2020 Fantasy Football Preview: NFC South draft targets

The Follow The Money panel discussed the most valuable running backs in the NFL and why they believe it's Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers.

With the 2020 NFL season fast approaching, so are fantasy football drafts.

To help get you ready, Sportsnet’s Andy McNamara will down a division position by position every Friday until the start of the campaign.

Next up: the NFC South

QUARTERBACK

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

Yes, I have Drew Brees ranked ahead of Tom Brady in the fantasy football world. Both future Hall of Fame quarterbacks are blessed with loaded offences, but Brees enters the season in familiar surroundings. The Saints are on autopilot with their offence and have brought back all the key pieces.

Even after missing five games last season with a busted thumb, the veteran signal-caller managed to still be a QB6 from Weeks 9 to 17. The arm strength might not be what it used to be, but Brees is still a no-brainer fantasy starter.

Jameis Winston as a backup is a pretty good handcuff situation too.

Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Surrounded with arguably his most talented set of weapons ever, Brady is ready to march Tampa Bay to the promised land. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, and former Patriots teammate Rob Gronkowski give TB12 a lot of options.

Brady was a QB12 his final run in New England. The 2019 stat line can be thrown out, however, since the group around him is dramatically better in Florida.

Father time has to come for the 43-year old at some point doesn’t it?! Age and quickly growing chemistry in an abbreviated training camp are my only hang ups when it comes to Brady.

tom-brady-tampa-bay-buccaneers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws a pass during an NFL football organized team activity Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (Chris O’Meara/AP)

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

Ryan had a down year as a QB11 in 2019 compared to being the second-best fantasy quarterback in 2018, he should remain on your starter radar. He’s an example of someone you can wait on late to draft and still get solid production.

Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina Panthers

I’m bullish on the sleeper upside of Bridgewater moving on to the Panthers. He was a QB12 from Weeks 3 to 7 filling in for Brees in New Orleans last season and has some impressive tools to work with in Carolina.

Easy checkdowns to Christian McCaffrey and a big target in D.J. Moore gives Bridgewater a good chance to hit the ground running. At the very least, he’s a must-own in two quarterback leagues.

RUNNING BACK

Carolina Panthers

For my money, McCaffrey is the bona fide No. 1 fantasy running back in the entire NFL, never mind the division. McCaffrey was more than 100 fantasy points better in PPR and about 80 points higher in standard when compared to the next best RB.

McCaffrey is the definition of a bell cow, racking up 403 combined touches last season. McCaffrey IS the Carolina offence and there’s no reason to think that his workload would diminish moving forward.

New Orleans Saints

I view Alvin Kamara as a back-end RB1 in PPR and a steady RB2 in standard formats. Interesting fact: he’s had exactly 81 receptions in each of his three NFL seasons. If you miss on the first wave of backs in your draft, then Kamara is an excellent choice.

As a handcuff, Latavius Murray proved to be a quality backup when Kamara missed a couple games. In those outings, Murray rushed for over 100 yards in both matchups and scored a combined four touchdowns.

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara scores a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans on Dec. 22, 2019. (James Kenney/AP)

Atlanta Falcons

How Todd Gurley is managed will be a fascinating storyline to follow. Does Atlanta play it cautious like the Rams did a year ago or let the former Pro Bowl rusher loose? No other backfield teammate on the roster is at a level to push Gurley for snap shares so it all comes down to how that pesky knee of his holds up.

I’d rank the 2017 and 2018 top-performing fantasy running back as a RB2 for this NFL campaign.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Committee alert! Even though the Buccaneers brass has said Ronald Jones is expected to “carry the load,” I don’t buy it. Jones struggles in pass protection, which takes him off the field on obvious throwing third downs. The addition of the now well-travelled LeSean McCoy and third-round pick Ke’Shawn Vaughn gives head coach Bruce Arians too many options.

McCoy’s presence doesn’t overly concern me, but Vaughn has the skill set of a much more complete back than Jones. He can rush inside, outside, plow through at the goal-line and catch. In dynasty/keeper leagues, make sure to grab Vaughn later on.

WIDE RECEIVER

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The NFC South is stacked with talented wide receivers and Tampa Bay leads the way. Godwin emerged as a superstar last season alongside perennial monster Evans. Both receivers were over 1,100 yards despite missing action due to injury.

As long as Brady stays healthy, I’m sure there will be enough ball to go around. I still rank Evans ahead of Godwin simply because of his sustained greatness since entering the NFL in 2014.

New Orleans Saints

Michael Thomas needs to be the first receiver taken in fantasy football drafts, and there shouldn’t be an argument against that strategy. The stat line is ridiculous as Thomas is coming off a 1,725-yard, nine-touchdown season, and that’s with Brees injured for a spell. He just keeps getting better.

I’m not a big Emmanuel Sanders guy at this point in his career since he hasn’t played in more than 12 games since 2016. However, as a later-round pick-up in PPR leagues, I kind of like him on the Saints. He’ll get secondary coverage and can still flash when available.

Atlanta Falcons

The parade of star power at wide receiver in this division continues with Julio Jones, who is a top-five fantasy wideout every single year. Calvin Ridley is an interesting name to watch as he was in the high teens of fantasy wide receiver rankings through Week 13 before his season ended in 2019 due injury. A high WR3/borderline WR2 in 12-team leagues, Ridley’s a nice mid-round draft selection.

Julio-Jones-Atlanta-Falcons
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones makes a catch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (John Bazemore/AP)

Carolina Panthers

The success of Carolina’s attack runs through McCaffrey, but when he’s not touching the ball, look to Moore to light things up.

Under less than ideal quarterback circumstances, Moore overcame the odds by delivering an impressive 1,175 yards on 87 catches as the 10th-best WR in half-PPR formats. Stability under Bridgewater should benefit him, and even with Robby Anderson aboard he’ll still be the primary target.

Speaking of Anderson, the Temple University alum is, at most, a flex starter on my fantasy squad. Maybe I’m jaded from the never-fulfilled lofty expectations in New York, but Anderson needs to hit 1,000 yards before I get interested again.

TIGHT END

New Orleans Saints

Despite his low yardage, Jared Cook was the sixth- or seventh-ranked fantasy tight end, depending on format, in 2020. Finding the end zone on nine occasions certainly helped quite a bit, and that makes him very touchdown dependent. If you draft Cook, then snag a backup like Jonnu Smith or Mike Gesicki in case a repeat of those scoring numbers doesn’t occur.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers certainly possess the most talent at the position group in the NFC South, but this is shaping up like a three-headed committee. It’s fun that Brady’s old buddy Gronkowski is out of retirement, but can Gronk stay healthy and what does the snap count look like between the other two tight ends?

Atlanta Falcons

Hayden Hurst is the new tight end in town with Austin Hooper leaving for the Cleveland Browns in free agency. Hurst is a potential breakout star because he was saddled with a pile of tight ends in Baltimore and will get a shot to be the guy in Atlanta.

It’s all projections at this time, but Ryan loves using his tight ends so keep an eye on Hurst.

Carolina Panthers

This is the least exciting fantasy spot on the Panthers roster. Ian Thomas is entering season three with his targets decreasing year over year. A lower ceiling than the Falcons’ Hurst, I wouldn’t put too much stock in Thomas for 2020.

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