The Fantasy Breakdown – AFC South Edition
Welcome back to the Fantasy Breakdown! This week, we will take a look at the AFC South, which has suddenly become a much more intriguing division than in past seasons. Let’s start with the most exciting team, especially from a fantasy football perspective, the Indianapolis Colts.
The Indianapolis Colts are the favorite to win the division, as well they should be. In the few short years since Chris Ballard took over the Colts, the team has seen a turn-around invaluable talent, particularly where the offensive line and defense is concerned. The Colts have big expectations this year, as do fantasy owners.
Here is a player by player breakdown:
Andrew Luck – Before his nagging calf/lower leg injury, I might have had Andrew Luck rated as my number one fantasy football quarterback this year. However, the injury does give me a slight cause to pause. If the Colts do not play Luck at all during the pre-season, I will feel much better about his fantasy stock. For now, if I’m going to take a quarterback early, I want to capitalize on the recent news about Luck to see if I can steal him a round or two later than his usual ADP.
Marlon Mack – In spite of the injury history, I’m very high on Marlon Mack this year. So long as he’s healthy and on the field, he is locked in as an RB1. If I take a WR in the first round, I’m often trying to target Mack in the 2nd round. There’s no need to overthink this, I want the primary running back playing behind the offensive line, led by star guard Quenton Nelson.
Nyheim Hines – Though Hines had his struggles last year, he has done well throughout camp so far this year and seems to have cemented himself as second on the depth chart. He is an excellent PPR running back, having had 2 games with 7 and 9 receptions last year, so he has some flex appeal even if Marlon Mack is playing.
T.Y. Hilton – Hilton presents a potential value, even with his relatively high ADP. Last year, he only had 6 touchdowns and 76 receptions. If he gets a slight uptick in those numbers and has another 1200/1300 yards, he will have an excellent year for fantasy owners. He’s the clear number one WR, and the only way he doesn’t pan out is an injury to himself or Luck.
Devin Funchess – Free agent acquisition Devin Funchess is worth a flier late in drafts because he’s a big-bodied red zone target. He will become more valuable if he can maintain the outside WR position, while Chester Rogers and Parris Campbell battle for the slot position. Funchess’ current ADP is falling to the double-digit rounds, and if there’s a chance I can get 600 to 800 yards and 8 to 10 touchdowns from that position in the draft, I’ll take it.
Chester Rogers – The battle for the WR spot behind presumptive starter T.Y. Hilton has been intense throughout Colts training camp. Rogers is entering the third year of his NFL career, and this is when most NFL wide receivers make the leap. If he can establish himself as the clear number two on the depth chart, he will have tremendous value for fantasy owners this year, but the truth is he’s more likely the odd man out in this receiving room, so do not overspend.
Parris Campbell – The Colts second round pick has battled in camp but has not made enough strides to establish himself as the definitive number two. However, he is the most promising WR on this list, so he is worth a late round flier for sure in redrafts, and is worth even more in dynasty leagues.
Eric Ebron – Eric Ebron had an insane year in fantasy football this past season, and that was mostly due to him scoring 13 touchdowns. Regression is to be expected, but if he’s able to accrue more yards and catches, he should have a similar value as last year. That would make him worth his current ADP. However, the addition of Devin Funchess as a red zone target and the returning health of Jack Doyle could also eat into his red zone target share, which is where Ebron makes his bread.
Jack Doyle – Rainbow Six Jack Doyle is back for vengeance. Doyle is returning from season-ending hip and kidney injuries which caused him to lose over 25 lbs. He’s beginning to regain weight, and opening training camp with the starters was certainly a positive outlook for his upcoming season, however, I personally am going to stay away from Doyle. His inclusion in the offense also serves to make me wary of drafting Eric Ebron as well.
Indianapolis DST – The Indianapolis Colts defense has been rebuilt, and that starts with Defensive Rookie of the Year, Darius Leonard. Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin has impressed early in camp, and the Colts secondary boasts a handful of young talent. The addition of veteran Justin Houston to the defensive line adds to an already deep unit and gives the Colts a real pass rush. The Colts defense could end up being a top 10 unit, especially if things don’t work out for the Titans and Jaguars who could potentially be struggling offenses if things don’t break right for them.
The Houston Texans are the biggest boom or bust candidate among all NFL teams this upcoming season. They have an excellent starting roster, but the depth at nearly every position is questionable, especially the offensive line. In spite of this, if the Texans succeed, they will be beneficial to winning fantasy football rosters.
Here is a player by player breakdown:
Deshaun Watson – Deshaun Watson has quickly proven himself as a star quarterback, however, he might be the most overrated asset in all of fantasy football. Watson is consistently drafted as one of the first three quarterbacks off the board, along with Patrick Mahomes and Andrew Luck. The stats simply do not equate this ADP. Last year, Watson threw for approximately 4100 yards and 26 touchdowns. He was one of the most sacked quarterbacks last year, and the Texans did not do enough to address their offensive line concerns, making me extremely wary of drafting Watson.
Lamar Miller – Lamar Miller is human Robitussin: it tastes awful, but it works. The Texans released D’onta Foreman recently and Alfred Blue during this off-season, leaving no clear cut number two running back on their roster. Lamar Miller is the obvious starting RB, and as long as he’s healthy, he will give you a solid RB2 more often than not.
Karan Higdon – With D’onta Foreman recently being waived, the backup RB job in Houston has opened up. My favorite to win the job is undrafted rookie free agent pickup, Karan Higdon. Higdon has nice speed, boasting a 4.49 40 yard dash, and he was a productive runner in college at Michigan, where he had 8 games with over 100 yards. He’s worth a flier in the last rounds of your drafts.
Deandre Hopkins – Arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL, Nuk has proven to be QB proof, injury-proof and drop-proof. He’s a guaranteed first rounder, often the first receiver that comes off the board, and deservedly so. At this moment in time, given the holdout situations, I would take Nuk over every player in fantasy football except for Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, and Christian McCaffery.
Will Fuller – Will Fuller has been one of the most productive receivers whenever he’s been on the field. The problem is, he hasn’t spent much time on the field. The best ability is availability, and Fuller has struggled mightily with injuries his first two seasons. If he could actually stay healthy, he’d be a top end WR2 and would be an incredible value at his current ADP, making him worth a shot.
Keke Coutee – Coutee operates primarily as the slot receiver in this offense, making him much more valuable in PPR formats compared to standard scoring fantasy football leagues. Whenever Will Fuller is injured, Coutee becomes the de facto number two receiver, giving him a volume boost as well. He’s an excellent value in the mid to later rounds of fantasy drafts.
Jordan Thomas – Jordan Thomas is a huge man. He is 6 foot 6 inches and 280 pounds, making him a valuable blocker. This could be enough to separate him as the starting tight end. Following the release of former starter Ryan Griffin due to off-field incidents, the tight end room has become wide open. The starter may not necessarily have value but is worth a flier in the last rounds of fantasy football drafts.
Kahale Warring – Although rookie tight ends usually don’t perform well in fantasy football, Warring has the potential to be the exception to the rule. The third round pick out of San Diego State has performed well throughout the off-season, and he possesses the size, speed, and hands to develop into a solid starter. Plus, he’s a virtual unknown in fantasy football, making him a fantastic value as the last pick of your draft.
Houston DST – The Texans defense is a house of cards, and one or two injuries could bring it all crashing down. J.J. Watt seems to have returned to form, and having the defensive leader on the field and terrorizing opposing quarterbacks is the key to success for this defense. As long as Jadaveon Clowney sticks to his current plan and shows up for the season-opener, the Texans should be able to lean on their star pass-rushers to make up for a lack of depth and star power in the secondary.
Mike Vrabel is entering his sophomore season as the Tennessee Titans head coach and will look to improve on a 9-7 record from last year that resulted in the Titans missing the playoffs. Top to bottom, the Titans are an average team that plays above themselves, and they will need to do this better than ever before in a loaded division. Marcus Mariota might be the worst quarterback in the division, so it will be interesting to see if Mike Vrabel can get his QB to progress this year.
Here is a player by player breakdown:
Marcus Mariota – Mariota is not a valid starting quarterback in fantasy football. Even with his running ability, Mariota does not have the career history, nor the roster around him, to break out as a true fantasy star. He is a valid streaming option in some weeks, and nothing more.
Derrick Henry – No player burned me in fantasy football more last year than Derrick Henry. I drafted Henry in nearly all of my leagues because of the projected value of a starting RB going in the 5th and 6th rounds. After an extremely slow start to the season, I had all but given up on Henry, either packaging him away in trades or straight dropping him. Let me be your cautionary tale; when a starting RB is struggling, bench him, don’t drop him. There was no hotter RB in the fantasy playoffs last year than Derrick Henry. Hopefully, this year, he can overcome the early injuries and can be more consistent from game to game.
Dion Lewis – Even when Derrick Henry is healthy, Lewis still represents a value as a PPR running back. If Henry can’t go to start the season due to his nagging calf strain, then Dion Lewis instantly becomes an RB2 with RB1 upside, especially in PPR leagues. He might be one of the most valuable handcuff players in fantasy football this year.
Corey Davis – Davis improved by leaps and bounds last year and is entering the third year of his career. I’m sure I sound like a broken record, but I really like to draft third year wide receivers. The price on guys like this is still a value (generally speaking), and they are most likely to make a leap in their third year. Davis is positioned as the number one wide receiver, and the only thing keeping his ADP down is his quarterback and the scheme that he plays in.
Adam Humphries – Transitioning from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the Tennessee Titans, Humphries could be a candidate to push for the most volume outside of primary receiver Corey Davis. Taywan Taylor plays mostly outside, and Tajae Sharpe was not able to capitalize on the dearth of targets that became available following the departure of Rishard Matthews.
Taywan Taylor – The aforementioned Taylor is nothing more than a blind shot in the last rounds. The odds are against Taylor having a productive season, as he is the second outside wide receiver in a run-based offensive scheme. I might draft him late as a flier, but I won’t be excited about it.
Delanie Walker – Although Delanie Walker is getting pretty long in the tooth, he still has value when he is healthy and on the field. Walker is still Mariota’s favorite target in the passing game, so he’s worth taking a late flier. However, if you draft Walker, you need to draft another TE to plug and play should Walker get injured, or even if he misses games for maintenance.
Titans DST – The Titans are still undervalued as a defensive unit, despite finishing third last year in defensive rankings behind only the stalwart Chicago Bears and the consistent Baltimore Ravens. The drawback is playing in a division with Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson. The team doesn’t boast many household names outside of Jurrell Casey and Malcolm Butler, but they are a well-coached defense that plays with chemistry, so it would be surprising for them to fall out of the top ten defenses entirely.
The Jacksonville Jaguars were perhaps the biggest disappointment in the NFL last season. The weight of the responsibility for those failures fell on the shoulders of Blake Bortles, who is no longer with the team. Hope arrived in Jacksonville in the form of former SuperBowl MVP Nick Foles, who is taking over as the starting quarterback for the Jaguars. If the defense can get back to form, the Jaguars will look to make a deep playoff run this year.
Here is a player by player breakdown:
Nick Foles – I do not envy Nick Foles. After leaving Philadelphia the first time around, Foles found himself in QB hell, being coached by Jeff Fisher for a once defunct St Louis Rams offense. Now, he will look to leave Philadelphia for the second time on a much more successful path. He does not have the same quality of weapons around him in Jacksonville as he did in Philadelphia, but if the defense can bounce back to form, he could be an effective signal-caller leading a run-heavy scheme. This does not project well for his fantasy football outlook, so I wouldn’t draft Foles as more than a second streaming option if I took a QB with injury risks like Deshaun Watson or Andrew Luck.
Leonard Fournette – Despite the injury risk, I’m coming around on Leonard Fournette. Generally available in the second rounds of fantasy football drafts, the biggest flaw in Fournette’s game has been his availability. Now that he has a better QB that can take advantage of stacked boxes, Fournette could easily become a week to week RB1 if he stays healthy.
Ryquell Armstead – I really like Ryquell Armstead because I don’t believe Alfred Blue is a viable NFL starter. Despite suffering a minor hamstring and now an unrelated quad injury, Armstead is still the better option from a physical standpoint. At 5 foot 11 inches and 220 pounds, and having ran an impressive 4.45 40 yard dash at the combine, Armstead can be an explosive second option in a volume heavy running game.
Dede Westbrook – Westbrook is arguably the best WR left in Jacksonville, which is not a compliment. The lack of depth in the WR room is the biggest upside for Dede, who performed well last year considering he had Blake Bortles throwing him the ball. A third year WR who will look to make a leap with a better QB, Dede could prove to be a tremendous value as he is going late in drafts.
Marqise Lee – Also entering his third year, Marqise Lee stagnated last year. Again, all of the wide receivers were affected by Blake Bortles inconsistent and inaccurate passing, however, Lee actually performed better in his rookie year than in his sophomore season. Although I slightly prefer Dede Westbrook, I think Lee also presents a potential value given his current ADP.
Geoff Swaim – The former Cowboys tight end, Swaim is nothing more than a last round flier, as he’s not proven himself in the NFL. The only other TE on the roster is James O’Shaughnessy, who is more of a blocking tight end, which is about the only upside for Swaim.
Jaguars DST – One of the highest-drafted fantasy defense last year, the once great Sacksonville defense regressed immensely last year. They will look to rebound this year now that they have a QB they can believe in and fight for. If Nick Foles can limit turnovers and putting the defense in a bad spot, there is still a ton of talent left on this team to get back to dominating opposing offenses like they had done the year prior.
NEXT TIME: The AFC West