NFC South fantasy questions: When is too soon to draft Bijan Robinson?

AP Photo/John Bazemore

Prepping for the upcoming fantasy football season requires asking tough questions.

Which NFL teams are set up for success? Which teams are set to struggle? Where can fantasy managers mine for latent fantasy talent? Which brand-name stars could actually disappoint?

Throughout June, I'll sift through every NFL division and highlight the most pressing fantasy question facing each team. Next up: the NFC South.

Pressing fantasy questions by division:
AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West

Atlanta Falcons

How soon is too soon to draft Bijan Robinson?

I wouldn't take him with a top-three pick. After that, though, there's an argument for the rookie. Robinson is giving off Baby Barkley vibes and has got the undeniable goods to thrive as an every-down back. The former Longhorn's speed, vision and tackle-busting prowess figure to make him an immediate impact player. Add in his ability as a receiver and he's a top-five fantasy RB in Arthur Smith's run-focused offense. That's why the 21-year-old's ADP has climbed inside the top 10 fantasy players overall, with Christian McCaffrey and Austin Ekeler as the only running backs ahead of him.

Some fantasy managers struggle with the notion that a rookie RB can ROI so profoundly and immediately. Let's dispel that.

Atlanta managed a league-high rush rate of 51.1% in 2022. That number barely budged even when the Falcons were losing, as the team ran the ball 49.8% of the time when trailing. Nothing will stop Smith from grinding! It makes sense then that this operation intentionally selected a generational talent with fresh legs who could handle an elite level of work.

A projected volume of 20 touches per game is, therefore, well within Robinson's range of probable outcomes. Five of the past seven backs to average 20-plus touches per outing as rookies over the past decade (Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette, Saquon Barkley, James Robinson, Najee Harris) all finished inside the top-seven fantasy producers at the position.

Takeaway: Robinson's talent in combination with his expected volume provides him with a top-10 positional floor and top-five upside.

Carolina Panthers

How confident should you be in Miles Sanders' fantasy impact as Carolina's primary ball carrier?

Being in on the former Eagle means being in on his volume. A deep dive on last season's numbers provides managers with a reasonable expectation for Sanders' opportunities. Before being traded to San Francisco, Christian McCaffrey averaged 19.6 touches per contest (14.1 carries, 5.5 receptions). D'Onta Foreman took over as the team's RB1 and averaged 17.8 touches (17.4 carries, 0.45 receptions) from Weeks 7-18. Panthers RBs on the whole managed 28.2 touches.

Therefore, it's reasonable to project a volume of 15-18 touches for Sanders (whose career average happens to be 15.1 touches per game). Last season, all 15 backs who averaged at least 15 touches per game finished in the top 17 in fantasy points per game at the position. It might be ambitious to expect that return from Sanders, but it does provide an appealing ceiling.

Takeaway: The Panthers aren't likely to be in scoring position often, but Sanders' expected weekly volume -- even if not high-value touches -- figures to float his fantasy stock inside the top 25 RBs.

New Orleans Saints

Is there a sneaky sleeper on the Saints' roster?

It's Kendre Miller for me. Drafted by New Orleans in the third round, Miller is an elusive back with excellent vision. And he's tough to bring down, as evidenced by his 74 forced missed tackles (third most in the FBS) at TCU last season.

Noting Alvin Kamara's legal woes and contract situation, there's a real chance the rookie sees immediate action. Fold in the Saints' soft schedule and Miller could get off to a hot start. The team's first six opponents allowed 4.42 YPC to opposing backs (4.39 was the 2022 league average) and gave up an average of more than 98 rushing yards per game to the position. Additionally, four of those six opponents were well below average against RBs after contact, which aligns well with Miller's ability to pick up chunk yardage.

Yes, I know the Saints have last season's rushing TD leader, Jamaal Williams, poised to step in for Kamara. But I'm keeping an eye on Miller, who is seven years younger than the 28-year-old Williams. There is overlap in their skill sets, but with fresher legs, I'd bet on the rookie to potentially surge ahead of the vet (especially if Kamara is absent) by November.

Takeaway: A potential suspension for Alvin Kamara could open up double-digit touches for Miller, who has the skills and schedule to produce.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

How much do you trust Rachaad White to be a consistent fantasy running back in 2023?

"Trust" and "fantasy running back" aren't usually words and concepts that go together. However, White does present with intriguing value heading into 2023. He figures to lead a backfield that currently includes Chase Edmonds (who has never topped 9.7 carries per game in a season), Ke'Shawn Vaughn (91 career touches over three seasons), Patrick Laird and two undrafted free agents. The volume should, therefore, be substantial as White picks up where he left off last season ... and then some.

In the Bucs' final eight games last season, White split work with Leonard Fournette to the tune of 15.1 touches per game. He was one of just four running backs to hit a threshold above 11 carries and 3.5 catches per contest from Weeks 10 through 18. The other RBs were Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler and James Conner. That's a heck of a floor for a player being drafted as late as the sixth or seventh round of 12-team exercises.

Takeaway: White's potential increase in opportunities figures to offset any offensive inefficiencies that come in a post-Tom Brady era. The second-year RB projects to be a top-25 fantasy RB, providing excellent value as a "dead zone" pick.

Follow Liz on Twitter: @LizLoza_FF