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Targets Retained: NFC South

Coming off a Super Bowl victory, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers understandably focused on bringing as many players back as they could afford, while the other three teams in the NFC South focused on retooling in an effort to challenge the Bucs for divisional supremacy. Tom Brady and Matt Ryan are the two returning QBs in this division, but while Brady will return almost all of his major targets, Ryan is losing his WR1 of more than a half decade in Julio Jones, as well as his top three RBs from last season. Carolina and New Orleans will have new QBs under center and they, too, have seen a large target overhaul going into next season. How will these teams replace those lost targets, or in Tampa’s case, fit new ones into an already crowded offense?

Roster Moves through July 9

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Overall Targets Returning: 96.5% (585 of 606): 3rd in NFL
  • WR Targets Returning: 100% (349 of 349): T-1st in NFL
  • TE Targets Returning: 99.3% (137 of 138): 7th in NFL
  • RB/FB Targets Returning: 83.2% (99 of 119): 13th in NFL

The Buccaneers have really brought the band back across the board, but especially with Brady’s main targets. After franchise tagging Chris Godwin and re-signing Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette, and Rob Gronkowski, they were left with only one loss coming off multiple targets from last season: LeSean McCoy, who had 19 targets -- but 13 came in the first four weeks of the season and he only saw two snaps throughout their whole playoff run. They added Giovani Bernard to replace McCoy as the RB3 for insurance and drafted Jaelon Darden, an undersized fourth-round receiver their offensive coordinator has compared to Antonio Brown, as WR depth with an eye toward the future. Targets will be tough to come by in this offense with the overcrowding, but it makes for great continuity and what will likely be one of the best offenses in football.

New Orleans Saints

  • Overall Targets Returning: 67.5% (343 of 508): 24th in NFL
  • WR Targets Returning: 65.9% (176 of 267): 25th in NFL
  • TE Targets Returning: 18.6% (16 of 86): 32nd in NFL
  • RB/FB Targets Returning: 97.2% (139 of 143): 8th in NFL

The Saints’ incredible salary cap crunch and subsequent maneuvering couldn’t happen without at least a few casualties. Jared Cook and Emmanuel Sanders were two of the big ones, accounting for 142 targets between them. A fully healthy season from Michael Thomas and growth from some of the younger receivers and tight ends will be required to replace the departures, because Nick Vannett is the biggest offseason addition, coming off only 21 targets in 2020. The running backs are all still around and will still play a huge role, especially Alvin Kamara. With Drew Brees leaving, whoever replaces him between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill faces a couple question marks with his supporting cast and will need to help elevate some of the secondary targets.

Carolina Panthers

  • Overall Targets Returning: 62.4% (329 of 527): 28th in NFL
  • WR Targets Returning: 70.1% (260 of 371): 23rd in NFL
  • TE Targets Returning: 80.5% (33 of 41): 18th in NFL
  • RB/FB Targets Returning: 30.7% (35 of 114): 30th in NFL

In 2020, Robby Anderson, D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel accounted for roughly two-thirds of Carolina’s total targets. Samuel has now departed for Washington while Mike Davis left and took the majority of last year’s RB targets with him. Davis wouldn’t have been getting anywhere near as many targets anyway as long as Christian McCaffrey stays healthy, plus they drafted Chuba Hubbard as that new insurance behind him, so Samuel is definitely the big loss here. He won’t be replaced by any one player, but Carolina did add David Moore in free agency as well as Terrace Marshall Jr. (second round) and Shi Smith (sixth round) in the draft. This was much needed considering their top three receivers accounted for all but 20 of those WR targets. The TE position contributed very little for them in the passing game last season, so they added Dan Arnold, whose 45 targets is more than all of Carolina’s TEs had combined in 2020. Carolina’s new QB, Sam Darnold, targeted his TEs roughly 6% more often than Carolina QBs in 2020, so expect to see an increased role for the tight ends and a more balanced overall passing attack next season.

Atlanta Falcons

  • Overall Targets Returning: 67.8% (410 of 605): 23rd in NFL
  • WR Targets Returning: 76.5% (302 of 395): 20th in NFL
  • TE Targets Returning: 89.4% (93 of 104): 13th in NFL
  • RB/FB Targets Returning: 14.2% (15 of 106): 31st in NFL

Coming off an injury-plagued season where he only played nine games, Julio Jones has been traded to the Titans, setting the stage for Calvin Ridley to be the undisputed WR1 of the offense and opening up targets for the new additions. Kyle Pitts is the marquee name as the No. 4 overall draft pick and, while he is a TE, the lack of vacated targets at the TE position makes it likely we see the overall TE target share increase in this offense to account for Pitts and Hayden Hurst being two of their better pass-catchers. At the RB position, Mike Davis is the big addition and the clear RB1, but it will be tough for him to replace the production of Todd Gurley, Ito Smith and Brian Hill by himself, so Cordarelle Patterson and Qadree Ollison will likely be counted on to help carry the load. This will definitely be a new-look offense for Atlanta with a fresh coaching staff and scheme, no Julio Jones, and a pair of quality pass-catching TEs, so it’ll be interesting to see how they work it all out.