Fantasy Football Preview: AFC South

Similar to the NFC South, I find this division very intriguing in terms of fantasy. This is despite the fact that this division may be the worst in football this season. All references to draft position are from the Fantasy Football Calculator.

Quarterback:

Last season, I jumped in on Russell Wilson as the top early fantasy QB to be drafted. I was quite wrong. If I had to pick one this season, it’d be Andrew Luck of Indianapolis. Assuming he’s recovered from offseason shoulder surgery, I think he offers the best upside of any early round QB due to a limited running game and a bad defense on his own team. I don’t like drafting QB early, but if he fell much beyond his current pick 50 price, I’d have to consider it.

The next two names were both quite productive for fantasy in 2016 despite being viewed very differently from each other in reality. Marcus Mariota (Tennessee) was great from weeks 4-12 last season, but then got injured late for the up-and-coming Titans. On the other hand, Blake Bortles (Jacksonville) was brutal at times in a lost Jacksonville season, yet he finished as the 10th QB in fantasy, following a top 5 finish in 2015. Mariota is going right after pick 100, which is a fair price considering they drafted more receiving help this season. Bortles is going after pick 150, meaning he could be a value despite Jacksonville maybe committing more to the run this season. It certainly won’t cost much to draft him that late into things.

The Houston Texans QB situation can be avoided outside of targeting first round pick DeShaun Watson in rookie/dynasty formats. He may even be their week 1 start this season.

Running Back:

A trio of running backs from the AFC South are usually being drafted in the first 25 picks. DeMarco Murray (Tennessee, top 15 picks) was a top 5 fantasy RB in 2016. The season included over 50 receptions, and he could be the focal point again this season. Derrick Henry is also there, however, and could cut into the workload more this year. This duo could resemble the Atlanta backfield this season, where both can often be started for fantasy. Henry is going around pick 70.

Lamar Miller (Houston) and rookie Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville) are going about 5-10 picks after Murray. Miller was a popular top 10 draft pick last season, but he didn’t meet those expectations. He still had 1,000 yards and over 30 catches, so a rebound effort is possible. Fournette is generating lots of hype after two rookies led the NFL in rushing last season. I feel like the RBs drop off after these two, so both Miller and Fournette are strong targets for those that draft WRs early. If either player can find the end zone with some consistency, they could  turn out very strong seasons. Third-round rookie D’Onta Foreman (Houston) is a good rookie/dynasty target and T.J. Yeldon may be the best handcuff option for Fournette.

Would you like an RB1 that’s being drafted around pick 80? I give you Frank Gore of Indianapolis. Yes, he’s 34 years old, but he’s finished as an RB1 each of the last two seasons with the Colts. The Colts did draft Marlon Mack in round 4 this year, plus they have Robert Turbin and now Christine Michael on the roster, so Gore’s value may be dependent on your own roster construction as you’re drafting.

Wide Receiver:

Many expect T.Y. Hilton (Indianapolis) to take the leap into a new tier of fantasy wideout in 2017 following a 91/1,448/6 showing last season. He’s very consistent in production despite never really finding the end zone a lot. He’s being drafted around pick 15, which is certainly reasonable, particularly in PPR formats.

There’s much less certainty with the next two names I want to discuss. DeAndre Hopkins (Houston, going around pick 25) and Allen Robinson (Jacksonville, pick 30) were tremendous in 2015 and then maddening in 2016. Poor QB play frustrated the players and fantasy owners alike after both were generally top 10-15 picks. It’s hard to expect a full rebound for either at their current draft prices, but I’d attach myself to Robinson before Hopkins.

More questions linger as we dig deeper into this division. Donte Moncrief (Indianapolis, pick 65) has been productive when healthy, but that “if” is the issue. He has a knack for the end zone (13 touchdowns in 25 games over the last two seasons) and is in a pass friendly offense, so the potential is there. His fit on a team really depends on the roster makeup. He’s a good flier for those looking for upside, but if you need something steadier, you may want to look elsewhere.

The Titans WRs fall further down the draft board, but could be valuable this season. Corey Davis was selected 5th in this year’s draft, but he is still coming off of ankle surgery. He’s being drafted around pick 85, which should climb over the next couple months. Rishard Matthews posted a surprise top 20 fantasy season in 2016, yet he’s being drafted after pick 90. Both should have good games, but they may run into consistency issues since Tennessee likes to run the ball a lot.

Some other late-round names to consider: Kamar Aiken (Indianapolis), Will Fuller (Houston), and Allen Hurns/Marqise Lee (Jacksonville).

Tight End:

Delanie Walker (Tennessee) has been a top 5 fantasy tight end each of the last two seasons. While 2015 was his big season (71/1,088/6), he still had a strong 2016 as well with 800 yards and 7 scores. There are more weapons for the Titans now, but Walker should still be solid, particularly in PPR leagues. He’s being drafted around pick 70, maybe slightly higher in PPR.

The better TE value may be Jack Doyle of Indianapolis. They’ve moved on from Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen recently, and now Doyle is the primary man at the position. He has sleeper appeal at his pick 140 draft price after a solid 2016 season (59/584/5).

The other two teams don’t have great options at this position. Jacksonville traded Julius Thomas to Miami and the C.J. Fiedorowicz/Ryan Griffin duo in Houston will be the only people that miss Brock Osweiler. Fiedorowicz had a season similar to Doyle’s, so he could have streamer appeal.

That concludes the AFC South preview. It’s a division with a lot of question marks overall, and the fantasy appeal is no different. In the long run, health could be a big factor for this group.

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