AFC South Fantasy Football Preview: Studs, Sleepers, and Division Winners and Losers
We're inching closer to the start of football season, which means two things: your favorite team is about to embark on a hopeful journey to the Super Bowl, and your fantasy football drafts are about to take place.
So, to get you prepped for both things, we'll be covering each team -- division by division -- over the next week in order to help you set expectations (analytically, of course) for what's about to happen on both the real and fake football field.
Let's count down the AFC South from worst to first, ranked entirely by our nERD metric, which measures the number of points we'd expect the team to win or lose by against an average one on a neutral field.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars | nERD: -6.14 | Projected Record: 6.6-9.4
Fantasy Football Stud: Allen Robinson
Allen Robinson is an animal.
In 2015 -- a year after missing most of the second half of his rookie campaign due to injury -- A-Rob scored 14 touchdowns en route to finishing as the sixth-best wideout in fantasy football. Entering 2016, expectations are much higher: he's a guy folks are drafting at the 1-2 turn in snake drafts. And it makes sense given his performance last year.
There are some cause for concerns, but they're mostly baked into his average draft position. The first is that quarterback Blake Bortles is bound to throw fewer touchdowns than last year due to an inflated touchdown rate and crazy-good opportunity in the red zone. That will, at the end of the day, ding Robinson a bit.
As a result of Bortles' general touchdown fortune last year, Robinson scored more touchdowns than he should have based on our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. Regression analysis shows that, given Robinson's Reception NEP total, he should've scored 9.29 touchdowns rather than the 14 he actually scored. That margin -- 4.71 touchdowns -- was second-highest in the league behind only Doug Baldwin.
The thing is, it's very possible -- perhaps likely -- that Robinson is a Dez Bryant-type red zone wide receiver. So while he'll dip a bit in the touchdown department in 2015, it probably won't be significant enough to deem Robinson an early-round bust. Draft him with confidence.
Fantasy Football Late-Round Target: T.J. Yeldon
The Jaguars brought in Chris Ivory this offseason, making the backfield situation somewhat messy from a fantasy football standpoint. Ivory's the one with the higher average draft position -- 8.03 in PPR leagues -- but T.J. Yeldon's the one you may want to target in that format.
Aside from health, the biggest knock on Ivory is his pass-catching ability. He's been in the league for six years and had a grand total of 23 reception prior to last year's breakthrough season with the New York Jets.
Yeldon's the pass-catcher of the duo, having caught 36 passes last year for a Reception NEP per target average that was well above the league average.
Now, Ivory will get goal line touches, but the upside is there for Yeldon -- if something were to happen to Ivory health-wise, Yeldon's all of a sudden a three-down back in the Jags' offense. Flip things the other way, and it's hard to envision the Jags using Ivory on third down.
Even still, Yeldon will have enough value to be a flex play in PPR formats with a healthy Ivory, so it's not as though you're just burning a pick and hoping for an injury by selecting Yeldon towards the double-digit rounds of drafts.
3. Tennessee Titans | nERD: -6.09 | Projected Record: 6.6-9.4
Fantasy Football Stud: Delanie Walker
Admittedly, there are reasons to be a little cautious with Delanie Walker this year. The team added weapons like DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, and Rishard Matthews, and head coach Mike Mularkey wants to run some sort of "exotic smashmouth" offense. Walker, meanwhile, saw nearly 25% of his team's targets last year -- an elite number at the tight end position -- while also leading the league in volume. Given the new competition for looks, along with the fact that the team wants to run the ball more, and you've got a case against Walker.
With that being said, Walker shouldn't have much trouble being a start-worthy, usable tight end, and one of the better tight ends in fantasy. It's just that his average draft cost is a little high right now and, well, to be honest, Tennessee lacks a true stud outside of him.
Fantasy Football Late-Round Target: Dorial Green-Beckham
The Titans' offense is one filled with ambiguity, so the reason Dorial Green-Beckham is listed as the guy to grab late is pretty simple: upside.
The Titans drafted DGB in the second round last year, and he didn't do a ton from a fantasy standpoint, serving as mostly a vertical threat. But his per-target numbers were well above the league average, according to our metrics, which should give us some optimism.
There are concerns about his work ethic, and those have shown up at the start of Titans' camp. But DGB is built like a tank, comparing physically to players like Plaxico Burress, Michael Floyd, and Brandon Marshall, according to MockDraftable.com.
It's not wise to heavily target DGB, but among this Titans' offense, he certainly has the most upside to look forward to.
2. Indianapolis Colts | nERD: -0.37 | Projected Record: 8.1-7.9
Fantasy Football Stud: T.Y. Hilton
Remember how Allen Robinson should've scored fewer touchdowns in 2015? Well, T.Y. Hilton was on the opposite list. Hilton scored just 5 last year, when his Reception NEP totals dictated he should've scored 7.5. That 2.5-touchdown difference was fourth-highest in the NFL.
Now Hilton is getting Andrew Luck back. That touchdown progression could be pretty, pretty large.
According to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, Hilton's leaving draft boards in the middle of the third round, right about where Kelvin Benjamin and Demaryius Thomas are being drafted. Our projections see that as a steal, with Hilton ranking 13th at the position while Benjamin sits 25th and Thomas is 18th. Meanwhile, in Hilton's highest range of probable outcomes is a 190-point standard-scoring season, which would rank fifth within our wide receiver projections.
This is all to say that not only is Hilton about to have a strong year thanks to Luck returning, but he may be undervalued in drafts right now.
Fantasy Football Late-Round Target: Phillip Dorsett
When the Colts drafted Phillip Dorsett in the first round of 2015's draft, football analysts panicked. How could a team with T.Y. Hilton select Dorsett, who many compared to T.Y. Hilton, in the first round?
Well, without Coby Fleener in the mix anymore, the Colts are going to be running more three-wide sets this year. That means Hilton, Donte Moncrief and, you guessed it, Phillip Dorsett are going to be on the field at the same time a lot together.
Dorsett, as noted, is a Hilton-like receiver in that he can make big plays and stretch the field. Drafting him in the late rounds seems like a no-brainer simply because he'll have some sort of role in the Colts' pass-friendly offense, but there's the upside of him becoming something bigger if Moncrief isn't who we think he is, or if Hilton goes down with an injury.
1. Houston Texans | nERD: 1.83 | Projected Record: 8.5-7.5
Fantasy Football Stud: DeAndre Hopkins
The Texans are one of the more interesting teams to analyze from a fantasy perspective because the team is buoyed by two dynamic early-round options in DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller. Meanwhile, the only other player being selected on the Texans in 12-team drafts on FantasyFootballCalculator.com isn't even a player -- it's the team's defense.
And it's actually that very defense that should make us at least a wee bit nervous about Hopkins in 2016.
Last year, the Texans started 2-5 before ending 9-7 and making the playoffs. During that seven-game stretch, Houston had the 23rd-ranked schedule-adjusted defense, according to our numbers, and had the sixth-highest drop-back-to-run ratio in the league. Hopkins, meanwhile, was pacing to be the highest targeted receiver of all time, averaging 14.43 targets per contest.
When the Texans' defense started playing like the Texans' defense, Hopkins' numbers fell. Game script became positive, and he averaged fewer than 10 targets per contest. He went from being fantasy football's top receiver to one that was scoring fewer points than Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks.
Now, don't get me wrong -- Hopkins can still ball, which is why he's the one listed as a stud in the offense. Just beware that his second half of 2015 is more realistic from a projections standpoint since the Texans defense is, you know, good. He's still a first rounder, and our projections love him, but I'd caution drafting him over a wideout like A.J. Green.
Fantasy Football Late-Round Target: Jaelen Strong
Just to reiterate: the only actual players with an average draft position in the Texans offense are DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller.
This Jaelen Strong pick is a real reach in any sort of home league a lot of you will be playing in.
But judging by reports, Strong has had a -- wait for it -- strong camp and offseason. He's currently listed as the number-two wideout on the team's depth chart (take that with a grain of salt) and has been said to be in "optimal condition." We have very little to go off of since his rookie year saw just 24 targets, but of the non-Hopkins and Miller players, Strong is the most intriguing at this point.
...until the preseason beings and Will Fuller starts shooting up draft boards.