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The next stop on the fantasy preview train brings us to the AFC South. This division has some of the best top shelf talent of them all, featuring one of the top 3 fantasy QBs in Peyton Manning, two of the top 4 fantasy RBs in Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew, two of the top 5 WRs in Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne, and one of the top 2 TEs in Dallas Clark.
Behind this crop of studs though, there really isn’t a whole lot of starter-worthy talent in this division. Sure, there’s Houston’s Matt Schaub, Indy’s Joseph Addai, and the Jags’ Mike Sims-Walker as second-tier starters, but then the drop-off is drastic, filled with question mark players up and down these four teams’ rosters.
So let’s take a dive into the deep end of the AFC South talent pool, and shed some light on what this division has to offer you fantasyheads come draft day.
There’s no doubt WR Andre Johnson is the top fantasy receiver in the game. If you want him, you’ll have to burn your first round pick on him because he’ll be off the board well before your second-rounder comes back around. He and QB Matt Schaub, who I also really like heading into this season, will hook up for monster yardage all season long, provided they’re able to stay healthy, which hasn’t been their history. Both played all 16 games last year though, and if that continues, they’ll both be worth the high draft picks it’ll take to put them on your roster.
The big question in Houston though, is what’s going on with their backfield? Steve Slaton, who had probably the worst sophomore slump of them all last season, is back as the likely starter, with Arian Foster acting as backup. Houston had been looking forward to bringing highly touted rookie Ben Tate into the mix at RB, but a broken ankle sustained in the preseason opener against Arizona will sideline the youngster for the entire season, as the Texans were forced to put him on season-ending injured reserve. With Tate out of the mix, Slaton turns into a mid-round fantasy pick, poised for a comeback, with Foster acting as a good late round sleeper in case Slaton can’t get back on track.
TE Owen Daniels is also worth a look as a low-end #1 at the position, but draft him with caution as he comes off a season that ended early for him after suffering a torn ACL. Behind Johnson at the WR spot, you can consider picking up Jacoby Jones or Kevin Walter as low-end options in the late rounds of your draft… personally, I like Jones over Walter.
The AFC South isn’t ripe with defensive talent either, but of the four squads, I like Houston’s team defense the best.
You can’t question the continual success of the Indianapolis Colts in the Peyton Manning Era. Manning keeps leading Indy to winning season after winning season, with last season coming up just one win short of a Super Bowl title.
This year, Manning, who as a top 3 fantasy QB, will likely be off your draft board by the third round at the latest, is surrounded by an arsenal of talent on offense, led by annual fantasy stud WR Reggie Wayne and TE Dallas Clark. As a top 5 fantasy WR, Wayne is going anywhere between the second and fourth rounds, with Clark usually coming off the board within the first five rounds.
Behind Wayne on the depth chart at WR is a trio of receivers dripping with potential. Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie belong on fantasy rosters as mid-round selections, with Anthony Gonzalez acting as a late-round sleeper pick as he aims to come back from a lost season in ’09.
On the ground, the Colts will feature veteran back Joseph Addai, who comes into this season with the extra motivation of it being a contract year for him, and second-year man Donald Brown, out of UConn. Addai will get the lion’s share of the carries, but don’t sleep on Brown, who will be coming off a year that ended much too soon after suffering shoulder and chest injuries last October. Addai should be looked at in fantasy land as a solid second-tier starting back, with Brown acting as a mid-round pick with loads of upside.
The Jags are a team that seems to be on the decline the past few years. A few years back, they seemed to always be nudging their way into a wild card spot. Nowadays, they are pretty much a one-man show, with stud RB Maurice Jones-Drew likely to take on a heavy workload again this season. He doesn’t have a lot of competition for carries in the backfield, with Rashad Jennings being the only back worthy of even a little consideration, and that’s really only if you believe in handcuffing MJD with his backup, in case of injury.
Beyond that, Jacksonville features one more hyphenated last name guy worth owning, and that’s WR Mike Sims-Walker. He didn’t reach the 1,000-yards receiving benchmark last year, but he made a few fantasy owners happy when they were able to pluck him off the waiver wire early in the year, providing solid production at the WR spot, especially in home games. Behind MSW on the depth chart however, there is absolutely nothing going on. If you’re relying on the likes of Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard, or Troy Williamson as fantasy starters, just pay your league’s entry fee and stop paying attention, because a fantasy title likely isn’t in your near future.
Lastly at QB, you’re either a fan of David Garrard or you’re not. Personally, I wouldn’t touch the guy with a ten-foot pole. Is he good for 3,500 passing yards each year? Sure. But is he also trending downward in touchdown passes, turnovers, and completion percentage. Absolutely. So when you’re looking at backup QBs, don’t look in Garrard’s direction… there’s just a bunch of better options out there. I’d rather see you opt for a youngster with more upside, like Detroit’s Matthew Stafford or Miami’s Chad Henne.
In Tennessee, it’s the Chris Johnson Show, featuring Chris Johnson and no one else. CJ is going first or second in every mock draft I’ve seen, with the debate being heated over whether he’s got the top pick claim to fame or if it’s still Adrian Peterson who deserves the top spot. With the year that Johnson put up last season, becoming just the fifth player to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark on the ground, it’s hard not to give the nod to the Titan. If you’re the lucky winner of your league’s first overall pick, you can’t go wrong with Chris Johnson (even though if I was in the first pick’s shoes, I still go A.P.)
Other than Johnson though, the Titans really don’t feature a ton of fantasy talent. Vince Young, the team’s quirky QB, is worth no more than backup consideration, and that’s only because Tennessee has a favorable schedule this year. Who he’ll throw to is up for debate also, with Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, and Justin Gage vying for the football. Britt should be drafted in the middle rounds, but draft Washington or Gage with low hopes of them panning out.
Tags: AFC South, Andre Johnson, Anthony Gonzalez, Arian Foster, Austin Collie, Ben Tate, Chris Johnson, Dallas Clark, David Garrard, Donald Brown, Fantasy Football, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Jacoby Jones, Joseph Addai, Kenny Britt, Kevin Walter, Matt Schaub, Maurice Jones-Drew, Mike Sims-Walker, NFL, Owen Daniels, Peyton Manning, Pierre Garcon, Reggie Wayne, Steve Slaton, Tennessee Titans, Vince Young