IDP Divisional Preview: AFC South
We're kicking off our divisional preview series with the AFC South. Who are the IDPs to know from the Texans, Colts, Jaguars, and Titans?
As training camp approaches, draft season is kicking into high gear. To help you prepare, we’re kicking off our divisional preview series with the AFC South and looking at 2 players per team that we view as a bust, stud, breakout, or sleeper.
We were honored to have Alex Caruso and Drew Dodson join us on the podcast to break down this division plus the AFC North, NFC South, and NFC North. Be sure to check out the episode for their thoughts and stay tuned for future installments of this series breaking down the other divisions. For now, let’s jump into the AFC South.
Breakout: EDGE Jonathan Greenard
What dictates if a player is a breakout or not? As some might argue, Greenard performed so well last year he already broke out, and as such can’t be listed as one. We might agree with that… if he wasn’t currently still being drafted around the same time as players like J.J. Watt, Randy Gregory, Josh Sweat, and Emmanuel Ogbah.
These are not the players you’re considering instead of a bonafide stud. Greenard was unreal to start the season last year: from Weeks 3-12, he averaged 14.25 PPG and had 8 sacks. But injuries meant we never got to see what could have been for a full season. The Texans haven’t significantly upgraded the position, though, so Greenard should be able to pick up where he left off and have a full-fledged breakout season.
Sleeper: LB Christian Kirksey
We may have finally come full circle on Kirksey, if only through the process of elimination. Kirksey scored reasonably well (12.56 PPG) and played 92% of the snaps in the 13 games he played. Volume is king in fantasy, and Kirksey projects to get a decent amount as a full-time, 3-down LB. Now, we will caveat: this is predominantly a value play due to where you can get him at this moment. He’s being drafted around the likes of Cody Barton, Dre Greenlaw, and at times behind Kamu Grugier-Hill.
We like Barton and Greenlaw better, but between KGH (who only played 82% of snaps in the 14 games he played) and Kirksey, take your pick. We like Kirksey, especially if you can wait and take one or two rounds after his LB mate is taken.
Breakout: EDGE Kwity Paye
This is a sizable gap between what Paye has done so far and the stats you’d expect to see from a breakout EDGE. But don’t let that dissuade you. The markers are there if you look for them: a strong 71.3 pass rush grade from PFF, the departure of snaps leader Al-Quadin Muhammad to the Bears, and a -3 in the sacks vs. expected department (Jon Macri had Paye expected for 7 sacks and he got only 4).
With Buckner and Ngakoue more than capable pass rushers in their own rights, Paye won’t be the only player the O-line will need to worry about. Dominant interior players like Buckner are a massive boon for edge rushers because they collapse the middle of the pocket and push the QB to the outsides. All this translates to the expectation of Paye doubling his rookie output of 6.9 PPG (nice) in 2022.
Sleeper: S Nick Cross
A 99th percentile speed score athlete, Cross is an absolute missile at safety. The main question with him is: will he win the job now that Khari Willis has retired? We think so, as the other two candidates—Julian Blackmon and Rodney McLeod—aren’t a good fit physically for the position. At 6’0” and 212 lbs, Cross can definitely play in the box and provide a solid tackle presence. He also proved in his junior year at Maryland he can provide turnovers, which is something the Colts defense prides itself on.
In sharp leagues, the market has already adjusted and is taking Cross appropriately, but in home leagues, the ADP might not have corrected yet. So if you can take Cross as at a value, do it. He’s a solid S2 option with S1 upside if he wins the role.
Bust: EDGE Travon Walker
We know Addie might disagree with this take, but at least for 2022, the outlook isn’t exactly sunny for Walker. He now has an unfair amount of pressure on him being taken as the 1st overall pick ahead of more surefire prospects like Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux. Yes, Walker is an athletic specimen, so betting on him in dynasty is smart if he’s classified correctly. But the reason folks like Jon Macri are out on Walker for the short-term? He’s raw. As in, “trip over his own feet while trying to run a stunt” raw. And are the Jaguars the best team to mold Walker into the All-Pro many think he can be? Maybe. This team has given us Josh Allen and Yannick Ngakoue, but we’ll have to wait and see what the new regime can do.
Walker’s best comparable on PlayerProfiler is Ziggy Ansah—remember him? Don’t be surprised if Ansah’s rookie PPG of 6.91 is what we see from Walker in 2022.
Stud: EDGE Josh Allen
If you’ve rostered Allen since his rookie year, you’ve been a very happy IDP manager for two of his three seasons (he only played 8 games in 2020). In 2022, Allen outscored his stellar rookie season points of 12.09 PPG by nearly a whole half a point a game, all while recording 3 fewer sacks in 2021 than he managed in 2019 (7.5 vs. 10.5).
The difference? His tackle numbers. Allen put up 44 tackles in his rookie season and then managed an eye-popping 71 tackles in 2021. Entering a contract year (the Jaguars picked up his 5th-year option), Allen is entrenched as a top 10 EDGE because of his tackle floor, a reasonable expectation of double-digit sacks, and help from Walker.
Breakout: LB David Long Jr.
We got the hint of a breakout from Long in 2021 as his 13.2 PPG would have cemented him amongst LB2s had he been able to play the whole season. Before Week 9 (when he got injured), his snap share never dropped below 98%, and though he only played 55% in his first game back in Week 17, he was back up to 100% in Week 18.
We can assume Zach Cunningham will slot in as the secondary backer beside him, but it would be bold indeed to predict a Jordan Hicks/Denzel Perryman/De’Vondre Campbell style resurgence in Cunningham’s career. The main LB role has been great for fantasy in the past and we’re expecting more of the same from Long in 2022.
Stud: DT Jeffery Simmons
Simmons has established himself as one of the true game-changing DTs for fantasy football over the past 12 months. Both his total score and PPG ranked top 5, and he proved in multiple weeks that he has that Aaron Donald/Chris Jones ability to win you a week from the DT position single-handedly. If you’re playing in Sleeper leagues with no DT designation, Simmons does lose his positional advantage, sure.
But he’s still someone you should have on your radar no matter what due to his pure NFL ability to blow a game wide open. If you are in an MFL/RSO style league with DT specifically, Simmons is someone worth considering overpaying for: he’s only turning 25 this year and players like Heyward and Donald won’t be around forever.
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