2022 First Fantasy Football Thoughts: AFC/NFC South

by Michael Nazarek - 7/21/2022

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...


Houston Texans: The Texans were one of the worst teams in the league in 2021. Not much is likely to change in 2022. Legally-troubled QB DeShaun Watson was traded to the Cleveland Browns, leaving the team to move forward with second-year QB Davis Mills. Mills is not even on my draft board for fantasy this summer. In the running game, veteran RB David Johnson is gone (likely to retire), as the team signed RB Marlon Mack, extended RB Rex Burkhead, and drafted RB Dameon Pierce this past April. Mack is likely to start to begin the season, but Pierce will push him for playing time, while Burkhead fills the 3rd-down pass-catching back role. That means we are looking at an ugly RBBC, with none of the tailbacks cracking my top 40 fantasy RBs for 2022. In the passing game, WR Brandin Cooks returns as the clear #1 WR, but WR Nico Collins and rookie WR John Metchie are likely to fight it out for the #2 WR job this summer. WR Chris Conley, WR Chris Moore, and WR Phillip Dorsett will provide depth. Cooks has proven that he can produce solid numbers with questionable talent at QB, but you would likely be asking for too much from the other wideouts on this team with Mills at QB. At tight end, TE Brevin Jordan and TE Pharaoh Brown will form a "meh" 1-2 punch, leading to inconsistent production at best. That is not conducive for fantasy. PK Ka'imi Fairbairn returns as the kicker on anything but a high-powered offense, giving him very little fantasy value in 2022.


Indianapolis Colts: The Colts missed the playoffs in 2021, when former Colts QB Carson Wentz crapped the bed in the season finale against the lowly Jaguars. That led the team to ditch him as their starter, and acquire veteran QB Matt Ryan to start in 2022. While Ryan may not be the fantasy producer he once was, he's still good enough to be a solid fantasy backup in most systems in 2022. In the running game, RB Jonathan Taylor broke out in a big way as the lead tailback for fantasy in 2021. He remains an elite fantasy producer entering 2022, and should be the first player taken in most drafts this summer. RB Nyheim Hines returns as a change-of-pace back, one who the Colts say will see more touches in 2022. We shall see if that rings true. RB Phillip Lindsay was signed for depth. In the passing game, WR Michael Pittman Jr. returns as the clear #1 WR for the team, and a top 20 fantasy WR with upside. WR T.Y. Hilton has yet to be re-signed, but the team is considering it. That leaves WR Parris Campbell as the new #2 WR for the team, provided his healthy holds up. He has talent, making him an interesting latter round fantasy sleeper this summer. Rookie WR Alec Pierce is likely to be the team's #3 WR in 2022, keep an eye on his progress. WR Ashton Dulin, WR Dezmon Patmon, and WR Keke Coutee will provide depth. At tight end, TE Jack Doyle retired, leaving TE Mo Alie-Cox as the new starter, but his production seems likely to remain spotty, as it has always been, at best. Unknown TE Kylen Granson will back up Alie-Cox. Now healthy, PK Rodrigo Blankenship reclaims the kicking job, but is likely to end up producing middle-of-the-road numbers for fantasy in 2022.


Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars sucked once again in 2021, but failed and embarrassed former HC Urban Meyer is gone. Second-year QB Trevor Lawrence doesn't thrill me, but I will cut him some slack due to the terrible coaching from last year. That said, he is still in my 6th Tier of QBs for fantasy in 2022. In the running game, RB James Robinson (Achilles) is rehabbing a late-season injury, something that could force him to miss some time. As a result, second-year RB Travis Etienne (foot), who missed all of his rookie season, is set to step in and start if needed. Etienne is a hot prospect for fantasy this summer, as his ADP sits in the third round. That might be too rich for my blood. In the passing game, WR D.J. Chark is gone, while the team signed WR Christian Kirk to a big money deal. He is set to start opposite veteran WR Marvin Jones and newly signed WR Zay Jones. These players have some potential, but will only produce if Lawrence takes the next step forward in his play. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. has been passed over on the depth chart and could be traded or released later this summer. WR Jamal Agnew and WR Laquon Treadwell return for depth. At tight end, the team signed TE Evan Engram to start as the new pass-catcher. I have my doubts about his ability to consistently produce. TE Dan Arnold returns to back up Engram. PK Ryan Santoso is the kicker on a team that is still likely to struggle to score much, so you can avoid him for fantasy.

Tennessee Titans: The Titans made the playoffs in 2021, but failed to make it to the big game. QB Ryan Tannehill returns to lead this run-centric offense, making him more of a fantasy creeper in 2022, especially without WR A.J. Brown on the roster. In the running game, RB Derrick Henry is healthy and returns to dominate touches in this offense once again. He's still an elite fantasy tailback for 2022. RB Dontrell Hilliard surprised with Henry injured last year. He returns to back up Henry as his new handcuff. In the passing game, WR Robert Woods (torn ACL) was acquired via trade to fill the spot left open with the Brown trade. Woods is rehabbing a torn ACL, but says he should be good to go by week #1. Due to his injury, he is sliding in drafts this summer, making him an interesting fantasy sleeper, barring a setback in his rehab. The team drafted WR Treylon Burks in April, but is appears asthma has set back his development with the team, although they say he will be ready to go with training camp opens. WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine is likely set to start opposite Woods until Burks proves himself. WR Dez Fitzpatrick and rookie WR Kyle Philips will provide depth. At tight end, TE Austin Hooper was signed to start, and has apparently developed quick chemistry with Tannehill. TE Geoff Swaim will back up Hooper. PK Randy Bullock returns as the kicker, but should only see enough scoring chances to be a middling fantasy kicker.



Atlanta Falcons:
The Falcons failed to make the playoffs in 2021. As a result, they chose to go in a different direction at QB, trading QB Matt Ryan to the Colts after they failed to acquire QB Deshaun Watson from the Texans. They signed QB Marcus Mariota to start, while they drafted QB Desmond Ridder in April to hopefully be the long-term solution. Mariota has a bit of fantasy sleeper value, but you can find better options for your fantasy backup elsewhere this summer. In the running game, RB/WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson was the surprise of the league in 2021 at the tailback position, as he maximized his touches to become a top 10 fantasy RB for much of the season, before tailing off in the final month of play. Patterson will start in 2022, but will not carry a full load, especially since he's 31 years old. The team drafted RB Tyler Allgeier in April and signed RB Damien Williams to boost the core after ditching a relatively ineffective RB Mike Davis. Allgeier is an intriguing prospect, and has some fantasy sleeper value for fantasy owners in larger leagues. In the passing game, WR Calvin Ridley has been suspended for all of 2022 due to betting on football. In addition, WR Russell Gage left via free-agency to sign with the Bucs. As a result, the team drafted talented WR Drake London to start, likely opposite newly acquired WR Bryan Edwards and WR Olamide Zaccheaus, who will man the slot. London is a solid fantasy sleeper, as he should claim the #1 WR role. WR KhaDarel Hodge and WR Auden Tate will provide depth. At tight end, second-year TE Kyle Pitts should be the top target in this passing game, making him a top 5 fantasy TE in 2022. PK Younghoe Koo returns as the kicker, but with Mariota leading the team without Ridley, scoring chances should be down, stripping away much of his fantasy value

Carolina Panthers: The Panthers missed the playoffs again in 2021. QB Sam Darnold flopped as the starter in 2021 (predictable), so the team acquired QB Baker Mayfield just last week. He will battle Darnold to start this summer. Regardless of who wins, the team will have an inconsistent presence at QB for all of 2022, limiting the upside of this offense. That said, if RB Christian McCaffrey could manage to stay healthy, there is some potential for some big games here and there. That is the question regarding McCaffrey. He is obviously a top 5 talent at tailback, and will go in the first five picks of any draft this summer. Do you like to gamble with your first pick? RB D'Onta Foreman was signed to keep McCaffrey fresh, while second-year RB Chuba Hubbard will also be in the mix. In the passing game, WR D.J. Moore and WR Robbie Anderson return as the starters. Moore is like Brandin Cooks, but scores less. Despite the shaky QB situation, he still ranks as a top 20 fantasy WR. Anderson is another story, though. He would be lucky to land as a top 50 WR for fantasy, since he has no chemistry at all with the current player that is Darnold, and Mayfield is too inaccurate to hit him for the big plays (think Mayfield/OBJ). WR Terrace Marshall, WR Rashard Higgins, and WR Brandon Zylstra round out this wideout corps, but have very little fantasy value. Marshall's growth has been stunted due to the poor QB play, no doubts about it. At tight end, TE Ian Thomas was re-signed to a big money deal, even though he's yet to earn it. That said, the real pass-catching tight end on this roster is actually TE Tommy Tremble, but do not expect him to produce much with these QBs in play. PK Zane Gonzalez is the kicker, but won't see enough scoring chances for real fantasy value.

New Orleans Saints: The Saints failed to make the playoffs in 2021. QB Jameis Winston (torn ACL) returns, after suffering a torn ACL in the middle of his first season as the team's starting QB. Winston believes he will be ready to go by week #1, but it's not set in stone. For fantasy, I view him as a decent, but not great, fantasy backup, one who could be a risk to even play to begin the season. In the running game, RB Alvin Kamara has big legal issues with regard to an assault that took place in Las Vegas during Pro Bowl week. There is talk that he could face a six-game suspension. That eliminates him from my draft board with regard to his current ADP of the third round. If he is forced to sit, then veteran RB Mark Ingram would start, and has some fantasy sleeper value right now, at least before any suspension is officially announced. RB Tony Jones and RB Dwayne Washington provide depth. In the passing game, WR Michael Thomas (ankle) is still not a lock to be 100% for week #1, and hasn't played in nearly two years. His current ADP of the 6th round is also too high for my taste. The team drafted WR Chris Olave to start opposite Thomas, while newly signed WR Jarvis Landry mans the slot. These moves push former starters WR Marquez Callaway, WR Tre'Quan Smith, and WR Deonte Harty into backup roles on the team. At tight end, TE Taysom Hill and TE Adam Trautman are likely to share a lot of the targets, making neither great fantasy options at this time. Who starts? Good question. Trautman could start, while the team spot-uses Hill in a lot of ways. PK Wil Lutz is finally healthy and returns as the kicker, but without QB Drew Brees and Kamara likely to sit for six games or so, his scoring chances will be down, making him a middling fantasy option at best in 2022.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Buccaneers made the playoffs in 2021, but failed to repeat as World Champions. No matter, as QB Tom Brady returns for a third season in Tampa after retiring for a short period of time. While the team has some issues with the weapons around him, Brady remains a solid fantasy starter for 2022. QB Blaine Gabbert returns to back up Brady. In the running game, RB Leonard Fournette had another big year in 2021, which led to him re-signed with the Bucs. That said, he is close to 260 lbs right now, which has upset the coaches. He will have to get in shape quickly, or rookie RB Rachaad White could push him for some serious playing time. Veteran RB Giovani Bernard also returns to boost the corps. In the passing game, WR Mike Evans is the clear #1 WR, and remains a top 10 fantasy wideout. That said, WR Chris Godwin (torn ACL) is still rehabbing a torn ACL and is not a lock to play come week #1. As a result, the team signed WR Russell Gage to fill in as the starter if Godwin sits. That gives Gage some solid sleeper value for fantasy. WR Breshad Perriman, WR Tyler Johnson, and WR Scotty Miller return for depth. At tight end, TE Rob Gronkowski retired, and it appears he plans to stay retired, at least through this summer. As a result, veteran TE Kyle Rudolph was just signed. He will see action alongside TE Cameron Brate and rookie TE Cade Otton, making this a TE-by-committee entering training camp. Long term, the team wants Otton to win the starting job, but something tells me Rudolph will lead this team at tight end in terms of fantasy production in 2022. PK Ryan Succop returns as the kicker, and should see enough scoring chances to be a top 10 fantasy option this season.

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!


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