AFC South 2023 fantasy football preview: See top targets and sleepers

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Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) speaks with Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach Doug Pederson during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The AFC South appears weak compared to the AFC East and AFC North, but there are still several players that appear exciting for fantasy football.

We’re going to break down the fantasy football value of the key Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans with four breakout candidates and four deep sleepers.

Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars’ offense is by far the most intriguing in the division thanks to Trevor Lawrence, who’s established himself as a top-10 quarterback in both reality and fantasy football. The running game will once again be led by Travis Etienne, who’s an appealing pick since he has room for growth, but his upside could be capped somewhat by intriguing rookie Tank Bigsby. Calvin Ridley’s presence makes the wide receiver much more dangerous, as he profiles as Lawrence’s go-to option assuming he’s knocked off the rust from his year-long suspension. Christian Kirk is coming off a career-best season and should be a key weapon for Lawrence once again next to slot receiver Zay Jones and tight end Evan Engram, who’s a solid fantasy option at a thin position.

Tennessee Titans: Ryan Tannehill is set to return as the Titans’ starting quarterback after a subpar season, and he’ll be on thin ice with young signal callers Will Levis and Malik Willis waiting in the wings. The Titans will be a run-first offense regardless of who starts at quarterback, and Derrick Henry showed no signs of slowing down and should be the workhorse once again even with promising rookie Tyjae Spears waiting in the wings. The receiving corps was drastically upgraded with DeAndre Hopkins, who provides a much-needed go-to target in since 2022 first-round draft pick Treylon Burks hasn’t hit his ceiling yet. There’s not much depth behind Hopkins and Burks, so tight end Chig Okonkwu should be involved plenty after a promising rookie season and profiles as a go-to option near the goal line.

Indianapolis Colts: The Anthony Richardson era is underway in Indianapolis, but the reality is that he’s a very raw quarterback prospect who will likely struggle as a passer. The good news is that he’s an excellent runner who could offer fantasy value on that alone. The Colts backfield is cloudy due to elite running back Jonathan Taylor’s contract dispute, as he recently requested a trade to where rookie Evan Hull could be in line for a significant role early since veteran backup Zack Moss is likely to miss time due to a broken arm in training camp. Michael Pittman should once again lead the lead receiving corps, which has some promising young options in Alec Pierce and Josh Downs, but there isn’t much fantasy appeal due to Richardson’s passing limitations. The tight end room should be led by Jelani Woods, but he likely won’t see enough targets to be fantasy relevant since Kylen Granson and Mo Alie-Cox are still around.

Houston Texans: The Texans finally appear to have a solid plan in place, as they drafted C.J. Stroud early and plan on building their offense around him. Stroud likely won’t have any fantasy value as a rookie, but the running game should be strong with Dameon Pierce leading the way, who had a strong rookie season and shouldn’t see much competition for touches with replacement-level veteran Devin Singletary being his main competition. The receiving corps is up in the air as far as who will be the top target, but Nico Collins is someone to keep an eye on as a potential breakout candidate along with John Metchie and Tank Dell since they appear to have more upside than veterans Robert Woods and Noah Brown. Dalton Schultz should be a consistent tight end presence as Stroud’s safety blanket, but his upside along with the rest of the Texans’ pass catchers is somewhat limited in this system that’s a work in progress.

TOP DRAFT DAY TARGETS

Derrick Henry, Titans RB: Henry hasn’t slowed down despite being nearly 30 years old as a workhorse running back, and he’s still worth an early selection if he falls into the second round since his production should be close to that of a first-round pick if healthy.

Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars QB: Lawrence delivered last season with a second-year breakout after a disastrous rookie season, and he’s got even more room for growth in 2023 with an improved supporting cast around him.

Calvin Ridley, Jaguars WR: Ridley is the key reinforcement that should take the Jaguars offense to the next level, and he’s looked the part in training camp to where we’ll bank on him returning to pre-suspension form since he’ll be working with one of the best young quarterbacks.

Dameon Pierce, Texans RB: Pierce was on pace for over 1,000 yards on the ground before an injury cut his season short, and he should have more room to run this season on an improved offense that should feature him as the primary running back once again.

TOP DRAFT DAY SLEEPERS

Anthony Richardson, Colts QB: The plan is for the rebuilding Colts to let Richardson start early on, and he could offer sneaky fantasy value since his elite rushing ability should give him a solid floor even if he struggles as a passer.

Chig Okonkwu, Titans TE: The buzz around Okonkwu quieted down after the Titans signed DeAndre Hopkins, but there are still enough passes to go around for him to have a role, especially if he’s involved near the goal line.

Nico Collins, Texans WR: Collins is physically gifted and has a shot to carve out a key role in this offense, and while he likely won’t see consistent targets early on, he makes for a solid dart throw since he should continue building chemistry with Stroud.

Evan Hull, Colts RB: Hull strung together a pair of solid seasons at Northwestern, and while he doesn’t profile as an every-down running back at the NFL level, he might be forced into a key role if Jonathan Taylor sits out or gets traded to where he’s worth a dart throw.

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