Welcome to the first edition of a monthly series where we take a deep dive into the AFC South. This time, we will take a look at each team’s moves this offseason as we near the pre-season. I will be going over every move made and provide some outlook for the 2022 season. This includes looking into some undrafted free agents to watch out for during the preseason and some other highlights on each team in the AFC South. Let’s take a dive into the AFC South and see how things are shaping up.
2021 Record: 12-5, 1st in division and AFC
Caesars Sportsbook Win Projection: 9.5
R1: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
R2: Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
R4: Hassan Haskins, RB, Michigan / Chigoziem Okwonko, TE, Maryland
R5: Kyle Phillips, WR, UCLA
R6: Theo Jackson, DB, Tennessee / Chance Campbell, Ole Miss, LB
Running Back, Safety
Wide Receiver, Cornerback, Tight End
UDFAs to Watch:
Reggie Roberson Jr., WR, SMU
Haskell Garrett, DT, Ohio State
King Henry and his Court
Before suffering a foot fracture in Week 8, Derrick Henry had already accumulated 937 rushing yards, 154 receiving yards, and 10 touchdowns. In only eight games, he produced enough to finish as the No. 9 RB in rushing yards and the No. 8 RB in touchdowns over the whole season. Recovery from a broken foot carries much concern for an NFL running back. This is especially true for a player who is 6-3, 247-pounds and averages over 25 carries a game. Obviously, Henry is a different kind of athlete, but the concern is there.
That’s where Dontrell Hilliard and rookie Hassan Haskins come in. Hilliard already proved himself a solid option if Henry goes down with three fantasy performances over 15 points in PPR. Look for Haskins to show his worth over the preseason as well. At Michigan last season, Haskins scored 20 touchdowns but injured himself against Georgia and missed out on the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine. This caused his draft stock to take a hit. Before that, he had rushed for five touchdowns against Ohio State which made some believe Haskins was the best running back in the draft. He even received some Heisman consideration. The Titans are an excellent landing spot for Haskins, and he should shine bright if given the opportunity.
Will the Titans Repeat as No. 1 Seed in AFC?
It’s hard to imagine that the Titans repeat as the No. 1 seed in the AFC. To another extent, it’s also likely that they don’t even win the division with the Colts getting much better this offseason. This is a different team than last year, and to be frank they barely even got the No. 1 seed in the first place. With A.J. Brown leaving and the injury concerns behind Derrick Henry, it’s likely that the offense goes through some growing pains in 2022. The defense is still solid, and Mike Vrabel is still a good coach. However, the Titans are more than likely a Wild Card team come January.
2021 Record: 9-8, 2nd in division, 8th in AFC
Caesars Sportsbook Win Projection: 9.5
R2: Alec Pierce, WR, Cincinnati
R5: Eric Johnson, DT, Missouri State
R6: Andrew Ogletree, TE, Youngstown State / Curtis Brooks, DT, Cincinnati
R7: Rodney Thomas, CB, Yale
Running Back, Quarterback, Defense
UDFAs to Watch:
D’Vonte Price, RB, FIU
Michael Young, WR, Cincinnati
Matty Ice and his Receivers
Phillip Rivers, Carson Wentz, and now Matty Ice. The Colts QB Carousel keeps spinning but has found an upgrade in Matt Ryan. Ryan should also hopefully be their option for another season per his contract and the fact that he’s only 37. The former MVP is a great quarterback that provides plenty of upside for the team as a whole. He’s coming off his worst season since 2011 where he threw for “only” 3,968 yards (No. 11) and 20 (No. 17) touchdowns with one of the worst receiving corps and offensive lines in the league. He was still No. 2 in deep ball accuracy rating, No. 3 under pressure accuracy rating, and No. 2 in accuracy rating vs. man.
But of course, he had the No. 7 most dropped passes with 33. The wide receiver corps is a concern, but it is a minor concern because there are some talented rookie prospects and a potential breakout wide receiver in Michael Pittman. If Alec Pierce or Jelani Woods reach their potential, this will be a pretty solid set of weapons. Until then, it’s just Michael Pittman and pass-catching running back Nyheim Hines that have actually proven worth.
Will Jonathan Taylor Repeat as RB1?
Since 2002, there has only been three running backs to repeat as RB1 in back to back seasons. The three running backs were Priest Holmes in 2002/2003, Shaun Alexander in 2004/2005, and Todd Gurley in 2017/2018. It’s definitely possible, but improbable, for Jonathan Taylor to finish as RB1 again in 2022. However, there are also not many running backs that carry the same upside with minimal concerns that Taylor does. He checks all the boxes for fantasy success. So while it’s unlikely for him to repeat as RB1 historically, it’s pretty hard to make a case for him not finishing as the RB1. His team has upgraded, he’s only 23, he has a great profile, and he is on a team that likes to run the ball.
2021 Record: 4-13, 3rd in division, 15th in AFC
Caesars Sportsbook Win Projection: 4.5
R3: Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
R4: Dameon Pierce, RB, Florida
R5: Thomas Booker, DT, Stanford / Tegan Quitoriano, TE, Oregon State
R6: Austin Deculus, OT, LSU
Pass Rush, Brandin Cooks
Running Back, Tight End, Linebacker, Backup Quarterback
UDFAs to Watch:
Johnny Johnson, WR, Oregon
Myron Cunningham, T, Arkansas
The Run Game
Between Rex Burkhead, Marlon Mack, and fourth round rookie Dameon Pierce, someone will end up leading this backfield. As of right now, it is likely Marlon Mack‘s job with Rex Burkhead as a third down running back. However, Burkhead is 32, and Mack has never played a fully healthy season. Mack missed 12 games in 2021 and 15 games in 2020 due to injury. These guys have both proven success in the past and are fine running back options when needed. But, they are not workhorse running backs to build around. Pierce never showed that capability at Florida, but that system isn’t RB friendly. The jury is still out on him. Pierce will be a player to keep an eye on during the preseason. It may end up being a three-headed monster in 2022. As long as the run game is efficient, the offense may be okay, regardless of who the RB1 on the team is.
General Mills and His Lucky Charms
In 2021 Brandin Cooks averaged 14.5 PPG, with 8.8 targets and 65.5 yards per game on average with Davis Mills as the QB. Now going into his second year, and quarterback coach Pep Hamilton being promoted to offensive coordinator, Mills is expected to take a leap in production next season. Unfortunately, it was revealed that second round rookie John Metchie was diagnosed with Leukemia and will likely miss the 2022 season. Hopefully, he recovers and can make his NFL debut in 2023 as he plenty of potential. For now, it is up to Cooks and Nico Collins. Collins has a good profile, is going into his second year, and looked solid last year. Cooks is one of the most consistent wide receivers in the league. It’s definitely less inspiring without Metchie, but these two are still good weapons. As long as Mills builds off his rookie year, the Texans pass game should be good at least for fantasy purposes.
2021 Record: 3-14, 4th in division, 16th in AFC
Caesars Sportsbook Win Projection: 6.5
R5: Snoop Conner, RB, Ole Miss
R6: Gregory Junior, CB, Ouachita Baptist
R7: Montaric Brown, CB, Arkansas
Running Back, Trevor Lawrence, Offensive Line, Linebacker
Backup Quarterback, Cornerback, Safety
UDFAs to Watch:
Andrew Mevis, K, Iowa State
Israel Antwine, DT, Oklahoma State
Doug Pederson’s Arrival
During his time as the Philadelphia Eagles head coach, the Eagles made the playoffs three times and won a Super Bowl. Most importantly, Carson Wentz was the MVP runner-up in his second season in the NFL. After the Super Bowl, the Eagles made the playoffs two more times but never made much of a splash. Injuries also mounted up year in and year out. Eventually, Pederson would be fired over a conspiracy that he intentionally threw the last game of the 2020 season to get a better draft pick. After taking a year off, he’s now with the Jacksonville Jaguars and generational QB prospect Trevor Lawrence. If Pederson can work anywhere near the same magic he did with Wentz and Nick Foles, then the Jaguars pick of Lawrence will surely pay off.
James Robinson vs. Travis Etienne
All offseason it was expected that James Robinson would miss time in 2022 due to an Achilles injury suffered in Week 16. Because of this, Travis Etienne‘s stock rose a good bit and Robinson was able to be acquired fairly cheap. News from Jacksonville camp shows us that that speculation was wrong as Robinson avoided the PUP list and is expected to be cleared by the end of the preseason. Robinson carries an ADP of 175.6 whereas Etienne carries an ADP of 34.6. Those who take the gamble on Robinson’s ADP will likely be rewarded.
Both running backs are good, and both running backs are coming off injuries. One has never played in the NFL, and one finished as a top 10 fantasy RB just two years ago. Fortunately for Etienne, he excels where Robinson doesn’t- as a pass catcher. Also fortunately for Etienne, Achilles tears are notoriously hard to recover from. And while he hasn’t played a snap in the NFL yet, he was still excellent at Clemson and has chemistry with Lawrence. Doug Pederson also carries no loyalty to James Robinson, so it’s not like Robinson has RB1 locked down purely out of seniority. However, he does have the short yardage role locked down. This will be a battle to watch as the potential is there for this to be similar to Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram in 2017/2018.