2019 Fantasy Football: Players to avoid in the AFC South

Fantasy football owners are always looking for advice on who to draft and when. However, it is essential to avoid any players that will disappoint this season. In the seventh part of the Players to Avoid series, I head south to the AFC South.

There are a mass amount of articles that advise fantasy football owners on who to draft and when. What about the players to stay away from?

In the seventh part of the Players to Avoid series, I head south and tackle the AFC South in preparation for the 2019 fantasy football season. This, following PFN’s own Andy Gallagher’s release of the top targets in the AFC South.

Fantasy owners looking for the first six parts of the Player to Avoid series can click below:

Lamar Miller, RB, Houston Texans

The Case

The Houston Texans have been making headlines recently with their release of running back D’Onta Foreman, leaving the Texans with a hole at the running back position. The Texans did not waste any time to find the replacement with Duke Johnson, who they landed in a trade with the Cleveland Browns. They officially sent away a fourth-round pick which could turn into a third-round pick if he’s active for ten games.

What does all this mean for the team’s starter Lamar Miller?

Miller is a durable running back, who has missed just seven games in as many seasons and never more than three in a given season. Miller hasn’t rushed for 1,000 yards since his first season in Houston and has done so just twice in his seven seasons in the NFL. However, he has tallied at least 1,100 total yards, touched the ball at least 235 times and scored at least six total touchdowns for five consecutive seasons.

Miller was the primary guy for the Texans in 2018, recording 210 carries while seeing 56.6 percent of the offensive snaps. He rushed for 973 yards and five touchdowns and caught 25 passes for 163 yards and a score despite missing two games.

Playing for one of the worst offensive lines in the league, Miller is a safe and a steady producer but is more of a floor play. He hasn’t scored more than five touchdowns since 2016.

In recent seasons, Miller had zero competition for playing time and was in line to handle the bulk of the team’s early-down work. Foreman never materialized into a contributor causing Miller to also be the pass-catching back, averaging 31 receptions as the Texans featured back. Last season, Miller led Houston in receiving yards among running backs with a measly 163 yards.

The newly acquired Duke Johnson is known for his pass-catching ability. Johnson averaged 59 catches and 543 receiving yards per season since he has been in the league. Coincidentally, he has more receiving yards than he’s had rushing yards in each season.

Johnson has averaged 76 targets per season and has hauled in 78% of the targets thrown his way since he entered the league. He was the first running back in the last 30 years to record 500-plus receiving yards in each of his first three seasons.

The former Brown will be a great change-of-pace and another check down option for quarterback Deshaun Watson, who completed only 47 passes of his 345 completions to running backs last season. Look for that number to increase substantially in 2019.

The Verdict

Miller, entering the final year of a four-year, $26 million contract, is on shaky fantasy ground. He does not possess much upside and is a safe draft selection. His past fantasy success is the result of being a one-person show in the Texans’ backfield.

Duke Johnson is only 25 years old and arrives in Houston under contract through 2021. His amount of carries has been confined in his four NFL seasons, but he averages a robust 4.3 yards per carry in his career.

Miller is being valued as an RB27 in average draft position, which is much higher to pay for limited upside. Playing it safe in fantasy football MAY get you to the playoffs, but I look for a high reward at this point of the draft. The upside running backs such as rookie Miles Sanders, Tarik Cohen, and Kenyan Drake are much more appealing options.

The Houston Texans brought Johnson in to bring a new dynamic threat to their offense, a risk that pushes Miller out of fantasy relevance in 2019 fantasy football drafts.

Eric Ebron, TE, Indianapolis Colts

The Case

Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron posted career-highs in nearly every stat category last season. His 110 targets were 24 more than his previous high. His breakout season saw him convert his 110 targets into 66 catches for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns, which led all tight ends in 2018.

The former Detroit Lion castoff ended up being quarterback Andrew Luck‘s second-favorite target behind wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and easily the best red-zone target for the Colts.

The Colts signed Ebronafter Detroit waived him last March. He became vital to the success of the Colts offense, especially with the injuries at various points of the season to tight end Jack Doyle.

In the six games where both Ebron and Doyle were on the field, Doyle saw 330 snaps and  5.5 targets per game, compared to just 166 snaps and 3.7 targets per game for Ebron.

Doyle (hip) has resumed running routes at full speed, and Luck has always been known to favor tight ends. The Colts attempted 644 passes last season, the second-most in the NFL.

Ebron will lose targets to Doyle, but he will also have to compete with the new faces on the Colts. Devin Funchess came over from the Carolina Panthers and played like a TE-sized receiver at 6’4″ and 225 lbs. Rookie Parris Campbell has blazing speed and will be utilized catching short passes to provide the opportunity to take it to the house.

The Verdict

One fantasy axiom that I adhere to is that fantasy football managers should never chase career seasons. Ebron finished as the TE4 last season, but his target volume will be primarily diminished in 2019. He put up elite fantasy points by scoring an outrageous amount of touchdowns.

Eric Ebron is the ideal regression candidate. That type of top-notch production won’t be duplicated this season. Luck simply has more weapons to throw to. The new weapons will limit Ebron’s value significantly.

As of now, Ebron is currently being drafted as the TE7 and will be hard-pressed to validate that ranking. The impact of the health of Doyle and a longer line for targets will push Ebron out of the top ten for tight ends, making him a player to avoid at this current average draft position.

Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

The Case

The former number four overall pick earned praise for his rookie season. He finished as a top ten fantasy running back with 1,040 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns with 302 receiving yards and another touchdown while suiting up in only 13 games.

Leonard Fournette helped the Jacksonville Jaguars reach the playoffs in 2017. However, there were some warning signs that Fournette was not the elite back that his accolades praised him for being. He averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, and in the three games he missed in 2017, the Jaguars won. In addition, Jacksonville averaged more rushing yards per game in those three games without him than they did in the 13 games he played.

His follow-up season was disastrous. Fournette had just 439 yards and five touchdowns in eight starts with four of those five touchdowns coming between Weeks 10 through 12.

Fournetter injured his hamstring in Week 1, appearing in just eight contests and did not look like himself, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. On an efficiency basis, Fournette ranked 32nd among running backs in Football Outsiders‘ DVOA and 26th in success rate.

As a result, the Jaguars went from leading the league in rushing in 2017 to finishing 19th last year. Jacksonville averaged a dismal 15.3 points a game, which was only better than the Arizona Cardinals in 2018.

Since 2017, Fournette has the third most carries per game in the league, and that kind of volume gives him RB1 potential, but he carries plenty of risks.

His injury history and off-the-field issues have kept Fournette out of the top fantasy running backs conversation. The Jaguars became more frustrated with the former LSU Tiger after his one-game suspension after fighting a Buffalo Bills defender in Week 12. To escalate matters, in Week 17, Fournette irked team brass by sitting on the bench instead of standing on the sideline.

The train wreck doesn’t end there. Fournette was off to Wyoming once the season ended to train, but once Fournette returned to Jacksonville, he was arrested for driving with a suspended license from an unpaid traffic ticket.

The Verdict

Fournette is entering a make-or-break 2019 season.

He and the Jaguars are in dispute about whether the team can void more than $7 million in guarantees of his contract, a conflict that will go a long way toward determining how easily the Jaguars could move on from Fournette if they want to.

Fournette was facing some obstacles last season with the Jaguars. He played behind an awful offensive line and equally dreadful quarterback in Blake Bortles. Both did not do any favors for the success of Fournette and the Jaguars running game.

The Jaguars attempted several upgrades to their offense, starting with former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. Any quarterback would be an upgrade over Bortles. Foles will bring confidence and experience to the Jaguars huddle. Foles will be reunited with John DeFilippo, who is the new Jaguars offensive coordinator. DeFilippo was the quarterbacks’ coach during his Super Bowl run with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Fournette continues to drop in the fantasy running back rankings every season. Fantasy football owners have been filled with buyers remorse with Fournette. While early camp reports are positive, the Jaguars running back is a disappointment waiting to happen. Hopefully, the new offensive parts can breathe some life into Fournette. However, I can not trust him, nor will I risk my fantasy life on the possibility.

Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans

The Case

Corey Davis has started his career with enormous expectations. Davis, the former number five overall pick in the 2017 draft was expected to take over the top receiver role in Tennessee.

Unfortunately, Davis has only 1,266 receiving yards and four touchdowns through his first two seasons in the NFL. He has not lived up to his draft selection to this point.

Davis only caught 65 of his team-high 112 targets last season, which was 45 targets more than the next closest player, running back Dion Lewis.

Davis finished the 2018 season with 65 receptions for 891 yards and only four touchdowns. He had 13 games with 63 or fewer receiving yards last season. Furthermore, he had four games with 10-plus targets and six games with five or fewer targets. His ten drops last season were the second-most in the league.

His stats are not impressive, but he does not have an accurate quarterback in Marcus Mariota. His true catch rate of 75.6 percent ranked no. 92 per PlayerProfiler.

In a run-heavy offense, Mariota threw for 180.6 yards per game and only 11 touchdowns, both career-lows. Mariota has thrown nearly as many interceptions (23) as touchdowns (24) in the past two seasons. His injury history has also slowed the development of Davis. He has missed eight games over the past four seasons and has yet to play a full 16-game season.

The Verdict

Davis dominated targets last season, but free-agent acquisition Adam Humphries is a slot receiver who has already developed a rapport with Mariota in camp and the preseason. The Titans also added A.J. Brown, who was their second-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

The 2019 season will also have the return of tight end Delanie Walker, who was lost for the season during the Week 1 matchup. Walker had averaged 113 targets in his previous four seasons.

The target share for Davis will be stunted due to the new faces and Walker returning to a passing offense that ranked 31st in passing attempts and 29th in passing yards. The offense will now be led by its fifth offensive coordinator in five seasons with the Tennessee Titans promotion of former tight ends assistant Arthur Smith to the position vacated when Matt LaFleur left for the Green Bay Packers head coaching job.

Davis is looking to become the first Titan to eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark since former wide receiver Kendall Wright did it in 2013. Here is hoping that fantasy managers are not rooting to accomplish this on their fantasy football rosters unless it involves a double-digit selection. Otherwise, fantasy managers should be avoiding Davis.

Dennis Sosic is a writer for the Pro Football Network covering the Cleveland Browns and Fantasy Football. Dennis is also a co-host of PFN’s Fantasy Fixtures podcast. You can follow him @CALL_ME_SOS on Twitter.

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