The AFC South is probably my favorite division in the NFL when it comes to fantasy football (the NFC North comes in at a close second).
Aside from being a very competitive division, liable to produce two to three possible playoff teams, it also boasts a plethora of talented and more importantly, point-producing players.
There are at least six players that could arguably go in the first round: Andre Johnson, Steve Slaton, Chris Johnson, Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and Maurice Jones-Drew.
2009 was another season of dashed playoff hopes and the second consecutive year the Houston Texans finished a pedestrian 8-8. The fault certainly doesn't fall on the offense; they ended the season ranked third overall.
Ultimately, the Texans were undone by their defense, which came in at a shoddy 22nd by year's end.
The good news for Houston fans is they have a new defensive coordinator and a stud LB in DeMeco Ryans and with every passing year, it looks more and more like former GM Charley Casserly proved everyone wrong by taking Mario Williams over Reggie Bush.
Fantasy Info Nuggets:
WR Andre Johnson: Last year was Johnson's best year so far statistically (115 rec, 1,575 yds, 8 TDs) and that was with starting QB Matt Schaub missing significant time. I look for Andre to build on that success and equal or surpass those numbers. He's one of three receivers I have no problem drafting in the first round because he's that productive.
The only way I see his numbers taking a dip (aside from personal injury) is if something were to happen to Schaub, which is conceivable. Then, you'd be looking at the possibility of either Rex Grossman or Dan Orlovsky as the starting QB. Eek.
WR Kevin Walter: Walter was a sleeper last year but he shouldn't be this year. He didn't have the catches or the yards Johnson had, but they were dead even in TD's and that ain't bad at all. With Johnson receiving so much attention, Walter is a fine mid-round pick up. Again, his productivity relies on Schaub staying healthy.
TE Owen Daniels: He was the team's third leading pass catcher and had nearly 900 yards. That's kind of ridiculous for a TE. He doesn't have the TD numbers, but he's still a favorite target for Houston QB's and that should count for something.
RB Steve Slaton:: Last year's rookie looking for playing time is this years undisputed starting RB. Boy, this guy won me some games last year. I knew he would do well, but he surpassed even my expectations (1,282 yds, 9 TD's). He's a definite first/second rounder.
In addition to his 268 rushes, he also had 50 catches for 377 yards. You can't go wrong starting Slaton every week.
QB Matt Schaub: I'll make this short. He's got a ton of weapons. Therefore, if he stays healthy, you win lots of games. Done.
DEF Houston: They should be better, but I should also be getting paid to do this. My recommendation at this point is to stay away. If they pick up the pace, they'll be available on waivers.
QB Matt Schaub: That's right, he's on here twice. I love this guy's upside, but I hate his injury-prone body.
They were the winningest team in the NFL all of 2008, the favorites to win the AFC after beating the Steelers in the second-to-last game of the regular season, and they racked up a 10-0 record before finally falling to the Jets.
Too bad for them the Ravens didn't give a squat about any of that. One loss, and the Titans got to watch the Super Bowl on HD at home.
This year's squad remains virtually unchanged with the exception of two big personnel changes.
The black hole that ate up offensive linemen named Albert Haynesworth is in Washington, using dollar bills for toilet paper. This will hurt last year's seventh-ranked defense, but how much? It'll be interesting to see how they adjust.
On the offense, the Titans brought in a deep threat with Nate Washington. I'm not going to hold my breath. This is a team that will run on you until you cry uncle.
In fact, in addition to Chris "Lightning" Johnson and LenDale "Thunder" White, the Titans got a steal in this years draft. Michigan State's Javon Ringer will be listed third on the depth chart, but could easily start for a few NFL teams.
If I was Jeff Fisher, I'd take a look at Georgia Tech's Triple Option and run it with these monsters. It could be this year's Wildcat offense.
Fantasy Info Nuggets
RB Lendale White: Somehow he's listed as the starter on ESPN's depth chart, but I think that's just because they're forced to list someone as the starter. This coaching staff picks its spots with its backs, and maximizes their abilities every time they're in there. That being said, if you're looking for touchdowns (which you should be), White's your man; he had 15 last season.
RB Chris Johnson: Johnson had less TD's than his vulture teammate (nine) but he's the team's true feature back. He ran for 1,228 yards to White's 773 and averaged a full yard more per carry.
He's the lightning half of the duo because he's a playmaker and that's why you want this guy. He only carried the ball 50 more times than LenDale but it was enough to make an impression on the whole league. If you miss out on him in the first round, White should be available up to and around the fifth or sixth round.
DEF Tennessee: They gave up only 11 more points than the champion Steelers and forced 23 fumbles. Even without Fat Albert in the middle of the line, I like this defense and the way they play.
QB Kerry Collins: QB's hate to be called "game managers" but I gotta say with stats like his (2,676 yards and 12 TD's) it's better than being called a Pizza Hut manager.
TE Bo Scaife: Every year I hear about this guy. How he's finally going to break out. Hey, maybe 2009 really will be his year! But...in his four-year career he's never caught more than two touchdowns in a season.
WR Nate Washington: It's not that I think there's anything wrong with Nate Washington, I'm just not excited about where he's landed since leaving Pittsburgh.
He's desperate to prove that he's an elite, No. 1 WR but the problem is that he's on another run first, ball control-oriented offense. That's not exactly conducive to big numbers for a WR.
The bright side of all this is that he'll be available in the last couple of rounds so he's essentially a low risk/high reward player.
QB Vince Young: He says he's going into the Hall of Fame one day. I'll reserve judgment until he gets onto the football field first.
The 2008 Indianapolis Colts finished 12-4, but lost in the wild card game to the 8-8 San Diego Chargers who just barely squeaked into the postseason.
Darren Sproles happened. Sproles had 328 all purpose yards and scored the game winning touchdown in overtime. This was against a defense that finished a very respectable 11th in total D.
The fantasy aspect of this tale benefits those drafting players wearing a horseshoe on their helmets. I look at it this way: if the defense has any hangover left from that game, the offense will have to put up big numbers to win.
Then again, they could come out pissed and destroy everyone they face. Either way, I have full confidence that Peyton and company will put up stupid amounts of points. They're just too good.
Fantasy Info Nuggets
QB Peyton Manning: He's not only the greatest football player/actor since Jim Brown, but he's also a three-time MVP. In the last three years, he's thrown for at least 4,000 yards and 27 TD's each year. He won't have his long-lost siamese twin Marvin Harrison, who I'm sure he had a telepathic link with, but Manning is a future Hall of Famer. He'll cope. He's a first-round pick all the way. If you manage to get him in the second, consider yourself lucky.
WR Reggie Wayne: He's caught 80 or more passes for 1,000 plus yards in five straight seasons. He's Manning's No. 1 option and should be yours as well (receiver, not pick).
WR Anthony Gonzalez: With two NFL seasons in the bag and Marvin Harrison no longer on the roster, this is Gonzalez's year to shine. Consider him the new Wes Welker but without the kick returning ability.
RB Joseph Addai: I miss Edge. In the past, if you were contemplating a Colts RB, you drafted James, started him every week and that was that. That's not so anymore.
Addai was hampered most of 2008 with injuries and is coming back from offseason knee surgery. If, and this is a big if, he stays healthy, Addai has a chance to return to his old form and help your fantasy team. I'm remaining wary of him at this point though, because whether you draft Addai or Brown in the mid to late rounds, they shouldn't be considered starters just yet.
TE Dallas Clark: Clark's another one of those players who's great on the field but gets bit by the injury bug like clockwork. He has yet to play a full NFL season. Nonetheless, he did have a good season in 2008, amassing 77 catches for 848 yards and six TD's. My verdict is this: don't reach for him. If you do snag him, he's a good pick, but have a decent back TE ready just in case.
WR Pierre Garcon: He's a virtual unknown, but the second year man out of Mt. Union has impressed the Colts coaching staff enough that he'll be starting alongside Wayne and Gonzalez (although in preseason so far, he's starting to dig himself a deep whole with his dropped passes; if he looks over his shoulder and sees another receiver on his heels, that would be Austin Collie).
Hence, you have to like his chances to put up some point's with Peyton throwing to him. He's either a big time sleeper pick or a total bust I'll deny ever mentioning.
RB Donald Brown: He's a rookie with tremendous potential coming out of UConn. I can't say I've seen much of him besides a few snaps in preseason, but he'll definitely get his reps with a gimpy Addai sure to miss time.
Whoever runs the ball for the Colts in '09 will face seven teams who finished 15th or better in run defense in 2008 (and will see JAX and TEN twice each).
Hoisting their diminutive Pro Bowl RB Maurice Jones-Drew onto a pedestal as the unofficial team mascot, countless experts had this small market team winning it all in August of 2008. They were going to lead the coup against the mighty Colts empire and topple King Manning.
In August of 2009, the Jaguars are coming off a 5-11 season, hoping to win at least six games. They've lost their top receiver from a year ago to drugs, and they've unkindly escorted their franchise's all time leading rusher/heart/soul Fred Taylor into the loving arms of the Bill Belichick-run Patriots School for Old Veterans That Will Play Harder for Us than They Ever Did for You (it's a lengthy name but Belichick does whatever the hell he wants including wear '80s workout head bands.)
Thus, 2009 is also a year of lowered expectations. As of this writing, the first team offensive line is having a hard time protecting their starting QB David Garrard in preseason play. What's a fantasy owner to do with such a distraught group?
Fantasy Info Nuggets
RB Maurice Jones-Drew: The man with the largest thighs in the NFL is both a gamer and Jacksonville's entire offense. He rushed 197 times last year for 824 yards and 12 TD's. He also caught 62 passes for 565 yards and two more TD's.
The one flaw his game possesses is his propensity for fumbles. He lost the ball six times last year. It's not as high as A.P.'s total (nine) but it's darn close.
Nonetheless, MJD is going as high as number one overall, which is absolutely fine. Draft him and start him every week without concern.
DEF Jacksonville: The Jaguars' defense isn't a shut down group as they were just a few years ago, but they still have the talent to be formidable. 2008 was a down year as they finished 17th in the rankings. Despite that drop, I still think they're a good play against certain teams as a bye week fill in.
QB David Garrard: In his first full year as a starter, his numbers were okay. I lay the blame mainly on an underwhelming receiving corps. This season, it seems his problems have been compounded by a below-average line that could get him killed if they manage to top their 42 sack total from last year; it's a very real possibility.
For his sake, I hope Torry Holt still has something left in the tank and Garrard can whip to him quickly.
TE Marcedes Lewis: Although it might be a year too early to label Lewis a bust, I'm gravitating in that direction. If he's going to shine, this has to be the year. With WR Matt Jones gone and defenses gunning to murder his QB, Lewis should crack the 50 reception mark if he's going to avoid the B word.
WR Torry Holt: If there were a team consisting of only the best best players in the 2000's, Torry Holt would be on it. He has over 12,000 receiving yards and 74 TD's in his career. The problem is last year was the first since his rookie season that he failed to reach 1,000 yards. I know the Rams were awful, but the numbers also reflect he's on the decline.
I tend to believe that he's still got plenty of football left in him. He's a sturdy WR as he's only missed two games ever due to injury. Holt's a decent mid- to late-round pick especially since Garrard has virtually no else to throw to not counting MJD.
WR Anyone not named Torry Holt: WR has been a weakness for the Jaguars since Jimmy Smith left and it'll continue to be so in 2009. Don't bother with this group unless it's Holt.