright will be the third and fourth receivers. If anything happens to Moore or Samuel, we’ll give them a look on the waiver wire. Torrey Smith will likely make the team as the 5th receiver. Guys trying to make the team include; Aldrick Robinson, Terry Godwin, Damion Jeanpiere Jr, Andrew Levrone, DeAndrew White, and Rashad Ross.
Greg Olsen is back for his 13th season. He has dealt with a nagging foot injury the past two seasons. His current ADP is around TE22, so he presents a nice value for us here. Pair him with another young TE with upside and you’re set. He’s the favorite to lead the team in touchdowns if he can stay healthy. Behind him, Ian Thomas is the clear number two. He got a lot of snaps last year in Olsen’s absence. He came on strong at the end of last year and has solid dynasty value. If Olsen misses any time, Thomas will be a TE streamer. The Panthers have a handful of guys after the top two, so we’ll monitor the camp battle here between Chris Manhertz, Jason Vander Laan, Cole Hunt, Marcus Baugh, Ethan Wolf and Temarrick Hemingway.
New Orleans Saints: Rookies 7/18, Veterans 7/25
Sean Payton enters his 14th season as the head coach. His OC Pete Carmichael is entering his 11th season. It’s quite impressive to see these two stick together for that long. The Saints ranked 8th in total offense last year, 12th in passing and 6th in rushing. I think we’ll continue to see more balance from the Saints this year as Drew Brees enters 19th season at age 40.
Brees finished as the QB8 last year. He has declined in pass attempts and passing yards for two straight years now. He did throw for 32 TDs last year after throwing just 23 the year before. He also rushed for a career high four TDs last year as well. He has an ADP around QB7 and is being drafted at his ceiling. I’m not too excited about drafting a 40 year old quarterback, even if it’s somebody in a potent offense like this. Tom Brady is a different story because his ADP is around QB18. I’d rather wait a round for Russell Wilson or Cam Newton if I’m targeting QB in the mid-rounds. His backups are Teddy Bridgwater and Taysom Hill. We’ll see Hill mixed in occasionally like we did last year. JT Barrett is the fourth QB.
Not much needs to be said about Alvin Kamara, another consensus top four pick. With Mark Ingram now in Baltimore, the team signed Latavius Murray. Murray is not as good as Ingram, so it’s reasonably to expect a few more carries from Kamara this year. Kamara’s usage in the passing game will be the biggest asset again. I’m actually into the idea of spending a mid-round pick on Latavius Murray. His ADP is around RB36. He’ll get enough volume to be a flex consideration and should see more work in the passing game than what’s he’s used to. After these two, they signed Javorius Allen and have Dwayne Washington back. Matt Dayes was also signed this off-season and he’ll compete with UDFA Devine Ozigbo for the final roster spot.
It’s all about Michael Thomas at WR for the Saints. He set career highs last year in targets, receptions and yards. The Saints really didn’t have any other pass catchers besides Kamara, so Drew Brees locked in on Thomas. The addition of Jared Cook could take away some targets, along with the development of second year wide-out Tre’Quan Smith. He also experienced an insanely high catch percentage of 85%, a number that is sure to come down. Thomas finished as the WR6 last year and is being drafted as high as WR3. For me, this is too high. Thomas makes sense if you want to go with a WR/WR start from the 12 spot and have him as your WR2. The possible decline of Brees is another reason I’m avoiding Thomas at ADP, and targeting Julio Jones and Juju Smith-Schuster instead. Tre’Quan Smith is the number two receiver and can have value for us this year. He’s a better best ball pick than a redraft target though. Ted Ginn is back as the deep threat but should not be trusted either. We’ll have to watch the camp battle for the back up roles between Keith Kirkwood, Cameron Meredith, and Rishard Matthews. Guys trying to make the team include Emmanuel Butler, Simmie Cobbs, Travin Dural, Cyril Grayson, Deonte Harris and Lil’Jordan Humphrey.
The Saints signed Jared Cook in free agency. Cook is coming off of a career year and is a nice target for your TE1 in redraft leagues this year. He has an ADP of around TE8. Brees has been successful with TEs like Jimmy Graham and even Ben Watson, so I’m open to Cook have top 5 upside this year. Behind Cook, the Saints have Josh Hill and Dan Arnold. They drafted Alize Mack in the 7th round out of Notre Dame, definitely a player to watch for in pre-season action. Nate Wozniak rounds out the group.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Rookies 7/21, Veterans 7/25
New head coach Bruce Arians takes over for Dirk Koetter. Arians brought along Byron Leftwich to be the offensive coordinator. This is a pairing we should be excited about, especially for Jameis Winston. The Bucs ranked 3rd in total offense last year, 1st in passing and 29th in rushing. Ryan Fitzpatrick started five games last year so these numbers might be a bit skewed. The Bucs defense was a complete disaster last year though, so Tampa was constantly playing from behind or involved in shoot-outs. The defense should be slightly better this year, but still has a ways to go. This should make us excited to target the Bucs passing game for fantasy again this year.
Jameis Winston is back in charge and should be primed for a breakout year. The Bucs signed Blaine Gabbert this off-season, so there will not be any QB controversy like we had last year with Fitzmagic. Winston managed to finish as the QB21 last year in 11 games. His 23.6 fantasy points per game ranked 9th best, suggesting he has top 10 upside at the position this year. His decision making will always be his downfall, but his passing yardage and rushing totals will help balance those interceptions out. Winston’s ADP is around QB12 and presents a solid value for us here in the double digit rounds. I mentioned that Gabbert is the backup earlier. Ryan Griffin and Nick Fitzgerald will battle for the number three spot.
Peyton Barber is the incumbent starter on a pass heavy team. Barber finished as the RB31 last year, rushing for 871 yards and 5 TDs while adding 20 receptions for 92 yards and 1 TD through the air. Early camp reports suggest that Barber will be used a lot more in the passing game this year. Barber is an under-rated runner and is the favorite to start again this year. If he can hold off Ronald Jones, I’ll be targeting Barber heavily in drafts. His ADP is around RB60, providing us with a massive value, even if Ronald Jones gets more work. With that said, Jones will be one of the most important names to monitor in camp. The coaches have all said very good things about him in OTA’s and minicamp, we just need to see it on the field before we invest. Behind these guys, we have Andre Ellington, Dare Ogunbowale and UDFA Bruce Anderson. Anderson is the most intriguing option here, so make sure to monitor his pre-season as well as Jones’.
Mike Evans and Chris Godwin headline the receiving group. DeSean Jackson was traded to Philly and Adam Humphries signed with the Titans. This allows Chris Godwin to move into the slot and stay on the field at all times. Godwin finished as the WR26 last year and is being drafted around the WR20 range. Everybody seems to be all-in on Godwin this year, so his ADP is likely to continue to rise. He has top 15 upside this year. Not much needs to be said about Mike Evans. He’s a WR1 and is being drafted in the WR8 range at the end of round 2. The real interesting camp battle to watch will be for the 3rd and 4th receiver spots. They signed Breshad Perriman to compete with Justin Watson. Both are big bodied receivers who can stretch the field, but Watson is the better route runner. He has been getting some time in the slot, so watch out for this battle. The Bucs also drafted a slot receiver in Scotty Miller out of Bowling Green. He’ll have an outside chance at cracking the top 4 spots, but is most likely the #5. Guys trying to make the team include; DaMarkus Lodge, Anthony Johnson, Xavier Ubosi, Cortrell Simpson, Spencer Schnell, Bobo Wilson, KJ Brent and Bryant Mitchell. Lodge and Johnson would be the names to highlight.
OJ Howard and Cameron Brate are the starting tight ends. Howard was fantastic last season before he was placed on IR with an ankle injury. Health is now becoming a concern with Howard, missing 9 games in his first two seasons. When he’s on the field, he’ll be a top 5 tight end. His ADP is around TE5 and is going in the 5th/6th round of drafts. If you miss out on Evans or Godwin, Howard is a solid consolation. Brate is the primary backup and will only have value if Howard misses time. Brate could be taken with your last pick in best ball leagues, however. Winston has great chemistry with him, so he should be good for a handful of touchdowns this year. After these two, Antony Auclair, Jordan Leggett, Donnie Ernsberger and Tanner Hudson will battle for the remaining roster spots.