2020 NFC South Fantasy Review
Ah the NFC South, so much frustration (mostly) so little time. The NFC South had some great players this year from a fantasy perspective but also a ton of frustrating players and sometimes even teams that performed far below expectations. Let’s start with the bottom of the division and work our way up, based on final regular season rankings.
Matt Ryan Preseason projection 7th Round)
Ryan finished as QB12 with 407 completions on 626 attempts for 4,581 yards and 26 TDs and 11 Interceptions. The biggest issue for Ryan is his consistency especially against teams with strong secondaries or good pass rushers but even that shows flaws. For example, his first game against Carolina this year he put up an abysmal 8.45 fantasy points, then 4 weeks later against the same team put up 23.92 fantasy points. He had trouble with teams like the Bears, Packers, Saints, and Chargers and yet he had solid games against the Buccaneers, Chiefs, Vikings, and Lions. It’s weird to see one of the QBs drafted around the same time as Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady perform so abysmally at times, when you draft a top 10 QB, you expect some level of consistency, (I’m looking at you Carson Wentz), although it could have been worse for him as Wentz was projected to be better this off season, only to be benched by the end of it. In the end, this was another average season for Matty Ice, his numbers are very similar to his numbers last year in aggregate although with a few more boom-or-bust games, I would give him a low grade B to high C range.
Todd Gurley (Preseason projection late 2nd/early 3rd) Ito Smith, Brian Hill, and Quadree Ollison (Preseason projections basically late round fliers/handcuffs or left on waiver wire)
Three of these running backs I am going to ignore, with good reason. They offered little and are wildly inconsistent when they do play, which is fine in real life football because when Ito plays poorly, the Falcons can sub in Hill but for fantasy players this isn’t an option so they are worthless to this discussion.
Todd Gurley is shockingly right near his ADP (average draft position) at RB29 which would put him around his preseason rank in the 3rd round. He has 678 yards on 195 attempts and 9 TDs, the problem is nearly all of that production came in the first 9 weeks of the season. Since the Falcons bye week in week 10 he has not had 10 fantasy points in any game and isn’t even considered the starter anymore. Granted the actual starter isn’t any better in Ito Smith but at least if one had Gurley he certainly helped you get through the regular fantasy season but he definitely didn’t carry anyone to a fantasy championship. I would give him a C-, it’s tough because it reflects how short lived the life of a running back can be in some cases, and Gurley was fun to watch in his prime for a few seasons.
I am going to stick with the ones with the most fantasy relevance, so generally the top 2 or 3 on each team.
Wide Receivers-Julio Jones (Preseason projection early 2nd), Calvin Ridley (Preseason projection 4th round), and Russel Gage (Late round flier or undrafted)
Julio Jones finished at wide receiver ranking 52, with 51 receptions for 771 yards and just 3 touchdowns. Even if he had not missed 7 games this year due to injury his value has always been from receptions and yardage totals, not touchdowns, he had just 6 TDs in 2019 while being the second ranked wide receiver that year. Like many players this year, a lack of preseason and conditioning probably contributed to his injury plagued season but when he was healthy he was still relatively consistent. He definitely underperformed for his draft position so I’m giving him a C-, simply because he is still a talented player, you just really couldn’t see it this year.
Calvin Ridley had basically the exact opposite of Julio Jones' season, he is ranked wide receiver 5, with 90 receptions, 1,374 yards, and 9 TDs. Aside from a few games sidelined by injury, Ridley vastly outperformed his preseason ranking and definitely helped win some championships as basically a WR1 at a WR2 price. He definitely deserves an A+ grade, there is no getting over how talented he is and how much better both he and Jones could perform if both stayed healthy.
Russell Gage finished at wide receiver 38, with 72 receptions, 786 yards, and 4 TDs. Unlike Julio Jones where you had to spend a ridiculous amount of draft capital on him, Gage has similar numbers but at virtually no cost, or very little. Gage unfortunately has been a boom-or-bust player this year, sometimes he seemed to disappear while also putting up over 10 fantasy points in both games against the Saints and over 15 against both the Chargers and Tampa Bay. If he could become more consistent, he would be a reliable pairing with Ridley once Jones retires but at the moment this inconsistency seems likely to continue. I am giving him a C, simply because if you played him the right weeks he definitely delivered but most of the time he underperformed, even when injuries to Ridley or Jones gave him an opportunity to perform.
Hayden Hurst (Preseason projection 10th to 11th round)
Hurst finished at tight end 10 which considering he was projected to be tight end 11 and was supposed to replace Austin Hooper and the high expectations that came with that. No one should be really surprised that he didn’t live entirely up to the hype his first year in a new offense. He has 56 receptions, 571 yard, 6 TDs, not a stellar line but a middle of the pack tight end, who had some good games this year and should improve for next year. He is never going to be Kittle or Kelce but in the right matchup he should help you win, I am going to be generous and give him a B, his good performances outweighed his bad ones and honestly I think people expected him to fall into Hooper’s target share and that just wasn’t going to happen in the tight end position, regardless of how good he might be.
Teddy Bridgewater (Preseason projection QB26, basically late round flier)
I was literally shocked when I saw Bridgewater’s preseason ranking, I knew he was low but even I didn’t realize how low his projections were in 1QB leagues. He has demolished those projections in spite of running back injuries that the Panthers have been built around plaguing this season. He finished with 340 completions on 492 attempts, for 3,733 yards, 15TDs and 11 interceptions. Aside from a few lackluster games against Tampa Bay, Chicago, and Washington he has been a model of consistency. Lackluster is also a relative term as long as you didn’t play him against Washington in week 16. His lowest scoring game was 14.27 points against Chicago and he frequently scored above 20 fantasy points. For where you drafted him at or got him from waivers he was a valuable quarterback and in a 2QB or Superflex league was a viable 2nd option at QB. It is a great turnaround for a player that had been a backup under Brees a few years ago to have returned to fantasy relevance. He definitely gets a B+/A- in my book.
Christian McCaffrey (Preseason projection early 1st round) Mike Davis (late round handcuff/waiver wire pickup)
This tandem hits close to home for me since I own CMC in several dynasty leagues and this season was like yanking out my fingernails, I’m sure Christian is disappointed as well however he still shows how valuable he can be. In 3 games, he had 225 yards on 59 attempts, and 5 TDs, hopefully he returns healthy next year but he was basically useless as a fantasy running back this season, not even fair to give him a grade on a miniscule sample, but if I had to it’s clearly an F for this year.
Mike Davis was a valuable waiver wire add without CMC available but it’s like tasting filet mignon and then being told that you are being given a McDonalds cheeseburger. It’s definitely not the same and aside from a few games where Davis seemed to play like CMC, he mostly played second fiddle in the offense frequently not scoring above 20 points, while CMC’s worst games in 2019 were when he only scored around 20 points. He had 642 yards on 165 attempts for 6 TDs which is fine but if you spent the draft capital on CMC and grabbed Davis as a handcuff or off waivers he just couldn’t deliver the value CMC could, which isn’t surprising but it definitely hurts as a fantasy player. I would give Davis a B as standalone value, ignoring the unfortunate comparisons he will get compared to the starter, he wasn’t terrible and was a good waiver wire add when being objective, a rare event for running backs in fantasy.
DJ Moore (Preseason projection early 4th round), Curtis Samuel (Preseason projection 12th round), Robby Anderson (Preseason projection 11th round)
DJ Moore did not quite live up to his expectations, he is ranked 25th among receivers with 66 receptions, 1,193 yards, and 4 TDs. He had some great games but he also scored 10 points or less in 7 games this year. It seemed like the Panthers coaching staff was going out of their way to force feed targets to Robby Anderson which came largely at the expense of Moore. It wasn’t that Moore is a bad receiver, it was just that he was getting targeted half the time his new teammate was and it shows in his production drop off. However, there is little reason to doubt that Moore can’t continue to produce next year, hopefully with a more balanced attack among receivers and a healthy CMC. I would give Moore a B- on the season, mainly due to his somewhat inconsistent usage.
Curtis Samuel had a much better season then his projected ranking, although he had the same inconsistent games that Moore had and fewer touchdowns than in 2019 but 77 receptions, 851 yards, and 3 TDs as well as 2 rushing scores are definitely not bad numbers. Due to his relatively low draft value and his usage this year I would give him a B grade.
Robby Anderson was won in a bidding war with the Jets and it shows how badly the Panthers wanted him based on his usage, he scored under 10 fantasy in just 4 games this year and 95 receptions for 1,096 yards and 3 TDs. However, those numbers also reflect that he just isn’t as good as Moore, 29 more receptions, for fewer yards and TDs and yet he was the main target for Bridgewater. I hope the Panthers find a better balance among their receivers since it should make their whole team better. I will say Anderson definitely deserves an A grade, especially his extra receptions made him very valuable in PPR this season.
Ian Thomas (Preseason projection late round flier or waiver wire)
Despite no longer being in Greg Olsen’s shadow did not develop as quickly as a route runner and it shows with just 20 receptions for 145 yards and 1 TD. His best week was 8.5 fantasy points against Arizona, mainly saved by his single touchdown, otherwise he had 2 receptions for 5 yards in that game. It can safely be said that he didn’t live up to his team’s expectations and it may be time for even Carolina to move on and find a new tight end. Three years and still little to show for it, he gets an F for failing to step up when the opportunity came for him to do so.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady (Preseason projection 8th round)
Brady signed with the Buccaneers this past offseason and he has not disappointed as a fantasy QB. He finished 8th among QBs with 401 completions on 610 attempts for 4,633 passing yards, 40 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. Aside from a poor game against the Saints and Panthers, he scored 20 plus fantasy points in every game. Not sure much more can be said about him, he remains a model of efficiency that put up fairly consistent numbers all season. He gets a B+ grade, he didn’t have a lot of explosive games putting up 4 or more TDs a game but still a reliable fantasy QB.
Ronald Jones (Preseason projection 9th round), Leonard Fournette (Preseason projection 4th round with Jacksonville not Buccaneers)
Ronald Jones easily surpassed his projected ranking and finished as the running back 17 with 978 yards on 192 attempts and 7 TDs. His season was a bit of a roller coaster in some ways, he started off with under 20 point performances his first 3 games, then had 3 good performances against the Chargers, Bears, and Packers, only to hit a slump against the Giants, Saints, and Rams and then got Covid-19 near the end of the year. Some of those poor performances are reasonable and some make little sense almost like he was playing to the level of competition of his opponent, for example being held in check by the Raiders in week 8 only to score 30 plus points against the Panthers and 20 plus against the Chiefs, both with better ranked run defenses than the Raiders. This seems to be a problem with the Buccaneers in general, they in some ways have so much talent that individual players sometimes get lost in poor weeks making them hard to predict in fantasy. Given everything that happened with Ro Jo, I’m giving him a B+, mainly because of his total yardage, he also proved he could absolutely be a lead back when given the opportunity.
Leonard Fournette’s season with the Bucs was mainly to serve as a spoiler to RoJo. Games where RoJo played poorly and was pulled or was injured, it led to production for Fournette but aside from those occasions he played second fiddle to Ronald Jones. He finished the regular season as running back 43, with 367 yards, on 97 attempts and 6 TDs. A far cry from the lead back position he had with Jacksonville and the fact that many drafts were held prior to him being released by that team so he was definitely not worth the draft capital most people invested in him. I give him a C-, for how far he fell off and had an opportunity to prove Jacksonville wrong, he did not succeed in that attempt.
Chris Godwin (Preseason projection 2nd round), Mike Evans (Preseason projection 2nd round), Scotty Miller and Antonio Brown (Waiver wire)
Chris Godwin did not live up to his expectations, he finished as wide receiver 31, with 65 receptions, 840 yards, and 7 TDs. Part of this was due to him missing 4 games due to injury and that Tampa Bay did not have to play from behind as often with Brady under center. However, Godwin also put up some rather poor games against the Packers, Saints, and Vikings and only exceeded 20 points twice, which is rather disappointing considering his draft position as a WR1 that one would expect his production to be more consistent. There is no doubt he is still a talented wide receiver but it was never likely he was going to replicate his 2019 success and it showed, hopefully a healthier 2021 and full preseason and offseason with Brady will increase those numbers for him next year. I am giving him a B- due to his drop off from last year and his high draft capital that didn’t provide the points normally expected for someone with his ADP.
Mike Evans was much closer to his ADP and actually finished close to his ADP as wide receiver 11, with 70 receptions, 1,006 yards, and 13 TDs. Much like Godwin, his high yardage production went down with a better QB but he also became a more important redzone target for Brady, for example his 2 reception game for 2 yards and 2 TDs, not a great stat line if you remove the touchdowns but a good one with them. He also had some tough games against the Saints, Packers, Raiders, and Vikings, reflecting the somewhat inconsistent game plan the Buccaneers employed this year with their best two wide receivers. I am going to give Evans a B+ to A-, he definitely delivered consistent points to a fantasy team but he rarely would have put a team over the top with a dominant performance except in week 16 with a 43 point outing, which would be far too late if you needed him to produce prior to the championship week.
It’s hard to evaluate the 3rd option of the receiving corps, Miller was widely inconsistent the first 9 weeks and once Brown arrived and started learning the offense, it pushed Miller down the depth chart (as expected). AB proved to still be a reliable fantasy receiver putting up some good totals in the latter half of the season but it remains to be seen if this will continue, he cracked 100 yards in just one game and I am not certain he can avoid running afoul of the league’s conduct policies into the future. I hope he has turned a corner but we have all seen a lot of AB’s theatrics over the years so I’m not willing to say that, that behavior is entirely in the past. For this season though I’m giving Miller a D, he simply didn’t perform well when given opportunities with Godwin injured and was too inconsistent. AB on the other hand gets a B to B+, he played well and because you most likely got him cheap off of waivers the cost was very low considering the production you ultimately got out of him. Hopefully one of them will emerge next year as a more consistent 3rd wide receiver on this team but it isn’t really necessary because of how many weapons the Buccaneers have already.
Rob Gronkowski (Preseason projection 6th round)
Rob Gronkowski was vastly overvalued in the preseason and if you actually drafted him in the 6th, you paid far too much for him, especially when Waller, Engram, and Jonathan Taylor could all have been taken in this round instead. Rob finished well but if you drafted him you were playing a dangerous game most weeks since sometimes his production was near his 9.8 point average or above but he also had 9 games where he scored under 10 fantasy points. He is actually tight end 8, with 45 receptions, for 623 yards, and 7 TDs, not bad for someone who was injured his last regular season in 2018 and retired in 2019 but none of those numbers make him worth his ADP. I am giving him a B- to C+ range, he simply wasn’t worth it for where you drafted him at and his production showed that this is not the Gronkowski in his prime years that people expected and I hope he lets Brate and Howard retake center stage next year, hopefully with a healthy OJ Howard as the Buccaneers primary receiving tight end.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees (Preseason projection 7th round)
Brees had a somewhat disappointing fantasy season, not surprising given that he missed 4 games due to injury, and that he is nearing retirement. He was however relatively consistent in his active games except for the game he was injured in and against the Vikings. He threw 275 passes on 390 attempts for 2,942 yards, 24 TDs and 6 interceptions. As already mentioned aside from being injured against the 49ers and Kamara’s dominant game against the Vikings where Brees didn’t have to do much, he scored over 20 fantasy points in every game this season. It’s hard to guess how much longer he will play for but he still provides a safe fantasy QB floor for most managers, he won’t necessarily win you a championship but he would rarely lose you one, I give him a solid B+, mainly due to his injuries which have become an unfortunate occurrence for him over the last few seasons.
Alvin Kamara (Preseason projection 1st round), Latavius Murray (Preseason projection 10th round)
Alvin Kamara had some struggles last season, (falling all the way) to running back 13, yeah his down year is better then what some running backs ever achieve. However, he rebounded impressively this season as the running back 1, with 932 yards on 187 attempts for 16 TDs and with some excellent receiving games as well, getting more than 40 yards through the air in 9 games and the games where he didn’t mostly correspond to when Taysom Hill was QB rather than Brees. He scored above 20 fantasy points in all but 3 games and if you had him in the championship game, his 6 TD game certainly made a lot of fantasy managers happy, as well as sad if you had to play against him. He met his expectations this season and returned to form after a tough 2019 for him, so he gets an A+, of course, being a reliable RB1, week in and week out almost all season.
Latavius Murray continues to be a reliable backup for Kamara and even has some stand-alone value when Kamara gets injured or is pulled from a game that is already in the bag. He finished as running back 36 with 656 yards on 146 attempts and 4 TDs. He definitely shows he can still handle a full workload, such as his 14 plus fantasy point games against the Lions, Falcons, Vikings, and Broncos. He was certainly a good handcuff to have if one also has Kamara but he wasn’t going to win you a fantasy championship, especially when he shares the backfield with one of the best running backs in the league. I’m giving him a C, not because he was bad, he just is simply not used enough to justify a higher grade and from a fantasy perspective he just isn’t that useful unless Kamara is unavailable.
Michael Thomas (Preseason projection 1st round), Emmanuel Sanders (Preseason projection 7th to 8th round), Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harris and Marquez Callaway (Preseason projection Late round fliers or waiver wire)
For three of these receivers some people might be asking themselves who they even are and frankly none of them had great seasons, Callaway had two good games in week 5 and 7, Harris had a good little stretch in weeks 7 through 10 before getting injured, and Smith did okay early on but all were mostly inconsistent and not at all reliable for fantasy football but it does say a lot about Brees’ ability to make almost any receiver look good with a future Hall of Famer throwing them the ball.
Now we get to discuss the train wreck that was Michael Thomas’ 2020 season, between injuries and a suspension the previous wide receiver 1 last season was abysmal, he finished as wide receiver 95 with 40 receptions for 438 yards and 0 TDs, a far cry from his 1,725 yards last season. It’s hard to blame a player for injuries and I’m not going to but much like CMC, if you drafted MT to be your WR1, he did NOT deliver this year. He played pretty well in weeks 9 through 14 but not with the numbers expected of a 1st round pick, cracking 20 points only twice and so he certainly carried no one to a fantasy championship. Hopefully next season will be better for him, like many of the players listed here, but based on his production he gets a D, he simply was a waste of a 1st round pick this year.
Emmanuel Sanders on the other hand continues to show that he has become a reliable number 2 receiver on a team, he is never going to return to what he was as a younger receiver but he also wasn’t a bad wide receiver especially considering where he was drafted this year. He finished as wide receiver 41 with 61 receptions for 726 yards and 5 TDs, nothing too impressive but he generally provided a nice stable floor for most games, certainly nothing that put a team over the top but generally wouldn’t lose you a game unless you played him in one of his off weeks which came against opponents he should have been able to score against with ease; the Raiders, injury plagued 49ers, Broncos, and Falcons. Aside from those games, every game he played he scored more than 10 points and was a reliable option for Brees. I am giving him a B, it would have been nice to see a few more high scoring games from him but this offense clearly ran through Kamara this year, so no Saints receiver was especially impressive this year from a fantasy perspective.
Jared Cook (Preseason projection 11th or 12th round)
Jared Cook definitely had a down year compared to last season, he finished as tight end 18 this year with 37 receptions for 504 yards and 7 TDs. The biggest issue for him was again consistency and with Brees being injured for part of the year, he became much less involved when Taysom Hill was under center, however, he had some poor games even when Brees was healthy. The easiest way to sum it up is he had 8 games with less than 9.5 points and 8 games with more than 11 points but he also never cracked 20 fantasy points in any game, so if you streamed him the right weeks he was a helpful fantasy tight end but if you picked one of his down weeks, he definitely cost you dearly. I am going to give him a C-, it wasn’t a great year for him and his production clearly suffered without Thomas around to draw defensive focus and as we have already seen this was not a team that relied heavily on its pass catchers to win games.
I am curious to see where the NFC South goes over the next few years. The QBs of all of these teams are going to be retiring or leaving at some point in the next few years so these teams will look a lot different and it will be curious to see what impact that has on the other fantasy players and who the future QBs will be for all 4 of these franchises. However, that is an article for the future. I hope you enjoyed this analysis and please feel free to disagree with me, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. This is Ben signing off, and as always STAY TRUE all of you Truth Serum fans.
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