What To Watch For: NFC South (Fantasy Football)

By Ryan Weisse

I’ll start this article with yet another reminder to check out what Club Fantasy is doing to honor the Women of Fantasy Football. Our guest hosts did an excellent job in Week 1 and are primed to get even better in Week 2. Speaking of getting better, have you entered to win the new raffle items yet? What are you waiting for?

I assume you’ve already clicked the above links and are back to finish the article now — thank you — so welcome back. The NFC South may be the most loaded division in all the land when it comes to fantasy football. We should see great quarterback play from all four teams, three of the best running backs in the league, and six of the wide receivers could finish in the top-10 for fantasy. It’s a treasure trove but it’s not all good news. Here are the things I’m watching for in the NFC South.

New Orleans Saints

Is Jared Cook Relevant

Does Jared Cook still matter in fantasy football?
I’m not telling you a secret when I say there is a shortage of usable tight ends in fantasy football right now. Jared Cook has finished as a top-7 tight end in each of the last two seasons and is once again being drafted in the top-10 heading into the season at 33 years old. While Cook has proven reliable in the last two years, he now faces something he hasn’t faced in either of those seasons: a competent WR2.

In 2018, while in Oakland, Cook led the team in targets while competing with an aged Jordy Nelson and Seth Roberts for looks. Last season, Cook was third on the Saints in targets behind Michael Thomas (obviously) and Alvin Kamara. He made up for the loss of targets with nine touchdowns, by far the best single-season total of his career.  Cook averages just three touchdowns per season over his career, and if you take six touchdowns away from his 2019, he falls to TE13, and that isn’t even including the targets he’s likely to lose to Sanders. The fourth option in the Saints offense over the last three years has averaged just 56 targets, nine fewer than Cook saw last season. With the addition of Emmanuel Sanders, by far the best WR2 Brees has had in years, we could see those targets dip even further, and if Cook takes a hit in the touchdown department, he will fall off of a fantasy cliff.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Best Red Zone Team

The best red-zone team in the NFL (full stop).
Fantasy analysts will often tell you that touchdowns are wildly unpredictable and that the stat is the worst thing to depend on heading into a season. While I agree with the sentiment in general, it is safe to say that there should be plenty of touchdowns in Tampa Bay this year. The addition of Tom Brady to an already proven, and dangerous, group should lead to the best red-zone offense in the NFL this season.

While in New England, Brady-led offenses have never finished worse than seventh in the league in red-zone appearances and seven times he has led the NFL in the statistic. Last year, New England was fourth in red-zone appearances — five more appearances than Tampa Bay. So we’ve established they will get there a lot, but will they actually score? In 2019, despite the five fewer attempts, Tampa Bay scored four more touchdowns in the red-zone than New England, and that falls squarely on the weapons the two teams had last year. Tampa has far better receivers and tight ends, and now they’re adding Rob Gronkowski to the mix. If you take the added attempts that Brady will bring with the efficiency that the Buccaneers have already shown, you are going to have one of, if not the absolute best, red-zone team in the league in 2020.

Atlanta Falcons

Can Hurst Fill Hooper's Shoes

Can Hayden Hurst really fill Austin Hooper’s shoes?
In 2019, Austin Hooper vas very good for fantasy managers. Before his Week 10 injury, he was the TE1 in fantasy football, despite playing one fewer game than Travis Kelce. He ended the year as the TE6, playing in just 13 games, and then took a huge bag of cash to move to Cleveland. Enter Hayden Hurst. Hurst was the first player the Baltimore Ravens drafted in 2018, two full rounds before they added Mark Andrews and seven picks before they took Lamar Jackson, and Atlanta paid a decent price to land him in a trade with Baltimore. So, is Hurst ready/able to be what we saw from Hooper in 2019?

The short answer: It’s more possible than you might think. In his two-year NFL career, Hurst has turned 62 targets into 512 yards and three touchdowns. Hooper had 62 targets thru the first eight games of 2019 and parlayed them into 591 yards and five touchdowns. If Hurst maintains the volume set by Hooper, he has already proven he can match his output. Overall, Hurst is an unproven commodity that got completely overshadowed by Mark Andrews last year, but the opportunity in Atlanta cannot be ignored. This team has no true WR3 and Hurst could end up third in targets behind Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. While Hurst might not end up as the best fantasy TE in 2020, he should easily outplay his TE12 ADP and could be a top-5 guy before the season’s end.

Carolina Panthers

Moore Isn't Thomas

DJ Moore is not Michael Thomas.
DJ Moore was a solid fantasy wide receiver in 2019 but every story about his upside in 2020 includes another wide receiver’s name: Michael Thomas. Somehow, the addition of former New Orleans Saint quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has completely transformed how Moore is being viewed. While Moore might be good, even great, in 2020, he is not Michael Thomas. If those are your expectations, you will be very disappointed.

I’m going to do my best to not compare raw fantasy numbers from 2019 because it’s just not fair to Moore. Thomas was historically good last year and Moore barely had a competent quarterback. Instead, let’s dig into some history.  Here are both wideout’s first two season totals:

PlayerTargetsReceptionsCatch RateYardsYPCTDs
Michael Thomas27019672%238212.114
DJ Moore21714265%196313.86

Clearly, Thomas established himself as a reliable asset — and touchdown scorer — right away, something Moore has yet to do. Some will still blame this on quarterback play but Moore is getting Teddy Bridgewater, not Drew Brees. The fact of the matter is this: Thomas is bigger and better than Moore. Since 2017, he has more red-zone targets in his worst year than Moore does in his best. Thomas’ True Catch Rate (excludes uncatchable balls) is 6.5% higher over the last two seasons and his Contested Catch Rate is 14% higher on average, while they have the same average target separation. The few things Moore seems to do better than Thomas includes yards-per-catch and yards-after-catch, and maybe it’s just because he is faster than Thomas. This will help in 2020 but there is no way he will see the same amount of targets or catch the same volume of balls to make a real comparison to Michael Thomas.