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Sleepers and Busts: NFC South

Carolina

Panthers

Sleeper: Mike Goodson Jonathan Stewart‘s continued struggles with a strained Achilles’ has sidelined him throughout camp. Stewart’s absence has DeAngelo Williams‘ stock rising, but also has left a tremendous void to be filled in the Panther offense. Goodson, a rookie runner, could arise as Stewart’s replacement in the potent

Carolina ground attack. He is not the power back that Stewart is, but Goodson is talented with NFL-ready skills. He displays good speed and playmaking ability, but his slight stature makes him more of a compliment than an every down back. Neither Williams nor Stewart were used extensively in the passing game last season; they combined for 30 catches total. Goodson has good hands and homerun capability. He could claim third-down duties and should contribute in the return game. He has drawn comparisons to Dallas RB Felix Jones. Goodson has made the best of his opportunities in camp and in preseason action. His true value will depend on Stewart’s ability to play.

Bust: Jake Delhomme – Delhomme is coming off of Tommy John surgery and one of the worst playoff performances I’ve ever witnessed by an NFL starting quarterback (six turnovers vs. the Cardinals). Despite his ‘08 and offseason stuggles, Delhomme was able to land a five-year, $42.5 million dollar extension. Steve Smith is the only thing keeping Delhomme fantasy relevant these days. The Panthers are a run-first team and will look to pound the rock in the redzone. Williams and Stewart combined for 30 of the team’s touchdowns last season. The league has caught on to the Delhomme-to-Smith connection, though none have found a way to stop it. The organization has failed to upgrade at the wide receiver position. Dwayne Jarrett‘s college success has never translated to the pros and Muhsin Muhammad is in the twilight of his career. Smith will make Delhomme look better than he is, but

Carolina should have thought twice before investing all that money in to their questionable quarterback.

New Orleans

Saints

Sleeper: Pierre Thomas – 2008 makes it two years in a row that Thomas has preformed down the stretch and made major contributions for teams fighting for fantasy titles. The Saints opting not to bring in another runner proves their confidence with their in-house option.

New Orleans will continue to be one of the highest-powered offenses in the league. Thomas has shown impressive versatility, making contributions between the tackles, in the passing attack and in the return game. Reggie Bush‘s durability is a concern. The Saints seem to have finally found an appropriate spot for Bush in their offense and that’s in specialty situations. Bush will see action in two-back sets, splitting out wide and on sweep plays, but his time as a between the tackles runner is over. Thomas has put on size in the offseason in order to take on the punishment of his expanding role. He has made good on his short-yardage duties and is not likely to be replaced in goalline situations. Thomas tallied up 1,702 all-purpose yards, 12 TDs and averaged 4.8 per carry, while only starting in six games in ’08. His totals over an entire season could allow him to put up serious stats. There is tremendous upside here. Thomas could provide RB1 numbers at an extremely discounted price.    

Bust: Reggie Bush – Don’t get me wrong, I like him. The thing is he is not a running back. He is a wide receiver that can run the ball from time to time. His early career struggles were due to a trial-an-error approach by the Saints, attempting to find where Bush best fit in their offense. The good thing is I think they have found his proper role. The bad thing is I don’t believe his health will hold up for them to exploit his talents.

Atlanta

Falcons

Sleeper: Matt Ryan – There will be no sophomore slump with Ryan. Another year of experience combined with the addition of the greatest tight end of all-time has the talented second-year play caller looking at a sophomore jump. The strong ground game lead by Michael Turner, combined with the extremely talented receiving options in Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, have the Falcons in contention for the NFC South title. After an impressive rookie debut, Ryan should improve in all positional stat categories.

Bust: Michael Jenkins – Jenkins quietly had a decent season in 2008, but will be down graded to the third receiving option in

Atlanta‘s passing attack. The Falcons will opt to throw more in ’09, but Jenkins may be the odd man out as both White and  Gonzalez have 80-plus catch, 1,000-plus yard and double-digit TD capabilities.

Tampa

Bay

Buccaneers

Sleeper: Derrick Ward – Ward surprisingly totaled over 1,400 total yards for the Giants while splitting time with Brandon Jacobs. His stats suffered in the TD department due to the short-yardage specialties of his

New York counterpart.

Tampa has expressed that they will be a run-heavy team in ’09. Ward will once again find himself in a time-share situation as the Bucs look to implement a committee attack with Earnest Graham. The two backs display similar skills, but Ward should win the starting position. His categorization as a RB2 or RB3 will depend on how the goalline carries are split. If Ward can claim the short-yardage role, or even get equal looks in the redzone, than he could produce solid RB2 numbers.

Bust: Michael Clayton – Clayton has failed to build upon an impressive rookie year. Tampa will look to be a run-first team, with receiving opportunities being vacuumed up by Antonio Bryant and Kellen Winslow. He is a player that will be overlooked in the Bucs passing attack and a player you should overlook come draft day.

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