Position Battles to Watch: AFC South
It’s early, but now is the time to make notes on who’s getting the action in camps as the NFL season starts to warm up. These are some of the position battles to keep an eye on as things get underway…
Travis Etienne vs James Robinson
Etienne, the hot 2nd round pick out of OSU, is already being gassed up for his receiving prowess in minicamp, working as a receiver for much of the time. Coach Urban Meyer sees him as an elite runner with receiving skills. I see him as the team’s primary pass-catching back with a path to two-down carries as well. James Robinson remains the starter for now, but there’s nothing special about him except his durability. If the Jaguars find themselves in trailing situations often, which is a very real possibility, Etienne will see the field often and could develop into a PPR monster sooner than later.
David Johnson vs Phillip Lindsay vs Mark Ingram
This one isn’t as clear cut as one might think. David Johnson isn’t the tour de force he once was, though he’s played in the Texans’ offense for a year and signed a new contract. He was a slow starter last season, and if that trend continues it could open up a lane for Ingram or Lindsay to get more touches. I have less interest in a 31-year-old Ingram, though he makes the best fit as the team’s goal line back, but Lindsay could be the darkhorse for most touches when all things are said and done. He’s arguably the fastest and most spry of the three at this point in his career, and they’ll all be playing behind one of the worst O-lines in football with potentially a subpar QB under center. Whoever takes the lead could be in for major action on a team that by most accounts looks like they’ll be playing from behind a lot this season.
Nico Collins vs Brandin Cooks
Cooks is currently the de jure No.1 WR in Houston with Will Fuller now in Miami, but Nico Collins better fits the mold of a No.1 receiving option at 6’4″, 250 lbs with wheels and a 94th percentile catch radius. The rookie is likely to open the season as the No.2, at least in name, but Collins could easily ascend to top-dog status through dominant play early on. The status of Deshaun Watson will obviously impact both of these guys’ potential, but the lack of Watson could also make this a pass-heavy team as they’ll need to air it out to stay in games with their fragile O-line situation. Either way, Nico presents significant fantasy value as a late round pick in redrafts.
Kylen Granson vs Jack Doyle
Carson Wentz loves his TEs, and Wentz is now a Colt so whoever is the receiving TE for Indy is going to be valuable. Trey Burton and Mo Alie-Cox are still kicking around, but I think the primary battle for targets will be between the veteran Doyle and the athletic rookie Granson out of SMU (and Austin Westlake!). Purely a receiving TE, Granson is all wiggle and explosiveness. Doyle is fairly reliable, but Granson is a weapon on a team that needs them, especially in the end-zone. Maybe both ends will end up being viable plays, a la Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz in Philly, but if Granson can make inroads in camp he could be the alpha come season’s start.
Josh Reynolds vs Dez Fitpatrick
AJ Brown is going to be the primary receiving option for the Titans, that much is a given, but the No.2 role formerly held by Corey Davis is up for grabs – The main candidates are Josh Reynolds and rookie Dez Fitzpatrick out of Louisville. Reynolds was a favorite prospect of mine when he came out of A&M in 2017, but he’s had mixed results playing in a crowded Rams receiving corps up until now – His best season was last year(52 rec, 618 yards, 2 TD). Fitzpatrick is not that much different from Reynolds physically, they’re both tall and skinny, but Fitzpatrick is about 10 lbs heavier than Reynolds and has 4.43 speed. Davis left 92 targets on the table upon his departure, so whoever steps up can be a boon for fantasy owners on the cheap.
Anthony Firkser vs Geoff Swaim
Firkser is basically a receiving TE, and Colts GM Jon Robinson has recently stated that he needs to improve his blocking. Swaim is primarily a blocking TE but has only one less TD than Firkser in his career. Jonnu Smith had 8 TDs as the Titans starter last season, so the TD upside is there for whoever is on the field. If Firkser can’t improve his blocking, Swaim may be the recipient of that starting role in a short span of time.