AFC South Roster Holes: Optimal Landing Spots for the 2021 Rookie Class

Bryan Sweet looks at roster situations that could produce impactful rookies in 2021 fantasy football leagues.

The 2021 NFL Draft is rapidly approaching, scheduled to be held in Cleveland beginning on Thursday, April 29.  Rookies can oftentimes be overhyped in the fantasy world but the right landing spot can go a long way towards a rookie approaching those lofty expectations.  This series of articles will focus on the most enticing positions for rookie production at the offensive skill positions for each NFL team.  This article is aimed at those teams residing in the AFC South.

 

Houston Texans: WR2, QB(?)

 

Following the early days of free agency, this list looked like it might be considerably longer for Houston but the acquisition of Mark Ingram may shore up the RB position as Ingram and David Johnson should be able to combine for solid production.  Brandin Cooks is also entrenched as the team’s WR1 and he was able to produce a 1,150-yard season with six TDs for Houston in 2020.  Jordan Akins looks like the leader in the clubhouse to be the starting TE and he has shown flashes when given the opportunity.  Unfortunately for Akins, Houston rarely utilizes the TE position in the offense, so this isn’t an ideal landing spot for a rookie at that position regardless.  The team has been blessed with an incredible player at QB in Deshaun Watson, but more on him later.  A quick look at the team’s depth chart reveals a gaping hole at the WR2 position.

Over the past two years, the Texans have traded DeAndre Hopkins and lost Will Fuller IV in free agency.  Despite the nice season from Cooks, the team struggled to find a complementary option to him on the other side of the field following Fuller’s suspension for a positive banned substance test before Houston’s Week 13 game.  Randall Cobb and Keke Coutee combined for more than 800 yards and six TDs but both players are more suited to a slot/WR3 role as opposed to regularly playing on the outside.  Houston did sign Donte Moncrief in free agency, but he has bounced among four teams over the last three seasons and doesn’t look like an option that can be trusted for consistent production.

Houston has bigger needs to address in the 2021 NFL Draft, and currently no picks in the first two rounds, but a WR built to handle the rigors of being an option on the outside might be worth monitoring for fantasy managers.  Of course, the bigger question might be who will be targeting Houston’s WRs given the offseason drama surrounding Watson.

It appeared as though Watson was on his way out of Houston in early 2021 as he expressed his intention of refusing to play in lieu of a trade.  Rumors of his departure to various NFL teams with needs at QB quickly surfaced but a surprising twist emerged in March.  Watson now faces 22 lawsuits from four different women accusing him of behaviors ranging from inappropriate exposure to sexual assault during massages.  The question now is not who Watson will be starting for in 2021, but if he’ll be playing at all.  I can’t imagine a team trading for Watson unless the legal questions surrounding him are resolved very soon.  Behind Watson, the Texans have Ryan Finley and newly acquired Tyrod Taylor but neither brings the level of play Watson provides.  Again, without any picks in the first two rounds, it’s unlikely Houston will be able to draft a QB that would be an upgrade over either backup currently on the roster if Watson were to face repercussions from the NFL or the team.

 

Indianapolis Colts: TE

 

The Colts made moves at the skill positions in their last two drafts by acquiring WR Parris Campbell in 2019 and both WR Michael Pittman, Jr. and RB Jonathan Taylor in 2020.  Offseason re-signings of WR T.Y. Hilton (one-year, $10M) and RB Marlon Mack (one-year, $2M) give the team some stability as well at those positions.  QB Philip Rivers called it a career after one season with the team, but the acquisition of Carson Wentz has been viewed as no worse than a lateral move and potentially a significant upgrade given the history of Wentz with HC Frank Reich during their time together in Philadelphia.  Add all of this to the fact that Indianapolis has fielded one of the best offensive lines in the NFL in recent seasons and fantasy managers would be wise to keep their eyes on any offensive skill position rookie the team acquires.  As a rookie TE entering the NFL, the Colts look like an ideal landing spot to generate immediate production.

The Colts have been throwing darts at the TE position for a few seasons having rotated through Eric Ebron, Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, and Trey Burton but haven’t seemed to be able to land on one guy who can be trusted to provide consistent production on a regular basis.  Burton was jettisoned during free agency and the team can’t seem to get a break with the health of Doyle or Alie-Cox.  Wentz had success with both Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert in Philadelphia and might replicate that success in Indianapolis with a promising rookie TE if the team opts to look that way in the draft.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars: TE, QB

 

A new era is about to begin in Jacksonville as Urban Meyer arrives in his NFL-coaching debut and brings with him the #1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.  It seems unlikely Meyer and the Jaguars will have any reason to explore the RB position other than for depth as  James Robinson went from undrafted to unbenchable during the course of the 2020 season, further cementing the proof that production can come from anywhere in (or after) the draft given the right situation.  Jacksonville also has solid pieces at WR with D.J. Chark manning the WR1 spot and free-agent acquisition Marvin Jones poised to be the WR2.  Lavishka Shenault is the best bet to fill in as slot WR and occasional RB again in 2021.  Jacksonville, and fantasy managers alike, could benefit from an upgrade at QB and a reliable option at TE.

Let’s get this out of the way first; Trevor Lawrence is almost a lock to be the #1 overall selection when the Jaguars kick off the 2021 NFL Draft.  Lawrence has been dubbed one of the greatest QB prospects ever coming out of college with Andrew Luck being the most common comparison.  Meyer has been known to get the most out of his QBs during his numerous stops at the collegiate level, so it will interesting to see if he can do the same with Lawrence in the NFL.  Gardner Minshew led a three-headed QB monster in 2021 along with Mike Glennon and Jake Luton but I don’t suspect Meyer, or ownership, will be keen on letting Lawrence sit and watch for any length of time.  If Lawrence’s game can translate to the NFL, fantasy managers should see a solid return on their investment by next year, possibly sooner.

Another area where Jacksonville has struggled to find consistent production is at the TE position.  Not since Marcedes Lewis in 2010 have the Jaguars had a TE accumulate more than 550 receiving yards or double-digit TDs.  A decade of substandard production might make fantasy managers leery of trusting anyone in that position, but that’s what makes the position so attractive from a rookie standpoint.  If Lawrence is the Day 1 starter, he might rely on short, quick passes to get his timing and rhythm down as he adjusts to the speed and complexity of the NFL.  A solid TE might go a long way towards his development and open up the field more for the other skill position players.

 

Tennessee Titans: WR2, TE(?)

 

Tennessee lost some key personnel on the offensive side of the ball following a second-straight season of playoff football, but arguably the Titans’ biggest loss could be the departure of Arthur Smith.  Smith was Tennessee’s OC for the past two seasons and now will be the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.  Smith did leave behind a nice collection of talent, however.  Tennesse will almost certainly still employ a run-focused attack spearheaded by Derrick Henry who led the NFL in rushes, yards, and rushing TDs.  Second-year WR A.J. Brown also assumed a larger role in the offense in 2020 as he solidified his role as the team’s WR1.  Ryan Tannehill has continued his career resurgence since joining the Titans, leading the team to 18 wins in his 26 starts and back-to-back playoff appearances.  While Tannehill doesn’t put up gaudy statistics for fantasy managers, he provides enough athleticism and ability as a passer to prevent teams from focusing solely on Henry and the running game.

Tennessee did lose a lot of contributors this offseason, however, creating opportunities for some new faces to exploit.  Corey Davis was drafted to be the team’s #1 WR in 2017 but never lived up to his high draft cost despite a solid 2020 campaign.  Tennessee elected to not resign Davis and he is now a member of the New York Jets.  Tight end Jonnu Smith saw a lot of preseason hype and delivered eight TDs with more than 400 receiving yards before signing a multi-year deal with New England.  The Titans also terminated the contract of Adam Humphries, though injuries robbed him of meaningful playing time in recent seasons.  If no additional moves are made the Titans appear to be relying on Josh Reynolds, who flashed some potential while a member of the Rams, to take over for Davis, and hold over Anthony Firkser to become the starting tight end.  While Firkser did provide some good moments in relief of Smith, his upside seems limited.

In 2020, Davis had a career-best season with 984 receiving yards and five TDs while showing the potential for fantasy production at the WR2 position in Tennessee.  Brown and Henry will command the bulk of the offensive touches, but adding a third viable weapon will make Tannehill and this offense even more potent.  The team has shown it recognizes the weakness at WR2 with the signing of Reynolds, but a rookie impact WR could pay off handsomely for fantasy managers this season.  Tennessee has also proven it can generate fantasy production from the TE position with Smith last season and Delanie Walker prior.  Despite the run-focused attack, the tight end position for the Titans has been a consistent source of touchdowns in the past.

 

(Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire)

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