With the Summer Sleeper series at its conclusion and the preseason underway, it’s time to review what we’ve learned since the beginning of camp and take a closer look at position battles, emerging players or roster surprises. With that in mind, we’re going to fire up the DLF RV and go division-by-division with some news and notes. While we won’t mention every single player (we have our player news feed for important news), we’ll take some time to run down some important dynasty information for each team. If you have a question on a particular player, ask below and I’ll do my best to answer it as well. If you missed a previous report, just click on it below.
We continue with the NFC South.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Editor’s Note: The highlight of Tampa Bay’s training camp is unquestionably the visit they had from Hulk Hogan and “The Mouth of the South,” Jimmy Hart. The rest of this is fairly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. “Whatcha gonna do, brotha!”
There is no quarterback under the microscope more than Jameis Winston this season. A three-game suspension for the groping of an Uber driver was followed by the NFL telling Winston another violation could result in a potential ban from the league. He’s due around $4 million this year, $21 million in 2019 (though that’s guaranteed for injury only), then his contract expires before the 2020 season. Tampa Bay would love to lock him up long-term if they knew his pattern of behavior would end. Unfortunately, they don’t. Winston remains a hold in dynasty leagues for the time being but his value is precarious at best right now. Ryan Fitzpatrick will fill in for him to start the year but there’s really no reason to own him as you pretty much know what to expect and surely have better options at the beginning of the year.
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Lost in a lot of hyperbole this off-season is the fact Ronald Jones simply hasn’t looked very good lately in camp. There’s no reason for concern yet if you’ve drafted a high choice on him but we expected more from him early on. For the record, I’m certainly not in panic mode. Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers were both listed ahead of him on the initial depth chart so perhaps a fire will be lit under him. The story early on at the position has actually been the play of Shaun Wilson, who was an undrafted free agent. Wilson has been fantastic in camp and making a case to compete for a spot on the 53-man roster. With Barber, Jones and Charles Sims seemingly locks for the roster, Rodgers could be on notice at the moment if Wilson continues to impress.
The Bucs seem very eager to make Chris Godwin the starter opposite Mike Evans and move DeSean Jackson into the slot or rotate him somehow with Adam Humphries. Godwin has impressed the staff enough to make Jackson the third option from the group, that much is clear. D-Jax will still catch his share of long passes and make some big plays but he’s really tough to play in fantasy leagues because of the inconsistencies each week – that looks like it’s going to get even worse moving forward, making him a likely roster clogger. As for Godwin, his dynasty arrow is pointing straight up and it’s time to pounce before it’s too late. All that being said, we have a good idea of what to expect from those four players. The rest of the depth chart is in flux but the player I’m watching the closest is Bobo Wilson, who has torn it up so far in camp. The former Hard Knocks star has been stellar and it seems Wilson and Freddie Martino have a realistic chance of sticking on the 53-man roster and landing on the dynasty radar in the process.
The Bucs have an embarrassment of riches at the position with Cameron Brate and OJ Howard. The six-year, $41 million contract for Brate put a pin in the dynasty balloon of Howard but he’s also proven to be no slouch. Howard actually played more snaps than Brate last year and there should be enough footballs going around to maintain value for both – the problem is neither is likely to be a truly elite option at the position since they’ll eat into each other’s production.
Matt Ryan returned to Earth last year and posted a much more “Matt Ryan-like” year. Still, seven straight seasons of 4,000 yards or more is nothing to sneeze at and he was rewarded with a six-year, $169.25 million contract extension that runs through 2023. His $30 million average salary during his extension years represented the largest ever in the league and is also substantially more than we make on DLF memberships. His touchdown total went from 38 to 20, but both seasons seem a little more like outliers and I’d expect closer to his typical 25 scores this year. There is certainly no drama in camp in regards to the quarterback position as Ryan is joined by Matt “Pick Six” Schaub, who returns to Atlanta as a backup after failing to make it as a starter long-term.
The Falcons love their tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. However, Coleman is an impending free agent and it’s fair to wonder if they can keep both of them beyond this year, especially with the money they have allocated to Matt Ryan, Freeman and Julio Jones. The player most dynasty owners are targeting in hopes Coleman moves on is Ito Smith. However, you shouldn’t sleep on undrafted free agent Justin Crawford, who seemingly makes a few good plays every practice. While the Falcons have more invested in Smith, they could choose to keep four running backs as Crawford has outplayed Smith early in camp.
Atlanta is set at the wide receiver position with Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and the newly drafted Calvin Ridley as their trio. Beyond that, they still seem really high on Justin Hardy (somehow) and Russell Gage. They also really like the development of Marvin Hall thus far. Still, finding value in this group beyond Jones, Sanu and Ridley is going to be tough. For what it’s worth, Ridley has dropped a few passes in camp but has clearly looked like he has the “it” factor.
This is a big season for Austin Hooper, who was pretty disappointing last year. In short, the Falcons were certainly hoping for more than the 49/526/3 line he put up last year. If you believe a breakout is coming, he’s a buy low candidate. If not, Hooper is clearly in a group of players who won’t kill your chances each week but also won’t win many games for you, either.
New Orleans Saints
The Dolphins probably should have signed this Drew Brees guy back in 2006 when they had a chance. Brees is having a Brees-like off-season and even though his numbers went down last year, having a solid defense and running game could prolong his career a bit. While not the likely overall QB1 we saw years ago when he posting 5,000 yard seasons as if they were nothing, Brees is still just about as reliable as they come.
The running back position in New Orleans is really interesting. Alvin Kamara was unbelievable last season, en route to 728 rushing yards, 81 catches, 826 receiving yards and 13 total touchdowns. Meanwhile, Mark Ingram set a personal best with 1,124 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns of his own. Unfortunately, Ingram is suspended for the first four games of the year for violating the league’s PED policy. Ingram’s absence will open the door for someone to make some noise early this year. The candidates appear to be Terrance West, Boston Scott, Jonathan Williams, Trey Edmunds and Shane Vereen. I’ll be monitoring this situation very closely as the player replacing Ingram (and yes, we expect Kamara to get more work with Ingram out) could have some short-term value. To me, Boston Scott is very intriguing, despite his small stature and small school pedigree. If the Saints keep Veeren or West after roster cuts, their salary is guaranteed – that also gives the younger players a leg up. It’s still crazy how the stock of Williams hit rock bottom so quickly.
Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr., Tre’Quan Smith and Cameron Meredith are locks for the roster. The last spot up for grabs is likely going to be between Brandon Tate, Michael Floyd, Tommylee Lewis, Josh Huff and Austin Carr. Tate could get the nod because of his special teams ability but those duties could also be absorbed by a backup running back. I’ve always been intrigued by Carr and was surprised the Patriots cut him last year. Still, Tate will likely get the job. I’m really curious to see how targets are split up between Smith, Meredith and Ginn. The Saints are reportedly ultra-high on Smith and he’ll every opportunity to make a rookie impact. As such, you could do worse in the second or third round of rookie drafts.
The Saints tried to forge a reunion with Jimmy Graham but it just didn’t work out. Instead, they’ll roll ahead with Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill, among others. This looks like a position to avoid in fantasy, though Watson could have a bounce back season. We’ve been fooled by Hill before, so I’m tempering my expectations here.
Unbelievably, Cam Newton will be entering his eighth season at the helm in Carolina. This is one of the most important as Newton is coming off a fairly average couple of years after leading the Panthers to the Super Bowl. Newton threw for 35 touchdowns with ten interceptions in that 2015 Super Bowl year but has posted just 41 touchdowns with 30 interceptions in the two seasons since. Newton is never going to be ultra efficient throwing the football but a new offensive scheme is promising to help. At 29 and dependent on a lot of rushing yards, Newton may be looking at the tail end of his prime, regardless.
If you believe everything the coaches say, Christian McCaffrey is going to get somewhere between 450 and 500 touches this season, which would likely make him a true RB1 and kill him in the process. It’s impossible for him to get that much action but it’s also clear this coaching staff is wanting to feature him early and often. McCaffrey struggled to break big plays in the running game (3.7 yards per carry as a rookie) but salvaged his value by catching 80 passes. He’s reportedly up about ten pounds and ready for the grind of being a truly featured player. Time will tell but I expect CJ Anderson to deliver and help soak up the 200 carries left behind by Jonathan Stewart, who I’m surprised made it all the way to Giants camp on time the way he was plodding last season. I see McCaffrey as a better version of Reggie Bush (and that’s no offense) and have my doubts he can hold up to the workload they’re promising – few really could. The rest of the depth chart includes Cameron Artis-Payne, Kenjon Barner, Fozzy Whitaker, Reggie Bonaffon and Elijah Hood. The player I’m rooting for there is Hood, a native of Carolina. I liked him in Oakland last year but it didn’t work out on a loaded depth chart. One of those players could emerge from the pack but none has in camp thus far.
The receiver position receives a big boost with rookie DJ Moore, who has clearly looked the part so far. Devin Funchess and Torrey Smith will provide a nice veteran presence as well. Jarius Wright and Damiere Byrd are likely vying for the last two spots and that leaves us with Curtis Samuel, who is also a lock for the roster but realy needs to step up this season after posting just 15 catches for 115 scoreless yards as a rookie last year. He should have a chance to do so. For what it’s worth, I really liked what I saw from Byrd last year.
The position clearly belongs to Greg Olsen, who should post another TE1 season. However, we finally may have his replacement in rookie Ian Thomas, who has been the star of camp according to many beat writers and Carolina followers. Thomas is still very raw and needs time to develop but dynasty owners who have used a late round rookie pick on Thomas have to like what they’ve seen thus far.