NFC South Roster Holes: Optimal Landing Spots for the 2020 Rookie Class
With the NFL Draft approaching on April 23, it’s time to take stock of NFL rosters to find prime opportunities for the incoming rookie class. Even the most talented rookie can get buried on a depth chart in the NFL, while a fourth-round pick could break out in year one if drafted into the right situation.
This series of articles will search each NFL roster for glaring holes in the depth chart, focusing on the fantasy football positions of quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end. If a talented rookie is drafted to fill one of the following roster holes, we could have the formula in place for a fantasy football difference-maker. Check out our AFC North, AFC South, AFC East, AFC West, and NFC North coverage as well. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the NFC South.
Atlanta Falcons – RB, OL
On paper, the Atlanta Falcons come into the season with one of the most talented offensive cores in the league. Despite losing Austin Hooper to Free Agency, the Falcons managed to add Todd Gurley and Hayden Hurst to Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Now to stay healthy.
Despite Gurley being just 25 years old, I can’t help but point out that the phrase “arthritic knees” is usually associated with 60-year old men. The Falcons may already know this as they’ve noted he’ll be part of the mix and not a workhorse. The good news is that Gurley’s contract is just for this year. To me, that means they’re in the market for a second-day running back that was used in the passing game in college. I’m looking at a guy like Eno Benjamin from Arizona State. Over the last two years, Benjamin caught a total of 77 balls out of the backfield.
The Falcons got decent productivity from three of the five starting offensive line positions in 2019. However, RT Kaleb McGary and LG James Carpenter left something to be desired. According to PFF.com, McGary ranked 34th out of 38 qualifying right tackles – not great Bob. The Falcons have a greater need on the defensive side of the ball, so I don’t expect them to go after one of the top-end offensive linemen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they added a second-day lineman.
Carolina Panthers – TE, OL
Like the Falcons, the Panthers enter the season with a plethora of weapons. The offense revolves around Christian McCaffrey. Then, in the offseason, the Panthers added Robbie Anderson to their already stout D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel combo. However, that’s where the certainties end. For the first time since 2011, the Panthers will have a QB not-named Cam Newton and a TE not-named Greg Olsen as their opening day starters.
With Greg Olsen moving on to Seattle this offseason, the Panthers will turn to Ian Thomas to lead the way. Although, one could argue that with the Panthers’ other weapons, Thomas could be asked to stay in and help protect Bridgewater. Regardless, Carolina may be in the market for a tight end if they don’t consider Thomas their TE of the future.
This offseason saw the Panthers release Cam Newton and trade Kyle Allen while signing Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year deal. Bridgewater is just 27, making him their projected starter for the near future. Although the Allen trade might put them in the market for a later-round quarterback to back up Bridgewater.
The Panthers’ biggest need on the offensive side of the ball looks to be their offensive line. According to PFF.com, Center Matt Paradis allowed a position-high 47 quarterback pressures last year. Paradis is 30 this year and under contract for the next two years, but regardless, the Panthers need to provide Bridgewater with protection to take advantage of his offensive weapons.
New Orleans Saints – OL
The New Orleans Saints addressed most of the fantasy-relevant positions in Free Agency. First and foremost, they resigned Drew Brees to a 2-year, $50 million dollar deal. They then filled the hole across the field from Michael Thomas by adding Emmanuel Sanders on a 2-year deal. Sanders joins the potent attack of Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and Jared Cook to make up perhaps the league’s greatest collection of offensive weapons.
While the resigning of Brees and the addition of Sanders fills holes for this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if the team spent a later pick on either position for the future. Brees (41) and Sanders (33) are no spring chickens. If the Saints believe Taysom Hill is their quarterback of the future, maybe they forgo that position, but Hill turns 30 in August.
The immediate need for the Saints comes at the offensive line – more specifically the interior of their line. Drew Brees‘ quick release helps cover up the offensive line some, but the line was blown up in last year’s first-round playoff loss to the Vikings. Guards Larry Warford and Andrus Peat both struggled with allowing pressure. Despite the struggles, Peat was resigned to a 5-year deal in the off-season. Warford, on the other hand, is in the last year of his deal and the Saints would benefit from adding depth to their line this year.
With the Saints drafting at the 24-spot they’d most likely miss out on the top tier of offensive linemen. So unless they trade up, I’d expect them to look to the defensive side of the ball in the first round. One O-Lineman that would fit the Saints’ heavy zone-blocking run scheme is Hakeem Adeniji of Kansas. Adeniji played left tackle at Kansas and is a really good athlete, but lacks the length to protect the edge in the NFL, which makes a move to guard seem likely.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – RB
The Bucs swapped out Jameis Winston for Tom Brady, who will now be throwing to his most dynamic wide receiver duo since Randy Moss and Wes Welker. For fantasy purposes, tight end is still a question, but not because of a lack of options. O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate are still under contract and when you factor in what appears to be a weak TE class, the Bucs will not be in the hunt for a tight end.
On the offensive side of the football, running back is the lone question mark. In 2018, the Bucs spent an early second-round pick on Ronald Jones II, but is the plan for him to take over the lion’s share of the carries? The departure of perennial-plodder Peyton Barber helps, but Jones just couldn’t seem to take the role away from Barber last year. He’d handle the ball 15-18 times in consecutive weeks and then see just 6 touches.
Even with Barber out of the picture, the presence of Dare Ogunbowale creates even more questions. Ogunbowale served the role of third-down back/passing-down back and due to being in catch-up situations, he saw the field on 31% of the team’s snaps. In my mind, Ogunbowale’s role is locked in. So are the Bucs happy with Jones’s development or are they in the market for a Barber replacement? If they’re just looking to replace Barber, I could see them looking at a back like Zack Moss out of Utah in the 3rd-round. However, if they want to get nuts/aren’t happy with Jones’s development, it’s in the realm of possibilities that they take the first running back off the board.
The Bucs will definitely be in the market to upgrade their offensive line, but I don’t think we can ignore the fact that Tom Brady will be 43-years old by the start of the season. Despite his mythical restorative powers, the Bucs should be in the mix for a project quarterback.