ADP Early Values: AFC South
by Matt Kelley
We are now in July and folks are starting to turn on their spidey senses for fantasy football. If you’re reading this, those senses have probably already been on. We’ve talked NFC South value picks for where we are in the calendar year; let's shift our focus to the AFC South to talk about who you can snag at a value. As always, this article assumes a 12-team league and PPR scoring.
Houston Texans: Brandin Cooks
Well, the Texans certainly made some off-season noise, and it probably wasn’t what Texans fans were hoping for, when they shipped perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver Deandre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for David Johnson (there were some picks too, but...Deandre freaking Hopkins). That left the Texans with a pretty big hole at the wide receiver position. Brandin Cooks enters a WR corps that features Will Fuller, Kenny Stills, and Randall Cobb.
Cooks has four seasons in which he has compiled more than 1,000 receiving yards. Fuller, Stills, and Cobb have combined for one (Cobb, 2014). There are various reasons why that hasn’t occurred for these guys, but nonetheless Cooks comes into a situation with all of Hopkins’ vacated targets, Deshaun Watson - a quarterback in his prime, and by far the most accomplished WR. The Texans mark Cooks’ fourth team since entering the league in 2014.
His current ADP sits at WR 35, overall pick 73, in the top half of the sixth round. Teammate Will Fuller is going about ten picks before Cooks. Fuller has an electric connection with Watson when on the field but hasn’t started more than 11 games in the last three seasons, largely due to hamstring injuries. Cooks isn’t without risk as he has five documented concussions. The NFL has put more emphasis on concussions over the last several seasons, so it is worrisome that Cooks could be a hit away from leaving the field for an extended time.
By all accounts, Cooks has noted his health is fine, and he seems to be ready to forge on. If he can stay on the field, he’ll likely be an absolute steal at this point in a draft as there aren’t too many guys going this late with a proven 1,000 yard upside.
Indianapolis Colts: Marlon Mack
I know...and Jonathan Taylor, right? I know. Marlon Mack is currently going as RB 42, overall pick 113, in the top half of round 9. What I’ve taken away from the Colts coaching staff so far this offseason is that they believe this will be a committee situation in the backfield.
It’s no secret that Indy has a great offensive line, which is welcoming news to any RB and most likely more so to new incoming QB, Philip Rivers. With the offseason shortened, the Colts could turn towards the running game as a whole a bit more often while Rivers starts to settle in and develop chemistry. That said, Taylor will need to do the same to some degree.
I fully expect Mack to garner at least 60% of the touches through the first half of the year. Mack will certainly concede the passing down work to Taylor or Nyheim Hines. However, Mack is going about 70 picks after Taylor. With Mack having the early work (and likely being the starter for a large portion of the season), he could easily surpass RB42 value. In 26 games over the last two seasons, Mack has put up more than 1,900 yards rushing.
This isn’t a Frank Gore/Devin Singletary scenario. Plus in the last two seasons he’shad eight and nine touchdowns, respectively. I think Mack is still the go-to back at the goal line. He can be seen as a RB2 in the early portion of the season and also sustain weekly flex appeal throughout.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Gardner Minshew II
I mustache you...do you like rushing quarterbacks? I know I do. Gardner Minshew had 281 yards rushing in 12 games last season - that’s about 21 yards a game. To some it might not sound like a ton, but in four point passing touchdown leagues, that comes out to an extra eight touchdowns over the course of a season...or it erases his fumbles from last season...however you’d like to look at it.
Minshew took over for Nick Foles last season, who went down pretty much out of the gate. It was a little back and forth with Foles and Minshew once Foles was back, but the Jags liked what they saw in Gardner (he’s also getting paid considerably less) and sent Foles to Chicago to compete with Mitch Trubisky. It was anticipated that the Jags would sign a higher profile backup or perhaps someone to compete with Minshew, but they really haven’t done that. Minshew goes into the season as the starter with no competition for his spot, a hopefully motivated Leonard Fournette, and a pretty good surrounding cast.
In fantasy drafts, he’s almost undrafted. He’s currently slotted in as QB 23, pick 223 overall - basically undrafted unless you have very deep rosters. If things don’t work out for Minshew, you really haven’t lost much in redraft leagues. Obviously in dynasty, you’d likely have an option ahead of Minshew or as your QB2 in SuperFlex leagues. The first two games for the Jags are tougher with the Colts and then on the road in Tennessee. After that though, the Jags get the Bengals, Texans, and Lions - all beatable defenses. If Minshew can limit his fumbles and get into the endzone on the ground a couple of times, he could be a great play in plus matchups and easily come in ahead of QB23.
Tennessee Titans: Jonnu Smith
I’ve already planted my flag and told you why you should draft Ryan Tannehill (you can find that from my earlier article on why he’s the real deal), so now I’ll let you know one of biggest reasons why he’ll be successful: his TE, Jonnu Smith. Smith is currently being drafted as TE 16, pick 154, the back of round 12. Now, if you’re drafting with me, Jonnu isn’t making it to the back half of round 12. Smith is option number two in the passing game behind A.J. Brown in this offense. The Titans obviously had a tale of two seasons last year. One with Marcus Mariota, and the other with the aforementioned Tannehill. From week eight forward, Smith saw at least four targets in six games. Not a ton of volume I’ll give you, but the Titans leaned on the monster that was Derrick Henry down the stretch...and who can blame them?
While the Titans are likely to run Henry for everything he has left in him this year, Tannehill proved to be efficient in this system, and both he and Smith will have a full off-season knowing they’re locked into starting roles. I’m not telling you that Smith is the next Mark Andrews or George Kittle, but I am saying he’s in an offense that is efficient (as he was at 12.5 yards a grab last season), and will have plenty of scoring opportunities. I think Smith could provide weekly upside to finish within the top six at his position and within the top 10 TE’s for the season.
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