AFC South Pressing Fantasy Questions: Jonathan Taylor dilemma leads way

Indianapolis Colts: Jonathan Taylor slid on the Carson Wentz and Quenton Nelson injury news, but both are reportedly trending toward a Week 1 return. Where would you draft Taylor now, and why?

Scott Pianowski: Taylor needs to get into the second round and perhaps deep in the second round before I'll take him. The Colts are singing happy tunes about the quick returns of Wentz and Nelson, but teams have no incentive to tell us the truth. And are we sure Wentz's career can be fixed, anyway? We were glad when he reunited with Frank Reich, but that doesn't mean the project will work. And even if the Wentz-Nelson puzzle solves itself for Indy, Taylor still has to share touches with Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines. I had Taylor as a proactive pick a month ago, but when the facts change, my opinion often changes. This is one of those times.

Dalton Del Don: I initially downgraded him a few spots but am leaning toward moving him back into my top-five with the recent positive news that Wentz and Nelson are trending toward being ready Week 1. Taylor is one of the best backs in football, and while his situation has question marks, all RBs this year enter with reasons for concern. I wouldn’t hesitate drafting Taylor in the first round.

Liz Loza: + Marlon Mack - Carson Wentz - Quenton Nelson does not = a top-five fantasy finish for Jonathan Taylor. Even if Wentz and Nelson suit up Week 1, there’s no way they’ll be 100 percent. And even if Taylor’s volume increases — the Colts would undoubtedly be forced to aggressively run the ball if Wentz is back but hobbled — the RB’s efficiency figures to take a subsequent hit.

While Taylor’s speed and burst allow for awesome breakaway runs and plus yardage, it’s worth noting that he averaged 3.0 YPC when facing stacked fronts in 2020. I expect that defenses will continue to stack the box — probably at a rate higher than 22 percent — until Wentz proves he’s healthy. Therefore, I’ve moved Taylor to my RB10, preferring to prioritize Aaron Jones and Austin Ekeler, both of whom are attached to dynamic offenses.

Tennessee Titans: Should Derrick Henry receive more discussion as the potential No. 1 pick in drafts, or is his receiving floor still a hindrance?

Andy Behrens: Henry is still only 27 years old, his injury history is as clean as it gets and he just rushed for 2,027 yards and 17 scores. There are no perfectly safe fantasy bets at running back, but you really have to go hunting for red flags with Henry. He's great. I have no quarrel with anyone who wants to select him first overall; it's almost inconceivable that a healthy Henry wouldn't finish as a top-three back in any scoring format. I can't recommend him as the No. 1 pick in full PPR because he's essentially spotting CMC something like 80 fantasy points, based on projected receiving volume.

Matt Harmon: Henry has overcome the lack of receiving work every step of the way during his career — but it’s still a real worry. If variance just swings the other way and he isn’t a touchdown behemoth, the lack of a floor would bring down his overall stock. Still, there isn’t much negative to mark for Henry. Tennessee swinging the trade for Julio Jones did a lot to move the overall offensive needle in a positive direction for this team. That matters a great deal for its workhorse back. I’m cool with Henry as a top-three selection.

Liz: In an offense that called the second most running plays (31 per game) last year, and with Julio Jones stretching the field, Henry’s fantasy output figures to remain elite. He’s obviously not going to catch a lot of balls — unlike CMC or Dalvin Cook, both of whom are ranked ahead of Henry — but his anomalistic skill set doesn’t require a massive target share in order to be elite. Assuming he stays healthy (he’s only missed two games over his five-year career, a calf strain in 2016, and a hamstring issue in 2019) a top-five or better finish is well within reach.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JANUARY 03: Derrick Henry #22 of the Tennessee Titans watches action during the first half against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on January 03, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Is Derrick Henry massive workload over the past two seasons reason to fade him in fantasy drafts? (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) (Carmen Mandato via Getty Images)

Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence has been a mythological figure since he was in high school, and he's walking into a Jacksonville situation with some solid weapons. How high is his ceiling in Year 1 and where would you look to draft him?

Andy: Lawrence rushed for 17 scores over his final two collegiate seasons, so he definitely has a dual-threat element to his game — and we can trust his new head coach to put it to use. It's rare for a rookie quarterback to make a significant fantasy splash if rushing ability isn't part of the equation. Lawrence also has an excellent receiving corps at his disposal — D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones, LaViska Shenault, Travis Etienne, et al — and we shouldn't expect hyper-conservative game-plans. It's hardly reckless to forecast 4,000 passing yards and, say, five or six rushing TDs in a full 17-game season. If Lawrence hits those marks, he's gonna sneak into the top-10 or 12 at his position in all likelihood. He's great, fully approved for immediate use.

Matt: The fact that Lawrence has real rushing upside is impossible to overstate. The fact that Tom Brady threw 40 touchdowns last year and didn’t even come close to sniffing the top-five fantasy quarterbacks shows you how crucial that element is in this game. The Jaguars have also done a good job surrounding Lawrence with an underrated group of skill-position talents. Remember when the last generational passing prospect, Andrew Luck, had to throw 100-plus passes to Donnie Avery during his rookie year? That won’t be a worry in Jacksonville with D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones and LaViska Shenault rounding out a solid receiver room. Combine all that with plenty of playing from behind game scripts and I see Lawrence pushing for at least a top-13 fantasy season. I think he’s in play in the early double-digit rounds.

Dalton: Lawrence is the real deal, and I immediately have him ranked as a back-end QB1 in fantasy. His ability to run is key, and it also helps his situation appears favorable as well. With DJ Chark, Laviska Shenault, Marvin Jones and Travis Etienne, Lawrence has more than sufficient weapons at his disposal and will likely be asked to throw a ton. Facing the Texans and Titans defenses four times doesn’t hurt either. It won’t be easy to crack with the competition, but Lawrence has top-five fantasy QB upside as a rookie.

[2021 Draft Rankings: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | DST | Kickers]

Houston Texans: Does the potential volume/target share make Brandin Cooks an intriguing fantasy option?

Matt: Brandin Cooks is about to walk into the wilderness. He’s enjoyed great to elite quarterback play every single year of his NFL career. You can maybe quarrel with some of the Jared Goff years. That said, Tyrod Taylor is a fine replacement-level backup quarterback — with Watson's future very much up in the air — who can at least keep a competent offense afloat. Unfortunately, the Texans don’t have such a unit to speak of. Cooks will look good in projection models because he’s a lock for 120-plus targets given Houston’s projected negative game script and the haggard options after Cooks in this receiver room. At a steep draft discount, I’ll take a very unenthusiastic plunge.

Dalton: Absolutely. The Texans are going to be playing from behind and in throwing situations the moment they step off the bus this season. The expected move to Tyrod Taylor is an obvious downgrade at QB, but with Will Fuller gone, Cooks has to be projected for 130-plus targets. There’s a real chance he sees 150-plus. Given his situation, I have Cooks ranked as a top-25 fantasy WR.

Liz: Volume certainly appears to be leaning in Cooks’ favor. While the 27-year-old doesn’t profile as a prototypical No. 1 WR, he’s certainly the most seasoned/talented/versatile threat on the Texans roster and therefore in line for another 8-ish targets per game. (Fun fact: Last year, after Will Fuller was suspended, Cooks averaged 10.25 looks per contest over the last four games of the season.)

Cooks is our consensus WR36, making him an intriguing fantasy value… particularly for a pass-catcher likely to clear 80 catches and 1,000 yards.