Team Tendencies and Trends: The AFC South
Team previews and dives into historical trends continue with the AFC South division. Quite a few narratives to keep in mind. Half of the teams play in domes. The Texans addressed their need at quarterback. Also, Andrew Luck still isn’t throwing and Frank Gore is timeless. Jacksonville’s trying to shift their offensive identity. Marcus Mariota, looking healthy, has a bevy of weapons. Multiple storylines to follow. Let’s get to the highlights.
Quarterback, 1st Round
We all watched the title game. We’ve seen him succeed under pressure. Deshaun Watson has shown he has the potential to transition into an NFL franchise quarterback. But, recent trends indicate he might be needed sooner rather than later.
While not a predictive stat, Brock Osweiler’s 2016 passing yards per game was the worst the Texans have seen in some time. High volume with below average completion percentage brings the entire team down. Watson can change that. Excellent in the intermediate game, his deep ball could use some work. His 49 mph combine velocity correlates to his deep ball inaccuracy. This could hurt his primary weapons.
While DeAndre Hopkins’ usage hasn’t lessened, both he and Will Fuller primarily play on the outside. Fuller, out with a broken collarbone, exceled at the deep routes using his speed. Hopkins’ acrobatic sideline catches are his calling card. But, the slants and crossing patterns are problems for both the receiver and the QB. Training camp and preseason will show if they’ve managed to establish a rapport. If they do struggle on the outside, reports that Braxton Miller is working as a slot receiver will help keep the offense moving. Watson has time to improve as Tom Savage has been given the nod to start the season. In time, Watson can become accustomed to the speed of the game at the NFL level and lead the offense as he did at Clemson.
Running Back, 3rd Round
Drafting Lamar Miller this season is going to be tricky. From a size/speed standpoint, D’Onta Foreman has a similar profile to Miller’s. While 10-15 lbs heavier, Foreman posted similar 40-yard dash times. He also displayed notable agility traits during inside runs. Unlike other running back duos, Foreman doesn’t complement Miller. He is Miller.
It’s interesting that while Miller’s rush attempts in 2016 decrease with wind speed, but his pass targets don’t increase. A second year in the Houston offense could solidify Miller as a critical component to it, but his injuries are an issue. Lamar’s strength is also Foreman’s weakness. Pass protection. It’s hard to imagine Tom Savage or Watson being forced to rely on someone that can’t keep the upright. Foreman’s talent is evident, but the Texans will need more out of the rookie in order for him to establish himself in the NFL. Head coach Bill O’Brien has already said Foreman needs more time to learn the offense. Physical traits are apparent, but the rookie must learn to adapt before taking the field.
Running Back, 4th Round
Frank Gore is six weeks older than I am. I don’t know how he does it. But, the future Hall of Famer isn’t done yet.
Gore’s rush attempts and targets increase with wind speed. Exactly what you’d want to see in a workhorse back. Whomever supplants Gore will have a heavy workload in store for them.
The initial assumption was that rookie Marlon Mack would take over for Gore. At 5’11-213, Mack and Gore share a similar stature. That’s where the similarities end. Gore’s power running style has been on display for a decade. Mack’s shown an affinity for bouncing runs to the outside. Once heavily used in the passing game, the Colts have used Gore primarily for his legs. The South Florida product has the quickness and hands of a scat back. This is different than the Miller/Foreman situation in Houston. Mack’s current skills would complement Gore. Not replace him. I’d expect Robert Turbin to pick up any slack should Gore start to decline.
Running Back, 1st Round
After a productive fantasy season in 2015, Bortles regressed in horrific fashion bringing all of Duval down with him.
Enter Tom Coughlin, Doug Marrone, a run first philosophy, and first round pick Leonard Fournette. His aggressive power-run style fits perfectly into what the Jaguars want to do. While we haven’t looked to the Jaguars’ backfield for elite fantasy production, usage shows there’s some value.
Overall volume was down in 2016. This was expected due to their constant trailing in games. The larger target share is what’s interesting. Fournette is a solid pass catcher, but doesn’t make defenders miss in the open field. Couple this with Marrone’s desire to throw the ball ‘zero times’, Fournette offers true three down potential to this offense and fantasy owners. A nagging foot injury and lack of preseason playing time should have owners concerned. The offense as a whole is scary enough. Drafting Fournette at his current price is risky at best.
Wide Receiver, 4th Round
DeDe Westbrook is something of an enigma. Set aside the character concerns from his past. Forget about him making headlines for getting kicked out of his combine interviews. Westbrook is a 6’0”-178 pound outside receiver on a team with a quarterback that threw 5 picks at camp practice. His college tape doesn’t show him to be a route technician and his lack of size will make separation an issue. His 4.4 speed and playmaking ability would be useful out of the slot, but his deployment is a mystery. He could see some special teams work, but for now, expect him to continue to perfect his trade.
Wide Receiver, 1st Round
Let me get this straight. A team with a top 5 offensive line, high end rushing attack, stable pass catching group, and a dynamic quarterback added the highest ranked wide receiver in the class? Ok. On paper, the Marcus Mariota is primed to take the Titans to the playoffs.
Marcus Mariota continues to improve as a passer while using his innate athleticism to keep defenses on their toes. His dual threat ability was enticing last year. The added weapons should have fantasy owners investing in all available assets in all formats. But, wide receiver usage is tough to sort out.
Mariota and Matthews made a number of splash plays in 2016. Corey Davis looks to complement the established Matthews on the opposite side of the field. Corey Davis’ success against man and zone coverage will elevate the passing game from past seasons. While everyone can visualize Davis repeating his college accolades in the NFL, the offensive philosophy limits his potential upside. While the talent is clearly there, pay attention to where he’s being drafted and roster construction to maximize his value. His recent hamstring injury and lack of time building chemistry with Mariota may have depressed his value. This kid is a stud with true talent that can make an impact as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
Wide Receiver, 3rd Round
Taywan Taylor can impact the offense from Week 1. If he sees the field. Their roster already includes the aforementioned Rishard Matthews and Corey Davis. Plus, they acquired Eric Decker in free agency. So how does the 5’11”-203 rookie fit in the offense? His 4.5 speed offers an unfair relief valve to Mariota in emergency situations. Decker’s sustained health isn’t a guarantee and Taylor’s already shown he’s capable of making the necessary contested catches for the role. Training camp notes on his deployment will be critical for his rookie season. His preseason flashes have been excellent for dynasty stock, but the crowded receiver group will make it hard to see a fantasy friendly path for him in 2017.
Tight End, 3rd Round
Delanie Walker still continues to produce on the field after turning 30. While not in the elite tier of tight ends, Walker’s provided a consistent fantasy floor the past three years. Despite being in a run first offense, Walker’s thrived.
The spike in 2015 is his best performance, but depth for a franchise is important. Jonnu Smith shares a similar athletic profile to his new mentor. While only slightly taller, Smith’s major flaws are his greatest fantasy asset. His hands. Jonnu’s still a large target, but needs to work on his route running and catching to excel at the position. There’s also a glaring issue of the potential workload.
Walker’s declining targets at higher wind speeds was peculiar. Tight ends also saw fewer targets in 2016, but Walker’s yards per target were greater. The assumption here is that Walker was leaned on more as a receiver in the passing game. With the added weapons, it’s possible Walker can regain some of his lost targets as defenses have to watch the added offensive weapons.
Running Back, 7th Round
DeMarco Murray is 6’1”-220. Derrick Henry is 6’3”-238. Khalfani Muhammad is 5’7”-170. Special teams? Sure. Projecting him to any viable fantasy role is difficult in 2017.
Mariota does utilize the position as RB targets have increased since he became the starter. Based on his size, expect Muhammad to be used in third-down/passing situations.