With the preseason completed, we continue to take a little trip around the league and take a look at all 32 teams and address one of the biggest questions about each team that you need to be thinking about. After all, in terms of dynasty leagues if you aren’t thinking about these things, you’re already behind!
Believe it or not, there was once a time when three teams from the AFC South went on to the playoffs, all three of them with double digit wins while the fourth team still managed to be 8-8. For your reference, it was the 2007 season. Since that time, the Colts have for the most part remained the team to beat in the division with all of the others having their own moments of glory. The 2013 season was the low point for the division with three of the teams below .500, some of them well below including the worst team in the league. Are there signs for hope in the division?
The massive turnover of skill position players has started in Houston. What can we expect from the few remaining veterans and which young guys are worth our time?
For several years the Houston roster was anything but undecided. Matt Schaub at quarterback, Arian Foster leading the potent rushing attack with Ben Tate behind him, Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter at receiver with Owen Daniels over the middle were pretty much locked in. Over the last 12-18 months, all of the players on that list except for Foster and Johnson have been allowed to walk away.
When it comes to the two remaining veterans, the story is largely the same. The 33 year old Johnson and 28 year old Foster are both top talents at their positions and even though their age puts them at the end of their career, they still have the ability to post top flight numbers. The concern for both players are injuries. Johnson has a very long list of knee, ankle and hamstring injuries over the years while Foster has had his own back and hamstring issues as well. If you’re willing to take the gamble, you might be able to get them cheap relative to their upside and enjoy the production until the eventual injury. If you’re lucky, and the Texans are lucky, they could make it another two years.
What about all of the young players who are coming in to replace all of the talent going out?
The Texans shocked the draft community when they passed on a quarterback for the first two days of the NFL Draft even though they had a major hole at the position. They finally took Tom Savage at the top of the fourth round, signaling they are comfortable playing out the year with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starter. You’re going to be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks Fitzpatrick is going to be a long term solution. His career best was 3,832 yards with 24 touchdowns and 23 interceptions in 2011 and that isn’t going to get a team to the playoffs very often. The Texans are crossing their fingers on Savage and he has shown some flashes against end of the bench defenses, but I think he’s much more likely to be a career backup. I don’t think the quarterback of the future is on roster right now.
[inlinead]At the running back position, the Texans really need to hope Foster can stay healthy for at least this year because no one else on the roster offers the same upside. They originally signed Andre Brown, but he didn’t even make it through the preseason before he was cut. Jonathan Grimes is the handcuff to own. I’m not going to go too much into the backfield because Jaron Foster did an awesome job with it recently. I think Grimes is a capable backup and change of pace back, but I doubt he will ever be a long term starter unless it is out of desperation.
The wide receiver position isn’t much better than the running back position when it comes to depth. DeAndre Hopkins is of course there and the oft-injured DeVier Posey has shown flashes, but they would be in major trouble without Johnson. I’m a little lower than most on Hopkins. I think he has talent, but I don’t think he has “top receiver on a team” talent. He could be an extremely good wingman to a top target, though. As for Posey, he’s limited by both upside and injuries and is much better served as the third or fourth receiver on an NFL team. There really isn’t anyone else of long term note at the position, which is very unfortunate for Texan fans.
About the only skill position on the entire team with quality depth is the tight end position. The Texans are likely to run a whole lot of two tight end sets to help mask their issues at the receiver position. They have the right coordinator in former Patriot Bill O’Brien to do it, too. Garrett Graham is locked in as the move tight end (the Aaron Hernandez role), while CJ Fiedorowicz is the inline player (the Rob Gronkowski role). Ryan Griffin is also in the fold and could push for a position. Fiedorowicz has the most of the bunch as he has the most complete skill set and the size to go with it. While it might take him a year to make the transition, he could be in for a very good career.
If you want the short version for the Texans, here it is. They have very little depth or future stars at any skill position and look to be a team in an awful lot of trouble on the offensive side of the ball if/when one of their stars go down.
Does Andrew Luck finally have the weapons in the passing game to become the elite quarterback we all hope he can be?
The top quarterback prospect to come out of the draft since Peyton Manning or John Elway (depending on who you ask), is already moving into his third season in the league. After watching what he and his team has done over his first two years I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds himself wonder why the Colts don’t pass the ball a whole lot more! Set to turn 25 just after the NFL season kicks off (which is still several years before the prime of a quarterback’s career even begins), Luck definitely has “it.”
The question of course is when we will see him reach his full potential. As I mentioned, the prime of a quarterback’s career doesn’t even begin until they have been in the league for several years, normally around the time the player reaches their late twenties. Then again, Luck isn’t your normal prospect so can we expect the breakout sooner? Here’s what he did in his first two seasons:
At first glance there seems to be some mixed results on Luck’s progression. His attempts, yards and yards per attempt all seemed to go the wrong direction. His touchdown total stayed stagnant while his completion rate, interceptions and lost fumbles all moved in the right direction. We need to keep several things in mind. The switch from Bruce Arians’ vertical passing game to Pep Hamilton’s “whatever scheme that was” deserves some of the blame for the drop in attempts and yards per attempt. Toss in the losses of two of his main targets (Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen) due to injury in 2013 and it is easy to explain any drop offs. If you watched Luck play in 2013 you saw someone who was more poised, more in command, understood defenses better and just seemed to be seasoned well beyond his years. It was a definite move in the right direction even if the stats don’t completely tell that story.
Pep Hamilton has already said he plans on putting more focus on the passing game and improving upon the team’s 23rd place ranking in pass attempts. This is probably in direct relationship to the very ineffective running game “led” by Trent Richardson. Either that or Hamilton finally figured out that Luck is by far the best player on the Colts and needs to be featured. The truth is probably a combination of the two. Regardless, Luck should be passing more, likely more on par with his 2012 numbers in terms of attempts.
When it comes to weapons, players are returning from injury to join TY Hilton. Mix in the free agent signing of Hakeem Nicks and the drafting of talented but raw Donte Moncrief and it becomes clear the Colts are making it a priority to get Luck the weapons he needs. It is less clear exactly who will be joining Hilton at the top of the pecking order down the road due to Wayne’s age, but with the quality depth at the receiver and tight end positions Luck should have enough people to choose from. It will just take some time.
Thanks to the rushing numbers he puts up, I fully expect Luck to be in the hunt for a top five quarterback finish this season. With that said, I think the scheme and uncertain depth chart at the receiver position will prevent him from realizing his full potential as a passer for at least another year or two. I have no doubt in my mind he will eventually get there.
Who will be the receivers for Blake Bortles when the 2015 season kicks off?
It is only the preseason, but from what I’ve seen I’m almost ready to admit I might have been wrong about Bortles. Through the draft process, I kept saying the upside for Bortles was a mid-level QB2. He’s looked a lot better than that in the limited action. Keep in mind it was against vanilla preseason defenses and often times second stringers, but there were definitely flashes and he might be able to push into low end QB1 territory eventually. Of course that is assuming he actually has someone to catch his passes.
Starting the 2013 season, we expected the Jaguars to trot out Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts as their top two targets. We all know Blackmon’s story and Shorts struggled through the season with leg injuries, missing three full games and seeming hampered and slower in several others. I don’t expect Blackmon to ever play another game in the NFL and Shorts is in the final year of his contract. I think the Jags want Shorts back, but at a contract around 4 million a year or less. Of course the price they are willing to pay depends on how the young guys come along in 2014.
Jacksonville broke a lot of fantasy hearts when they spent a pair of second rounders on a pair of wide receivers, possibly limiting the upside for each of them. Marqise Lee was selected early in the round while Allen Robinson was taken late in the second. Looking at the success rates of wide receivers being drafted in the second round, the Jaguars should be thrilled if one of the two pans out. I think Robinson has the higher upside thanks in large part to the size and athletic ability edge he has over Lee, but Lee has won the training camp battle in part due to Robinson missing most of it due to injury. That isn’t to say Lee has had a great camp as he has struggled when asked to block and had a rather up and down performance through the preseason, he’s just managed to stay healthy which is a big deal.
The surprise of camp has been undrafted rookie Allen Hurns. Hurns had a bit of a leg up because the Jaguars’ new offensive coordinator was his coordinator in college, so he already knew the system and the terminology, allowing him to come right in and play. Staying healthy, he took full advantage of injuries to Shorts and Robinson and actually played with the first team offense through much of the preseason and has led the NFL in receiving yards through the first three games. Yes, it is preseason and the stats don’t matter, but it is still impressive for an undrafted free agent who is suddenly playing with the first team. In fact, he’s probably been the best receiver they have had. He isn’t a freak athletically, but he has decent size and good enough speed to play in the NFL.
It feels really strange to say, but Hurns just might be the rookie to own at this point in time if you base it purely on what has been done so far. He isn’t as athletically gifted as Robinson or Lee, but his production and familiarity with the system combined with all of the injuries just might earn him a starting role week one. If he’s still on your waiver wire, you need to snatch him up. The long term depth chart is far from set at this point in time and if he keeps producing he could keep that starting role, regardless of the rounds the other rookies were taken in.
Can Jake Locker be the franchise quarterback the Titans desperately need or will they be going in a different direction next year?
Locker is already entering his fourth year in the league. The rest of his draft class has already established themselves as long term players for their teams, including Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton or they’re busts like Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder. Locker seems to be the lone fourth year quarterback who is still blowing in the wind. He has shown flashes of excellence mixed with absolutely terrible play while also missing a lot of games due to injury. One way or another, Locker’s fate is going to be decided by his 2014 season.
Coming out of college, Locker was billed as a very gifted athlete with somewhat questionable aptitude for the position. He has a rocket arm with some decent ability to take something off his throws when needed. He also has very good mobility and escapability. The questions have always come up when it comes time for him to make reads and go through his progressions. He has struggled with accuracy and consistency on his throws. Staying healthy has also been an issue for him.
Over his first three seasons in the NFL, Locker has managed only 18 starts. He spent his rookie year as a backup before missing significant parts during his second and third seasons due to injury. Over that time, he’s compiled a 57.2% completion rate, 191 passing yards per game in the games he started to go with an additional 25 rushing yards. He has also averaged one touchdown per start with slightly fewer interceptions than scores. Those aren’t great stats and they aren’t all trending up either. Looking at his two years as a starter, you see some signs of progression in his production, but it isn’t across the board.
Comparing his first and second years as a starter, Locker won more games, was more accurate and made much better choices in the second year as a starter. His yards per game did drop off though and his yards per attempt showed no improvement. He was basically asked to do less in 2013 and was better with what he did in most regards. That isn’t always a good sign for a fantasy quarterback. After all, we want the guy who can take the team on his shoulders and lead them to victory, not a player who needs to have his usage scaled back to be effective.
So far this preseason, Locker has been looking pretty good. He’s been efficient and largely mistake free while showing off his massive arm from time-to-time. The issues have been much the same as always. There are times when he doesn’t get through his progressions quickly enough and needs to settle for check downs as a result. His usage is also a bit of a concern as he seems likely to only pass 20-25 times in a game. If that’s all he does, he isn’t going to be fantasy worthy.
I think Locker is most likely to go the way of fellow first rounders Gabbert and Ponder. He can’t stay healthy and even when he is healthy he is very average. Looking at his 2013 stats, his yards per attempt put him just inside the top 25, completion percentage is tied for eighteenth, yards per game would have been outside the top 35 and the quarterback rating would have been near the bottom of the top 20. Given the injury history, I don’t think the Titans are going to be willing to wait around any longer for him. They drafted Zach Mettenberger this past year in the sixth round, but there aren’t many franchises who actually find franchise guys that late (yes, I know when Tom Brady was drafted). I think the Titans will be in the hunt for their quarterback of the future in the 2015 draft.
Next stop, the AFC East where the general question always seems to be if anyone can challenge the Patriots. The concerns aren’t just limited to the final standings. All four teams, Patriots included, are littered with question marks all over the fantasy landscape. Come back next time to see what I think about them.
Find Jacob on Twitter at @feldmanjacob