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Burning Fantasy Football Questions - NFC South

Our advance Divisional series on Burning Questions for the 2019 Fantasy Football season continues with issues that must be considered in the NFC South.

The RB scenarios in Atlanta and Tampa Bay could be shifting, and the QBs in Carolina and New Orleans are not quite as highly regarded as they were in the past.

These situations have to be worked out during the preseason and beyond, but we have to start examining them now as our drafts draw closer.

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Atlanta Falcons

Can we expect a comeback year from Devonta Freeman?

The King’s Answer: Freeman only played in two games last season because of knee, foot and groin injuries. The year before, he played through a knee injury in the playoffs after suffering two concussions earlier in the campaign. Over the past two seasons, he has started to develop a reputation as an injury risk and additional concussion problems could cloud his outlook even further. He was also concussed in 2015.

Freeman looked like an elite fantasy RB in 2015 and 2016 but has endured difficulties while trying to keep up to a high standard since. He has really only played the equivalent of three seasons with true featured back work, and he is 26 years old. He’s not worn down from overwork. But he is smallish at 5-8, 206 and it’s apparent that as hard and determined as he runs, Freeman is a regular injury risk because of his size and style of play.

You should certainly draft Freeman as the Falcons’ RB1 this year, but he is a risky RB2 selection. Second-year man Ito Smith is Freeman’s new complement/change-of-pace partner to replace Tevin Coleman. Smith is only listed at 5-9, 195 himself but will likely become the lead RB if Freeman goes down again. He is a must-have handcuff to Freeman. Brian Hill and rookie Qadree Ollison will compete for depth behind Freeman and Smith and the winner of that battle could get occasional inside and short yardage opportunities.

It’s as seemingly simple as Freeman staying healthy to regain his better Fantasy form, but another concussion could conceivably take him out for a while again.  Keep Ito Smith in mind as a later-round flier. We certainly cannot count on seeing the best of Freeman anymore.


Carolina Panthers

Is Cam Newton still capable of being a fantasy starter?

The King’s Answer: Newton finished as fantasy QB13 last season, and opinions on him seem to be even lower than that sort of placing would indicate as the new season approaches. His 2018 passing numbers were comparable to his 2017 output, but his four rush TDs were a career low and he also delivered the second-lowest rushing yardage total of his career. Newton ultimately admitted a shoulder injury was adversely affecting him during the second half of the season and he underwent a surgical procedure in January.

Newton has been mostly up and down since his 2015 MVP season, although his career-best 754 rushing yards in 2017 along with six TDs put him second at the position that season. So while some Fantasy players consider him damaged goods as they look ahead to 2019, he is not far off from a campaign as a prime player at his position. Published reports indicate Newton has progressed very well in terms of being able to make throws with a regulation-sized football.

Newton has not been much more than an adequate passer since 2015, though, and it is his dual-purpose ability that obviously has made him such a desired Fantasy QB in the past. There are concerns among Fantasy players and Panthers onlookers that the team could scale back his rushing attempts in an effort to preserve him longer. We’ve heard such whispers for a while. But he did have 101 attempts last year and he is 30 years old, which is not an age to really start to be concerned about how old he is just yet in the shorter term.

If Newton can get back to good health, he has an improving receiving corps and it may be hard to envision him drastically altering his approach to being a dual threat QB. Doing so would be hindering him from being his best and would be a disservice to his team. But no one knows for sure how hos body will continue to respond and heal.

Newton is definitely capable of regaining Fantasy starting status. But that all depends on his shoulder, and only time will tell us if he is truly ready to step back in as Carolina’s starter again with little doubts. I would draft him as a high-end QB2 for now.


New Orleans Saints

Is Drew Brees still a top fantasy starter?

The King’s Answer: The apparent numbers say Brees finished as QB8 last season, so a surface answer would appear to be that he is still a very good fantasy starter who simply is not elite anymore. But Brees was less productive down the stretch and in the postseason, raising some concerns about more slippage as he enters his age-40 season.

After his third four-TD outing in four games in Week 12, Brees was the second-best QB in fantasy behind Patrick Mahomes. Over his final four games, though, he threw only three TD passes and was intercepted three times. In only one game during that span did he throw for more than 203 yards. He opened the postseason with a 300-yard game, but threw only two TD passes with one interception in each outing. He was not bad during the playoffs, but he was not as good as he was through the first dozen games of the regular season. Brees had five 300- yard games by Week 11, and only two the rest of the way including the postseason.

There were also concerns about a drop-off the previous season, when his 23 TD passes were his lowest in 14 years. For two consecutive seasons, we have seen signs of Brees being less dependable throughout a full campaign. His receiving corps did not improve other than to add TE Jared Cook this offseason. That was a significant acquisition, but not one that could boost Brees’ outlook in a major way, but one that could offer a moderate upgrade.

Age is now a much larger concern, as illustrious as Brees’ real and Fantasy careers have been. To expect him to get back to his form of the first 12 games of last season may be asking a bit much, but there is no glaring reason to be fearful of a major drop-off, either. Brees’ slow decline from rarified Fantasy QB air may continue, but he should at least be a back-end Fantasy QB1 this year. He may not quite finish eighth, but a floor of 10th to 12th seems very attainable.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Will Ronald Jones recover from a lost rookie season to make an impact in 2019?

The King’s Answer: Any fantasy football player with even moderate knowledge can recall what a disaster of a rookie campaign Jones trudged through in 2018.  But a new regime under Bruce Arians may give him a fresh start in 2019.

Injuries and fundamental flaws led to Jones being quickly pushed down the depth chart, never to be seen again last year. This season, he is getting a new opportunity under Arians’ staff and was surrounded by positive buzz during OTAs. It may all be fluff now to outsiders, but positivity is what Jones needs to rebuild his confidence.

What speaks louder than any spring or summer quotes is the fact that the Buccaneers did not bring in another RB to significantly challenge Jones for quality reps during the offseason. Once again, he will only have to beat out the likes of stopgap Peyton Barber.

So Jones is in the same type of position he was last preseason. He still has a sizable opportunity to capture a starting job. He still has much of the same promise he did last year, too. So when he drops to say, the ninth round of your 2019 draft, pick him with the knowledge that there is still a lot of upside in Jones’ game, with the chance to prove himself again. He has the potential to be a fine value pick in 2019.

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