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NFC South Training Camp Report – RB Battles in Atlanta, Tampa Bay

With NFL Training Camps in full gear, Scott Engel looks for fantasy-relevant news from the NFC South, including two RB battles to watch.

We are getting close to play for all teams in exhibition games. So it is an optimum time for us at FanTrax to check in on teams in the NFC South as NFL Training Camp action continues. One team did open their exhibition season ahead of the others. We take positional views of what to watch for on every team as the preseason moves on, and for those who may not see much action, we consider their regular season outlooks.

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NFC South Training Camp Notes

Atlanta Falcons

Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes was the No. 1 QB in Fantasy Football last year. Does anyone remember who was second? Matt Ryan is getting undervalued as the sixth passer off the board in FanTrax drafts (85.37). Ryan and the starters sat out in Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game, and he has nothing to prove heading into 2019. He is maybe the biggest value pick among the top passers.

Running Back: It will not be surprising to see the Falcons limit the work of Devonta Freeman in the preseason. He remains a risk to miss more significant time if he suffers another concussion, and he is vulnerable to another knee injury because of past sprains. Ito Smith had just 12 yards from scrimmage in the preseason opener but should at least be part of a timeshare if Freeman goes down again. Rookie Qadree Ollison may be the candidate to split with Smith in such a situation. Brian Hill had 13 touches in the first exhibition game and could also figure into the picture if Freeman misses more time. The RBs other than Freeman will be worth monitoring over the next three exhibition games.

Wide Receiver: Julio Jones could become the highest-paid WR in the game very soon. His second-half TD surge last season has boosted him back into top shelf territory at the position. This could be the season for a major Calvin Ridley breakthrough. Look for more consistency this year. Mohamed Sanu remains a quality Fantasy bench option. The preseason will do nothing to alter FanTrax ADPs or outlooks here.

Tight End: Austin Hooper caught over 70 passes last year, a big reason he finished as TE7. But he only scored four times and didn’t have much upside. Finishing where he did shows how thin the position was in terms of true quality. With more tight ends projected for better numbers than Hooper in 2019, he figures to be more of a TE2 this season. Hooper is in a contract year, though, so he is a good bet to produce at least respectable totals again. Personally, I’ll opt for many other more promising options at the position before I settle for Hooper.

Carolina Panthers

Quarterback: Cam Newton has altered his approach at camp and seems to be making all the throws. He recently told Peter King that he sees himself having to change his style as he gets older. Newton should be in good health to start the season and we may see him perform well in exhibition play. But he does remain a risk to experience shoulder fatigue or wear down. He still has the ability to be a Top 10 Fantasy QB, but you still have to be cautious when considering him as your starting Fantasy passer.

Running Back: Ron Rivera recently indicated that he wants to reduce Christian McCaffrey’s snaps, but not his touches. There should be no major concerns about his workload, but it’s possible he could be utilized sparingly during the preseason. What McCaffrey drafters do have to watch for is if rookie Jordan Scarlett can push Cameron Artis-Payne to become the primary No. 2 RB/handcuff.

Wide Receiver: D.J. Moore is being taken as the 21st WR in FanTrax drafts so far as many Fantasy owners are expecting him to have an impressive second season. Curtis Samuel, however, is the 62nd WR off the board and is starting to look like a great late flier. He is having a strong camp so far and has been showing off some big play ability.

Tight End: Greg Olsen is saying all the right things about his health, but we will have to see how his foot holds up when play begins for real. Watch the progress of Ian Thomas in the preseason, as he may have to start at some point and he did provide some glimpses of potential last year.

New Orleans Saints

Quarterback: Drew Brees is now 40 years old, and his play down the stretch last year was disappointing. The team no longer needs him to fling the ball all over the yard like in past seasons, as the running game and defense have now become more prominent. Brees still figures to be a back-end Fantasy QB1, but his days of being an elite Fantasy passer may be over.

Running Back: With the Ezekiel Elliott holdout, Alvin Kamara is now in Top 3 RB territory. But Latavius Murray will be a factor, and he may prevent Kamara from truly challenging McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley for total scrimmage yards. The loss of Mark Ingram may not mean a heavily increased workload for Kamara.

Wide Receiver: Michael Thomas is happy with his new contract. Now we just have to find out who his starting partner will be. Ted Ginn Jr. seems to be the incumbent at 34 years old. A strong preseason from Tre’Quan Smith can push him ahead of Ginn. We just need to see more consistency from Smith in his second year. The Saints did not bring in another wideout to truly challenge him for playing time.

Tight End: Jared Cook is coming off a career season and has already shown some impressive form in camp. He is being undervalued as the ninth TE off the board in FanTrax drafts. He is a Top 6-7 pick at the position. He may be Brees’ best TD target near the goal line, and TEs have often played well under Sean Payton.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Quarterback: There seems to be some Fantasy optimism about Jameis Winston, as the arrival of Bruce Arians appears to be his last hope for finding success. He is being drafted as a QB1 on FanTrax so far, the 12th passer off the board. There are certainly safer picks at QB, but if Winston shows signs of progress this month, his appeal will continue to rise.

Running Back: Quality run support is something Winston has always lacked. If Ronald Jones has a strong preseason, too, it can only help Tampa Bay achieve the offensive balance they have lacked. The Buccaneers did not bring in anyone to compete with Jones for quality touches, instead leaving him to battle with stopgap type Peyton Barber during the preseason. This is a battle to watch, because if Jones makes the most of his second chance to be a starter, he could be quite a value as the 40th RB off the board in FanTrax drafts. He has not lost the talent that made him a second-round pick for Tampa Bay in 2018. He has another opportunity to make his mark with a clear head and a new coaching outlook.

Wide Receiver: We all know what we get from Mike Evans, so Chris Godwin is the guy to watch. He is expected to step forward and become a Fantasy WR2 on FanTrax this season. More consistent play from Winston can truly make him meet expectations.

Tight End: O.J. Howard opted not to undergo ankle surgery, so he may be a risk for another injury at some point. So I wouldn’t take him as the fourth TE off the board. But he delivered seven double figure PPR outings in 10 games last year, and so many other players at the position are shaky anyway, so I could not let him fall further than sixth at TE. I would take Hunter Henry and Evan Engram ahead of him, though. Cameron Brate caught six TD passes last year and can remain an occasional contributor in that department, but he is now a forgotten Fantasy man as the 39th TE taken on FanTrax.

Also, check out my training camp previews for the NFC East, NFC West, and NFC North.

Fantasy Football Rankings from FantraxHQ

What storylines are you watching in the NFC South? For more great rankings, sleepers, and analysis check out the 2019 Fantrax Fantasy Football Draft Kit.

Scott Engel is an inaugural member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s Hall of Fame and a four-time award winner. He was one of the driving content forces in the rise of and was the lead host on the RotoExperts in the Morning for six years on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio. He was also instrumental in the launch of the FNTSY Sports Network. Scott was the first-ever Senior Writer and Managing Editor at CBS SportsLine and won a company Hall of Fame Award. He was also an Associate Editor and Fantasy analyst for He has been the featured Fantasy Writer on since 2012 and his work has been syndicated to the Associated Press,, New York Daily News, New York Post, Yahoo Sports, Bloomberg Sports, Sports Illustrated and many others. He is a credentialed media member who won an FSWA award in 2016 for his Insider Fantasy Reporting. Known as “The King”, Scott is on Twitter @scotteTheKing

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