2020 Fantasy Football Preview: AFC South draft targets

Patriots-Texans-Football

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) is lifted by center Nick Martin (66) as they celebrate a touchdown against the New England Patriots on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Houston. (Eric Christian Smith/AP)

With the 2020 NFL season fast approaching, so are fantasy football drafts.

To help get you ready, Sportsnet’s Andy McNamara will down a division position by position every Friday until the start of the campaign.

Next up: the AFC South

QUARTERBACK

Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans

Watson was ranked No. 5 amongst fantasy quarterbacks in 2019 and should be considered a top-five fantasy QB again. What I like is that, while he uses his legs, Watson is smarter about protecting his body than he was earlier in his NFL career. The former Clemson Tiger is still running in touchdowns, can throw for scores and he’s never been a big turnover guy. Don’t let the question marks at wide receiver (more on that later) scare you away from grabbing Watson as your QB1.

Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans

Can Tannehill be the stud quarterback he was after taking over from Marcus Mariota last season? From Weeks 7 to 17 in 2019, Tannehill produced the third-most fantasy points out of all NFL quarterbacks. Some regression is natural, so my strategy on targeting Tannehill would be to draft him as my expected starter, but also grab a Jared Goff or Teddy Bridgewater-type later on in case the Tannehill reverts back into his Miami days.

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) scores a touchdown on a 1-yard run against the Houston Texans in the second half on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (James Kenney/AP)

Philip Rivers, Indianapolis Colts

So much of the Colts fantasy football relevance relies on how their new quarterback adjusts to his new surroundings.

Last season, it looked like father time had smacked Rivers in the mouth. His offensive line wasn’t great, but he did still possess excellent weapons in Los Angeles. The six-foot-five gunslinger threw for his fewest touchdowns since 2007 and chucked up 20 interceptions. The 4,600 passing yards helped Rivers to a QB15 ranking, but what does that mean for 2020?

A dramatically better offensive line and strong complementary running attack gives the ex-Charger a great chance to bounce back. I’d be fine slotting Rivers into the odd DFS contest, just not as a starter in season-long leagues.

Gardner Minshew, Jacksonville Jaguars

We all love the jort-wearing, bandana-sporting, moustached Gardner Minshew, who’s undoubtedly entertaining but not someone you want to count on as your fantasy QB.

In 14 games played last season, he was a fantasy QB20. I’ll give him credit though, this Jaguar was efficient with a good-looking touchdown-to-interception ratio of 21-to-6. An obstacle for the sophomore pivot is that he needs to learn a different offence under new coordinator Jay Gruden during an off-season heavily impacted by COVID-19.

RUNNING BACK

Tennessee Titans

Derrick Henry ran like a bulldozer last season, yet he makes me nervous as a candidate to be over-drafted. His heavy workload, seek-out-contact style and lack of receiving upside lands him as more of a backend RB1 on my draft board. Of course, Henry could very well run wild again. Also, don’t overlook the impact rookie Darrynton Evans may have as a pass-catcher, which could cut down Henry’s snap count.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Leonard Fournette was a RB7 in PPR and 13th in standard during the 2019 campaign. It was an interesting shift for the 25-year-old as he grew into a proper dual-threat back. He saw the ball thrown his way 100 times for 76 receptions to go along with the 1,100-plus rushing yards. Areas of concern are that there were only three touchdowns on the ground, and the seemingly constant issues he has with the franchise off the field.

In this Oct. 27, 2019 photo, Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette (27) rushes for yardage against the New York Jets. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

Indianapolis Colts

Buy in on workhorse rookie Jonathan Taylor, who rushed for over 2,000 yards in consecutive seasons at Wisconsin. Marlon Mack might get more carries early, but Taylor’s superior athleticism gives him a real shot to overtake Mack for starting snaps. In dynasty/keeper scenarios, Taylor should be the top first-year running back off the board.

Houston Texans

We all know how badly Houston’s reputation got dragged through the mud on the DeAndre Hopkins trade to Arizona. It was a fleecing by the Cardinals, but David Johnson coming back the other way could have a significant fantasy impact.

As a forgotten rock-solid RB2 in PPR, let’s not sleep on the upside of Johnson.

Think about it: when healthy, he’s a three-down back who is a dynamic safety valve pass-catcher for Watson. I think Johnson could surprise everyone, and his arrival in Houston means Duke Johnson’s value is now that of a bench-level handcuff.

WIDE RECEIVER

Indianapolis Colts

Indy is looking good at wide receiver with rookie Michael Pittman Jr. joining T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell and Zach Pascal.

I feel Hilton is falling into that name-recognition category where you just assume he’ll be a fantasy start, but is he anymore? Ten games last season, 14 the year prior – although in 2018 he did deliver over 1,200 receiving yards. Rivers’ potential arm talent certainly opens up possibilities if he stays healthy, but I’m going to be cautious with Hilton. On my fantasy team he’s a WR3 right now, and I won’t reach for him.

Campbell is an intriguing depth receiver with the potential to blast off. Limited to just 22 touches over seven games as a rookie, the Ohio State alum is a lightning-quick slot option. Remember his 4.31-second 40-yard dash at the 2019 combine?

Finally, there’s second-round pick Pittman Jr. This is someone you want to target in any keeper/dynasty rookie drafts with more of a fantasy payoff in 2021. We cannot overlook how hard it will be for rookies to contribute right away in this unique year out of a virtual off-season. In re-draft leagues, I’d nab him late and stash as a wait-and-see because he’s built like the real deal at six-foot-four and 225 pounds.

hilton-return
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (13) reacts after making a touchdown reception. (AJ Mast/AP)

Tennessee Titans

The only Titans player in the WR1 conversation is A.J. Brown. The Ole Miss product began to take off as a rookie last season once Tennessee switched to Tannehill at quarterback. Presumably his targets, receptions and touchdowns will all climb as the primary air focus for Tannehill in 2020.

Corey Davis is a bench add for bye weeks and Adam Humphries is a nice cheap occasional DFS option. Really, it’s Brown or bust for wideouts in this run-focused offence.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jags’ wide receiver group is best to be considered as flex or depth options in 12-team leagues. D.J. Chark was Jacksonville’s highest-ranked fantasy receiver as a WR17, while Dede Westbrook and Chris Conley were in the 30s and 40s, depending on format.

For dynasty owners, keep an eye on 42nd-overall pick Laviska Shenault for the long-term. At Colorado he lined up outside, in the slot, as a running back (6.7 yards per carry and seven scores) and even at tight end. Does this mean he’ll become a sporadically used gadget player or a dynamic weapon?

Houston Texans

The theme of Houston’s wide receivers is talented yet injury prone. Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller lead the way with Kenny Stills and Randall Cobb playing supporting roles.

Stills hasn’t sniffed 1,000 yards since 2014 and Cobb is more of a fantasy parasite to other targets at this point. Cooks is the obvious horse to ride with and should inherit in a big chunk of Hopkins’ workload. The recurring concussions from a year ago make me nervous, but the well-travelled speedster slots in nicely as a WR2 on any roster.

Personally, I’m going to avoid the rest of the Texans receivers outside of a flex spot for Fuller, who’s missed 22 games over his four-year career.

TIGHT END

Indianapolis Colts

Jack Doyle finally has the starting tight end spot all to himself in Indianapolis. The undrafted free agent proved that he could produce when given the chance in 2017. That season saw Doyle as a TE9 in standard formats, catching 80 passes on 107 targets.

Trouble could arise in Trey Burton joining the fold, but at this time he’s slated in as the backup. We know how much Rivers loved using the tight end as a Charger, and that fact greatly elevates Doyle’s potential.

Tennessee Titans

It’s an interesting situation in Tennessee with Delanie Walker out of the picture and Jonnu Smith ascending to the lead tight end role. Between Weeks 4 and 16 last season, Smith was a TE14. The tight end scene is quite thin as far as reliable producing starters and that’s why he’s definitely worth a look.

I wouldn’t mind Smith as part of a committee at tight end on my fantasy team with someone like a Dallas Goedert, Jack Doyle or Eric Ebron. Not enough of a sample size for me to stamp him as my No. 1 though.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Don’t get sucked into any overly bullish Tyler Eifert hype here folks. A TE19 in PPR last season, he’s only been fantasy relevant once over his seven-year career and that was back in 2015. Eifert’s certainly an upgrade at the position when it comes to athleticism, but durability concerns and a run-first game plan have me fading on him.

Houston Texans

Darren Fells was the 11th-best tight end in standard and 16th in PPR during 2019. Not a lot of yards but seven scores, so he’s very touchdown dependent. The journeyman vet could make for a decent backup for season-long leagues as well as a value-priced starter in DFS contests. Not much else though.

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