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2013 Wrap-Up Report and Early 2014 Preview: NFC South

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Also see: AFC East I AFC North I AFC South I AFC West I NFC East I NFC North I NFC West 

Atlanta Falcons
 
QB: Franchise quarterback Matt Ryan certainly didn’t have a memorable season, but he didn’t exactly get much help from his supporting cast. His two stud WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White were hurt for a majority of the year, and the offensive line played about as poorly as any line in the NFL. Ryan still finished the year as a low-end #1 fantasy QB, even with underwhelming WR Harry Douglas leading the team in receiving. Ryan completed 439/651 of his passes (67.4%) for 4515 yards, 26 TDs, and 17 INTs, tying him for 12th among QBs, with 21.0 FPG. In some ways, it was his most impressive season. He tied with Robert Griffin III, finished just behind Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger, and ahead of Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. However, Ryan’s numbers dipped pretty significantly in the final 11 games without Jones, racking up 2866/16/14 for 19.2 FPG from Week Seven on. Ryan became the franchise’s all-time leading passer in just his sixth NFL season, but he took plenty of punishment this year to do it. Ryan got beat up this season behind a banged-up offensive line, as he was sacked 44 times and hit 100 times this season. His pocket was broken on 38.4% of his pass attempts, so it would be tough for any NFL quarterback to have success behind that kind of protection, let alone finish 4th in completion percentage. Ryan played about as well as you could ask for under that kind of constant pressure and without his top WR Jones for most of the season. The Falcons also had the most imbalanced offense in the NFL, which certainly didn’t help keep opposing defenses from pinning their ears back and getting after him. Ryan is certainly a candidate to have a bounce back season, as White finally started to look like himself at the end of 2013 and Jones should be at 100% for next season, barring any kind of setbacks. However, it looks like Ryan will lose TE Tony Gonzalez as a target in the middle of the field, so he’ll have to adjust to life without Gonzo for the first since his rookie year in 2008. Ryan has missed just two games in his NFL career, so backup QB Dominique Davis has had to do very little work since joining the team as an undrafted free agent in 2012. Davis got a little bit of buzz in training camp as a rookie in 2012 because of his strong arm, but he obviously doesn’t have much game experience. Ryan somehow survived last year’s beating, so he just needs some healthy receivers and improved line play to get back to his 2012 level (4719/32/14). Ryan may not be truly elite physically, but he’s proven to be a very, very good player.
 
  • Fantasy situations to watch for 2014: Can Ryan have a bounce-back season with a healthy Jones and a healthy White on the outside? Will the offensive line actually give Ryan some time to complete some passes down the field? How much will Gonzalez’s retirement affect Ryan and this Falcon offense?
RB: The Falcons had the most imbalanced offense in the NFL last season, as they ran the ball on just 31.3% of their offensive plays. The Falcons also finished last in rushing, averaging just 77.9 yards per game, as the running game was simply ineffective and the Falcons found themselves trailing in far too many games to stick with the ground game. The addition of 10-year veteran RB Steven Jackson never really panned out as the team had hoped, as an early season hamstring injury derailed him out of the gates and forced him to miss four games. Jackson never really got on track this past season as he stepped into former RB Michael Turner’s role. Jackson finished with 156 carries for 542 yards (3.5 YPC) and 6 TDs in 12 games. He added 33 catches for 191 yards (5.8 YPC) and 1 TD on 49 targets (49% catch rate), ranking 22nd among RBs, with 12.4 FPG. Jackson played slightly better in the final six games as his hamstring got healthier, rushing 98/350/6 for 15.8 FPG. He was a top-20 back from Week Eight on, thanks to 26 receptions and 6 TDs, but he never rushed for 100 yards and he wasn’t easy to trust. Jackson proved to be only slightly more effective than Turner, as Turner posted 223/803/10 rushing and 19/128/1 receiving for 11.1 FPG in 16 games in his final season. Jackson was supposed to bring more versatility to the passing game than Turner could, but Jackson dropped too many passes and wasn’t really the threat he was expected to be. Jackson, who will turn 31 in July, couldn’t really make defenders miss in space last season and showed just a little bit of speed at times, so he needed to run through defenders to pick up yardage. Jackson is entering his 11th season, so we can’t imagine he’ll get much better, but at least his numbers improved late in the year and the Falcon O-line can’t really play much worse. If Jackson’s play does fall off in 2014, RB Jacquizz Rodgers could see his role increase a little bit, but he’ll still primarily see time as a change-of-pace back. However, it’s pretty clear that the Falcon organization doesn’t view Quizz as a lead back, as the team went out and got Jackson last off-season to take over for Turner. Rodgers carried 97 times for 333 yards (3.4 YPC) and 2 TDs, and he added 52 catches for 341 yards (6.6 YPC) and 2 TDs on 61 targets (85.2% catch rate) for 9.6 FPG in 15 games. He did look very good at times, but his usage and production wasn’t very consistent. His 4 touchdowns this season came in two games when Jackson was out of the lineup with his hamstring injury. Quizz will see his salary jump next season because he played on 35% of the snaps for the second straight year, but we don’t expect him to be an every-down back next season. Journeyman RB Antone Smith ripped off a couple big runs when he got the ball in his hands this season, so he may have finally found a home and likely deserves a bigger role next season. He carried just 5 times for 145 yards (29.0 YPC) and 2 TDs, which was almost more yardage than Jason Snelling compiled on 44 carries (164 yards). Snelling was actually most useful in the passing game (29/216/3), but he’s still entering his seventh season as the #3 RB.
 
  • Fantasy situations to watch for 2014: Can Jackson, at age 31, stop or at least slow down the descent of his career entering his 11th season? Will Jacquizz figure more prominently into the offense or will he continue to be a change-of-pace guy? Can the Falcons figure how to give Smith a few touches per game?
WR/TE: Atlanta’s dynamic duo at wide receiver never really got a chance to show what they could do together last season. WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White never really worked together at 100% at any point last season, even in training camp. Jones dealt with a hamstring injury in the preseason before getting healthy, and White suffered a high-ankle sprain late in the preseason. Instead of letting White get healthy by sitting out a couple weeks, the Falcons kept him on the field and basically used him as a decoy until he eventually injured his hamstring because he was favoring the ankle. White never really got fully healthy until late in the season when nothing was at stake for the finished Falcons. Of course, Jones went down for the season after a Week Five foot injury. The early round fantasy picks struggled so much with injuries that the completely average Harry Douglas actually led the team in receiving this season. What a mess. Julio was on track for an absolutely monster season, with 41 catches for 580 yards (14.1 YPC) and 2 TDs on 58 targets (70.7% catch rate) for 22.3 FPG in just five games. It looks like Jones will be ready for off-season work this spring coming off his foot surgery in October. Still, we have to have some concerns about Jones going forward after he fractured his foot for the second time in the same spot. He originally fractured his foot and needed a screw to hold it together back in 2011. Julio is truly one of the elite receivers in the league, but the durability of his foot is obviously a major concern moving forward. If healthy in 2014, though, he could challenge for the top receiver position this coming season. Roddy had to be one of the most disappointing fantasy players in the early part of the season as he tried to play through injuries. He hauled in only 20/209/1 for 5.3 in nine games through Week Twelve. However, Roddy finally got healthy starting in Week Thirteen, and he performed like the top fantasy pick that he was. In the final five weeks of the season, Roddy recorded 43/502/2 for 21.0 FPG to rank 4th among WRs. He ended the year with 63 catches for 711 yards (11.3 YPC) and 3 TDs on 96 targets (65.6% catch rate) for 10.9 FPG in 14 games. White never missed a game in his eight previous seasons, so he’s not injury prone, and his 2013 season was an anomaly (although his advancing age is a concern). Roddy will surely fall down fantasy draft boards next season, but his play at the end of the 2013 season indicates that he still has top-end ability, even at 32, and he could have a huge bounce back season. Longtime #3 WR Douglas was the clear beneficiary because of the injuries to Jones and White. Douglas led the team in receiving, posting his first 1000-yard season, but he did drop 9 passes. He hauled in 85 passes for 1067 yards (12.6 YPC) and 2 TDs on 128 targets (66.4% catch rate), ranking him 24th among WRs with 12.7 FPG. Douglas certainly didn’t blow anyone away with his ability with the ball in his hands, but he showed that he’s at least capable of compiling numbers if either Julio or Roddy miss time in the future. WRs Darius Johnson (22/210/1) and Drew Davis (12/216/2) will battle for the #4 WR spot next season. This off-season the Falcons only have to replace the best NFL tight end to ever take the field. The franchise convinced TE Tony Gonzalez to forego retirement for another year to chase a Super Bowl in 2013, but the all-time great TE ended up playing in a handful of meaningless games to end his career. Gonzo, who turns 38 after the season, said after the season that he won’t be talked out of retirement this time around. Gonzalez revolutionized the tight end position and is a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame, as he finished behind only WR Jerry Rice (1549) in career receptions with 1325. Gonzo looks like he could post 75+ catches and 5+ TDs until he is 50 years old. Gonzo finished second on the team in receiving with 83/859/8, and rookie Levine Toilolo was the only other tight end to catch a pass, finishing with 11/55/2 on 14 targets (78.6% catch rate). Toilolo could see a drastic role change next season, especially if the Falcons can’t find a suitable replacement for Gonzo. Toilolo is extremely raw, but he’s a big guy (6’8”, 260 pounds) who could become an effective red-zone target and run blocker. Still, the huge rookie is a major project who needs work with his receiving skills, so the Falcons could spread the field more often if they don’t upgrade at tight end. We’d think that the tight end position will be a top priority for the Falcons this off-season, since the general consensus on Toilolo is that he’s probably not a #1 TE in the NFL.
 
  • Fantasy situations to watch for 2014: Will Jones return to being one of the truly elite WRs in the NFL or will his foot issues be a chronic problem? Can White play the way he did at the end of last season when he finally got healthy in the final weeks of the year? Can the Falcons find an adequate replacement to take the place of the NFL’s all-time best tight end? Could the Falcons use more 3-WR sets with Douglas if they can’t upgrade at tight end?
Key Free Agents: WR Drew Davis (ERFA), WR Kevin Cone (ERFA), TE Chase Coffman, DT Peria Jerry, DT Jonathan Babineaux, DT Corey Peters, OT Mike Johnson, C Joe Hawley, OT Jeremy Trueblood, CB Robert McClain (RFA), CB Dominique Franks, ILB Omar Gaither, OT Sean Locklear, DT Adam Replogle (ERFA).
 
Carolina Panthers
 
QB: With a strong finish to the 2012 season, QB Cam Newton had re-instilled confidence in fantasy players heading into the 2013 season. Unfortunately, the Panthers continued to ignore the lack of talent in their receiving corps, and by the end of this past season, it became clear that finding help for Newton should be a priority this off-season. That’s not to say Newton had a disappointing season because he didn’t. Not in reality or for fantasy. In fact, the 2013 season was a great one for Newton and the Panthers, as they brought home the NFC South title and earned a first-round bye in the playoffs. Newton certainly played an important role in the team getting that far, but also had a lot of help from a defense, which had one of the best front-sevens in football. While Newton was considered a weekly fantasy starter, his performances were not always strong, which was frustrating at times. In seven games, he failed to put up 20 FP, including three of the last four weeks of the season. Unlike many of the other starting-caliber fantasy QBs, Newton didn’t have monster passing numbers, going 292/473 for 3379 yards, 24 TDs, and 13 INTs. While his 61.7% completion rate was the best of his career, his yards dropped for the second straight year. Newton’s legs are an asset and keep his fantasy numbers strong, but his rushing production also dropped off, as he ran 111 times for 587 yards and 6 TDs. Those were still the best rushing numbers among all QBs, but the worst of Newton’s young career, and it’s fair to wonder if they will significantly improve, if at all, going forward. We’d like to see the Panthers add a weapon or two in their receiving corps, but we’d also like to see Newton continue to improve as a passer. He may have all the talent in the world, but he still needs some polish throwing the ball, as his accuracy could be better. At this point, it’s pretty clear to us that he will always be somewhat erratic, mainly since he’s an “arm thrower” whose mechanics from top to bottom aren’t great. While we’re seeing more and more fantasy QBs put up big numbers, Newton’s FPG have dropped from 27.8 as a rookie to 24.5 in 2012 to 22.5 FPG in 2013. While that was still tied for 6th at the position, it’s a trend we have to be concerned with heading into 2014.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2014: Can Newton become a better passer and improve his passing numbers? Will the Panthers give Newton a new target or two? Will his rushing numbers continue to drop?
RB: The Panthers decided to invest a lot of money in the backfield, and while they had a successful 2013 season, we don’t attribute a lot of that to the production they got out of RBs DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert. Stewart battled ankle issues throughout the off-season and opened the season the PUP list, which cost him the first eight games of the year. That made Williams an intriguing fantasy option for the first time in years, although he probably didn’t reach the raised expectations that came along with Stewart’s absence. Williams ended up with his most touches since 2009, thanks to the Stewart injury, but that didn’t exactly mean much for his fantasy value. In 15 games, Williams ran 200 times for 833 yards (4.2 YPC) and 3 TDs. That included 36 RZ rushes and 5 GL carries. Williams added 26/333/1 on 35 targets (74.3% catch rate), which put him 33rd among RBs at 11.1 FPG. He stayed healthy for the most part, but he did sit out Week Thirteen with a quad injury. Williams will turn 31 in April, but he signed a three-year deal last May and will likely return in 2014. Thanks to his ankle issues at the start of the season and a knee injury at the end of the season, Stewart was limited to just six games and didn’t play in the team’s only playoff game. He ran 48 times for 180 yards (3.8 YPC) and had just 7/44 on 7 targets, which was good for just 4.9 FPG. He’ll be just 27 in March and should remain with the team, despite his injuries, because the team would have to eat a significant amount of money to cut him loose. Tolbert played the FB/RB role once again and continued to be an annoying vulture at the goal line. But he was also actually a handy fantasy option for those in deep leagues. He ran 101 times for 361 yards (3.6 YPC), but he scored five times, thanks to 23 RZ carries, 13 of which came at the goal line. He also added 27/184/2 on 33 targets (81.8% catch rate) to finish tied for 47th amongst RBs at 7.7 FPG. With all of that money invested in the backfield, the Panthers finished 29th in rushing. Unfortunately, we expect to see more of the same in 2014.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2014: Will one player from this backfield actually be fantasy relevant for more than just a few weeks? Can these guys actually stay healthy?
WR/TE: It’s been a few years since WR Steve Smith asked the Panthers for help in the receiving corps and for the most part, that request has been ignored. While we were happy with the season that TE Greg Olsen gave us and with WR Ted Ginn’s resurgence, the bottom line is this team is lacking big-time talent at WR and Smith is on the back end of his career. WR Brandon LaFell was unable to make a name for himself as a legitimate #2 option and will likely be moving on unless he takes a team-friendly deal to return. LaFell played 15 games and racked up 49/627/5 (12.8 YPC) on 79 targets (62% catch rate), which was good for just 9.5 FG (t-59th). In 15 games, Smith had 64/745/4 (11.6 YPC) on 106 targets (60.4% catch rate) to give him 10.8 FPG (t-46th). Smith never had more than 69 yards in a game and topped out at 6 catches, which he did just three times. He had just three games with more than 15 FPG. He’s just not the downfield threat that he used to be. Smith missed Week Seventeen with a sprained PCL, but was able to return for the team’s Divisional Round loss to the 49ers, which was actually one of his best games, as he posted 4/74/1. Ginn was a surprise as the team’s deep threat, posting 36/556/5 (15.4 YPC) on 67 targets (53.7% catch rate) and 7.8 FPG. It was his second-best season and the most relevant he’s been since 2009. While we wouldn’t consider him a threat to crack the starting lineup, it’ll be interested to see how the team treats him as a free agent this off-season. Olsen had one of his best seasons and was arguably the most reliable option for QB Cam Newton. Olsen started every game and ended up with 73/816/6 (11.2 YPC) on 110 targets (66.4% catch rate) with 18 RZ targets (t-5th) and was 11th at the position with 11.9 FPG. That was his best fantasy season, as he set personal records for both receptions and targets. However, we have a tough time taking this passing offense up as a dangerous one with an aging Smith and Olsen leading the way. While Newton can certainly improve, we’d like to see him get another weapon, preferably a big, physical WR, who can play on the outside, but the Panthers may not have the money to find that player, so we’ll see if they address that need in a draft with a strong WR class.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2014: Can Olsen remain a decent starting fantasy option? Will Smith continue to trend downward? Will the Panthers actually address a major need at WR?
Key Free Agents: QB Derek Anderson, QB Jimmy Clausen, WR Ted Ginn, WR Brandon LaFell, WR Domenik Hixon, OL Jordan Gross, OL Bruce Campbell, OL Geoff Hangartner, OL Chris Scott, OL Travelle Wharton, OL Garry Williams, DE Greg Hardy, DT Colin Cole, LB Jordan Senn, LB Dan Connor, LB Jason Williams, CB Drayton Florence, CB Captain Munnerlyn, S Quintin Mikell, S Mike Mitchell, PK Graham Gano.
 
New Orleans Saints
 
QB: Looking at the base numbers, it was another successful year for Drew Brees. Overall, Brees went 446/650 passing (68.6%) for 5162 yards with 39 TDs and 12 INTs. He finished 2nd among all QBs with 27.3 FPG, marking the eighth straight season in which he’s finished in the top 5 among all QBs. It’s the third straight season he’s finished in the top two, and fifth time in the last seven years he’s accomplished that feet. By all indications, Brees gives the most consistent return on an expensive investment of any QB on draft day. This season, Brees threw for 300 or more yards 11 times, had multiple TDs 11 times, and topped 30 FP seven times. However, a closer look at the numbers reveals something rather disturbing. At home in the Super Dome, Brees was phenomenal, averaging 33.2 FPG, ranking #1 among all QBs in home contests. Brees completed 73.6% of his passes at home, and totaled 27 TDs to only 3 INTs. But on the road, Brees was human. He ranked 11th among QBs with 21.6 FPG – still good, for sure, but he completed a much lower percentage of his passes (64.0%), and had a mediocre 12 TDs to 9 INTs. He averaged 290.9 YPG on the road, and 354.4 YPG at home. Obviously, his numbers were very good overall, but Brees didn’t assuage any concerns about his road performance in the playoffs either, when he struggled against the Eagles and Seahawks. This is, of course, nitpicking. Brees had some tough road matchups this year, and he remains one of the NFL’s most accurate and prolific passers, and as long as he has TE Jimmy Graham and an elite screen game, he’ll have a ton of success. But we’d like to see Brees get a little bit more out of his wide receivers. At times this year, Marques Colston was teetering on fantasy irrelevance, and the only players here were only rotational guys. In 2014, Brees will once again be a high pick, but there were some dents in the armor this year, if you look a little closer.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2014: Can Brees be more consistent at home and on the road in 2014? With Luke McCown a free agent, who will back Brees up?
RB: In this offense, Drew Brees’ numbers consistently rank him among the NFL’s top passers, and it’s the major reason why we consider the Saints a “pass first” team. But Saint coach Sean Payton is not necessarily a pass-happy coach. In fact, he loves running the ball when his team has the personnel to do so. When the Saints won the Super Bowl after the 2009 season, they had a top-10 run game (#6 in the NFL with 131.6 YPG). And on arguably their best team since then, the 2011 squad, they also had a strong run game (#6, 132.9 YPG). However, things have not gone so great of late, and the Saints’ second consecutive bottom-10 rushing performance showed up in 2013. The Saints’ 92.1 YPG ranked them 25th in the NFL, barely ahead of Miami (90.0). They averaged only 3.8 YPC, and were one of only four teams to have no run longer than 40 yards all season. They also had only 7 runs of 20 or more yards. And for fantasy, they had mostly mediocre performances. Pierre Thomas, though, was a fine return on the mid-round investment he typically was. As a runner, he was as ineffective as you might imagine on one of the NFL’s worst rushing teams, posting 147/549/2 on the ground (3.7 YPC). However, his incredible receiving performance of 77/513/3 on 84 targets (6.7 YPC, a ridiculous 91.7% catch rate) helped him finish #20 among all RBs with 13.3 FPG in a PPR. Thomas’ 77 receptions were tops in the NFL for RBs and the most in the NFL since 2011. Thomas didn’t top 87 rushing yards on 19 carries all season, and he scored his 5 TDs in only three different games. But his receiving numbers helped him sustain a strong performance, as he had at least 4 catches in 13 of 16 games. However, like Brees, he slowed down in the fantasy playoffs. After ranking 12th among RBs with 15.4 FPG through Week Twelve, he fell to only 45th with 8.8 FPG over the last five games. In only one of those games did he have a double-digit fantasy performance. And Thomas, coming off a slow finish to the season, isn’t guaranteed to keep his roster spot in 2014, some reports indicate. But it’s not like his production down the stretch went to anyone else – the whole Saint backfield just sucked. Thomas had only 63 yards rushing over the final five games of the year. The Saints’ “leader,” Mark Ingram, had only 134 over the same span. And while Ingram ran extremely hard, he was a fantasy zero yet again, ranking 67th among RBs, with 5.3 FPG. He totaled 78/386/1 (4.9 YPC) and 7/68/0 receiving in 11 games (he missed time with a toe injury). Of Ingram’s 58.4 FP, 24.0 came in Week Ten against Dallas alone. So while he flashed at times, including in the playoffs, he remains a player who has rarely, if ever, been a reliable fantasy option. The big disappointment for the Saints this year was Darren Sproles. While he finished a decent enough 29th with 11.8 FPG this season, his low margin for error showed up, even in a PPR league. In 15 games, he carried for 53/220/2 on the ground (4.2 YPC). He did have another strong receiving season with 71/604/2 on 89 targets (8.5 YPC, 79.8%). But what went wrong? He carried about the same number of times per game (under 4.0) as he did last season. But he lost about 1.0 receptions per game (5.7 down to 4.7), his YPC fell about a full yard, and his TDs fell from 8 to 4. We remarked before the season that Sproles’ receiving TD numbers (7 in each of the last two years) were high for his position, and he fell back to Earth in that category this year. While he had produced as a strong #2 in a PPR in 2011 and 2012, he fell back to a flex at best in 2013. The Saints may have an interesting name for the future at RB if Khiry Robinson (54/224/1 rushing in 10 games, but a strong playoff performance) can earn a bigger role. As you might have heard 100 times during the playoffs, former head coach Bill Parcells likens Robinson’s skillset to that of Curtis Martin. Robinson was very productive when he touched the ball and the Saints do seem to be very high on him.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2014: The Saints could look to save some money in their backfield. Will any of their top three – Thomas, Sproles, or Ingram – get cut? Are the Saints high on Robinson or Travaris Cadet as a replacement?
WR/TE: For almost all of these team reviews, we’re starting this section with the wide receivers. That’s not the case with the Saints, though… kind of. When it comes to their passing game, we think of Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, and then everyone else. Graham, New Orleans’ dynamic tight end, was easily the consensus #1 player at his position at draft time in August, and he confirmed that through his play. Playing in all 16 games despite some nagging foot problems, Graham posted 86/1215/16 receiving on 142 targets (14.1 YPC, 58.9%). He easily led all TEs with 19.0 FPG, a number that would have ranked him 6th among WRs. Graham had TDs in 11 different games, multiple TDs in five different games, 100 yards receiving in six different games, and 5 or more catches in 10 different games. He turned 11 of his 26 red-zone targets into TDs, including 3 of his 7 targets inside the five. Often, he dragged defenders into the endzone with him. Graham’s dominance and versatility makes him a fantasy stud, but it also provides a potential problem for the Saints. An impending free agent, Graham and New Orleans aren’t yet close on a contract extension. If he isn’t extended, the Saints will have to franchise him – but Graham’s people are insistent he should be tagged at the more expensive WR slot instead of the TE slot. Given how often Graham splits out wide, it’s a very fair argument to be made. Should Graham get extended, he’ll be one of the highest-paid players in the league, and deservedly so. And if for some reason the Saints can’t keep him, they’re in trouble. Because at the WR position, the Saints had only one player rank in the top 70 at the position for fantasy. That was Marques Colston, who posted 75/943/5 receiving on 111 targets (12.6 YPC, 67.6%) in 15 games, ranking 27th with 13.3 FPG. However, he wasn’t particularly consistent. After opening the season with four consecutive double-digit PPR games, Colston posted only two in his next seven, battling through a knee injury. He then closed out the season with four more. Whether the injury or his “advancing age” (he’s still only 30) are to blame, Colston’s 13.3 FPG average was the worst of his career. It was also the first time he failed to crack 1000 receiving yards or 7 TDs, while playing in 13 or more games. Earlier in the season, defenses were simply not stopping Graham, which hurt Colston’s production. Later in the season, defenses slowed Graham down better, and Colston’s production improved. He just looked so much more productive in comparison to the rest of the Saint WRs. Their next-highest finisher was rookie Kenny Stills, who posted 32/641/5 on 50 targets (20.0 YPC, 64%). Shoehorned into the lineup as a deep threat, Stills’ only double-digit PPR game without a TD came in Week One (with 2/83 receiving). Otherwise, he was a total boom-or-bust fantasy play. Stills, though, impressed beyond just his speed, and as a player who will be only 22 in Week One next year, he’s got a lot of promise for the future. He’s ascending as Colston and Lance Moore are descending and it was a good sign how he quickly gained the trust of his QB in his rookie season. Moore, once as reliable a #3/flex WR option as there was, battled injuries and never really got going this year. In 13 games, Moore posted 37/457/2 on 54 targets (12.4 YPC, 68.5%). Moore missed three games with a wrist injury, and only four times did he post double-digit PPR numbers. This was Moore’s first season below a double-digit PPR average since 2009, when he also battled injuries. But going into his age 31 season, he’s owed over $5 million next year and is in serious danger of being cut. With Robert Meachem (16/324/2 receiving) just a temporary hired gun, the Saints need Stills and Nick Toon (4/68) to step up next year. They do have deep threat Joseph Morgan returning from a knee injury, but don’t be shocked if they add a receiver through free agency or the draft.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2014: Will the Graham extension/tag scenario get ugly? Can Colston rebound from a subpar 2013 or is this his new standard? With Moore potentially a cap casualty, can Stills and Toon step up next year? Will the Saints look to get younger at the WR position?
Key Free Agents: TE Jimmy Graham, S Malcolm Jenkins, T Zach Strief, C Brian De La Puente, LB Jonathan Vilma, T Charles Brown, LB Parys Haralson, DE Kenyon Coleman, LB Will Herring, WR Joe Morgan (RFA), S Rafael Bush (RFA), FB Jed Collins (RFA), QB Luke McCown, DE Keyunta Dawson, CB Chris Carr, K Shayne Graham.
 
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
 
QB: While a lot went wrong for the Buccaneers in 2013, it was perhaps the fact that former coach Greg Schiano didn’t make his boldest move even sooner that cost him his job. After entering the season with Josh Freeman as his starting QB and giving Freeman three starts (all losses), Schiano decided to bench Freeman for third-round rookie Mike Glennon, something it’s evident he wanted to do in the preseason. While the Bucs opened the season 0-8 and finished at 4-12, Glennon’s play was certainly not the reason they struggled. In fact, the rookie provided a stabilizing factor to the offense that Freeman just didn’t give them. In 13 starts, playing most of them with one legitimate receiver and a banged-up run game, Glennon held his own. He completed 247/416 passes (59.4%) for 2608 yards, with 19 TDs and 9 INTs. However, his 16.2 FPG were “enough” to rank him only 33rd among QBs with five or more starts. After throwing at least 43 passes in each of his first four starts, he threw a total of only 235 over his final nine starts (an average of 26.1 per start), as the Bucs tried to prevent him from handling too much work with such a limited supporting cast and mediocre/banged-up offensive line. A tall passer with limited mobility and a big arm, Glennon exhibits some similarities to Falcon QB Matt Ryan, if you squint long enough. He did also move better in the pocket than expected, and show showed solid pocket awareness overall. Glennon is a clearly advanced player, at least mentally, and he showed the capacity to handle the thinking portion of the NFL passing game. But the biggest problem for him is that his biggest supporter, Schiano, is now gone. New coach Lovie Smith hasn’t outright endorsed Glennon for next season, and it’s possible Smith and new OC Jeff Tedford (who developed a reputation for grooming QBs as a college coach) bring in their own guy. But from our perspective, Glennon handled himself very well with limited assets, and the Bucs could choose to fill other needs on their roster (maybe a receiver?) with their high draft picks.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2014: Simple. Is Glennon going to be the Bucs’ QB in 2014? If he’s competing for the job, who will be brought in to compete with him and/or back him up?
RB: The Buccaneer backfield had small bits of fantasy relevance for the year, but it clearly didn’t live up to preseason expectations. That was going to be hard to do with Doug Martin playing in only six games, thanks to a torn labrum in his shoulder. But that said, it’s not like Martin was putting up huge numbers anyway. Playing on a turmoil-ridden offense behind a shaky line, Martin carried for 127/456/1 (3.6), and posted only 12/66/0 receiving on 24 targets. Martin averaged over 20 carries per game, but he had only one scoring opportunity – he converted his only goal-line rush into a TD in Week One. And by the time the Buc offense started to stabilize under Mike Glennon, Martin was hurt and done for the year. Overall, he averaged 11.7 FPG, ranking #30 among RBs, a major disappointment considering he was a consensus top-3 selection overall. Injuries, poor line performance, and an overall bad team hurt Martin. The hope is that the Bucs get back to playing good football centered around Martin, and the indications from new coach Lovie Smith and OC Jeff Tedford are that the plan is in place for Martin to handle a big workload in 2014. That said, Tedford has also remarked about rotating backs here to keep Martin fresh. Could that be good news for second-year man Mike James? In his rookie season, James impressed briefly as Martin’s handcuff. From Weeks Seven through Nine, when he got the majority of his playing time, James carried for 52/247/0 and added 9/41/0 receiving on 10 targets. He tied for 19th with 13.8 FPG over that span. But James’ season ended early in Week Ten with a broken ankle. In all, he totaled 60/295/0 rushing and 10/43/0 receiving on 11 targets in nine appearances. A similar runner to Martin, James is more of a handcuff than a rotational-type player. But he did a lot of things that we liked and if he can recover from his injury, he looks like a player who has a future. After James went down, the Bucs had to turn to Bobby Rainey. Rainey started the year with the Browns but was claimed off waivers by Tampa on October 21. His first action with the Bucs came in Week Ten, when he filled in for an injured James and scored a TD. Rainey went on to find his way onto many fantasy rosters by the end of the year, with a solid performance that ranked him 26th among all RBs with 12.9 FPG over the final eight games of the season. With the Bucs, Rainey totaled 137/532/5 rushing (3.9 YPC) and 11/27/1 receiving on 15 targets. However, his numbers are a little deceptive. After crushing Atlanta for 30/163/2 rushing and 2/4/1 receiving in Week Eleven, he was too often a non-factor. Over the final six weeks of the NFL season, Rainey totaled 53.6 fantasy points (he had 36.7 FP in Week Eleven alone). And 14 of those 53.6 FP came on a single 80-yard TD run in Week Fourteen against the Bills. That means on the other 106 touches Rainey posted during the final six games of the year, he totaled 39.6 FP. That’s an average of 0.37 FP per touch (by comparison, Giovani Bernard averaged almost exactly one full FP per touch this season). We don’t want to take away from what Rainey did, but after bursting onto the scene, he was more often than not useless for fantasy over the final six weeks of the season. But once again, we can’t disparage his performance after blaming the line for some of Martin’s struggles. He may have a future, but his overall fantasy impact isn’t what you might have imagined it was by looking at his final numbers. The Bucs would probably be wise to upgrade on their third-down back. Brian Leonard handled the role for most of the season, totaling 47/182/0 rushing and 29/179/0 receiving on 37 targets (6.2 YPC, 78.4%) in 16 games. Leonard has solid hands and is a decent pass protector, but he doesn’t even approach being an impact player.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2014: Can Martin return from his shoulder injury and regain his form? If the Bucs are going to employ a backfield rotation in 2014, will they be content with James and Rainey behind Martin, or will they bring in a rotational player?
WR/TE: Judging by the final numbers for the Buccaneers this season, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they had one truly worthwhile fantasy option at WR. The Bucs finished last in the NFL with 277 yards of offense per game, including a league-worst 176.2 passing YPG (behind even the Jets). While QB Mike Glennon did a lot of things we liked, it didn’t exactly result in mega fantasy production. Frankly, that’s because he lacked any sort of weaponry outside of superstar Vincent Jackson. Playing 16 games, Jackson posted 78/1224/7 receiving on 156 targets (15.7 YPC, 50%). He finished 20th among WRs, with 15.2 FPG, and he remained a frustrating PPR player with his low catch rate and inconsistent stat lines (last year, he hauled in 48.9% of his targets). Jackson had a whopping six games of fewer than 10 FP in a PPR league, tying him with DeSean Jackson and Anquan Boldin for the most such games of any player in the top 20 at WR. However, Jackson had three games of more than 30 FP, including his second and third games with Glennon as the starting QB. He remains a highly talented but volatile option who remains a bit better in non-PPR leagues – he ranked 18th in such formats. Also note how Jackson’s play dropped off once Mike Williams was put on IR – from Weeks One through Eight, Jackson was #12 among all WRs with 18.2 FPG. After Williams was placed on IR, Jackson ranked 28th among WRs with 12.8 FPG (coinciding with the Bucs throwing it much less). On the plus side, Jackson has shaken his “injury-prone” label with his third consecutive season o The Bucs need to get Glennon and Jackson some help, whether that’s in the person of Williams or someone else. As for Williams, he hauled in 22 passes for 216 yards and 2 TDs in six games of action before a torn hamstring landed him on IR (40 targets, 55%). Williams averaged only 9.3 FPG, so he wasn’t much of a fantasy option himself, but he at least helped draw some coverage away from Jackson. Williams had problems reporting to rehab sessions after his injury, but we hope the Bucs’ regime change can help him clean up some of his issues. Aside from Williams, the Bucs’ next most productive WR was Tiquan Underwood. In 12 games, Underwood posted 24/440/4 receiving on 46 targets (18.3 FPG, 52.2%). He averaged only 7.7 FPG. And more than half of his total production – 46.1 FP – came in two games (Weeks Twelve and Seventeen). He’s a deep threat and little else. Tampa didn’t have a single other receiver in the top 130 at the position in FPG, which shows you what a wasteland this position is. At least they got a solid look at an upside player for the future in rookie TE Tim Wright. A former college WR at Rutgers, Wright took his conversion to TE very well. In 16 games, he posted 54/571/5 receiving on 75 targets (10.6 FPG, 72%). Wright wasn’t particularly a consistent option for fantasy. In 16 games, he had only seven games of 10 or more fantasy points. But after Williams went down, he was certainly the #2 target in this passing game, unimpressive as that may be. He always had a shot at being targeted 6 or so times and producing. And over the final month of the season, he had 3 goal-line targets, which he converted into 2 TDs (he also had a longer over this span). Wright could be a sleeper backup TE next year if he continues his development.
 
  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2014: Can the Bucs get a good #2 receiver (and #3, for that matter) in here to help out their young QB and Vincent Jackson? Can Wright continue to develop in his transition to TE? Will Williams get back healthy?
Key Free Agents: LB Jonathan Casillas, QB Dan Orlovsky, RB Brian Leonard, WR Tiquan Underwood, RB Bobby Rainey (RFA), C Ted Larsen, DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, FB Erik Lorig, LB Adam Hayward, LB Dekoda Watson, G Jamon Meredith, CB Danny Gorrer, FB Spencer Larsen, TE Nate Byham (RFA), DT Gary Gibson, K Rian Lindell, K Lawrence Tynes.
 
 
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