NFC South review

ATLANTA FALCONS

Head coach: Bobby Petrino (0-0 overall record)
Offensive schedule vs.: Pass -- 14th hardest; Run -- 6th easiest

The Falcons were a running machine on offense last season, but that will change under the watch of new head coach Bobby Petrino. The team will utilize more multiple-receiver sets with veteran Joe Horn, Michael Jenkins, Roddy White and rookie Laurent Robinson, and tight end Alge Crumpler will also remain a prominent component.

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With Michael Vick out of the mix, Joey Harrington is now expected to open the regular season as the team's No. 1 quarterback. He could put up some decent number against lesser opponents, but overall Harrington has little draft value in most formats.

FALCONS TOP FIVE FANTASY PLAYERS

  1. Jerious Norwood
    1. Warrick Dunn
    2. Alge Crumpler
    3. Joe Horn
    4. Joey Harrington

Petrino likes to use a power running game, but he doesn't have a physical north-south back on his roster. Warrick Dunn should be fine for the start of the season in question after a surgical procedure on his back, but look for the value of Jerious Norwood to rise. Rookie Jason Snelling, who could see some short-yardage and goal-line work, is now also in the mix. Norwood is the most attractive choice of the trio, but he shouldn't be considered more than a No. 3 fantasy runner or flex starter. While the Falcons did lose veteran Justin Griffith (Raiders) at fullback, the team added a terrific replacement for him in Ovie Mughelli.

While he has become prone to injuries in recent seasons, Horn will still be the first Atlanta wide receiver off the board. Jenkins and White will be worth late-round selections, but neither should be used as more than reserves in most formats. Billy Cundiff will be considered the favorite to beat out Aaron Elling and become the team's top kicker, but the former Cowboy and Saint won't have much too draft value.

The Falcons added such veterans as CB Lewis Sanders and LB Marcus Wilkins and rookies DE Jamaal Anderson, CB Chris Houston and LB Stephen Nicholas on the defensive side of the football, but this unit still has much to prove before it should be considered more than a No. 2 defense for all fantasy football owners.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Head coach:John Fox (49-38 overall record)
Offensive schedule vs.: Pass -- 10th easiest; Run -- 4th easiest

The Panthers made three notable moves on offense with the addition of David Carr and rookies Dwayne Jarrett and C Ryan Kalil. Carr, a former No. 1 overall selection of the Houston Texans, will be a reserve behind Jake Delhomme but could be allowed a chance to start if Delhomme is either injured or inconsistent under center. Carr won't be drafted in most cases, but he could have some value off the waiver wire under the correct circumstances.

Kalil, who could be moved from center to guard, will be a nice asset in the team's new zone-blocking scheme. Jarrett will compete with Drew Carter and Keary Colbert to start opposite Steve Smith after the release of Keyshawn Johnson. The eventual winner will be well worth a late-round choice.

PANTHERS TOP FIVE FANTASY PLAYERS

  1. Steve Smith
    1. DeAngelo Williams
    2. DeShaun Foster
    3. Jake Delhomme
    4. Carolina defense

A backfield committee with DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams should be utilized for the second consecutive season, but the latter has much more potential and is a nice sleeper candidate in all drafts. In fact, Williams could be taken off the board as soon as the fourth or fifth round as a No. 2 fantasy runner or flex starter. Foster could be the starter for head coach John Fox but will be more of a middle-round choice.

The addition of rookies LB Jon Beason and DE Charles Johnson to a defensive unit that includes such studs as DEs Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker, LBs Dan Morgan and Thomas Davis and SS Mike Minter is a real positive, so the Panthers defense should be considered a viable No. 1 unit.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Head coach:Sean Payton (11-7 overall record)
Offensive schedule vs.: Pass -- 14th easiest; Run -- 11th easiest

Drew Brees, who sustained a dislocated elbow in his left arm at the Pro Bowl, is back to 100 percent health. He'll no doubt remain a top-five fantasy quarterback in all drafts. Brees will have some new weapons on offense after the team added rookie Robert Meachem, who should be involved quite a bit. The Saints also retained Terrance Copper and added David Patten, so their core of wide receivers should remain solid. Devery Henderson is the current favorite to start with Marques Colston and is a nice sleeper candidate.

SAINTS TOP FIVE FANTASY PLAYERS

  1. Reggie Bush
    1. Deuce McAllister
    2. Drew Brees
    3. Marques Colston
    4. Devery Henderson

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Deuce McAllister, who underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his knee in the offseason, should remain atop the depth chart and will be a solid No. 2 fantasy runner. He will continue to share time in the backfield with Reggie Bush, who will be closer to a No. 1 fantasy back. The offense will also benefit from the presence of Eric Johnson, who has the skills and abilities to be a No. 1 fantasy tight end but will be viewed as more of a reserve due to his proneness to injuries.

The Saints also traded for Olindo Mare, who will replace John Carney. Mare now has added value in the dome and is a borderline No. 1 or 2 fantasy kicker.

The Saints added veterans such as FS Kevin Kaesviharn and LB Brian Simmons and rookie CBs Usama Young and David Jones into the mix on the defensive side of the football, but this unit will remain more of a No. 2 fantasy defense and won't even be selected in most draft formats.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Head coach: Jon Gruden (82-70 overall record)
Offensive schedule vs.: Pass -- 16th easiest; Run -- 2nd easiest

The Buccaneers added veteran quarterbacks Jake Plummer and Jeff Garcia in the offseason, but it appears that Plummer will choose retirement over another season of pro football. Garcia is the current favorite to start and is a borderline No. 2 or 3 fantasy quarterback, but the situation would be altered if Plummer returns. Jerramy Stevens was added into the offensive mix, but his value has fallen hard since the start of last season. In fact, he is no lock to even make the roster and won't be selected in most drafts.

BUCCANEERS TOP FIVE FANTASY PLAYERS

  1. Carnell Williams
    1. Joey Galloway
    2. Jeff Garcia
    3. Tampa Bay defense
    4. Michael Pittman

The addition of former Giants OT Luke Petitgout and rookie OTs Arron Sears and Chris Denman should improve what was a porous offensive line last season, and that's a real positive for Carnell Williams. A serious statistical disappointment in 2006, the Cadillac will be considered as a high-risk, high-reward No. 2 fantasy back across the board. Michael Pittman will remain second on the depth chart and is terrific late-round insurance for Williams, who has endured multiple ailments at the NFL level.

On defense, the Buccaneers added veteran DE Kevin Carter and LB Cato June, who will start on the strong side with veteran LB Derrick Brooks on the weak side and LB Barrett Ruud in the middle. This unit also became much more youthful in the draft with the selection of DEs Gaines Adams and Greg Peterson, SS Sabby Piscitelli, LBs Quincy Black and Adam Hayward and CBs Tanard Jackson and Marcus Hamilton, so owners should consider it a viable No. 2 fantasy defense.

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