2018 First Fantasy Football Thoughts: AFC/NFC South

by Michael Nazarek - 7/18/2018

Most training camps will begin in a week, so 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 struggled last year and missed the playoffs, but there is a silver lining. Rookie QB DeShaun Watson had an abbreviated big rookie season before tearing his ACL. He returns healthy to lead the team as an elite fantasy QB. QB Brandon Weeden is the backup, so the team better hope Watson stays healthy. In the running game, veteran RB Lamar Miller returns as the likely starter, despite the fact he disappointed again in his second season as a Texan. RB D'Onta Foreman had pretty much pushed him aside late last year, but a torn Achilles has him still rehabbing as camps are set to begin. That said, no one should be surprised if a healthy Foreman pushes Miller to the side at some point in 2018. Veteran RB Alfred Blue returns for depth. In the passing game, WR DeAndre Hopkins returns as the clear #1 WR, while WR Will Fuller returns as the #2 WR. Hopkins remains an elite wideout, while Fuller is prone to make big plays when healthy. WR Braxton Miller and WR Bruce Ellington will likely battle for the #3 WR job this summer. WR Sammie Coates was signed for depth. At tight end, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (concussion) was forced into retirement after multiple concussions. TE Ryan Griffin returns to battle TE Stephen Anderson for the starting job this summer. This situation is likely one fantasy owners should avoid due to inconsistent production. PK Ka'imi Fairbairn returns as the kicker after a decent rookie season, but is no better than a middle-of-the-road fantasy prospect due to his rather so-so accuracy.


Indianapolis Colts: The Colts failed to make the playoffs in 2017. Veteran QB Andrew Luck (back) finally appears on track to play, but we won't know for sure until September arrives. In the meantime, QB Jacoby Brissett started in 2017, and struggled for consistency. How do you rank Luck in 2018? Very carefully. Truth be told, I wouldn't draft him until I see him actually play in a game, which could mean I won't ever draft him this summer. Regardless, this team won't win games consistently without Luck on the field of play. In the running game, veteran RB Frank Gore was not re-signed, while veteran RB Robert Turbin was suspended four game for PED use. As a result, second-year RB Marlon Mack will compete against rookies RB Nyheim Hines and RB Jordan Wilkins to start. Mack will have to improve his pass protection to earn the job, making him a risky fantasy player. Hines is no lock to start either even if he performs well, as the team may decide to go with a RBBC until someone breaks out. In the passing game, WR T.Y. Hilton returns as the clear #1 WR for the team, and a top 10 fantasy WR provided Luck plays. If Brissett starts, Hilton is barely a top 25 WR for fantasy. Veterans WR Donte Moncrief and WR Phillip Dorsett are gone, leaving WR Chester Rogers first crack to earn the #2 WR job. He will battle newly signed WR Ryan Grant for that duty. Whomever loses is likely to be the #3 WR, as the rest of the corps is very inexperienced. At tight end, TE Jack Doyle returns to start, but will also play in two-TE sets alongside TE Eric Ebron. The lack of experience at wideout could mean both of these players make an impact for fantasy in 2018. TE Erik Swoope returns for depth. The ageless PK Adam Vinatieri returns as the kicker, and is a top 10 fantasy option provided Luck starts, but right now rates as a middle-of-the-pack producer due to the uncertainty.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars shocked the world in 2017 and nearly took down the Patriots, making it to the AFC championship game. Unfortunately, they lost, but return mostly a team intact. Veteran QB Blake Bortles returns as the starter, and surprised in a nice way, producing big numbers for fantasy late last year. That said, he enters the summer period as more of a decent fantasy back for owners in larger leagues. QB Cody Kessler is the new backup. In the running game, second-year RB Leonard Fournette returns after a solid rookie season as the starter. He's a top 10 fantasy RB, but not top 5. Veteran RB Chris Ivory is gone, leaving RB T.J. Yeldon as the primary backup and handcuff. RB Corey Grant returns for depth. In the passing game, WR Allen Robinson and WR Allen Hurns are gone, leaving WR Marqise Lee as the likely #1 WR, but the team did sign WR Donte Moncrief to battle to start, along with second-year WR Dede Westbrook and WR Keelan Cole. Lee makes for a nice fantasy sleeper this summer, but don't expect too much, since he's not a dominant receiver. At tight end, veteran TE Marcedes Lewis is gone, as the team signed TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins to pair with TE Niles Paul. ASJ is the guy to draft here, but he makes for a better fantasy backup than starter since he must learn a new system as well as develop chemistry with Bortles. TE Ben Koyack returns for depth. Veteran PK Josh Lambo is the kicker, a guy with sleeper potential if you want to wait until the end of your draft to select one.


Tennessee Titans: The Titans surprisingly made the playoffs, but fell short of the big game in 2017. That said, the team fired their coaches in order to get the most out of QB Marcus Mariota, since he wasn't being used to the best of his abilities. That should change in 2018 with an improved passing game. As a result, Mariota is a solid fantasy backup, one with starting potential. Veteran QB Blaine Gabbert was signed to back up Mariota. In the running game, veteran RB DeMarco Murray is gone, and has since retired. RB Derrick Henry returns as the starter, but the team signed RB Dion Lewis to share time in the backfield, making neither player a top 15 fantasy RB. In the passing game, the new focus will be on second-year WR Corey Davis, a player whom struggled in his rookie season. That said, he is talented, so that makes him an obvious fantasy sleeper. Veteran WR Rishard Matthews returns, as the likely #2 WR, since WR Eric Decker was let go. WR Taywan Taylor enter his second season as the likely #3 WR, while WR Tajae Sharpe returns for depth. At tight end, TE Delanie Walker returns as the starter, and he's coming off another top 10 fantasy TE season. That shouldn't change much in 2018. TE Jonnu Smith returns to back up Walker. PK Ryan Succop returns as the kicker, and should see enough scoring chances to be a middle-of-the-road fantasy kicker.

 

NFC SOUTH


Atlanta Falcons:
The Falcons made the playoffs in 2017, but failed to repeat with another Super Bowl appearance. That said, veteran QB Matt Ryan returns as the starter with a long-term deal despite the fact he disappointed last year. Frankly, I'm done with regard to drafting him as a fantasy starter, but he remains a solid backup. Veteran QB Matt Schaub returns to back up Ryan. In the running game, RB Devonta Freeman and RB Tevin Coleman return and still represent one of the league's top 1-2 RB tandems. Freeman is a top 12 fantasy RB, while Coleman is more hit/miss, but has the explosiveness to break a long one for a score at any time. In the passing game, WR Julio Jones returns as a STUD WR, but a lack of scores keeps him outside my top Tier for wideouts. Veteran WR Mohamed Sanu returns as a solid #2 starting WR, but WR Taylor Gabriel bolted for more money from Chicago. As a result, the team drafted WR Calvin Ridley in April, a player with high upside. He will begin the season as the #3 WR, but could push Sanu for serious targets. WR Justin Hardy returns for depth. At tight end, third-year TE Austin Hooper return as the starter, but a lack of consistency hurts his fantasy value. You can do better when looking for a fantasy starter. TE Levine Toilolo is gone, as the team signed TE Logan Paulsen to back up Hooper. Veteran PK Matt Bryant returns as the kicker, and with the offense in full force, remains a clear top 5 fantasy choice at his position.


Carolina Panthers: The Panthers made the playoffs, but failed to get to the big game in 2017. Veteran QB Cam Newton returns as the leader, but consistency has never been his trademark. I'd look elsewhere for my fantasy start this summer. QB Garrett Gilbert is the new backup. Newton best stay healthy. In the running game, veteran RB Jonathan Stewart is gone, as the team moves second-year RB Christian McCaffrey into a lead role, while RB Cameron Artis-Payne backs him up. Veteran RB C.J. Anderson was signed to fill the Stewart role in the offense, meaning CAP is actually the #3 RB. Anderson is an interesting mid-round fantasy sleeper if he can stay healthy. In the passing game, WR Devin Funchess returns as the de-facto lead receiver, although rookie WR D.J. Moore was drafted in April, and has the talent to grab that role for himself. Moore is the guy to target late (but not too late) when you draft. WR Torrey Smith was signed, but is likely to fill only a limited deep route role on the team. Second-year WR Curtis Samuel returns, coming off an ankle injury, something that could limit him early this season. Veteran WR Jarius Wright was signed for depth. At tight end, TE Greg Olsen returns as the starter, and remains a top 5 fantasy TE option despite his injury-filled year in 2017. TE Ed Dickson is gone, as rookie TE Ian Thomas is likely to back up Olsen. Veteran PK Graham Gano returns after a solid season, making him a top 10 fantasy kicker in 2018.


New Orleans Saints: The Saints made the playoffs in 2017 before suffering a last-second loss to the Vikings. Veteran QB Drew Brees returns as the starter once again, but is no longer a top 5 fantasy QB due to an improved running game. That said, he still rates in the top 10. QB Tom Savage is the backup. In the running game, RB Mark Ingram returns, but has been suspended for the team's first four games due to PED use. As a result, second-year RB Alvin Kamara is the likely starter for those games. The team just signed free- agent RB Shane Vereen, so they don't overwork Kamara, since RB Adrian Peterson was traded in the middle of last season. For fantasy, Kamara is certainly top 10, while Ingram resides around the #20 slot, but keep in mind when he plays, Ingram could be a top 10 producer. In the passing game, WR Michael Thomas returns as an elite fantasy producer, but the situation beyond him is a bit muddled. Speedster WR Ted Ginn returns, but WR Willie Snead has been replaced with WR Cameron Meredith. Then there is WR Brandon Coleman, a wideout that was re-signed. Bottom Line: Thomas will be the only consistent producer from this group. At tight end, TE Coby Fleener is gone due to his concussions. The team brought TE Ben Watson back after a few season in Baltimore. He's older, but if healthy, he could surprise in a good way in 2018. TE Josh Hill returns as the likely backup. PK Wil Lutz enters his third season as the clear starting kicker, and is a top 5 fantasy player at his position due to the many scoring chances he will receive in 2018.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Buccaneers flopped in a big way last year. QB Jameis Winston regressed in his play, and although he returns in 2018, he's been suspended for the team's first three games due to an ugly incident with an Uber driver. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is the backup and will start while Winston sits. Winston is not guaranteed of starting once his suspension is over, but it still seems likely to happen. That said, I'm avoiding him in all my drafts this summer. One more mess-up, and Winston could be gone for good from the league. In the running game, RB Doug Martin struggled again in 2017, and is gone. RB Peyton Barber returns to battle rookie RB Ronald Jones to start, while veteran RB Jaquizz Rodgers returns for depth. Jones is the guy to own here, but as a higher profile rookie, his cost won't come cheap in a draft. In addition, pass-catching RB Charles Sims returns to further dilute the work at this position. In the passing game, WR Mike Evans is the clear #1 WR, and remains a top 10 fantasy wideout. Veteran WR DeSean Jackson also returns, but his lack of big plays and scores makes him a risky fantasy proposition as anything more than a #5/#6 WR. WR Adam Humphries returns as the slot guy, while second-year WR Chris Godwin could make a surprising impact if he manages to bypass D-Jax at some point on the depth chart. At tight end, TE Cameron Brate was re-signed, meaning TE O.J. Howard will not start, stunting his growth. That said, both will make plays, but neither are worthy of fantasy consideration as a starter. The kicking game was so bad in 2017, it literally cost the team at least three wins. Veteran PK Chandler Catanzaro was signed to hopefully fix the issue, but he's seemingly unlikely to see enough scoring chances for real fantasy consideration.


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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