To help prepare for the upcoming season for all you fantasy footballers, we will examine every team in the league in the month of July. This effort will be organized through divisions and we will go roughly in order of overall strength of offenses from worst to best. Since teams in the same division play roughly to same schedule, it can be helpful to consider the defenses each division will face. I use team stats from Football Outsiders (DVOA), Average Draft Position (ADP) from Fantasy Football Calculator, and standard fantasy scoring on Yahoo. As always, comments, disagreements, and questions are welcome.
We start in the AFC South, where the best team offensive ranking was in Jacksonville, the 20th best passing attack in the league. No one could run the ball in this division either, as teams ranked 26, 28, 29 and 30 in the league. That’s not to say the division is bereft of stars – there are a few, as we will see – but the division overall was a disappointment.
30th Passing DVOA, 29th Rushing DVOA
QB: Marcus Mariota
RB: DeMarco Murray, Derek Henry
WR: Dorial Green-Beckham, Kendall Wright, Rishard Matthews, Tajae Sharpe
TE: Delanie Walker
In 12 games last year Mariota did what he could with the relative lack of weapons at his disposal and managed to rank 22nd overall among fantasy QBs. His 250 yards on the ground are a nice sweetener to a passer that showed promise. I’ll sign off on Mariota as a QB2 going into this season but we’re too deep at this position to project him as a QB1. The weapons in the passing tree don’t excite me outside of the underrated Delanie Walker. Walker finished as the #5 fantasy tight end last year and I don’t see a lot changing this year. Currently the 6th TE off the board around pick 70, and really the last guy without a lot of question marks, expect to use a 6th round choice to nab him. Dorial Green-Beckham came in raw last season and is struggling to crack the starting lineup this season. Kendall Wright struggled to stay healthy last season and projects as a possession receiver if he’s on the field. Rishard Matthews will likely fill the slot role but none of these guys are trustworthy.
Maybe the biggest story of the offseason for the Titans was trading for DeMarco Murray and drafting Derek Henry. The Titans are planning on playing something called "Exotic Smashmouth" football this season behind these two physical runners. I believe that’s an oxymoronic statement and will likely lead nowhere, but it gives us two similar running backs that will share carries in this offense. That certainly degrades any belief in Murray to be a RB1 and investing in what was a terrible running attack last year is ill-advised.
22nd Passing DVOA, 26th Rushing DVOA
QB: Brock Osweiler
RB: Lamar Miller, Tyler Ervin
WR: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Jaelen Strong, Braxton Miller
TE: Ryan Griffin, (JJ Watt?!)
What do we know about Brock Osweiler? He’s really tall, he made a lot of money this offseason, and he has a Super Bowl ring as a backup. I don’t think we know anything about his ability to be a fantasy football quarterback and we certainly don’t know how he’ll look with this crop of wide receivers. I imagine Osweiler goes undrafted in most leagues and might find some play in the bye weeks against favorable matchup until he shows us something. DeAndre Hopkins can produce with anyone at QB and should benefit from some stability at the QB position. When in doubt, Osweiler can chuck it up to Nuk Hopkins and let him do work. Hopkins is worth a 2nd round pick and I can even buy into a back of the 1st round selection. If Osweiler does prove to be the second coming of Warren Moon, Will Fuller, Jaelen Strong, and Braxton Miller are all young players fighting for a role on this squad. Fuller is the most intriguing of the trio and is worth a late round flier.
One would think that this team would want to run the football with the all-world JJ Watt and an excellent defense to protect. With that in mind, the Texans signed Lamar Miller away from the Dolphins and drafted Tyler Ervin, a swiss-army knife kind of player best suited for change of pace work and catching passes out of the backfield. This really sets up to be Miller’s running game and his current ADP has him coming off the board as the 6th running back. That’s a bit high for me for a lot of unknown variables, but I understand why people are investing at that price. He’ll be a back of the 1st round / early second round pick in most drafts.
20th Passing DVOA, 28th Rushing DVOA
QB: Blake Bortles
RB: TJ Yeldon, Chris Ivory
WR: Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Marquise Lee, Rashad Green
TE: Julius Thomas
The star of this offense is Allen Robinson. The Jaguars poured resources into the Wide Receiver position and came out with some hits and misses. Robinson is a certified star and is currently the 7th receiver off the board, averaging a high second round pick. The guy throwing him the ball does not seem like a good quarterback, but when your defense is bad and you throw a lot, the fantasy community doesn’t care. In fact, Bortles is coming off the board as the 8th QB, after Drew Brees and before Carson Palmer. I’m not sure I can sign off on that so I’ll likely see zero Bortles shares in my portfolio this season. The rest of the passing game drops off, with Allen Hurns projecting as a WR3 and Julius Thomas a low-end TE1. Still, a pretty impressive group overall.
The running game doesn’t make a lot of sense as a fantasy investment as TJ Yeldon and Chris Ivory are likely to split reps to some degree. However, the fantasy community may be tipping too far in the wrong direction on Ivory and since he projects to get goal-line carries, he’s a sneaky play in round 5 or 6. Yeldon is going a little later and if you want to sink a 9th or 10th round choice into the sophomore on the chance he supplants Ivory, I can understand that. Just make sure you’re not making too many of those bets or your team suffer.
28th Passing DVOA, 30th Rushing DVOA
QB: Andrew Luck
RB: Frank Gore
WR: TY Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett
TE: Dwayne Allen
Frank Gore was a fantastic player for the SF 49ers for many years. He came to the Colts in search of a championship last season (and out of that dumpster fire in SF) and was rewarded with…an injured Andrew Luck and no playoffs. Surprisingly, the Colts did nothing to provide Gore with any real competition this offseason so this backfield is his (I’m not even listing the backups), and if you believe this offense can get back on track, he’s a really sneaky play for those of you waiting on RBs.
Andrew Luck is the obvious key here. Luck has a tendency to play QB like a linebacker and it caught up with him last season. He never looked healthy when he did play and the Colts wisely rested the franchise QB. There’s not a lot of profit at the draft table with Luck himself (3rd QB off the board) but his weapons are worth looking into. You all know TY Hilton and he’s criminally under-drafted right now as the 17th receiver off the board. Donte Moncrief stepped into the role opposite Hilton last year and had some impressive games. Again, if you believe in Luck, Moncrief could serve as an effective WR3. Phillip Dorsett didn’t do much his rookie season but is an intriguing late round flier. Dwayne Allen stands alone as the Colts let Coby Fleener walk to New Orleans. I can see Allen sneaking his way into a top 10 TE finish.
AFC South Review
There are a lot of top end names for a collection of bad offenses. Sometimes that happens if there isn’t enough star power to spread around targets or carries. Andrew Luck returning to full health and the addition of Brock Osweiler, Lamar Miller, and DeMarco Murray give this division more juice than last year. The AFC South will play the NFC North and AFC West this season, home to the Broncos and Chiefs stellar defenses.
All AFC South Fantasy Team – The ideal roster as chosen from only AFC South squads:
QB: Andrew Luck
RB: Lamar Miller
RB: DeMarco Murray
WR: DeAndre Hopkins
WR: Allen Robinson
WR: TY Hilton
TE: Delanie Walker
What's your take on the AFC South this season?