AFC Position Battles to Monitor (Fantasy Football)

by Jordan McNamara | Featured Writer
May 1, 2018

After free agency and the NFL Draft, key positional competitions are developing. Below are the key competitions to monitor for each AFC team.

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AFC East

New England Patriots: Running Back
For the second consecutive year, the running back position is in flux in New England. The Patriots selected Sony Michel 31st overall, to replace Dion Lewis who signed with Tennessee. Lewis lead the backfield in 2017 with 212 touches, 1100 total yards and 9 touchdowns in 2017. Mike Gillislee is still on the roster after falling out of favor for much of 2017. Rex Burkhead also returns after signing a three year 9.75-million-dollar contract in the offseason. James White is also a passing game option. Michel is the most likely player to lead the backfield in touches, but a large split in touches is possible.

Buffalo Bills: Wide Receiver
Buffalo has one of the worst receiving corps in the league. After trading for Kelvin Benjamin in-season, he was injured and hobbled most of 2017. Zay Jones had a brutal rookie season, where he struggled to separate and only caught 36.5% of his targets. Jeremy Kerley was a quiet free agent signing and could push for 100 targets in an offense that has few weapons. Buffalo added two late day three picks, Ray-Ray McCloud and Austin Proehl, who figure to be non-factors in the offense. Buffalo replaced offensive coordinator Rick Dennison with former Alabama offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Dennison led the offense to a 31st ranked 476 passing attempts in 2017, so there is nowhere to go but up in terms of volume.

New York Jets: Wide Receiver
The Jets have 15 wide receivers currently on their roster. Last year’s draft picks, Chad Hansen and ArDarius Stewart will fight for playing time. Robby Anderson returns but has off-field concerns. Terrelle Pryor is on a one year prove it deal after laying a dud in Washington in 2017. Quincy Enunwa missed 2017 with an injury. Jermaine Kearse is also a solid player. The depth chart has a lot of options, but little stability for Sam Darnold. Josh McCown should start the season and can support starting fantasy receivers for whoever may emerge.

Miami Dolphins: Running Back
After trading Jay Ajayi in October, Miami turned to a committee with Kenyan Drake and Damian Williams. Drake seized the job when Williams was injured but entered the offseason with a tenuous hold on the job. Miami added Frank Gore in free agency and took Kalen Ballage with the 131st pick in the draft. Drake could have fared much worse in the draft, but Ballage has very high potential.

AFC North

Cleveland Browns: Wide Receiver
Despite going 0-16 last season, Cleveland has a plethora of receiving options. Josh Gordon is an all-pro when his head is on straight. Jarvis Landry was acquired in a trade from Miami and has signed a five year, 75.5-million-dollar extension through 2023. Corey Coleman‘s two-year career has been marred by hand injuries with his most notable accomplishment a terrible drop against Pittsburg in week 17 of 2017. The Browns also took Antonio Callaway with the 105th pick in the draft. Add in 2017 first round pick David Njoku and receiving back Duke Johnson, and Cleveland has arguably the best arsenal of weapons in the NFL. The target distribution will be a key question in the first season under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

Cincinnati Bengals: Running Back
Cincinnati went to great lengths this offseason to fix their offensive line. They traded for LT Cordy Glenn and added center Billy Price with the 21st pick of the draft. They also added Mark Walton with the 112th pick to join Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard at running back. Walton looks to play a reserve role, with the battle boiling down to Bernard and Mixon. Mixon has been losing weight, which will only add to the LeVeon Bell comps in the preseason. Bernard played well in weeks 13 through 17, averaging 20 touches and 99 total yards with 2 touchdowns over that span. Mixon should get every chance for a lead role, but Bernard and Walton project to cut into his receiving role.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Wide Receiver
When Pittsburg traded Martavis Bryant to Oakland for a third-round pick, the depth chart looked to be a clear Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster duo. However, the Steelers selected James Washington with the 60th pick in the draft. Washington is a deep threat with refined skills that could see an early role in his rookie season. With Le’Veon Bell averaging 100 targets the past two seasons out of the backfield, the target ceiling for Smith-Schuster and Washington could be capped.

Baltimore Ravens: Running Back
Alex Collins was a surprise lead back in Baltimore in 2017 and performed well. He had five top-12 weeks a strong rate considering he only had double-digit carries in 12 games. While Danny Woodhead retired in the offseason, but Buck Allen is returning, and Kenneth Dixon should return from injury. Baltimore did not address the position in the draft, so Collins appears to hold the job heading into camp.

AFC South

Houston Texans: Running Back
Houston’s backfield is intriguing. Houston had a high-octane offense before Deshaun Watson hurt his knee, scoring 33, 57, 34, 33, and 38 points through Watson’s hot streak. What is lost is the rushing production. During that span, Houston ran for 141 yards per game and scored eight rushing touchdowns. While Watson contributed 36 yards per game, Houston’s running backs were on pace for 1,600 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns over a full season. Lamar Miller is the de facto starter, despite always leaving owners wanting more. D’Onta Foreman tore his Achilles in November so his status is uncertain for week one. Houston did nothing to address the position in the offseason, so the health of Foreman is crucial to monitor in a backfield that has explosive upside.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Wide Receiver
Jacksonville has a glut of wide receivers. Marqise Lee, Keelan Cole, and Dede Westbrook all return after roles in the 2017 offense. The team added Donte Moncrief on a one year prove it deal, before adding D.J. Chark with the 61st pick. Jacksonville has five receivers in an offense that threw only 527 times, tied for 21st most in the league in 2017. There is talent on the roster, but the competition for targets is fierce and the ceiling low.

Indianapolis Colts: Running Back
Indianapolis looked to be a team targeting running back in the draft but managed to only acquire Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins on day three. They are added to a backfield with Marlon Mack, Robert Turbin, Christine Michael, and Matt Jones. Mack appears to be the de facto starter, but the backfield is one of the worst in the league and could be a potential landing spot for a free agent or a late-camp cut.

Tennessee Titans: Running Back
After hobbling through injuries in 2017, DeMarco Murray was released in March. The move looked to open the path for Derrick Henry to become an RB1 in 2018. Instead, Tennessee signed Dion Lewis to a four-year, $19.8 million contract, a top-12 contract at the position. The touch distribution is key to watch. Both Lewis and Henry have been productive, albeit in non-workhorse type roles. Lewis touched the ball 212 times while Henry touched the ball 187 times. Lewis finished 15th while Henry finished 37th in PPR scoring in 2017. The touch distribution could be similar in 2018.

AFC West

Los Angeles Chargers: Wide Receiver
The Los Angeles chargers have a strong assortment of receiving talent. Keenan Allen caught 102 passes in 2017, while Mike Williams had a slow start to his rookie season. Williams’ slow start was largely attributable to his neck injury but is a notable continuation of recent slow starts from high draft picks at wide receiver. Tyrell Williams also returns on a one-year restricted free agent contract. In addition, Antonio Gates will not be returning to the Chargers, and Hunter Henry should take over as a TE1. The breakdown for targets and the battle between Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams for the second wide receiver role is crucial to fantasy values in 2018.

Kansas City Chiefs: Receiver Targets
One of the most important stories to watch in the entire 2018 preseason is Kansas City’s receiving game. With Alex Smith departing via trade, Patrick Mahomes will take over as the starting quarterback. There are plenty of receiving threats at his disposal. Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Sammy Watkins are all premium receiving threats, but the target volume and quarterback play will be key. Kansas City threw 543 times in 2017, 17th highest in the league. In 2017, Kareem Hunt and Charcandrick West combined for 97 targets, while Kelce (122) and Hill (105) led the team. Watkins could replace Albert Wilson (62), and Demarcus Robinson (39), to exceed 100 targets, but the volume and distribution of the volume is critically important for fantasy football in 2018.

Denver Broncos: Running Back
Denver cut C.J. Anderson after a trade with Miami fell through, which left Devontae Booker as the lead back. Denver then drafted Royce Freeman with the 71st pick in the draft, creating a competition in the backfield through the summer. Both players have a three-down skill set, and Freeman is a metric marvel.

Oakland Raiders: Running Back
With John Gruden now the head coach in Oakland, there is a competition for the lead running back. Doug Martin was signed after he was cut by Tampa Bay and he will compete with Marshawn Lynch. DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard, and Elijah Hood are all also returning. Gruden’s playbook is a mystery after several years in the announcing booth, so scheme will be a key to monitor in the offseason.

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Jordan McNamara is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jordan, check out his archive and follow himĀ @McNamaraDynasty.

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