Joy Divisions – AFC South

Before the season starts, myself and good friend of the podcast Lee Wakefield (@wakefield90) will give a summary of each division, how we see it playing out over the season along with some players to target in fantasy in each.

The AFC South was ridiculed last season for being weak recently, but could now be one of the stronger divisions in the AFC.

TIM

Jacksonville Jaguars:

Jacksonville may have missed a trick in not taking a cheapish QB either in the draft (Tanner Lee doesn’t count) or in Free Agency. It is obvious they are going to be one of the more run focused teams in 2018 with the signing of Andrew Norwell from Carolina added in Free Agency. Fournette is an outside shot to lead the league in rushing in my opinion, but health is a concern. The WR room is crowded and it’s a case of watching in training camp to see who catches the eye. Moncrief will only be there for the 1 year, allowing draft pick DJ Chark to learn this season. Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook are likely to be the leaders in production, but it’s not going to be a sizeable pie to eat with Bortles at the helm. The window for the defence isn’t getting any longer either and at some point all these elite players need paying so I think there could be a real push by our Jacksonville Jaguars this year.

Key Storyline: Can the Jags learn from their playoff defeat to the Patriots and go one further in 2018?

Tennessee Titans:

Titans have had a bit of an overhaul from top to bottom, with Matt LeFleur coming over from the Rams as well as some intriguing signings. Dion Lewis, Malcolm Butler have joined from the Patriots, which is always a good team to acquire from and have strengthened that defence in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Tennessee shocked Kansas in the playoffs last season and should be able to take that momentum in to the new season.

Mariota, a currently undrafted QB in most fantasy drafts should fare a great deal better in this potential offensive setup and Corey Davis should be a key player for them (which is reflected in his current ADP in fantasy football drafts). Rishard Matthews, Delanie Walker are the seasoned vets and always provide reliability for fantasy GMs whilst the backfield could be a headache but may be able to support both RBs with decent levels of production if firing on all cylinders (take Lewis over Henry). I can see the Titans in the postseason but cannot say for certain if it’s as a division winner or a wildcard, which you can get decent odds for too.

Key Storyline:  Are the Titans finally balanced enough on both sides of the ball to be a dark horse in 2018 and make a deep run in January?

Houston Texans:

The recurring theme for Houston is health. Both defensively and offensively, injuries have been a major problem.

JJ Watt, Jadevon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, Lamar Miller, D’onta Foreman, DeShaun Watson to name just a few on both sides of the ball have not played consistently for full seasons in the NFL. One thing is for sure, if you guarantee us full seasons for this year for all of those players, these guys make the playoffs. The hype train on Watson is reaching Asian Bullet Train speeds and I will have no part of his early round ADP. One constant throughout the recent years in Houston is DeAndre Hopkins; this guy gets it done no matter who the QB is and is well worth the 1st round pick in fantasy this year.

Their draft was a quiet one due to their trading up for Watson last year so you can be forgiven for knowing nothing about the Texans draft. One name to watch out for is Keke Coutee, a downfield threat at WR.

Not sure their offensive line is a great deal better than last season so that will continue to be a struggle, especially if Watson is limited in his mobility either physically or by play calling.

Overall, there is a wide range of outcomes for Houston this season and it will be interesting to see how it pans out.

Key Storyline:  Can Houston stay healthy?

Indianapolis Colts:

At the time of writing (late July), you have to think that Luck WILL be on the field come week 1.  The question has always been “what type of Luck will we get?” though and we wont know for sure. One thing is for certain – this division is a lot tougher than when he last saw the field. The defences are meaner, the offences are more talented and the coaching is (slightly) better. Even if Luck returns as if he has never been away, their defence will be their shortfall and I think with or without Luck, these guys finish bottom of the South.

Moncrief has gone, replacing him with Baltimore throwaway Ryan Grant and have acquired Eric Ebron from the Lions.

Their draft haul was sizeable, having the luxury of picking up 4 outside linebackers and still being able to pick up 2 running backs (who could play a big part this year) and 2 Wide Receivers in Daurice Fountain and Deon Cain (who is particularly impressing in training camp – surprise surprise).

The good thing for fantasy GMs is that most of these players are all late round dart throws with major upside should Andrew Luck play a full slate of games, but as the Luck status becomes a bit clearer expect their ADPs to rise.

One final thing is the coaching team; Chuck Pagano has departed, to the delight of the fans ad Frank Reich, the OC for reigning Super Bowl champs Philadelphia (*puke*) comes over and could install a dynamic style of play and there will be a few diamonds here on this team..I just dont know who they are. At a guess, I’d take Hines and maybe take a late late flier on Cain.

Key Storyline: How much Luck do the Colts get this season?

Summary:

TM:

This will be an intriguing division this year and will definitely come down to the divisional games in week 17, just like last year.

Jacksonville have the elite defence, Tennessee have the balance whilst Houston have the explosiveness and high octane offence. I think it’s safe to dismiss the Colts but could have a say in the division. I think I’ll take the more balanced team and the best coach from the 3 to just about squeeze through and take the division, especially as some bookmakers make them 3rd favourites.

In fantasy, don’t sleep on the Titans offence (or defence if you grab one late) but do not take DeShaun Watson any earlier than the 7th round, even if you bought a ticket to board his hype train. I fear that injury will cost the Texans a real shot at a divisional title again this season and worst case scenario, JJ Watt could be done for a career (I really hope not). For that reason, I wont be investing in any Texans players but watch out for Keke Coutee in dynasty leagues.

Predictions:

1st – Tennessee Titans,

2nd – Jacksonville Jaguars,

3rd – Houston Texans,

4th – Indianapolis Colts

LEE

The AFC South promises to be one of the best divisions in the whole of football in 2018 as it has three genuine playoff contenders and the other team is set to welcome back a All-Pro calibre quarterback.

Let’s start with that quarterback and Indianapolis. Andrew Luck and his trusty sidearm are back and firing! Andrew Luck is on the field in training camp, throwing the official “Duke” ball and by all accounts is looking pretty good! Of course, it’s training camp and everything is great in training camp, the connection with T.Y. Hilton was always going to be just as good as ever… don’t let my cynical tone fool you, I genuinely want Luck to be back to his best because the NFL is a better place with him in it.

I know I referred to the Colts as a the other team earlier, and they are, they’re still two years away but definitely on the right path.

I say this because whilst I liked what they did in the draft; adding Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith, drafting Darius Leonard as their middle linebacker of the future and adding a pair of promising pass rushers, they are still thin on the ground at wide receiver and at running back. Also, outside of Malik Hooker and Quincy Wilson, the secondary looks very much like it can be attacked. The loss of Johnathan Hankins also means they’re weaker up the gut.

Do you see the holes that I’m talking about? The Colts are asking Luck to be Superman and for T.Y. Hilton be to his Thor and that’s the problem, the offense doesn’t really have any other Avengers (Quenton Nelson is Thanos, for those wondering; he’s going to be that bad ass) so they’re going to need to score 30 a game with that defense to have a chance to win some games.

So yeah, tough sledding for another year in Indy in a tough division until they can reload via the draft some more; the scars of the Ryan Grigson era run deep. Fantasy wise, oddly the only player I like on this team is Nyheim Hines as a late round sleeper (again, check out my most recent appearance on the Full 10 Yards podcast for more thoughts on him).

My favourite team in this division currently is the Titans and not just because of those slick new unis. Great coaching hire in Mike Vrabel, shiny new offensive co-ordinator in Matt LeFleur who is one of the best young OC’s in the game and a roster with players all over the field who are either really good now or feel like they’re on the cusp of a breakout. Oh and they won a playoff game last year when they weren’t as good.

As a draft guy, I definitely have a bias towards a team if I feel like they have had a good draft, not all the time but I feel it’s a really, really important aspect of the game.

Tennessee didn’t have a lot of picks but they used them really well! I loved the picks of Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry, they were two player who I rated very highly coming out. The Titans also added Dion Lewis to give themselves some diversity alongside the more bruising Derrick Henry.

The team already had a good, young QB, a strong offensive line, a good tight end and a wide receiver who was drafted fifth overall. So a pretty well rounded offense that contains a few players who, like I mentioned earlier, are on the cusp of a true breakout… I’m looking at you Marcus Mariota and Corey Davis. Both of whom would come into fantasy consideration from me, ditto the running backs, ditto Delanie Walker… ahh ditto everyone, I’m all in on Tennessee!

The defense is punctuated with established players like Jurrell Casey and Derrick Morgan and supported by budding stars like Adore’e Jackson and Kevin Byard. Without being the best roster in the NFL, I feel like they’re a very complete roster.

Right, before I carry on gushing about the Titans, I’ll move on to the Jaguars.

This is the best team in this division and potentially one of the best in the league. I fully expect a deep playoff run again from the team who was a couple of plays away from beating the Patriots last winter.

The defense speaks for itself, with Jalen Ramsey, I mean that literally, too. Although to be fair to them, the Jags have got a lot to shout about! As everyone knows, their defense is elite, all three levels are flooded with players who at the top of the game and they have so much depth too, especially along the defensive line.

The offense is a little less pretty, it’s not bad but it’s nowhere near the level of the defense. Leonard Fournette is going to be leaned on heavily (maybe too heavily) and he’ll be hoping to improve in 3.9 YPC in year 2. The main issue comes with Blake Bortles and who is going to catch the ball for him… can Nathaniel Hackett paper over the cracks again and keep Bortles relatively error free? With no Allan Hurns and no Allan Robinson, the wide receiver corp looks a little flimsy too, there are names but someone needs to step up and become the guy.

Even with the possible issues on offense, I do believe that the team that represents the AFC in the Superbowl will have to beat Doug Marrone’s squad.

My little Jags fantasy draft tidbit: I’d only take Fournette in the 2nd round (or later if for some reason he’s still on the board). I feel he’ll be facing more than a few loaded boxes, which is tough going for a bell-cow back.

Last bit by no means least are the Houston Texans, another team who many fancy for a play off run and it’s easy to see why as their roster is full of big names and star talent.

To me though, it feels like everyone is waiting on Houston… waiting to see of DeShaun Watson will light it up over a full season, waiting for Nuk Hopkins to repeat his monster 2016 season where he lead the league in touchdowns, waiting to see J.J. Watt back destroying QB’s on a weekly basis. My question is, will they keep everyone waiting or deliver?

The interesting thing is that with this division having three potential play off teams, the likelihood is that at least one of those team will miss out, which is going to make those games between the three teams that little bit more spicy!

I’m also really looking forward to seeing the Honeybadger in a Texans uniform. I think he’ll have an enormous chip on his shoulder after the way he was cut by the Cardinals and he’ll be looking to prove everyone wrong, again. I’ll also be keeping an eye on his probable safety partner, Justin Reid. I am still not sure why he lasted until the third round of the draft, I feel like he’ll prove to be a steal for Houston.

For fantasy you can’t go wrong with Hopkins early if the top 4 running backs and Antonio Brown are gone. Watson should be off the board early too given his rushing ability, so if you want him be sure to get in early to avoid disappointment. Will Fuller has big play ability and may be worth a late round pick in deeper leagues too. I’m not a huge fan of Lamar Miller personally but he is a starting running back on a team that will run the ball A fair amount so I guess he does have some value.

So that’s me on the AFC South. Really good division in my eyes, probably only a couple that I’d have over it and the best one in the AFC.

Prediction:

  1. Jaguars (just)
  2. Titans
  3. Texans
  4. Colts