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Fantasy Football: Can we trust Christian McCaffrey again, and more NFC South questions

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One of the most common ways to get started on your fantasy football preparation for the season ahead is to not only look at positional rankings but also at the state of each NFL team's offense.

Which teams are most set up for success? Which teams are set to struggle? Which of those expected bottom-feeder teams have latent fantasy talent to mine from? Which of those top teams could actually disappoint fantasy managers?

Over the coming weeks, fantasy football analyst Liz Loza will sift through every division and highlight the biggest fantasy issues facing each team within. Next up, the NFC South!

Can Kyle Pitts ROI at his current third-round ADP?

Kyle Pitts inspired fantasy debates web-wide heading into 2021. The phenom out of Florida intoxicated ceiling seekers while simultaneously triggering positional pragmatists. It appeared as though Pitts was going to quiet the haters and reward the hopeful after clearing 100 yards in back-to-back outings in his fifth and sixth professional games. Ultimately, however, the Falcons offense fell flat, allowing opposing defenses to key in on the jumbo receiver and limiting him to a 68-1,026-1 stat line.

But upside is a hell of a drug. And the truthers remain sold on the Pitts’ potential… which explains the 21-year-old’s third-round ADP in the NFC format.

Like last year, the looks will be there. Between Calvin Ridley’s suspension and Russell Gage’s departure, nearly 150 targets have been vacated in the ATL. Pitts is all but guaranteed a top-five target share of over 20 percent, even with the additions of Drake London and Bryan Edwards. What he’s not guaranteed, however, is an upgrade under center.

Matt Ryan may not be described as “dynamic,” but he does play clean and consistent. The Falcons former QB has never missed more than two games in a season (2009) and has cleared at least 4,000 yards in 9 of his last 10 campaigns (3,968 in 2021). The same cannot be said for Marcus Mariota, who hasn’t logged double-digit starts since 2018 and whose career high in pass attempts is 453 in 2017, while his top passing yards total was 3,426 in 2016.

Given Mariota’s injury history, I’ll take the over on five starts for Desmond Ridder. As much as I like the rookie’s long-term potential, it does little for Pitts’ stock this season … thus ensuring a dip below the 5.9 Target Quality Rating (TE4) that he enjoyed under Ryan in 2021.

Elite tight ends tend to break out between years two and three, suggesting that Pitts is on the precipice of a monster effort. He also figures to find the end zone more than once in 2022. Though given that his new QB recorded a red zone completion percentage outside of the top-30 over his last two seasons in Tennessee, and noting London’s ability in the red area, it’s unlikely that Pitts will clear 6 TDs. That makes him — under these particular circumstances — overvalued in the third round when he's coming off the board in the same area as receivers like Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman. Fearless Forecast: 74-962-6

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Is it still the right move to spend a top-five pick on Christian McCaffrey?

Nothing about Carolina’s offseason moves suggests that Chrisitan McCaffrey won’t be, once again, at the center of the Panthers’ offense.

Ben McAdoo — who was the Giants OC in 2014 and 2015 when Eli Manning recorded career best numbers — replaces Joe Brady and brings with him a more uptempo system, designed to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly. The upgrade from Sam Darnold to Baker Mayfieldno matter the talk of a QB competition — gives McAdoo’s scheme a fighting chance of working. That in turn elevates the Panthers pass-catching talent, creating a more conducive atmosphere for fantasy production.

McCaffrey has never averaged fewer than 5.9 targets per contest in his entire career. His target floor for the upcoming season is 102 looks and — noting the aforementioned offensive upgrades — a reception projection of 85 catches.

His rushing numbers figure to receive a boost in efficiency as well. The Panthers spent the offseason investing in the offensive line (the run-blocking unit of which earned a 31st ranked stuffed rate of 21%). The additions of Bradley Bozeman, Austin Corbett, and rookie “Ickey” Ekwonu should bolster the maligned unit while also providing it with much-needed depth. Fold in the addition of power runner D’Onta Foreman (who memorably shouldered the load for Derrick Henry last season) and the opportunity for McCaffrey to stay fresh seems legit.

The question, however, is not about the enormity of CMC’s role … but whether or not his body is up for the task.

McCaffrey has played in just 10 games over the last two seasons. A cascade of lower body injuries (that began to materialize with a knee strain in Week 9 of the 2019 season) has derailed the dynamic RB. I’m not an MD, but through collaborating with Dr. Alex Weber on my Rest vs Rust series, I have learned that recurrent issues in a specific location (and side) of the body generally don’t reverse course for the bulk of professional athletes.

Workload needs to be tweaked (i.e. reduced) in order to prevent reinjury. And as outlined above … that doesn’t seem likely.

McCaffery has a middling SOS over the course of the season. He opens 2022 in a solid spot, however, with only two tough matchups (NO and SF) over his first five games. If one were to invest in CMC, my advice would be to sell high early in the season (Week 4 versus Arizona) before he takes on a murderers row of d-lines from Weeks 5-7 (vs SF, @ LAR, vs TB) and the risk of reinjury increases exponentially.

Christian McCaffrey has struggled to stay healthy the past two seasons. Should you prioritize him in 2022 fantasy football drafts? (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
Christian McCaffrey has struggled to stay healthy the past two seasons. Should you prioritize him in 2022 fantasy football drafts? (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

Will Alvin Kamara maintain RB1 numbers under Dennis Allen?

Alvin Kamara will hold on to some coaching continuity in 2022. Along with Dennis Allen being promoted to head coach, Pete Carmichael — who has been with the Saints since 2006 and has served as the team’s OC since 2009 — will remain in his position and take on the official play-calling duties in the post-Sean Payton era.

Last year, however, without Drew Brees (and potentially the influence of Joe Lombardi) Kamara’s numbers plummeted. Despite recording a career-high 240 carries, Karama managed a career-low 3.5 True Yards Per Carry (RB64) and had a paltry four rushing touchdowns. While his TD total via the air was better (5), the former PPR standout failed to clear 80 grabs (47) for the first time in his five-year career.

The dip in production can — at least in part — be attributed to the chaos under center and the knee injury he sustained in Week 9. Given the probability of a six-game suspension as well as the additions of Jarvis Landry and Chris Olave, another 80-catch campaign seems deep in the rearview mirror.

Kamara is part of the team’s fantasy past. But the aforementioned Olave is the future.

The most complete receiver in the 2022 class, Olave’s game is equal parts athleticism and intelligence, as evidenced by his route technique and boundary awareness. He is crisp, sudden, and feline-esque in his movements, constantly forcing defenders (and officiating crews) to second guess themselves. He has the polish (and opportunity given the question marks surrounding Kamara and Michael Thomas’ availability) to step in and contribute immediately. Grab him in the 10th round and lean into all of that league-winning upside.

Is Chris Godwin being overvalued or undervalued?

OVERVALUED!

Chris Godwin suffered a Grade 3 ACL tear (torn completely in half, allowing for zero stability to the knee joint) and a Grade 2 MCL sprain on December 19 of last year. Return to sport for athletes post-ACL reconstruction (Godwin had surgery on January 3rd, 2022) is nine months, making an early October return possible. There is a difference, however, between return to sport and return to prior level of performance.

Reports suggest that the 26-year-old will start 2022 on the PUP list, keeping him sidelined through Week 6. It’s entirely possible that he won’t receive a full complement of snaps until after the team’s Week 11 bye, as he’s gradually worked back into the offense. The Russell Gage acquisition — which was enthusiastically spearheaded by Tom Brady — allows the Bucs to be conservative about Godwin’s return.

According to current ADP data, Godwin is the WR20, coming off of boards in the fifth rounds of twelve-team exercises. He’s undoubtedly a top-10 contributor when healthy, but in a game that requires managers to start hot, a fifth-round stash feels unnecessarily reactive. Instead, I’d prefer to be proactive about a higher upside player like D.J. Moore or Marquise Brown. And if you really want a WR attached to Brady, bet on Gage in Round 9 or 10.

Engage with Liz on social @LizLoza_FF

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