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NFC South Fantasy Football Deep-Dive: Best Picks, Sleepers, Draft Advice for 2021

A team-by-team deep dive, bringing you the best of the NFC South for 2021 fantasy football.

With the 2021 NFL season fast approaching, I’ve taken it upon myself to go division-by-division and breakdown each team for 2021 fantasy football. For each team, I’ve picked the best fantasy options and a few up-and-comers on the roster who could have sneaky fantasy value this coming season. I’ve also included Sharp Football’s Strength of Schedule Metrics for each team (1st = easiest, 32nd = hardest) and my own 2021 .5PPR rankings for the players were applicable. (Listed ADPs via FF Calculator)

Atlanta Falcons
Overall Strength of ScheduleOpposing Off. EfficiencyOpposing Def. EfficiencyOpposing Pass D EfficiencyOpposing Run D Efficiency

Although Atlanta will face stiff defensive competition this year, they’re unlikely to routinely have the pace pushed on them as the Falcons are expected to face the seventh-softest slate of opposing passing offenses this year (per SharpFootballStats). This season should provide clarity as to how much new head coach Arthur Smith will try to replicate the play-action passing/smashmouth rushing scheme that brought him to prominence as the offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans.

Southern Stars

QB Matt Ryan (My 2021 rank: QB13)

Matt Ryan has been a fruitful, voluminous passer over the last two seasons, finishing top-3 in total pass attempts and top-12 in fantasy points scored. During that same timespan, Smith was helping Titans’ QB Ryan Tannehill get his career back on track with ludicrous efficiency via heavy helpings of play-action. Tannehill was 8th in fantasy points per game in 2019, only starting 10 games as Marcus Mariota entered the season as the starter, and took overall QB7 honors 2020 with a full 16 games under his belt.

For comparison, in 2020, Ryan completed 407 of his league-leading 626 pass attempts, scoring 26 times (13th) while throwing 11 interceptions. He added 92 yards and 2 scores on the ground. Tannehill, despite throwing the ball just 481 times (18th-most in the NFL) completed 315 passes for 3,819 yards and a whopping 33 touchdowns (T-7th) while throwing just 7 picks. Notably, Tannehill shredded opponents on the ground, toting the rock 43 times for 226 yards and SEVEN touchdowns.

Ryan was surely aided by the production stemming from ATL’s 155 play-action pass attempts, (6th-most in the NFL) but one wonders what he could’ve done had the team used PA on more than 25% of their drop backs. We might find out soon enough. Tannehill and the Titans hammered opponents with 174 PA attempts (3rd), on a thunderous 55% of their drop backs.

Although some drafters may be frightened by Ryan’s impending dip in attempts overall, smart ones will keep him squarely in their cross hairs at his current 11.02, QB15 ADP. And although the Atlanta passer has never been a prolific rusher, one should note that Tannehill wasn’t either, until he began working with Smith.

WR Calvin Ridley (WR4)

One can dissect Calvin Ridley’s targets, production, etc in the “with Julio” and “without Julio”, and how Kyle Pitts factors into this, all one wants. But the simple fact is that Ridley established himself as an elite NFL receiver last year, posting the 6th highest Yards per Route Run (2.44) in the league, en route to the 9th most targets (143), T-13th most receptions (90), the 6th most receiving yards (1,374), and 10th most touchdowns in the NFL (9). Ridley’s going to perform at this level for a very long time. Draft him excitedly at, or slightly ahead of, his current 2.08, WR5 ADP.

TE Kyle Pitts (TE4) 

Most tight ends don’t establish themselves as true receiving threats until their third or fourth year in the league. Kyle Pitts is not a tight end. He’s a pass catcher—a rare combination of size, speed, and change of direction ability—and he’s going to immediately assume the role of ATL’s No. 2 passing game weapon. For those concerned about in-house competition, we’re talking about has-beens and never-was’s a la WR Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheus, and TE Hayden Hurst.

Hayden Winks broke down every available clip from ATL’s training camp and was unable to find video of Pitts lining up in-line, as a traditional blocking tight end. He was either lined up in the slot or outwide every single time:

Stop overthinking this. Pitts will line up either in the slot or out wide on far more snaps than he will as an in-line tight end. Kyle Pitts will see more than 100 targets in his rookie season. Kyle Pitts is a dominant rookie wide receiver that you get to start as a tight end. Draft him aggressively, slightly ahead at his current 4.08, TE4 ADP.

RB Mike Davis (RB15)

Last season, filling in for an injured Christian McCaffrey, Mike Davis showed the San Francisco 49ers, the Seattle Seahawks, and the Chicago Bears why they were fools for letting him walk out the door. Davis is an above average, cost-controlled, dual threat running back—and he’s playing under the head coach who gave his lead back 41 more touches than any other running back in the NFL last year (397!).

Although Davis started in just 12 games in 2020, he still managed to see 70 targets come his way, 5th most at the position. Given that he’s 28-years old, he’s unlikely to see the 397 touches (378 carries) that Derrick Henry did under Smith in Tennessee last year, but it would not be a surprise to see Smith alter his intended RB usage from run-heavy to simply touch-heavy. Think of Davis as a candidate for 200 carries and 80 or targets this year, making him a reasonable candidate at his current mid-4th Round, RB22 ADP.

Up and Comers

RB Qadree Ollison (RB54)

Although Qadree Ollison is far from a flashy player, he’s solidified himself as ATL’s No. 2 RB.

Carolina Panthers
Overall Strength of ScheduleOpposing Off. EfficiencyOpposing Def. EfficiencyOpposing Pass D EfficiencyOpposing Run D Efficiency

Like the Falcons above, the Panthers face a largely undaunting group of offenses, but a slough of tough defenses. Ultimately, they should retain their 56% first-half early-down (FH/ED) passing rate from 2020, which ranked 12th-highest in the NFL (per SharpFootballStats), which should offer solid fantasy viability for a number of their pass catchers.

Southern Stars

RB Christian McCaffrey (My 2021 rank: RB1)

There isn’t much concern for re-injury with high-ankle sprains on a year-to-year basis. CMC has averaged roughly five to six more .5PPR PPG than any other running back over the last two years. Draft him as the 1.01 every single time.

WR D.J. Moore (WR24) & Robby Anderson (WR29)

D.J. Moore has been a model of consistency through his three NFL seasons, turning his 118-135 targets into yardage totals just shy of 1,200 yards over his last two. Despite Yards After Catch per Reception (YAC/REC) being a tough field to consistently perform in, Moore posted 7.9 YAC/REC in 2018 (best at the WR position) and 5.9 YAC/REC in 2020 (3rd best). The back-to-back seasons of just four touchdowns has been disappointing but the positive touchdown regression has to hit at some point. Athletes of his calibre are tough to contain for too long.

Related: Wide Receivers to Target Based on NECC Consistency Rating

Robby Anderson shocked the world last year when the Panthers deployed him as the intermediate-area X-receiver to start the season. Anderson played well in the role but the team ultimately began switching him and Moore between field stretching and operating as the X. With a likely upgrade at quarterback, it’s reasonable to expect Anderson retains his high-end flex/low-end WR2 value from last year, however it was recently reported that Anderson suffered a hamstring injury in the preseason. Understanding hamstring injuries is crucial for fantasy managers as they occur at a rate of 21% at the WR position (per Dr. Edwin Porras).

In the study Dr. Porras conducted form 2016-2019, he arrived at a number of conclusions, all of which can be found here. Notably, of the 221 “skill players” who suffered hamstring strains, the average time missed when the injury was not recurrent was 1.4 games. Of those that were recurrent, the average time missed was 1.34 games. Most players either didn’t miss any games or missed just one (66%). Re-injury recurred at a rate of 28% within 2 years of the initial strain, with 71% of those recurrences occurring within the same season. A separate study found that the first two weeks after the initial injury bear the highest rate of re-injury overall.

All this to say, Anderson is clearly a candidate for re-injury, early in the season. That said his ceiling is also quite high, especially for someone going in the eighth round. Should his ADP begin to fall, drafting him with the idea that he will not see your starting lineup for the first few weeks of the season could be a prudent means of adding value to your roster.

Both players have reasonable ADPs at the moment, with Moore coming off the board at the 6.03, WR23 mark and Anderson available around 8.05, WR35. Unless Anderson is able to recover quickly, Moore has a chance to smash his ADP as a barrage of would-be-Anderson targets should slide Moore’s way.

Up and Comers

WR Terrace Marshall (WR62)

The 6-foot-2, 205 pound Terrace Marshall was stuck behind stud wideouts Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson in LSU’s prolific 2019 Joe Brady-led offense but still managed to haul in 46 balls for 671 yards and 13 touchdowns. Brady obviously liked what he saw as he and Panthers’ head coach Matt Rhule saw fit to draft Marshall with the 59th overall pick in this year’s draft.

At worst, Marshall is a good bet to take over Carolina’s full-time slot receiver role. With Anderson nursing a hamstring injury though, Marshall now has a path to 100+ targets this year. Marshall is currently going undrafted in .5PPR redraft leagues. That needs change ASAP and Marshall has weekly flex potential right now.

QB Sam Darnold (QB20)

After spending the last few years in Adam Gase’s purgatory, Darnold is finally working under a brilliant offensive coordinator in Joe Brady and the passing game pieces are there for Darnold to finish as a top-15 option at the position. Whether Darnold can bounce back from the mental toll that playing under Gase likely took on him is another question entirely but his undrafted ADP allows for a misfire at the end of your bench.

RB Chuba Hubbard (RB59)

The Panthers affirmed their desire to utilize one running back via full-time, dual threat workloads should Christian McCaffrey miss time. Chuba Hubbard was drafted to directly replace last year’s No. 2 back Mike Davis.

New Orleans Saints
Overall Strength of ScheduleOpposing Off. EfficiencyOpposing Def. EfficiencyOpposing Pass D EfficiencyOpposing Run D Efficiency

All in all, the Saints have a brutal schedule and it’s not yet clear who the starting quarterback will be. And even if we did, we still don’t know if that quarterback would really play the full game.

Through Weeks 11-14, when Taysom Hill played as the full-time starter, New Orleans’ FH/ED pass rate was just 44%, fourth lowest in the NFL. In all other weeks, when Drew Brees was healthy, their FH/ED pass rate was 54%, T-14th highest. Should Jameis Winston, who has looked better thus far in the preseason, win the job, it’s likely that the FH/ED passing rate will be 54% or higher. But even so, if NOLA shoots out to an early lead, could we not see Taysom Hill come in and run the ball throughout the second half of the game?

Making matters worse, Michael Thomas’ injury/non-surgery/surgery saga is just plain bad. Tensions are high and it’s not clear if or when Thomas may re-enter the starting lineup.

Southern Stars

RB Alvin Kamara (My 2021 rank: RB4) & Latavius Murray (RB32)

Kamara’s target totals took a serious hit when Taysom Hill took over for an injured Drew Brees last year. But putting this simply, New Orleans can’t afford to keep Kamara from having monstrous workloads this year. Thomas’ return date is unknown, Tre’Quan Smith missed 10-days of training camp with an injury, and pass catching tight end Jared Cook is no longer on the team. Kamara is their best offensive player, both as a rusher and as a receiver.

The team’s potential overall ability to get into scoring position may hurt him in that regard, but it’s not unreasonable to wonder if 2021 is Kamara’s most voluminous season from a touch-count perspective. Draft him confidently at his 1.04, RB4 ADP.

While Kamara takes a potential career-high snap share, lined up as a wide receiver, Latavius Murray may see his biggest workload since he was Oakland’s starting running back in 2015. Although he’s being drafted in the mid-10th Round as the RB47, he’s much more than a backup. He might just be the 1B rusher in the Saints’ backfield. Fifteen touches per week are firmly on the table, as is weekly flex utilization. Were Kamara to miss time, Murray’s usage would rise to unholy levels.

Up and Comers

WR Marquez Callaway (WR49)

Marquez Callaway caught stud NewOrleans.Football reporter Nick Underhill’s eye last year and he’s left a big impression on the coaching staff throughout training camp, operating as the WR1 while Thomas and Smith heal. The sophomore receiver is a bit of an unknown to many but anyone who’s got a shot at the No. 1 WR job in a Sean Payton offense needs to be on your fantasy roster. His 14.05, WR64 ADP is a paltry price to pay for such a big opportunity.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Overall Strength of ScheduleOpposing Off. EfficiencyOpposing Def. EfficiencyOpposing Pass D EfficiencyOpposing Run D Efficiency

The Bucs’ 2021 schedule is mostly significant from a defensive perspective as they face a brutal row of defenses throughout the year. That said, the Super Bowl champs returned all 22 starters and their backup receivers, Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, Justin Watson, and rookie Jaelon Darden, are all good enough to be impact starters on other teams. It’s an embarrassment of riches that the Goat, Tom Brady, has at his disposal this year.

Southern Stars

QB Tom Brady (My 2021 rank: QB9)

Tampa Bay’s brilliant 60% FH/ED passing rate (T-3rd highest) helped Tom Brady pick apart opposing secondaries on a regular basis last year and there’s no reason to expect that to change this year. He’s as safe as they come and well worth his 7.04, QB9 ADP, despite a glaring lack of a rushing floor.

WR Mike Evans (WR14), Chris Godwin (WR21), Antonio Brown (WR27), & TE Rob Gronkowski (TE10)

In their first season with Brady under center, Mike Evans finished as the WR10 in .5PPR (16 games played) while Chris Godwin finished as the WR32 overall, despite playing in just 12 games. The ultra talented group of WR1s pushed Evans just outside of the position’s top 12 in my rankings but there’s almost no difference between Evans and Allen Robinson at WR9.

Although the crowded nature of the Tampa Bay receiver room caps each player’s ability to see gaudy target totals, it didn’t make much of a difference in the fantasy box score. From Week 9 to Week 17, when all wideouts were active, Evans was the WR9, Godwin was the WR14, and Brown was the WR21. From Week 9 through the Super Bowl, in the 11 games the trio played in (Brown missed one week during that span) Evans averaged 7 targets per game, with 7.1 for Godwin, and 6.7 for Brown.

Rob Gronkowski, meanwhile, saw 4.5 targets during that span and posted TE10 numbers during the aforementioned Week 9-17 fantasy finish. A feather in the caps of both Evans and Gronk; Brady was locked on to these two in the red zone, airmailing them 21 targets apiece. The next closest were Leonard Fournette and Chris Godwin with just nine to their names.

There is more than enough room for all four players to ball out this year and each man is wholly deserving of his current ADP. Evans is coming off the board at the 4.02, WR13 spot, Godwin at 4.12, WR17, and Brown at 8.08, WR37. Evans and Brown offer the best bang for one’s buck but Godwin is still a fine selection at the four/five turn. Gronk, admittedly, may play on a sporadic snap count but his 9.07, TE11 ADP isn’t breaking the bank either.

Up and Comers

RB Gio Bernard (RB44)

Although Tampa Bay got some dual threat usage out of their underwhelming 2020 running back duo, Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones, neither player routinely jumped off the screen. That the team signed veteran pass catching back Giovani Bernard in the offseason is a testament to that.

Bernard’s preseason usage looks promising; he’s shaping up to fill the ever-valuable airback role for Tom Brady. However, it’s entirely possible that Bernard sees next to nothing in the rushing department, offering fantasy drafters a concerningly shaky floor. Were he to see six targets and six carries per game though, Bernard would handily return value on his 12.08, RB56 ADP.

WR Scotty Miller (WR N/A), Tyler Johnson (WR N/A), Justin Watson (WR N/A), & Jaelon Darden (WR N/A)

Any one of these backup receivers are well worth a late round dart throw.


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