Sunday, Feb 11th — Late
Bye Week:
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AFC SOUTH

Written By :: Hilow

Houston Texans

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Bobby Slowik follows DeMeco Ryans from San Francisco to serve as offensive coordinator (served as SF pass game coordinator last year)
  • Defense: Newcomer head coach DeMeco Ryans should incorporate his defensive scheme

Personnel Changes::

  • Added WRs Noah Broan and Robert Woods
  • Added TE Dalton Schultz
  • Selected QB C.J. Stroud with the third overall pick after trading up to pick back-to-back at two and three
  • Added RBs Mike Boone and Devin Singletary
  • WR John Metchie returns to NFL action following a battle with Leukemia

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • Colts x2, Jaguars x2, Titans x2
  • AFC North (4)::
    • @Bengals, @Ravens, Browns, Steelers
  • NFC South (4)::
    • @Falcons, @Panthers, Saints, Buccaneers
  • Other (3)::
    • Broncos, Cardinals, @Jets

Bull Case::

We knew this team was entering into a period of rebuilding after the Deshaun Watson saga ended abruptly. The interesting thing from my perspective is just how active they have been in both free agency and via the draft to turn the organization around as quickly as possible. Not only have they added numerous pieces on offense, as can be seen above, but they were also extremely active in both free agency and the draft on the defensive side of the ball. General manager Nick Caserio clearly has an understanding with the new coaching regime that involves no time off.

C.J. Stroud should be the starter from the jump for the Texans, which gives the offense a bit more upside when compared to Davis Mills. The addition of Noah Brown and return to health of John Metchie gives this offense the vertical threat it was so succinctly missing last season, which should do wonder to open up areas over the middle of the field for Nico Collins, Robert Woods, and tight end Dalton Schultz.

While we don’t fully know how the offensive scheme will look, new offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik comes over from San Francisco with new head coach DeMeco Ryans after serving as the pass game coordinator a season ago. Slowik, a 35 year old offensive mastermind that has come up under the tutelage of Gary Kubiak and Kyle Shanahan, should introduce similar outside one run concepts and layered passing trees exhibited by Mike McDaniel in Miami.

Finally, the Texans invested significant capital over the previous two offseasons to begin rebuilding their offensive line, which seemingly culminated in the selection of rookie center Juice Scruggs in the second round of this year’s draft.

Bear Case::

The complex West Coast hybrid system introduced by Kubiak, tweaked by Shanahan, and seemingly perfected by McDaniel typically takes time to integrate fully due the various concepts at play. While this is most definitely a long term plus, we have to remember that we expect this offense to be helmed by a rookie quarterback with a slew of youngsters amongst the primary skill positions. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if the Texans struggled to sustain drives over the first half of the season (and maybe longer).

There were whispers around the league leading into the draft that new Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud was difficult to coach or that he was thick headed. If there is any semblance of truth to those reports, it could prolong the development of both the quarterback and the system.

Basically, the number of moving and/or changing parts with this team is plentiful, and we should expect it to take some time and mistakes before this offense realizes some of its potential. 

Expectations/Takeaways::

All things considered, the Texans appear to be on the right track after years of what amounted to interim head coaches and offensive play callers. The biggest problem I see with this team and unit is what was laid out in the bear case section. There are simply so many moving pieces to this rebuild that it is highly likely to take some time before we start to see meaningful progress. That said, the upside is there with the pieces that Houston has put into place this offseason.

I would expect Stroud to return the lowest end of year value of the top three quarterbacks selected this season, which should come with little surprise considering the number of items in flux with this franchise. As such, I will be very sparse with my exposure to this offense, hope they relatively fail to live up to any expectations placed on them by the field for this season, and begin hammering them next offseason. The lone exception to that general idea is with tight end Dalton Schultz and is has more to do with the pieces around him than he himself. Metchie’s return to health and the basics of the expected offense should serve to provide Schultz with ample room to operate over the middle of the field, and when you then consider he’ll likely have a rookie throwing him the rock for the duration of the season, things come together nicely for a nice cost versus upside matrix.

August Update::

-C.J. Stroud looked every bit a rookie in his first preseason action, but he is, without question, the starter for the 2023 season.

-Expect Nico Collins, John Metchie, and Robert Woods to start the season as the starters at wide receiver but Tank Dell continues to make a case for offensive snaps. Dell also served as the team’s punt returner in their first preseason game, meaning he is highly likely to start the season active on game days.

-The Texans continued their head-scratching usage of tight ends in their first preseason game, but the offseason addition of Dalton Schultz could change that once games matter. Either way, Schultz appears to be being drafted well ahead of his median outcome in what amounts to a relative dead spot in tight end ADP.

Indianapolis Colts

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Head coach Shane Steichen and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter come together to form an entirely new look on offense
  • Defense: Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley retained entering second year with franchise

Personnel Changes::

  • Lost WR Parris Campbell, added WR Isaiah McKenzie
  • Moved on from QB Matt Ryan, signed QB Gardner Minshew, potential to add QB early in draft
  • LB Bobby Okereke departs, added DE Samson Ebukam

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • Jaguars x2, Texans x2, Titans x2
  • AFC North (4)::
    • @Bengals, @Ravens, Browns, Steelers
  • NFC South (4)::
    • @Falcons, @Panthers, Saints, Buccaneers
  • Other (3)::
    • Raiders, Rams, @Patriots

Bull Case::

“Throw to score, run to win.” Okay, Steichen, I see you. The premise of the offensive scheme that newcomer head coach Shane Steichen is likely to implement in Indianapolis involves creating mismatches over the first two areas of the field through a read-based design. The former Philadelphia offensive coordinator spent the previous two seasons developing an offense to maximize the potential of Jalen Hurts for the Eagles, and his new franchise just selected the most athletic quarterback to ever test at the combine. That, my friends, is the bull case for this team moving forward.

Other than the changes at head coach and offensive coordinator (Steichen is reportedly going to call offensive plays), the Indianapolis offense has an interesting mix of veteran presence and youthful promise. 

Bear Case::

The above notwithstanding, Anthony Richardson is about as raw as they come as far as arm talent goes, capable of throwing the football over those mountains but also bringing an incredibly low completion rate during his time in college.

This is also the first year of a new system with not much in the way of the new scheme’s choices outside of Richardson. Typically sweeping changes like these take a bit of time, which could be the case for the Colts this year. 

Expectations/Takeaways::

The most telling takeaway I got from Steichen’s post draft press conference was him indirectly hinting at Richardson being the starting quarterback for the Colts from the jump. When asked about his feelings towards Richardson’s raw abilities and the fact that he had very little throwing experience in both high school and college, Steichen retorted that the best way to learn was to play. That said, it is not a given that Richardson is the starting quarterback to start the season, but it is highly likely that he ends the season in that position. Knowing Steichen and his previous works, I think it completely reasonable to expect Richardson to begin the season as the starter, particularly when you consider his comments following the draft and the fact that the Colts selected Richardson over deciding to trade back out of the fourth spot or taking the more pocket ready Will Levis.

Should Richardson start the entire season, the upside is borderline limitless. His athletic abilities on the ground, large frame, and rocket arm paint a tantalizing upside scenario as long as Steichen can put him in the best position to succeed – which I view as more likely than not. The rest of the offense has pieces that can do some interesting things through the combination of Alec Pierce in a hybrid “Z” role, Michael Pittman in a more prototypical “X” role, and Isaiah McKenzie and third-round rookie Josh Downs likely to share time in a hybrid slot role.

It will be interesting to see how Steichen handles Jonathan Taylor, who we know can handle a robust role but somewhat contradicts how Steichen has utilized the position in the past. As in, he typically has preferred to rotate through two or more backs in order to keep the tempo high on offense. With those unknowns, it’s tough for me to view Taylor as anything higher than RB4 (the spot he currently occupies in my rankings, but he might fall a bit down my personal rankings as the offseason progresses).

Pittman is the player likeliest to see consistent volume as the most polished pass-catcher on the roster, but I’m currently most excited about the fantasy upside of Alec Pierce in a more downfield and varied role. Look, Pierce is not DeVonta Smith, but that’s the position Pierce will play in Steichen’s offense.

The two guys likeliest to rotate through out of the slot are akin to Quez Watkins in Philadelphia – likely to see low volume but serve in more of a situational role.

Things get confusing for me with respect to the tight ends on the roster and how they are likeliest to work into this roster, particular considering the heavy sets are likely a thing of the past in a more up-tempo offense. Jelani Woods provides the most upside and best athletic profile, but it will be interesting to see what Steichen and company value most out of the position as the best fit for their offense. My answer is completely “dunno emoji.”

August Update::

-Shocker alert – QB Anthony Richardson was named the starter for Week 1. We assumed this was to be the case when the Colts selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, but now we have confirmation from head coach Shane Steichen. Remember, Steichen previously served as the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, designing an offense to maximize the talents of Jalen Hurts. Richardson remains an intriguing upside bet in 2023. His ADP is likely to rise with the news.

-Richardson targeted alpha wide receiver Michael Pittman relentlessly on their handful of snaps together in preseason Week 1 and narrowly missed a long touchdown completion to Alec Pierce. Those two pieces pretty much reinforced our expectations from earlier in the offseason.

-The tight ends rotated through at a frustrating rate in the team’s first preseason action. Again, likely a solid sign of what to expect during the regular season.

-Overall, this offense is likely to have some eruption games mixed in with some real clunkers, a beautiful setup for best ball.

-RB Jonathan Taylor reported to camp but remains on the PUP list as he works his way back from an ankle injury. The contract saga with team ownership remains an issue.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Head coach Doug Pederson returns for his second year as offensive play caller
  • Defense: Mike Caldwell returns for his second consecutive season as the defensive coordinator

Personnel Changes::

  • Added WR Calvin Ridley via trade, making veteran WR Marvin Jones expendable
  • Lost standout RT Jawaan Taylor
  • Added RB Tank Bigsby and TE Brenton Strange via draft, D’Ernest Johnson via free agency

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • Colts x2, Texans x2, Titans x2
  • AFC North (4)::
    • Bengals, Ravens, @Browns, @Steelers
  • NFC South (4)::
    • Falcons, Panthers, @Saints, @Buccaneers
  • Chiefs, 49ers, @Bills

Bull Case::

One of the clearest cases to be made for the bull case for the Jaguars comes from the top through head coach, and offensive play caller, Doug Pederson. The Pederson offense utilizes a balanced approach and quick passing game but remains unpredictable through heavy play action utilization and pre-snap misdirection. This design serves to primary purposes – it organically generates a high success rate for individual plays while also forcing an opposing defense to creep closer to the line of scrimmage.

That last influence is important to a Pederson offense for its influence on deep passing success rates, which we saw no shortage of last season through all of Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, Evan Engram, and even the now gone (and frankly over the football hill) Marvin Jones. The layered approach and varying route trees from all primary contributors places stress on an opposing defense horizontally, which allows the deep passing game to flourish and also contributes to additional yards after the catch potential by getting players the ball in space.

When you watch a Doug Pederson offense, you don’t see numerous dig routes and outs, you see complex crossing routes, go routes, and slants designed to get the player the ball with their hips up field. Extending an opposite in the horizontal also opens additional lanes for the run game, which was reflected by the efficiency from both Travis Etienne and James Robinson last season. Furthermore, Pederson is highly adaptable and adept at managing in-game tweaks to his game plan, which adds to the level of unpredictability and efficiency.

So, while Trevor Lawrence is one of the top up-and-coming talents at quarterback, and while the individual talent from primary skill position players is above average, the upside all stems from Doug Pederson and his ability to keep his opposition on their heels. 

Bear Case::

With an offense designed to spread the opposition horizontally to open up the deep passing game, oftentimes teams are forced to rely on heightened per-play efficiency in order to not fall behind the sticks – which could lead to a decrease in overall offensive efficiency. We haven’t seen that from this iteration of Pederson’s offense, but we have seen it in the past. I’m not overly concerned about the potential for that to happen to this team as they’ve established some level of depth behind the starters, but an injury or two could force Pederson to adapt towards a design he otherwise wouldn’t plan on using.

As for individual pieces, Pederson’s offense is designed to be balances, which means there isn’t a ton of upside for additional volume through the air in most cases. The addition of Calvin Ridley could place additional strain on the expected volume for all primary pass-catchers considering the Jaguars attempted a solid-yet-unspectacular 584 passes a season ago. Not as big of an issue in a Best Ball format, but worthy of note nonetheless.

Expectations/Takeaways::

The Jaguars hold the ninth easiest strength of schedule for the upcoming season, per Sharp Football Analysis. The good news about an easier schedule for this particular team is that they were not shy about running the score up in 2022, taking each possession as a chance to better themselves throughout the season. That’s important to understand for both Best Ball and DFS as it serves to expand their weekly upside, spike weeks and outlier performances being important to each of those formats, and all.

Now take the entirety of our discussion to this point and substitute Marvin Jones out and add the dynamic Calvin Ridley at wide receiver and this offense has a lot to be excited about heading into 2023. In Ridley’s last full season in the league (2020), he put up a cool 90 receptions on 143 targets for 1374 yards and nine scores in 15 games, also scoring seven times in his rookie year in just 13 games. His 2020 season saw him end as the overall WR4 in PPR scoring. The kid has some talent and is an elite red zone weapon due to his shiftiness, quickness, and ability to beat both press-man coverage and zone. Expect Ridley to serve as the hybrid “Z” wide receiver this season, with Zay Jones managing a more regular “X” role and Christian Kirk free to be moved around the formation in a hybrid “Y” role.

Tight end Evan Engram set career highs in receptions and receiving yardage in 2022 and provides an additional element to this offense that forces opposing defenses to account for.

Running back Travis Etienne managed 1125 yards and five scores on the ground on a tidy 5.11 yards per carry mark in 2022, adding 35 catches in a full season’s worth of work. The efficiency was particularly striking considering he was coming off a lost rookie season, an injury he is now a full year removed from. But again, even for as talented a back as Etienne is (and he has loads of talent), that level of efficiency speaks volumes to Pederson’s overall offensive scheme. There is no reason to expect a decrease to the 255 combined touches Etienne saw in 2022 considering the team dealt away James Robinson and replaced him with a third-round rookie and journeyman through free agency (D’Ernest Johnson).

August Update::

-WR Calvin Ridley looks like he hasn’t skipped a beat after over a year and a half away from football.

-Christian Kirk played almost exclusively from the slot in the team’s first preseason game, likely indicating it will be Zay Jones on the perimeter opposite Ridley in heavy sets.

-Tank Bigsby looks like he’ll operate in a role exceeding our previous thoughts – he received the short-yardage situations in the team’s first preseason game.

-This offense is highly likely to mirror what we saw last season as far as individual player ranges of outcomes are concerned. As in, all major skill position players are likely to rotate spike weeks while falling short in providing routine consistency.

Tennessee Titans

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Tim Kelly gets the in-jhouse promotion to offensive coordinator from his previous position as the pass game coordinator
  • Defense: Defensive coordinator Shane Bowen returns for his third year with the team

Personnel Changes::

  • For the second consecutive season, the Titans lost big names from their offensive line with the departures of G Nate Davis and LT Taylor Lewan
  • Brought in T Andre Dillard to take over for Lewan
  • WR Robert Woods and TE Austin Hooper depart through free agency
  • TE Geoff Swaim remains unsigned, leaving the door open for athletic freak TE Chigoziem Okonkwo
  • RB Derek Henry enters the final year of a four-year mega contract
  • Ryan Tannehill enters the final year of a four-year contract with a significant cap hit
  • QB Will Levis drafted in the second round

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • Colts x2, Texans x2, Jaguars x2
  • AFC North (4)::
    • Bengals, Ravens, @Browns, @Steelers
  • NFC South (4)::
    • Falcons, Panthers, @Saints, @Buccaneers
  • Other (3)::
    • Seahawks, Chargers, @Dolphins

Bull Case::

Head coach Mike Vrabel immediately turned the franchise in Tennessee around, establishing a no-bs mentality and sense of ownership amongst his players. That has historically combined with a simplified offensive and defensive design intended to make expectations clearly known. The thing about that is that the players know very clearly what is expected of them and are policed by the others in the locker room. When you have a head coach that would run through a brick wall for his players, and the players see that and buy into it, the team can likely be counted on to play every snap hard until they are no longer in the playoff picture this season. Just one problem with that line of thinking – the identity of this team very much starts with its defense.

Bear Case::

The biggest bear case to be made for the Titans also ties into the identity of the team discussed above in that Mike Vrabel’s hardcore, “in the trenches” mentality has led to a team built around its defense. The weekly offensive game plan typically is paired with how Vrabel sees the matchup, opponent, and subsequent game plan on offense, which at times can lead to a frustrating mix of slow pace of play and extreme rush rates. 

Another big detractor for this primary skill position players is the fact that it’s difficult to fully envision what this offense is likely to look like this year considering both Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill are likely playing their last set of games for the Titans. Furthermore, their pass-catching corps appears full-on-cringe on paper, adding in some level of uncertainty for the offense as a whole later into the season should the team find themselves with nothing left to play for. As in, do Tannehill and Henry continue to play into Week 16 and 17 if the Titans have been eliminated from the postseason? I would guess the answer is “probably not.”

Expectations/Takeaways::

The fact that Derrick Henry made it through this offseason with only third-round rookie running back Tyjae Spears added to the backfield should be viewed as a significant plus to his fantasy expectations for the 2023 season. As in, no big free agent running back was brought in and the team waited until the third round to invest in any competition for touches, instead electing to grab yet another quarterback in the second. The fact that Henry is in the final year of his four-year mega deal has me believing that the Titans will continue to milk him for all he’s worth, which, as was covered in the bear case above, oftentimes leads to extreme usage. Yes, the efficiency was down in 2022, but I attribute a lot of that to the relative lack of unpredictability induced via the lack of viable pass-catchers and the season-ending injury to Ryan Tannehill.

And while the team lost two offensive linemen for the second consecutive season, they addressed tackle through Andre Dillard (who comes over from Philadelphia) and guard through 2023 first-round guard Peter Skoronski.

As for the pass-catchers, man, your guess is as good as mine. Treylon Burks is probably “that dude,” but it takes a bit of speculation still considering the various quarterbacks he played with in 2022. The only other fantasy relevant pass-catcher is tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo, who will benefit from the departures of Austin Hooper and Geoff Swaim. The current number two on the team’s tight end depth chart is fifth-round rookie Josh Whyle. There simply isn’t much upside in the profiles or expected volumes of Nick Westbrook-Ikhine or Kyle Philips.

Ryan Tannehill will likely need to regain the rushing upside he exhibited in 2021 to hold any fantasy relevance, which is highly questionable considering the season-ending injury he suffered last season. 

August Update::

-The Titans signed alpha wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins since the last time we spoke. The biggest fallout from that signing has nothing to do with any one pass-catcher more than it speaks volumes to Tennessee’s commitment to winning this year. With that, expect Ryan Tannehill to remain the starting quarterback for the Titans for as long as they are within striking distance of the expanded playoff picture.

-Nuk’s presence in Tennessee should also allow second-year wide receiver Treylon Burks to play a more natural “Z” WR role for the Titans as opposed to being forced into a role he’s not familiar with. As such, I view the signing as a lateral move for Burks. Whatever value he loses via a decrease in volume he’ll likely make up for in efficiency and yards per target numbers. The interesting part is his ADP has continued to drop after the signing.

-Basically, it appears as if every primary skill position player outside of Derrick Henry is being undervalued on this offense, and Ryan Tannehill appears to be one of the most slept on quarterbacks at the position.

-Tyjae Spears has backed up every bit of his offseason hype (and potentially exceeded it). Continue drafting him as one of the top pure handcuff running backs.


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