This series of articles will examine the fantasy impact of the offseason moves, both via free agency and through the NFL Draft.
Last offseason, head coach Bill O'Brien was brought in from Penn State after spending time in New England. It will be a big task to transform the Texans into a perennial winner. O'Brien will try to bring the Patriots winning tradition to Houston. The Texans are a team in transition and still needing quality quarterback play in order to make a playoff run.
O'Brien is known as a quarterback developer and will need to work his magic on the current group of Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, and Tom Savage. None of the three inspire optimism for Texans fans. Hoyer was signed this past offseason and is the likely opening day starter. He is a veteran leader, but should not be considered a fantasy option. Hoyer will make solid decisions and not make many mistakes, but the team will need the journeyman to make plays. He signed with Houston due to his relationship with O'Brien. Hoyer played for the Patriots early in his career. Last year, the team traded for another O'Brien protege', Ryan Mallett. The big-armed quarterback still needs lots of work in order to become a NFL starting quarterback. He showed signs last year but still has a long ways to go. In the 2014 NFL Draft, the Texans selected big-armed Tom Savage. Like Mallett, Savage is raw and needs work. It is doubtful that any of the three will play themselves into the long-term starter and at least two will make a start this season.
Arian Foster is back, and remains the focal point of the offense. He has battled injuries the last few seasons. The talent has not waned. Foster just needs to stay on the field. If he can play all sixteen games, Foster should top 2,000 total yards this season. With the issues at the quarterback position, Foster may be relied heavily upon. Last year, Alfred Blue was drafted to add depth at the position. He did not stand out in limited duty. Blue will have a role behind Foster. Also, a player to watch is Chris Polk, who was acquired from Philadelphia this offseason. Polk is talented and could overtake Blue for the primary reserve duties. With the injury-history of Foster, Blue and Polk could see extended playing time. Keep an eye on Jonathan Grimes. He has flashed potential as a change-of-pace back in limited duty.
Andre Johnson was released this offseason. He signed with division rival Indianapolis. Johnson's presence will be missed. Thankfully for the Texans, Houston selected DeAndre Hopkins in the first round of the 2013 draft. Hopkins is a star in the making and will emerge as the WR1. Veterans Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington were signed in the offseason to provide depth. One of the two could emerge as a viable fantasy option. The targets will be there to put up fantasy points. In the 2015 NFL Draft, Jaelen Strong was selected in the third round (pick 70 overall). He will need a year to develop before being relied upon as a fantasy option, but is the eventual starter opposite Hopkins. Expect Hopkins to see coverage shifted toward his side of the field often.
Garrett Graham returns as the starter at tight end. He is not a fantasy option. While the quarterback upgrade to Hoyer might help some, there will not be enough targets to enable Graham to catch 50 passes, much less approach double-digit touchdowns. C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin will vie for blocking duties. This is a situation to avoid in fantasy leagues.
Expectations are sky high for the team as quarterback Andrew Luck looks to be in line for a strong season, and star veterans were added on the offensive side of the ball. Some in Indianapolis are thinking Super Bowl this season. The level of play on the defensive side of the ball will determine how far the Colts go in the playoffs.
Andrew Luck is looking to establish his spot as the top quarterback in the league. He is the top ranked dynasty quarterback after a very strong 2014 campaign. Luck will be backed up by veteran Matt Hasselbeck. Many forget that Hasselbeck started his career buried behind Brett Favre in Green Bay. He will now end his career behind another future hall of famer. Hasselbeck is an experienced veteran who should provide great feedback and guidance for the third-year pro. However, the Colts will be toast if the aging veteran is forced into playing.
The running back position was bolstered with the signing of Frank Gore after his release in San Francisco. Last year, the offense became one dimensional after the injury to Ahmad Bradshaw. Gore could finish in the Top 10 fantasy players at the position. The running lanes will be there with the opposing defenses focused on stopping Luck and the air attack. Dan Herron will return to a situational role. He excels in the passing game. Zurlon Tipton and rookie Josh Robinson are guys to watch with Gore's age. Also, Vick Ballard will be looking to return to action after a couple of injury-plagued seasons. Gore is the star of the group. The running game will be judged by how effective the ex-49er plays.
Reggie Wayne was jettisoned and has not found a new home as of yet. Andre Johnson was signed to become the top pass catcher for Luck. Johnson should be very effective. The quarterback upgrade (from Schaub and others in Houston to Luck in Indianapolis) cannot be understated. T.Y. Hilton looks to build upon consecutive strong seasons. Hilton emerged last season and became the top receiver in Indianapolis. His speed is evident and offers a dimension to the offense. Fantasy owners should pay close to the target distribution between these two pass catchers. There may not be enough targets for both to outperform expectations. Donte Moncrief was drafted last May. Moncrief is a big, strong, and very fast pass catcher. He has all of the tools needed to be a star in the NFL. The only thing missing is the finer points of the position. A full offseason should help. Moncrief is still very young and will continue to develop. Then, in May's NFL Draft, Indianapolis selected the speedy Phillip Dorsett in the first round. Dorsett, Moncrief, and Hilton give the Colts three of the fastest receivers in the league. Dorsett will battle Moncrief for playing time as the third receiver. One other player to watch is Duron Carter who was signed out of the Canadian League. He is the son of NFL great Cris Carter. Given the talent ahead of him on the depth chart, Carter will struggle for playing time.
Indianapolis drafted two tight ends in the 2012 NFL Draft, Coby Fleener (Luck's college teammate) and Dwayne Allen. Allen has missed most of the last two seasons but is now healthy. It will be interesting to see if the Colts continue to us two tight end sets as frequently given the talent at the receiver position. Neither of the tight ends should be relied upon as fantasy starters.
The Jaguars have not been competitive for several years. This could be the season that Jacksonville sneaks up and wins games others think impossible. There is increasing talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The offense is very young and will need another season to gel. Most of the skill position players are either in their first or second professional season.
Blake Bortles was selected with the third overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and has the look of a long-term starter at the position if he can improve his decision making. He has a young receiving corps to target which will add to the volatility of fantasy outcomes. Chad Henne will again be the backup in Jacksonville.
Last offseason, Toby Gerhart was signed from Minnesota. He did not perform as highly as many expected. This year, Gerhart will compete for reserve playing time. The running game will be much improved this season after the drafting of T.J. Yeldon from Alabama. Yeldon is a bellcow back who could top 300 carries. His backups will be Gerhart and youngsters Denard Robinson and Storm Johnson. Robinson is the superior player of the three. Bernard Pierce was claimed last season after Baltimore waived him following his arrest for drunk driving. This group of ball carriers is a big upgrade from a season ago.
Justin Blackmon is indefinitely suspended. The team has stated that they do not expect him back on team. With the Blackmon uncertainty, the Jaguars found it necessary to draft a pair of talented rookies high in the 2014 NFL Draft, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. Lee battled injuries for much of his rookie season. Robinson is as talented as almost any young receiver in the NFL. He should take a giant step forward in year two. With a young quarterback, and a pair of talented second-year receivers, the Jaguars passing game looks to be in good shape for years to come. Allen Hurns came out of nowhere last season to post the only 100-yard outings for the Jaguars receivers. He adds a deep threat to the mix. The Jaguars drafted Rashad Greene Sr out of Florida State. Greene is a sure-handed slot receiver who should help Bortles with clutch receptions.
Jacksonville gave Julius Thomas a monster contract to leave Denver and travel to Florida. He is a good blocker and receiver. Caution should be exercised as Thomas will struggle to equal the numbers of targets – especially in the red zone – in Jacksonville as he enjoyed in Denver. Marcedes Lewis is back and should be asked to stay in and block to enable a strong running game.
The NFL is a quarterback league which has limited Tennessee the past few years. Hopefully, this will be solved with the drafting of Marcus Mariota this past May. The defense is in shambles and there is very little talent on either side of the ball. The Titans are a good bet to be selecting in the top five on the 2016 NFL Draft.
Jake Locker retired after his rookie contract expired. This led to the Titans drafting Mariota with the second overall pick in the 2015 draft. Mariota will be asked to get up to speed in a hurry. Expectations are higher than reality and this season will be full of growing pains. Last year, Zach Mettenberger was drafted in the sixth round out of LSU. He played well enough to warrant being Mariota's backup over Charlie Whitehurst, but not well enough to keep the team from selecting the rookie. There was much intrigue surrounding Mariota and whether he would end up with his college coach Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. Kelly would know how best to put Mariota in situations to succeed. Now, it is up to the Tennessee coaching staff to take advantage of Mariota's unique skill set.
Bishop Sankey was drafted out of Washington to replace Chris Johnson a year ago. Sankey is average all around but lacks either elusiveness or power to excel at the position. He will yield time to rookie David Cobb. Cobb is a multi-dimensional player who is a good runner between the tackles but even better as a receiver. Dexter McCluster and Shonn Greene will provide depth. The Titans will try to run the ball often to take the pressure off the rookie passer. We are not banking on strong results.
The wide receiver position has changed over the past year. Kenny Britt went to St. Louis, joining former Titans coach Jeff Fisher. Much was expected from Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter. Neither emerged to be the focal point of the offense. Wright is a possession receiver who was a victim of the poor quarterback play so there is hope with the quarterback upgrade. Hunter is still showing signs of maturity issues. He has the ability but needs to be able to become a better route runner, hand catcher, and teammate. Hunter has the talent to be a star, but needs to mature and develop. Harry Douglas came over from Atlanta in hopes of starting in the slot. Hakeem Nicks also signed. He needs to flash talent of years gone by in order to secure a roster spot. In the draft, the Titans selected Dorial Green-Beckham and Tre McBride. Green-Beckham slipped a little in the draft due to off the field concerns. He was kicked out of Missouri and transferred to Oklahoma, even though he turned pro before ever putting on a Sooners uniform. McBride slipped several rounds in the draft but has the potential to become a starter in a year or two. It is possible – if not probable – that these two rookies will be starting in two years. Mariota will look to gel with the young receiving group. This is a talented group of pass catchers.
Delanie Walker is back and looking to build upon an underrated 2014 campaign. He could be a fantasy TE1 again this season. Behind him on the depth chart are Anthony Fasano, Craig Stevens and Taylor Thompson.
The division is still the Colts to lose, because the quarterback play of Luck is that much superior to the others. Houston could make the playoffs, but will require Foster to stay healthy and get improved quarterback play. Jacksonville and Tennessee will each be lucky to finish two games below .500.
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