By Elliott Anderson (@darthpichi)
The AFC South is a tough division to get a beat on. The Colts should be the obvious choice simply because they have the luxury of an elite franchise quarterback. Unfortunately his near future is in question because of management’s inability to provide a functioning offensive line to protect their investment. Jacksonville seems to have an up and coming defense and potential bellcow running back but lack a dependable offensive line and NFL caliber QB. The Texans are a serviceable signal caller away from potentially winning this division again but asking any franchise to continually compete without competent quarterback play is a lot to ask. And finally, the Tennessee Titans, who seem like the team poised to bring the AFC South crown home to Music City. They have a franchise QB making a case for elite status, one of the best backfields in football and a stout defense. However, they have yet to get over the hump in the division.
Rush YPG: 136.7(3rd)
Pass YPG: 221(25th)
Sacks Allowed: 28(Tied for 7th)
Key Losses: Byron Bell (T) FA, Chance Warmack (G)
Key Additions: Tim Lelito (G) FA
The Titans fielded one of the most productive and consistent offensive line units in 2016. With very little turn over they are poised to repeat as arguably the best group in the league. Comradery and trust are paramount in the trenches and Tennessee’s offensive line has been “team building” all off season. The Titans are chalked full of high floor fantasy options and another season together for this already exceptional group helps propel the Titans skills into high ceiling options as well. Both Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry are being drafted in the first eight rounds with Murray going as the 6th running back off the board. While Tennessee ranked 10th in stuffed rate, they were a run first team that often saw seven and eight man boxes and still succeeded when running the ball. They will continue to rely on the run game as they strive to establish their “exotic smash mouth” brand of football. Marcus Mariota had the 3rd highest QBR in the Red Zone last season and with the additions of Eric Decker and Corey Davis, Mariota is bound to thrive in scoring opportunities yet again. The offensive lines ability to protect Mariota and create running lanes for this elite backfield should have the Titans battling for AFC South supremacy in 2017.
Rush YPG: 116.2(8th)
Pass YPG: 199(29th)
Sacks Allowed: 32(Tied for 11th)
Key Losses: Duan Brown (Hold Out)
Key Additions: Julie’n Davenport (T) Bucknell 4th Round, Breno Giacomini (T) FA
The Texans struggled offensively last season with Brock Osweiler under center...the good news is that the Brock Lobster is Cleveland’s problem now and there is a camp battle between Tom Savage and rookie Deshaun Watson. (and yes I said that’s good news) Even with the absence of anything resembling a passing game last year, the Texans managed to move the ball on the ground due to the 3rd ranked stuffed rate in the league. They have addressed the need at tackle both via the draft and free agency which shows a continued commitment to the run game, but Duan Brown’s hold out could prove to be a huge hit to this unit as a whole if they can’t find a way to get the veteran tackle back on the field. The addition of Breno Giacomini will unequivocally improve the Texan’s ability to protect the quarterback position regardless of who is under center in 2017, which in turn should help DeAndre Hopkins return to some level of fantasy relevance.
Rush YPG: 101.9(22nd)
Pass YPG: 233(20th)
Sacks Allowed: 34(15th)
Key Losses: Kelvin Beachum (T), Luke Joeckel (G)
Key Additions: Cam Robinson (T) Alabama 2nd round, Earl Watford (T) FA
What can be said about a Jags team whose performances were up and down from quarter to quarter? Let’s just put it out there, Blake Bortles is terrible and the o-line’s ability to protect him is a moot point considering he has trouble hitting wide open receivers when given time. Jacksonville was in the middle or bottom half of most offensive statistical categories last season even with their numbers being inflated by late game garbage time stats that don’t speak to their ability to be a consistent, functioning NFL offense. Branden Albert seemed to be an upgrade to this until after being traded from Miami this offseason, but it appears that Albert would rather forfeit over 3 million dollars than play for the lowly Jag’s offense. There has been considerable movement in the Jacksonville o-line but only time will tell if it will improve their effectiveness in 2017. Cam Robinson, a second round selection out of Alabama, is a run blocking machine that should help 1st round pick Leonard Foutnette get it going on the ground. The addition of Earl Watford is a depth move for an offensive line that rolled out seven different starting combinations last season. Luke Joeckel has been somewhat of a bust after being taken with the second overall pick in 2013, so while some might view the loss of Joeckel a hit to this unit, the loss could end up being a case of addition by subtraction. This was another offseason of analyst’s discussion about Jacksonville playing tough defense, committing to the run game, and uncertainty on whether Blake the Garbage Man will keep his job…I’m not convinced they have the pieces in the trenches to commit to a smash mouth philosophy. I’m steering clear of all Jags unless they fall considerably in my drafts.
Rush YPG: 101.8(23rd)
Pass YPG: 263(Tied for 5th)
Sacks Allowed: 44(28th)
Key Losses: None
Key Additions: Zac Banner (T) USC 4th round
The Indianapolis Colts have an issue protecting their number one commodity, Andrew Luck, and as a result might not have the gun slinging, signal caller to begin the season after having shoulder surgery. To compound the issue, center Ryan Kelly is out for the first 6-8 weeks due to foot surgery. This is a huge blow for their passing game. Kelly was not responsible for one sack last season and is the passing blocking anchor of this unit. The Colts are in trouble. Indy’s offensive line ranked 30th in pressure rate which is cause for serious concern because they are a pass first team and their starting running back, Frank Gore, is engaged in a fight to the death with Father Time. Here’s where things get interesting…Indianapolis was perched atop the NFL in stuffed rate, with the Colt’s backs only being hit at or behind the L.O.S. on thirteen percent of their offensive snaps. This is fascinating for the plain and simple fact that you’d thing the Colt’s staff would run the ball more often and help keep their subpar defense off the field, but that’s not the case. It’s been a rough camp for a team that was a contender just two years ago. Moncrief is dealing with a nagging shoulder injury, Luck is questionable to start the season, and the man in the middle of their offensive line unit is going to miss at least a third of the season. With the current state of affairs in Indianapolis, I’d avoid all Colts come draft day unless the value is out of this world.