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NFL Fantasy Exit Interviews: NFC South

NFC South

2019 Team Offensive Ranks*Total offense:* 13th*Passing:* 3rd*Rushing:* 30th

Statistical Leaders (Final positional ranking/PPR ranks)
Passing:Matt Ryan -- 4,466 yards, 26 TD, 14 INT (QB11)
Rushing:Devonta Freeman -- 656 rush yards, 2 TD (RB20)
Receiving:Julio Jones -- 99 rec., 1,394 yards, 6 TD (WR3)

What went right: Once again, Julio Jones was, well ... Julio Jones. The Falcons star receiver posted his sixth straight season with more than 1,300 yards and scored six or more touchdowns for the fifth time in six campaigns -- though that never seems to be enough for some people. Jones' running (receiving?) mate, Calvin Ridley was on pace to exceed many of his outstanding rookie season totals, but his year was cut short when an abdominal injury sent him to injured reserve after Week 14.

There were other bright spots for the Dirty Birds if you cared to dig a little deeper. In the first half of the season, Matt Ryan was putting up solid QB1-type numbers, although that had a lot to do with a terrible defense that usually had Atlanta trailing by multiple scores at halftime. A lot of that garbage time production was harder to come by in the second half of the season. Austin Hooper was one of the biggest draft bargains of the season after the first couple of months of games. Some of that production was slowed due to a knee injury that kept him out of three games, yet he still finished the year cumulatively as the TE6 and was fourth at the position in fantasy points per game.

What went wrong: If early-season Matt Ryan was a thing that went right, then late-season Matt Ryan was a thing that went wrong. The Falcons signal-caller averaged slightly more than 15 fantasy points per game from Week 7 forward, compared to more than 24 points in the first six weeks.

It was an utterly frustrating season for Devonta Freeman from start to finish. With the Falcons constantly playing from behind, Freeman's opportunities as a runner were continually capped. He tried to bolster his numbers with increased production as a receiver -- his 59 catches were the second-most in his career -- but it wasn't enough to salvage most fantasy managers' draft investments.

What needs to improve: The biggest thing that needs to improve for Atlanta is on the defensive side of the ball. Just being able to stay in games should allow the Falcons the full use of their playbook, rather than spending most of their games in catch-up mode. It also wouldn't be a surprise to see the Falcons tinker with an offensive line that is getting old in key spots (Alex Mack will turn 35 next season) and was average, at best in a lot of places. There is still talent at the skill positions on offense, head coach Dan Quinn and his staff must learn how to better maximize it.

2019 Team Offensive Ranks
Total offense: 20th
Passing: 5th
Rushing: 23rd

Statistical Leaders (Final positional ranking/PPR ranks)
Passing:Kyle Allen -- 3,322 yards, 17 TD, 16 INT (QB28)
Rushing:Christian McCaffrey -- 1,387 yards, 15 TD (RB1)
Receiving:D.J. Moore -- 87 rec., 1,175 yards, 4 TD (WR16)

What went right: If you drafted Christian McCaffrey, there's a pretty good chance that you mad the playoffs in your fantasy league and maybe even won a championship. So, congratulations on that. McCaffrey made history in 2019 by becoming just the third NFL player to record 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season. If that wasn't enough, he also set a record for most receptions by a running back in a single season -- a record held by ... Christian McCaffrey. In short, he was the Panthers' offense in 2019. It wasn't the way the team likely drew it up but it helped plenty of fantasy managers prosper. On the rare occasions when the Panthers went to someone other than McCaffrey, the ball was likely in the hands of D.J. Moore. The second-year wideout experienced a breakout campaign with nearly 90 catches and more than 1,100 yards.

What went wrong: If you've read any of my other recaps, you've probably noted my lamentations about shoddy quarterback play holding back offenses. Sometimes QBs get too much credit or blame, but as teams put more importance on the position, it will have an outsized role in our imaginings of what might be. That's a long way of saying Cam Newton's nagging foot injury (that eventually landed him on injured reserve) totally upended what we thought the Panthers' offense could be. For a short time, Kyle Allen made some pundits believe that he could make Newton expendable, but that argument went up in smoke as the season progressed. There were never any such illusions with Will Grier at the end of the season.

What needs to improve: The Panthers have a new head coach in former Baylor front man Matt Rhule, whose first task might be the overhaul Carolina's struggling defense. But one of the big questions the franchise faces will be who is the team's starting quarterback next year. Does a healthy Newton return to the role or will the Panthers look elsewhere? Once that question is answered, we can start to get a handle on everything else.

2019 Team Offensive Ranks
Total offense: 4th
Passing: 7th
Rushing: 16th

Statistical Leaders (Final positional ranking/PPR ranks)
Passing:Drew Brees -- 2.979 yards, 27 TD, 4 INT (QB21)
Rushing:Alvin Kamara -- 797 yards, 5 TD (RB9)
Receiving:Michael Thomas -- 149 rec., 1,725 yards, 9 TD (WR1)

What went right: It was a record-setting year in the Big Easy. Michael Thomas set an NFL mark by catching 149 passes for 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns. The end result was the Saints' star receiver being the third-highest scoring player in fantasy football and tallying nearly 100 more points than the next closest receiver. It cemented Thomas' status as the first receiver off the board in next year's drafts. The only question will be: how high does he go overall?

On the surface, you might look at Drew Brees' QB21 finish and think the veteran quarterback had a terrible year. But that cumulative finish belies a season that saw him miss five games because of a thumb injury. In fact, Brees was yet again in the top 10 at his position when it came to points per game and likely helped a number of fantasy mangers win championships by averaging more than 28 points over the final four weeks of the NFL season. As Father Time continues his steady creep on Brees, his draft stock will fall into the double-digit rounds but if you're waiting on a quarterback, you could do much worse. Before we're finished here, let's not ignore Jared Cook's second straight top 10 tight end season. You only had to suffer through a poor first half of the season to reap the rewards.

What went wrong:Alvin Kamara was drafted in the top three selections in most drafts. Alvin Kamara did not return top three draft pick value. His 1,330 scrimmage yards were the fewest of his three-year NFL career even though his usage rates remained fairly steady from his 2018 season. There were, however, two notable differences. The biggest was a severe dropoff in touchdown production. A player who had found the end zone 31 times in his first two seasons made just six end zone visits in 2019 -- with four of them coming in Weeks 16 and 17. That was redemption if your fantasy team survived that long with Kamara. For many people, it was a case of too little, too late.

What needs to improve: Kamara's draft stock will undoubtedly fall next season. Once people are out of their feelings and thinking rationally, hopefully they'll realize he's still a first-round talent. While Michael Thomas is still an elite receiver, the Saints will need to do something to add playmakers at wide receiver. Late in the season, New Orleans had free agent receiver Antonio Brown in for a visit to no avail. One would expect the Saints to make a move at the position this offseason.

2019 Team Offensive Ranks
Total offense: 3rd
Passing: 1st
Rushing: 24th

Statistical Leaders (Final positional ranking/PPR ranks)
Passing:Jameis Winston -- 5,109 yards, 33 TD, 30 INT (QB5)
Rushing:Ronald Jones -- 724 yards, 6 TD (RB25)
Receiving:Chris Godwin -- 86 rec., 1,333 yards, 9 TD (WR13)

What went right: Having the entire fantasy community agree on something is normally the kiss of death. However, the universal belief that Chris Godwin was in line for a breakout season turned out to be as advertised. In just his third season (and first as a full-time starter), the Penn State product didn't take long to assert himself as the go-to target in the Tampa passing game. He finished second to Michael Thomas among fantasy receivers -- a gap that might have been somewhat smaller had Godwin not missed the final two games to injury. That shouldn't overshadow the fact that Mike Evans topped 1,000 receiving yards for the sixth straight year or that Ronald Jones rebounded from an abysmal rookie season to have occasional, if not inconsistent, fantasy production.

Then there was Jameis Winston. By the time the 2019 season ended, Winston led the league in passing yards, was second in touchdown passes thrown, recorded his second-best single season rushing total and was a top five fantasy quarterback. That's pretty good, no? Well that was just half of the story.

What went wrong: Jameis also set a dubious record by becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 30 touchdown passes with 30 interceptions. He cemented that last part with a season-ending pick-six, in the process setting a record for pick-sixes thrown in a season. It's enough to make a guy want to re-evaluate fantasy quarterback scoring. While we're at it, let's moan about the fact that despite occasional flashes, Bruce Arians insisted on using Peyton Barber just enough to make both of Tampa Bay's running backs functionally irrelevant for fantasy manager.

What needs to improve: We've said this many times before ... but can Jameis Winston just get better at protecting the football? At this point in his career, that request might be futile but we keep asking nonetheless. As long as we're making requests, it might be nice for the Bucs to give us a heads up on what their running back situation might be next season. If Jones can progress, it would be nice to see him earn a larger share of the workload. But that might also just be me being greedy.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com and a man who is ready to do a little binge-watching. Send him your aspirations to apathy via Twitter @MarcasG. If you read all of that, congrats. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

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Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore (12) makes a deep catch as Los Angeles Chargers outside linebacker Kyzir White (44) trails on the play during an NFL football game , Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif.

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