2017 First Fantasy Football Thoughts: AFC/NFC South

by Michael Nazarek - 7/18/2017

Training camps will begin in a week or so, and it's time to take a closer look at the South Division teams to see how things are shaping up...

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans: The Texans made the playoffs last year, but failed to make the big game. QB Brock Osweiler struggled and was benched and eventually traded to the Browns this off-season. QB Tom Savage took over late and returns as the penciled in starter. He will have to beat out rookie QB DeShaun Watson, drafted in April. Other than drafting Watson as your #3 fantasy QB, this situation is likely one fantasy owners should avoid. In the running game, veteran RB Lamar Miller returns as the clear starter, despite the fact he disappointed a bit in his first year as a Texan. The team believes they overworked him, so they drafted rookie RB D'Onta Foreman in April to help provide relief. Foreman is capable, but a recent arrested it troubling. Veteran RB Alfred Blue returns to compete for the #2 RB job just in case Foreman gets in more trouble. RB Akeem Hunt returns for depth, while RB Jonathan Grimes is gone. In the passing game, WR DeAndre Hopkins returns as the clear #1 WR, although he struggled to produce a good season due to Osweiler's issues. Hopkins needs to develop better chemistry with both Savage and Watson if he's to rebound with more consistent production in 2017. Second-year WR Will Fuller returns as the #2 WR, while second-year WR Braxton Miller hopes to stay healthy and nail down the #3 WR job. WR Jaelen Strong returns for depth. At tight end, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz returns as the starting pass-catcher, while TE Ryan Griffin also returns to fill the #2 TE role. Fiedorowicz is a borderline fantasy starter in large fantasy leagues. Veteran PK Nick Novak returns as the kicker, but is no better than a middle-of-the-road fantasy prospect due to the offense's questionable ability to give him scoring chances.

Indianapolis Colts: The Colts failed to make the playoffs in 2016. Veteran QB Andrew Luck returns as the starter, but underwent off-season shoulder surgery. As a result, he may not be ready to go when training camp starts, but the team expects him to be ready by the time September rolls around. If healthy, Luck is a clear top 5 fantasy QB. QB Scott Tolzien returns to back up Luck. In the running game, veteran RB Frank Gore returns, while RB Robert Turbin also returns to back him up and steal touches and scores. Gore is likely on his last legs, making him a shaky fantasy prospect for 2017. If you draft Gore, taking Turbin is a very good idea later in your draft. Second-year RB Josh Ferguson returns for depth. In the passing game, WR T.Y. Hilton returns as the clear #1 WR for the team, and a top 10 fantasy WR. Veteran WR Donte Moncrief returns as the #2 WR, while WR Phillip Dorsett also returns as the #3 WR. Veteran WR Kamar Aiken was signed to push Dorsett for his job. At tight end, TE Dwayne Allen is gone, leaving the team to re-sign emerging TE Jock Doyle as their new starter. He has great chemistry with Luck, making him a nice fantasy sleeper for owners choosing to wait to take a tight in their drafts this summer. TE Erik Swoope returns to fill the #2 TE role. The ageless PK Adam Vinatieri returns as the kicker, and is a top 10 fantasy option for owners this summer on this high-scoring team.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Once again, the Jaguars stunk up the joint for most of the 2016 season. Fourth-year QB Blake Bortles returns as the starter, but struggled to gain much traction in that role last year. He's worked hard on his fundamentals this off-season, in what is likely his final chance to hold the job in Jacksonville. Fantasy owners are likely best to avoid Bortles in their drafts this summer. Veteran QB Chad Henne returns to back up Bortles. In the running game, the Jaguars drafted RB Leonard Fournette to be their RB of the future (as well as the present). He will put his time in, and eventually push veteran RB Chris Ivory to the bench when it comes to the starting job. Fantasy owners are high on Fournette, but I wouldn't draft him as my #1 RB. Ivory will likely steal some goal carries and scores. RB T.J. Yeldon returns to fill the pass-catching tailback role on the team. RB Denard Robinson is gone. In the passing game, WR Allen Robinson returns as the clear #1 WR despite a down season in 2016. Realistically, most of his struggles can be placed on the head of Bortles. That said, A-Rob is still a top 15 fantasy WR for 2017. WR Allen Hurns struggled for most of 2016, and eventually lost his starting job to WR Marqise Lee, a player whom actually stayed healthy. That said, neither player is expected to make much of an impact in 2017, especially if Bortles struggles again. Rookie WR Dede Westbrook was drafted and seems likely to fill the #4 WR role. At tight end, veteran TE Julius Thomas wore out his welcome and was traded to the Dolphins, leaving veteran TE Marcedes Lewis as the likely starter. Lewis is far from a consistent fantasy producer. Veteran TE Mychal Rivera was signed, and will likely share time with TE Ben Koyack as the primary backup. Third-year PK Jason Myers returns as the kicker, but is still unlikely to see enough scoring chances for real fantasy consideration.

Tennessee Titans: The Titans had a good shot to make a late playoff run in 2016, until QB Marcus Mariota broke his fibula. He's expected to be healthy come camp, and returns as an emerging starter, one with potential to be a top 10 fantasy QB. Veteran QB Matt Cassel returns to back up Mariota. In the running game, veteran RB DeMarco Murray returns as a solid top 10 fantasy RB. Second-year RB Derrick Henry returns to back up Murray. The coaches are standing behind Murray as the clear starter, so barring an injury, Henry is pretty much just a handcuff once again in 2017. RB Dexter McCluster, RB Bishop Sankey, RB David Cobb, and RB Antonio Andrews are all gone. Their replacements are not worth mentioning. In the passing game, WR Rishard Matthews emerged as the lead receiver in 2016, scoring nine times. He is still expected to start in 2017, but the Titans added WR Eric Decker to the roster, along with rookie WR Corey Davis in April. Decker will draw serious targets, as will Davis, eventually. WR Kendall Wright is gone, leaving WR Tajae Sharpe to fill the #4 WR job. Sharpe started hot last year, but faded badly down the stretch. At the tight end position, TE Delanie Walker returns as the starter, as he's coming off another top 10 fantasy TE season. That shouldn't change much in 2016. TE Phillip Supernaw returns to back up Walker. PK Ryan Succop returns as the kicker, but is still unlikely to see enough scoring chances for real fantasy consideration.

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons blew a big lead in the Super Bowl to lose to the Patriots in overtime. OUCH. On the positive side, veteran QB Matt Ryan returns to lead the team in 2017. Ryan blew up to produce top 3 fantasy numbers in 2016, leading his team to the big game. It will be tough for him to repeat those numbers, but with the offense pretty much returning intact, he should remain an easy top 10 fantasy QB, if not top 5. Veteran QB Matt Schaub returns to back up Ryan. In the running game, third-year RB Devonta Freeman and RB Tevin Coleman represented one of the league's top 1-2 RB tandems in 2016. In PPR leagues, Freeman was #6 and Coleman was #20. They return and remain quality fantasy producers. Coleman is more hit/miss, but has the explosiveness to break a long one for a score at any time. I'll take that as my #3 fantasy RB anytime! RB Terron Ward returns to fill the #3 RB job. In the passing game, WR Julio Jones returns as an elite STUD WR. I said this last year at this time, and I'll say it again here. The only thing he can improve upon is his scoring, as he has trouble scoring more than nine times in any given season. He scored only six times in 2016, but at least the coaches want to target him more in the red zone this season. Veteran WR Mohamed Sanu returns as a solid #2 starting WR, while WR Taylor Gabriel was re-signed to provide the speedy deep threat. WR Justin Hardy and WR Nick Williams return for depth. At tight end, veteran TE Jacob Tamme is gone, leaving second-year TE Austin Hooper to return as the new starter. He has potential, making for an interesting late round fantasy sleeper. TE Levine Toilolo returns for depth, but is not a real pass-catcher. Veteran PK Matt Bryant returns as the kicker, and with the offense in full force, is a clear top 5 fantasy choice at his position.

Carolina Panthers: The Panthers slumped to a losing record just one year after a Super Bowl appearance. Veteran QB Cam Newton followed up a big season with a real stinker. That said, he returns as the clear leader on this team. He is also coming off shoulder surgery, but should be good to go by training camp. What about his fantasy value for 2017? Let's just call him a top 10 QB, but consistency is anything but his middle name. Veteran QB Derek Anderson returns as the backup. In the running game, veteran RB Jonathan Stewart returns as the starter, at least for now. He struggled to produce much of anything in 2016, except for the fact he scored nine times despite totaling only 884 yards of offense and missing three games. As a result, the team drafted RB Christian McCaffrey in April, to not only fill the role of pass-catcher, but also push Stewart for the starting job. The coaches publicly say that Stewart's role won't change, but that plan will disappear once they see what McCaffrey will do. In fantasy terms, McCaffrey is the guy to own here, but his ADP is very high. Third-year RB Cameron Artis-Payne and RB Fozzy Whittaker return for depth. In the passing game, fourth-year WR Kelvin Benjamin returns coming off a very inconsistent season where he dominated early in the year, only to disappear for long period of time down the stretch. As a result, his ADP is lower than where it should be, making him underrated in fantasy terms. With speedster WR Ted Ginn gone, WR Devin Funchess is expected to start opposite Benjamin. WR Corey Brown is gone, leaving WR Brenton Bersin and rookie WR Curtis Samuel to battle for the #3 WR job. Veteran WR Charles Johnson was signed for depth. At tight end, TE Greg Olsen returns after another strong season, and remains a top 5 fantasy TE option. TE Ed Dickson returns to back up Olsen. Veteran PK Graham Gano returns after a disappointing season where he missed several key FGAs that cost the team games. As a result, the team drafted PK Harrison Butker in April, and he will battle Gano for the starting job this summer. My advice? Avoid.

New Orleans Saints: The Saints failed to make the playoffs in 2016 again, but veteran QB Drew Brees did all he could to keep the Saints in games. Their defense was just plain terrible once again, causing the Saints lose plenty of high-scoring games. Brees returns for another season as the starter, and remains a top 5 fantasy QB. QB Chase Daniel returns as the backup. In the running game, RB Mark Ingram was a top 10 fantasy RB in PPR leagues last year, and returns, but the team added veteran RB Adrian Peterson in the off-season. Ingram should still start games, but will lose a lot of early down work to Peterson. That will make it tough for either of them to finish as a top 15 fantasy RB. RB Tim Hightower and RB C.J. Spiller are both gone, leaving RB Travaris Cadet for depth. In the passing game, WR Brandin Cooks was traded to the Patriots, leaving second-year WR Michael Thomas as the new #1 WR. Thomas blew up in his rookie season, and he can easily handle the workload, one that should make him a top 10 fantasy WR. WR Willie Snead returns as the starter opposite Thomas, giving him solid fantasy value. Speedster WR Ted Ginn was signed to fill the #3 WR role as the deep threat, while WR Brandon Coleman returns for depth. At tight end, TE Coby Fleener returns as the starter, after a very inconsistent season. He is far from a solid fantasy starter, though. TE Josh Hill returns as the backup. PK Wil Lutz enters his second season as the clear starting kicker, and is a top 10 fantasy player at his position due to the many scoring chances he will receive in 2017.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Buccaneers nearly made the playoffs in 2016. Third-year QB Jameis Winston continued to emerge as a solid fantasy producer in his second season. He returns with a lot of potential, and could become a top 10 fantasy QB. Backup QB Mike Glennon is now a Bear, as the team signed veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to back up Winston. In the running game, RB Doug Martin struggled in 2016, missing several games due to injury, then being suspended to end the year. Martin will miss the first three games of this season, meaning RB Jaquizz Rodgers is likely to start those three weeks. The coaches have been talking up Martin, but we've been here before. Draft him with caution. Pass-catching RB Charles Sims returns to further dilute the work at this position. RB Peyton Barber returns for depth. In the passing game, WR Mike Evans is the clear #1 WR, and also an elite fantasy producer. Winston locks on to Evans whenever big plays are needed. Veteran WR Vincent Jackson is gone, as the team signed veteran WR DeSean Jackson to boost the corps and take some of the pressure off Evans. WR Adam Humphries returns as the slot guy, while rookie WR Chris Godwin was drafted for depth. At tight end, TE Cameron Brate emerged as a solid fantasy producer in 2016, but the team drafted talented TE O.J. Howard in April to really solidify the position. Brate should continue to start, but you'll see plenty of two-TE sets. Howard could surprise, but likely makes a better fantasy backup, one with potential, than a fantasy starter, at least to begin 2017. Second-year PK Roberto Aguayo really struggled in his rookie season, so the team signed PK Nick Folk to battle Aguayo this summer for the job. My bet has Folk winning with Aguayo looking for work come September. That said, there are better (and more reliable) kicking options to draft in your fantasy league this summer.

That does it for the South divisions. Look for my views regarding the teams out West soon. All comments, complimentary or otherwise, are always welcome via the contact page. Let's talk fantasy football!

End.

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