NFC South: Five Things We Learned in 2014

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This article was originally posted on FantasyPros.com and can be read here.

The NFC South has, justifiably, been viewed as a dumpster heap of a division this year. The teams may not have finished with records over .500, but there is a ton of fantasy production here. Let’s take a look at some of things we should remember moving into next year…

Drew Brees and his ‘disappointing’ season was still pretty good

Drew Brees‘ fantasy season will likely be remembered as a failure for 2014. Acquiring his services usually involved a high draft pick, especially high for a QB. When fantasy players really needed him to pull through, he squelched the sheets and dropped disastrous games in 2-of-3 playoff weeks. All season long players seemed down on Brees. He was still putting up very strong and consistent fantasy numbers, but the monster games were not coming with the normal regularity. Depending on league scoring, Brees finished around the 4-to-6 range for QB, which is a great year. But when you are talking about a historically elite player, great apparently doesn’t cut it. With a healthier Jimmy Graham next year, look for Brees to return to his rightful place among the elite.

Someone get Mike Evans a QB

Mike Evans was one of several breakout rookies in 2014. The man simply dominates the end zone. Touchdowns are very hard to rely on and predict, but Evans looks to be joining Dez Bryant as one of the exceptions. His dominant physical stature allows him to out-muscle and out-reach nearly every defensive back in the game. With the dastardly duo of Josh McCown and Mike Glennon throwing the ball, Evans was still able to put up 68/1051/12. His light is going to be shadowed by the greatness that was Odell Beckham Jr., but Evans will be a high mid-round pick next year. Tampa locked up the top pick in the NFL Draft and may look to take a QB. If that QB can provide a level of decent-to-solid play, Evans will be a WR1 for as long as he wants to.

Jonathan Stewart deserves a shot as a workhorse

The Carolina backfield has long been a medieval torture dungeon, capturing and serrating fantasy seasons. But even worse, when the night looked darkest, a single beam of light would bring a dew droplet of hope, only to have it snuffed with no mercy. Stewart began the season as he spends most of his time, hurt. He would pop in from time-to-time to make sure players hadn’t forgotten him. Toward the end of the year his health managed to turn around in a positive way. On top of his new found Wolverine powers, DeAngelo Williams suffered a hand injury and was forced to miss several games. The Daily Show came through and came through big. Through Weeks 13-16, Stewart averaged nearly 110 rushing yards a game. Time traveling fantasy players from 2011 appeared saying, “I knew he could be good!!” Stewart’s counterpart Williams is due a large amount of money in 2015. This may be the year the Panthers tidy up their running back by committee and let Stewart have a crack at things. If Williams does move on, Stewart will skyrocket up draft boards.

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Cam Newton is…inconsistent

Cam Newton came out of the offseason with a very late decision to have surgery on his ankle. So late in fact, that he was forced to sit for the Panthers opening game of the season. A few games later he suffered a rib injury. After the Carolina offensive line caught the injury bug, Newton spent several games looking like chum in a great white shark aquarium. Things were looking bleak for the superstar QB. He finally turned it around in Week 14 with an incredible performance. He threw for 226/3 and ran for 83/1. But then for the final concerto of disaster, he was involved in a horrific-looking car accident in which he suffered two fractures in his back. Newton was forced to miss another game. He was able to return to action the following week, and return to action he did. In his final full game (not counting the Matty Ice Meltdown in Week 17) Newton looked vintage again. He threw for 201/1 and ran for 63/1. If Newton can continue his hot play into the playoffs the Panthers could make a run, and Newton could regain the trust of the fantasy community as a top-five fantasy QB.

Matt Ryan could be ready for a big 2015

Matt Ryan has everything in place for him to be a high-end fantasy QB. His offense is built to score quickly, he has Julio Jones, and he has running backs who are capable of catching passes and making something happen. The year started off with a TNT blast of fantasy points. Coming out of Week 4, Ryan had already compiled 10 TD passes. Things began to unravel for Ryan and the Falcons shortly after. The biggest hit was to the offensive line. They tried to hold things together, but losing multiple starters along the O-line for the year is one of the worst possible things that can happen to an NFL team. Ryan kept a respectable season going, including a week-winning performance in Week 14, the opening of the fantasy playoffs. The season closed like the lid of an empty pizza box at a children’s birthday party, with furious anger and tears of sadness. The Falcons blew a chance to back into the playoffs, and Mike Smith paid the piper with his employment status. What will the Falcons look like next year? What will happen to the backfield situation? Can the O-line stay healthy and let Ryan jump in with the fantasy studs of Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees? The Falcons are a team to watch in the offseason.

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