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Fantasy Football analysis of AFC North teams

Oct 29, 2023

One of the most common ways to get started on your fantasy football preparation for the season ahead is to not only look at positional rankings but also at the state of each NFL team's offense.

Which teams are most set up for success? Which teams are set to struggle? Which of those expected bottom-feeder teams have latent fantasy talent to mine from? Which of those top teams could actually disappoint fantasy managers?

Over the coming weeks, fantasy football analyst Liz Loza will sift through every division and highlight the biggest fantasy issues facing each team within. Next up, the AFC South.

Derrick Henry's cliff has long been pondered.

Coming off a broken foot — on which he did, in on-brand anomalistic fashion, play in the divisional round of the 2021 postseason — the contemplation has only increased.

Per a recent Twitter poll, the fantasy community appears overwhelmingly confident in King Henry's ability to ROI on his top-five ADP:

I’m not as convinced.

This is a back with over 1,400 pro carries to his name. And he's on a team that will feed him, but is devoid of field stretchers. Coming off a season with an RB43 True Yards Per Carry (4.0), Tennessee's lack of dynamism doesn't figure to boost his efficiency. After all, he averaged just 3.1 YPC the last time he was on the field.

Yet, there's an even more intriguing stat — from before the injury — that has me fading the Titans RB1.

Kudos to Dalton Del Don for mentioning Henry's BMT percentage (a metric created by Sports Info Solutions that measures Broken Tackles plus Missed Tackles per Attempt) on the Yahoo Fantasy Forecast. As Mike Tanier of Football Outsiders explains, most upper-echelon fantasy backs record a BMT% in the mid to high teens (ex: Jonathan Taylor managed a BMT% of 16.3%). Nearly every recognizable fantasy producer manages double-digit numbers.

But Henry was sandwiched between Saquon Barkley (RB35 FPTS/gm) and Myles Gaskin (RB42 FPTS/gm) with a BMT% of 9.6 percent (150 carry minimum). Adding insult to injury, Henry's broken tackle percentage has steadily declined since 2017. However, in 2021 he hit an all-time low — likely foreshadowing what's to come in 2022.

Personally, I’d rather stack up on elite receiving talent and take a swing at an upstart runner with upside in the RB20 range than select Henry with a top-five draft pick.

At +2500 odds to win the AFC South, it's hard to imagine game script favoring Houston's backfield, but that doesn't mean that Pep Hamilton hasn't been instructed to establish the run. In fact, one of his primary objectives (outside of, of course, continuing to develop Davis Mills) is to improve the productivity of the backfield (which managed a league-low 3.4 YPC in 2021).

Given the potential possessed by Marlon Mack and Dameon Pierce, Hamilton should find success in that endeavor while virtual game managers mine for undetected gold.

On a recent episode of the Yahoo Fantasy Football Forecast, Matt Harmon and I discussed the likelihood of Mack being leapfrogged by Pierce mid-season. The rookie is a bowling-ball of a back (5-foot-10 and 224 pounds) who utilizes power and balance to steamroll defenders and gain yardage. He doesn't have long speed (4.59), and he's never been a featured back (failed to top 17 touches over his college career), but he has demonstrated ability as a pass-catcher and impressed throughout the evaluation process. Selected in the fourth round of last April's draft and at 22-years-old, the upside is obvious.

Noting the volatility of the position and given that both RBs are being drafted within a round of each other, I’m in favor of stashing the rookie. He might not start the year with a full workload, but the freshness of his legs and his skill set relative to the team's offensive identity are a recipe for sleeper success.

#FantasyTwitter certainly doesn't think so.

I’m stunned that over 35 percent of Yahoo Fantasy followers believe Pittman will finish his third pro campaign as a middling WR2. He was the WR19 last year! Assuming a healthy season, he figures to crush his 2021 numbers.

Let's review.

The exits of T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal and Jack Doyle free up nearly 150 looks. A good number of those will certainly sail Alec Pierce's way, but Pittman is the alpha on this squad. His 7.5 looks per game figures to hold steady. Given the change in QB, his efficiency — and thus, his production — should drastically improve.

Matty may be more Slush than Ice at this point in his career … but he's still an upgrade on Carson Wentz. Last year Matt Ryan smashed Wentz's numbers in nearly every efficiency category. (And it's not like the Falcons’ season wasn't without drama.) For example, Ryan recorded top-11 numbers in True Completion Percentage (72.5%) and a top-eight Accuracy Rating (7.8). Wentz, on the other hand, fell outside of the top-27 players at the position in both categories.

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If we already know Pittman is in line for 125 targets, and we expect a conversion rate better than his 68.2% from last year, then a 90-catch season is within reach. Fold in the former Trojan's physicality after the catch (341 YAC in 2021, WR22) and a second 1,000-yard season also comes into view. Noting his red-zone profile (6-foot-4 and 223 pounds; accounted for over 22% of Wentz's passing scores in 2021), an improvement upon his 6 TDs from the previous season feels more probable than possible.

Therefore a 90-1,100-8 stat line is well within reason … which makes him a top 12-14 option.

TLDR: He's my RB24.

Etienne was fantasy's consensus RB25 last summer before suffering a Lisfranc injury in mid-late August. Per current ADP data, he's coming off draft boards in the fifth round (No. 52 overall), sandwiched between J.K. Dobbins and Damien Harris.

That feels right.

The Jaguars used two top-25 picks to ship Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne from Clemson to Jacksonville. It was arguably the brightest moment of the Urban Meyer era.

The aforementioned Lisfranc injury forced Etienne to miss the whole of his rookie campaign and put the Tigers’ reunion tour on pause. But reports out of OTAs indicate that the 23-year-old's explosiveness is BACK.

That's what makes Etienne so special. He's just got that get-off. A big-play threat whenever the ball is in his hands, the second-year rusher owns elite acceleration and an uncanny ability to spin and slip. Recording 16 career touchdowns of 40+ yards in college, there's no denying his prowess in space. He's also a deft pass-catcher who converted 48 of 58 balls for 588 receiving yards (12 games) and averaged 12.3 YPR over his senior campaign.

But fantasy breakouts require talent and an optimal situation.

The Jags spent upwards of $120M collecting pass-catchers over free agency. And Doug Pederson loves himself an RBBC. So the road to fantasy glory isn't without its obstacles for the phenom.

Except … he's a phenom competing against James Robinson, who continues to work his way back from a ruptured Achilles (Week 16). The only other short-yardage competition for ETN is fifth-round rookie Snoop Conner. Plus, Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram are all new to Lawrence.

Not Etienne, though. He connected with his college QB on 95 passes for 1,083 yards and seven receiving scores over three years (2018-2020) as a Tiger.

A young quarterback needs that sort of safety valve (even with Brandon Scherff in the lineup) and Etienne appears up for the challenge. He’ll flirt with double-digit carries and 3.5 catches per game, which could propel him inside the top-20, let alone the top-25.

Engage with Liz on social @LizLoza_FF

AFC South Is Derrick Henry worth a top-five overall pick? Derrick Henry Jonathan Taylor Saquon Barkley Myles Gaskin Houston Texans: Who is the sneakiest sleeper on this roster? Pep Hamilton Davis Mills Marlon Mack Dameon Pierce Indianapolis Colts: Will Michael Pittman be a top-10 WR in 2022? T.Y. Hilton Zach Pascal Jack Doyle Alec Pierce Carson Wentz Matt Ryan [ Set, hut, hike! Create or join a fantasy football league now! ] Jacksonville Jaguars: Will Travis Etienne outperform his rookie season expectations in 2022? TLDR: J.K. Dobbins Damien Harris Trevor Lawrence Travis Etienne Doug Pederson James Robinson Snoop Conner Christian Kirk Zay Jones Evan Engram Brandon Scherff Engage with Liz on social @LizLoza_FF Listen to the Yahoo Fantasy Football Forecast