Training Camp Preview: 7 Burning Questions in the AFC South and AFC West
This is the second installment of my four-part training camp preview. Today, I'll tackle the AFC South and AFC West. You can find links to the others below as they become available:
AFC East & AFC North | NFC East & NFC North | NFC South & NFC West
Who will win the WR2 job in Houston?
Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington essentially split the WR2 job last year, and neither player really produced consistently while the other was active. For example, Shorts essentially played two games without Washington and posted 6-87-1 against the Falcons and 4-63 against the Jaguars. Meanwhile, in four games with Shorts sidelined, Washington averaged 4.3 catches for 62 yards and 1.0 TD. So when one guy was injured, the other played at a 72-1064-13.3 pace over a six-game sample. Yowsers.
This is significant, especially when we consider that Andre Johnson (85-936-3 on 146 targets) was effectively the WR2 in 2014, and he finished as the #29 receiver in PPR formats. (DeAndre Hopkins finished #14 on 127 targets.) Whoever wins the WR2 job in Houston could end up as a fantasy starter, if they win the job outright.
Shorts took a pay cut to return, second-year (3rd-rounder) Jaelen Strong has slimmed down, and speedy 1st-round draft pick Will Fuller brings a specialized skill set. Braxton Miller is also in the mix.
Fuller has the draft capital, but Strong is an intriguing option, given he has an extra year of experience. He managed to find the end zone three times in 24 rookie year targets. He brings good size (6’2”), speed (4.44), catching radius, SPARQ scores, etc. He also has a February marijuana arrest that could result in a suspension.
Who will be the lead back in Jacksonville?
Early in the year, T.J. Yeldon was shaping up as a nice volume-driven, middle-round value, but then the Jaguars gave starter money to Chris Ivory. We’re probably looking at a committee, with Ivory handling most of the rushing duties on 1st and 2nd down (and the goal line), while Yeldon serves as the primary pass-catching back. If one or the other ends up with 60% or more of the touches, however, they’ll turn into a fantasy starter.
Who’s starting at receiver for the Titans?
Is Dorial Green-Beckham really fourth on the depth chart? Rookie Tajae Sharpe apparently passed him in the spring, and if that pecking order continues into camp, it’ll be tough to use a middle round draft pick on DGB. It looks like Rishard Matthews has locked up a spot on the outside while Kendall Wright will man the slot. Of this group, I like Matthews the most.
Which quarterback will start for the Broncos?
Denver used a 1st-round pick on Paxton Lynch, but it’s looking like he’s going to spend the season (or at least the start of it) holding a clipboard, which leaves Mark Sanchez and second-year man Trevor Siemian out of Northwestern. Sanchez was expected to win the job, but apparently Siemian has a legit chance to win the job. The winner won’t be fantasy-relevant in standard one-QB leagues, but the competition will have an impact on Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
Is Jamaal Charles ready to go?
Looking at a video of Charles doing the agility ladder in early July, I’d say yes. He’s been through the ACL recovery process before and knows what to expect, so even if he’s not cleared for the start of camp, I think he’ll be ready to go in Week 1. On a side note, it appears that Spencer Ware is the RB2, not Charcandrick West.
Will Clive Walford be the third passing option for the Raiders?
Based on the second half of last season, it would appear so. He averaged 4.3 T/G, which was third-best on the team, just ahead of Seth Roberts (3.9 T/G). Rookie tight ends are notoriously bad fantasy bets, but in their second and third seasons, tight ends start to get it. According to ESPN’s Adam Caplan, the team wants to “expand” Walford's role in 2016.
Who will play more snaps in San Diego – Travis Benjamin or Stevie Johnson?
The beat writers seem to think it will be Benjamin, but Johnson played well last season. In six games with Keenan Allen, Johnson played at a 64-755-5.3 pace (solid for a second receiver) and in the three games that Allen missed, Johnson played at a 112-1141-5.3 pace. Outstanding.
Benjamin has more speed, and that could put him in Malcom Floyd’s old role. This camp battle may not matter if the team frequently uses three-receiver sets, which is likely. In 2013, under then-OC/returning-OC Ken Whisenhunt, Eddie Royal played 67% of the snaps as the third receiver, so that’s a good estimate for Johnson’s floor in 2016. Royal caught 47 passes for 631 yards and eight touchdowns that year; he finished as the #40 receiver in PPR formats. Between Benjamin and Johnson, the latter may be the better value given his ADP.