by Russ Bliss (8/26/11)

AFC South 2011 Preview

Houston Texans

QB's: Matt Schaub took a step down in 2010 after leading the NFL in passing yards in 2009. But he still was very solid throwing for over 4,300 yards and 24 TD's. Whether he's got a 30 TD season in him is questionable now that he has such a strong running game, but Schaub is a quality fantasy starting QB. Matt Leinart is the backup and while Leinart flopped in Arizona, it's debatable whether he ever got a fair chance. Leinart might have value if anything were to happen to Schaub. Rookie T.J. Yates should be the #3.

RB's: Arian Foster took full advantage of Ben Tate's preseason injury and ran his way into fantasy stardom. A powerful runner and excellent pass catcher, Foster also finds the end zone. While many will now expect Foster to repeat his over 2,200 combined yards and 18 total TD's from last year, I think it safer to say he is unlikely to reach soft lofty heights again. But the numbers he produces should still be worthy of him being an elite fantasy RB. The aforementioned Tate and Derrick Ward will battle it out to be the top backup. Tate is over the broken leg injury he suffered last year in preseason, and looked explosive in his first preseason action after missing practices because of a minor hamstring injury. Ward was very solid filling in for Foster at times last season and will battle it out with Tate for the top backup job. While Ward was effective last season, I expect Tate to be the better handcuff. Steve Slaton is also on the team and while he doesn't figure into the mix much, could also fill in admirably if called upon. There's some speculation Slaton could be traded before the season starts. Chris Ogbonnaya is unlikely to make the final roster.

WR's: Andre Johnson is the elite WR in fantasy. He was on his way to having another 100+ catch, 1,500+ receiving yards season but an ankle injury that he played most of the season with cost him 3 games. A healthy Johnson should get back to those elite numbers and finally crack double digit TD's in 2011. Kevin Walter is a steady presence opposite Johnson on the field, but his fantasy relevance is usually one or two big games per season followed by long disappearing acts. Jacoby Jones should push Walter for the starting job and is easily a better fantasy prospect, even as the 3rd WR. If he can push Walter out of the starting lineup, Jones would flirt with WR2/3 potential. As it stands right now though, he is a WR 4/5 and Walter is one of many mediocre low upside options that always can be found on waiver wires after fantasy drafts. Dorin Dickerson is the #4 WR and has talent but won't get enough playing time to be relevant. 2010 6th round pick Trindon Holliday battles a cast of other unattractive options for the 5th WR spot.

TE's: It's hoped that after a strong finish to the 2010 season Owen Daniels is fully over the torn ACL he suffered in 2009. He is entrenched as the starter and makes a solid fantasy TE1 when healthy. Joel Dreessen is the backup and was good filling in when called upon to when Daniels missed 3 games last year. Garrett Graham and Anthony Hill are both guys the Texans are high on, but they are buried behind these other two.

K: Neil Rackers is one of the most accurate kickers in the game and the Houston offense gives him plenty of chances each week. Rackers is a solid starting kicker in fantasy leagues.

Indianapolis Colts

QB's: Peyton Manning has been one of the surest things in fantasy football for over a decade and is an elite fantasy QB. But there are many concerns about his slow recovery from neck surgery he had to repair a disc back in May. Manning is currently on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list and may not be ready for the start of the regular season.. Given his track record of never having missed a start in his career though and I give Manning the benefit of the doubt and expect he'll play week 1. Both Dan Orlovsky and Curtis Painter have been awful so far in preseason and so the Colts convinced former Titan's QB Kerry Collins to un-retire to be the top backup to Manning. If Manning misses week 1, Collins would start in his place. Collins won't be Manning, but he at least should be decent enough to not make a lot of mistakes and prevent the values of the WR's and TE's from sinking like a stone.

RB's: Joseph Addai is the primary RB and has the most fantasy value. He makes a good RB2/3 on fantasy rosters. While Addai isn't flashy, he does everything well enough to be productive. Donald Brown is the top backup, but has been disappointing and will be pushed by rookie Delone Carter. Carter offers more fantasy upside than Brown as he is a stronger inside runner than either Addai or Brown and could also challenge for goal line carries. Jarvarris James filled that role as short yardage and goal line RB for a while last season but he isn't as talented as Carter. Devin Moore and Chad Spann are battling it out to be the 4th RB and primary kick returner. Undrafted rookie Darren Evans would need to shine a lot to make the final roster.

WR's: Reggie Wayne may be 32 years old, but he is still a top 10 fantasy WR. 3 of the last 4 seasons he's caught 100 passes or more. 7 consecutive seasons with over 1,000 yards receiving. TD production has been inconsistent year to year, but he's still a performance league monster. Pierre Garcon is the starter in 2 WR sets, but the Colts go with 3 WR's the majority of the time so Austin Collie gets just as much attention from Manning as Garcon. More in fact, usually. Garcon was inconsistent last year and disappointed owners expecting a breakout season. Collie exceeded every expectation and was having a monster season until a series of concussion injuries derailed him. While he has a huge upside, and has been fully cleared for contact after a long off-season rest, there is considerable concern that he may be more prone to future concussions. Wayne is WR1, Collie a strong WR2 with high risk/reward factors, and Garcon a WR3 as he runs hot and cold week to week. Anthony Gonzalez hopes to back on track as the 4th WR after a series of injuries have derailed him from what was a promising career just a couple of seasons ago. Blair White filled in admirably last year when injuries hit this group and should be the #5. Gonzalez and White would need injuries to happen for either to become fantasy relevant.

TE's: Dallas Clark will wear a special brace on the wrist he injured last season. The injury brought a premature end to what was shaping up to be another elite fantasy TE season by Clark in 2010. He is expected to be just fine to return to that elite form in 2011. His return moves Jacob Tamme back to the bench, but at least the Colts (and fantasy fans) got a chance to see that Tamme is very capable of being a solid fantasy TE if anything were to happen to Clark again. in leagues with very deep drafts, Tamme could even be considered as "handcuff" insurance to Clark. Brody Eldridge is the #3 TE.

K: Adam Vinatieri may be getting older, but he's still very accurate within 45 yards and kicks for a team that should provide him with plenty of PAT's and enough FG opportunities to make him worthy of starting in most fantasy leagues.

Jacksonville Jaguars

QB's: David Garrard will enter the season as the starter over rookie Blaine Gabbert. Garrard isn't a bad NFL or fantasy QB, but he hasn't progressed to being consistently good either despite being given plenty of opportunities. Garrard is a functional fantasy backup QB, but unless he's winning games and looking better than he has in the past, doing it, it's likely that Gabbert will make starts this season. I'd rather let someone else draft a Jacksonville QB and find a backup fantasy QB in a more stable situation. Luke McCown is the #3 QB.

RB's: Maurice Jones-Drew is one of the biggest risk/reward players in fantasy football this year after having surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his knee in January. No doubting that if MJD is healthy he is a strong fantasy RB1, but will the knee hold up? Will Jacksonville scale back his in game touches after backup Rashad Jennings closed out last season strong? We just don't know for sure. I expect the Jags will give Jennings some extra time on the field at MJD's expense, and that may bring MJD down to being a fantasy RB2. There's no questioning MJD's toughness for playing thru the injury for 13 games last season and still performing at a high level. But knee injuries and RB's have often proved to be a bad combo in the past. Jennings should be handcuffed to MJD in fantasy drafts. Deji Karim is the #3 RB and has flashed some potential as an effective smaller change of pace runner, but barring an injury he won't have any value.

WR's: Mike Thomas takes over as the #1 WR, and as fantasy sleeper potential to be a good fantasy WR2/3. He's the only WR to have locked up a starting job though. Jason Hill is a career underachiever and expected to start opposite Thomas. Behind him are Jarrett Dillard, Kasim Osgood, and rookie Cecil Shorts. Hill is a speedster who often disappears; Dillard has skills but has problems staying healthy and he doesn't play up to his skills when healthy; Osgood is a career special teamer and is unlikely to be higher than 4th on the depth chart; Shorts has potential to surprise as rookie but isn't likely to make enough impact to be fantasy worthy.

TE's: Marcedes Lewis was a huge fantasy surprise in 2010, but that was his contract year and he had been a big disappointment the 4 years before that. He starts and will either continue being a good fantasy TE1, or be content with a fat new contract and go back to being mediocre. I think his receptions and yards from 2010 (58-700) are attainable for him in 2011 but I'd be shocked if he caught 10 TD passes again (he only had 7 the four prior seasons combined). Zach Miller (the 6th round pick from 2009; NOT the one who played in Oakland and is now in Seattle) has flashed some skills behind Lewis but would need an injury to Lewis to become even remotely relevant. 3rd stringer Zach Potter is more a blocker than anything else.

K: Josh Scobee is inconsistent and has had major accuracy issues the last few years, but Jacksonville hasn't brought in any real competition to take the job from him and unless a minor knee injury he's currently nursing turns into something more severe, it's likely Scobee will kick again for Jacksonville in 2011. But in fantasy, there are much better and more reliable options at the position.

Tennessee Titans

QB's: Matt Hasselbeck is the new starter. Hasselbeck has succumbed to age and injury having thrown either equal to or more interceptions than TD's each of the last 3 seasons. Maybe a change of scenery will do him good, but I would consider him a shaky fantasy backup. Rookie Jake Locker won't see the field unless Hasselbeck gets injured or plays atrociously. Rusty Smith and Brett Ratliff will battle it out to be the #3.

RB's: Chris Johnson is a top 5 fantasy RB no matter the scoring format. Problem is that currently, he is holding out for a new contract. After 3 outstanding seasons, I believe he could be one of the rare exceptions of a player who really does think it better to sit out and not risk any injury while he is still young than to play for well below market value. Johnson's a risk to sit out regular season games, and that means he may slip out of the top 5 RB's selected in fantasy drafts. But if/when he returns, he'll be a top fantasy RB again. Javon Ringer is the top backup and would carry the bulk of the load if Johnson does miss games. Ringer should be considered a mandatory handcuff for owners who select Johnson. Ringer has good skills but hasn't been given enough opportunities to see if he can succeed. Rookie Jamie Harper will likely be the #3 RB and provides big size but not likely to have much fantasy value. Stafon Johnson is hoping to make the team as a 4th RB.

WR's: Kenny Britt is an explosive playmaker. When both his head is screwed on straight and he is healthy he is a solid borderline fantasy WR1/2. Problem is he has both off-field issues every year and a penchant for injury. He missed 4 games last year with a hamstring injury and is having hamstring issues in training camp. While this year's hammy injury is considered minor, it does raise a red flag. Nate Washington is the other starter but usually only has 1 or 2 good games each year and is no more than a fantasy WR5. Justin Gage, Damien Williams, Lavelle Hawkins, and Marc Mariani round out the rest of the unit and none are worth drafting except in the deepest of leagues.

TE's: Jared Cook is one of fantasy's sleeper darling TE's in 2011 after finishing out the 2010 season very strong. Athletic and smooth, he could flirt with top 10 fantasy TE numbers since it's likely he will be the second option after Britt on most passing plays. Craig Stevens is another young TE on the roster but he is more of a blocking TE to Cook's pass catching role. Dan Graham was signed to be the #3 and provide some veteran leadership for the young guys. He won't take catches away from Cook.

K: Rob Bironas is possibly the most accurate kicker in the entire league and can boom the long ones too. His points totals though have decreased each of the last 4 seasons and with a suspect offense, there may be games where gets very few opportunities. A borderline starting fantasy kicker with upside if the offense shows promise.

check out Russ's 2011 AFC East divisional preview

check out Russ's 2011 AFC North divisional preview