With the fantasy football draft season right around the corner, I’ve decided to do a breakdown on the fantasy-relevant players on every team, division by division. You can check out the previous columns here:
This column will cover the teams from the AFC South. The AFC South is one of the weaker divisions in football, but they have no shortage of fantasy assets. All comments are with respect to a 10-team league with standard scoring.
QB: The Texans announced that their starting quarterback will be Ryan Fitzpatrick. Bleugh. He’s more-or-less competent, so he doesn’t hurt the value of any of their receivers or running backs. He’s just not worth owning in any fantasy league. Case Keenum is basically the same, an average guy that isn’t interesting for fantasy. Tom Savage isn’t very interesting to me in dynasty leagues either. I think it’s HIGHLY likely that the Texans draft a quarterback very high next year, and if Savage has a future in the league I doubt it’s with the Texans.
RB: Arian Foster is one of the most divisive players so far in early rankings. I’ve seen him as high as a first round pick and as low as a mid-late third. Foster makes me very, very nervous. His yards per carry went from 4.9 in 2010 to 4.4 in 2011 to 4.1 in 2012. He was back up to 4.5 YPC before he got injured last year, but he only had two runs of 20 yards or more in more than 120 carries. That’s pretty concerning. He also lost Gary Kubiak and his favorable zone-blocking scheme that Foster excelled in.
Instead he’ll be in Bill O’Brien’s offense, which figures to be more pass-heavy than Kubiak’s offense. He’s still a starting running back in fantasy football, but he’s a mid-low RB2 in my opinion, though he does have high upside. Andre Brown figures to be his handcuff, and if you draft Foster, I’d make drafting Brown around the mid-late rounds a priority given Foster’s injury history.
WR: The conversation about Texans’ receivers has to start with Andre Johnson. I’m definitely worried about his holdout, since it isn’t about the money. He’s made plenty of money over his career and now he just wants to win, so I think his holdout could have the potential to continue into the season. However, assuming he’s back practicing with the Texans by the preseason, I think he’s a very solid number two wide receiver. Any decrease in skill due to age should be offset by more pass attempts in O’Brien’s offense.
DeAndre Hopkins is a sneaky sleeper for me. He quietly accumulated over 800 yards receiving last year, though he only caught two touchdowns. I think he’s a phenomenal talent, and both of those numbers should be higher this year. Hopkins is a low-end flex option or high-end backup with WR2 upside.
TE: Garrett Graham looks like the starter at tight end for the Texans this season. However, he likely won’t be the starter for your fantasy team. He isn’t terrible: he’ll likely finish this year with between 500-800 yards and 5-8 touchdowns, just like roughly four or five other tight ends. Don’t waste a draft pick on him in a standard league, you’ll likely be able to get him, or a player very similar to him, on the waiver-wire after the draft.
D/ST: Call me crazy but I like the Texans’ defense this year. They were a consensus top-5 fantasy defense going into last year when they imploded and finished tied for 28th. Then they added Jadeveon Clowney and Louis Nix, giving them one of the best defensive fronts in football. It also doesn’t hurt that they play in the feeble AFC South. They’re likely to be available at the very end of the draft, and I think they’re due for a big bounce-back season. If nothing else, they should get you a lot of sacks!
QB: I love me some Andrew Luck. He’s Peyton Manning minus about 15 years of experience and plus about 350 rushing yards and about 5 rushing touchdowns per yer. Trent Richardson is still poised to spend next season running straight into the back of his offensive linemen and the Colts’ defense has made no major improvements.
In fact, the only position on the Colts that should be noticeably improved is the Colts’ wide receiving core. Between the return of Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen from injury and the addition of Hakeem Nicks in free agency, it feels like this is the season Luck breaks into the elite tier of fantasy quarterbacks. He’s firmly a top five quarterback for me that should go in the first five rounds. In a dynasty league, I think that Luck is the top quarterback available and a top-20 player overall. He’ll live up to the hype.
RB: I don’t understand why people are so high on Trent Richardson. I did a recent mock draft where he went in the fifth round. The fifth! A fifth round pick for a guy that lost his job to Donald Brown last year. DONALD BROWN!!!!
In Richardson’s only decent season he rushed for less than 1,000 yards. His value came mainly from touchdowns, which can be pretty fluky, and receiving yards. Unfortunately, the Colts’ offense doesn’t seem to feature many passes to the running back. He’s a mid-late round flier at best for me, which means I probably won’t have him on any of my teams this year.
As far as the other Colts running backs, we’ll have to wait and see who takes charge of the backup running back job in training camp. Whoever it is definitely has value though, as if Richardson can lose his job to Donald Brown he can definitely lose it to Vick Ballard or Ahmad Bradshaw. This is also a situation which could easily become a true running back-by-committee, in which case none of these backs would be interesting in the slightest.
WR: The Colts wide receiver I think will be most relevant for fantasy football this year is T.Y. Hilton, but I don’t love any of them. Hilton is so fast and explosive, but it seems like the Colts only used him short last year. He had a shockingly low yardage total for the number of balls he caught. Hopefully the improvements on the outside will give Hilton more room to run. He’s a WR3 for me, but he definitely has WR2 upside.
Reggie Wayne will be the big question mark, as few players return to superstar form from an ACL injury at his age. I think he’ll be a good NFL receiver, continuing to convert on third downs, but I don’t think he’s anything more than that, especially given the addition of Hakeem Nicks. If Wayne is fully healthy, I don’t think there are enough balls thrown to outside receivers to make either of them usable.
If either is out with an injury, which is very possible, I think the other guy becomes a flex player. Nicks is still only 26 believe it or not, so he still has some upside. I think he could be a steal this year if Wayne and/or Hilton miss time with injury. Keep an eye on Da’Rick Rodgers at the very end of your draft. He has a ton of natural ability, and he looked pretty good during the last few weeks and the playoffs.
TE: The Colts actually have two young, talented tight ends in Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. Allen has battled injuries for much of his career, and Fleener looked pretty good in his absence last year, but I’d much rather have Allen for this year. Allen is the better blocker, and now that the Colts have three solid wide receivers they’ll likely use 2-TE sets with less frequency than in previous years.
I think Allen will see more of the field, but I think both will cut into each other’s targets enough to render both useless for fantasy. If one is injured, the other becomes a top-10 TE in standard leagues. Otherwise, I’m not interested.
D/ST: The Colts defense was tied for the 10th best defense in fantasy last year, but they worry me. They were very inconsistent, and they gave up more than 30 points four times. Three of those games were against the Rams, Cardinals and Bengals respectively. Ouch. They likely will finish in the top 15 fantasy defenses, but I look for someone a little more consistent or with more upside in my fantasy defense.
QB: At least the Blaine Gabbert disaster is over. Can you believe someone drafted that guy in the first round?
Chad Henne has actually been a surprisingly average quarterback over the course of his career. He’ll never be more than a matchup play in fantasy football, but he is MUCH better than Gabbert and he should be good enough to give Toby Gerhart more room to run than Maurice Jones-Drew got last year.
I don’t think Blake Bortles will start this season unless Henne gets injured or the season goes off the rails shockingly quickly, but I do like him in dynasty leagues. Many draft experts thought he was the quarterback with the highest potential this year, and he’s likely substantially cheaper than Johnny Manziel or even Teddy Bridgewater.
RB: The Jacksonville Jaguars signed the most expensive free agent running back this offseason to replace Jones-Drew. Surprisingly, it was Toby Gerhart. I was pretty skeptical about Gerhart when he was signed, as he’s only ever been a backup. However, upon digging into his stats, there are some pretty positive signs.
He has averaged a very respectable 4.7 yards per carry for his career , he had four runs of 20 or more yards in only 36 attempts last year, and he’s actually a pretty good pass catcher, catching over 20 passes in three of his four years in the league despite limited time on the field. If you take a quarterback or tight end early in the draft, I would be totally fine with Gerhart as my number two running back.
WR: Cecil Shorts is actually a pretty good value this year. He showed some nice potential in 2012, and while he’s dealt with some ineffectiveness as well as a few injuries since then, I think the upside is still there. He’s a nice WR3 for me.
Ace Sanders is very similar. It’ll be interesting seeing which of those guys assert themselves as the number one wide receiver for the Jags, if either do at all. Other than that, there isn’t much to worry about for fantasy this year. Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson are worth looks in super deep/dynasty leagues, but not in standard leagues.
The most interesting guy here is Justin Blackmon. We’ve heard almost nothing about his suspension, other than that the Jaguars don’t expect him back this year. When he’s on the field, he’s a legit top 15 wide receiver. If you are in a super deep league he’s definitely worth a flier just in case he surprises everyone and comes back in the middle of the season. I’d give him a long look in the middle rounds of a dynasty league. You aren’t going to get much higher upside than Blackmon. The risk is substantial, but it might be worth it if he plays in the NFL again.
TE: For advice on Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis, read the section on the Texans tight end Garrett Graham and replace the word “Texans,” with, “Jaguars.” You’ve got it.
D/ST: Don’t even think about it.
QB: So obviously this doesn’t apply to standard leagues, but I kind of like Jake Locker. He actually looked pretty good before his injury last year, and I think that Ken Whisenhunt can help his development. He has a very good offensive line, a promising rookie running back and a promising young stable of pass-catchers to throw to. He also has pretty good incentive to step his game up, as Whisenhunt has nothing invested in Locker and the Titans drafted Zach Mettenberger as insurance in case Locker can’t cut it. If you’re looking for a promising quarterback with a lot of upside in a two quarterback league, Locker is someone you can get in one of the last rounds who could pay big dividends if he can stay healthy.
RB: Fantasy experts have been quick to anoint Bishop Sankey as this year’s breakout rookie running back, but I’m not so sure. Sankey is a bruising running back that seems to get better as the game goes on and the defense gets tired. In all likelihood, he’ll be in at least a 70-30 timeshare with Shonn Greene for the starting running back job, if he even gets that many of the carries.
I think Sankey will be a guy that will run for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries one game and 40 yards on 12 carries in the next. Greene will basically be Sankey, but worse. If one of them obviously and firmly seizes the job or one of them gets hurt, then the other guy becomes a number two running back. But as long as there’s a time share, I would prefer Sankey to be the third running back rather than a starter for my fantasy team.
WR: I’m really excited about the Titans’ wide receivers this year. Kendall Wright is one of my favorite values of this year’s draft. He’s a former first-round pick who caught 94 balls last year for over 1,000 yards. He only caught two touchdowns, but that’s almost certainly a fluke. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t catch AT LEAST 5-6 this season. He’s a solid flex for me.
Justin Hunter is also very intriguing. If you’re trying to find this year’s late-round pick who shocks everyone by finishing in the top 10-15 at his position, Hunter would be a good guy to bet on. He’s 6-foot-4, he weighs over 200 pounds and he runs a sub 4.4 40. He’s a monster who could become Locker’s go-to target in the red zone. Hunter is a little more boom/bust than Wright is, but the sky is the limit for Hunter.
I’m not interested in Nate Washington. He’s a decent bye-week replacement, but you can likely find similar players on your league’s waiver-wire.
TE: For advice on Titan’s tight end Delanie Walker, see Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis.
D/ST: The Titans were a bad fantasy defensive last year, and they lost Alterraun Verner to free agency. While they added some other assets including Wesley Woodyard, Bernard Pollard and Shaun Phillips, I don’t think these will propel them to greatness. If you choose to stream defenses, the Titans, who play the Texans and the Jaguars twice per year, are a good choice. I’m not drafting them though.
Check back next week for the AFC North and NFC North!