AFC South Training Camp Preview

AFC SOUTH

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Houston Texans: Rookies 7/21, Veterans 7/24

Bill O’Brien enters his 9th season as the head coach.  O’Brien will still be calling plays, but the Texans promoted Tim Kelly to the offensive coordinator position.  Kelly was the Texans’ tight end coach the last two years and also served as their offensive quality control coach the three years before that.  Kelly was with O’Brien at Penn State as an assistant in 2012-13 and came along with O’Brien to Houston in 2014.  We should not expect anything different in terms of play calling or personnel for 2019.
Deshaun Watson survived the 2018 season, playing a full 16 games despite being sacked a league high 62 times.  The Texans addressed the offensive line in the draft so we’re hoping for some improvement up front.  Watson was able to finish as QB5 in most scoring formats last year, throwing for 4,165 yards and 26TDs, while adding 551 yards on the ground and 5 rushing TDs.  Watson should be able to improve upon his passing numbers this year if his complimentary receivers Will Fuller and Keke Coutee can stay healthy.  He is being drafted near his ceiling at QB4 at the moment, but is one of the favorite candidates to compete for the QB1 spot.  All the arrows are pointing up for Watson and the Houston offense for 2019, so I’m willing to pull the trigger on drafting Watson in the late 5th to 6th round range.
Lamar Miller sits atop the Texans’ running back depth chart, for now.   Miller was able to finish as the RB23 in PPR leagues last year, posting 973 rushing yards and 5 TDs, while adding 25 recepetions for 163 yards and 1 TD through the air.  He is currently being drafted around the RB30 range and presents some value for us here.  With that said, there has been a lot of positive buzz this off-season for D’Onta Foreman.  He was able to return late last year for Week 16 and also played in the wild-card game, a year removed from his Achilles injury in 2017.  Early camp reports are that Foreman is expected to play a much bigger role this season and is being viewed as an asset in the passing game.  I’m into Foreman as a late round dart in redraft leagues because he has the potential to earn more work as the season progresses.  Behind these two, the Texans brought in two UDFA’s in Damarea Crockett and Karan Higdon.  We’ll be watching these two along with Foreman this pre-season to see who’s emerging as the number 3.
DeAndre Hopkins headlines the talented receiving group for the Texans.  He’s finished as the WR1 for two straight seasons now.  He did play through a handful of nagging injuries last year, and has been placed on the PUP list to begin training camp.  Nothing to worry about here, the Texans are just being cautious with their biggest asset.  Hopkins remains worthy of a first round pick and should be considered as early as the fifth overall pick. After Hopkins, we have Will Fuller and Keke Coutee.  Fuller is known to be injury prone, playing in just 31 career games out of 48.  He is currently being drafted in the WR33 range and will often put up some WR1 numbers.  He is also known to be a boom/bust receiver and might be better off in best ball leagues.  I’m open to taking a flier on Fuller, but just know that he’s probably going to miss some games and will have some high highs and low lows.  The player I’m most excited about would be second year Keke Coutee.  Coutee flashed last year as a rookie while playing through a hamstring injury.  He had a monster wild-card weekend, posting 11 receptions for 110 yards and 1 TD. Coutee will primarily line up in the slot and be moved all around the formation, even getting some handoffs and other quick ways to get him the ball.  We did not get to see him stretch the field much vertically last year because of the hamstring, so expect to see him get some more targets deep.  After the top three, we’ll be watching the training camp battle to see who would be the next man up.  Vyncint Smith should be the favorite.  I’ll mention Jester Weah and DeAndre Carter as possible 5th and 6th receievers.  They brought in four UDFA’s so we’ll see if any of the following can turns some heads; Johnnie Dixon, Tyron Johnson, Stephen Louis, Floyd Allen.
Jordan Thomas and Jordan Akins are both entering their second seasons.  They both had some success as a rookie, but Thomas was the one with 4TDs to Akins’ zero.  He’ll be the favorite to earn the starting job now that Ryan Griffin is no longer with the team.  They spent a third round draft pick on Kahale Warring out of San Diego State, so be sure to monitor his training camp to see if he’s impressing.  The Texans have not had a reliable tight end for fantasy for a while now, but I’m open to Jordan Thomas being a TE2 and having some streaming weeks for us this year.

 

Indianapolis Colts: Rookies 7/21, Veterans 7/24

Frank Reich proved to be a fantastic hire last year for the Colts, guiding them to 10-6 record and winning a playoff game against the Texans.  Reich was previously the OC in Philly and also in San Diego before he came to Indy.  He worked with his current offensive coordinator back in San Diego, Nick Sirianni.  It’ll be Siranni’s second year as the Colts OC, so we should be expecting similar things from last year.  The Colts finished 7th in total offense and 6th in passing.  We saw significant improvement from the offensive line and even the defense, giving the Colts one of the best rosters in the league overall.
Andrew Luck returned to form last year after missing the entire 2017 season.  A huge sigh of relief.  Luck threw the ball a career high 639 times, completing 430 of those for another career high 67.3%.  He finished as the QB4 with 4,593 passing yards and 39 TDs.  He’s being drafted as the QB2 behind Patrick Mahomes, leaving little room for upside.  If you want to secure a top five quarterback with QB1 upside, Luck is your guy.  He just costs a 5th to 6th round pick.  To make things more exciting, the Colts added more weapons this off-season with Devin Funchess and 2nd round draft pick Parris Campbell.  I’m a huge Andrew Luck fan but I could make the argument that the Colts have one of the best roster’s in the league and should be winning more often than not, suggesting that Luck passes a little less this year.
Marlon Mack will be the lead back in this potent offense.  I mentioned the possibility of the Colts passing less, which means running more.  Mack would be the biggest beneficiary of this idea.  Mack was fantastic down the stretch last season and could be in-store for an RB1 finish this year.  He was the RB21 in PPR leagues last year and only played in 12 regular season games.  He recored 20+ fantasy points in five games and had only four of those 12 games below double digit fantasy points.  With those numbers, he might be a better best ball target.  He is currently going in the third round in the RB18 range.  If he plays more than 12 games this year, he will end up as a value for us.  The only negative with Mack is his lack of targets in the passing game.  Nyheim Hines gets the majority of third down work and should retain his role from last year.  Hines is also a preferred best ball target for me.  He finished as the RB28 last year and has an ADP around RB41 right now.  If Mack were to miss any time, Hines would have the same role as he normally would, which means we need to watch the training camp battle for the RB3 spot.  The Colts added Spencer Ware to compete with Jordan Wilkins for that role.  Ware is the savvy vet and an under-rated receiving back, so I’d give him the edge.
TY Hilton headlines the receiver group.  He finished as WR14 last year and will have WR1 upside for us again in 2019.  He missed two games last year so he would have likely finished safely within the top 12.  He was also fantastic in the playoffs, catching 5 for 85 yards against the Texans and then 4 for 60 yards and 1TD against the Chiefs.  Hilton is a dark-horse to lead the league in yards and should finish north of 80 receptions.  He sometimes falls into the early parts of the third round, presenting us with great value.  Behind Hilton, I mentioned earlier the signing of Devin Funchess and second round draft pick Parris Campbell.  Funchess will be the other outside receiver and can compete with Eric Ebron for the team lead in touchdowns this year.  We need to watch his camp reports closely to see how he is jiving with Luck.  He may have Flex value and up to WR3 value for us this year.  Parris Campbell will get most of his work in the slot and should be moved around all over the formations.  I’m not sure he’ll be consistent enough for us in redraft leagues, but he’s one of my favorite dynasty targets.  Chester Rogers, Daurice Fountain, Deon Cain and Zach Pascal should round out the rest of the receiving group.  This WR4 position will be the best camp battle to watch.  UDFA Penny Hart should also be on the list of names you need to know.
Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron hold down the fort at the tight end position.  Doyle is recovering from an early hip injury last season.  He also had kidney surgery in November.  He should be ready to go for camp, but I fully expect the Colts to take things slow with Doyle.  He reportedly lost nearly 25 pounds this off-season from his surgeries and is slowing putting that weight back on.  If Doyle avoids any setbacks and is on track to start Week 1, he will have TE1 streaming value for us in PPR leagues.  Doyle is a superb blocker so he remains on the field the most.  Eric Ebron is the clear pass-catching TE and benefitted from Doyle’s absence last year to a tune of 66 receptions, 750 yards and 13 TDs.  His touchdown totals are basically guaranteed to come down, but if Doyle can’t stay healthy, Ebron has the opportunity to come close to his reception and yardage totals.  Another factor in Ebron’s 2019 success will be Devin Funchess.  If Funchess is not panning out, Ebron should be getting more opportunities as the big slot.  There has been positive buzz for the Colts third tight end Mo Alie-Cox.  If anything happens to Doyle or Ebron, he’ll be the next man up.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars: Rookies 7/22, Veterans 7/24

Doug Marrone heads into his third season as the Jaguars’ head coach.  They brought in John DeFilippo as the offensive coordinator, formerly the Vikings OC.  He was fired after the Week 14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.  Before Minnesota, DeFilippo served as the Eagles quarterbacks coach for two years, coaching Nick Foles in 2017.  It’ll be interesting to see how much better the Jaguars offense can be this year with these two back together.
We shouldn’t be expecting too much from Nick Foles for fantasy purposes, but he should be able to stabilize the Jaguars offense and make them more efficient.  Foles is being drafted around QB28, so clearly he is not on the radar to even be a QB2.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see Foles finish within the top 24 and have some streamable stretches for us this year, but no need to spend a late round draft pick on him.  I’ll be more interested in the backup job this summer between Tanner Lee and 6th round draft pick Gardner Minshew out of Washington State.
The real fantasy juice on this team will be with Leonard Fournette.  He currently costs a third round pick and is being drafted around the RB13 range.  When healthy, Fournette presents us with RB1 upside.  He has one of the league’s best defenses to help dictate the game script as well.  If the addition of Nick Foles can help make this offense more functional than it was with Blake Bortles, we should be expecting a bounce-back season for Fournette.  Last year we saw more of an effort to get him involved in the passing game.  TJ Yeldon is now out of the picture, so this is another plus for Fournette.  The biggest red flag will be his injury risk.  I’m willing to take a chance on him in the third round this year, but not before Devonta Freeman, Damien Williams or Aaron Jones.  Behind Fournette, Jacksonville signed Alfred Blue.  Blue has experience as a runner and pass protector, so if anything were to happen to Fournette, he would be the handcuffed.  A 5th round pick was spent on Ryquell Armstead out of Temple.  Armstead is dealing with a hamstring injury and has been placed on the PUP list to start camp.  Armstead faces an uphill battle this year in terms of being usable in redraft leagues. We’ll monitor the backs behind this guys trying to make the team; Benny Cunningham, Thomas Rawls and Taj McGowan.
The Jaguars receiving group will be quite the puzzle this year for fantasy.  They have five guys who I could see end up being the best on the team this year.  We have Marquis Lee, Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole, DJ Chark and Chris Conley.  Nick Foles has experience with Conley in Kansas City so I’m open to him leading the team in TDs this year.  Westbrook should be the favorite to lead the team in receptions.  Marquis Lee is the biggest question mark as he returns from an ACL injury, but he has been placed on the PUP list to start camp and is in jeopardy of missing the start of the regular season.  Keelan Cole has shown flashes the last two years with Bortles, so perhaps Nick Foles can unlock some of his skillset even further.  DJ Chark remains the best dynasty asset and will be their big play threat.  No drafted receivers this year, but they did bring in four UDFA’s we’ll have to monitor to see who makes the team; Tyre Brady, Michael Walker, Dredrick Snelson and Raphael Leonard.  Tyre Brady should be the one who sticks out the most, so file his name away.
Foles has had success throwing to Zach Ertz in Philly.  Unfortunately for the Jaguars, they have no one close to what Ertz has been.  Geoff Swaim was brought in from Dallas and will likely earn the starting job.  He’s more of a utility tight end and will have more value as a blocker.  Just keep an eye on him, especially in the first few weeks of the season.  If he’s getting enough targets from Foles, I’m open to him being streamable.  The best receiving option will be third round draft pick Josh Oliver out of San Jose State.  We shouldn’t be expecting too much out of the rookie just yet, but if he’s turning heads in camp, we can start getting excited.  James O’Shaughnessy and Ben Koyack are reserves and will not be on our fantasy radar.

 

Tennessee Titans: Rookies 7/22, Veterans 7/25

Year two of the Mike Vrabel era begins.  Last year’s OC Matt LaFleur is now the head coach in Green Bay, so the Titans promoted Arthur Smith, previously their tight ends coach from the past three years.  Smith has been on the Titans coaching staff for a while now, going all the way back to 2011.  He’s been a defensive quality control coach, offensive quality control coach, offensive line and tight ends assistant, and assistant tight ends coach.  Smith has been around this team long enough to know what he’ll want to do, which is most likely feed Derrick Henry and get Marcus Mariota into favorable passing situations.
The Titans picked up Marcus Mariota’s 5th year option, making this season extremely important for his future with the team.  He has reportedly put on an extra 5-10 pounds this off-season in efforts to be more durable.  He was hot and cold last year, playing in 14 games and only throwing 11 touchdowns.  Only 6 of his 14 games would have been usable in best ball leagues.  In the other 8 games, he did not record a passing or rushing touchdown.  The Titans upgraded the skill positions for him in the draft and in free agency, so I’m open to Mariota playing well as he fights for his next contract.  The Titans also traded for Ryan Tannehill, perhaps adding some extra fuel for Mariota to prove he is their franchise quarterback.  We’ll keep an eye on Tannehill to see if he pushes Mariota forward, or even outplays him this August.  Logan Woodside is the third quarterback and will not be on our radar.  If Mariota misses any time, Tannehill will enter our streaming conversation.  For now, Mariota is a fringe QB2 and a better late best ball dart than a redraft pick.
Derrick Henry is set to be the focal point of the Titans offense.  He finished strong last season as the RB16 in PPR leagues.  Everyone will remember the Jacksonville game where he ran for 238 yards and 4 TDs on just 17 carries in Week 14.  He has the ability to wear a defense down and finish teams in the fourth quarter.  How successful will the Titans be at getting these game scripts will be the only question for Henry.  He is not involved enough in the passing game as you would like, so his upside is capped in PPR leagues.  He does have the potential to lead the NFL in carries this season though.  His current ADP is around RB16, going in the mid to late third round.  If he finished as the RB16 last year with the inconsistent usage he had in the beginning of the season, he may end up being a value for us here.  I’d probably rank him just behind Kerryon Johnson and Marlon Mack for now.  Behind Henry, we have Dion Lewis.  Lewis will remain as the pass catching back and should take over as the primary back if Henry were to miss any time.  He finished as the RB27 in PPR leagues last year and is currently being drafted around the RB47 range.  I’ve been taking a chance on Lewis in late rounds of best ball leagues.  After these guys, we have David Fluellen, Jeremy McNichols and Dalyn Dawkins.  I’ll be more interested in watching UDFA Alex Barnes out of Kansas State.  We’ll monitor the pecking order behind Henry and Lewis, but I’m not expecting much of out of any of these backs this year.
Corey Davis took a nice step forward in his second year in the league, accumulating 65 receptions for 891 yards and 4 TDs on 112 targets.  People seem to be sleeping on him this year.  He was good enough for WR27 last year and is currently being drafted around WR30 range.  A healthy Mariota and a capable backup in Tannehill should only help Davis grow in his third year.  I’m open to Davis playing at a WR2 level for us in 2019.  The Titans gave him some help this year by signing Adam Humphries and drafting AJ Brown out of Ole Miss.  Humphries will be the primary slot receiver, but Brown also has been successful in the big slot role in college.  Brown was probably the most polished receiver in the draft this year and can play any position for the Titans.  I’m not sure we’ll be using Brown in redraft leagues this year, but I’m definitely interested in dynasty.  Humphries is an interesting late round target in redraft leagues.  He was the WR24 in PPR last year on Tampa Bay and can be found in the WR60 range right now in drafts.  He’s Free.  Mariota had success with quick passes to Delanie Walker not too long ago so I’m open to Humphries being a fantasy asset for us this year.  After the top three, we have Tajae Sharpe and Taywan Taylor.  Both will have value if any of the above misses any time, but they are clearly behind in the pecking order.  We have a couple UDFA’s trying to make the team, Joseph Parker and Anthony Ratliff-Williams.  We’ll monitor the pre-season to see who makes the team as the 6th receiver.
Delanie Walker suffered a season ending ankle injury in the season opener last year.  He was able to avoid the PUP list to start camp, which is a great sign.  Walker turns 35 this August, so I’m not super high on him in redraft leagues, but he has been a favorite target of Mariota’s and could provide some TE1 streaming ability for us.  Jonnu Smith is the back up here.  We saw some solid improvement from him as the season came to a close.  He’ll be more of a dynasty buy than a redraft target for this year, but I like what I see from Smith.  We’ll monitor the backups in camp to see who the next man up would be; Mycole Pruitt, Cole Wick, Anthony Firkser, Ryan Hewitt and UDFA Parker Hesse.

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