Previewing the 2016 NFL Season: AFC South

All four of the teams in the AFC South could make the case as the team to beat in the division. Yes — who would have thought that Jacksonville or Tennessee would be a part of this conversation? The door to the division crown has been left open. The AFC South has turned into one of the more fascinating divisions in football.

 

Houston Texans

Don’t expect new quarterback Brock Osweiler to make Houston noticeably better than Brian Hoyer’s 2015 Texans.

Osweiler put together a very nice 2015 season in place of the injured, and struggling, Peyton Manning. But let’s 920x920hold off proclaiming him the next hall-of-fame quarterback. The sample size is very small — started 8 games last year while throwing for 10 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, and averaging 245 yards in those games.

The former Sun Devil steps into a Houston Texan team that for years has been carried by it’s stingy defense, led by All-Pro DE J.J. Watt. Osweiler will have Lamar Miller in the backfield with him and one of the league’s premier wide receivers out on the edge in DeAndre Hopkins. All signs point to immediate success for Osweiler. However before we get carried away, let’s remember that we know just as much about Osweiler as we knew about Brian Hoyer when he signed on to quarterback the Texan offense a couple years ago.

Houston has to play fellow 2015 division champions — Broncos, Patriots, and Bengals. Not to mention I already mentioned how the AFC South has righted itself — the Titans and Jags are no longer walkovers. And with Andrew Luck healthy, the Colts will be expected to compete for the top spot in the division — maybe the conference.

Bill O’Brien’s club should be a stronger team at the end of the season than the 2015 version. But it won’t be quick and it won’t be obvious for most of the season. Osweiler has a lot to prove; if he can, this team has a very high ceiling. But their potential may not be reached for another year or two down the road.

 

Indianapolis Colts

With Andrew Luck healthy, the Colts will win the AFC South and compete for the conference title in January.

The NFL is like that — one player can change an entire franchise’s fortunes. In 2015, Andrew Luck’s injury changed 76098972-image-optimized_54b0635a2aba5the Colts fortunes in a negative way — this year his return has many thinking the Colts will resume their spot among the conference’s best teams.

With Matthew Hasselback leading the offense for most of 2015, the Colts still managed 7 wins and were in the hunt for the division right down to the wire. Luck’s return has the potential of making a 7-9 team, an 11-win team.

Expect Luck to throw for over 4,500 yards and somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 to 40 TDs. If the Indy defense can get off the field when they need to and give their stud QB extra opportunities with the ball in his hands, the Colts should be a very formidable team in 2016.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Blake Bortles will not need to throw for 35 TDs, as Jacksonville’s defense will lead this team into wildcard contention.

Blake Bortles had one of the best 2015 seasons that no one really remembers. His 35 touchdowns was only one behind NFL leader Tom Brady’s 36; he threw for over 4,400 yards; and ranked in the top-10 in almost every major usa-today-9340120.0passing category. HIs 18 interceptions were the worst in the league, but I expect that number to come down considerably this season. The main reason? Head Coach Gus Bradley has assembled a mean, fast, ball-hawking defense that should take a lot of pressure off of Bortles and the offense.

Don’t forget that Bradley came from Seattle when he took the job as head coach of the Jaguars. He helped put together the Legion of Doom and had a major hand in Seattle’s vicious pass rush. Jacksonville is not anywhere near that Seattle team — let’s not misunderstand each other. However, the Jags are chalk full of high defensive draft picks — linebacker Myles Jack and DB Jalen Ramsey, fast edge rushers, and talented young defenders who are buying into Bradley’s system. Offseason additions like Prince Amukamara at cornerback and Tashaun Gipson at free safety have this secondary looking much more capable of defending against the pass in 2016.

 

Tennessee Titans

DeMarco Murray will lead the AFC in rushing.

If Marcus Mariota had a couple more weapons at wide receiver — like a reliable slot guy and another big deep Titans Footballthreat, I’d feel like predicting a playoff berth for this team wouldn’t be all that crazy. As it stands though, I think the Titans are going to be much improved in 2016, but they will not threaten for the playoffs. But Mariota should have another very good year — made even better by the addition of running back DeMarco Murray.

Tennessee improved their offensive line in the offseason which will provide Mariota more time in the pocket and will give Murray a solid blocking front that I expect will spring him to the top of the conference in rushing. Head Coach Mike Mularkey knows the importance of being able to run the football — look for him to feature Mariota, himself, many times a game running the ball in addition to Murray. Establishing a solid, respected rush attack will make Mariota better and will make the offense more efficient. Murray is just the guy to tote the rock in Mularkey’s offense.

Dallas nearly ran Murray’s legs off in 2014. But thankfully for Tennessee, Chip Kelly really never figured out how to properly use Murray last season in Philadelphia. So the workhorse back should be coming into 2016 feeling pretty rested.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

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The Fantasy 3: Fantasy “Sleepers” of 2016 Draft

Drafts are drawing near and everyone knows for the most part who they want in the first couple rounds — the “Must Haves” of the fantasy season. Beyond that, though, many of us are in the same boat – see who’s there and go with your gut. I’m not casting doubt on your decision-making – or your gut – but keep in mind the following three players as the draft wears on. Don’t necessarily reach for these guys, but don’t be afraid to take them when others may not even be thinking about them. (Always check out ADP prior to your draft so you have an idea of where certain players are going to ensure you don’t take a player in the 4th round that you could easily have picked in the 8th.)

Here’s my three sleepers based on value of the 2016 fantasy football season:

 

Marcus Mariota

 

I wasn’t sold on Mariota coming out of Oregon at first – Chip Kelly/Oregon QBs don’t exactly have the greatest marcus-mariota_btcoz9d544gf1pr4mxbv17aj9track record of success in the NFL. But last season, I found myself using Mariota at the position for a couple weeks as I streamed my quarterbacks throughout the year. The young man did not disappoint.

In addition, Mariota has the ability to run with the football – and in fantasy, that’s huge for a quarterback. Head Coach Mike Mularkey saw this ability and went with it – Mariota rushed 24 times in 7 games with Mularkey as interim coach last season, compared to just 10 times in 5 games with Ken Wisenhunt at the helm.

Mariota’s passing numbers have the potential to explode as well. With DeMarco Murray in the backfield, an improved offensive line, and receivers Dorial Green-Beckham and Rishard Matthews in the mix, Mariota will have options all over the field. Not to mention, tight end Delanie Walker has established himself as one of Mariota’s favorite go-to targets and a top tier player at his position.

And the beauty with Mariota is that you can wait. Let Cam and Rodgers and Brees and all those guys fly off the board (probably earlier than any QBs should). When the dust settles and you’ve stockpiled at the positions that matter most – RB and WR – the Tennessee signal caller should be there for you. He’s currently going in the 15th round on average.

 

Tevin Coleman

 

After Coleman went down injuring his ribs in Week 2, Devonta Freeman never let him back into the mix and forced hi-res-a697b903f7dac2f99d2553b098c85c07_crop_northhim into a secondary role for the Falcons. But we cannot forget that what the Falcons front office and coaches saw in Coleman last season to name him the Week 1 starter still exists. While Freeman will begin the year as the starter, Coleman will be given every opportunity to earn more carries as the weeks go on. Freeman did suffer a concussion near the end of last season and had ball security problems.

Coleman, the former Hoosier, has all the attributes of a starting running back in the NFL – speed, can break tackles, has the ability to run in between the tackles while also breaking to the edge. Third round picks don’t typically get discarded that easily in the NFL – especially if they’re running backs. Expect Atlanta to give Coleman many chances to re-take some carries – splitting time between the 2 RBs can only serve to help the Atlanta offense. Coleman could be a great RB to have on the bench – and possibly move into a starting role as time goes on. His ADP puts him in the 11th round.

 

Jay Ajayi

 

Recent reports of Ajayi missing some Dolphin practices due to a knee issue may actually help his status as a sleeper. No report is very clear with respect to the severity of this ailment, but the running back says it’s nothing to worry about and the team hasn’t behaved in any way that would sound alarms.Jay+Ajayi+oCB1lIuBROfm

Head Coach Adam Gase has earned a reputation as a “Quarterback Whisperer” of sorts over the past few years in Denver and Chicago. One reason for this is how the offensive-minded Gase uses his running backs. CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman combined for over 1700 yards from scrimmage with Gase running the O, and last season, Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford both earned praised in the Bears’ offense – accounting for over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns.

The Dolphins are looking for Ajayi to replace Lamar Miller’s 1300 total yards and 10 touchdowns he accrued as the Fins’ top RB last season. With Miller now in Houston, Ajayi has been given the reigns – the signing of Adrian Foster should only help to give the former Boise State back a breather and keep him fresh throughout the year, especially if this knee issue ends up being something more. Fantasy owners could realistically expect Ajayi’s 2016 output to mirror Miller’s from 2015 – perhaps even better it due to Gase and the fact quarterback Ryan Tannehill is another year experienced. In addition, Miami does have pass-catching weapons in Jarvis Landry, DeVonte Parker, and Jordan Cameron. Gase will be sure to optimize all he can out of them – which in turn should help to create running room for Ajayi out of the backfield.

Ajayi’s ADP has him going off the board in the 8th round.

 

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

 

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