NFC South Offseason Review

Jon Bray

04/18/2016

Atlanta Falcons 

  • Overview – If losing an aging Roddy White is your most significant offseason departure, I think you can say that the offseason was a wash at worst.  However, the Falcons have made additions at key positions where needs existed and look to improve even further through the rookie draft where they select in the meat of the order.
  • Offense – Center Alex Mack will instantly upgrade an already improving offensive line.  Matt Ryan spent a lot less time on his back in 2015 than in 2014, and the leakiest spot on the line in 2015?  Center.  Even post 2014 injury, Mack is still regarded one of the best at the position.  Keeping RT Ryan Schraeder in the fold is key, and it appears other teams don’t quite feel he is worth the pricey second round tender it would take to pull him away….despite being one of the better tackles in the league. Mohammed Sanu is a wild card I’ll admit, he excelled as the #1 WR for a stretch with Cincinnati when both AJ Green and Marvin Jones were hurt, however the fact he is moving from a full-time #4 option in Cinci to the #2 option in Atlanta requires he up his game significantly.  Either way, it’s an upgrade from Roddy White.
  • Fantasy Impact – Matt Ryan gets a slight uptick thanks to improving protection and replacing White with Sanu, not to mention the natural expectation of improvement in the second season of Shanahan’s offense where Ryan should revert back near his historical standard.  Sanu gets an obvious large increase to his ceiling and floor based on opportunity.  Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and other skill players remain unchanged this offseason.
  • Defense – Fairly status quo, though rush overachiever Derrick Shelby (MIA) should pair well with recently resigned Adrian Clayborn and second year phenom Vic Beasley to improve upon what was one of the worst pass rushes in the league last year.
  • Draft – First round: 17th overall selection; Second round: 50th overall selection
  • Coaching – Arrow is back up under second year head coach Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

 

Carolina Panthers

  • Overview – Carolina has done what they needed to do this offseason.  Resign CB Josh Norman (franchise tagged), DE Charles Johnson, FB Mike Tolbert and RT Mike Remmers.  The rest of the NFC South appears to be getting stronger however, and after a 15-1 regular season, there is not much room for upward movement in 2016 for Carolina.  Injury avoidance will be the biggest key to repeating as division champs and making another Super Bowl run.
  • Offense – Cam Newton was not happy about losing the Super Bowl, this ensures that motivation will not be an issue for this offense over the offseason and training camp. The Panthers did let their most consistent WR walk in Jericho Cotchery, however the return of Kelvin Benjamin from a preseason ACL injury as well as the presumable sophomore season growth of Devin Funchess should allow the passing game to tick forward somewhat.  Greg Olsen and Jonathan Stewart return healthy as two of the better skill players in the NFL at their respective positions.  Carolina’s line is also one of the better lines in the league, though improvement at the tackle spots is very possible.
  • Fantasy Impact – Newton, Stewart and Olsen remain top 5 at their positions fantasy wise, no surprise there. Benjamin will likely have some ups and downs as he returns from injury, I would slot him as a low end WR2 until we see the rust shaken off.  Ginn and Funchess will be fringe draft worthy for most league set-ups, I would be inclined to pass on both as this offense will remain run-heavy and targets will continue to center around Olsen and a returning Benjamin. RB Cameron Artis-Payne is someone to keep an eye on as Stewart always seems to struggle with missed games due to injury and Artis-Payne showed some real potential given late season opportunity.
  • Defense – All the key pieces return to a top 3 defense, no reason to expect a drop off beyond facing a tougher schedule in 2016…. due to improving NFC South offenses and the non-division strength of schedule annually allocated to prior-season Super Bowl participants.
  • Draft – First round: 30th overall selection; Second round: 22nd overall selection
  • Coaching – I’ll be the first to admit that I have underestimated Ron Rivera.  He is back, along with the rest of his staff intent on returning to a Super Bowl where they hope to face a lesser pass rush than what Denver dominated with in February.

 

New Orleans Saints

  • Overview – In an offseason that initially was expected to be a full regime/era shift with Sean Payton, Drew Brees and Marques Colston all moving on…. In the end, Colston is the only one of the triumvirate to not be returning after being released.  Payton and Brees appear to be locked in for many years more in fact, with each signing new 5 year deals to stay in The Big Easy.  2015 was a challenging season, but the Saints fought to remain competitive and it appears that the 2016 roster will bear a strong resemblance to the onset of 2015 on paper.
  • Offense – Brees appears to be fully recovered from his plantar fascia tear, no worries there, and will be steady as ever.  At RB, Ingram should also return healthy from a rotator cuff injury and another year of playbook knowledge “should” help CJ Spiller see more snaps primarily as a third down back.  The wildcard here is Tim Hightower, who performed admirably late in the 2015 season after spending a couple of years removed from the game. The Saints are showing interest in resigning him which could cut into the snaps for both Ingram and Spiller.  Colston’s departure opens the door for Brandon Coleman to take another big step forward after showing great potential in 2015. Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead are entrenched as the starters and both appear on the verge of a Brees-infused break-out.  And speaking of Brees’ impact on his skill position players, it appears that he was more responsible for Jimmy Graham’s success than Jimmy himself, further supported by Ben Watson’s resurgence last year for the Saints.  In comes Colby Fleener, who is fairly reliable but not spectacular.  I think the pairing with Brees will push Fleener to TE1 status in 2016.  And finally, the Saints O-Line was a strength in 2015 and sees no turnover.  This offense should continue to roll.
  • Fantasy Impact – Brees, Spiller, Cooks, Snead and Coleman receive slight upticks.  Fleener moves to overall TE 10-12 with this move. Ingram takes a slight step back if Hightower is resigned, otherwise static.
  • Defense – The defense is where New Orleans flatly failed last season.  While the free agent moves made to date are not significant per se, letting Brandon Browner walk is addition by subtraction given that he set NFL records in penalty proficiency in 2015.  Nick Fairly and James Laurinaitis should be mild improvements over incumbent starters though the expectation in the Saints will look to vastly improve the defense via the draft.
  • Draft – First round: 12th overall selection; Second round: 47th overall selection
  • Coaching – Sean Payton is back and Rob Ryan is not, the Saints are on the right track.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Overview – Another full coaching overhaul after another disappointing season in Tampa Bay leaves some doubt that 2016 will be much different than the better part of the past decade (just once in the top 2 of the NFC South).
  • Offense – No movement on the offensive side of things this offseason, aside from a downgrade at Guard resulting from Logan Mankins retirement.  JR Sweazy is a clear-cut downgrade from the very solid Makins.  The Bucs do welcome the return of Demar Dotson after missing much of the 2015 to a preseason injury.  Jameis Winston was what we expected in 2015, if not somewhat surprising to the upside. Winston showed extreme talent and success for stretches and extreme mistake-proneness and inexperience for others.  Overall, being able to play a full 16 games and lead Tampa to a top 5 yardage offense (though only #20 scoring) has to be considered a success.  Doug Martin has been resigned and will look to put successive high-level campaigns together for the first time in his up-and-down career.  Mike Evans and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins were injured for portions of their second seasons, and also each showed a lack of motivation according to team sources.  Despite this, each remains an athletic wonder and capable of being high-end tier 1 at their positions.
  • Fantasy Impact – Winston is a low-end QB1 with the upside of being top 5.  Martin and Evans also remain RB1 and WR1, though their floors are lower than most at their level. Charles Sims remains a very talented ready to burst to RB1 status if Martin is injured or slips up again.  Sims is a solid RB2 in PPR leagues otherwise.
  • Defense – Tampa has signed 3 probable starters this offseason, though only DE Robert Ayers stands out as a significant upgrade.  CB Brent Grimes, LB Daryl Smith are solid but unspectacular.  Overall, a slight movement forward for a middle of the pack defense on paper.
  • Draft – First round: 9th overall selection; Second round: 39th overall selection
  • Coaching – Dirk Koetter moves from offensive coordinator, where he masterfully helped Winston develop in his rookie season, to Head Coach replacing the disappointing Lovie Smith. Koetter wants to model his team after the Carolina Panthers, which is an ambitious goal, but I wouldn’t put it past him. The new offensive coordinator will be the fairly untested Todd Monken from Southern Miss of the college ranks. Defensive coordinator duties fall to former Falcons head man, Mike Smith.  All in all, coaching will likely be improved even though a season of adaption to new roles can likely be expected.

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