The Deep State series continues with an examination of fantasy studs and duds in each NFL division to help you better prepare for your 2019 fantasy football season. The formula? A proprietary blend of statistics, trends, player tendencies, and three decades of fantasy knowledge.
Last week, we revealed studs and duds from the AFC South. Next up in the series, the NFC South.
New Orleans Saints
Stud: Jared Cook, tight end
Cook’s career has been a bit of a yo-yo, up and down depending on the team and circumstance. The same goes for fantasy football. He tantalizes owners with a big season only to disappoint the next. So why is he on the stud list? Cook is coming off two solid seasons in Oakland, and his numbers last year (68 receptions, 896 yards, 6 touchdowns) made him the #5 TE in both standard and PPR formats. He joins a more dynamic passing game in New Orleans and will likely see 100+ targets in 2019. A rare repeat season is not out of the question for Cook.
Dud: Latavius Murray, running back
Honestly, it’s hard to pick a fantasy dud on this New Orleans Saints’ offense. Because someone needs to be nominated, Murray is the choice. It’s a simple numbers game. Murray has only played 16 games once in his five-year career and averages a respectable, but not impressive, 4.1 yards per carry.
Murray is also just a complement to Alvin Kamara, who is the focal point of the offense along with receiver Michael Thomas. He may be flex worthy depending on the matchup, but don’t expect Murray to deliver as an RB2 on your roster, even on this prolific offense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Stud: Dare Ogunbowale, running back
Keep in mind; this is The Deep State, where we dive deep to uncover hidden fantasy gems. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ backfield that featured Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones was a mess last year. The only thing that’s changed for 2019 is the coaching staff. In the preseason, Barber and Jones have done nothing to inspire confidence that things will be any different this year.
Enter Ogunbowale, who seems to have the third-down job locked up. That’s not a bad position to be in when you’re in a Bruce Arians pass-first offense. Ogunbowale has the most worth of all Tampa Bay backs heading into the season.
Dud: Peyton Barber/Ronald Jones, running backs
Barber was always a placeholder for Tampa Bay, and Ronald Jones doesn’t look like the type of back Arians features in his offenses. Barber has averaged just 14 receptions per season in his three years with the Bucs, and Jones caught a whopping seven balls in nine games last year. Even if Ogunbowale fails to nail down the feature back role, neither Barber or Jones have a skillset that will equal much success in this offense. Avoid both at all costs.
Stud: Devonta Freeman, running back
Let’s give this thing a name: Freeman’s Last Stand. The stars seem to be aligning for the veteran back to have an impressive comeback season after knee and groin injuries limited him to two games in 2018. The offense is led by former NFL MVP quarterback Matt Ryan and perhaps the best trio of receivers in the league in Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohamed Sanu. It’s a dream scenario for any NFL running back.
Despite the great situation, Freeman’s injury history and the Atlanta Falcons rushing woes last season is scaring some fantasy football players away. The Falcons finished 27th in rushing yards per game last season and responded by rebuilding their offensive line and bringing back Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator. Freeman is once again the main back in a potent offense with little competition behind him. The script writes itself.
Dud: Ito Smith, running back
If Freeman stays healthy this season, there’s little work for others to do. Some thought Smith might step into the Tevin Coleman role in this offense, but a healthy Freeman and uninspiring preseason for Smith has given owners pause. His ADP in August has dropped three-to-four rounds depending on the league format. With all the mouths to feed in this offense, there’s little left for Smith.
Stud: Curtis Samuel, wide receiver
Samuel didn’t get meaningful playing time until the final six weeks of 2018. He took advantage of it when he finally did get on the field consistently, averaging seven targets and nearly 55 yards receiving per game. If training camp is any indication, look for those numbers to jump significantly.
He’s now starting opposite D.J. Moore, and the Carolina Panthers team website described Samuel’s play in camp as “a completely different level.” Look for the team to get creative getting Samuel the ball this season. There’s big-play potential here, mixed in with a chance of volatility in week-to-week consistency.
Dud: Greg Olsen, tight end
Don’t look now, but the entire NFC South seems loaded with high octane offenses. It’s hard to pick a dud from a few of them. Age and injury have turned Olsen into one of those players that get drafted on name rather than production. He’s played in just 16 games over the past two seasons. In those games, he has just 22 receptions for 241 yards and 5 TDs.
Meanwhile, 2018 fourth-round selection Ian Thomas had 36 receptions for 333 yards and 2 TDs in 2018. The writing is on the wall for the passing of the torch here, but until it’s official, both players should be avoided.
Travis Yates is a writer for the Pro Football Network covering the Cincinnati Bengals and Fantasy Football. Yates is also a co-host of the Fantasy Fixers podcast for PFN. You can follow him @TheTravisYates on Twitter.