Position Battles to Watch: NFC South
It’s early, but now is the time to make notes on who’s getting the action in camps as the NFL season starts to warm up. These are some of the position battles to keep an eye on as things get underway…
Kyle Pitts vs Hayden Hurst
It’s been assumed by many (almost certainly correctly) that the almost inconceivably athletic specimen that is Kyle Pitts would take the starting TE role in Atlanta with no questions asked, but it’s not a 100% lock to be the case. Hayden Hurst was a first round pick in his day, and he’s coming off a 56 catch, 571 yard, 6 TD season as the 3rd option for the Falcons. New coach Arthur Smith ran a Titans offense that was 4th in the league in dropbacks with 2 TEs on the field last season, so both TEs could get significant run this season, especially with Julio Jones having one foot out of the door and no primary RB to speak of outside of mikedavis. The real question might end up being do you use a high draft pick on an untested rookie or do you wait till the latest rounds and take a solid vet who might see almost as much action? If Jones leaves, I’d lean towards the second option.
Terrace Marshall vs Robby Anderson vs DJ Moore
There’s an argument for each of these guys to be Sam Darnold‘s favorite target this season, starting with Moore. Moore is the incumbent no.1 in Carolina, coming off of two back-to-back 1,000+ yard seasons. He’s explosive and versatile, and I’m sure he’d be a top 5 WR on a team with a Pro Bowl QB under center. But that’s just not the case, as Sam Darnold is light years from being a Pro Bowl caliber player. Enter Anderson, who was Darnold’s favorite target as a Jet, going over 700 yards and scoring at least 5 TDs a season with him, in addition to topping 1,000 yards with Teddy Bridgewater under center in 2020. The rapport is already there with Darnold, who will no doubt need a safety blanket in a new city. Marshall is kind of a hybrid of Moore and Anderson, he’s versatile and he’s fast, and he’s a better endzone target than either of them at 6’4″. He scored 29 TDs over his last two seasons at LSU where he played under Joe Brady, who happens to be the OC in Carolina now. It seems highly unlikely that all three players will achieve 1,000 yard seasons with at least a handful of TDs a piece, so it’s going to be important to keep an eye on who Darnold is jelling with throughout camp.
New Orleans Saints
Taysom Hill vs Jameis Winston vs Ian Book
Hill took the reins from Drew Brees over Jameis Winston last season when Brees was injured, but allegedly that’s only because coach Payton had promised him that spot. That seems dubious considering the Saints were playing for a high playoff spot and you would think he’d just want the best option under center, but maybe there’s some truth to the allegation. In any case, Winston is the best fit for the Saints offense if you want to run it like Brees has for years, and he has turned a corner since his unmoored days as a Buccaneer. For fantasy purposes, Hill would be the optimal choice, as he uses his feet a lot and you wouldn’t have Winston coming in for special packages like you will for Hill even if Winston is the starter – Winston’s value will be stymied by Hill coming in at the goal line. And then there’s Ian Book, who’s unlikely to unseat either player, but it’s worth watching his development in camp to see if he could be a darkhorse for the starting job.
Tre’Quan Smith vs Marquez Callaway
Michael Thomas is clearly the de facto No.1 WR in New Orleans, but there’s a question about who will be the No.2 (although RB Alvin Kamara and TE Adam Trautman are likely to be two and three in targets). Smith is the most obvious choice, he was a consistent deep threat in college but he never really thrived with Brees’ short arm, timing route ways. His skillset will be much more potent with Winston or even Hill under center, as they both connected with him on deep passes in their respective stints under center last season. Callaway can’t be counted out though, as there were glimmers of stardom at times during the 2020 season, though Brees could never really connect with him downfield. This is an important battle to watch as whoever ends up no.2 is sure to be undervalued going into fantasy drafts.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ronald Jones vs Leonard Fournette vs Gio Bernard
A tale as old as time by now, Ronald Jones will be sharing the backfield with Leonard Fournette this season. Jones out-touched Fournette 220 to 133 times in 2020, but Jones was nowhere to be seen in the playoffs. Both players struggled with dropping passes, the Bucs doubled the league average of drops by RBs (14.7%), and that’s why Bernard was brought in. Tom Brady loves the checkdown, so Bernard fits the bill – He’s also a top ten pass-blocker according to PFF. With Jones and Fournette cannibalizing each other’s value, perhaps Bernard can carve out a PPR role that usurps both of them in value a la James White during boom seasons in NE.