Thursday, July 26, 2012

Important AFC South Position Battles

Training camps are so much fun. You find out so much more about the health of certain players from the first day of training camp than you do from January through July.

AFC North Position Battles
AFC East Position Battles

Indianapolis Colts:

The Colts are definitely a rebuilding team, and it would be a pretty big surprise if they won more than five or six games this season. Andrew Luck might be the next Peyton Manning, but even Manning had a bad rookie year. Up until training camp, we fantasy football folks look at every single player and determine what the best case scenario would be for them. It is a lot of fun, but we have to start taking things seriously at this point. People (myself included) are absolutely enamored by the potential that we see in the Colts running game. Before we start talking about it, I want to make something very clear. There is no history over the last decade of the Colts having a significant running game. Sure, Joseph Addai was fine, but he was never a truly primary back. The odds of Donald Brown or Delone Carter actually making a fantasy impact is extremely small. That being said, let's consider the situation that we have heading into training camp. Donald Brown is the absolute starter heading into training camp, and I don't doubt that it will stay that way. The real question is, how many carries will Carter and Mewelde Moore actually get in this offense? Now, I have read about Colts personnel who truly want Brown to be the featured back in this offense, but that is a pretty tall order for Brown to fill. Colts fans who I have talked to just aren't excited about Brown, and I trust them way more than I trust the 4.8 YPC statistic that everyone else is just stumbling upon (I got really excited about it when I found it too, and even put Brown in my initial top-15 RBs). I am a Packers fan, and I can make a case for you to draft basically an offensive player for the Packers. If Colts fans aren't drafting Brown, that makes me hesitant. As training camp progresses, we will begin to see whether Brown is going to be the real deal. As a final thought, don't forget that Brown is on a terrible team. Running backs on terrible teams just don't get many carries and don't produce heavily in most situations. There are more reasons to be cautious about Brown than there are to be excited about him, but he could end up being an early mid-round pick if he wins the job outright in camp (i.e. he takes 75+% of the first team snaps and starts catching the ball more).

The Colts also have a competition for the tight end position between two rookie TEs; Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. I am not going to pretend to know anything about these two players, but everything that wasn't a sensationalist story about how the Fleener-Luck connection was going to be some unrivaled bit of NFL history says that Allen and Fleener will be splitting carries. Add to this the fact that, and excuse me for shouting at you, ROOKIE QUARTERBACKS DO NOT THROW TO THEIR TIGHT ENDS, and you have an absolutely dead-set reason not to draft Fleener. I know it is a nice story, how they went to Stanford together and have all of this chemistry...chemistry isn't going to help Fleener learn how to read NFL coverage schemes. Chemistry isn't going to help him separate from linebackers who are more athletic and fluid than anything he faced in college.  It is a nice story, but if Fleener has more than 500 yards, I would be astounded. Cam Newton had less than 25% of his passing yardage go to tight ends. Andy Dalton had less that 25% of his passing yardage go to tight ends. Split between two tight ends, 25% of his passing yardage should be about 400 yards for Allen and Fleener, each. If you don't believe me, do the research. If you find a single instance when a rookie QB made a top-10 fantasy TE, please let me know. This is the NFL, there is always a chance that Fleener will be fantasy relevant this season, but the odds are stacked heavily against him.

Jacksonville Jaguars:

The big story here is about Maurice Jones-Drew not showing up to camp, but I would focus on the position battle between two newly added players; Laurent Robinson and Justin Blackmon. One of these players is going to be listed as the WR1, and the only reason I care is because that is the player who performed better in camp. I have talked in the past about how it doesn't actually matter whether someone is the WR1 or WR4 on the depth chart for opposing defenses. Just because I put Greg Jennings at the WR4 spot doesn't mean that he isn't going to draw the best corner when he is on the outside. That only works in Madden. The opposing defensive coordinator and the offensive formation determine the matchups, so don't try to make a case about how the WR2 will perform better because he will always get the weaker corner. The defense will match up in a manner that they think gives them the most advantage. I want to know because I don't think Blackmon has the intellect and passion to beat Robinson out for the WR1 spot. Call me whatever you will, but everything I've heard suggests that Blackmon, while talented, isn't exactly putting his whole effort behind becoming an NFL-caliber receiver. I also don't think that Laurent Robinson is good enough to be a WR1. I just want the coaching staff to tell me which one is the better option, so that I can continue telling people not to draft any Jaguars receivers.

Tennessee Titans:

The battle for the WR2 slot on the Titans is really a battle for the WR1 spot. Kenny Britt, in addition to being arrested again (I don't even know how many times that is for him), also had work done on the knee that wasn't injured last season. He is not back into shape, and he is starting training camp on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. The Titans aren't even sure if Britt is going to be able to start the regular season...assuming he isn't suspended by the league anyways. The two most likely competitors for the WR2 spot are Nate Washington, who recorded his first ever 1,000-yard season and will be 29 when the season starts, and Kendall Wright, the rookie wide receiver who the Titans drafted in the first round. The Titans were certainly hoping to start the duo of Britt and Wright, to create a pretty solid core of receivers, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards. Rookie wide receivers are rarely polished enough to start in the NFL, so don't expect Wright to be ready unless the coaching staff believe in him. The dark horse candidate for this position would be Damian Williams, who is entering his third NFL season and played pretty well down the stretch. I will be looking to the depth chart to see which receiver to draft, especially if Williams finds his way into the WR2 spot.

The other battle is less undecided, as the Titans have pretty much stated that they prefer starting Matt Hasselbeck over Jake Locker. Neither one of them is worth starting in fantasy, in my opinion, and I don't think they will have much of an impact on wide receiver production. Neither one of them has an obvious advantage, but Locker is much more mobile than Hasselbeck. You have to trust the coaching staff to make the best decision for your fantasy team and their real team. If Locker is ready, they will start him; if he isn't, Hasselbeck will start. This coaching staff wants to win now.

Houston Texans:

OK, so I am grasping at straws here, because the Texans don't have any offensive position battles. They already have their QB1, QB2, RB1, RB2, WR1, WR2, and TE1 all locked in. If you don't believe me, take the following into account; the Texans played two playoff games and only had four players with receptions: Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, Owen Daniels, and Arian Foster. During the regular season, only five of the players who had receptions are still on the roster: Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, Owen Daniels, Arian Foster, and Ben Tate. I wish that they had someone to compete with Kevin Walter, but I would be surprised if someone took the WR2 spot from him. Every single other player who had a reception is gone. Ben Tate ran for over 900 yards as a rookie; most teams would love to have him as their RB1. There is no way Tate misses the RB2 spot...if you want excitement, you better hope for an injury, because this team is already set. Sorry folks, I can't make anything out of this one, although I sincerely hope someone challenges Walter for the starting position. (OK, so I lied a little, a TE named James Casey had 18 receptions last year, so I guess you have your TE2 locked up as well.)

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