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NFC South Training Camp Preview

Sigmund Bloom runs down injuries, position battles, and offensive changes to watch for the NFC South and gives his view on the direction the team is headed.

Training camp openings are coming, so it's time to focus our attention on the changes, injury recoveries, and position battles that will inform our last tweaks to our draft boards before we draft. It's also good to record our thoughts on the direction of the offense as it affects fantasy bottom lines before camp and preseason twists and turns make us doubt what we have spent months mulling over waiting for football to come back. I'll try to give insight into where I think the puck is going with these teams, because like Wayne Gretzky said, we should skate there instead of where the puck has been, i.e. last year's results.

Atlanta

Offensive Change(s) to Watch: Mohamed Sanu was signed to play the #2 receiver and will probably be an upgrade from a fading Roddy White. Austin Hooper was drafted in the third round and could push Jacob Tamme at tight end by year’s end. Alex Mack was added in free agency and should be an upgrade to an offensive line that has struggled in years past.

Injury Situation(s) to Watch: All-world wideout Julio Jones had a foot issue early in camp that he came back quickly from, and it’s not in his surgically-repaired foot, but we have to watch anything going on with our top three picks very closely. Tevin Coleman had a rib injury, ankle injury and concussion last year. Making it through camp without major incident is a big deal for a back looking for more touches.

Position Battle(s) to Watch: Coleman won’t be displacing Devonta Freeman as the starter, but if he keeps up his development as a receiver and impressive camp to date, he’ll cut into Freeman’s work enough to give us pause calling Freeman’s name in the second round. Justin Hardy doesn’t have much competition to man the slot, but whether he or Tamme/Hooper are the fourth target in the offense and poised to do more if injuries strike could come down to how things go this summer.

Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: This offense could collapse if Julio Jones goes down, and Devonta Freeman is also essential. While Matt Ryan should bounce back to some degree, this is going to be a mediocre unit at best, and if Sanu and Coleman don’t make big contributions, it will be difficult to watch, as it was at times last year. I see more way this go could bad than ways it could go better than expected.

Carolina

Offensive Change(s) to Watch: Kelvin Benjamin is back to bolster a pass offense that became ultra-efficient in the red zone last year. Devin Funchess had a fantastic offseason and he could also boost an already robust pass offense.

Injury Situation(s) to Watch: Benjamin’s form after ACL recovery will be the best indicator of whether he can live up to an ADP closer to his ceiling than his floor. Jonathan Stewart is coming back from a foot injury, and while he says he’s 100%, his injury history means we need to watch this closely. Size/speed WR Stephen Hill was supposed to potentially play a role and make the team last year, but he tore an ACL before the season began. He’ll resume his mission to redeem himself after early career failings with the Jets.

Position Battle(s) to Watch: Benjamin and Funchess are both going to start, but the target share between them could hinge on how camp goes for both, and Ted Ginn’s field-stretching ability could keep him more involved in the offense than people expect. Behind Jonathan Stewart, Cameron Artis-Payne should be the primary backup running back, but the Panthers kept Brandon Wegher on the 53 man roster all season without using him, so we’ll check his development and potential to be on the active roster on gamedays this year.

Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: With Josh Norman in Washington, this team could get into more high-scoring games, which would fuel Newton and the passing game, and depress the ability of Stewart to get consistent 20+ carry games. Funchess and Benjamin’s roles should be much closer than their large ADP gap would suggest, but Ginn (and Corey Brown) provides an element they can’t, and Greg Olsen is still around, so this could be a tough passing game to predict week-to-week.

New Orleans

Offensive Change(s) to Watch: Second-round pick Michael Thomas was reportedly the Saints #1 wide receiver in the draft, and them taking him despite a hemorrhaging defense shows the value they place on his services. Coby Fleener was added in free agency, and some believe that Ben Watson’s surprise low TE1 season in 2015 is Fleener’s floor this year. CJ Spiller played a minimal role last year after knee surgery slowed down his transition to the team. He’s healthy (for now) and could play a larger role.

Injury Situation(s) to Watch: Spiller’s health in training camp and preseason is always something to monitor, with a career of injuries that are a matter of when, not if. Mark Ingram had surgery for a torn rotator cuff in the offseason, but has been a full-go for camp.

Position Battle(s) to Watch: Thomas, Fleener, and 2015 breakout wide receiver Willie Snead will jockey for places in the pecking order, which should actually be fluid week-to-week, with Cooks likely leading the way in big plays and targets, but the other three trailing closely behind. Spiller isn’t battling for a place on the depth chart, but the size of his role should grow from 2015 if he is healthy through the summer. Dynasty league players should watch seventh-round pick Daniel Lasco, who could be the handcuff to Mark Ingram in 2017 instead of Tim Hightower if he can do enough to gain a roster spot as the fifth running back (assuming Marcus Murphy makes it as the #4 on his return abilities)

Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: Once Drew Brees got over an early season shoulder injury, a Saints offense that lost Jimmy Graham and was breaking in multiple new and seemingly unimpressive talents soared as they usually do. The defense could get a little better, but this is a track meet team. The upgrades from Watson to Fleener (which I am a bit dubious of considering Fleener’s underachieving in Indianapolis) and Marques Colston to Michael Thomas keep the arrow pointing up, not to mention Willie Snead’s development and the potential for CJ Spiller be better and play a larger role.

Tampa Bay

Offensive Change(s) to Watch: Cameron Brate has been making a move on Austin Seferian-Jenkins on the depth chart and has currently overtaken him. JR Sweezy was added in free agency to provide run blocking punch to a developing offensive line that will for steps forward from two 2015 second-round picks, Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet. Lovie Smith’s teams have never been exciting offensively, so the switch to Dirk Koetter this offseason can only help Jameis Winston (who shed around 20 pounds this offseason) and company.

Injury Situation(s) to Watch: The Buccaneers have no injury situations hanging over their offense entering training camp. Vincent Jackson is 33 and he missed a lot of 2015 with a knee injury. Austin Seferian-Jenkins might be fighting for a roster spot and his injury woes over the first two years of his career are part of the reason why. He has to stay healthy to be assured of an opening day job with the Bucs.

Position Battle(s) to Watch: Seferian-Jenkins and Brate lead the way here, with Brate being the #1 at this moment. Seferian-Jenkins getting booted from a practice and now losing his job (for the time being) is more than just a motivation ploy, it is a sign that he and new head coach Dirk Koetter are on the outs. Adam Humphries has been declared the winner of the slot receiver/#3 job.

Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: Winston should be improved in year two, as should Mike Evans if he can avoid injuries and inconsistency. The cast around them includes some non-descript players in terms of pedigree, but ones that have developed chemistry with Winston already. Add in Doug Martin to lead a running game that gives this offense true balance and Charles Sims to be all-around threat out of the backfield, and you have an offense that is a handful and could produce profit for fantasy players at more than one position.