On Tuesday I wrapped up the AFC North, with a decent fantasy overview of a very smash mouth division predicated on RBs and Defenses. This week we will drastically change pace as we analyze the AFC South, which is a far more passing-centric division. Despite being home to potentially 3 stud running backs, the divisional focus is all about trying to get big passing plays, and that dynamic is forced by the Indiana frontrunner of the division and Peyton Manning.
2010: As is far too often the theme, Indianapolis won the division, and the rest stayed home. Jacksonville had a heck of a shot for the division the first half of the season, and so did Houston, but neither team has figured out how to close out a season yet, and at this point, I am losing confidence either will without a coaching change.
Houston Texans: Schaub finished in the top 10 and the same goes for Andre Johnson. The surprise here was the way Arian Foster blew up. Joel Dreessen finished 19th for TEs, good for a #2. Their defense finished 31st, and sadly it seems to be a common theme that their defense can't keep up with the high octaine offense, causing all the late season losses. What's New? This may be the year they got it right on Defense. They added J.J. Watt, a great effort run-defender End, a pass rusher in Brooks Reed, a pair of Corners I REALLY liked going into the draft in Brandon Harris and Rashad Carmichael, and tossed two more picks at the defense for good measure. They also started the switch to the 3-4. So 2011...Sadly, because of our nasty labor situation, the switch to a 3-4, even with a really good D-Coordinator (not head coach, coordinator) and 4 great draft picks they may not improve nearly as much as they would have in a normal NFL season. I'd avoid this defense, but maybe watch them from a distance in case things start clicking in the second half of the season. Matt Schaub will be a #1 and so will Andre Johnson. I have been chastised in email for predicting Foster might not be a top 10 back in 2011, but I stand firm that he will still be top 15, and get over 1000 rushing yards... I just see some drop off. For the record, I hope for Houston's sake he can repeat, I just need to see it twice to buy in. Right now, I'd rank him as a low #1 and my top #2 option in the NFL. I think Owen Daniels is a #1 Tight End again next season. Sadly, I don't see an emerging second receiver from Houston unless they add someone. I love Kevin Walter's effort, but he is a #4-5 possession receiver.
Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning was top 5, and I just have no idea when he won't be. Reggie Wayne finished top 10, but was VERY erratic this past season and it spooked and disappointed me as an owner. Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie came in at 30 and 31 respectively, both low end #3 options, but Austin Collie was a complete non-factor from Week 6 to 14. Conversely, Garcon was a non-factor for 6 of the first 7 weeks. Jacob Tamme replaced the injured Dallas Clark and finished 15th overall, but was easily a starter the whole time after Clark's injury. Neither running back cracked 500 yards rushing on the year, and the D/ST weren't worth mentioning. What's New? Offensive Line help, that's what. They added a potential 3 tech DT and perhaps a short yardage back as well. So 2011... As I opened with, until something drastic happens, Peyton Manning is a top 5 QB. Wayne's struggles were disconcerting, but he will probably still be a top 12 receiver. I am very curious to see who wins out in the Collie/Garcon competition for #2. Hopefully its not injuries, but skill, that decide this year. Whoever it is will probably end up a solid #3 receiver. I would take either with the expectation of #3-4 output, but my money is on Garcon right now. Indy may use more 2 TE sets, to get Clark and Tamme on the field at the same time. If Clark stays in Indy, he is a top 10 TE.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Garrard was 14th and a decent situational backup QB who struggled with consistency yet again. MJD was #12 in the RB category, and really that is expected at this point. Mike Sims-Walker's off season meant they had no legit Wide Receiver in 2010, but Marcedes Lewis was a great top 10 TE. The D/ST remained lackluster, if not offensive at times. What's New? Blaine Gabbert and Cecil Shorts. I can't argue with the need for passing game improvement, but its a shame that defense got neglected. So 2011...Garrard's days are numbered now and never trust a rookie (in fantasy), so avoid the QBs. If Mike Sims-Walker doesn't come back, the passing game will probably consist solely of Marcedes Lewis, who may be a #1 TE again in 2011. MJD should be good for #1 RB numbers but without the passing game, he won't hit the top 5 he is capable of. This D/ST is off limits.
Tennessee Titans: Well, they do have Chris Johnson, and he is a top 5 running back. Kenny Britt managed to walk away with solid #2 receiver points, but man...The lack of a second passing option, TE or WR, the bad QB play, and a D/ST collapse left 2010 an ugly season. What's New? Jake Locker as the new starting QB for 2011, and a whole lot of defensive help, all in the front 7. So 2011...We all know by now I won't trust Locker at QB, but the QB play can't be much worse, so if Britt can stay out of jail and off suspension he may post #2-3 numbers in 2011...but I would bet on the low end of that scale. Chris Johnson will be asked to carry the team again, and will be a top 12 back. I want to believe the D/ST rebounds, and I will watch them...but I won't draft them. If you think this write up is too short, I am sorry, but I just don't see the fantasy things to be optimistic about besides Johnson right now.
Final Thoughts: The AFC South wants to be a passing division, re-affirmed by the addition of Gabbert and Locker to the already potent Schaub and Manning list. Unfortunately, only Houston and Indy have had success at that so far. Chris Johnson and MJD will be #1 running backs, Schaub and Manning will be #1 Quarterbacks, Wayne will be a #1 receiver, Lewis will be a #1 TE....And Britt, Garcon, Collie, and maybe Mike Sims-Walker if he stays in this division will all push for #3 spots. Avoid this division's defense and special teams. If you are hunting for long-term keepers, Locker and Gabbert are both worth late round fliers in dynasty leagues as #3 QBs.
Next Up: AFC East, AFC West, NFC North, NFC South, NFC East, NFC West