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2013 Wrap-Up Report and Early 2014 Preview: AFC South

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Houston Texans

 

QB: In last year’s Texan wrap-up, we wrote that Schaub looked like he “didn’t have much in his arsenal” anymore, and that “Schaub is now considered one of the main culprits in the Texans’ inability to get over the hump.” Well, we didn’t realize just how bad it’d get. A chic pick to make the Super Bowl, the Texans lost 14 straight games after a 2-0 start. And Schaub ended up benched, booed, and reviled in Houston. He appeared in 10 games, starting eight of them, and completed 219/358 passes (61.2%) for 2310 yards, with 10 TDs and 14 INTs. In Week Five, Schaub set an NFL record by tossing a pick-six for the fourth consecutive game, and it was just about all she wrote from that point on. Schaub dealt with an ankle injury throughout the year, but aside from a few random appearances and two starts at the end of the year for an injured Case Keenum, his career in was just about unsalvageable once the Texans lost four in a row after their 2-0 start. Schaub ranked 39th among all NFL QBs with 15.8 FPG, so he wasn’t a fantasy option beyond the first couple of weeks of the season (Schaub had three starts in which he failed to post double-digit fantasy points). Eventually, coach Gary Kubiak gave into pressure and went to the young Keenum, passing over the underwhelming T.J. Yates. Keenum is more mobile than Schaub and was more willing to take shots down the field, which helped out WR Andre Johnson at times. But he was incredibly raw, especially in the mental aspects of the game. Keenum made eight starts and went 137/253 (54.2%) for 1760 yards, with 9 TDs and 6 INTs. He averaged 6.96 YPA to Schaub’s 6.45, and added 14/72/1 rushing. But Keenum often played far better in the first half of games than in the second, when teams made pressure adjustments that Keenum failed to recognize. On two occasions, Kubiak benched Keenum for Schaub midgame, earning the ire of Texan fans. Keenum still outpaced Schaub for fantasy, ranking #29 among QBs with 17.2 FPG, but he was a prayer of a fantasy option at best. He has a ton to work on, and it certainly wouldn’t be surprising if new coach Bill O’Brien doesn’t think his style of game will fit in the new offense. Schaub is owed big money, so he’s almost certain to be cut, and Keenum is a project at best. The Texans desperately need a quarterback.

 

  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2014: Will the Texans use the #1 overall pick on a quarterback? Where will Schaub end up? Can Keenum stick as a backup?

 

RB: In 2013, the fantasy world was filled with players who didn’t want any part of Texan RB Arian Foster in the top of the first round. Those players (including us) cited Foster’s lengthy injury history, his large workloads, and his declining rate stats from 2012 as reasons to be concerned. Turns out, avoiding Foster was a prudent move for fantasy players. Playing eight games in 2013 before hamstring and back injuries landed him on IR, Foster carried 121 times for 542 yards (4.5 YPC) and only 1 TD, adding 22/183/1 receiving on 35 targets (62.9%). On the year, Foster averaged 13.3 FPG, which ranked him 17th among all RBs. However, it’s only fair to realize that in his final two appearances of the year, he left the action after totaling 4 carries for 11 yards before succumbing to injuries. In his first six games of the year, full performances each, he averaged a 9th-most 17.6 FPG and tied for second in the NFL with 117 carries. So when on the field, he still produced. The problem is that the injuries have been part of Foster’s history, and now he’ll be entering his age 28 season coming off back surgery. Foster is expected to be ready for camp and he remains under contract, and at least we know he was still productive this year before getting hurt. However, he’ll be older, playing under a new coach, and will almost certainly be viewed as “damaged goods” come the fantasy draft season next summer. An accurate evaluation on him can’t really be made until we see how he progresses. Someone who isn’t under contract is Ben Tate, who started for most of the year for the Texans after Foster got hurt. In 14 games, Tate carried 181 times for 771 yards and 4 TDs, an average of 4.3 YPC. He added 34/140/0 receiving on 49 targets (69.4%). He ranked 35th among RBs in a PPR with 10.7 FPG. However, between Weeks Seven and Fifteen, when Tate got the majority of his playing time with Foster hurt, he posted 12.2 FPG, ranking 24th at the position, so he was a high-end flex option. Now, Tate’s numbers have been bigger as a starter in the past, but remember that he played most of the season with broken ribs that forced him to injured reserve before Week Sixteen. Considering what he played through, the fact that he managed to have even one 100-yard rushing performance was amazing. Tate, however, is a free agent, and does not expect to return to Houston. The question, of course, is whether or not he’ll get the money he’s obviously seeking on the open market. With the injuries and the poor season, the Texans also got opportunities to play some young backs. Rookie Dennis Johnson ran for 49/183/0 in eight games, including 13/74 against Jacksonville in Week Twelve. And intriguing second-year player, Jonathan Grimes out of William and Mary, started in Week Seventeen for an injured Tate, and Johnson and posted 16/50/1 rushing and 6/76 receiving. Grimes was a good fit in the Texans’ traditional one-cut zone scheme, but will that change under Bill O’Brien?

 

  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2014: Where will Tate end up? Can the Texans trust Foster in 2014 coming off back surgery? If Tate is gone, can one of the Texans’ young backs stick as a contributor?

 

WR/TE: At some point, you just have to feel bad for Texan WR Andre Johnson, who is putting together a Hall-of-Fame career, despite playing on a traditionally bad team with QB Matt Schaub, who was very solid at his peak but subpar at his worst. And despite the Texans finishing with the worst record in the entire NFL this season, Johnson had yet another massive season. In 16 games, he hauled in 109/1407/5 receiving on 179 targets (60.9%). He finished #13 among all WRs, with 17.5 FPG. But it’s fair to argue that Johnson’s upside was far greater without Schaub than with him. Schaub saw action in 10 games in 2013. In those games, he targeted Johnson 104 times, completing 65 passes for 746 yards. But Andre averaged only 11.5 YPC with Schaub, as opposed to 15.0 YPC on 44/661/5 from Case Keenum (42 receptions) and T.J. Yates (2 receptions). Johnson hasn’t averaged more than 15.0 YPC over a full season since 2009, and his performance with the check down-happy Schaub this year was at an all-time low. While Johnson’s catch rate (59%) was lower with Keenum, he simply made more plays, and had all of his 5 TDs with Keenum in. The situation came to a head late in a game in which Keenum was benched for Schaub, after which Johnson and Schaub got into a sideline altercation. Johnson’s bound for Canton when his career is up, but he recognizes he has some good years left in him, and it was frustrating to see him lose a healthy year to a dysfunctional team. He needs a QB in the worst way, and it’s up to Bill O’Brien to find him one. It’s also up to O’Brien to harness the natural ability of WR DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans’ first-round pick in April 2013, Hopkins battled through rookie pains to post 52/802/2 (15.4 YPC) on 91 targets (57.1%). With Hopkins finishing #66 among WRs with 9.0 FPG, there’s no doubt he was a disappointing fantasy player as a rookie. He posted 7/117/1 on 13 targets in Week Two, and all of those numbers proved to be season-highs (he peaked early, like the rest of his team). After catching 18 balls through his first three games, Hopkins totaled only 34 over his last 13. He also was benched later in the season for drops and poor route running. It’s good that an offensive mind like O’Brien is coming in to work with him, because there’s way too much talent here to go to waste. It’s fair to wonder if the toxic QB situation stunted Hopkins’ rookie development. At tight end, the Texans didn’t have their star for most of the year. Owen Daniels played in only five games, hauling in 24/252/3 on 41 targets (58.5%), before losing his year to a broken leg. His loss was big for fantasy, as he had double-digit PPR performances in four of his five appearances. Owed over $6 million next season, the injury-prone Daniels could need to restructure his contract if he wants to stay in Houston. His backup, Garrett Graham, played in 13 games and posted decent numbers, going for 49/545/5 on 88 targets (55.7%). He averaged 10.3 FPG and was a half-decent fantasy fill-in guy if you needed him (although 3 of his 5 TDs came in games in which Daniels was active, curiously). With Graham headed to free agency, it’ll be interesting to see if the Texans are willing to hand a bigger role to Ryan Griffin, a talented player who had 19/244/1 receiving on 28 targets (67.9%). The Texans got only marginal production from Keshawn Martin (22/253/2) and DeVier Posey (15/155/0), the latter of whom was coming off an Achilles tear.

 

  • Fantasy situation to watch in 2014: Can the Texans find a QB to click with Andre? Can Hopkins take a step forward under a new coach in 2014? With Daniels owed big money and Graham hitting free agency, does the team project a bigger role for Griffin next season?

 

Key Free Agents: RB Ben Tate, TE Garrett Graham, DE Antonio Smith, OG Wade Smith, OT Ryan Harris, LB Joe Mays, LB Darryl Sharpton, FB Greg Jones, WR Lestar Jean (RFA), LB Ricky Sapp, CB Elbert Mack.

 

Indianapolis Colts

 

QB: Andrew Luck’s strong rookie season created high expectations coming into 2013. While he was transitioning to a new offense with the departure of OC Bruce Arians, the good news (or so we thought) was that Arians’ replacement would be Luck’s college OC, Pep Hamilton. While the Colts were aggressive and attacked downfield under Arians, Hamilton’s offense had more West Coast concepts, which we figured might hurt his YPA in more of a shorter passing attack. His YPA dropped from 6.98 in 2012 to 6.71 in 2013. Unfortunately, the offense got a little too conservative at times and the attempts to establish a power running game didn’t work out with the injuries to RBs Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard and the struggles of RBs Trent Richardson and Donald Brown. We were frustrated to see the ball taken out of Luck’s hands too often, whether it is as a result of the play-calling or generally conservative nature of the team as a whole. Of course, two of the biggest hits came when TE Dwayne Allen was lost for the season after just one game and WR Reggie Wayne suffered a torn ACL in Week Seven. While WR T.Y. Hilton ended up having a solid season, he was the de facto #1 WR when Wayne went down and did struggle with more of a prominent role. TE Coby Fleener has not developed into anything more than a decent player at this point and didn’t really take advantage of his role increasing with Allen out. Luck ended up going 345/572 (60.3%) for 3830 yards, 23 TDs, and 9 INT while adding 63/377/4 on the ground, which put him 9th among QBs at 21.6 FPG. We thought Luck would end up a little higher on the season, but the losses of Allen and especially Wayne certainly hurt. After Wayne was lost in Week Seven, Luck would hit 20 FP just four times over the rest of the year. Indy’s OL was an issue for Luck as a rookie and remained a problem in 2013, although he took just 32 sacks this past season compared to 41 in 2012. We know Luck can make all the throws, extend plays with his legs, and take off when he needs to because he may be the most physically gifted player at the position, which is why we like him so much. However, he still needs help, whether it’s the OL or receiving corps, and we hope the latter will come from the returns of Allen and Wayne. The future is bright for Luck, and we’ll continue to consider him one of the very best QBs in the league.

 

  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2014: Will Luck’s numbers improve in his second season under Hamilton? Will the Colts address their OL issues?

 

RB: The Colts opened their season with Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw considered their top options in the backfield. At that point, RB Donald Brown looked like a lame-duck heading into a contract year in what would likely be his final season with the team. Unfortunately, Ballard tore his ACL heading into Week Two and was lost for the rest of the year. Bradshaw would last just three games before landing on the IR with a neck injury. When Ballard went down, the team decided to trade a first-round pick to the Browns in exchange for RB Trent Richardson. The move was a clear indication they were attempting to make a run this year, but it ended up backfiring in a big way. Richardson never really got going behind a shaky Colt OL that didn’t open up enough holes, but the blame has to fall on Richardson, as well. He looked tentative and didn’t hit holes with conviction, which lead to a lot of stops in the backfield or minimal gains. In fact, Richardson’s struggles were so bad, the team turned to Brown, not only as part of the mix in this backfield, but also as a starter for the final five games of the season and two playoff appearances. Brown didn’t light it up, but he was clearly quicker than Richardson and gave the team some juice, thanks to his speed. Richardson finished the season with 188 carries for 563 yards (3 YPC) and 3 TDs while adding 35/316/1 on 52 targets (67.3% catch rate), putting him 42nd among RBs at 9.2 FPG. He played 16 games this season, but made his Colt debut in Week Three against the 49ers. Brown would play every game, rushing 102 times for 537 yards (5.3 YPC) and 6 TDs while adding 27/214/2 on 35 targets (77.1% catch rate), which was good for 9.4 FPG (41st among RBs). Obviously, these are not strong numbers for an offense that wanted to impose their will as a power rushing team and something has to change in 2014. Bradshaw likely won’t be back, and Brown’s status may be determined by Ballard’s recovery, which he says will have him ready by OTAs. More than anything else, the team needs to get a lot more out of Richardson, who was one of the biggest disappointments in 2013 and needs to prove the Browns didn’t steal a first-round pick from the Colts.

 

  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2014: Can Richardson bounce back from a terrible 2013 season? Will Ballard be ready to go and if so, what role will he play? Might the team bring back Brown?

 

WR/TE: The Colts built up their offense through the 2012 draft and besides the selection of QB Andrew Luck, they selected WR T.Y. Hilton and TEs Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. That young group, along with WR Reggie Wayne and the addition of WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, looked like a solid receiving corps to work with Luck. Things got off to a bad start when Allen was lost to a hip injury after just one game. He ended up having more invasive surgery than expected and his 3-4 month recovery could take up to six months, dating back to the October procedure, so OTAs may not a realistic return date. The team suffered another blow when Wayne was lost to a torn ACL in Week Seven. He had 39/508/2 (13 YPC) on 58 targets (67.2% catch rate) and 14.5 FPG at the time of his injury. Wayne is already onto straight-line running and all indications are that he’s ahead of schedule. The loss of Allen and Wayne put more pressure on this young receiving corps to step up and the results weren’t always pretty. Heyward-Bey had a terrible season, catching 29 of 64 targets (45.3% catch rate) for 309 yards and a TD in 13 games, putting him at 5.3 FPG. He’s a free agent a likely won’t be back. Hilton was thrust into a bigger role as a the de facto #1 WR, which he struggled with at times, although strong performances in Week Seventeen (11/155) and two playoff games (17/327/2) have us feeling very good about him going into 2014, especially if Wayne and Allen are back to draw some coverage away from him. Hilton ended up with 83/1086/5 (13.1 YPC) on 138 targets (60.1% catch rate), which was good for 13.9 FPG (25th among WRs). Thanks to the injuries, the Colts had push other, less experienced WRs into the mix with shaky results. WR LaVon Brazill, who missed the first four games due to a substance-abuse violation, ended up playing in nine games, but posted just 12/161/2 (13.4 YPC) on 27 targets. WR Griff Whalen, who bounced on and off the practice squad, saw action in 9 games and posted 24/259/2 (10.8 YPC) on 39 targets (61.5% catch rate) and 6.9 FPG. WR Da’Rick Rogers was another player promoted from the practice quad late in the season and flashed, putting up 14/192/2 (13.7 YPC) on 23 targets and 11.3 FPG. With Allen’s absence, Fleener’s fantasy value shot up, but he was tough to trust even with an expanded role. He had 52/608/4 (11.7 YPC) on 86 targets (60.5% catch rate) and was 23rd among TEs at 8.6 FPG. Allen’s return should put the team in more 2-TE sets, and while that may not be great for the fantasy value of either player, it’s definitely good news for Luck and the offense.

 

  • Fantasy situation to watch for 2014: Can Wayne and Allen return to give this receiving corps a much-needed boost? Can Hilton build on a strong finish to the season, and will he continue to have a major role even of Wayne is back and healthy? Will Rogers, Whalen, and Brazill remain in the mix?

 

Key Free Agents: RB Donald Brown, RB Ahmad Bradshaw, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, OL Jeff Linkenbach, OL Mike Johnson, OL Mike McGlynn, DE Ricardo Mathews, DE Lawrence Sidbury, DT Aubrayo Franklin, DT Fili Moala, LB Pat Angerer, LB Kavell Conner, CB Vontae Davis, CB Cassius Vaughn, S Antoine Bethea, S Sergio Brown, PK Adam Vinatieri, P Pat McAfee.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

 

QB: Every team that the Jaguars beat this season (Titans, Browns, Texans twice) fired their coach this off-season, so apparently losing to QB Chad Henne just isn’t acceptable. However, Henne was clearly the better option over Week One starter Blaine Gabbert. The Gabbert project in Jacksonville has been a complete and utter failure, and the franchise will move on this off-season and try to find its next quarterback. He played in just three games this season, dealing with hand and hamstring issues, but the Jags eventually benched him for Henne even when Gabbert was back to full strength. Gabbert finished the year 42/86 (48.8%) for 481 yards and a whopping 1 TD to 7 INTs. Henne had one interception for every 35.9 pass attempts, and Gabbert had one interception for every 12.3 pass attempts. The Jaguars threw 14 TD passes to 21 interceptions, their worst ratio in team history. Henne appeared in 15 games this season, completing 305/503 (60.6%) for 3241 yards, 13 TDs, and 14 INTs, ranking him 35th among QBs with 14.8 FPG. Henne did play his best at the end of the season from Week Thirteen on, posting 1117/9/5 for 19.5 FPG in five games. The Jaguars ranked 22nd in the league in passing yards (3441), despite attempting the 11th most passes (592) because they trailed so much. The Jaguars also allowed the 2nd-most sacks this season, giving up 50 sacks, once again thanks to so many garbage-time efforts in the second half of games. It looks like the Jags will have a shot at grabbing QBs Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles, or Teddy Bridgewater with the #3 overall pick in May, and we’d certainly expect them to make a major move at quarterback this off-season. We wouldn’t be shocked if the Jaguars released Gabbert this off-season, but GM Dave Caldwell said he expects to bring Gabbert back in 2014 since he’s under contract. Henne isn’t under contract, but he’d probably be the more ideal veteran backup QB to a potentially new franchise quarterback. Just how much demand there is for Henne as a backup QB in the free market could decide the fate of both current Jaguar QBs. HC Gus Bradley and his new regime made 246 roster moves through the end of 2013, but they’ll make their most important move yet this off-season when they decide who will be the new face of the franchise at quarterback. The Jaguars used top-10 picks on Gabbert and Byron Leftwich since 2003, so they need to make the #3 overall pick count in May.

 

  • Fantasy situations to watch for 2014: Will the Jaguars use the #3 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft to select the franchise’s next quarterback? Will Gabbert return to be a backup next season, or will the Jags cut ties with former top-10 pick?

 

RB: The Jaguars have had very little to hang their hat on the last couple seasons, but at least fan-favorite Maurice Jones-Drew has been one reason to watch Jaguar football. Well, MJD’s run in Jacksonville might be coming to an end very soon. Things have gotten so bad in Jacksonville that the team is willing to let one of the franchise’s all-time best players test free agency this year. However, it might be best for both Jones-Drew and the Jags if the two sides part ways. MJD deserves a chance at making a playoff run and the Jags aren’t anywhere close to postseason contention right now. Still, the Jags could still have a chance to re-sign their veteran leader if the market price isn’t too steep for a 29-year-old running back. The Jaguars set a single-season franchise low for fewest rushing yards, with 1260 or 78.8 per game. It’s the second straight season they set a franchise record for fewest rushing yards in a season. It was just two seasons ago when MJD led the NFL with 1606 yards in 2011. In 15 games, MJD finished the year with 235 carries for 803 yards (3.4 YPC) and 5 TDs. He added 43 catches for 314 yards (7.3 YPC) on 59 targets (72.9% catch rate), ranking him 21st among RBs with 12.6 FPG. The Jaguars had the 2nd-fewest rushes of 10+ yards in the league, with just 27. For perspective, the Eagles led the league with 74. The Jags also had the fewest rushing yards on first-and-10 plays, with just 592 yards. The Jaguars played from behind so much that they ran the ball on just 37.1% of their snaps (27th in NFL), despite MJD being their most dangerous weapon on offense, especially with WR Justin Blackmon suspended for the year. The Jags ran for 100 yards as a team just four times this season, so they need to get OT Luke Joeckel healthy and some players to help along the O-line. RB Jordan Todman looked like a viable backup to MJD this season, and he had a nice showing as the starter in Week Fifteen against the Bills with 25/109. He finished the year with 75 carries for 256 yards (3.4 YPC) and 2 TDs, and he added 14 catches for 116 yards (8.3 YPC) and 1 TD on 25 targets (56% catch rate). Todman is a restricted free agent, so they could look to retain him if they can’t keep MJD in the fold for next season. The Jags certainly won’t hand the starting job to Todman next season, but he could be in the mix to compete for the starting job next training camp, depending on what direction the team decides to go with their backfield. The Jags are expected to release Justin Forsett after just one season that saw him carry just 6 times for 31 yards in nine games. He battled foot issues for most of the season. Forsett is certainly expendable as the Jags will try to get RB Denard Robinson more involved next season after he saw just 20 carries for 66 yards (3.3 YPC) in 16 games this season. Robinson, a former QB at Michigan, will have a full off-season to learn the running back spot, so he should be more comfortable in the backfield, and he should get more touches. He’s certainly an intriguing player going forward if they can figure out how to maximize his athleticism.

 

  • Fantasy situations to watch for 2014: IS MJD as good as gone in Jacksonville or will a limited market bring him back to the Jags? If MJD is gone, will Todman get a chance to start or will the Jags look for outside help? Will Robinson get a more defined role in the backfield next season?

 

WR/TE: WR Justin Blackmon missed the first four games of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely on Nov. 1, 2013 for once again violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Blackmon played like a stud in 2013, but he saw action in just four games, compiling 29 catches for 415 yards (14.3 YPC) and 1 TD on 48 targets (60.4% catch rate). Blackmon is an extremely talented player on a roster that is sorely lacking playmakers, but the Jaguars could be tired of his off-the-field exploits and could cut ties with him. Blackmon will have to show some major progress off the field for the Jaguars to keep him around and for the NFL to reinstate him at the start of the 2014 season. Blackmon has worn out his welcome in just two seasons, but he’s an extremely talented player and can be a game-changer when he stays on the field. Blackmon and WR Cecil Shorts played together in just four games, so the Jaguar passing game wasn’t at 100% for the vast majority of the season. Shorts wasn’t at 100% for a good chunk of the season as well, as a sports hernia forced him to miss the final three games of the year. He struggled through the injury for most of the season, which shows he’s a pretty tough customer. He finished the year with 66/777/3 (11.8 YPC) on 120 targets (55% catch rate), ranking him 29th among WRs with 12.4 FPG. Shorts had his hernia surgery in late December, and it’s typically a six-week recovery from the procedure, so he should be ready to go for all the off-season workouts. Shorts has the potential for a nice bounce back season since he won’t be playing through a hernia, and the quarterback spot should be upgraded. Rookie 4th-round pick Ace Sanders actually finished second on the team in receiving, with 51/484/1 (9.5 YPC) on 85 targets (60% catch rate). Sanders has been compared to Ram rookie WR Tavon Austin, because of both his size (5’7”, 178 pounds) and his elusiveness in the open field. The Jags got Ace more involved late in the season after Blackmon’s suspension, so he could be an intriguing late-round fantasy player out of the slot next season. Second-year WR Mike Brown likely earned himself a chance as a backup next season, posting 32/446/2 (13.9 YPC) on 55 targets (58.2% catch rate) in 11 games and six starts. Third-year WR Kerry Taylor did catch 8/75/1 in Week Seventeen and 22/229/1 for the season, so he could battle Brown for a backup role. The Jaguars ranked 27th in pass plays that went for 20+ yards, with just 44 plays, but they did rank 10th in YAC (2152) this season. That speaks to the after the catch ability of Shorts and Sanders, but mostly toward Henne’s lack of ability to throw the ball downfield. Blackmon is also elite after the catch if he comes back next season. TE Marcedes Lewis has been critical to this offense because of his run blocking since he broke into the league in 2006. However, Lewis has shown in the past that he can be a passing weapon near the goal line, including a career-best 10 TD catches in 2010. QB Chad Henne realized late in the year to use Lewis’ huge frame (6’6”, 275 pounds) in the endzone, as Lewis caught TDs in four consecutive games in Weeks Thirteen through Sixteen. He finished the last five weeks of the season as the 7th-ranked TE, with 16/242/4 and 12.8 FPG. Lewis ended the year with 25/359/4 (14.4 YPC) on 47 targets (53.2% catch rate) in 11 games, so he still relies pretty heavily on endzone looks to produce for fantasy. If the Jags improve at quarterback this off-season, they should have more scoring opportunities, which makes Lewis a guy to keep an eye on.

 

  • Fantasy situations to watch for 2014: Will the Jaguars sever ties with the oft-troubled Blackmon, or will they give him one more chance if he’s reinstated for 2014? Could Shorts’ value rise with a healthy off-season after hernia surgery and with a new quarterback? Will Sanders get a bigger role in the offense now as the coaching staff will have more time to work with him? Can Lewis become an endzone threat once again if this offense becomes more potent?

 

Key Free Agents: RB Maurice Jones-Drew, QB Chad Henne, RB Jordan Todman (RFA), WR Mike Brown (ERFA), WR Taylor Price, TE Clay Harbor, TE Allen Reisner (RFA), RB Delone Carter, OT Cameron Bradfield (RFA), OT Austin Pasztor (ERFA), FB Will Ta’ufo’ou (ERFA), CB Will Blackmon, OT Sam Young, DE Ryan Davis (ERFA).

 

Tennessee Titans

 

QB: New Titan HC Ken Whisenhunt has gotten superb quarterback play out of Philip Rivers, Kurt Warner, and Ben Roethlisberger in his last three jobs. He also worked with Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Max Hall, Kevin Kolb, Brian Hoyer, and Ryan Lindley during his time in Arizona, so all his projects weren’t successful. Which group will Titan QB Jake Locker fall into? It’s also not out of the question that Whisenhunt could look for some competition for Locker in the draft or through free agency. Locker appeared to have started to turn a corner at the beginning of the season, throwing for 6 TDs and no INTs in the first four games of the year and averaging 19.0 FPG. However, hip and knee injuries eventually derailed his season starting in Week Four, and he never looked the same after those initial injuries when he returned in Week Seven. He started three more games before suffering a Lisfranc injury in Week Ten, which ended his season. Locker finished the year completing 111/183 (60.7%) for 1256 yards, 8 TDs, and 4 INTs, and adding 24/156/2 rushing for 17.5 FPG in seven games. Locker had the foot surgery in the middle of November, and he’s expected to need about 5-6 months to heal from the procedure, so he’ll be in jeopardy of missing some off-season workouts. Jaguar RB Maurice Jones-Drew and Jet WR Santonio Holmes each struggled to come back from similar Lisfranc injuries, so it’s not the easiest injury to overcome. The Titans made a smart move by going after veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to be the backup QB, but he’s not meant to make numerous starts during the season. He’s a better option than most as a backup, but he still makes way too many turnovers in critical spots. The Titans finished the year 4-7 in the 11 games that he appeared in, completing 217/350 (62%) for 2454 yards, 14 TDs, and 12 INTs. He added 43 carries for 225 yards, 3 TDs, and 2 fumbles, which ranked him 18th among QBs with 19.9 FPG. Fitz has a pretty friendly contract heading into 2014, but his fate could depend on if the Titans decide to bring in some competition for Locker. No matter what, the Titans need to make sure they have a viable option to go along with Locker because he’s played in just 18-of-32 games the last two seasons because of injuries. Locker had finally started to show a little more consistency and accuracy at the beginning of the season, but mounting injuries to his shoulder, knee, hip, and now his foot definitely have to worry the Titans and fantasy owners.

 

  • Fantasy situations to watch for 2014: Will the Titans count on Locker staying healthy after two injury-riddled seasons? Can Whisenhunt get the most out of the talented Locker? Will the Titans draft a quarterback in the early rounds to push Locker for the starting job?

 

RB: Running back Chris Johnson has had an interesting six-year run in Nashville, but his tenure could be coming to an end after yet another non-exciting season in 2013. Johnson said after the Titans’ final game that he may have played his final snap in Tennessee. CJ2K is owed a ton of money next season, and he’s already said that he’ll be unwilling to accept a pay cut, so the Titans may have to release their starting running back. He’s put together 1000-yard seasons in each of his first six years, but he hasn’t been an elite back since his 2009-2010 seasons. GM Ruston Webster didn’t exactly endorse Johnson during new HC Ken Whisenhunt’s introductory press conference in the middle of January either, so the relationship is feeling a little frosty right now. Johnson’s bone of contention is that he wants to have a bigger role, but the Titans aren’t willing to give him more touches after bringing in RB Shonn Greene. Johnson wants to get 300+ carries a season because he said that’s the only way he’s going to break his long runs, and he hasn’t carried 300+ times in his last three seasons. It came out after the season that Johnson suffered a meniscus tear in Week Three and played through the injury, and he needs off-season surgery to repair it. CJ2K has been incredibly durable during his first six seasons, as he missed just one game all the way back in his rookie season. It isn’t a major procedure, as he’ll need 4-6 weeks to recover, so it doesn’t completely forgive his lackluster season. Johnson didn’t exactly look explosive in the run game this past season, as he didn’t have a run longer than 30 yards this season, and he posted a career-low 3.9 YPC. Still, CJ2K managed to finish 12th among RBs this season with 15.3 FPG, largely because of a couple long TD catches this year. Johnson finished with 279/1077/6 rushing and 42/345/4 (8.2 YPC) receiving on 51 targets (82.4% catch rate). The Titans showed some improvement in the running game after the team went out of their way to beef up the offensive line. The Titans ranked 14th in 2013 after finishing 21st in 2012, but it wasn’t like Johnson or newly acquired Greene put together impressive seasons. Greene showed he could complement CJ2K in the backfield, but he wasn’t healthy nearly enough to make them a formidable duo. He played in 11 games because of a knee issue, carrying 77 times for 295 yards and 4 TDs (3.8 YPC) and catching 6 passes for 39 yards. Before the season, the Titans probably would’ve liked to have given Greene about 125-150 carries behind their revamped offensive line with new OGs Andy Levitre and rookie Chance Warmack. One area where Greene performed well was down near the goal line, as he scored 4 TDs on 7 goal-line and 13 red-zone carries. Greene is likely to stick in his backup/goal-line role next season, it’s just a question of whether he’ll play behind Johnson or another running back not yet on the Titans.

 

  • Fantasy situations to watch for 2014: Will Johnson be around for a seventh season with the Titans, or will the team decide to cut ties? If he does come back, can he get back the explosive element in the running game? If he doesn’t come back, will Greene be asked to start or will the Titans bring in a better option?

 

WR/TE: It looks like WR Kenny Britt’s tumultuous tenure in Tennessee is finally up, as he and RB Chris Johnson never could take this team to the next level. Britt’s likely final season in Nashville was an unmitigated disaster, to almost no one’s surprise. Britt finally stayed healthy enough to play this season, but he dropped nearly as many balls as he caught and the Titans made him a healthy scratch by the end of the year. He finished the year with just 11 catches for 96 yards (8.7 YPC) on 35 targets (31.4% catch rate). He certainly burned his fair share of bridges during his five years in Tennessee, so the franchise will be more than happy to let him walk. For as disappointing as Britt’s final season was, the Titans have to be ecstatic about the emergence of two potential young studs at wide receiver in Kendall Wright and rookie Justin Hunter. Wright became a PPR monster this season, finishing 7th in the league with 94 receptions, despite playing with two different quarterbacks. Wright finished with 1079 yards (11.5 YPC) on 138 targets (68.1% catch rate), but he did score only 2 TDs and had just 10 red-zone targets. Wright still finished 22nd among WRs, with 13.4 FPG, blowing away his rookie year numbers (64/626/4). Wright clearly developed into the #1 WR in the Titan offense, so he just needs to get more active down near the goal line. Wright has incredible ability to gain separation in space, which makes him a dangerous weapon out of the slot. Hunter is such an intriguing prospect on the outside, and he could help form a formidable tandem with Wright if he can start to play with some consistency and keep his head on straight off the field. Hunter flashed some big-time ability in the second half of the year, showing a flair for the big play. He drew some comparisons to Cincy’s A.J. Green out of college because of his elite size/speed combination, but he’s battled drops and his own antics the last couple of years. The Titans did deactivate him for a game in Week Fifteen, but as long as he can keep on the straight and narrow, he should carve out a significant role next season. In 13 games, Hunter posted 18 catches for 254 yards and 4 TDs, averaging a whopping 19.7 YPC. After speculation that he might be traded last off-season, it now looks like Nate Washington could to be in the team’s plans as the #3 WR next season, especially with Britt and Damian Williams set to hit the open market. Washington could take a pay cut next season, but the Titans need veteran depth in case Hunter can’t keep out of trouble. Washington quietly put together a solid season, catching 58 passes for 919 yards (15.8 YPC) and 3 TDs on 101 targets (57.4% catch rate). Williams has never really gotten a chance to play outside of 2011 when Britt went down early in the season, so he could look for his chance outside of Tennessee. TE Delanie Walker made a seamless transition into the Titan offense this season, and he emerged as an unlikely threat in the passing game. He more than doubled his career best numbers in catches, posting 60 receptions for 571 yards (9.5 YPC) and 6 TDs on 86 targets (69.8% catch rate), ranking 13th among TEs with 10.2 FPG. Walker played better in the second half of the year with noodle-armed QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, so Walker’s numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt. However, new HC Ken Whisenhunt had high praise for Walker, comparing him to his former TE Antonio Gates, and Whisenhunt could use plenty of 2-TE sets next season. TE Taylor Thompson was once thought to be a potential receiving threat, but he proved could be a solid run blocker this season. Thompson, a former defensive end from SMU, is still a major project heading into his third season, and he’s still behind Craig Stevens right now.

 

  • Fantasy situations to watch for 2014: It looks like the Titans will say good riddance to Britt, so can Hunter continue to emerge as a dangerous outside threat with some stud potential? Will Wright start to find the endzone after emerging as a PPR stud in 2013? Can Walker continue to be a top target in the Titan passing game?

 

Key Free Agents: WR Kenny Britt, WR Damian Williams, WR Kevin Walter, WR Marc Mariani, RB Jackie Battle, RB Leon Washington, CB Alterraun Verner, DE Ropati Pitoitua, SS Bernard Pollard, OT Michael Otto, C Robert Turner, OG Chris Spencer, DT Antonio Johnson, QB Rusty Smith, C Kevin Matthews.

 

 

 

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