The NFC South lost two stalwarts this season in Roddy White and Marques Colston. Both have seemingly played their last snaps in the NFL, and the NFC South marches on. There is a returning face, as Kelvin Benjamin missed all of 2015 with an ACL. The Buccaneers are one of the seven teams to return all their receivers who had a target in 2015.
For the first time since 2005, the Falcons will be without stalwart wide receiver Roddy White. While his production wasn’t up to snuff last year, White accounted for 70 targets that will need to go somewhere. Pitch in Leonard Hankerson’s 46, and you have the 116 targets that need to be distributed elsewhere. They’re certainly not going to Julio Jones, who was targeted a staggering 2013 times last season. In steps Mohamed Sanu. Sanu got a staggering amount of money for a guy who played fourth fiddle or worse last season, but the Falcons are banking on him returning to his 2014 form. Still, that’s… not great. He got 98 targets in 2014 and turned that into 790 yards and five touchdowns. Nearly 800 yards and five TDs is about 7.7 fantasy points per game, which makes him a perfectly serviceable WR3 or flex option. He’s not the best player, but he’s currently WR64 off the board, pick 194. He’ll be available late or on your wire & will likely turn in unspectacular if uninspiring numbers. He’s the perfect Bye week fill-in.
New Orleans Saints
Much like the Falcons, the Saints will be without a fixture of their passing game as Marques Colston will not be a Saint in 2016. His targets and a handful of other ones will need to go somewhere, and the most likely candidate is rookie Michael Thomas. While Willie Snead quietly put together a near-1000-yard season, he already absorbed over 100 targets from the high-flying Brees-Payton offense. You can pretty much copy and paste Marques Colston’s 67 targets onto Michael Thomas, and then some. The Saints could end up imitating the Cardinals with three fantasy-relevant wide receivers, but Thomas would take the clear third fiddle to Brandin Cooks and Snead. Further muddying the field is the acquisition of Coby Fleener. Thomas is a talented receiver, but there likely won’t be enough targets to go around for him to be fantasy relevant outside of deep leagues.
The Panthers lost only Jerricho Cotchery, but will have Kelvin Benjamin returning to put a respectable player at the top of the WR heap in Carolina. With Benjamin returning, don’t expect boom-bust Ted Ginn to get anywhere near 99 targets again, and expect Devin Funchess to further eat into Ginn’s production. The player to get in Carolina is going to be Kelvin Benjamin, followed by Devin Funchess. You can discount Ted Ginn entirely. With other players taking up larger chunks of the pie, it’s unlikely Ted Ginn gets enough targets to reliably boom in 2015. Funchess is basically free, and is exactly the type of target Cam wants. He was a rough go last season, however, catching only 31 of his 63 targets. He’s undrafted right now, and will likely stay that way. He’s going to get more targets, however, since Ted Ginn is has some of the worst hands in the NFL.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If the Buccaneers are going to get anywhere, they need a major jump in passing game production from last season, and returning all the WRs who received a target is a good start. Mike Evans had 1,200 yards last year and only three touchdowns; that is a dismal rate of TD conversion, one that would make even Andre Johnson blush. While the Buccaneers aren’t going to have any real opportunity for newcomers, they will expect their existing receivers to come through huge, especially when Mike Evans’ touchdown regression starts finding him in the end zone. Much like the rest of the teams that return all their receiving talent, the Buccaneers have no room to spare for a breakout candidate.
The NFC is in the books! The NFC South lost some long-time talent at the top, but their target counts were fading hard. Both the Falcons and Saints went out to plug the holes left by Roddy White and Marques Colston. While Mo Sanu in Atlanta may have enough targets to go his way, Thomas will be playing fourth fiddle in the Saints passing game and will be a fill-in WR3 without an injury. The return of Benjamin means the death knell of Ted Ginn’s fantasy value, and it’s business as usual in Tampa Bay, hopefully with Mike Evans converting some more red zone targets.
Next week we will return with the AFC, taking a look at the prospects for wide receivers based on the amount of targets lost via free agency and retirement.