Team-by-Team Analysis: AFC South (2021 Fantasy Football)
By this third installment of my Team-by-Team Analysis article series, I hope you have a grasp on what we’re trying to observe and analyze in preparation for the upcoming fantasy football season. In case you haven’t, in this series, I look at a particular division and analyze each team’s primary fantasy positions (i.e., QB, RB, WR, and TE). Using FantasyPros data, I previously explored the AFC East and AFC North. In this iteration, I’ll be exploring the AFC South, a division possessing two playoff teams and two rebuilding franchises with significant question marks about their offenses.
The below visualization reveals each AFC South team’s total points ranking, along with their positional ranks in fantasy and associated mean and median values. The AFC South boasts a variety of “talent” at the QB position, with a former first-round bust who turned his career around with supreme passing efficiency (i.e., Ryan Tannehill), another first-round bust who’s looking to do the same with a new team (i.e., Carson Wentz), a team that is anticipated to use the top spot in this month’s draft to select the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck (i.e., Trevor Lawrence), and a franchise that is seemingly blundering its way around the NFL since making the amazing selection of arguably the second-best young QB in the game (i.e., Deshaun Watson) – through potential off-the-field complications may throw another wrench in Houston’s plans. Per the below chart, we see that Houston centered its offense around Watson and its WR corps featuring Will Fuller (now on the Dolphins) and perennially underrated fantasy WR Brandin Cooks. At the same time, Tennessee incorporated a more balanced attack with 2,000-yard rusher Derrick Henry and the aforementioned Tannehill. Indianapolis and Jacksonville, alternatively, left much to be desired at QB, leading to their prior or upcoming offseason moves to hopefully improve at the position.
Taking a step further into the divisional breakdown, we can see the fantasy point distribution across each team’s generally startable roles (i.e., QB1, RB1, RB2, WR1, WR2, WR3, and TE1). By breaking the analysis out and ranking them accordingly, we can better understand the 2021 opportunity from analyzing production distribution.
There are a few major observations and takeaways that can be made from the above chart:
- With a premier QB and two talented WRs – both of whom were first-round picks in their respective NFL drafts – Houston’s aerial attack was focused down the field. Even with Fuller IV missing several games due to a PED suspension – which should bleed into the 2021 season – he still finished among the top fantasy WRs in the league.
- Despite trading superstar WR DeAndre Hopkins for aging RB David Johnson in the offseason leading up to the 2020 season, Houston failed to establish or exhibit an elite rushing – or RB receiving – game. Furthermore, Houston – and Watson – simply didn’t target TEs as part of its offense.
- The 2021 outlook is wholly based on the discourse surrounding Watson’s off-the-field legal situation. If things clear up before the season, then Watson, Johnson, and Cooks should all be quality fantasy starters at depressed ADPs. However, if Watson’s legal issues turn for the worse, then this whole offense should see a massive hit.
- After trading away several first-round picks a few years ago in the Laremy Tunsil trade with the Miami Dolphins, Houston doesn’t possess what would have been the number three pick in this month’s draft. As such, I wouldn’t anticipate much change in their offense beyond the recent departure of Fuller IV and their several underwhelming free-agent acquisitions (e.g., RBs Mark Ingram II and Phillip Lindsay and WRs Andre Roberts and Donte Moncrief).
- Despite the hype around signing potential Hall of Famer Philip Rivers – who recently retired – last offseason, Indianapolis’ passing attack underwhelmed for much of the season. However, with a strong defense and running game, they were able to break into the playoffs before a first-round exit to the Buffalo Bills.
- Jonathan Taylor’s Jekyll and Hyde season – largely due to bewildering RB utilization by former head coach Frank Reich – frustrated fantasy managers; however, with an amazing end-of-the-fantasy-season run over the final few weeks, Taylor finished as the RB6, including a massive 253-yard and two-touchdown performance in Week 17, for what it’s worth.
- It’s all going to come down to Wentz. Indianapolis traded moderately valuable draft capital to the Philadelphia Eagles for former number two pick Wentz this offseason in the hopes to tap into the QB’s MVP-caliber potential. If he hits, this offense can break into the upper echelon with young sophomores at RB (i.e., Taylor) and WR (i.e., Michael Pittman Jr.).
- Taylor will most likely be drafted in the first round of everyone’s 2021 drafts in redraft leagues – and is a consensus top-three RB in dynasty leagues – but there may be potential value in selecting Wentz or Pittman, Jr. later on in your drafts if their ADPs present this opportunity.
- The 2020 season was disastrous for Jacksonville. After starting the season off with an underdog win against divisional foe Indianapolis, Jacksonville lost each of its final 15 games and earned the number one pick in the upcoming draft. Whether this was intentional or not (#TankForTrevor), this Jaguars team was not good in 2020.
- However, there is some biding talent on this offense if they can sure up the QB role. Undrafted free agent James Robinson took the league – and fantasy managers – by storm, finishing at the RB7 and possibly providing the biggest return on investment of any player in fantasy last season. Furthermore, young receivers D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault had their ups and downs but look to rebound or build upon their 2020 performances.
- As we saw with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in their rookie seasons in 2012, can anticipated top pick Trevor Lawrence provide an immediate boost to this offense? In the current NFL, it’s not out of the question. I am targeting Robinson, Chark, and Shenault in all my leagues if their ADPs remain a bit depressed. I wouldn’t rely on any of them as a featured player on my team – save Robinson as my RB1 if I can get an elite WR (e.g., Davante Adams) or TE (i.e., Travis Kelce) in round one.
- This offense centered around heavy Derrick Henry’s utilization and Ryan Tannehill’s extreme efficiency for the second consecutive season. Henry broke the season-long 2,000-yard milestone and finished as the RB2 in fantasy, while Tannehill finished as the QB7.
- Former number five pick Corey Davis performed well in his final season with the team – before leaving for the New York Jets in free agency – while young superstar A.J. Brown continued his immense receiving efficiency, finishing the season with 70 catches for 1,075 yards and 11 touchdowns.
- We shouldn’t expect much to change in terms of offensive philosophy with the Titans in 2021, despite the departure of offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, who took the head coaching job in Atlanta this offseason. The Titans should ride Henry as much as possible and then work the play-action with Tannehill and Brown. Henry will be a first-round pick in all redraft formats, while Brown should be a second-round pick or fringe third in upcoming drafts.
- However, with Jonnu Smith leaving in free agency to sign with the New England Patriots and Davis’ departure, the Titans could seek to further boost this offense by selecting a WR in the upcoming draft. They signed Josh Reynolds in free agency, though it’s uncertain whether he can effectively fill the shoes as the second option in the passing game (since Henry isn’t utilized as a receiver). Nonetheless, the only players that should be drafted are Henry, Brown, and Tannehill.
Check out more 2021 team-by-team analysis from Jared Lese:
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