Entering any new NFL season, so much is unknown. As the infamous quote from former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Mora Sr. goes: “You think you know, but you don't know, and you never will.” The best fantasy managers need to know what they don’t know and be able to research and ask questions before investing draft capital in a player. Sometimes it’s simply finding out about a player’s health. Other times it’s more complicated and one is forced to project how a player may be used differently in a new offense because of a trade, free agent signing, or a new head coach.
This division-by-division series will look at each of the NFL’s 32 teams and ask one fantasy-relevant question that needs to be answered this season. Some will be answered by or before Week 1, others may take 17 weeks to flesh out. Let’s look at the AFC South.
How Can Houston Replace DeAndre Hopkins/Will Any WRs Stay Healthy?
The most shocking move of the offseason that many could’ve easily confused for a bad Madden trade saw one of the best players in football (Hopkins) shipped off to the Arizona Cardinals in a trade for running back David Johnson and a second-round pick. The Texans also traded for wide receiver Brandin Cooks and signed slot receiver Randall Cobb in free agency. The top of their receiver room now features the talented, but oft-injured Will Fuller, with Cooks, Cobb, Kenny Stills, and Keke Coutee slotting behind him.
I think we can definitively say the answer to the first question is “no,” as there are few players in the world who can replace Hopkins and none of them reside in Houston. As for the second question, sure, some receivers will stay healthy. However, the top two options (Fuller and Cooks) are more likely to play 10 games than 16. That would be manageable for Houston if quarterback Deshaun Watson could target Hopkins 170 times per season as he’s done in the past, but it won’t fly this year. Draft a Texans wide receiver at your own risk.
Can Ryan Tannehill Do It Again?
Make no mistake, Tannehill saved the Titans’ 2019 season. He took over for Marcus Mariota as the team’s starter after Tennessee was blanked 16-0 by the Denver Broncos and fell to 2-4 to start the season. What followed was nothing short of remarkable, as Tannehill’s career resurgence led to him being one of, if not the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL last season, while leading the Titans to a 7-3 finish and a playoff berth. Upset road wins in New England and Baltimore allowed Tennessee to make its first AFC Championship Game appearance since 1999. They ultimately lost to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs, but it was a highly successful season, regardless.
The same goes for the 2019 fantasy season. From Weeks 7-17, Tannehill was the No. 3 overall quarterback in total points and average fantasy points per game. Rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown was the WR7 in total points in that stretch as well. Can Tannehill do it again in 2020? If so, how good will Brown be in his sophomore campaign?
Are We Writing Marlon Mack Off Too Soon?
If you listen to the TDN Fantasy Podcast, you know how much I preach, “it’s not about what we want to happen, it’s about figuring out what’s most likely to happen.” Yet, I too can get caught riding the hype train for certain players each preseason. One of those guys is rookie running back Jonathan Taylor, the second-round pick out of Wisconsin. He’s a phenomenal athlete that projects to be a true three-down back in Indianapolis in the years to come—maybe even 2020. But are we a little too excited about the possibilities?
Mack has been pretty darn good when he’s been on the field the last couple seasons. He was the RB15 in average PPR fantasy points per game in 2018 and the RB24 in that same category last season. Despite not getting a lot of work in the receiving game, Mack was very useful as an RB2. Mack is currently going outside the top 100 overall as the RB43. Has the hate gone too far? How big of a role will Mack (and Taylor) have in 2020?
Were D.J. Chark’s Late-Season Struggles An Aberration Or Sign Of Things To Come?
Chark’s first 10 games of 2019 were sensational, especially considering he was catching the majority of his passes from a sixth-round rookie quarterback thrust into action way earlier than anyone expected. The former LSU receiver caught 51 passes for 796 yards and eight touchdowns through Week 11, ranking as the No. 5 overall fantasy wide receiver. Then, things went downhill. Chark had only one week with nine or more fantasy points the rest of the way, ranking as the WR56 on a points-per-game basis over the final six weeks (five games).
Gardner Minshew is entrenched as the starter in Jacksonville for this season, at least, with Jay Gruden as the new offensive coordinator. Will Chark match his WR1 production from most of 2019? Will he be an afterthought in 2020 like he was over the final six weeks of last season? Will he be somewhere in the middle, finishing closer to WR17, where he finished last season in total fantasy points? Check back after September.