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AFC South Fantasy Football Deep-Dive: Best Picks, Sleepers, Draft Advice for 2021

A team-by-team deep dive, bringing you the best of the AFC South for 2021 fantasy football.

With the 2021 NFL season fast approaching, I’ve taken it upon myself to go division-by-division and breakdown each team for 2021 fantasy football. For each team, I’ve picked the best fantasy options and a few up-and-comers on the roster who could have sneaky fantasy value this coming season. I’ve also included Sharp Football’s Strength of Schedule Metrics for each team (1st = easiest, 32nd = hardest) and my own 2021 .5PPR rankings for the players were applicable. (Listed ADPs via FF Calculator)

Houston Texans
Overall Strength of ScheduleOpposing Off. EfficiencyOpposing Def. EfficiencyOpposing Pass D EfficiencyOpposing Run D Efficiency

The Houston Texans are running with a Junior Varsity roster that has no hope of competing in the immediate, or long term future. Their schedule offers some solace in terms of their opposing pass defenses, but the opposing run games and pass games both rank eight-most efficient in the NFL. Never fear though, both head coach David Culley and offensive coordinator Tim Kelly are unlikely to allow blowouts to deter them from moronically establishing the run.

Culley, operating as Baltimore’s assistant head coach, wide receivers coach, and passing game coordinator took part in a Ravens offense that still continued to run the ball at the NFL’s fourth-highest rate when trailing by nine points or more, on early-downs, in the second-half of games (per SharpFootballStats). Of course, they had a dynamic, potent offense at their disposal. Despite the hiring of Culley as head coach this offseason, Kelly retained his post as offensive coordinator with the Texans once again. Like Baltimore, Houston similarly kept a run-heavy gamescript in the aforementioned circumstances, pounding the rock at the 12th-highest rate.

For those interested in learning more about Deshaun Watson’s sexual misconduct/assault case, Drew Davenport is a highly recommended follow. The self-described “Criminal Law Expert” offers valuable insight that is difficult to find. In this writer’s opinion, it is extremely unlikely that we see Deshaun Watson play football in 2021, and beyond. Twenty-two women are filling lawsuits of sexual assault/harassment against him and now the FBI is involved. This does not look good.

Southern Stars

There are none. Sorry.

Up and Comers

RB Phillip Lindsay (My 2021 rank: RB41)

Phillip Lindsay has long since proved that he’s a capable NFL rusher and he’s currently slated to assume lead back duties for a team, as outlined above, that will continue running the ball no matter what the score is. His 9.11, RB46 ADP is acceptable, if unsexy.

WR Nico Collins (WR89)

Nico Collins is a freak athlete, rookie wide receiver whose main target competition is an aging Brandin Cooks. Cooks is still a fine field stretcher but his long history of concussions remains a concern, making his 9.10, WR42 less than ideal. Collins has the profile of an NFL X-receiver. Drafters could do worse than selecting him with their final draft pick.

Indianapolis Colts
Overall Strength of ScheduleOpposing Off. EfficiencyOpposing Def. EfficiencyOpposing Pass D EfficiencyOpposing Run D Efficiency

The most difficult hurdle that Indianapolis will face this year is staving off the impending aerial attacks of their opponents. Per SharpFootballStats, Frank Reich squad is expected to play the third-most efficient slate of opposing passing games this year. Indy threw the ball on first-half early-downs (FH/ED) at a rate of 54%, a roughly league-average mark. Should opponents get up on them early, the Colts are going to be forced out of riding the legs of their ultra talented second-year back, Jonathan Taylor. Were that the case though, the team overall should be able to handle the challenge via their own passing attack.

Indianapolis sharply dropped their play-action rate last season for the stuck-in-his-ways Philip Rivers but they should crank it back up to middle of the pack at worst in 2021. Prior to having Rivers under center in 2019, the Colts ran play-action on 129 of their drop backs (13th-most). They also just so happened to have added Carson Wentz, whose Eagles threw the third-most PA attempts in 2019, before scaling it back with Jalen Hurts under center for much of 2020.

Deploying that kind of intelligent, efficient passing technique should keep the Colts in most games, giving Taylor a shot at returning value on his 1.12, RB10 ADP.

QB Carson Wentz, LG Quenton Nelson, and C Ryan Kelly all suffered preseason injuries but are on track to start in Week 1.

Southern Stars

RB Jonathan Taylor (My 2021 rank: RB14)

As a rookie last year Jonathan Taylor was a sight to behold down the stretch, posting 723 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns in the final five weeks of the regular season. He totaled nearly six more .5PPR fantasy points than any other running back during that span.

Drafters have reason for both excitement and pause heading into 2021 though. As the early-down workhorse back, Taylor should see a bevy of carries throughout the first half of each game—and that may be enough to return top 12 value on a weekly basis.

The downside of Taylor’s usage is phenomenally outlined by Brian Drake and Dwain McFarland on their July 6, 2021 episode of the Fantasy Football Hustle podcast titled “I Bleed Utilization” (Drake and McFarland begin their dissection of the Colts’ roster at roughly the 31:30-minute time stamp). The long and short of it is even during Taylor’s triumphant finish, the dominant rusher was barely deployed in passing situations. Can Taylor overcome that if the same usage type plays out again this year? Short answer: Yes.

The drafting public is far too high on No. 3 rusher Marlon Mack in his return from a ruptured Achilles and No. 4 back Jordan Wilkins is hardly a talent to write home about. Still, pass catching back Nyheim Hines owns rights to the passing game RB role and he’s unlikely to relinquish the job this year. Drafting Taylor for his upside at the round one/two turn (ADP of RB10) is understandable, as he should be a dominant rusher this year. That said, there may be a few weeks where you’re left holding the bag.

RB Nyheim Hines (RB34)

Nyheim Hines finished between the RB15 and RB24 mark across PPR, .5PPR, and non-PPR formats last year, concisely displaying his high-floor passing game usage. Although he’s unlikely to ever take on a 20-touch workload in a Jonathan Taylor absence, Hines’ role is etched in stone. Don’t overthink it. His 10.12, RB48 ADP is absurdly low.

WR Michael Pittman Jr. (WR35)

The Colts’ WR corps is extremely clearly defined: sophomore receiver Michael Pittman Jr. operates as the X, veteran T.Y. Hilton handles things deep, while Parris Campbell runs routes from the slots. No. 4 WR Zach Pascal can fill in as needed. The team added no one of note to the group this off-season, affirming the team’s commitment to Pittman as the No. 1. He’s an exceptional value at his current 9.07, WR40 ADP.

Up and Comers

WR Parris Campbell (WR74), Zach Pascal (WR81), & TE Mo Alie-Cox (TE32)

Parris Campbell’s young career has been slowed by injury but the electric play-maker’s capabilities have never been in doubt. Zach Pascal, meanwhile, has been the definition of consistent as perhaps a more “real life” player than a fantasy one. That said, should any of the three starters miss time, Pascal would immediately assume a full-time role. Tight end Mo Alie-Cox has flashed enticing upside at times but continues to play in a crowded tight end room. Drafting MAC late is an understandable, if long shot, bet on talent.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Overall Strength of ScheduleOpposing Off. EfficiencyOpposing Def. EfficiencyOpposing Pass D EfficiencyOpposing Run D Efficiency

There should be no questions left as to Urban Meyer’s head coaching capabilities after 2021, as their strength of schedule is largely a breeze. Some passing offenses may get them to push the pace a bit but overall, it’s a walk in the park.

For an idea as to how offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell might call plays, we can look at the last two years in Detroit, where Bevell operated as the offensive coordinator and part-time interim head coach. The 53% FH/ED passing rate, through the 25 games that Matthew Stafford was healthy, was roughly one percent under league average. A similarly balanced offensive scheme should be in store for Jacksonville in 2021. Although they’re in a mini-rebuild with a rookie quarterback under center, this team may be the most underrated fantasy squad in the league.

Southern Stars

QB Trevor Lawrence (My 2021 rank: QB15)

Trevor Lawrence has been one of the most coveted quarterback prospects for years. In 2017, Lawrence won USA Today’s High School Football Offensive Player of the Year award. As a true freshman he brought the College Football National Championship trophy to Clemson in 2018. Multiple First Team All Awards later, he was selected as the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Although the young passer strikes the mold of a traditional pocket passer, Lawrence was lethal as an opportunistic redzone ball carrier, racking up 766 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground over the last two years. By all measures, he’s the perfect type of signal caller for today’s NFL.

Related: Preseason Stars Now on Our Fantasy Radars

The interior of the Jaguars’ offensive line became an issue last year when center Brandon Linder, who received the team’s PFF’s highest blocking grade in each of the last three seasons, was lost for the season due to injury. Although Linder is taking it slowly, managing tendinitis in his knee, both he and guard Andrew Norwell (shoulder) are expected to be ready for Week 1. Together with guard A.J. Cann and tackles Jawaan Taylor and Cam Robinson, this group quietly boasts serious potential. Throw in Jacksonville’s loaded pass catching corps and one can see an easy path for Lawrence to smash both his QB15 ranking and his 11.01, QB14 ADP.

WR Laviska Shenault Jr. (WR32) & Marvin Jones Jr. (WR36) 

Presumed 2021 No. 1 WR D.J. Chark has had a rough go since Urban Meyer’s tenure began. It all started with Meyer publicly criticizing Chark as a “big guy who played little”, in the process revealing that he immediately instructed Chark to gain weight. Misfortune struck again in Preseason Week 1 when Chark fractured a bone in his hand. Now, the team expects Chark to be ready for Week 1 of the regular season but one has to admit, this is not looking like a great situation. Chark’s current 8.10, WR37 ADP is still too high.

Things are looking good for the Jr.’s though, as Laviska Shenault and Marvin Jones looked primed to haul in the top two targets totals on the team this year. Shenault’s prospects dipped when the team took RB/WR Travis Etienne mid-way through this year’s draft with the expectation that he would fill Meyer’s famous slasher, hybrid running back/wide receiver role—a role that Shenault played exceptionally well, both in college and as a rookie from time to time last year.

Shenault, who was dubbed the Jags’ “best offensive player” in spring camp by local beat reporters, made significant strides in the pure wide receiver department. With Etienne’s recent Lisfranc injury landing him on Injured Reserve and likely out for the year, Shenault could operate both as the team’s No. 1 receiver and as a situational rusher. Draft him up to a Round ahead of his 9.03, WR39 ADP.

Marvin Jones, meanwhile, has formed an immediate on-field connection with his young quarterback. Their relationship should bear plenty of fantasy fruit as Jones has ranked top 10 in contested catches in three of the last four years (per Given his path to well over 100 targets as the No. 2 WR, at worst, Jones is an absolute steal 12.01, WR53 ADP.

RB James Robinson (RB14)

James Robinson went from Undrafted Free Agent rookie to overall RB7 in both .5PPR and PPR scoring formats last year but his hype train was derailed this offseason, when new head coach Urban Meyer selected RB/WR Travis Etienne in the first round of the NFL Draft this year. With Etienne likely out for the season, Robinson launches from a weekly flex play to a top 15 option at the position. Robinson’s current ADP sits part way through the fourth round as the RB24, it’s sure to drastically climb though. As it adjusts, look for him around the 2.12/3.01 area of your draft.

Up and Comers

WR Collin Johnson (WR N/A)

Collin Johnson showed well as a rotational rookie last year. Although he’s unlikely to garner much work as the roster currently stands, were one of the starting three receivers to miss time, the 6-foot-6 Johnson would surely draw some looks running as the team’s No. 3 WR.

Tennessee Titans
Overall Strength of ScheduleOpposing Off. EfficiencyOpposing Def. EfficiencyOpposing Pass D EfficiencyOpposing Run D Efficiency

Former Titans’ tight end coach Todd Downing takes over at offensive coordinator for last year’s OC phenom Arthur Smith, also a former tight ends coach, in what should be a decent season for Tennessee. The last time we saw Downing in this role was 2017 with the Oakland Raiders. That year, Derek Carr hucked it on 52% of first-half early-downs, 15th-most in the NFL (per SharpFootballStats). Disappointingly, the team only used play-action on 14% of their pass attempts though, the third-lowest mark in the league.

Given the recent successes of Smith as a Tennessee play-caller though, one has to assume that head coach Mike Vrabel made it clear that a drop in play-action rate would be unacceptable. (Read more in my NFC South piece where I compared Matt Ryan’s prospects under Smith this year to Ryan Tannehill’s recent production as a Titan.)

Expect Tennessee to try to replicate the formula that’s brought such sterling results over the last two years.

Southern Stars

QB Ryan Tannehill (My 2021 rank: QB14)

Tannehill is a solid bet to retain a rock-solid floor, with juicy spiked weeks thrown in. There are some issues with COVID-19 and the Titans squad overall, Tannehill was recently placed on the COVID-19/Reserve List, but should be off in 5 to 10 days if everything goes according to plan. Tannehill also announced that he had begun the vaccination process in late July so there’s hope that he can stay on the field this year for a full 17 games. Should the Titans get 14+ games featuring both A.J. Brown and Julio Jones in the passing game, Tannehill will push for a career year.

WR A.J. Brown (WR5) & Julio Jones (WR17)

Before the team traded for Julio Jones in the offseason, A.J. Brown was a candidate to seriously see 200 targets. In free agency, the Titans saw No. 2 WR Corey Davis, starting slot receiver Adam Humphries, No. 1 pass catching TE Jonnu Smith, and rotational TE MyCole Pruitt leave in free agency. To replace the four pass catchers though, the team acquired downfield cardio runner WR Josh Reynolds and All World WR Julio Jones.

Last season, Brown established himself as the second coming of Terrell Owens, playing the 14 games with likely meniscal tears in both knees en route to a WR11 finish in .5PPR scoring. His 90.1 PFF receiving grade was T-6th in the NFL and his 2.65 Yards per Route Run (Y/RR) was 4th, behind Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson, and George Kittle (min. 50 targets).

In terms of how AJB and Julio will interact on-field though, things get tricky. Julio’s been plagued by hamstring strains in recent years and that’s typically not an injury that improves with time. There are procedures that can remove the scar tissue that forms in these events, but we have no way of knowing whether he received these treatments or not. The veteran receiver is reportedly dealing with a “leg” injury already and the invaluable Dr. Jesse Morse of let us know that Tennessee’s hamstring protocols are notoriously concerning.

All in all, both stud receivers are worth drafting. A.J. Brown is a must draft at his current 3.01, WR8 ADP right now and Julio Jones could pay massive dividends at his respective 4.06, WR15 spot. While on the field last year, the latter receiver was still a dominant force to be reckoned with, producing a 2.60 Y/RR mark which placed him one spot below his new teammate in that category.

RB Derrick Henry (RB2)

This year’s RB2, Derrick Henry, finished 2020 as last year’s RB2 in .5PPR scoring. His 2,141 yards from scrimmage (2,027 on the ground) and 17 touchdowns earned him the No. 1 rushing grade per PFF (92.1). One might wish Henry was seeing more passing game work but the 397 touches he saw in 2020, 41 more than the next closest running back, should quiet any usage concerns.

Related: Bold Running Back Predictions for 2021 Fantasy Football

If anything, that gaudy total might make drafters a little nervous about his durability. That said, the sixth-year back has missed just two games due to injury in his NFL career. Should Henry see another 375+ touch season again this year, it will be reasonable to knock him a few pegs in 2022 but for now, draft The Big Dog confidently at, or ahead of, his 1.04, RB3 ADP.


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