For years, the AFC South was highlighted by one Peyton Manning and the perennially powerful Indianapolis Colts.
This year, there is a chance the Colts don’t even finish in the top half of the division. Sure, part of that is because the Colts may have lost a half-step, but it is more a factor of the improvements to both the Titans and Texans.
Anyone needing a division rich in fantasy potential, the AFC South is the place for you.
1. Totally a gut feeling here—nothing really to back it up with—but I get this feeling that out of last year’s amazing crop of rookie running backs, that Chris Johnson sees the most depreciation this year. I know, it doesn’t make sense. He’s in an offense designed to run with plenty of protection and a defense that allows the Titans to run the ball early and often in time-killing strategy. However, while I don’t usually take stock in preseason action, Johnson was surprisingly stale this summer. He struggled to make it out of the backfield too often for my taste. I know that I’m being unreasonably pessimistic for no reason, but you can’t ignore your gut reaction sometimes in fantasy football.
2. I was all over the Justin Gage bandwagon last year, and was sorely disappointed. Perhaps it’s that sour taste in my mouth that keeps me from getting excited about him this year. Meanwhile, rookie Kenny Britt has been rock solid in preseason action and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if Britt has a better statistical season than Gage in 2009.
3. Too bad fantasy scoring doesn’t include points for not making mistakes...than there would some value in drafting Kerry Collins onto your roster. He’s a solid real-life QB that has gone through an amazing roller-coaster journey since his Penn State days, but he has no business seeing the light of day on your fantasy roster.
4. Losing Albert Haynesworth will affect the Titans defense, as will a much more difficult schedule in 2009. People are drafting the Titans defense on name recognition, and for that reason, the squad is going much too early in drafts to make many of my fantasy rosters this year.
5. If you read my fantasy kicker strategy, you know that I have very low expectations for most people’s projected 2009 fantasy kicker darling, Steven Gostkowski. When the dust settles in 2009, I feel that Rob Bironas will be the league’s top scoring kicker—at worse, he’ll be in the top three. Not that you should reach in your draft to take him. See why here.
1. People who know me realize quickly that the Texans are my team 1B to the Green Bay Packers 1A. One reason is because I see Matt Schaub as a true QB value player in fantasy circles. Many question his injury history, but take out a slew of illegal hits, and Schaub would be considered a top five fantasy QB. The more I watch him, the more I like. Call it a man-crush, but here’s predicting he stays upright enough this season to break the top five in signal calling (behind Brees, Brady, Rodgers and Manning, in that order).
2. Steve Slaton silenced the critics who felt he was too small to make the cut as a featured NFL running back. What helps him is that the offense is balanced enough that he doesn’t see regular stacked defenses and guys keying off just him. Some are concerned about Chris Brown stealing some goal-line carries, but I fear him as much as I fear a blind newborn kitten.
3. It’s easy to daydream about the super-talent that is Andre Johnson, but don’t overlook Kevin Walter in your respective fantasy league. Walter is fantasy gold in TD-heavy leagues and if Schaub stays healthy all season (as I predict), Walter will only improve as a fantasy factor across the board.
4. Want a sneaky-good play at kicker in 2009? Look no further than Kris Brown, who plays for a team that will score often enough to keep him in the red zone, but not so much that his stats are wasted in PAT attempts and not field goals.
5. Owen Daniels is the Rodney Dangerfield of fantasy tight ends…he just doesn’t get the respect he deserves. Miss out on Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez in your draft? No problem…fill another starting position with a true talent in the third or fourth round and wait until later in your draft for Daniels. He’ll be a solid TE again this year, breaking the top five at the position.
1. Peyton Manning has been so good for so long, he’s become the vanilla ice cream of the league’s quarterbacks. Of course, that means that while he’s the benchmark and staple of the NFL’s signal callers, he’s a constant with little extra pizazz to get excited about. I’m not bashing Manning here. I’ve been a fan his whole career. He has developed great chemistry with Anthony Gonzalez and while Reggie Wayne is no Bruce Wayne, he still is a force to be reckoned with. Manning will be a top-four QB, but unfortunately, people draft him much too high in most drafts for him to be a true value player.
2. Speaking of Anthony Gonzalez, you should be excited if he’s the top receiver on your bench this year. He will see consistent targets and opportunities to excel in the league this year. If I had to pick one Colts player to be a true value player in 2009, I’d choose Gonzalez, hands down.
3. It’s really hard to predict what will happen with the two-headed monster at running back in Joseph Addai and Donald Brown. Addai should be able to bounce back this year, but Brown impressed most this summer and stands to see an increased role in the Colts offense right out of the gate. Because of this, I wouldn’t trust Addai for anything more than an RB No. 3 with upside.
4. Adam Vinatieri is one of the most recognizable kicker names in all of football—just don’t think that translates into fantasy points. Injuries have taken their toll on Vinatieri, and he’s a kicker worth avoiding in most scoring formats.
5. Dallas Clark is a tight end worth considering if the price is right—however, he seldom falls too far past the top three tight end options, and offers much in the way of value in most snake-based drafts. I have seen him go fairly cheaply in auction-based leagues. However, it seems that many times, people panic when they see Gates, Gonzo and Witten go off the board, and they overextend to snag Clark. Wait a few rounds and get an Owen Daniels or wait even longer and choose a true sleeper like Brent Celek.
1. If Owen Daniels is the Rodney Dangerfield of tight ends, a case could be made for David Garrard to be the same in the QB category. Most people don’t realize that he was a top-10 QB in many scoring formats last year. Now he’s added an aged yet talented Torry Holt to his arsenal. Garrard isn’t an every-week starter, but continues to be a great value in most drafting formats.
2. Maurice Jones-Drew has become many a fantasy experts pet project in 2009, and for good reason. MJD has the skills both in running and catching out of the backfield to be a reliable fantasy option in 2009. However, it’s hard for me to coronate him as a top-two back (as many have done) without seeing him carry the rock 30 times a game, 16 games a season.
3. Torry Holt has lost a step in overall speed, but he knows how to position himself to make the catch time and time again. He isn’t a guy you want to rely on as a fantasy starter in 2009, but as a bye-week fill-in, depending on the matchup, you could do much worse than Holt.
4. I’ll give you two sugar cookies and a vanilla wafer if you can name the starting tight end for the Jaguars? If you said Mercedes Lewis, you may be wrong. The Jags recently picked up Dolphins roster cut Earnest Wilford, and plan to use him… e couldn’t possibly drop as many passes as Lewis did last year, right? Either way, there is no immediate value in drafting a Jaguar kicker in fantasy circles.
5. A rookie to watch closely this year is RB Rashad Jennings. After trimming their roster this summer, the Jags are down to basically MJD and Jennings at the position (Greg Jones is still around, but won’t be a fantasy factor). MJD has yet to shoulder the load for a full season, and I fully expect Jennings to be a part of the offensive plan from week one.
Check out our other team predictions, division-by-division, along with plenty of other in-depth analysis and projections at www.chinstrapninjas.com