With the NFL lockout finally behind us, football fans can finally turn our attention from the courtrooms and onto the field, where it belongs. In the final edition of his preseason fantasy rankings, I rank the fantasy studs, duds and sleepers in the AFC South.
Quarterback: Matt Schaub, HOU (2010: 4370 yards, 35 TD, 12 INT)
For 13 straight years, Peyton has been the class of the AFC South. But there is real concern that Manning could miss extended time to start the season. With Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and Arian Foster, the Texans are headed toward another season with a top-5 offense. It doesn’t hurt his fantasy stock that Matt Schaub is driving the car.
Running Back: Chris Johnson, TEN (2010: 1364 yards, 11 TD, 44 receptions, 245 yards, TD)
A happy running back is a productive running back, and CJ2K is now happy. It’s not just that he is the fastest player at his position, but his ability to avoid the big hit has allowed him to stay relatively healthy. Matt Hasselbeck’s best days are behind him, and the Titans will lean heavily on Johnson to provide punch for the offense.
Wide Receiver: Andre Johnson, HOU (2010: 86 catches, 1216 yards, 8 TD)
Death, taxes, and big seasons from Andre Johnson. Those are the three constants in life. Once again, Johnson went over 1,000 yards receiving for the third straight year, and for the fourth straight year he had at least 8 touchdowns. If you have the chance to pick him, you’d be a fool not to.
Wide Receiver: Reggie Wayne, IND (2010: 111 catches, 1355 yards, 6 TD)
He might not be the athletic freak he used to be, but no one runs better routes than Wayne. He and Manning could complete just about any pass with the lights out, that’s how good their timing is. Even at 32, Wayne put up his best statistical season. Still, the Colts have a number of options, and Manning looked Reggie’s way just five times inside the 10 yard line. He’s still a fantasy starter, but in a keeper league, I’d start looking for a replacement.
Tight End: Dallas Clark, IND (2010: 37 catches, 347 yards, 3 TD)
Clark was on pace for a special year before he underwent season-ending wrist surgery following week 6. He’s back and healthy once again, and has been one of Manning’s favorite targets for years. Jacob Tamme will take away some catches, but he’s no Clark. There’s no reason to think he won’t slide right back into an 80 catch, 800 yard season.
This is easily the most porous defensive division, with all four teams ranking in the bottom half of the league. None of them should be owned in your fantasy league.
Quarterback: David Garrard, JAX (2010: 2734 yards, 23 TD, 15 INT)
Garrard has not lived up to his hype since signing his big deal. Despite completing nearly 65-percent of his passes and setting a new career high in TD passes, the Jaguars went out and picked up his replacement in 1st rounder Blaine Gabbert. If Jacksonville starts slow, Garrard could be earning his money holding a clipboard.
Update: Clearly, the Jaguars agreed that Garrard was not living up to his contract. He was cut by Jacksonville Tuesday afternoon. Josh McCown was named the starter for week one. McCown and/or Gabbert are not viable fantasy options at this point.
Running Back: Joseph Addai, IND (2010: 495 yards, 4 TD, 19 receptions, 124 yards)
Addai used to be a big part of Indianapolis’ offense, but he’s never been an explosive player. He has had only two runs of 30 yards or longer in his career. Injuries and ineffectiveness has relegated Addai to a fantasy disappointment the past few years. Considering he’ll split carries with Donald Brown and Delone Carter, Addai should be avoided until the late rounds.
Wide Receiver: Anthony Gonzalez, IND (2010: 5 receptions, 67 yards)
The one-time starter is now an afterthought in a stacked Colts receiving corp. He should not be owned, even in the deepest of leagues.
Wide Receiver: Kevin Walter, HOU (2010: 51 receptions, 621 yards, 5 TD)
Walter has always been fairly inconsistent, but fantasy owners really rode a rollercoaster this past year. He had three games with double-digit fantasy points, but had just as many games with one fantasy point. One point! It’s not surprising that he’s splitting time with Jacoby Jones this season. Avoid Walter if possible.
Tight End: Joel Dreessen, HOU (2010: 36 receptions, 518 yards, 4 TD)
Dreessen had a career year with Owen Daniels fighting through injuries. But with Daniels healthy and a couple good young tight ends breathing down his neck, Dreessen won’t be a viable fantasy option this year.
Defense/ST: All of them
As seen above: “This is easily the most porous defensive division, with all four teams ranking in the bottom half of the league. None of them should be owned in your fantasy league.” It was just as true then as it is now.
Quarterback: Peyton Manning, IND (2010: 4700 yards, 33 TD, 17 INT)
Wow, never thought I’d see Manning on this list. His neck injury is giving fantasy owners a real scare, plummeting him down draft boards. If you’re willing to ride out a couple weeks of subpar performances, Manning could be fantasy gold for you by midseason – at a fraction of the price. Sounds like a steal to me.
Running Back: Delone Carter, IND (2010: NA)
Addai and Donald Brown have underwhelmed the past two seasons, and the running game has become an afterthought in the Colts offense. Carter could change that. He’s built like a truck (5’9”, 225 lbs.), hits the hole hard, and has impressive shiftiness at the point of attack. He’s worth keeping an eye on.
Wide Receiver: Mike Thomas, JAX (2010: 66 receptions, 820 yards, 4 TD)
The defacto number one receiver in Jacksonville after the departure of Mike Sims-Walker. That alone bumps him to fantasy sleeper status. It’ll be interesting to see how he is used this year. Thomas is short (5’8”), but has great hands and is a very good route runner. At the very least, he will exceed his numbers from 2010.
Wide Receiver: Jacoby Jones, HOU (2010: 51 receptions, 562 yards, 3 TD)
As Walter’s fantasy stock declines, Jones’ increases. He had 79 targets last year (easily a career high) and that number will increase this year. Jones is the home run threat that can stretch the field and allow Daniels and Foster to work underneath.
Tight End: Jared Cook (2010: 29 receptions, 361 yards, TD)
Cook just looks like a great football player. He’s 6’5”, 247 pounds, and runs in the 4.4’s from the tight end position. When given a chance to start last season, he had 12 catches, 154 yards, and touchdown in two games. He should get plenty of looks from Hasselbeck.
For the consistency of this series, I have included every category in every story. In the final edition, I will not stray away from that template. So, for the third time I will say: “This is easily the most porous defensive division, with all four teams ranking in the bottom half of the league. None of them should be owned in your fantasy league.” Hopefully you’ve gotten the point.
Stephen Kelley is a contributor at The Sports Bank where he covers Fantasy Sports and Pro Drafts. You can follow him on Twitter @stephen_tsb.
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