By Joseph Fazio
Stud: Devonta Freeman, running back
Devonta Freeman is a perfect package that almost any team would want: tremendous speed and an excellent catching ability. Freeman was a key factor that led the Falcons to a Super Bowl appearance against the Patriots. During the season, he set personal records in rushing yards while being a player quarterback Matt Ryan knew could catch the ball. Given Freeman is the highest paid running back in the league, he will likely be given a bigger role and it will hopefully turn into more points for fantasy owners.
Dud: Austin Hooper, tight end
Austin Hooper is coming into his second season in the league out of Stanford. As of now, the Falcons have placed Hooper as their primary tight end on the depth chart. Pressure is going to come to Hooper, who will see more passes coming to him. Having only 19 receptions last season, Hooper needs to become more apparent in catching the ball. This will be a big responsibility in his sophomore season and may become a liability to fantasy owners.
Stud: Christian McCaffrey, running back
Coming off a stellar college career, in which he was a Heisman Trophy finalist, Christian McCaffrey is a great multidimensional player, perfect to pair with Cam Newton. McCaffrey showed great abilities on offense during his tenure at Stanford, setting the record for most all-purpose yards in a season. As Carolina hopes to build up again after a disappointing season, McCaffrey’s ability on the offensive side of the ball will make him one of, if not, the best players on the Panthers’ roster.
Dud: Cam Newton, quarterback
This will most likely offend some people, but the quarterback once known as Cam Newton has vanished. All that is left is the shadow of a once great dual-threat quarterback. In his seventh year with the Panthers, Newton is coming off surgery to repair the rotator cuff on his throwing shoulder, a career-threatening injury for some quarterbacks. Last season, Newton accounted for 19 touchdowns and he threw the most interceptions (14) since his rookie season. It seems like Newton, a former NFL MVP, is seeing his downfall.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Stud: Mike Evans, wide receiver
The Buccaneers will again be looking for big things from Mike Evans. Coming off a significant season for the Bucs, Evans was second behind Jordy Nelson for most receiving touchdowns in the league, which included his first Pro Bowl appearance. Evans was a key part in leading a previous laughing stock of a Buccaneers team to a hopeful playoff contender with a 9-7 record last season. Look out for Evans to take the league by storm and possibly become one of the best receivers in the NFL.
Dud: Doug Martin, running back
Let’s all face it, Doug Martin is not the same as he used to be. Last season, the NFL suspended Martin four games for violating its substance abuse policy. Playing in only eight games last season, Martin put up career-low numbers. The most staggering included a 2.9 yards per carry average, a major drop from his 4.9 yards per carry average in 2015.
New Orleans Saints
Stud: Michael Thomas, wide receiver
Michael Thomas, a second-year man from Ohio State, led the Saints with nine receiving touchdowns last season. With the loss of Brandin Cooks, who was traded to the Patriots in the offseason, Thomas will have a greater role in the upcoming season. He will become Drew Brees’ No. 1 target this season. There is a possibility for Thomas to have better numbers, and he can become an excellent first-receiver option for many fantasy owners.
Dud: Adrian Peterson, running back
Signing a two-year, $7 million contract with the Saints, most fans know the great career of Adrian Peterson is drawing to a close. For now, and possibly the season, running back Mark Ingram will be the main guy lining up behind Brees. Peterson will see minimal rushes for the Saints and is more likely a bench player for fantasy owners this year.