Dominick Petrillo @Envisionff
This time let us take a look at the AFC South. A division which is getting a lot of hype as the best division in the NFL. Well, if you take away the importance of quarterback play and running backs you might be on to something. While the hype is premature, the fantasy goodness could be plentiful and the talent, with few elite exceptions, will come with a lower draft price than other divisions.
The Texans season in 2018, much like it did in 2017 will live or die by injuries. From J.J. Watt to Deshaun Watson, both sides of the ball need to stay healthy for anything to happen in Houston. For fantasy reasons, let’s just worry about the offense as we know about the defense already.
Deshaun Watson is the greatest quarterback of all time. This has already been decided based on his five games last season as a rookie. Why else would he be going off the board as the second quarterback behind only Aaron Rodgers. Oh, that’s right. Because people are drinking the Kool-Aid on him although he has never truly done anything in the NFL for even half a season, let alone a full one. Calm down folks. He is not the second best at the position and he should not be drafted as such going in the fourth round either. While he could be great, he could also falter coming off an ACL injury. Don’t forget the ACL injury in college was to the other knee, so now he has two impaired wheels, not just one. Behind a terrible offensive line, this may prove to be a death nail to his potential this season.
One bright spot for the team is DeAndre Hopkins. Coming back off a miserable 2016 season in which he finished as the 37th wide receiver, he came back to finish as the wide receiver two last season. This has bumped his fantasy value from the third or fourth round in most drafts last season to the middle of the first round this season. While this is, of course, drafting at his ceiling, as it is with anyone in the first round, he should prove worthy of this selection as he should remain a top five wide receiver in 2018. On the other side of the field is oft-injured but talented deep threat Will Fuller from Notre Dame. While playing in only a few games with Watson in 2017, the pair showed a real connection which could lead to Fuller being a nice stack with Watson at a cheaper cost than Hopkins going in the seventh round of the draft instead of the first round. Looking at the tight end position, the retirement of C.J. Fedorowitz due to concussion concerns leaves a hole at the position. While Stephen Anderson looks to be the one who will likely step up, he is still a flier at best and should be picked up off the waited wire rather than drafted in leagues this season.
Looking at the running game in Houston, Lamar Miller looks to have the starting job again going into the regular season. With the ACL injury suffered by D’Onta Foreman last season meaning his stay on the PUP list may extend into the regular season meaning a guaranteed role for Miller at least for the first six weeks. As seen with other running backs around the league like LeSean McCoy in Buffalo and even Miller in Houston last season, when you have a quarterback with the potential to run, it opens up good things for the running back in their offense. While it would be better for Miller if Foreman was there as he is better in a lead committee back role, With Watson back, Miller should still be viable as a solid running back two for your fantasy team. Taking him in the sixth or seventh round over a running back who may need help being relevant should serve well for you and could lead to good trade value should he ball out the first six weeks if Foreman misses time. Thus, allowing you to trade him high later in the season for someone who will help more when it comes to a playoff run in your league.
Much like with the Texans, the Colts season rides directly on the shoulders, or should I say shoulder, of Andrew Luck. Unlike with DeShone Watson, we know what Andrew Luck can do when healthy and he can do a lot. Currently the number nine consensus quarterback on Fantasy Pros, he will certainly be moving up in the rankings as the preseason winds down and we become more confident in his health. Look for him to finish top five in the consensus rankings and his draft price will rise right along with his ranking.
With the health of Luck goes the production of T.Y. Hilton. With Luck on the field, Hilton is a top 12 wide receiver and worth his third-round draft pick. Without Luck, he may not even be in the conversation for a top 20 receiver and will disappoint on the third-round grade returning more at the level of the receivers taken three or even four rounds later in the draft. If you are confident about Luck, your confidence in Hilton to rebound should be just as high. As should your confidence in the tight end position. Although muddied by the addition of Eric Ebron, the tight end position could be a bright spot for the Colts. As long as you can figure out which one to use on a weekly basis you could have a top 10 play. Eric Ebron has the athletic advantage over Jack Doyle, but Doyle has the comfort level in the offense making this a hard decision for fantasy drafts. Luckily, with tight end being a dumpster fire, you can choose a different tight end from another team and avoid the situation entirely which is what should be done until order has been determined. Then you can probably find them on your waiver wire for pick up.
The rush game in Indianapolis is as clear as my vision. Is it going to be Marlon Mack? Did Nyheim Hines fumble his way out of consideration? What about Jordan Wilkens or Christine Michael, the man who wouldn’t die. Who knows. The early leader was Marlon Mack, but with a significant hamstring injury, not something you want to hear, he may not be healthy this season. While you may not be able to avoid the situation entirely, make sure too much draft capital is not used on any of them. If you want to take one, wait for the end of the draft and take Christine Michael. It will be risky for sure, but he could also be an easy drop for someone else if he does not work out in the first few weeks of the season.
When it comes to the defensive side of the ball for the Colts? Wait, what defense?
A Team with very little elite talent at an individual position for fantasy purposes, the only player on the Jaguars worth drafting in the single digit rounds is second year running back Leonard Fournette. In 13 games last season, Fournette had 268 rushing attempts and with the departure of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, he should get this number over 300 as the Jaguars will rely heavily on the run game to supplement their defense to win games. With Fournette going in the late first or early second round of drafts, his value is at its peak so if he does not produce the way expected, or his ankles don’t hold up he will be this season’s highest bust for fantasy owners. While they say he can catch the ball, it has yet to be shown in the NFL and with Cory Grant and T.J. Yeldon as backups, he won’t be asked to contribute in this department again in 2018. With Blake Bortles behind center, if the defense slips up even a little bit, the Jaguars could be headed for a fall back to mediocrity and Fournette and his inability to catch will become less involved as the team will have to throw to catch up in games. If this does not play out and Fournette can be a fixture on the field, a top-eight finish is in the cards for him in 2018.
Speaking of the passing game, Blake Bortles is not a player who should be drafted in standard one-quarterback leagues. If you play in super flex or two-quarterback leagues, he could be had as a back-end quarterback two. He is far from a good quarterback and is most likely destined to be out of Jacksonville in a season or two to make room for a player who could manage the game better with the defense to get over the hump. His pass catchers leave a lot to be desired as the team is counting on a lot of young unproven players to effectively give weapons to Bortles. With the likes of Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole and Donte Moncrief fighting for targets behind current number one receiver by default Marquise Lee, the Jaguars will have a tough time making this happen. If anyone is going to step up and be the number one, the likeliest candidate looks to be Keelan Cole. He looks to be the most talented of the receiving corps and with some good luck, he will pay dividends on his 13th round draft price. All of these players have risk in their drafting, so it makes sense to go with the toad with the least warts and for all intensive purposes, it is Cole.
The real talent on this team obviously lies with the defense. The number one defense in the league in 2017, it is unlikely they finish number one again. They will still be a top three defense though and this leads them to be the first defense off the board and deservedly so. Their amazing pass defense will force teams to run the ball and their equally amazing run defense will make even this hard for opposing teams. We should find out a lot about Saquon Barkley in week one against this defense. If you get a bonus for points scored, Jacksonville is the perfect defense to take as with their ability and the Jaguars want to pound Fournette into the ground, they will shorten games immensely giving opposing teams little chance to score.
Thank god the Titans got rid of their old coaching staff and all the Mularkey which went with it. Ok, bad pun, but hey, true none the less. Bring in Mike Vrabel and new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and with it a whole new philosophy. Dare I say a philosophy, not from the 1970’s. With the new scheme should come a rebound season for Marcus Mariota as he will have a playbook allowing him to use his weapons including second-year receivers Corey Davis and Tawan Taylor. Add into this his best friend Delanie Walker as well as running backs Derrick Henry and Deion Lewis and the Titans could be formidable in the AFC South.
Mariota had a down year in 2017 due both to his own injuries as well as the injuries to Davis and DeMarco Murray during the season. He still was able to get the Titans to the playoffs and an upset over the Chiefs in the first round so it was not a totally lost season in Nashville. This season, with Deion Lewis replacing Murray in the backfield, the Titans have another injury task to line up next to Derrick Henry. Everyone was hoping this would be the breakout season from Henry behind a great offensive line but with the signing of Lewis, fans will be disappointed again. Derrick Henry is currently going in the fourth round of drafts, which for his limited role is exceedingly high especially when compared to Lewis’s price of the sixth round. Lewis offers far more upside as the passing down back in Tennessee and if there is a choice between the two in drafts, Lewis and his abilities are more suitable for success in standard leagues and more so in PPR leagues.
In the receiving game, this is a group of young but talented receivers. With Corey Davis being taken in drafts in the fifth or sixth round paired with two receivers who are rarely being drafted in Rishard Matthews and Tawan Taylor. As the first-round pick last season Davis has the pedigree as long as he stays healthy to be the number one receiver. Taylor and Matthews though will make contributions this season, and especially Taylor should be drafted in all dynasty leagues.
When it comes to the tight end position, there is really not much to be said. Delanie Walker is the favorite target for Mariota and is going to finish as a top-eight tight end. Since he was removed from the dregs of San Francisco, he has blossomed into one of the most underrated tight ends in the NFL and with his new extension from the Titans this offseason he is not going anywhere. He will garner much attention from Mariota and should easily finish with 75 receptions for 800 to 900 yards and eight to 10 touchdowns. If you miss out on Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz in the first four rounds, Walker should be a prime target for your fantasy team in the middle rounds of the draft to hold down the position for the season. He, along with the other tight ends mentioned above and maybe one or two others, are the only tight ends you won’t want to drop on their bye weeks. And at the tight end position, this is saying something.