AFC South Offseason Review

Jamey Black

04/09/2016

AFC SOUTH 

HOUSTON:  Houston has been very busy this offseason and I believe we will see a much improved Houston Texans in 2016…at least on the offensive side of the ball. The Texans quickly made a splash signing both QB Brock Osweiler and RB Lamar Miller to a combined $98M over the next 4 years. Osweiler and Miller should step in and stabilize the Texans offense right away. Miller has always been underrated and extremely durable. He fits nicely with Bill O’brien’s offense and has the versatility to replace the departed Arian Foster. Brock Osweiler is seemingly a good fit for Houston’s offense and should give O’Brien the skillset and stability he has been missing at QB. After losing 2 key offensive linemen when guard Brandon Brooks and center Ben Jones were not retained, the Texans regrouped and likely upgraded at guard adding free agent Jeff Allen from KC, though replacing Ben Jones with Tony Bergstrom at center is no doubt a downgrade for Houston. Allen will slide in on the right side next to stud right tackle Derek Newton, a pair that should open large running lanes for the Houston RB’s. It’s worth mentioning Left tackle Duane Brown was riddled with injuries last year, but should be healthy and full go by week 1 this season. Houston’s D pretty much stays intact and remains one of the better units in the NFL.

FANTASY IMPACT:  For those who haven’t noticed, Lamar Miller has quietly rushed for almost 2,000 yards (1971yds), totaled over 2,500 yards and scored 20 TD’s over the last 2 seasons. He probably finished as the 5th or 6th fantasy RB in 2015 depending on your scoring system. So to say he will have a breakout season in 2016 sounds frivolous, but I’m saying it anyway. Serving as Bill O’Brien’s #1 option at running back, Miller should be a WEEKLY RB1 this season, and running behind Jeff Allen and Derek Newton, Miller stands a real chance to finish the year top 3 or better at RB. Turning only 26 years old in April, Miller should be considered a top 10 dynasty RB and is likely to put up RB1 numbers over the next 4 seasons in Houston. I don’t think Osweiler can be counted on as a QB1 for fantasy just yet, but he should play well enough for DeAndre Hopkins to continue producing as a high-end WR1 again this season and provide Jaelen Strong and/or Cecil Shorts with more opportunities as well.

 

INDIANAPOLIS:  Things have been fairly quiet in Indianapolis this offseason. The Colts have added only one key player by signing DB Patrick Robinson who should step right in as their #2 CB across from Vontae Davis. The Colts lost one of their best defensive players and one of the best inside LB’s to hit the free agent market when Chicago snagged LB Jerrell Freeman, leaving a hole for Indy to fill on defensive. Perhaps the TE position has received the most attention in Indianapolis this offseason after the Colts let Coby Fleener get away in free agency and retained Dwayne Allen to the tune of almost $30M over 4 years. Allen has yet to live up to his potential after a promising rookie season, likely in part because he has been often injured and forced to share snaps, which shouldn’t be an issue this season. With starting RB Frank Gore turning 33 in May, the Colts added RB’s Jordon Todman and Robert Turbin as depth, though neither are long term solutions if Gore breaks down.

FANTASY IMPACT:  The Colts should have a much more productive offense for fantasy owners this season in large part because Andrew Luck will be back and fully healthy. Luck should easily ascend back into a top 3 fantasy QB. With Andre Johnson and Coby Fleener gone, look for Phillip Dorsett and Dwayne Allen to both pick up some slack and see more targets. Dorsett is extremely explosive and should see his fair share of big plays. If Dwayne Allen can stay healthy, he should be featured at TE in the passing game and will be a breakout candidate this season and a sneaky pick at TE for fantasy owners. WR’s TY Hilton and Donte Moncrief should improve on last year’s numbers with Andre Johnson gone and Luck healthy again. Don’t be surprised to see Moncrief continue to improve and eventually become the #1A or #1B to TY Hilton. Indianapolis still has glaring needs on the offensive line, which they will likely try to address through this year’s draft, but until they improve up front it is likely Gore and the other Colt RB’s struggle to be consistent this year.

 

JACKSONVILLE: The Jags have made a lot of noise this offseason and raised some eyebrows in the process. The signing of Malik Jackson to a $90M contract is a huge addition to their defensive line and a big ding to their pocketbook. Is Jackson $90M good…probably not, but with a rising salary cap and a ton of cap space, Jacksonville can afford the $15M yearly price tag. The Jags sured up their secondary by adding Prince Amukamara at CB and the underrated, yet talented Tashaun Gipson at safety. On offense, Jacksonville upgraded their O-line grabbing LT Kelvin Beachum and added another element at RB by signing veteran Chris Ivory to a $32.5M contract over the next 5 years. This was a somewhat surprising move as the Jags likely overpaid for the 28 year old Ivory to be part of a timeshare, splitting carries with last year’s 36th overall pick in the draft, TJ Yeldon.

FANTASY IMPACT:  The Jags improving D, an upgrade on the offensive line and 2 viable RB’s should slightly alter the dynamic of Jacksonville’s offense this season. Bortles is not likely to attempt over 600 passes again, but I do think he will have continued success with Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas at his disposal. The Jags are better equipped to run the ball in 2016, but the addition of Chris Ivory is going to muddy the waters when looking for a fantasy RB here. If either Ivory or Yeldon were to be featured, Jacksonville could potentially produce a RB1 (or close) for the first time since MJD in 2011. That’s highly unlikely now and I fully expect Ivory and Yeldon to be in a time-share situation all season.

 

TENNESSEE:  The big headline out of Tennessee this offseason was the acquisition of RB DeMarcco Murray via trade with the Eagles. The Titans managed to re-work Murray’s contract down to $25.5M over the next 4 years with $12.5M guaranteed, a number that is manageable and should keep Murray in Tennessee as the primary ball carrier for at least the next couple of seasons. The Titans upgraded their offensive line grabbing free agent center Ben Jones. Tennessee can improve even more up front if they elect to use the #1 overall pick in this year’s draft on Mississippi offensive tackle Laramy Tunsil. Tunsil is easily the most talented offensive lineman in this year’s draft class and possibly the best overall prospect. Free agent WR Rishard Matthews joins the Titans and should man the slot as their “Z” receiver this year, providing Mariota with another weapon in the passing game. Defensively, the Titans released overpaid safety Michael Griffin after his play continued to slip last season. Tennessee also lost CB Cody Sensabaugh, one of the worst outside corners in the NFL last year. Adding CB Antwon Blake is hardly worth mentioning, but the Titans did a nice job upgrading at safety when they scooped up free agent and former Arizona Cardinal Rashad Johnson.

FANTASY IMPACT: Mariota was credited for playing 12 games as a rookie, but only played a handful of snaps in 1 of those games. If we discount that game and look at the other 11, he was on pace to throw for over 4,000 yards and combine for over 30 passing + rushing TD’s. Mariota should run more this season and make for a strong fantasy QB2 with upside. Underrated WR Rishard Matthews was on the verge of a possible breakout last season before getting injured in week 12. Matthews will be the #3 or #4 option in Tennessee, so a breakout is not likely coming, but he can provide value in the later rounds of fantasy drafts as a high-end WR4 with the upside and talent to produce as a high-end WR3, and the skill to step in and play on the outside if either Kendall Wright or Dorial-Green Beckham go down. WR DGB has a season under his belt and offers perhaps the most upside of any Titans player. TE Delanie Walker is coming off of a career year and should remain a solid TE1 again this season. DeMarcco Murray will probably be drafted too high for my liking, but on an improved Titans offense as the featured back, he should find his way back into most weekly fantasy lineups again this year as a strong RB2 option with a decent shot to flirt with RB1 numbers.

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