IDP Studs, Values and Sleepers: NFC South

Drew Dodson

The NFC South is home to numerous top five players at their position along with a handful of players who can be every-week starters for all but the shallowest of IDP leagues. Some of these players have legitimate question marks about their future whether it be due to age or injury, and some are long shots to ever be fantasy-relevant, but it’s a good exercise to dig into what makes these players studs, values, or a stash at the end of your roster.

If anyone has any thoughts on the players I included, or maybe someone I excluded, please comment below and share your thoughts!

Note: All NFL tackle, sack, tackle-for-loss, hit, pressure, and snap count stats came from Pro Football Reference. College football stats came from Sports Reference.

Atlanta Falcons

Stud – Keanu Neal, S

Neal has been the most consistent producer for the Falcons offense while he has been healthy. Unfortunately, health has been a major issue for Neal throughout his career. An ACL tear in 2018 and an Achilles tear in 2019 caused him to miss the majority of each of those seasons.

Prior to those injuries though, he was one of the leading tacklers among all NFL safeties. He had 106 total tackles in 2016 and 116 in 2017 which was fourth and second among safeties, respectively. If Neal is able to return to form after these injuries then he will be one of the most reliable players at his position at a time when the drop off from the top tier of safeties is quite steep.

Stud – Deion Jones, LB

Jones has been a top producing linebacker in the league in the past. He was tied for the fourth-highest total tackles among all players in 2017 with 138. He has also dealt with an injury and an inefficient season since then. He missed a large portion of the 2018 season with a broken foot.

In 2019 he had 110 total tackles which only put him in a tie for 21st among linebackers while his teammate De’Vondre Campbell was the 13th highest tackler among all positions with 129. Campbell has moved on to Arizona and now Jones will have a prime opportunity to claim a portion of the 129 tackles Campbell vacated when he left. Jones may have had a down year in 2019, but expect a big bounce back for him with high LB1 upside.

Value – Grady Jarrett, DT

Jarrett just had his third DT1 season in a row, but it wasn’t until this year where he established himself as a legitimate starter outside of defensive tackle required leagues. Jarrett finished the 2019 season with 69 total tackles, which was the fourth-highest among all defensive lineman. He also added an additional 7.5 sacks and 12 tackles-for-loss. Jarrett may not see this level of production going forward, but it would be well within reason for him to finish as mid-level DL2. He won’t be an elite fantasy defensive lineman, but the consistency he brings to your lineup is rare for a player whose average rank on DLF’s defensive line rankings is 27th overall.

Stash – Marlon Davidson, DT

The Falcons selected defensive tackle Davidson in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft. He was selected to fill the role of the other 3T next to Grady Jarrett in passing situations. He was initially used as an outside linebacker at Auburn which gave him experience as an edge rusher so if he develops quickly this season he can also rotate in at defensive end behind Takkarist McKinley.

If you have deep taxi squads or rosters, it would be worth picking up Davidson from the waiver wire as he will immediately step into a role as a situational pass-rusher. While he may not be an immediate producer for fantasy he could quickly establish himself as a high snap rotational player due to the lack of competition outside of Jarrett. If Jarrett were to miss time due to injury, Davidson would become an every-down player in his absence.

Carolina Panthers

Stud – Shaq Green-Thompson, LB

Thompson has done his fair share of waiting for his turn to shine. When he was drafted he was behind Thomas Davis, a long-time IDP producer, and Luke Kuechly, one of the best middle linebackers to ever play the game. In his first four years in Carolina, he never played more than 65% of the team’s defensive snaps in a year.

In 2019, Davis moved on and signed with the Chargers. This allowed Thompson to take over some of Davis’ playing time which led to him playing 87% of Carolina’s defensive snaps. He finished as the 25th linebacker in total tackles with 109 while still only being the second most productive linebacker on the team.

Kuechly finished the season with 144 total tackles, but unfortunately for football fans everywhere, 2019 was his last season. Kuechly decided to retire in order to better preserve his health after eight years in the NFL. Also, Eric Reid was not re-signed, this leaves 274 tackles that are vacated from the 2019 season.

Thompson will not inherit all of those tackles, as the Panthers brought in Tahir Whitehead in free agency and drafted Jeremy Chinn in the second round of the 2020 draft. These players will account for a large portion of these tackles, but if Thompson plays at least 95% of the snaps this year, then I think he makes the jump to elite fantasy linebacker with the very real possibility for Thompson to lead the NFL in overall tackles this year.

Value – Brian Burns, DE

Burns is already being ranked top 20 in DLF’s defensive line rankings, but I think he has far from hit his value ceiling. He had 25 total tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 5 tackles-for-loss, all while only playing 43% of Carolina’s total defensive snaps last year. Burns also had 23 pressures and 16 hits which shows just how effective he can be at getting to the quarterback.

The 2019 first-round pick is bound to see his snap count rise significantly as the team transitions to a 4-3 defense where he will play defensive end. His tackle numbers will likely not be very high as he is more talented at forcing the run back inside where Derrick Brown and Kwann Short will be able to clean up. Burns offers big-play upside during any given week, but will have a lower floor for fantasy due to the lack of consistent tackles.

Stash – Stephen Weatherly, DE

Weatherly is a strong stash as he will likely be the other starting defensive end across from Brian Burns. He was signed by the Panthers this year after playing his first four years with the Vikings. In 2018 he had 35 total tackles, 3 sacks, and 6 tackles-for-loss, and in 2019 he had 24 total tackles, 3 sacks, and 5 tackles-for-loss. He did all of this while only playing 50% of the snaps in 2018 and 38% in 2019.

Those stats may not be mind-blowing, but they do show Weatherly was a strong run defender and a rotational pass-rusher. This will likely be the role he fills in Carolina as well due to the drafting of Yetur Gross-Matos. Gross-Matos isn’t likely to step directly into starting snaps due to the shortened off-season, but once he is acclimated he will likely take over during passing downs.

Weatherly will still have a claim to snaps on rushing plays because of Gross-Matos’ weakness in playing the run. This will give Weatherly a solid floor as a tackler which makes him an ideal bye week fill-in or a starter in leagues where you can start up to four defensive ends.

New Orleans Saints

Stud – Cameron Jordan, DE

Jordan has been one of the most consistent defensive ends since he entered the league in 2011. He hasn’t had less than 7.5 sacks in a season since his rookie year, and five of those seasons he has reached double-digit sacks. He has also had 13+ tackles-for-loss in six of his nine seasons.

Jordan isn’t just a big-play defensive end as he is extremely productive as a run defender. After his rookie year, he has never had under 45 total tackles. It may seem strange to be writing about a 31-year-old defensive end as a stud for a dynasty article, but he has shown no signs of slowing down with age. In his last two seasons, he has had 43 and 49 pressures, respectively.

Jordan should still have multiple years worth of high-level production still in the tank due to never missing a game because of injury in his nine-year career. He may not have overall DL1 upside like Myles Garrett, Danielle Hunter or the Bosa brothers do, but he is a lock for elite DL1 production.

Value – Marcus Davenport, DL

Davenport’s value is all over the place as evidenced by DLF’s defensive line rankings which have him as high as 11th overall and all the way down to 29th. He has had issues with injuries in his first two years in the NFL; he missed three games in 2018 to a toe injury and three games in 2019 to a foot injury. This has kept his snap count limited, but he has still managed to show some juice in the time he has been on the field.

In 2018 he played 40% of the team’s defensive snaps, but had 22 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, 6 tackles-for-loss along with 17 pressures and 12 hits. Though his 2019 season saw him miss the same amount of games he did improve to playing 50% of the Saint’s snaps and increased his stats to 31 total tackles, 6 sacks, 5 tackles-for-loss and another 26 pressures and 16 hits.

If Davenport can remain healthy for an entire season it seems likely he’ll finally be close to a 75% share of the defensive snaps. A snap count like that would likely lead to his first DL1 season, though it will be closer to DL10 overall than DL5.

Stash – Trey Hendrickson, DE

I didn’t think I would be writing about a defensive end in all three of my sections on the Saints, but Hendrickson is the only player who isn’t heavily rostered that I felt was worth mentioning. His value comes solely from the injury problems Davenport has had. If Davenport were to ever miss a significant amount of games, Hendrickson would make a passable IDP flex option.

His stats haven’t been flashy during his three years in the league. He’s never had 20 total tackles in a season and he only had 4.5 sacks in his best year. However, Pro Football Focus did rank him as the 12th best edge rusher when playing against the run. If forced into a starting role due to a Davenport injury he could see his way to a solid tackle floor based on his run defense.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Stud – Devin White

White was a top-15 linebacker in points-per-game last season, but according to Pro Football Focus he was the 70th overall linebacker in terms of defensive performance. This doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll never be a good linebacker in his career. It just means he has a lot of improvements to make in adjusting to the NFL level.

White is an extremely gifted athlete which will allow him to be at the play immediately once he develops the mental side of his game. Despite his performance last season, the Buccaneers still kept him on the field as much as they could. If you remove the game where he got injured last season White only played less than 96.5% of the total defensive snaps once, and he was on the field for 100% of the snaps in 8 of the 12 full games he played in.

White is already being valued as a top-12 linebacker in dynasty and for good reason; he is 22 and he still has his whole career ahead of him.

Value – Lavonte David, LB

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. David used to be mentioned in the same breath as Luke Kuechly as the two most dominant linebackers for fantasy football. Now he is the 40th ranked linebacker in DLF’s linebacker rankings. David may be 30 years old, but is still capable of being an LB2 for a team competing in the next few years.

David has missed five games in the last three years due to some minor injuries, but when he has been on the field he’s stayed there. Over the last three seasons, he has played 100% of the defensive snaps in 34 of his 43 games, and he has played under 93% only twice; in both of those games he still played over 82% of the snaps.

David has also only had less than 120 total tackles in two seasons, and one of them was in 2017 when he missed three games due to injury. David may not be the elite LB1 he was in his early years, but he is well worth his going rate for a team that needs to add stability at the linebacker position.

Stash – Antoine Winfield, S

Winfield is my most questionable selection for a stash player in this article. Not because he isn’t worth rostering, but because he was likely drafted in many of your leagues. Ultimately I felt he fit the bill of a stash because he was only ranked in the top 50 by one ranker in DLF’s defensive back rankings and he was ranked outside of the top 25 rookies in DLF’s IDP rookie rankings.

Winfield has some competition ahead of him in Mike Edwards, who was drafted in the third round of the 2019 draft, but I think once Winfield has had some time to acquaint himself with the defense he will take over the starting role and run with it. Winfield is a skilled run stopper and does a good job of covering tight ends and running backs. His 83 total tackles in the 12 games he played in his final season at Minnesota is proof of that.

Winfield also had seven interceptions in his last year which shows his knack for sniffing out the pass and jumping routes. The most glaring downside to investing in Winfield is his injury history. His 2017 and 2018 seasons were both cut short due to injuries. If Winfield manages to avoid injuries then he is a player who can be counted on for a safe tackle floor while providing week-to-week upside through his ability to snag interceptions.

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