By Brendan Taffe

AFC South

Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson Is Not A QB1

I’ll wait for the boos to die down.  Ok ready?  I think we are downplaying the loss of DeAndre Hopkins.  There are not many other receivers in the league quite like him.  He can win at all levels of the field, make contested catches on the sidelines, in the red zone, and across the middle, and he demands multiple defenders’ attention because one is simply not enough.  Bill O’Brien will try to replace Hopkins with Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb.  No offense to Cooks and Cobb, but that is like trying to fix an amputated leg with a handful of band-aids.  In fairness to Cooks, he has been an incredible fantasy player at times in his career.  And although he is still only 26 years old, his next concussion could force him out of the league entirely.  Cobb will be 30 this year and does not scare defenses nearly enough to replicate what Hopkins brought to the table.  Cooks and Cobb join a receiver room previously headlined by Will Fuller, who deals with his injury issues seemingly every year.

Watson will still have a floor most fantasy QBs dream of, considering how talented he is with his legs.  But unless your name is Lamar Jackson, rushing numbers are not enough to post QB1 numbers on a week to week basis.  With an offensive line that is still middle of the road at best, there is a lot of pressure on this motley crew of receivers to play above their pay grade.  Watson will need to take off his Clark Kent glasses and turn into Superman to repeat his fantasy scores of years past.   

Indianapolis Colts: Nyheim Hines Is The Colts RB To Own

I was confused by the Colts’ decision to add Philip Rivers this offseason, but that’s neither here nor there.  He comes to Indy after 16 productive years with the Chargers.  During his 16th year, he made Austin Ekeler the RB6 in 0.5 PPR leagues.  Ekeler scored 263 fantasy points last year behind the support of 108 targets from Rivers.  Hines is the most similar Colts back to Ekeler because they utilize their receiving skills more than their rushing abilities.  Marlon Mack, who only commanded 17 targets in 14 games last year, and rookie Jonathan Taylor, who is not heralded for his hands, do not figure to be threats to Hines’ production in the passing game.  

The Colts have a middling defense, ranking 18th in points per game against last year.  Because of that, they should be competitive in most games, but will still need to throw the ball to keep pace.  There is not a significant receiver on the team who will demand over 100 targets.  TY Hilton is the big name on the roster, but is now 30 years old and has been limited by injuries.  Last year, Philip Rivers was 17th in average completed air yards.  As a 38-year-old, his arm strength is not what it used to be, and he will now need to look for the shallower routes as a result.  Hines is a great value pick this year playing for a team that will let his talent shine.

Jacksonville Jaguars: DJ Chark Is A Top-12 WR

Chark has taken a similar route as Sutton, but even more extreme.  Both were second-round draft picks in 2018 and are now the top receivers on their team.  While Sutton went from WR51 as a rookie to WR19 last year, Chark jumped from WR145 to WR18.  Chark finished the year with 73 catches on 118 targets for 1008 yards and 8 touchdowns.  This was all done by catching passes from Nick Foles, then Gardner Minshew, then Nick Foles, and then back to Gardner Minshew.  This year, Minshew will be his quarterback for the entirety of the year, which will be great for Chark as he builds chemistry with the second-year QB.  The Jaguars look to be one of the worst teams in the league this year, and they will get even worse if they grant DE Yannick Ngakoue’s wish and trade him.  With such a bad team, there will be plenty of opportunities to throw the ball.  The good news is that in fantasy, garbage time can be beneficial for players like Chark.  

Lastly, the team did not bring in much competition during the offseason.  The Jaguars drafted Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault in the second round, but he should not threaten Chark’s usage this year.  Shenault has had a laundry list of injuries already in his young career, including a torn labrum, turf toe, and groin pain.  It will likely take a while for Shenault to make an impact considering he is missing his first NFL offseason.  Chark came into the league as a raw, super athletic prospect.  If he can jump 129 spots from year one to year two, who says he can’t jump four spots from year two to year three?

Tennessee Titans: Jonnu Smith Is A Top-12 TE

The Titans will make Jonnu Smith a top 12 TE out of necessity.  Everybody knows that Derrick Henry is the engine that makes the Titans’ train go.  Henry is fantastic, and he carried his offense to the AFC Championship game by himself.  That alone is a great accomplishment, but if the team wants to get back to that game, things will likely have to change.  Henry’s workload will have to decrease if Mike Vrabel wants him to last all four years of his new extension in one piece.

Through last year’s three playoff games, Ryan Tannehill threw for a total of 369 yards.  Yes, that’s a cumulative total, not an average.  Of course, opposing defenses are better in the playoffs, but in ten games as a starter last year, Tannehill threw for 250 yards in half of them, and he reached the 300-yard mark thrice (he was 9 yards away from 400 yards once, too!).  This tells us that he at least can throw for a substantial number of yards.  However, his receiving options were less than desirable.  His best option was AJ Brown, a second-round rookie.  Corey Davis continued his mediocrity while Delanie Walker provided about as much as you would expect from a 35-year-old tight end.  Walker and his 31 targets are now gone.  So are Tajae Sharpe and his 35 targets.  If the Titans want to avoid making last year’s run look like a fluke, they will need to look Jonnu Smith’s way.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan Is A Top-3 QB

I already made this claim with Rodgers, but Matt Ryan has a clearer path.  When Rodgers finished as QB1 in 2016, Ryan finished as QB2.  Rodgers projects to finish as QB11 this year, while Ryan projects as QB8.  Would it be crazy for any player projected eighth to finish third?  No.  Where Ryan is facing an uphill battle though is on the ground.  Each of the seven quarterbacks ahead of him relies on their rushing abilities to boost their points total.  Using his legs is perhaps Ryan’s most significant deficit as a quarterback, but I am here to tell you why it will not matter.

This year, some fantasy quarterbacks have a severe disadvantage because of a lost offseason.  Guys like Dak Prescott and Tom Brady, who have new head coaches for the first time in their career, may need more time to get used to their new offensive system.  The Atlanta Falcons had the tenth-worst defense in the league last year, and this year should be no different.  Of the QBs projected to finish higher than Ryan, only Kyler Murray is on a team with worse defense.  This will allow the Falcons to stay on a solid game script as they will have to keep up with their high-scoring opponents.  Lastly, while they have not gotten as much hype as the Cowboys, Chiefs, or Buccaneers, the Falcons still have more offensive talent than most teams in the league.  Julio Jones is still arguably the best in the game.  On most teams, Calvin Ridley is talented enough to be the #1 guy.  Todd Gurley is still only 26 years old, so as long as he stays on the field, he will be the best back they have had in the last few years.  Hayden Hurst hopefully will replace Hooper’s production, and he’s a guy who immediately got the stamp of approval from Matt Ryan.  If you are looking for someone who will not cost as much as most other QBs but has the potential to finish top 3, Matt Ryan is your guy.  

Carolina Panthers: Teddy Bridgewater Plays Himself Out Of A Job

Teddy Bridgewater averaged the least amount of points per game among quarterbacks who played at least ten games last year.  His 9.25 points per game were worse than Case Keenum, Kyle Allen, and Mitch Trubisky, who are now all backups.  Bridgewater also benefited from playing alongside Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara and being coached by Sean Payton, while those others had much less help with Washington, Carolina, and Chicago.

Bridgewater signed a 3-year, $63M contract with the Panthers this offseason, but I do not think he will be more than an expensive backup for most of that deal.  The Panthers are the only team in the NFL with a new quarterback, new head coach, and all new coordinators.  In a regular season, trying to work in an entirely new staff is a tricky thing.  Without OTAs and likely any preseason games, though, it will be a nearly impossible feat for them to get on the same page by week 1.  Unfortunately, by the end of the season, when they have had time to play together, the schedule does not do them any favors.  Four of their last five games are against the Vikings, Broncos, Packers, and Saints, who were all in the top 13 in defensive points allowed last year.  With everything stacked against them this season, the Panthers are ready to earn one of the top picks in the draft.  Using that pick next year on a position other than quarterback would be a foolish move by Matt Rhule and Joe Brady.  Teddy Bridgewater is not a wise investment in redraft leagues this season, and he is an even worse investment for dynasty league owners.  

New Orleans Saints: Adam Trautman Is A TE1

Trautman was the third-highest rated TE prospect in this year’s class.  He was the fifth player drafted from his position, but he trades in a bit higher of a signing bonus for a dream landing spot in New Orleans.  Jared Cook is still on the team, but is now 33 years old and is on the last year of his deal.  Cook only demanded 65 targets last year, catching 43 of them.  Despite the low number of looks from Brees and Bridgewater, Cook finished as TE7.  That finish was powered by nine touchdowns, which was three more than his previous career-high.  Cook will presumably revert to his career norm, which will leave the door open for Trautman.  

Trautman’s last year in school was as a redshirt senior, so he is more league-ready than most rookie tight ends.  The tight end position as a whole is weak after the top scorers, and it is anybody’s guess as to who fills out the back end of the TE1s.  Dallas Goedert, last year’s TE10, scored 115 points in 0.5 PPR formats.  That output was the same as Zach Pascal, WR49, and Peyton Barber, who finished as RB40.  As a receiving tight end who will take away from Cook’s targets right away, I am buying Trautman as a guy who can give me immediate production.   

Tamba Bay Buccaneers: Tom Brady Leads The League In TDs

People are expecting big things from Tom Brady and the Bucs this year.  When you look at their offense, what is there not to like?  Their WR duo and their TE group could be the best in the league.  They drafted arguably the best offensive tackle in the draft and an exciting third-round running back.  Their head coach has an aggressive style of play, and oh yeah, they signed the greatest quarterback of all time.  

To keep up with the teams in their division, they will need to keep an upbeat style.  Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Todd Gurley, Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Alvin Kamara, DJ Moore, and Christian McCaffrey can all take it to the house with one play, and they are all in the NFC South.  Brady will get the ball out quickly to his offensive weapons and let them do work.  He will also want to “win his divorce” with Bill Belichick by proving that his success over the last two decades was not just a product of New England’s system.  As one of the hardest workers in the league, nobody should be surprised when he leads the league in touchdowns. 

Brendan Taffe – Dynasty/Superflex
Ride or Dynasty
Twitter: @BCTAFFE