Moving right along, here are some more sleepers in fantasy football this year that you might want to keep an eye on. This post is just like all of the other ones, except that it has the NFC South. Enough with introductions!
The Saints are embarking on what will be one of the weirdest seasons in NFL history now that head coach Sean Payton has been suspended for the season after the Bounty Scandal, GM Mickey Loomis is suspended for the first eight games, assistant head coach Joe Vitt is suspended for the first six games, and Drew Brees isn't even under contract yet. New Orleans traded away their first round pick to New England last year and forfeited their second round pick in Bountygate so they lack exciting rookies as well. Who could sleep their way to the top in fantasy this year?
Mark Ingram, RB, Saints
As the NFL begins to lean more and more towards being a passing league, and the common belief that you can find a great running back after the first round, it really does say something when you take a running back with your first pick. That's what New Orleans did with the Heisman-winning Ingram last year, though it didn't work out like fantasy owners were hoping it would.
Ingram could be the prototypical "all-around" back that's pretty rare to find these days, a real throwback to the backs of the sixties and seventies. Last year it was Darren Sproles that stole the show and broke the all-purpose record while Ingram was the disappointment of at least one person in your league. However, before he got injured he still led the team in carries and was the primary first and second-down back, with short-yardage carries as well. Ingram didn't punch it in often enough when the opportunity presented itself but that could just as easily change this year.
The Saints are going to be a tough team to predict. We can assume that Brees is still going to throw for 5,000 yards and that the running game still won't be as much of a factor, but we really shouldn't know what to expect. Ingram is reporting that he's healthy and good to go, and if you're telling me that a second-year, Heisman-winning first round pick is ready to go for the league's highest-scoring team, then I'm listening.
The backfield is really crowded, but there's no doubt that Ingram is just a better player than Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory, so I'll make my bet on him and get him at a much better price than what he was going for last year.
There aren't enough young guys named Harry anymore but Harry Douglas started to make a name for himself in Atlanta last season after catching 8 balls for 133 yards against the Saints in week nine. That was the most productive game for Harry by far, but honestly... he just looked great doing it. It's not just the fact that he put up 133 yards, I just thought he looked better than what a #3 or #4 WR looks like, sort of like Laurent Robinson.
Roddy White is one of my favorite wideouts in the NFL and Julio Jones is getting up there with some ridiculous highlight catches as a rookie, but Douglas looks to be better than a slouch and if White, 31, or Jones miss a game, I'd keep a close eye on Douglas. He's also looking to add "Punt Returner" to his resume for those of you in return leagues.
I'm also very interested in Rodgers as a second-year player. The former Oregon State Beaver and NCAA highlight-maker had 57 carries for 205 yards and 21 catches for 188 as a rookie behind Michael Turner who is turning 30 (doom!!) this year. Burner Michael Turner has carried one of the heaviest workloads in the NFL and the Falcons need to be prepared to carry him if he goes down. Rodgers might be one of the smallest players in the NFL and he's still quite young, but I could see an all-purpose 1,500 yard back in there somewhere if it all broke right.
The Falcons also signed his brother James Rodgers as an undrafted free agent this year. Which is just interesting, I guess.
Basically this pick is because they don't have many sleepers. Cam Newton, you've heard of and may overdraft. Steve Smith, you've probably heard of. The backfield is crowded and who knows which guy to pick. And the Panthers have very little outside of Smith in the receiving game but LaFell was 2nd in receiving last year and showed some promise late in the year.
It's imperative for Newton to get a solid #2, especially with Smith's advanced age, but who is going to step up? Head coach Ron Rivera thinks its going to be LaFell and he doesn't have many challengers. There's Joe Adams, the fourth round pick that's up for an ESPY because of his punt return against Tennessee but I don't think he'll be ready.
There's converted Appalachian State QB-to-WR Armanti Edwards who now has 0 catches in two years. There's David Gettis who had 508 yards and 3 TD as a rookie and then missed last year with a torn ACL. Basically, the Panthers are really rolling the dice in the WR department and they'll certainly need LaFell to step up. He had a career high 103 yards on 3 catches in week 16 last year against the Bucs. They'll need more of games like that.
Josh Freeman, QB, Bucs
This one is kind of obvious and I'm sure plenty of owners won't let him go completely unnoticed, but I think I like Freeman more than most. I also just need more QBs on this list.
Two years ago he did this: 61.4% Completions, 3,451 yards, 25 TD, 6 INT, 95.9 rating
Last year he did this: 62.8% Completions, 3,592 yards, 16 TD, 22 INT, 74.6 rating.
He actually had a better completion% and more yards (on many more attempts) but the major issue was the 22 interceptions and only 16 touchdowns to show for it. You can't count on a QB throwing 6 INT every year but you shouldn't expect 22 from a guy like Freeman. Split the differences and you could wind up with an expectation of 22 TD/14 INT from an accurate and strong-armed quarterback.
Better yet though, Vincent Jackson is one of the best wide receivers in the league and the best wide receiver that Freeman has ever had. He moves Mike Williams down the depth chart and makes the whole offense look more balanced. The experience of Dallas Clark substituting for Kellen Winslow, Jr. could be a blessing for the young QB. There should also be less pressure for him to do everything by himself without having to rely on only LeGarrette Blount, who is a very incomplete back, now that Doug Martin is here.
I actually predict that Freeman will be a solid QB1 at a QB2 price.
That's all folks. Follow on Twitter