32 Questions Part 8 - NFC South
By Sigmund Bloom
July 22nd, 2011

Carolina Panthers - Is re-signing DeAngelo Williams a top priority for the team?

The Panthers have work to do in free agency on the offensive and defensive line, not to mention at linebacker and cornerback. They also have to explore trade options for veteran wide receiver Steve Smith. Do they really put that much importance into signing the prize of the free agent class at running back? The team has Jonathan Stewart, 2010 breakout back Mike Goodson, and the underrated Tyrell Sutton on the roster, so how much does the addition of Williams help them more than putting that cash toward other priorities? There has been a lot of speculation about Williams warmth toward the organization, but he has to have a lot of goodwill towards his old coach, John Fox, who is now in Denver and has set running back as his top priority in free agency. It just doesn't make sense for the Panthers to re-sign Williams with so many other positions crying out for attention (although that doesn't mean it won't happen). The smart money is to expect a jump in the value of Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson soon after the open of free agency.

Atlanta Falcons - How quickly does Julio Jones get up to speed and make his mark on the Falcons offensive philosophy?

Jones was still worth a king's ransom (two firsts, a second, two fourths) to the Falcons even though he had surgery on his broken foot in the offseason. Seeing as his acquisition was part of a "win now" mentality, you have to think the team aims for him to start from day one, and it sounds like his foot is going to be in good enough shape for that happen. With a strong #2 opposite Roddy White, the Falcons could let Matt Ryan do his Peyton Manning/Tom Brady "coach on the field" impression even more often, marching the team down the field by dissecting defenses and exploiting weakness in pass coverage and the overall approach to stopping an offense with too many weapons to address them all. Ryan could end up being a value when he falls outside of the top eight QBs in drafts and Julio Jones could contend for top rookie wideout honors if the Falcons decide to come down from the near 500 rush attempts they had in 2010. Tune in to camp reports to track Jones development and whether the Falcons are giving us any signs of a shift to a pass-first philosophy.

New Orleans Saints - Is Mark Ingram "the man" in the Saints backfield?

It is in your interest to err answering this question on the side of "yes". Ingram had been working out with teammates in seven-on-seven drills and quarterback Drew Brees had this to say about it: "He looks great. There's no doubt he's been working and he's in shape. He can play a pretty significant role on our offense." Reggie Bush is almost certain to be a cap casualty. Pierre Thomas got backup money just before the lockout, which suggests that he'll have a backup's role during the season. The Saints gave up next year's first-round pick to get Ingram, which suggests that they love his game. Saints beat writers have been almost unanimous in their speculation that Ingram will be a "bell cow" back. A true feature back in the Saints offense easily has the potential to be a top 10 fantasy back, yet Ingram can be had outside of the top 20 in some drafts. That should change once training camp gives us a view into the Saints 2011 offense.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Is Arrelious Benn the Bucs version of the bionic man?

Benn tore the ACL in his left knee in week 16 vs. Seattle. Amazingly, he was running and playing catch with Josh Freeman in May, and all reports have him at "full go" for the beginning of training camp. The 2010 second-round pick was just starting to come on as a deep threat and punisher of defenses that paid too much attention to fellow rookie Mike Williams. The team had recently said they were going to get Benn more involved before the injury. He has the ability and quarterback to make a fantasy impact as a starter, and Benn might be available very late in your drafts because the last picture of him in most minds is that of the big wideout being helped off the field with a season-ending knee injury. If the reports out of camp confirm that Benn is back to his old self, be ready to gamble a late pick on his breakout happening this year.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to bloom@footballguys.com.

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