2020 AFC South Fantasy Review

2020 AFC South Fantasy Review

Welcome back to our eight part series of year end fantasy reviews! Today we’ll tackle the AFC South. 

Indianapolis Colts

Coming into 2020 I think a lot of people expected the Colts to be the team they were. A solid team that was missing the last piece at quarterback, Coach Frank Reich got Rivers to come and manage the offense.  Led by their running attack the Colts finished 11-5 right behind the Titans in the AFC South. They exceeded expectations as Vegas had them pegged for 9.5 wins coming into the season. 

Quarterback

Even in his prime Phillip Rivers was never a high ceiling, elite option at the position and 2020 proved to be true again. He flashed a few games over 20 points this season but even in his best games still finished in the QB8-10 range. He finished the season with 4,169 yards and 24 touchdowns which is respectable. But when you add in the virtually zero contribution from rushing ability it’s easy to pass over Rivers for other higher upside options. If you’re someone who likes to stream the quarterback position perhaps you caught a few of his better games against Detroit, Cincy, Green Bay but otherwise Rivers probably was better left on the waiver wire. Retirement could be on the horizon this off-season for Rivers, but even if he comes back, he doesn’t offer the ceiling I’m looking for at the quarterback position.

Overall, another solid but below average year from Rivers. He is who he is at this point which is a guy you can stream in a pinch and hope to finish somewhere around QB9. 

Grade: C

Running Back

After the Colts drafted rookie running back Jonathan Taylor in the 2nd round of the 2020 NFL draft there were high expectations for the crazy-productive Wisconsin back who would get to be playing behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. Taylor had a solid start to the season; he was the RB15 through Week 6 and looked to have a bright future ahead. However, coming out of the Colts’ bye-week we saw a shift in personnel. He was only given 23 carries over the next three games and didn’t eclipse double digits once. This left many owners, including myself, wondering if next season would be when Taylor finally gets a chance to be “the guy” and really show his elite talent. Well the Colts figured it out as Taylor finished the season as the RB3 from Weeks 11-17 and those performances were so good he ended up as the RB6 over the course of the entire season. Even missing a game Taylor finished with 1,169 yards and 11 touchdowns adding another 299 and 1 through the air. Given his ADP of RB20 I would say Taylor provided great value for managers. Even the ancillary pieces in the backfield flashed as Nyheim Hines had a great year for PPR players finishing as the RB15 after putting up 380 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground and 63 catches, 482 yards and 4 touchdowns through the air. Hines’ 76 targets ranked 3rd amongst all running backs. He was a guy all-season you could plug and play in your line-up. Even third string RB Jordan Wilkins had a flash or two headlined by a 20-point Week 8 game against Detroit, although he was irrelevant in terms of season-long fantasy.

Overall, the group was led by a rookie who delivered a RB6 finish on the year and even back-up Nyheim Hines was a top 15 option this season. Hard to find a better backfield from top to bottom than the Colts.

Grade: A

Wide Receiver

When your quarterback is lack-luster and you have a top-notch running game, you imagine it would be hard for much consistent fantasy production from the WR group. That’s exactly what we saw from the Colts in 2020 as players were usable in spurts, but none finished better than WR42 on the season. TY Hilton has been a long time favorite of Colts’ fans and showed glimpses of his once elite ability. Weeks 12-14 Hilton topped 18 points in all three games and was the WR3 in that short stretch. However, the rest of the season left a lot to be desired as he finished above double digits in only three other games all year. His stat line of 93 catches, 762 yards and 5 touchdowns is solid, but most of it came over that three-game stretch but by that time Hilton was most likely sitting on waiver wires. Parris Campbell looked like the new blood taking the next step after a nice Week 1, but an ACL tear in Week 2 quickly brought his season unfortunately to an end. Zach Pascal popped a bit at the end with back to back games over 15 points in Weeks 15 and 16 but otherwise was virtually useless for fantasy. Many people thought rookie Michael Pittman was growing into the team’s number one WR after his Week 10 performance, but that seemed like a mirage as Pittman didn’t crack double digits from Week 12 on. I like Pittman a lot as a sleeper for 2021.

Overall, this was a lackluster group outside of a few random outbursts from Pittman and Hilton. It’s hard to produce as a wide-out when your quarterback isn’t consistently good. I imagine it was hard for owners to start any of these guys in each week.

Grade: C-

Tight End

Outside of the running game the Colts’ didn’t provide much fantasy value and that’s including the tight end position. Trey Burton, Mo-Allie Cox and Jack Doyle contributed at times during the season, but none really offered any season long value, finishing as the TE27, TE29 and TE40 respectively. They seemed to play roulette in and out of the line-up each week so if one or two guys sat it was a bit easier to predict the blow-up weeks, but even then, the output fell under “crap-shoot” territory. I wish the Colts would roll with one main guy here because Rivers has a history of using his tight end. Unfortunately, they seemed to cannibalize each other and rendered all three virtually useless.

Overall, an irrelevant group unless you were lucky enough to catch the one or two blow up games throughout the year.

Grade: D+


Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans have quickly become one of the NFL’s elite offenses, finishing 3rd in yards per game (396) and 4th in points per game (30). It’s no wonder offensive coordinator Arthur Smith is being widely considered for head coach openings, so we’ll have to see where he lands and how that impacts the offense next season. But for 2020 there was fantasy goodness from all the Titans position groups. Led by elite running back Derrick Henry, sophomore stand-out AJ Brown and a resurgence from Corey Davis made the Titans an attractive offense to target for fantasy. Even after their deep play-off run last season, expectations weren’t too high as Vegas gave the Titans a win total of 8.5 games which they easily beat with 11 wins and a division title. 

Quarterback

Death, taxes and players breaking out after Adam Gase. There are only a few sure things in this world, and the trend of players excelling once they leave Adam Gase has been a strong one. Ryan Tannehill started his ascension last year having one of his best seasons after taking over for Marcus Mariota.  Tannehill headed into 2020 as the full-time starter and delivered for owners with 3,819 yards and 33 touchdowns adding another 266 yards and 7 touchdowns with his legs. Tannehill had a real impressive season when you factor in the success from Derrick Henry and the ground game as well.  Hence a major reason why Titans Offensive Coordinator Arthur Smith is near the top for teams looking for a head coach. The best part about Ryan Tannehill this year was the return on ADP he provided for fantasy owners. While plenty of teams spent up for guys like Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, etc., Tannehill was going off the board at QB20 and finished the year as the QB7. He should be going well ahead of QB20 in next year’s drafts.

Overall, the production plus value from Tannehill this year is too hard to ignore. He gave you a QB1 season at a QB2 price and provided a nice supplement with his rushing ability.

Grade: A-

Running Back

One of the best assets in all of fantasy this season was running back Derrick Henry who became only the 8th person in the history of the NFL to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a season. Henry finished the year with 2,027 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns. He finished the year as the RB3 in PPR which is incredible considering the lack of involvement in the passing game. There really isn’t much else to say about Derrick Henry. He’s been an iron-man, playing all 16 games this year, and has provided a great floor because of his volume with the ceiling to finish any given week as the overall RB1. I would like to see him a bit more involved in the passing game to really see where his ceiling goes, but when a guy can provide over 2,000 rushing yards, he’s a major asset regardless. Not much else behind Derrick Henry in 2020 because there wasn’t any help needed. Guys like Jeremy McNichols chipped in a few points here and there, but otherwise it was the Derrick Henry show all season.

Overall, Henry is one of the premier running backs in the NFL and has consistently gotten better each year.  He has a great offense around him and a head coach who loves to feed him. Even with the lack of passing game volume Henry still finished as the RB3 this year.

Grade: A

Wide Receiver

The Titans wide receivers showed up in a big way in 2020. AJ Brown entered the year with high expectations, evident by his WR16 ADP coming into the draft. The sophomore stand-out showed his play-making ability as a rookie in 2019 and built on that in his second season. Managers wondered if Brown would be able to sustain his rookie success on the limited volume we expected to see, and he delivered both efficiency and volume for fantasy.  Brown finished the year with 7.6 targets per game, ranking 20th in the NFL. So, while he didn’t amass the target share as guys like Davante Adams and Stefon Diggs, Brown still got a considerable amount of volume with 106 targets. He finished the season with 70 catches, 1,075 yards and 11 touchdowns. He finished as the WR12 on the season, outperforming his ADP. The inevitable departure of Offensive Coordinator Arthur Smith might affect the Titans’ scheme on offense, but Brown is too talented not to shine. Corey David was the massive surprise on the season, having a Devante Parker-like resurgence in his 4th year. Davis achieved career highs in receptions (65), yards (984) and touchdowns (5). Coming into the year many had written Davis off as evident by his WR73 ADP and ended up being one of the steals of the 2020 draft finishing as WR30 and providing several WR1 weeks throughout the season. Davis is an impending free agent so he could be a nice mid-round value next season depending where he lands.

Overall, the Titans WR corp. featured two players who finished inside the Top 30 and both exceeded ADP expectation, Davis in a major way.

Grade: A-

Tight End

I had big expectations for Jonnu Smith heading into the season and tried to target him everywhere I could in fantasy drafts. He was the breakout candidate at the tight end position and what started as a dominant fantasy season quickly turned into another “crap shoot.” Smith missed two games and finished as the TE16 on the year on a season long basis and the TE12 in points per game. Not a terrible output on the year since he technically finished in the TE1 category, but a lot of his production came in the first half of the year.  Through Week 5 Smith was the TE3 in points per game averaging 17.5 per contest after a few monster outings but quickly cooled off finishing the season as the TE20 from Weeks 6-17 averaging only 7 points per game. Sometimes these players sting the most because you feel forced to start them all season, chasing the upside you witnessed in the beginning.  However, he did reach double digits four times after Week 6 which isn’t terrible at tight end. He finished the year with 41 catches, 448 yards and eight touchdowns. Anthony Firkser popped with two touchdowns in Week 6 but was otherwise irrelevant.  

Overall, not a bad outing for Smith considering the tight end landscape and he didn’t burn you given he was the TE18 in ADP coming into this year. Some nice games, some duds, but that’s what to expect from tight ends.  

Grade: C+


Jacksonville Jaguars

We all knew this would be a disastrous year for the Jags as they were projected for the lowest win total by Vegas at only 4.5 wins. They couldn’t even hit that mark as they finished 1-15 and punched their ticket to Trevor Lawrence. The Jags finished in the bottom three of every offensive category and after firing Head Coach Doug Marrone, a fresh start is what Jacksonville needs. The QB carousel didn’t help the offense produce much fantasy value overall, but they did find themselves a diamond in the rough in undrafted free agent running back James Robinson.  

Quarterback

This will be a brief section as there wasn’t much accomplished by this group in 2020. Gardner Minshew started the year under center but was pulled for back-ups Jake Luton and Mike Glennon after the team’s Week 8 bye. Minshew was solid in his first 7 games where he was the QB12 over that time, but management decided the bye was a good time to go in another direction. Jake Luton started the next three games and wasn’t very effective forcing the team to go to Mike Glennon who was solid yet unspectacular to end the season. Minshew was possibly a streaming option to start the year and you would have been ok starting him, but he didn’t offer the same ceiling as others. Otherwise there is no chance anyone played quarterbacks from the Jaguars this year.  

Overall, Minshew started the year with some solid outings but once he was pulled it was hard to trust any of these guys. Even as the full-time starter Minshew only reached QB12 so hard to get excited about what he offered.

Grade: D+

Running Back

Due to COVID and all the weirdness that came with 2020, James Robinson flew under the radar as he was widely available on waiver wires to start the year. If you drafted late and were able to snag him, he cost you at most a late round pick. You could argue there was no better value in fantasy this year than James Robinson. Regardless of the quarterback, game script, etc. he showed up and produced every single game.  Robinson finished as the RB7 on the season which includes two games he missed due to injury. He was the RB4 in points per game of running backs who played 14 or more games. He finished the year with 1,070 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns to go along with 344 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air. He was one of the most targeted running backs in fantasy and provided great efficiency averaging 4.5 yards per carry.

Overall, Robinson was the steal of fantasy in 2020.  He was largely undrafted or drafted very late and produced top tier numbers. Regardless of quarterback situation or game script he was greatly reliable and consistent.

Grade: A+  

Wide Receiver

As we’ve seen through this series, lackluster quarterback play usually cripples the wide receiver production and Jacksonville was no exception. The two main components coming into 2020 were standout DJ Chark and rookie Laviska Shenault. Chark had an exceptional sophomore season finishing as the WR17 and given Minshew’s expected stability, expectations were high again for Chark as he was being drafted as the WR26. Injury and the quarterback debacle held Chark down as he finished the year with only 53 catches for 706 yards and 5 touchdowns, finishing as the WR49 on the season.  Rookie Laviska Shenault had a better overall season than Chark where he finished as the WR46 in season-long and had a string of strong performances to end the year. From Weeks 13-17 Shenault was the WR16 over that time. He finished his rookie season with 58 catches, 600 yards and 5 touchdowns. 2020 didn’t prove valuable for either player, but with Trevor Lawrence and a new Head Coach in town, I’m targeting Chark and Shenault as big bounce back candidates next season. One other noteworthy player from this group was Keelan Cole who also finished higher than Chark at WR47 on the season. Cole chipped in 55 catches for 642 yards and 5 touchdowns so while he was serviceable in a few games you probably didn’t play him much if at all.

Overall, DJ Chark burned owners with his high draft cost and not coming close to that level. Rookie Laviska Shenault produced well for expectation but still didn’t give you much consistently outside of his few week stretch to end the season and Keelan Cole was a decent third option. All in all you probably weren’t thrilled with what you got from this group on a weekly basis.

Grade: C-

Tight End

Another brief section, the Jaguars didn’t have anyone notable contribute at tight end. Tyler Eifert provided a few games with double digit points and James O’Shaughnessy didn’t hit that number once. Eifert finished as the TE28 and O’Shaughnessy as the TE45 so neither guy was probably in your line-up at any point in the season.

Overall, an irrelevant group who finished outside the top 25 at the position.

Grade: F


Houston Texans

After winning the division in 2019 the Texans had high expectations during the off-season. Some of those expectations were quickly derailed when Head Coach Bill O’Brien traded away star wide receiver Deandre Hopkins and that seems to be when it all fell apart. They fell well below expectations with a 4-12 record and are one of the teams currently in the head coaching hunt. The team had a spark for a moment when BOB got fired but it was short lived. Even through the chaos, Houston provided some great fantasy options through the course of the year.  

Quarterback

One of the league’s elite, Deshaun Watson seemed to really explode once O’Brien was shown the door. A consistent top tier option since coming into the league, Watson put together a QB5 season finishing with 4,823 yards, 33 touchdowns and adding another 444 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. Drafted as the QB5 Watson delivered right at expectation and probably could have had a better season if he wasn’t handcuffed by BOB to start the year. Business as usual, Watson remained one of the league’s best real life and fantasy quarterbacks and has shown he can produce regardless of the situation around him.

Overall, Watson has been a consistent top tier option who provides a bonus with his rushing ability. He never finished below 14 points in a game this year and had 12 games above 20 points.

Grade: A

Running Back

The guy who O’Brien traded Hopkins for, David Johnson came into Houston to be the workhorse and hopefully re-capture some magic from his dominant years with the Cardinals. DJ was probably one of the most unexciting players in fantasy to roster this year, but productive nonetheless. He finished the year as the RB21 and that’s with him missing four games. He was the RB13 in average points per game amongst running backs who played 10 or more games. A very quiet year might have owners writing off David Johnson but when you investigate the numbers, he was a top tier option when he was on the field.  Drafted as the RB19 I would say DJ returned some good value for fantasy managers. Back-up running back Duke Johnson was mostly irrelevant during the year even in PPR leagues which makes me wonder why they don’t involve him more in the passing game.  He only eclipsed double digits twice and both games were with David Johnson sidelined. I doubt you played Duke at all while David Johnson was healthy, and even with David out I think we all expected a bit more from Duke.  

Overall, David Johnson provided owners a quietly good fantasy season almost finishing as an RB1 on a points per game basis while counterpart Duke Johnson was mostly irrelevant, even when he had the backfield to himself.

Grade: B+

Wide Receiver

One of the biggest headlines of 2020 was what the Texans’ receiving group would look like with the departure of All-Pro Deandre Hopkins. The group of Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee and Randall Cobb delivered for fantasy owners in 2020. Cooks finished the highest of the group at WR17 on the season with 81 catches, 1,150 yards and 6 touchdowns.  He especially took off once Will Fuller was suspended for PED use, as he finished as the WR7 from Week 13 on. Cooks has always been boom or bust in his career but he provided consistent, top-end production once Fuller went out. Will Fuller was making his case for steal of the draft, putting up 53 catches, 879 yards and 8 scores in only 12 games before being suspended. He was the WR8 up until the suspension. Randall Cobb was a solid fantasy option before getting hurt. He compiled five games with double digit points before going on IR in Week 12.  Not bad for a guy who was virtually undrafted.  Coutee showed flashes in his first two seasons and filled in nicely for Cobb in his third year, averaging almost 13 points per game in Weeks 12-17.  

Overall, as a group there was some great production which would be expected, given the great season from Deshaun Watson. Fuller and Cooks both performed as WR1’s when they were Watson’s main target and Cobb and Coutee filled in nicely as decent flex options when needed. It’s tough to grade this group because each player was dynamite when they were the main guy, but no one provided a consistent performance all season long.

Grade: B+

Tight End

Unfortunately, like most of the tight end columns this one doesn’t have much to discuss either. Darren Fells and Jordan Akins headlined the Texan’s tight end room, and both finished outside the top 20 at the position. You were happy to start either guy if you could guess when they scored but considering only 5 touchdowns between the two of them you probably didn’t use either one at all this season. Houston hasn’t seemed like a tight end friendly offense with Watson there as he likes to scramble and push the ball down the field.  

Overall, another irrelevant tight end group for fantasy.

Grade: F

 

Stay tuned for the other divisions and as always, stay true. 

 

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