We have already reviewed the AFC North – Which quickly fell apart after the draft, and @DFF_MattK took us through the NFC North. Now it is time to turn our attention to the AFC South and take a look at potential sleepers for each team.
It is difficult to clasify my first pick as a ‘Sleeper’ after a career year last season. But I strongly believe Jack Doyle will go on this year to achieve even bigger and better things. In his first three years in the league, he produced just 209 yards for 3 touchdowns (on 35 receptions). Then you look at last year, in his 14 starts he totaled 59 receptions for 584 yards and 5 touchdowns. He wasn’t exactly at the level of a Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce, but I see no real reason he can’t push to get somewhere close to that level. I was a firm believer in him last season, and I am staying with that this year.
The Colts obviously believe in him as they have just given him a 3 year, $19 million dollar contract. When you look at Doyle’s catch percentage, he can go toe to toe with any tight end in the league. Doyle owns a higher percentage than Martellus Bennett, Jordan Reed, and Jason Witten.
— Nat Newell (@NatJNewell) January 10, 2017
So who is looking like this year’s bust in Indy? This may not go down well, but I am picking the 34-year-old running back Frank Gore. I get that he has defied ‘Father Time’ for the last few years but it has to catch up to him eventually. I realize players can still play well into their 30’s. Walter Payton ran for over 1,000 yards in 10 of his 13 NFL seasons, three of which came when he was over 30. But he is the exception in my eyes. Gore currently has Marlon Mack banging on the door for a starting role. I strongly believe that we will finally see the beginning of the end for Gore this season after years of waiting on his fall off. He managed 176.20 fantasy points last year, which compared to David Johnson’s 325.80 isn’t up to scratch for a modern day RB1.
When you consider that during last season Gore played all 16 games and was responsible for 8 touchdowns (4 receiving, 4 rushing) – this works out to 48 points (in standard scoring). Meaning over a quarter of his overall points resulted from touchdowns, showing just how reliant his scoring is on touchdowns. Take this away from him and what do you have left? Not a lot, this is why Gore is someone to avoid at all costs in the coming season.
On the defensive side, I think this year is going to be a strong one for Clayton Geathers. He only played 9 games last season and managed 64 fantasy points (in standard scoring). If he can stay healthy this year, I can’t see why he won’t have a big season on the Colts defense. He lines up in the strong safety position and it looks as though Malik Hooker will be starting at free safety.
I am big on Hooker, and I think these two will make up a formidable secondary for the Colts and potentially put some decent fantasy points on the board. A lot of teams will be looking to avoid throwing near Malik Hooker. After only really playing one full season in college for the Buckeyes, he managed to make 7 interceptions, it’s obvious has an eye for the ball. This is something quarterbacks in the NFL will be aware of and will not be looking to test Hooker. This should allow Geathers to rack up points for passes defended in the Jacksonville secondary.
The Texans quarterback situation last season was dire. Brock Osweiler isn’t a starter and Tom Savage, isn’t good enough to be a successful starter either. Enter first round pick, Deshaun Watson. Houston’s passing offense should look much more stable this year with their new QB. After all, they have the “quarterback whisperer” as their head coach in Bill O’Brien (sarcasm). Will Fuller was supposed to be the next big thing when the Texans drafted him with the 21st pick of the 2016 draft, but just 75 fantasy points later, here we are.
It was an unfair expectation to assume that Fuller would do well with bang average #1 and bang average #2 throwing to him. Now that Fuller has a potential franchise QB he should be able to put up more fantasy points. When you consider that he isn’t the number one WR in Houston, it could leave him open quite regularly if teams choose to double team Hopkins. Fuller is going to show us what he is all about this year.
Lamar Miller is a player I just don’t get. I don’t get the hype for him one bit. In his last two seasons in Miami he put up 370.30 fantasy points (185.40 in 2014, 184.90 in 2015) and only managed a solitary 160.10 last year in standard scoring. While I was looking through his stats for last year, I noticed he played 14 games. This surprised me as he always seemed to be leaving games injured or due to needing to take a breather paving the way for the back-ups to show what they can do. If this happens this year, he could very easily lose his job to rookie RB D’Onta Foreman. When I look at the Houston running back line up, I look for the best player there. This is Foreman which is why I would be strongly looking to avoid Miller this season.
Now, how do you pick a sleeper on a defense that includes JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and Brian Cushing? Easy, you don’t. You take on one of their rookies instead. Zach Cunningham is a player to draft in IDP leagues. The 6’4” 230-pound linebacker out of Vanderbilt is probably the best OLB on Houston’s roster. Let Clowney and Watt occupy the offensive tackles while Cunnigham breaks through and racks up the tackles and sacks (or in our world, rack up those fantasy points!). I was high on Cunningham coming into the draft, and he couldn’t have got a better landing spot than in the Houston defense.
It is no secret that the Titans are a team on the rise. Their offense is starting to look as strong as any in the league. Rishard Matthews broke out last season. They still have Delanie Walker going strong. Derrick Henry teaming up with DeMarco Murray, their running back partnership is as strong as anyone’s in the league. They also drafted Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, and Jonnu Smith. So here is a list of potential targets for Marcus Mariota to throw to:
Rishard Matthews, Corey Davis, Harry Douglas, Tajae Sharpe, Eric Weems, Taywan Taylor, Delanie Walker, Jace Amaro, Jonnu Smith, DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry.
That are a lot of mouths to feed, so, for this reason, it is an impossible task to pick who will be this season’s star player and who will be this season’s bust. Although for what it is worth, I believe this Titans offense will be a top 10 offense this coming season if Mariota has recovered well from last season’s broken leg. Last season, Mariota finished above Phil Rivers, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger in standard scoring. He managed that with half of the tools he will have this season, so look for a top 5 QB performance from him this season.
On the defensive side, last season, Tennessee allowed 4307 yards through the air. In the hope to improve on this, they signed Logan Ryan from the Patriots, Jonathan Cyprien from the Jaguars and drafted USC cornerback Adoree Jackson. So who do you pick from these? Well, I pick LeShaun Sims. The second-year cornerback out of Southern Utah only managed to put up 30.50 fantasy points in his rookie season, but give the guy a break, it was his rookie season and he only started two games. So, this year is his chance to shine and announce himself to the NFL.
If you don’t trust me on how good this guy can be, check out his interception of Alex Smith in the end zone last season – This is just a taste of what I expect us to see from him this season.
The Jags have a decent set up at WR. Allen Robinson is the number 1 guy, they drafted Oklahoma stud Dede Westbrook and they have Marquise Lee as well. But my pick here is going to be Allen Hurns as a 2017 sleeper. He had a breakout year way back in 2015 where he accumulated 161.10 fantasy points. Due to poor QB play last season, a breakout 109.40 point year from Marqise Lee and only playing 11 games he only totaled 65.70 points on the season. Despite his low point total, his 13.6 yards per reception last season is nothing to scoff at.
While a lot of people questioned Bortles quarterback play last season, he still managed to put up 3,905 yards (granted 3,904 of those came in garbage time). If he can work on his mechanics and improve his all round play, his receivers automatically become more valuable. With that, Hurns becomes a viable WR2 option.
So who do you avoid in the Jaguars offense? Any tight end. Can anyone tell me the last time a Jaguars tight end scored over 100 fantasy points in a season? No? I will wait. The answer to that question is Marcedes Lewis back in 2010. Lewis has given me no reason to believe he is going to have a big year as he is now 33 and has put up back to back 22 point seasons. The Jags have just picked up Mychal Rivera but he isn’t a better option than Julius Thomas.
Do yourself a favor and just avoid any Jaguars tight ends at all costs. Looking at a list of passing yards vs. defense, the Jaguars ranked highly last season only allowing 3,444 yards through the air (a lot of that down to them being behind a lot so teams just ran the ball).
*Courtesy of ESPN.com
One thing you will notice in this list is the lack of interceptions for the Jaguars defense. Jalen Ramsey was responsible for two of them and managed 92 fantasy points in his rookie season. I believe that he will get even better from here and probably hit the 130-140 mark this season. The 6’1” cornerback is one of the best to come out of last year’s draft and will only get better over the next few years. With the addition of AJ Bouye, Barry Church and 7th round rookie Jalen Myrick, which has taken a lot of pressure off Ramsey and will give him the chance to express himself more in Jacksonville’s secondary. Expect a lot more interceptions from the Jaguars defense this season.
These are my picks for all the ‘dodgers and sleepers’ in the AFC South. Keep an eye out soon as @DFF_MattK will take you through his choices in the NFC South.
Get in touch with me on Twitter @DFF_JamesH for any questions or Football talk.