AFC South Offseason Changes
The AFC South might be the most eclectic grouping of teams we have, and that makes sense. This division has a team in the midwest, the Bible Belt, Jacksonville, Florida and south Texas. That’s about as different as you can get while staying in the same country, much less division. The teams are all very different as well which makes it an interesting division to consider. Lets dive into this melting pot and see what we can learn.
Has any GM in the NFL been criticized as much as Bill O’Brien this offseason? I’ve been just as critical of O’Brien as the next guy, but if we separate out BOB the GM it’s clear there’s a good coach in there somewhere. Even though their season ended with a disappointing exit in the playoffs, there were a lot of positive things to take away from 2019.
The Texans were middle of the pack last year in almost every category - 14th in points, 13th in total yards, 15th in passing yards and 9th in rushing yards. Yes, you read that correctly. The Carlos Hyde/ Duke Johnson led rushing attack finished top ten in the league and were fairly proficient in that area.
It’s a bold strategy to trade your best offensive weapon, but changes need to be made when you finish middle of the pack on offense. Time will tell if these changes are good or bad, but the new look Texans offense could be explosive. The loss of Deandre Hopkins is hard to overcome, but the additions of Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb and David Johnson give the office a few pieces it seemed to miss last year.
Carlos Hyde’s departure leaves almost 280 touches up for grabs and David Johnson seems eager to show that he can step into that role. If I’m dreaming of a last hurrah for David Johnson, my argument probably goes something like this - BOB didn’t like having a backfield with one obvious rushing back and an obvious receiving back so he went out and acquired a back that could do both. He was even willing to take on his high salary and trade away his best receiver to get him. After facing ridicule for the move, BOB will be motivated to feed Johnson the rock to the tune of 320-350 times this season to prove the haters wrong!
The counter to that is obviously - No way he holds up to that work load and it won’t be long until he’s hurt. 250 - 280 touches is probably a better estimate and that would give Johnson a legit chance at a low end RB1/high end RB2 season depending on touchdowns. As much as I like Duke Johnson, I don’t think he’ll be given an opportunity to handle a starters workload. Even with an injury, he probably ends up in a similar role as last season.
Despite losing Hopkins, this is not a weak receiving unit. Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller, Kenny Stills and Randall Cobb could all play significant roles if healthy. Add in Keke Coutee and 2020 draft pick Isaiah Coulter and they’re rolling pretty deep. Assuming health, Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller and Cobb could all push for 100 targets. For Cooks and Fuller, that could mean stellar fantasy production as high ceiling weekly plays capable of breaking a big play at any point. Cobb will need a bit more to be better than a WR3. If Cooks or Fuller miss time, Kenny Stills could be the big beneficiary.
The only remaining hole in this passing game is at TE where Darren Fells currently sits atop the depth chart. He did have 7 TD’s last season, but the 34 year old is a limited receiver to say the least. Could last years 3rd round pick Kahale Warring be the answer? He’s an athletic freak that is still learning the position and is worth stashing in deeper leagues.
What does this mean for 2019’s QB2? I went back and watched a few Texans games from last year and I think he can make the offense work even without Hopkins. Cobb and David Johnson give him a couple of weapons that are quite different from what he’s had in the past. I’m bullish on his chance to remain a top 5 dynasty QB option.
Buy - Cooks, Fuller, Watson
Hold - David Johnson, Warring
Sell - Duke Johnson
The Colts are quietly one of the most fascinating teams in the entire AFC after having a terrific offseason. Frank Reich called on his experience with the Chargers in 2014 and 2015 to lure America’s dad, Phillip Rivers, out of LA and into the midwest. Those Chargers teams were not remarkable in terms of producing fantasy studs, but Rivers was a fine starting option as the QB10 and QB11. Oddly enough, they did not produce a single 1,000 yard rusher or receiver in either year. In fact, Reich and Sirianni (Colts Offensive Coordinator) have a combined 6 years as OC’s and have only produced one RB with 1,000 yards (Mack 2019) and one WR with 1,000 yards (Hilton in 2018).
Many fantasy players are banking on better future production going forward after the Colts drafted Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman. Widely considered the favorite RB of the fantasy football Twitter community, Taylor wound up being the third running back off the board. The Colts offer a great landing situation based on a strong offensive line and a commitment to running the ball as the Colts were 5th in rushing attempts in 2019. The only negatives have to do with Marlon Mack’s presence and the continued pumping up of Nyheim Hines as the pass catching back.
Pittman on the other hand has the potential to earn immediate targets. Zach Pascal had 72 targets last season and it would not be surprising to see many of those go to the more dynamic Pittman. TY Hilton should still be the number one option, with some combination of Michael Pittman, Jack Doyle and Nyheim Hines behind him.
That doesn’t leave a ton of remaining targets for last years prize acquisition, Parris Campbell. An injury riddled season followed by the addition of Pittman doesn’t paint a rosy outlook, but the benefit of being a high draft pick is that he will get multiple chances to fail before the Colts decide to pull the plug.
Perhaps the most intriguing stat from the previous incarnation of the Reich/Rivers duo is that Danny Woodhead was the RB3(!) in 2015 on 106 targets. And that’s with Melvin Gordon in the backfield as well. Could that mean that the running back we are overlooking is Nyheim Hines? I’ve been adding him as a part of bigger deals everywhere I can this offseason.
Buy - Hines, Taylor, Pittman,
Hold - Mack, Campbell, Doyle
Sell - Rivers, Hilton
You can’t tell the story of the 209 NFL season without Gardner Minshew. The sixth round pick was called on in week one when Nick Foles went down to an injury and Minshew Mania started to sweep the globe. Despite the sensation, the results on the field were just ok as the Jags finished with a 6-10 record and were 16th in passing yards, 17th in rushing yards, and 26th in points.
For his part, the constant Gardner played admirably despite getting benched in the middle of the season. He was back a couple weeks later and just a few short months later the Jags traded Foles and officially turned over the franchise to the mustached one. Combine that with the change in offensive coordinator and Minshew could really start to flex this season.
Sean McCoy gets a lot of credit for being an offensive genius, but few remember he cut his teeth as Jay Gruden’s Offensive Coordinator. The Jaguars brought the recently fired head coach in to coach their offense. It’s a role he knows well, having spent 3 years as the OC in Cincinnati leading to his hiring in Washington. His play calling has always been fairly balanced which is exactly what this team is built for.
Leonard Fournette needed to prove two things last year - Can he stay healthy? Can he be contribute in the passing game? Check and check. Rumors of the Jags trying to trade him away can’t be ignored, but he’s locked in as the starter and they didn’t bother bringing in anyone that could reasonably replace him. If this team begins to run the ball more under Gruden, we could see an uptick in Fournette’s rushing production even if his receiving numbers take a dip.
The star breakout last season, of course, was DJ Chark. The 23 year old finished as the WR16 on 118 targets, but was slowed by an ankle injury at the end of the year. A top 12 WR finish seems like a strong possibility, especially since he should be a target hog in this offense. Laviska Shenault was a very interesting 2nd round pick for the Jags and it’s easy to see how he could be an exciting weapon for this team. He can work out of the backfield and line up all over the field. For fantasy, I hope he settles in and works exclusively as a wide receiver and develops into a compliment to Chark.
Jay Gruden was able to bring in a couple familiar faces this off season in Chris Thompson and Tyler Eifert. Neither are targets of mine, but they could be nice additions that raise the success of the offense as a whole.
Don't forget about Josh Oliver. His 2019 was derailed by injuries, but the athletic ability is there and is worth stashing away on a taxi squad.
Buy - Minshew, Chark
Hold - Fournette, Oliver, Shenault
Sell - Westbrook, Conley, Thompson
Ryan Tannehill might not be the hero they want in Tennessee, but he’s the one they deserve. It’s hard to ignore the effect he had on this offense in 2019. The change from Mariota to Tannehill combined with a commitment to the run game led the Titans to a conference title game in 2019. But team success wasn’t the only impact coinciding with the change in QB. Tannehill took over as the starter in week 7 and from that point on he was the QB3, Derrick Henry was the RB5, Jonnu Smith was the TE10, and AJ Brown was the WR5!
For his efforts, Tannehill was rewarded as the Titans made the decision to turn things over to him in 2020 and beyond. Marcus Mariota left for Oakland, Dion Lewis, Tajae Sharp and Delanie Walker were all allowed to walk with Walker remaining unsigned. Perhaps the biggest departure came when Jack Conklin took his talents to Cleveland. The Titans are hoping first round pick Isaiah Wilson can fill in the hole left by Conklin.
I want to believe that Ryan Tannehill is everything the Dolphins thought he was when they took him in the first round, that he was just a late developer and finally broke out at age 30, and that he just needed to get away from Adam Gase to have his potential unlocked. After all, he was amazing! From week 7-16, only Lamar Jackson and Drew Brees had more touchdown passes and only Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen had more rushing touchdowns. He was even 8th in passing yards, but what sticks out is the source of hesitation for many. His 250 pass attempts over that time are extremely low for that leaderboard. In fact, to find someone with less attempts than him you have to go all the way down to number 23. Do I believe that Tannehill will become an outlier that defies the odds? I want to, but I can’t. There’s more talent there than people want to give him credit for, but opportunity is king and this offense runs through the backfield.
Speaking of Derrick Henry, the 26 year old RB is coming off of a season in which he had over 400 carries for the first time (including playoffs). He led the league in rushing and added 16 TD’s. He gets a slight bump down in PPR leagues, but he’s easily worth a 2nd round pick in startups and a target for teams who will contend in 2020. Tennessee added Darrynton Evans in the third round and he should be a useful player for them in the passing game, but I wouldn’t expect him to take away from Derrick Henry this season. Henry only had 29 targets last year to begin with and there’s no reason to think he’d have less than that.
There might already be 1,000 takes on AJ Brown out there, but I’ll sum them up for you as they fit into one of two camps. One, AJ Brown is amazing, he was WR5 with Tannehill, he’s 22 and will easily be a top ten WR in 2020. The other camp says what he did was unsustainable and when Tannehill regresses back to being Tannehill, he’ll come back to earth. If I had to choose a camp, it would be the first one. He had 5 TD’s in that 9 game stretch, but nothing looks so far off that I don’t think he could repeat it. With a full season as the WR1 on this team he could be ready to explode.
Jonnu Smith is also a beneficiary of the Titans offseason. Delanie Walker’s injury coincided with Tannehill’s rise and Jonnu performed admirably in his absence and will now enter the season on top of the depth chart. He very well might be the second option in the passing game considering he was second in the team in catches with Tannehill starting.
Buy - AJ Brown, Jonnu Smith
Hold - Henry, Evans, Davis (just in case)
Sell - Tannehill