Fantasy Football Sleepers: NFC South
Our look at Fantasy Football sleepers continues with the NFC South…
Atlanta Falcons: Steven Jackson RB
It is weird for me to call a perennial top 15 running back a sleeper, but in this case its pretty warranted. Jackson has been able to be one of the leagues top running backs, despite playing for some of the worst offenses over the last several seasons. Over the last two years he hasn’t had to eclipse more than 260 carries out of the backfield, meaning he hasn’t taken as much punishment over the last few seasons. The emergence of Daryl Washington made Jackson expendable in St. Louis, especially given the fact that he hits the dreaded 30 years old mark later on this year, but he has plenty of things going for him this season.
First off the Falcons have one of the most explosive passing attacks in the league featuring Roddy White and Julio Jones on the outside as well as Harry Douglas running in the slot. To account for these downfield threats team will probably have to play two safeties back, and even run nickel as their base defense. This will be a huge difference from Jackson having to face 8 or even 9 man fronts during his career in St. Louis. Not only that, but Jaquizz Rodgers, Jackson’s backup, isn’t big enough to poach many goal line carries meaning Jackson should get the majority of the touchdowns for the Falcons. The Falcons have proven that even an ineffective running back will get a fair amount of carries just to keep the defense honest with Michael Turner getting over 220 touches with a 3.8 yards a carry average. This kind of volume and persistence bodes well for Jackson to make a steady impact both on the field and in the fantasy world for owners who are willing to take a risk on an aging running back.
Also keep and eye on: Harry Douglas WR
Carolina Panthers: Domenik Hixon WR
This is one might be a little bit of a stretch, but the Panthers run an offense that gives fantasy owners nightmares outside of superman Cam Newton and the ageless wonder Steve Smith. There are a few things that change year to year for players, especially receivers, that you can’t control when looking at past seasons. One of the things people usually get sucked in by is receiving touchdowns, and history has proven that the top guys will get their touchdown, but it ranges from 5-15 and some guys like Lance Moore will have 10 then 2 then 8 causing great amounts of grief to their owners. What you can count on however as someone looking for steals at receiver is place on the depth chart, and targets. Looking at this list you can notice the top point scorers also have most targets, and most on the anomalies stem from either touchdowns, terrible quarterback being paired with an elite receiver, or just elite receiver play. Now picking someone one the top three of a depth chart is usually the best call, but some people use their third guy more than other, enter Domenik Hixon.
Hixon proved when he was on the New York Giants he could be a reliable receiving option for Eli Manning on the outside as well as in the slot. Louis Murphy played the third receiver role last season or the Panthers and piled up a measly 25 catches, but on 60 targets. Murphy is more of a downfield threat than Hixon so those reception/target numbers should get above 55 percent. With the same amount of targets Hixon should be able to pull down at least an extra 10-12 balls this season especially considering he pulled in 39 catches on only 59 targets last season on the Giants. Hixon may not be a fantasy savior this season, but he will make an interesting stop gap. If he does happen to have a similar catch rate and can poach a red zone touchdown or two he could be a viable flex receiver as injuries start to pile up around the league.
Also keep an eye on: Mike Tolbert RB
New Orleans Saints: Mark Ingram RB
Ingram has sort of fallen out of favor with a lot of fantasy owners, as well as people starting to toss the “bust” label about because Ingram hasn’t quite lived up to his Heisman billing he had coming out of Alabama. A lot of this has to do with a lack of opportunity that comes with the stacked backfield combined with the legendary passing attack that the Saints employ. Darren Sproles is the leader on the depth chart, but because of size and skill set he has had more receptions that rushing attempts since coming to the Saints from San Diego. Pierre Thomas has been a good, but not great, back for the last several seasons. Where Ingram really gets a chance to take the reigns, especially in a goal line scenario, is with the departure of Chris Ivory to the New York Jets. With Ivory’s departure the running backs currently on the roster only accounted for two rushing touchdowns last season. Pierre Thomas and Ingram will both get their chance to take the goal line carries, although nothing says it doesn’t get put on Drew Brees, but I think Ingram has the head start being younger and having his first round pedigree.
Ingram employs a pretty upright running style that can get a player in trouble down around the goal line, but with the return of Sean Payton as coach defenses will have to fear the passing game inside the five. The Saints ability to spread the field and still have a back like Ingram be able to find a hole inside and find the end-zone will add another dimension to their offense. Ingram had the most carries out of any returning running back, but his 3.9 YPC average should still be cause for concern. Ingram will never be a go to fantasy RB1, but unlike receivers running back touchdowns can be counted on to stay consistent depending on who gets the goal line carries. Ingram will have his most effective season to date this year, even if its not where we thought he would be at this point in his career.
Also keep an eye on: Chris Givens WR
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Luke Stocker TE
A similar situation to Hixon, but Stocker has inherited the starting tight end spot for the suddenly weapons filled offense down in Tampa Bay. Dallas Clark who recently left the team had 13.6 percent of the teams target with 76 targets last season for 47 catches. With a catch rate of just under 60% last year Stocker should stand to get his fair share of the offensive action this upcoming season. Last season the outside receivers for the Bucs had a combined 17 touchdowns last season, but have already proven to be pretty inconsistent. Vincent Jackson turns 30 this season and Mike Williams followed up his strong 11 TD rookie season with only 3 the following season, to rebound back up to 9. This kind of touchdown inconsistency is exactly why wide receivers are so hard to judge, but quarterback touchdowns tend to be pretty consistent. Stocker was a pretty solid recovering threat in college, but really hasn’t gotten the chance to showcase his talents in the pro’s. With Clark leaving Stocker should become the main threat in the middle of the field for the Bucs, especially considering their lack of depth at the receiver positions. In a league where the tight end is becoming an ever increasing role in modern offenses there is a large drop off between the Rob Gronkowski’s and Jimmy Graham’s to the Brandon Pettigrew’s of the league. Stocker should be a reliable mid level TE for people who miss out on the top tier guys this season.
Also keep an eye on: Mike Glennon QB