The AFC South division has a lot of defensive talent. I will break down the tiers and the values of the defensive stars and the impact they will have.
The AFC South division has so much defensive talent, from up and coming youngsters to the superstar veterans. There have been trades and free-agent signings that have changed the entire division. There are so many top fantasy options in the AFC South for fantasy owners to choose from. From top to bottom there are impact defenders all around this division and they will help you win fantasy championships. The fantasy point totals referenced below are based on the IDP Nation Listener 2 league scoring. Let’s take a look at who the studs are and those unsung heroes everyone will wish they had drafted.
Tier 1 – AFC South IDP Studs (Top 14 Scoring)
Darius Leonard, LB, Indianapolis Colts
2019 Stats: 13 games played, 13 starts, 828 snaps, 80% defensive snaps, 121 tackles (71 solos), 7 tackles for a loss, 5 sacks, 11 pressures, 5 interceptions, 7 pass breakups, 1 returned for a touchdown, 4% missed tackle rate
Darius Leonard is one of the NFL’s elite defenders, let alone the AFC South, and is widely considered the #1 overall defensive player in the IDP community. In my personal IDP rankings, I have Leonard ranked as the #2 overall IDP player. He led the NFL in total tackles as a rookie with 163 and despite missing three games he still finished 17th last season. Through his first two seasons, Leonard is averaging 10.1 tackles and 6½ solos per game. For his career, Leonard has played in 26 games producing 284 total tackles, 182 solos, 19 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks, 7 interceptions, 15 pass breakups, 6 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 1 touchdown. Leonard has averaged 318 fantasy points the past two seasons.
Zach Cunningham, LB, Houston Texans
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 16 starts, 942 snaps, 88% defensive snaps, 142 tackles (99 solos), 7 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 3 pressures, 2 pass breakups, 2 fumble recoveries, and 7.2% missed tackle rate
Zach Cunningham has been an up and comer the past few years but had a huge breakout performance this past season. Cunningham logged his first LB1 fantasy season last year, scoring 268 fantasy points. He finished last season ranked 6th in total tackles with 142 and 2nd in solos with 99. Through his first three seasons in the league, Cunningham is averaging 7.3 total tackles and 4.7 solos per game. For his career, he has played in 46 games registering 339 total tackles, 220 solos, 15 tackles for a loss, 3½ sacks, 1 interception, 13 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, and 1 touchdown.
Joe Schobert, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 16 starts, 1059 snaps, 99% defensive snaps, 133 tackles (89 solos), 7 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 5 pressures, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 4 interceptions, 9 pass breakups, and 10.7% missed tackle rate
Joe Schobert is a newcomer to the AFC South division, but make no mistake, he’s no stranger to the NFL and fantasy owners. Schobert spent his first four seasons with the Cleveland Browns, who let him test free agency. He scored 285 fantasy points last season, which ranked him as the 3rd best scoring linebacker in the league. Schobert may be on a new team, but his role and production won’t change at all. He has averaged 126 tackles over the last three seasons and finished in the top ten twice in that span. Schobert led the NFL in tackles, with 144 in 2017. He has also finished in the top ten in solo tackles twice as well. In 61 games played he’s produced 408 total tackles, 252 solo tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, 8½ sacks, 7 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, 6 interceptions, and 20 pass breakups.
Deforest Buckner, DT, Indianapolis Colts
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 16 starts, 810 snaps, 79% defensive snaps, 62 tackles (34 solos), 9 tackles for a loss, 7½ sacks, 20 pressures, 2 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, 1 touchdown, and 4.6% missed tackle rate
Deforest Buckner is another newcomer to the AFC South division, as he was traded by the 49ers to the Colts in a blockbuster deal. Buckner has been a tier 1 defensive tackle, in each of his four seasons. He scored 258 fantasy points last season and I see no reason that trend won’t continue. Buckner has been durable. He’s only missed one game out of the 64 played and has started all 63 he played in. In those 63 games, Buckner has recorded 263 total tackles, 166 solos, 38 tackles for a loss, 28½ sacks, 11 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles, 7 fumble recoveries, and 1 touchdown.
Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars
2019 Stats: 15 games played, 15 starts, 790 snaps, 75% defensive snaps, 41 tackles (36 solos), 13 tackles for a loss, 8 sacks, 27 pressures, 1 interception, 6 pass breakups, 4 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recoveries, and 19.6% missed tackle rate
Yannick Ngakoue isn’t the first name you think when you look at tier 1 players in fantasy, but he’s been just that in two of his four seasons. I am hesitant to add him on this list, as he is currently holding out and not sure where or if he’ll play this season. He scored 218 fantasy points last season. That should be where he’ll end up again this season. Ngakoue is a wrecking ball of a player, as he has finished in the top ten in forced fumbles, in three of his four seasons. He led the league in that category with 6, in 2017. In 63 career games played he has tallied 122 total tackles, 105 solos, 42 tackles for a loss, 37½ sacks, 2 interceptions, 9 pass breakups, 14 forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and two touchdowns.
Justin Houston, DE, Indianapolis Colts
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 16 starts, 674 snaps, 65% defensive snaps, 44 tackles (33 solos), 13 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks, 28 pressures, 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, and 4.3% missed tackle rate
Justin Houston has been one of the NFL’s best pass rushers during his career. He has battled through some injury-riddled seasons, or his numbers would be even better. Houston led the NFL in sacks in 2014 with a whopping 22. He averages just a tick under ten sacks per season, with 9.9. Houston scored 214 fantasy points last season. That was good enough to finish as a tier 1 defensive end. In 118 career games played he’s totaled 426 total tackles, 352 solos, 109 tackles for a loss, 89½ sacks, 4 interceptions, 32 pass breakups, 16 forced fumbles, 13 fumble recoveries, 2 safeties, and 2 touchdowns.
Kevin Byard, FS, Tennessee Titans
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 16 starts, 1099 snaps, 99% defensive snaps, 84 tackles (60 solos), tackles for a loss, 5 interceptions, 9 pass breakups, and 2.3% missed tackle rate
One of the most underrated safeties in the league and in fantasy football is Kevin Byard of the Titans. Heading into year five, he’s been exceptional. Not a better free safety in the game right now. He’s ranked in the top ten in interceptions the past three seasons and led the NFL with 8 in 2017. Byard scored 233 fantasy points last season. He has played in 64 career games, recording 320 total tackles, 229 solos, 13 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks. 17 interceptions, 37 pass breakups, and two fumble recoveries.
Josh Allen, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 4 starts, 634 snaps, 60% defensive snaps, 44 tackles (31 solos), 11 tackles for a loss, 10½ sacks, 39 pressures, 2 forced fumbles, and 6.4% missed tackle rate
Josh Allen is a superstar in the making and while his 197 fantasy points just missed DE1 status, he definitely belongs among the tier 1 defensive ends. Two things make him an easy choice to rank among the best going forward. First, he only started four games last season and still led the Jaguars in sacks with 10½. Give him a full season as a starter and those numbers skyrocket. Second is the Yannick Ngakoue situation. If Ngakoue walks, then Allen becomes the man if he’s not already. These two things alone make Allen a tier 1 guy. Oh, by the way, Allen was just a rookie last season. He’s a special player, that can carry your fantasy teams for a long time.
Tier 2 – AFC South IDP Stars
Anthony Walker, LB, Indianapolis Colts
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 16 starts, 811 snaps, 79% defensive snaps, 124 tackles (80 solos), 6 tackles for a loss, 2½ sacks, 4 pressures, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception, 2 pass breakups and 8.1% missed tackle rate
Anthony Walker is one of the most undervalued linebackers in the NFL and in fantasy. It’s easy to get overlooked when you play alongside Darius Leonard. Every number one needs a great number two and Walker filled those shoes. Walker was a top-end LB2 last season. He finished 10th in the league in solo tackles (84). He scored 241 points last season and has averaged 114 tackles the past two seasons. Walker will continue to get those opportunities going forward with the Colts.
Rashaan Evans, LB, Tennessee Titans
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 16 starts, 951 snaps, 86% defensive snaps, 111 tackles (69 solos), 9 tackles for a loss, 2½ sacks, 7 pressures, 1 fumble recovery, 1 touchdown, 1 pass breakup, and 13.3% missed tackle rate
Rashaan Evans is one of the best up and coming stars in the league. He had a great season in year two of the league scoring 224 fantasy points, but it was his performances in the first two games of the playoffs that really put him on the map. In wins over the Patriots and the Ravens, Evans had a combined seventeen tackles and three tackles for a loss. As the leader of a young and talented defense, his best is yet to come.
Jarrod Wilson, FS, Jacksonville Jaguars
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 16 starts, 1051 snaps, 100% defensive snaps, 79 tackles (57 solos), 6 tackles for a loss, 2 pressures, 1 forced fumble, 2 interception, 4 pass breakups, and 8.1% missed tackle rate
After three years in the league, Jarrod Wilson was nothing more than a backup / special teams player, who patiently waited his turn. When his opportunity came in year four, he took advantage of it. Wilson was a bright spot for a Jaguars defense that was disappointing at best. He led the team in tackles with 79 and had six games with six or more tackles. The Jaguars will need him to play at this level going forward. A great buy low high reward option for fantasy owners.
Jeffrey Simmons, DT, Tennessee Titans
2019 Stats: 9 games played, 7 starts, 314 snaps, 28% defensive snaps, 32 tackles (18 solos), 4 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 5 pressures, 1 pass breakup, and 8.6% missed tackle rate
Jeffrey Simmons missed seven games last season as a rookie, including the first six to injury. When he finally got on the field, he played a backup role early, but quickly worked his way into a starting position. He impressed the Titans enough that they traded away veteran star Jurrell Casey. He only scored a total of 103 fantasy points, but his per-game average of 11.4 would make him a DT1 over a sixteen game season.
JJ Watt DE, Houston Texans
2019 Stats: 8 games played, 8 starts, 469 snaps, 44% defensive snaps, 24 tackles (15 solos), 4 tackles for a loss, 4 sacks, 24 pressures, 3 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble. 2 fumble recoveries, and 11.1% missed tackle rate
We all know just how good JJ Watt can be when he’s healthy, but that has become a major concern the last few years, as he’s missed 32 games in the last four seasons. When healthy he’s easily a DE1 option but the injuries have kept that from happening. Watt’s 111 points scored last year made him a DE4, but the per-game average of 13.99 easily put him in the DE1 tier. Split the difference let’s put him as a low-end DE2.
Tier 3 – AFC South IDP Starters
Jayon Brown, LB, Tennessee Titans
2019 Stats: 14 games played, 14 starts, 830 snaps, 75% defensive snaps, 105 tackles (69 solos), 3 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 4 pressures, 1 fumble recovery, 1 interception, 8 pass breakups, and 5.4% missed tackle rate
Jayon Brown who broke out last season in his 3rd season for the Titans has steadily gotten better each season but took a step back in the pass rush department. His 213 fantasy points were LB3 tier numbers, just missing the tier 2 level. He’ll continue to start for the Titans and produce about the same numbers, so keep him as an LB3 and his value will be just fine.
Harold Landry, OLB, Tennessee Titans
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 16 starts, 952 snaps, 86% defensive snaps, 68 tackles (43 solos), 12 tackles for a loss, 9 sacks, 4 pressures, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 interception, 1 pass breakup, and 17.1% missed tackle rate
Harold Landry was the Titans leading pass rusher a season ago with nine sacks and he scored 186 fantasy points. That point total was good enough for to in the low-end LB3 tier. His points will be tied to his sack total clearly. Reports are the Titans want to scale his play count back to help keep him efficient. Will that happen, remains to be seen.
Benardrick McKinney, LB, Houston Texans
2019 Stats: 14 games played, 14 starts, 846 snaps, 79% defensive snaps, 101 tackles (54 solos), 4 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 5 pressures, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recovery, 3 pass breakups, and 5.6% missed tackle rate
Bernardrick Mckinney is basically a clone of Jayon Brown. They have a similar style of play and their numbers are almost identical. He scored 183 fantasy points to just sneak into the LB3 tier. He’s the Robin to Zach Cunningham’s Batman, which isn’t really a bad thing. McKinney can clean up the scraps and there have been plenty of them for him to be fantasy relevant. A decent LB3 option.
Kenny Vaccaro, SS, Tennessee Titans
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 16 starts, 1063 snaps, 96% defensive snaps, 84 tackles (51 solos), 3 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 4 pressures, 1 interception, 5 pass breakups, and 4.5% missed tackle rate
While Byard may be the superstar of the secondary, it’s Vacarro who sets the tone. Vacarro’s 197 fantasy points were at the top of the tier 3 safeties. He recorded the second-best tackle total of his career last season and should be right at those numbers again for 2020. Great reliable S3 option for fantasy owners.
Justin Reid, FS, Houston Texans
2019 Stats: 15 games played, 15 starts, 917 snaps, 85% defensive snaps, 78 tackles (57 solos), 1 tackle for a loss, 1 pressure, 1 fumble recovery, 2 interceptions, 5 pass breakups, and 10.3% missed tackle rate
Justin Reid is quickly becoming one of the leagues best young free safeties. He finished third on the team in tackles (78) and 2nd in solos (57), and interceptions (2). Reid’s 197 fantasy points were just .2 behind Vaccaro. Reid is the best player in the Texans secondary and I could easily see the youngster pushing to be in tier 2 this season.
Ronnie Harrison, SS, Jacksonville Jaguars
2019 Stats: 14 games played, 14 starts, 833 snaps, 79% defensive snaps, 71 tackles (44 solos), 2 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 3 pressures, 1 fumble recovery, 2 interception, 9 pass breakups, and 10.1% missed tackle rate
As you can see there are a lot of good safeties in the AFC South and Ronnie Harrison is as good as any of them. Harrison finished 2nd on the team in both tackles (71) and interceptions (2). He’s a jack of all trades type player that can fill the box score on any given Sunday. Harrison scored 192 fantasy points last season and is another solid tier 3 safety, that’s definitely worth rostering.
Denico Autry, DT, Indianapolis
2019 Stats: 14 games played, 14 starts, 620 snaps, 60% defensive snaps, 32 tackles (20 solos), 4 tackles for a loss, 3½ sacks, 17 pressures, 1 forced fumbles, 5 pass breakups, and 8.6% missed tackle rate
Denico Autry has been a decent player up front for the Colts the past two seasons. He’s provided them with some much-needed reliability and stability, as well as being that block eater to open holes for their star linebacker. Autry scored 135 points to finish as a DT3 last season. Will the addition of superstar Deforest Buckner help or hurt him? We’ll find out soon enough.
Buys – Josh Allen, Jeffrey Simmons, Rashaan Evans, Justin Reid
Sells – JJ Watt, Harold Landry, Denico Autry, Myles Jack
Keep an eye out for the offensive breakdown of the AFC South on www.dynastyfootballdigest.com, coming soon.