Eyes of the Guru (AFC South)
By John Norton
August 15th, 2011

The lockout is finally over and the free agent blitz has subsided. Obviously there is no time for a full blown pre-season report. So, in order to get as much out there as possible in time for it to be useful, I am going to put together a Cliff's Notes version. I'll try to hit all the important players and situations but if I miss someone that you want an opinion, shoot me an e-mail and I'll tell you what I think. Time is getting short so lets get to work!

Indianapolis Colts

Defensive line

If you are only concerned with big play production the Colts give us a pair of very strong options. Dwight Freeney has recorded double digit sacks in seven of his nine pro seasons, including each of the past three. Robert Mathis fallen short of 9 sacks just once since becoming a starter in 2003 and has 31.5 over the past three seasons. The problem with both of these guys is that they can hurt you in the tackle column. Mathis managed a strong 44 solo stops last year, and was among the top linemen in the fantasy game. What concerns me is that in the three previous seasons he averaged slightly less than 30. To his credit, Mathis also has a 50 tackle season on his resume from back in 2006. The bottom line with Mathis is that we can count on plenty of sacks but quality tackle production is far from a sure thing. With Freeney there is nothing to guess about. He has not put up more than 26 tackles in a season since 2005... The Colts tend to rotate so many interior linemen that none of them get enough opportunity.

Linebacker

Gary Brackett is a guy who can give us good value for his ADP. Between 2005 and 2009 he averaged just over 92 solo tackles per sixteen games. The problem being that he has only played a full sixteen games twice in his eight year career. Brackett has missed ten games over the last three seasons. Even so, he is well worth a gamble as your LB3 or LB4. If you are in a dynasty league or you have Brackett, grabbing Pat Angerer is a must. Angerer was drafted to be the future of the MLB position but proved too good to keep off the field as a rookie in 2010. He filled in for an injured Brackett at MLB for most of six games, averaging better than 5.5 tackles with a sack and a forced fumble over that span. When Brackett returned, Angerer was moved to right OLB. He also paired with Brackett in most of the nickel packages down the stretch. The Colts play right and left rather than strong and weak outside backers. For now Angerer will be on the right side, which is most often the strong side. He should continue to work in the nickel which should add enough opportunity for him to be a quality LB4 with high upside. If he moves inside he will likely put up top twenty numbers. Kavell Conner, Ernie Sims and Phillip Wheeler will contend for the rest of the playing time and the other OLB position. Keep an eye on Conner if he wins the job.

Defensive Back

The Colts defense was on the field for a whopping 874 snaps last season. That is a lot of opportunity in general and a good amount of that opportunity makes it to the secondary. FS Antoine Bethea headlines the fantasy value here. He has 70 or more tackles in each of the past three seasons and is consistently good for 3-4 big plays every year. Not top ten numbers but very consistent and certainly worthy as a DB3 in most leagues. SS Melvin Bullitt filled in for Bob Sanders over much of the '08 and '09 seasons and put up pretty strong, almost Sanders like, numbers. Bullitt played in fourteen games in 2009 with 63 tackles and he picked off 4 passes in 2008. He was injured most of last season so he will be out of the minds of most owners. Bullitt should make quality depth for us with DB3 or better upside... The corners in Indy are traditionally productive positions. Kelvin Hayden was productive when healthy but was released. Jacob Lacey has filled in for Hayden in the past and been equally productive. He should move into the starting lineup and is a worthy sleeper in corner required leagues. Likewise, Jerraud Powers was on pace for 68 tackles last season before missing six games.

Houston Texans

Defensive line

By now you all know the drill when it comes to 3-4 linemen. Not many of them are productive and the ones that are have limited value. Rookie DE J.J. Watt is a very talented guy with the potential to have some value and nose tackle Earl Mitchell is worth keeping an eye on for tackle required owners.

Linebacker

DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing are doing to be the inside backers in the Texans new 3-4. Both guys have a chance to be productive but Ryans is the hands down favorite to lead the charge. Not only because he will play the most productive weak inside position, but also because Cushing seems to still be having some problems with his knee. Those of us who have been around this game for a while will remember the years when both Jamie Sharper and Jay Foreman put up 100+ solo tackles as the ILBs in the previous Texans 3-4. This could prove to be a similar situation. Just think of Ryans as Sharper when drafting... One big difference between this group of linebacker and the group that tried to play a 3-4 in Houston years ago, is that this group may have some outside backers who can get the job done. I am writing this prior to getting a look at the Texans on Monday so my opinion may change, but I don't see Mario Williams as a player who can successfully make the transition from 4-3 end to 3-4 OLB. That said, even if Williams struggles the Texans may not be in bad shape. Connor Barwin is a player that I can very much see being successful at the position, and the club smartly used a second round pick on Brooks Reed. None of these guys are worth a draft pick at this point but one of them could be useful at some point.

Defensive Back

Switching schemes means a lot of change in the secondary and particularly at safety. Bernard Pollard was no longer a fit, so the team brought in former Bears starter Danieal Manning to play FS and will move former corner Glover Quin to SS. Manning finished as a top 15 safety in 2009 but has never impressed me. Glover on the other hand, is intriguing. As a corner he led the team in tackles last season with 71, forced a fumble, recovered 2 and picked off 3 passes. In this year of transition, Quin should have a lot of opportunity and is worth a late round flier just in case... Johnathan Joseph put up respectable numbers during his time in Cincinnati. It's hard to say if that will carry over to his new job.

Tennessee Titans

Defensive Line

There will be new faces in the Titans front seven this year. Last year's sixteenth overall pick Derrick Morgan was looking good before being lost to injury early in the season. He is healthy now and the club is hopeful he can eventually replace last year's team sack leader Jason Babin at end. Morgan is flying under the radar for now and has a ton of potential. Make him a priority sleeper. Jason Jones and William Hayes were the starters at end in the preseason opener. Jones played inside for the first three years of his career and has shown an ability to rush the passer. Hayes is a guy I was real high on heading into last season but he has struggled to stay healthy. There is a lot of potential among these guys. Hopefully the next couple of preseason games will show us where to find it... The Titans interior line has a history of pretty strong production. In recent years however, injuries and multi-player rotations have made it elusive for fantasy owners. They don't seem to have as much depth as they have in the past so hopefully Shaun Smith or one of the other contenders for playing time will stand out. Tackle required owners will want to keep an eye on this situation.

Linebacker

The Titans defense was on the field for an incredible 989 snaps last season. That is a ton of opportunity to go around and helps to explain why Stephen Tulloch was able to pile up such gaudy numbers (111-48-1). The Bucs on the other hand, were on the field for about 150 fewer snaps, yet Barrett Ruud still managed a solid 87-33-2. Chances are the Titans almost have to be at least somewhat improved, so there will likely be a little less opportunity for tackles, but Ruud could make up for it with more big plays. It's a one year contract so Ruud will be looking to prove himself. I expect him to have a very big year... Will Witherspoon, Gerald McRath and rookie second round pick Akeem Ayers will compete throughout the preseason for playing time at the OLB positions. Interestingly is was McRath paired with Ruud in the all important nickel packages against Minnesota.

Defensive Back

With the ridiculous number of snaps that the defense played in 2010, it comes as no surprise that the tackle number for Titans defenders were inflated. In all my years playing this game I have never seen four defensive backs from the same team exceed 80 solo tackles. FS Michael Griffin, SS Chris Hope, and corners Cortland Finnegan and Alterraun Verner all accomplished this feat last year. While all of these guys will likely retain some value, expecting a repeat of last year is not a good idea.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Defensive line

The Jaguars have spent a lot of time, money and effort on their defensive line in recent years. In former 3rd round pick Terrance Knighton and last year's 10th overall selection, Tyson Alualu, they have a pair of guys with the size to hold up versus the run and the athleticism to have an impact in the pass rush. Both guys managed 3.5 sacks last season but neither of them were able to reach the 30 tackle mark. If you get to a point late in your draft and need a sleeper at DT, take a shot on Alualu. He plays the more productive under tackle position and could show considerable improvement in his second season. What the Jags have really struggled with for the past several years, is production from the DE positions. They have used first round picks, free agent dollars and any other possible avenue, but seem to be snake bitten. Last year the club brought in Aaron Kampman who had been an excellent player for the Packers. He was recovering from a knee injury suffered in 2009 and was just starting to look like himself when he injured the knee again. If Kampman can stay healthy he is capable of being a top 10 defensive lineman. Grab him as your DL3 but keep in mind that there is a lot of risk with a soon to be 32 year old coming off knee injuries in back to back seasons. Jeremy Mincey worked his way into a starting job last season and led the club with 5 sacks. That was good enough to earn him another look. Austen Lane started for Kampman against the Patriots. Lane, Larry Hart and free agent addition Matt Roth will all get a look during the preseason. Keep an eye on these guys over the next few weeks but don't bother drafting any of them until they give you a reason.

Linebacker

The linebacker position in Jacksonville was a black hole for fantasy production in 2010. Kirk Morrison ended up playing only on running down for much of the season and neither of the outside guys were able to stand out. In an effort to resolve their problems at the position the Jaguars were quick to move on MLB Paul Posluszny when free agency opened. They then raided divisional rival Indianapolis for Clint Session. Darryl Smith led the club with 75 tackles last season but this year should provide a very different result. Buffalo defenders were on the field for 911 snaps last season, while Jacksonville defenders faced 787 plays. The difference in opportunity alone is sure to knock a few tackles off Posluszny's 2010 totals, but he will be an every down middle backer. I expect 90+ tackles and enough big play contribution to keep Posluszny in the top 15 but will be very surprised if he breaks the top 10. After watching the playing time breakdown against the Patriots, I would avoid both of the outside backers here until further notice. Smith is once again lining up on the strong side, and Session is not on the field in sub packages. We have seen Smith in this same role before and he was virtually useless. Both he and Session will have a few good games along the way and could be used as situational starters based on matchups, but they are not guys you want to have in your lineup often.

Defensive Back

When the Jaguars signed Dawan Landry my first reaction was that he would play SS as he in Baltimore, and likely have a big year. Apparently that is not the case. Landry opened the preseason working at FS with last year's late season free agent steal Courtney Greene hanging onto his starting job at SS. As a free safety playing deep behind an improved front seven, I don't see Landry having a lot of value for us. Pick him up very late (DB4 or later) if he falls that far and hope for the best. Greene on the other hand, could be a surprisingly good pickup as a DB4 with upside. Greene was inconsistent over his 14 starts last season but put up 6 or more tackles in six of those starts. If he can hold of the competition from rookie Chris Prosinski and Don Carey, he be able to produce regularly.

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