So it was Tom Brady who made Bill Belichick and not the other way around. Good to know. By the looks of it, Brady isn’t done owning the league either. The GOAT is running is back, which is simply terrible news for the other NFC South teams as they aim to take down the defending champs in 2021. 

This is a division with prolific fantasy potential and has some key positions to monitor as we roll through free agency and into the NFL Draft. A word of warning, however: now that we have entered the free agency season, be extra careful not to overreact to news. There are a million rumors swirling about, and especially during this time of the dynasty calendar, cooler heads prevail.

Let’s get after it!

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons are in cap hell, drastically affecting their free agency moves, which will be minimal. They did restructure Matt Ryan‘s ginormous contract, which frees up some space, but also makes it harder to move on from him in the future as he ages. With that in mind, the NFL Draft will be a major area of focus for fantasy purposes. 

With a -18 Point Differential, the Falcons weren’t as bad as their 4-12 record indicates, but they aren’t going to be a Super Bowl Contender either. We don’t care about defense though, it’s only their middle-of-the-road offense that concerns us. Not the most exciting offense anymore, but don’t sleep on some of these aging stars, especially with Arthur Smith coming to town to spice up an offense that looked stale last year. 

Quarterback

There has been plenty of murmuring about the Falcons taking a rookie quarterback in the first round, but with Ryan’s aforementioned restructured contract, it’s hard for me to buy unless they plan on trading him or just taking someone to sit behind him until his contract is easier to manage. 

Ryan is the guy until something drastic happens, so is there any hope of a throwback top-3 season? Anything can happen with the quarterback position, but I wouldn’t count on it. However, that doesn’t mean all is lost for Ryan owners. He still has plenty going for him and could repeat as a low-end QB1.

Ryan was asked to fling the pigskin all over the yard in 2020. With an anemic run game and lackluster defense, he was asked to put up a league-leading 626 Pass Attempts. With hefty volume like that, it was little surprise that Ryan also led the league with 2,963 Completed Air Yards, regularly pushing the ball downfield with an 8.4 (No. 8) Air Yards Per Attempt average.

Where Ryan struggled was with accuracy and decision-making, both of which were exacerbated by an 82.2-percent (No. 27) Protection Rate. He only managed a 71.7-percent (No. 27) True Completion Percentage, and especially struggled as he neared the end zone with a 53.3-percent (No. 47) Red Zone Completion Percentage. He also led the position with 50 Danger Plays and 38 Interceptable Passes.

With a non-existent rushing floor, average accuracy and declining decision making, Ryan makes for a volume-driven play moving forward. The hope is that an offensive schematic shift helps, as well as a healthy Julio Jones. He will be a fine option for those punting on quarterback and should produce for a few more seasons at least. Just don’t get your hopes up too high.

Running Back

Ito Smith and Brian Hill are depth pieces. 

Todd Gurley is a free agent and could possibly re-sign, but he would likely be too expensive for Atlanta. Additionally, as the season wore on, Gurley struggled mightily, ceding work to Smith and Hill. 

Moving forward for Gurley, he might land somewhere. He’ll only be 27 next year (I could’ve sworn he was 30) and if you believe in his first nine games in Atlanta maybe he’s worth a shot.

I can tell you this: I will have zero Gurley on my rosters.

This is a position group to completely ignore unless someone talented lands here.

Wide Receiver

The passing of the mantle has occurred in Atlanta. Calvin Ridley is the lead now with Julio Jones as the “secondary” option.

Truthfully that makes Jones a buy in the right situation. Hear me out. I know he missed a chunk of time with a hamstring injury. But he showed that he had some juice still. Jones put up some massive weeks including a 8/137/2 line against Minnesota in Week 6. He also continued to rack up yards, averaging 11.3 (No. 3) Yards Per Target and 2.70 (No. 3) Yards Per Route Run and displaying excellent efficiency with his +23.9 (No. 8) Production Premium.

Going into his age-32 season and coming off an injury riddled campaign, Jones’ stock is the lowest it’s ever been. If you’re a contender, why not grab him, lock in high-end WR2 production, and get the ‘ship. He’s not going to cost you much, so wait until the day of your rookie draft and ship a second-rounder for him when the value of those picks skyrocket.

Ridley, for his part, is just dominant. He’s only 26 years old and just notched 18.6 (No. 4) Fantasy Points per Game. Ryan peppers him with Deep Targets, and he ended up with a league-leading 2,063 Air Yards in 2020. He’s really good. Not sure what else I’m supposed to say.

Tight End

Hayden Hurst was freed from the shadow of Mark Andrews and mostly just existed as a starting tight end. He was fine. With Ridley and Jones around, Hurst was a distant thought for Ryan and only ended with a 14.4-percent (No. 16) Target Share. With 241 (No. 7) Slot Snaps, Atlanta used him there a decent amount. It just didn’t translate to a larger role in the offense; he only managed a 17.1-percent (No. 94) Target Rate.

It’s safe to let someone else invest in Hurst and target higher-upside plays at the position.

Recap: Matt Ryan is a fine safe option if you’re passing on the higher-end QBs. Ignore the RBs and Hayden Hurst. Buy late-career Julio Jones and enjoy the Calvin Ridley production.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have some incredibly fun pieces on offense. While 2020 was a big bummer with Christian McCaffrey going down for most of the year, the offense still gave fantasy gamers some reliable producers.

So far in the offseason, Carolina has shored up the offensive line, but have otherwise been quiet. Curtis Samuel moved on to Washington, clearing up the opportunities for the Big-Three of CMC, D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson.

Quarterback

Well, the Panthers went out and grabbed Sam Darnold! This is the best chance for Darnold to resurrect his career with a great supporting cast. I broke down his play with the Jets here.

Here’s a Teddy Bridgewater breakdown in case he lands somewhere fun:

To his credit, Bridgewater was decent in 2020, albeit unspectacular. Most importantly, he was fairly healthy, logging 15 starts. Bridgewater was able to feed his playmakers, but offered little upside himself.

Behind a solid pass blocking line which afforded him a 89.6-percent (No. 6) Protection Rate, Bridgewater showed off his pinpoint accuracy enroute to a 7.9 (tied for No. 1) Accuracy Rating, thanks largely to his 77.4-percent (No. 7) Clean Pocket Completion Percentage. He also provided a reasonable rushing floor by taking in five (No. 6) Rushing Touchdowns.

Where Bridgewater struggled was pushing the ball downfield. He only managed 7.1 (No. 28) Air Yards Per Attempt, leading to a 6.7 (No. 20) Adjusted Yards per Attempt average. He’s a reasonable game manager, but doesn’t have the volume or big play ability to be interesting in anything other than SuperFlex/2 QB leagues, and even then the Panthers seem intent upon moving on to a more prolific passer. Bridgewater is best left for the other teams in your league.

Running Back

Good for Mike Davis. He probably got himself paid with a decent stand-in job for the downed McCaffrey. 

CMC is elite. He is the favorite to finish as fantasy’s overall RB1 in 2021. From a dynasty perspective, he should provide another year or two of elite production. The biggest hope is that he ages well, which I think he will with his athleticism and insane receiving ability. Hopefully he’s more LeSean McCoy than Le’Veon Bell for his second contract.

Wide Receiver

Anderson was awesome with Bridgewater. The two were in sync and Anderson devoured targets close to the line of scrimmage (a huge change from his field stretching days in New York), using his athleticism to rack up 486 (No. 5) Yards After the Catch. Unfortunately this style of play led to only three (No. 65) Touchdowns and a paltry 11.5 (No. 78) Yards per Reception, leading to a mere 13.8 (No. 30) Fantasy Points per Game. Anderson should be a fine WR3/Flex option, but don’t expect too much from the vet since he may have given us his best season. 

This will be the last chance to get Moore at value. I’m serious. Go buy him right now. The second Carolina gets Watson or any other passer, Moore’s value will be insane, and then when he goes nuclear in 2021 you’ll be bummed that you didn’t shell out whatever the asking price is this offseason. He’s stupid good.

Now, he might be Julio Jones-esque in that he doesn’t score touchdowns. It’s weird, and I don’t get it for either player. But he is a receiving yardage machine. He is a lock for 1,200 yards this season as long as he’s healthy. Mark it down. Moore does just about everything well (besides maybe scoring touchdowns, but after only three seasons I’m not committed to that narrative) and he never really got the best from his QB. The usually accurate Bridgewater only supplied Moore with a 6.89 (No. 83) Target Accuracy Rating and 73.7-percent (No. 77) Catchable Target Rate

Additionally, Moore was inexplicably used as the primary field stretcher in 2020. Not that I don’t think he’s a great deep threat (I do), because he ended with a 41.6-percent (No. 2) Air Yards Share and tallied a hefty 18.1 (No. 4) Yards per Reception. But he’s so much more than that. Let him scoop up some more of Anderson’s short/intermediate routes and he turns an already impressive 375 (No. 16) Yards After the Catch into 1,000 (ok, I’m exaggerating, but can you tell I love him?). Seriously though, it’s ridiculous that he only ended with 118 (No. 19) Targets (17 fewer than he drew in 2019) when he is an excellent deep threat and has the athleticism and build to be a dominant Golden Tate-esque YAC monster. Moore is one of the most obvious buys for me this offseason, especially with Samuel gone. 

Tight End

What an utter disappointment. I truly thought Ian Thomas was a nice late-round tight end option. Instead, 2020 represented a third-year faceplant. I can’t point to one positive for him from this past season. Ugh.

Just being realistic here. If the Panthers ride it out with Thomas, I’ll probably end up with a decent amount of him, because I do like his college profile. This isn’t an endorsement, just keep an eye on him. He’s basically free, so you could do worse for a late round flyer. Sorry in advance if he’s terrible again.

Recap: Move on from Teddy Bridgewater. Christian McCaffrey is elite. Buy all the D.J. Moore you can. Robby Anderson should be solid, yet unspectacular. Ian Thomas will certainly let me down again in 2021, but it won’t stop me from adding him this offseason.

New Orleans Saints

After taking down the division in 2020, the Saints ran out of steam in Drew Brees final season in the league. With his departure, the Saints have much uncertainty heading into 2021, and even with some creative accounting (check out the Taysom Hill contract), they’re still in rough cap shape.

Most of the uncertainty however starts with filling Brees’ shoes and what that will mean for the offense’s other star players. 

Quarterback

Find someone who loves you like Sean Peyton loves Hill. The 30-year old QB/RB/TE is slated to be the starter (I know that it’s technically going to be a competition between Hill and Jameis Winston, but Peyton loooooooves Hill).

And good for him honestly. The BYU product has turned himself into quite the Swiss Army Knife. He was even passable in his four-game stint while Brees was injured this past season. Hill obviously brings rushing upside with his 87/457/8 rushing line as a mostly part-time player. The big question mark is his passing ability. It’s hard to make definitive judgments with such a small sample size, but he wasn’t a total disaster and even completed 72.7-percent of his passes.

Look, Hill isn’t incredible. But with a nice rushing floor, he makes sense as a cheap grab in Superflex/2 QB leagues. Especially if his ADP is around Winston’s due to the looming competition in camp. I’d grab Hill over Winston, who is only two years removed from a 30 INT season, every time.

Running Back

Moving into 2021 with Hill (or anyone without the last name Brees) at quarterback will be an interesting situation. Was Brees or Peyton the main reason for the insane amount of running back targets in the Saints offense over the past decade or more? This matters greatly for Alvin Kamara. In four games with Hill at the helm, Kamara received 1, 2, 3, and 10 targets respectively. He’s elite because he’s a great receiver who’s tallied over 80 catches every season, so if it was Brees and his checkdown nature propelling Kamara’s production, then 2020’s No. 1 overall fantasy RB could have a tough situation on his hands.

The game that gives me hope is the Philadelphia game in Week 14. Hill threw for 291 yards and targeted Kamara ten times. He reeled in seven of those for 44 yards. Not amazing to be honest, but he was clearly involved in the passing game, whereas he was ignored the previous three weeks.

Another aspect to consider is that Kamara also scored a league-leading 21 touchdowns after only scoring six (No. 26) the year before. Touchdowns aren’t sticky of course, so let’s meet in the middle next year for 14, which is pretty darn good. Additionally, Kamara has never rushed for over 1,000 yards, although 937 (No. 13) is probably close enough to meet the arbitrary 1,000-yard threshold.

If I had Kamara rostered, I wouldn’t go out of my way to trade him, but I’d absolutely send out some feelers. He’ll be 26 next year (although his game should age well), working on a second contract. If someone is treating him as the RB1 in dynasty, then now’s your chance to unload him for the haul of a lifetime. This is my shtick, I get it, but at least think about.

Wide Receiver

Back in November, I pegged the Saints as a prime spot for a rookie receiver and that still stands. They haven’t been able to find an appropriate secondary piece besides Michael Thomas, and as much as it pains me to say, Tre’Quan Smith isn’t that guy. Hopefully we get some exciting news in the draft about the next WR2 in New Orleans.

Until then, what about Thomas?

He was plagued with injuries this past season, spoiling many first round start-up picks (myself included). Fortunately for our projections, he played in all four of Hill’s starts, giving us a nice little picture of what life beyond Brees might entail. 

The good news is that Thomas performed quite well without Brees. He hit double-digit targets and 100 yards twice, and even though he didn’t score, Thomas received six red zone looks from Hill. Even in the bizarre Denver game, where Hill only attempted 16 passes because Kendall Hilton was in at QB for the Broncos, Thomas reeled in four for 50.

Thomas may not go back to his 2019 highs, but as the clear-cut WR1, he should be a reliable option and a lock for 140 targets. Contending teams should grab him now that his price has taken a hit after a miserable 2020 campaign and rumblings about his discontent.

Tight End

Jared Cook is on his way to the Chargers, paving the way for Adam Trautman to emerge as the TE1 in New Orleans. The rookie saw limited action last year, but failed to do much with it. Regardless, he may be the most interesting tight end in an otherwise weak 2019 class. To his credit, he tore up the competition while at Dayton. He posted a 38.1-percent (97th-percentile) College Dominator Rating and had a 19.6 (86th-percentile) Breakout Age. While he isn’t the fastest player at the position, his 11.05 (95th-percentile) Agility Score is exciting.

For those punting on tight end in 2021, Trautman makes sense in a platoon of late-round dart throws. He should be plenty cheap and should be the starter by all accounts, so why not?

Recap: Buy Taysom Hill, Michael Thomas, and Adam Trautman. Are you nervous about Alvin Kamara’s prospects without Drew Brees? Think about it.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers       

Count me as one who thought Tom Brady’s move to Tampa was about finding a nice place to retire or something along those lines. 2019 Brady looked pretty washed to me. Boy, was I wrong. Brady, with a plethora of weapons including his old pal Rob Gronkowski and a stout defense, took care of business. With most of the key offensive contributors returning, it seems that Father Time is the biggest threat to another successful offensive season.

Quarterback

If you have Brady, you’re probably just holding the guy who just threw 40 (No. 2) Touchdown Passes and led the league with 5,554 Air Yards and 46 Money Throws among other categories. While his efficiency wasn’t elite, his volume makes him a solid low-end QB1. 

If you don’t have him, he makes for an interesting rental. At 44-years old, he’ll fall apart eventually, and acquiring him isn’t the safest move. But if anyone can be decent at age-44, it’s the GOAT. I don’t hate buying low on Brady if you’re a contender in a SuperFlex/2 QB league where QB production is always valuable.

Running Back

With Leonard Fournette resigning, the Bucs backfield will likely come down to him, Ronald Jones and Ke’Shawn Vaughn (we can at least dream right?).

Fournette managed to play 12 games, and even gave us an overreaction week in Week 2 where he blew up for two scores and 116 all-purpose yards. Regretfully, lacking the volume that propelled him in Jacksonville, Fournette was an inconsistent producer. There’s a world where he takes over, but I don’t buy it. He just wasn’t that good.

I realize that he was battling an ankle injury, but he still only churned out 0.98 (No. 46) Yards Created Per Touch on a lackluster 15.8-percent (No. 53) Juke Rate. He clearly lacked dynamism with his 4.1-percent (No. 29) Breakaway Run Rate. And it’s not like he’s James White with his pass-catching prowess either. A 10.0-perent (No. 21) Target Share is fine, but he did so little with it as seen in 6.5 (No. 28) Yards per Reception. Are we sure he’s better than Jones? I’m not. Next.

Vaughn was overdrafted in 2020 and was an afterthought in the offense. If you’re keeping or trying to acquire him, it’s because you believe in his profile which includes a beefy 40.4-percent (90th-percentile) College Dominator Rating and 10.0-percent (75th-percentile) College Target Share. He should be cheap, so it could be worth a shot, especially if your opinion of Jones is low.

Jones, meanwhile, has established himself as an average producer in fantasy. While sharing the load with Fournette for most of the season, he delivered 13.3 (No. 21) Fantasy Points Per Game.

Jones’ game is mostly as a rusher since he struggles in the passing game and Tampa does seem to trust him much there, evidenced by his measly 30.1-percent (No. 34) Route Participation rate. As a rusher, he stood out with averages of 4.7 (No. 9) True Yards per Carry and 1.71 (No. 8) Yards Created per Touch. With Fournette, however, he only received seven (No. 24) Goal Line Carries, something that must change if he will return value for his owners. 

I’ve never been into Jones, so I don’t have him anywhere and am not interested in grabbing a between-the-tackles grinder who can’t catch, and may or may not get the bulk of the goal line work. I’d happily sell him off for pieces with more upside.

Wide Receiver

Tyler Johnson is a great stash. There is uncertainty about the depth chart starting in 2022, so he could prove to be a nice long-term play. The 22-year old tore up Big Ten competition alongside future stud Rashod Bateman

For 2021 however, it’s Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.  

Evans will be 28-years old at the start of the 2021 season, which factors into how we view him moving forward. And while he is under contract through the 2023 season, the  dead cap hit isn’t awful after this season. 

From a purely football standpoint, Evans is a tough case to evaluate. He ended with a respectable, though not elite, 15.4 (No. 16) Fantasy Points Per Game. This was mostly propelled by 13 (No. 4) Total Touchdowns since he was a red zone beast, garnering 19 (No. 4) Red Zone Targets.

The concerning aspect of Evans’ game was a decrease to 109 (No. 24) Targets, the lowest number of his career, resulting in an 18.0-percent (No. 51) Target Share. We should also note his diminishing Average Target Distance, which fell to 12.2 (No. 34) from 15.9 (No. 4) the year before. 

It has been a great run for Evans, but his play-style utilizing his size and speed likely isn’t one that ages gracefully. With a concerning downtrend in targets and aDOT, the beginning of the end seems to be here for him. While he still has value, I’d priorize moving him this offseason.

Godwin, on the other hand, is in the middle of his prime, even if he struggled through injury last season. We only need to look back to his 2019 season where he posted a 86/1333/9 line to remind us of his enormous upside.

Even struggling to stay healthy, Godwin was solid in his limited time with Brady. He turned in a +28.3 (No. 4) Production Premium and Brady benefited greatly when looking his way en route to a 131.1 (No. 5) QB Rating When Targeted. Even with a less-than-ideal 10.3 (No. 52) Average Target Distance, he still ended with 10.0 (No. 13) Yards Per Target, continuing to show value as an intermediate threat who can make plays after the catch (remember that he led all WRs in YAC in 2019).

I’d gladly buy the value dip on Godwin, and as Evans declines, expect big things from Godwin recalling the optimism we had heading into 2020. 

Tight End

This will hopefully be O.J. Howard’s last season in Tampa. Please, let him go anywhere else. It might be too late, honestly. But he showed so much potential and just never got it going for the Bucs. Big bummer.

For the time being, Gronk’s resurrection tour continues. He signed another one-year deal and the Brady-Gronk duo has at least one more dance. Gronk has injured just about everything in the book and will be 32-years old in 2021. However he flashed a little of his old self (emphasis on a little) last year. He ended with 13.8 (No. 2) Yards per Reception as Brady peppered him with 17 (No. 1) Deep Targets, leading to a 11.3 (No. 3) Average Target Distance. Gronk rewarded owners with a startable 9.3 (No. 13) Fantasy Points per Game.

Let’s be realistic though. He’s not much more than a rental. If you’re desperate for something then fine, but there are plenty of other options I’d consider before turning to Gronk. 

Recap: Buy low on Tom Brady and Ke’Shawn Vaughn if you’re into that. Sell Ronald Jones and Mike Evans. Buy Chris Godwin. Leave Rob Gronkowski on the scrap heap.

Follow Daniel Jolly on Twitter @DanForADay

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