2019 First Fantasy Football Thoughts: AFC/NFC South

by Michael Nazarek - 7/18/2019

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 won their division, but failed ot make the big game in 2018. Third-year QB DeShaun Watson came off a torn ACL his rookie season to produce a quality year in 2018. He returns as a top 3 fantasy QB for 2019. Another year removed from that injury should do wonders for his running game. QB A.J. McCarron is the backup, so the team better hope Watson stays healthy again. In the running game, veteran RB Lamar Miller returns as the likely starter, despite the fact the coaches love the potential of RB D'Onta Foreman, a player whom missed most of last year recovering from a torn Achilles. Foreman is healthy now, so he could push Miller for that job at some point, making Miller only a decent #3 fantasy RB at best. If you draft Miller, you should target Foreman later in your draft. In the passing game, WR DeAndre Hopkins returns as the clear #1 WR, while WR Will Fuller returns as the #2 WR, coming off a torn ACL. Hopkins is THE elite wideout for 2019, while Fuller is a solid #3 fantasy WR with the potential to be a #2 if he can stay healthy. WR Keke Coutee returns to man the slot, but is only a depth fantasy pick if Hopkins and Fuller stay healthy. WR DeAndre Carter returns for depth. At tight end, TE Ryan Griffin was released after a run-in with the law, leaving second-year TE Jordan Thomas as the new likely starter. He has some sleeper potential. Second-year TE Jordan Akins and veteran TE Darren Fells will provide depth at the position. PK Ka'imi Fairbairn returns as the kicker after a great second-year season, making him a top 6 fantasy kicker in this fairly high-powered offense.


Indianapolis Colts: The Colts made the playoffs in 2018, but failed to make the big game. That said, veteran QB Andrew Luck showed he's not only 100% healthy again, but is an elite fantasy producer. As such, he returns to lead the Colt again in 2019, and is my top ranked fantasy QB. QB Jacoby Brissett returns to back up Luck. In the running game, third-year RB Marlon Mack fought through injuries to have a breakout post-season in 2018. He returns as the three-down back starter, and solid #2 fantasy RB. Second-year RB Nyheim Hines is the pass-catching back, but seems likely to see less targets this season if Mack stays healthy. RB Jordan Wilkins, RB Spencer Ware, and RB Jonathan Williams will battle this summer for the #3 RB job. In the passing game, WR T.Y. Hilton returns as the clear #1 WR for the team, and a top 12 fantasy WR. The team signed WR Devin Funchess to start opposite Hilton, but he will have to earn that job. WR Chester Rogers could push Funchess for that role, but neither are big fantasy producers. Rookie WR Parris Campbell is likely to man the slot, and could surprise, especially in PPR leagues. The coaches love WR Deon Cain, but he's still rehabbing a torn ACL, and may not be ready to play come week #1. At tight end, TE Eric Ebron surprised with double-digit scores in 2018 aftter being signed in free agency. He returns, alongside TE Jack Doyle, whom missed most of last year with injuries, which is the big reason why Ebron was targeted so much. As such, fantasy owners should be careful about overrating Ebron in 2019. TE Mo Alie-Cox has received a lot of buzz this off-season, but if both Ebron and Doyle stay healthy, his fantasy value will be minimal. The ageless PK Adam Vinatieri returns as the kicker, and is a top 13 fantasy option for fantasy owners in larger leagues.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars struggled in 2018 after making the playoffs in 2017. Gone is veteran QB Blake Bortles, as the team went all in to sign free-agent QB Nick Foles. Foles is solid, but does not have a good long-term record when it comes to fantasy production. As a result, he's not much more than a risky fantasy backup in 2019. QB Tanner Lee is the new backup. Who? Yup, the Jaguars better hopes Foles remains healthy and productive. In the running game, third-year RB Leonard Fournette returns after an injury-filled season where he also ran his mouth late in the year. Team executive Tom Coughlin won't put up with that in 2019, so Fournette better stay on his best behavior. These are the reasons that make Fournette a fantasy creeper in my book. With RB T.J. Yeldon gone, the team signed RB Alfred Blue in free agency to back up Fournette. RB Benny Cunningham was also signed to help with the passing game. Rookie RB Ryquell Armstead has some buzz going, so if Fournette gets injured or runs his mouth, Armstead may make an impact sooner than later. In the passing game, WR Marqise Lee (torn ACL) is still rehabbing from a torn ACL, and may begin the season on the PUP list. That would leave WR Dede Westbrook and WR Keelan Cole as the likely starters, while second-year WR D.J. Chark sees an increased role. Westbrook is the best of this group, and deserves a look as a #3/#4 fantasy WR depending upon the size of the league. At tight end, the team signed TE Geoff Swaim to boost the corps, that was led by an inexperienced TE James O'Shaughnessy. The team also drafted TE Josh Oliver, but do not expect much fantasy production from this group. Veteran PK Josh Lambo is the kicker, but he's not much more than a middle-of-the-road guy for fantasy.


Tennessee Titans: The Titans failed to make the playoffs in 2018. QB Marcus Mariota played terribly when he was healthy, that is, but gets one final chance to show he can still be the QB the Titans hope he can become in 2019. That said, this team will be a running unit in 2019, so trusting Mariota as anything more than a risky fantasy backup is not advisable. QB Ryan Tannehill was acquired to back up Mariota, but if Marcus struggles early in the season, you can expect Tennessee to give him a chance to start. In the running game, RB Derrick Henry was finally unleashed and came up big in the last half of 2018. He returns as a dominant runner, but doesn't catch many passes. Still, he's a top 10-12 fantasy RB in 2019. RB Dion Lewis returns to play a more minor role as the primary pass-catcher out of the backfield. In the passing game, third-year WR Corey Davis didn't develop as the team would have hoped in 2018. He returns, but he's a very shaky #1 WR for the Titans. The team also drafted WR A.J. Brown, a player whom may be more talented than Davis. Bottom Line: Davis is not worth much more than a decent #3 fantasy WR in larger leagues. WR Tajae Sharpe and WR Taywan Taylor return, but are likely to remain in minor roles offensively. The team signed WR Adam Humphries to man the slot, but this is not the high-powered Bucs offense, so expecting anything close to what he did last year is outragous. At tight end, TE Delanie Walker (ankle) returns as the starter, and he's expected to be ready to play by week #1. Walker is clearly Mariota's safety net, making him a very nice fantasy backup to own in 2019. Meanwhile, TE Jonnu Smith (knee) also returns, but is questionble to play by week #1, so he should be avoided. PK Ryan Succop returns as the kicker, but should only see enough scoring chances to be a middling fantasy kicker.

 

NFC SOUTH


Atlanta Falcons:
The Falcons failed to make the playoffs in 2018, but veteran QB Matt Ryan returns as the starter. He did all he could to get them into the playoffs, but the defense failed them. Regardless, he remains a top 5 fantasy QB fro 2019. Veteran QB Matt Schaub returns to back up Ryan. In the running game, RB Devonta Freeman missed most of last year due to injury, but is healthy now. The Falcons need him to produce since RB Tevin Coleman left for San Francisco. Freeman makes for a solid #2 fantasy RB, provided he stays healthy. Second-year RB Ito Smith will take over for the Coleman, but he's not as dynamic a threat, making him primarly just a good handcuff for Freeman owners. In the passing game, WR Julio Jones returns as a STUD WR, and a top 3 fantasy WR. Veteran WR Mohamed Sanu returns as a solid #2 starting WR, but second-year WR Calvin Ridley showed what he can do his rookie season, thus limiting Sanu's fantasy potential. In fact, Ridley should be drafted significantly ahead of Sanu in fantasy drafts this summer. WR Justin Hardy returns for depth. At tight end, 4th-year TE Austin Hooper return as the starter, taking a big step towards consistency in his play in 2018. He is a threat to produce in any given week, and Ryan feels more comfortable targeting him in key situations, making him a top 10 fantasy TE. TE Luke Stocker will back up Hooper in 2019. Veteran PK Matt Bryant was released, as the team has chosen to go with PK Giorgio Tavecchio in 2019. He's not as accurate as Bryant, but still ranks as a top 12 fantasy kicker.


Carolina Panthers: The Panthers missed the playoffs in 2018. Veteran QB Cam Newton returns as the starter, but a serious shoulder injury had him missing most of the last part of the 2018 season and he underwent surgery in the off-season. They are bringing him along slowly, but he should be good to go by week #1. That said, he's too inconsistent to really rely upon as a fantasy starter. Let's just say if you draft him, you better draft a solid fantasy backup, one who could start over the long haul if Newton struggles. QB Taylor Heinicke is the new backup. In the running game, third-year RB Christian McCaffrey did it all as the starter last year, and flourished in that role. He caught more than 100 passes and should repeat his fine season, making him a top 3 fantasy RB. RB Cameron Artis-Payne was re-signed to back him up. In the passing game, WR Devin Funchess is gone, leaving second-year WR D.J. Moore to step into the lead role, at least that is the plan. Meanwhile, WR Curtis Samuel is underrated as the man out of the slot, and veteran WR Jarius Wright is currently listed as the starter opposite Moore. Veterans WR Torrey Smith and WR Chris Hogan will also see action. At tight end, TE Greg Olsen returns as the starter, but the big question is can his foot take the pounding of another 16-game season? If you like to gamble, draft him, but just like Newton, you better draft a solid backup just in case. TE Ian Thomas remains the backup option. Veteran PK Graham Gano returns after a decent season, but makes for a risky fantasy option with all the uncertainty of the offense in 2019.


New Orleans Saints: The Saints won their division in 2018, but failed to make the big game. Veteran QB Drew Brees returns as the starter once again, but is no longer a top 5 fantasy QB due to higher reliance on the running game. That said, he still rates in the top 10. QB Teddy Bridgewater is the backup. In the running game, RB Mark Ingram is gone, leaving third-year RB Alvin Kamara as the starter, as the team signed RB Latavius Murray to be the change-of-pace bigger back. Kamara remains a top 3 fantasy RB, while Murray deserves a look as an interesting #3 fantasy RB in larger leagues. RB Buck Allen was signed for depth. In the passing game, WR Michael Thomas returns as an elite fantasy producer, but the situation beyond him remains muddled. Speedster WR Ted Ginn returns, but veteran WR Cameron Meredith is at risk of not making the final roster due to his knee issue. Second-year WR Tre'Quan Smith needs to step up and play with more consistency. WR Austin Carr will man the slot, while WR Keith Kirkwood returns for depth. Honestly, Thomas remains the only Saints wideout with a known fantasy value. At tight end, TE Ben Watson is gone, as the team signed free agent TE Jared Cook to boost the passing game. Cook is a major talent, but it remains to be seen how much the Saints will turn to the tight end for big plays in the offense. In other words, expecting the Saints to treat Cook like he is Jimmy Graham back in his heyday may be asking for too much. Still, Cook should be a top 10 fantasy TE in 2019. TE Josh Hill returns as the likely backup. PK Wil Lutz enters his fourth season as the kicker, and is a top Tier fantasy player at his position due to his accuracy and the many scoring chances he will receive in 2019.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Buccaneers flopped in a big way again last year. QB Jameis Winston returns as the starter after a very inconsistent season when the Bucs let QB Ryan Fitzpatrick leave in free agency. New HC Bruce Arians is standing behind Winston, at least for now. Some people love Winston as a fantasy sleeper, others view him as a creeper. While he may be more creeper than sleeper in my book, he does tend to produce big games here and there, so he's far from a terrible fantasy backup. QB Blaine Gabbert is the new backup. In the running game, RB Peyton Barber returns to battle second-year RB Ronald Jones to start once again, while veteran RB Jaquizz Rodgers is gone. The new coaches are high on Jones, so all I have to say here is if you draft one, you better draft the other to cover your bases. RB Andre Ellington was signed for depth. In the passing game, WR Mike Evans is the clear #1 WR, and remains a top 10 fantasy wideout. That said, both veteran WR DeSean Jackson and WR Adam Humphries are gone, leaving third-year WR Chris Godwin to start opposite Evans. Godwin ranks just inside the top 20 fantasy WRs for me this year. WR Breshad Perriman was signed to provide a speedy deep threat. At tight end, TE O.J. Howard is coming off another injury, but when healthy, can dominate. Assuming he stays healthy, he is a top 5 fantasy TE. Veteran TE Cameron Brate returns to play in 2-TE sets and is a solid red zone threat. That said, he does not rank in my top 25 antasy TEs for 2019. The kicking game was a mess again in 2018, but the team signed PK Cairo Santos to hopefully fix that issue. That said, I'm staying away from Bucs kickers this summer, since I do not believe the offense will generate enough scoring chances for him to be a fantasy backup much less a starter.


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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