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100 Questions: Fantasy Football 2023 (AFC South)

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(As we head toward training camp and the start of preseason, our own Daniel Kelley is asking — and attempting to answer — the most pressing questions around fantasy football for 2023. This is 100 Questions.)

 

AFC South

It’s easy to forget now, after the Jaguars closed the 2022 season on a five-game winning streak and used a historic comeback to win a playoff game. But the AFC South just barely missed out on joining the NFC South in having no team top .500 last year. In Week 15-17, the Titans were losing, the Jaguars were just starting winning, and the division had four teams at .500 or below. Now, the division could have as many as three rookie starting quarterbacks in 2023 (either in Week 1 or later), and … well, this season might be light, but a page has been turned.

Houston Texans

It’s easy to forget now, since they’re a combined 11-38-1 the last three seasons, but the Texans had become the class of the AFC South for a while there. From 2011 to 2019, they won six division titles in nine seasons. They led the Chiefs 24-0 in the Divisional Round for a chance at a Conference Championship berth. And then … you know, lots of bad things happened, and they’ve started over, and you know the rest of the story.

29. What Does Devin Singletary Mean for Dameon Pierce?

The Issue

  • Pierce in 2022: 78.9 PFF overall grade, 84.8 rushing, 55.4 receiving
  • Singletary in 2022: 75.9 PFF overall grade, 83.0 rushing, 56.6 receiving
  • Pierce 4.3 yards per carry, Singletary 4.6; Pierce 2.8 targets per game, Singletary 2.9
  • Pierce 9 games of 10-plus PPR points in 2022, Singletary 8

Best Answer

Everything up there paints the picture that Dameon Pierce was probably a hair better than Singletary last year, though at least for fantasy Pierce’s advantage came in part from the fact that he was more or less alone in the Houston backfield while Singletary had James Cook and at times Zack Moss or Nyheim Hines to contend with in Buffalo. But also, those numbers ignore a major difference — the blocking. Neither back is any great shakes as a run-blocker, but while Pierce was one of the game’s worst pass-blocking running backs last year (32.3 PFF pass-blocking grade, 60th of 67 backs with at least 50 carries), Singletary was one of the best (69.4, 12th). For a team with a mediocre offensive line at best (they are 24th in our offensive line rankings) and a rookie quarterback, protection will be crucial. If Pierce and Singletary are similar ball-carriers but Singletary is a clearly superior blocker, wouldn’t it be wise to opt for the veteran? And if so, doesn’t the ADP gap between the two (Pierce RB22, Singletary RB48) seem kind of crazy?

30. Can Dalton Schultz Keep It Going Without Dak Prescott?

The Issue

Best Answer

Narratively, the biggest argument in favor of Dalton Schultz continuing to be a target monster in Houston is the arrival of CJ Stroud. After all, we all know the story that rookie quarterbacks lean on their tight ends. But as our own Tyler Loechner shows several years ago … that isn’t really true. Schultz should comfortably best the best season in recent Texans history as far as TE targets (Akins had 54 last year), but expecting him to have 89 or more for the fourth straight year is probably on the silly side. That said, drafters agree — Schultz is TE12 by ADP currently. I wouldn’t want to reach much above that, because his ceiling is far lower in Houston than it was in Dallas, but if you punt on the TE slot, Schultz should have a higher floor than most TEs in his range.

31. Which Receiver Should We Be Targeting … If Any?

The Issue

  • Robert Woods: 31, another year removed from ACL tear, extremely consistent before that
  • Nico Collins: Third-round pick in 2021, 1.68 yards per route run in 2022, 72.4 PFF offensive grade
  • John Metchie: Second-round pick in 2022, reportedly clear of leukemia now, over 2.3 YPRR in college in 2020-2021
  • Tank Dell: Third-round pick in 2023, specifically requested by C.J. Stroud, over 1,300 yards each of last two years at Houston

Best Answer

It’s fun to look at gaps between ADP and our own FTN Fantasy rankings to find gaps to exploit, but that also makes it funny when everyone agrees on someone right in the middle of everything — ADP and our rankers agree on Collins as the WR55 this year. And that is comfortably the best of the group, with no other Texans receiver better than 80th in ADP, 74th in our rankings. My policy when taking someone that late (either near or at the end of a draft) is to swing for the fences. By that standard, we can totally cross Woods off the list. Collins is two years into his career with 927 total yards and 3 touchdowns; maybe he’s in for a breakout, but there have been no signs. That leaves us with rookie Dell and might-as-well-be-a-rookie Metchie (Dell is actually older than Metchie). Given Dell’s (a) status as the handpicked receiver by his new quarterback and (b) ADP 40-some picks later than Metchie, I’ll take Dell as my wild card. 

Indianapolis Colts

Reputationally, the Colts probably still have the appearance as an annual powerhouse. The reality is different — Indianapolis hasn’t made the playoffs since 2020, hasn’t won a playoff game since 2018, hasn’t won the division since 2014. The team became almost a punchline last year, in part because … well, what happened with the whole Jeff Saturday of it all was funny, but also because the Colts are theoretically a Storied Franchise™. I don’t think we’d have laughed at hard as, say, the Panthers going through the same ordeal.

32. Can We Draft Anthony Richardson as a Starter?

The Issue

  • A rushing yard is worth 2.5 times as much as a rushing yard in fantasy
  • Our FTN Fantasy projections have Richardson at 685.6 rushing yards and 5.3 rushing TDs (both fourth among QBs), already 100.36 fantasy points before any passing
  • “Rushing for at least 400 yards” hasn’t exactly been a guarantee of big fantasy production this century:

Best Answer

Look at those bullets up there. Even limiting it to quarterbacks with at least 400 rushing yards (which is 40 fantasy points right there), there’s no real trend to how many fantasy points that yields. Sure, if you forecast Anthony Richardson to put up 1,000 rushing yards, he’s a fantasy starter, but if you do that, you’re probably more confident than you should be. We drafted Justin Fields as the QB17 in 2021, Trey Lance QB13 in 2022. As a drafting community, we are too confident in “rookie quarterback who is a questionable passer but OMG the legs.” Richardson is QB14 in ADP right now. I won’t take him anywhere near there.

33. Does Anthony Richardson Undercut or Confirm Jonathan Taylor’s Upside?

The Issue

  • Taylor was comfortably the fantasy RB1 in 2021, nearly 30 points clear of the RB2
  • Injury cost him much of 2022, but he still had two games (out of 11) with 20-plus PPR points, seven of 10-plus
  • Colts quarterbacks had 389 combined rushing yards over those two seasons

Best Answer

There’s a narrative that rushing QBs help their running backs by clearing lanes — defenses have to account for the quarterback taking off, so the running back has fewer eyes on him. My hypothesis is that that helps backs be more efficient, but not necessarily more productive overall. It’s a hard hypothesis to test, because so much changes from season to season that isolating yards per carry is difficult, and sample sizes are so small that doing it when a quarterback misses a game here and there is more noise than signal. But if so, the corollary is that a back gets so many fewer carries, due to his quarterback doing it, that his increased efficiency is good for real football but less so for fantasy. To wit: There have been 27 quarterbacks rush for at least 600 yards in a season since 2000. Of those, only four (Michael Vick/LeSean McCoy 2010, Russell Wilson/Marshawn Lynch 2014, Daniel Jones/Saquon Barkley 2022, Robert Griffin/Alfred Morris 2012) have been accompanied by a top-10 fantasy running back. Jonathan Taylor is RB6 by ADP. Maybe you can get him to RB5, but he’s not a strong RB1 candidate now.

34. Is Michael Pittman the Only Other Colt We Care About?

The Issue

Per our FTN Fantasy overall rankings, the Colts…

  • Have one top-50 player (Jonathan Taylor) — only the Cardinals, Texans and Commanders have zero
  • Have two top-100 players (Taylor, Michael Pittman) — only the Panthers and Texans (one) have fewer
  • Have three top-150 players (Taylor, Pittman, Anthony Richardson) — only the Panthers and Patriots (two) have fewer
  • Have four top-200 players (Taylor, Pittman, Richardson, Alec Pierce) — no one has fewer

You get the idea.

Best Answer

Going deeper than my bullets above, the Colts do have six players ranked between 201 and 300 … but that includes the kicker (Matt Gay), backup quarterback (Gardner Minshew), defense and a running back in Zack Moss who, if he sees any significant time in 2023, would signify another disaster season in Indy. So the short answer to the question above is “No,” and the longer answer is basically “Not really, unless you want to pick one pass-catcher as your favorite surprise, and even then, the ceiling is really low.” 

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are heavy favorites to win the AFC South in 2023 (-155 on DraftKings Sportsbook), and probably rightly so. That said, the general community is overstating their newfound dominance. This is a team that was 2-6, 3-7 and 4-8 last year and only sneaked into the playoffs on an end-of-season five-game winning streak that includes two wins over a falling-apart Tennessee team, one each over the Jets and Texans and a squeaked-out Dallas win that they trailed by 17 late in the third quarter, not that dissimilar to their also-miraculous Wild Card Round win. The Jags were a couple of unlucky bounces away from being 7-10 or 6-11 last year and having some real questions to answer in 2023.

35. Can We Expect Calvin Ridley to Still Be Calvin Ridley?

The Issue

  • Ridley’s last full season featured 143 targets, 90 receptions, 1,374 yards and a WR5 PPR finish
  • The last game of that season was 928 days ago as you read this
  • Russell Gage was the only other Falcon to top 90 targets that year
  • This Jaguars team has three players with at least 98 targets last season

Best Answer

Calvin Ridley’s ADP screams “general public sees a big name and has rose-colored glasses,” as he’s sitting at WR16 right now. That’s higher than any individual FTN Fantasy ranker has him, with our staff ranging from WR18 to WR31 on Ridley. Even WR16 would be a steal if Ridley were going to be his vintage self, but our rankers are telling a story that Ridley is probably the best Jaguars receiver (though three of our seven rankers have Christian Kirk higher), but he’s not the best by as much as he would have been if he had time machined here from the 2020 season. Don’t expect Special Ridley until you see it.

36. Is Trevor Lawrence Taking the Leap, or Did He Already Take the Leap?

The Issue

  • Lawrence, Year 1: 59.6% completion percentage, 71.9 passer rating, 12 TDs against 17 interceptions, 59.6 PFF grade, fantasy QB22
  • Lawrence, Year 2: 66.3% completion percentage, 95.2 passer rating, 25 TDs against 8 interceptions, 77.4 PFF grade, fantasy QB8
  • Lawrence 2023 ADP: QB8

Best Answer

If I can cheat here, the answer to my question is “It doesn’t really matter.” As mentioned, Trevor Lawrence was QB8 last year. Twelve more points, and he’d have been QB5. Sixty more points, and he’d have been … QB5. 23 fewer points, and he’d have been QB12. 52 fewer points, and he’d have been … QB12. Basically, unless we think Lawrence is likely to crack into the upper echelon of quarterbacks (Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts in some order, plus arguably Lamar Jackson and/or Joe Burrow) — and he’d need to do a lot more with his legs to get into that tier — Lawrence could get a fair bit better or a fair bit worse in 2023 and still be about the same as he was for fantasy. So unless you think “The Leap” includes about double his rushing yardage, he’s pretty well drafted right now.

37. Does Tank Bigsby Matter for How We View Travis Etienne?

The Issue

  • Etienne was RB17 in 2022 with 1,125 rushing yards; all other Jags running backs combined for 585
  • After 85 receptions and 1,020 receiving yards his last two years at Clemson, Etienne had only 35 for 316 in 2022
  • Etienne converted only three of 13 inside-the-5 carries into TDs (23.1%, ninth worst among 48 players with at least 5 such caries)

Best Answer

<img src="https://d2y4ihze0bzr5g.cloudfront.net/source/2020/Travis_Etienne_%281%29.jpg" alt="

If the Jaguars had only drafted Tank Bigbsy out of Auburn on Day 2, I might not have been that concerned about Travis Etienne, even considering the “Etienne wasn’t even this regime’s pick” factor. But they also signed D’Ernest Johnson in free agency. And sure, maybe “third-round pick” and “guy with only one season out of four with more than 33 carries” won’t relegate Etienne to the bench, but they do tell me that he won’t dominate Jags backfield touches like he did last year, and particularly especially at the goal line, where losing touches could really hurt him in fantasy. Etienne at RB14 in ADP is asking to be burned.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans beat the Packers 27-17 in Week 11 last year to go to 7-3. On a string of six straight seasons of at least 9 wins, three straight playoff appearances, two straight division titles and an AFC No. 1 seed, things were good in Nashville. And then they didn’t win again, losing seven straight to close the season, benching their rookie third-round quarterback for a street free agent and entering what might be a rebuild, albeit a short one.

38. What Does DeAndre Hopkins Mean for Treylon Burks and Chigoziem Okonkwo?

The Issue

  • Burks in 2022: 11 games, 54 targets, 33 receptions, 444 yards, 1 touchdown
  • Okonkwo in 2022: 17 games, 46 targets, 32 receptions, 450 yards, 3 touchdowns
  • Hopkins in Arizona in 2022: 9 games, 96 targets, 64 receptions, 717 yards, 3 touchdowns

Best Answer

It’s less interesting asking what DeAndre Hopkins is as a Titan (he’s a target monster; he’ll be a target monster) than wondering what his acquisition will do for his new teammates. Treylon Burks still sits at WR34 in ADP, while Chigoziem Okonkwo is TE11. If one of those is off, it is almost certainly Burks’. He and Hopkins aren’t the same player by any means, but they do similar things are far as fantasy is concerned. Hopkins’ aDOT last year was 10.2 yards; Burks’ was 11.6 If the Titans are going to throw it a long way, wouldn’t they lean on the big-money star veteran over the still-to-prove-himself second-year guy? Okonkwo’s aDOT was 7.6 yards, and given Derrick Henry has never been a receiving monster, the short-target role seems safe for the second-year tight end. Burks? Maybe 2024.

39. Also, What Does DeAndre Hopkins Mean for Ryan Tannehill?

The Issue

  • In 2022, Tannehill had his lowest numbers as a Titan in yards per game (211.3), QBR (49.1), PFF grade (71.9) and fantasy points per game (13.9)
  • His best receiver was Robert Woods

Best Answer

This isn’t exactly conclusive, but I feel like it tells a story. This is Ryan Tannehill’s fantasy points per game by season, along with the best receiver on his team that season:

Year Team Tannehill PPG Tannehill WR1
2012 Miami Dolphins 11.4 Brian Hartline
2013 Miami Dolphins 14.9 Mike Wallace
2014 Miami Dolphins 17.4 Mike Wallace
2015 Miami Dolphins 16.1 Jarvis Landry
2016 Miami Dolphins 14.6 Jarvis Landry
2018 Miami Dolphins 12.9 Danny Amendola
2019 Tennessee Titans 19.2 A.J. Brown
2020 Tennessee Titans 21.9 A.J. Brown
2021 Tennessee Titans 16.6 A.J. Brown
2022 Tennessee Titans 13.9 Robert Woods

Every season Tannehill was a good (occasionally very good) fantasy quarterback, he had either Mike Wallace, Jarvis Landry or A.J. Brown to throw to. When he didn’t have them, he was bad. Can that happen again with DeAndre Hopkins? Well, Tannehill is about to be 35 and certainly not going to be back with the Titans in 2024; if he wants to be anything like a starter again in the NFL, he’ll need to maximize his 2023, and that means throwing the ball to his star. I’m not saying he’s a fantasy starter, but I am saying that he’s currently QB31 in drafts, and if he’s healthy, he will sail past that. 

40. Do We Have Another Massive Derrick Henry Season in Store?

The Issue

  • Henry has led the NFL in carries in three of the last four years and was on pace for an obscene 465.4 in 2021 if not for injury
  • He had 27.4 carries per game in 2021; Larry Johnson set the NFL record with 416 carries in 2006 at 26.0 per game (this is basically the same as the first bullet, but come on, that is ridiculous
  • Henry is entering his age-29 season and has 4.4 yards per carry in 2021-2022 after 5.2 in 2019-2020

Best Answer

Derrick Henry is projected for 302.3 carries in our FTN Fantasy projections, the only player over 300, and one of only two (Jonathan Taylor, 293.7) over 263. His only relevant backups are small-school third-round rookie Tyjae Spears and second-year Hassan Haskins, who has some significant legal troubles that are likely to cost him his roster spot. Barring injury, Henry is going to sail to the league lead in carries in 2023 and easily beat his RB8 ADP.

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