The #2 pick in the NFL Draft, Luke Joeckel. (Credit)
The AFC South is an extremely intriguing division. It has an impressively run franchise that has excelled at the draft in recent years that resides in Houston, and then it has the Jaguars. I have made a point of making fun of Jacksonville as much as I can, but in this post, there will not be as much of that. But we will get to them later.
The division sent two teams to the playoffs and both the Texans and Colts should see an improvement this season barring any major injuries. The Titans are a few key moves away from contending for the playoffs and the Jaguars, well, the Jaguars still have a lot of work to do. Let’s break down each team’s draft and figure out if they helped or hurt their team’s chances of contending.
The Texans are an elite team and elite teams usually do not possess many holes on the depth chart. Something they have been lacking for years, though, is a complimentary receiver to Andre Johnson who can take pressure off of the veteran. Johnson will be 32 next season and has dealt with injuries throughout his career. It is a safe assumption to say that he does not have many seasons left in him to play at an elite level. The Texans needed to keep this in mind and find a receiver in the draft that could one day replace Johnson. They feel they did, but I’m not so sure about it.
DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans first round selection, is a physical receiver who excels in running deep routes. His 1,405 receiving yards on 82 receptions last season are an indication that he can reel in the deep ball, but I question how polished he is in running other routes, especially those across the middle. He can definitely learn these routes, though, and playing with one of the best in the league across from him will certainly help.
After losing free safety Glover Quin to the Detroit Lions, the Texans had another hole they needed to fill. They signed Ed Reed, but we all know that he does not have many years left, so they selected safety D.J. Swearinger out of South Carolina to be Reed’s replacement. Swearinger was a leader for the Gamecocks, which is always an important attribute for NFL scouts, and he shows great versatility on the field. He is a great tackler, but can also assist in the pass defense.
Houston also needed some improvements on the right side of their offensive line and drafting offensive tackle Brennan Williams out of North Carolina may be just what the doctor ordered.
The Texans had an extremely efficient draft and although they had a late pick, they got some players who will be able to help immediately.
Projected Starter: WR DeAndre Hopkins
Surprising Impact Player: OT Brennan Williams – The Texans’ right side of the offensive line struggled at times last season, and if Derek Newton continues to struggle next season, don’t be surprised if Williams gets some major PT.
Despite the Colts’ impressive season last year, they had some major holes to fill come draft day. The biggest one was replacing veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney, who did not fit the new 3-4 scheme. They did this by drafting Bjoern Werner out of Florida State. Werner is one of those “strong motor” ends, but unfortunately, he lacks athleticism and elite speed, so it will be tough for him to put up the same production he did in college. At the very least, he is a better fit in the 3-4 scheme than Freeney was.
The Colts had some troubles last year on the offensive line, as well, and drafting guard Hugh Thornton and center Khaled Holmes should help that front. Protecting Andrew Luck is the number one priority and Indianapolis made it clear that they understand that.
The Colts also needed an upgrade at nose tackle and Montori Hughes may be that upgrade some day. At 6’4” and 329 pounds, he is quite the monstrosity, but he is still raw at this point. If he can put it all together, he could be the anchor that this defense needs.
Projected Starter: DE Bjoern Werner
Surprising Impact Player: RB Kerwynn Williams – Vick Ballard turned out to be pretty good for the Colts, but it does not appear that he is best suited as a three-down back. Williams is a versatile player who also can run between the tackles. Expect him to make a splash next season.
The Titans definitely had the best draft in the AFC South. Their first round selection of guard Chance Warmack had to have pleased Chris Johnson, who has not been able to take two steps without being swarmed by defenders the past two seasons. Warmack is one of the best guard prospects we have seen in recent drafts and it is exactly what the Titans needed. There’s nothing better than a value and need pick at the same time.
Their second round pick of wide receiver Justin Hunter was the right position, but not the right player. Hunter is injury prone and it is fair to say his slender build contributes to that. He is talented when he is on the field, but players who can’t stay healthy in college scare me. Either way, the Titans need help in the receiving corps. and Hunter will provide that.
Their third round pick may have been their best of the draft. Cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson was projected as high as the late first round in some drafts and fell to the Titans. The Titans needed to add depth to their secondary and Wreh-Wilson is definitely a talented player, so another pick worked perfectly for Tennessee.
Projected Starters: G Chance Warmack, WR Justin Hunter, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson
Surprising Impact Player: CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson – Wreh-Wilson is going to get his chance to play and with his size and strength at the cornerback position, I expect him to make an immediate impact. The new breed of cornerbacks has been big with a long wingspan and Wreh-Wilson can be added to that class.
The thing about the Jaguars is that they made some good picks, but they completely ignored some major needs. They ranked dead last in sacks last season and did not even draft a defensive lineman or a linebacker. That has to make you scratch your head a little bit. Also, Jacksonville has refused to side with logic and demote Blaine Gabbert, but instead is giving him another shot at this whole NFL thing.
With their first round pick, they got a guy that many scouts deemed the best prospect in the draft. Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel will definitely sure up some of their offensive line problems.
The Jags also needed to add depth in the secondary and they did that by adding safety Jonathan Cyprien and cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz, Jeremy Harris, and Demetrius McCray. At this point, the Jaguars have so many needs that it was hard for them to make bad picks. And that is where I bite my tongue.
I really need someone to explain to me why a team that needed to make every pick count would waste a fifth rounder on Denard Robinson? The Jaguars website is listing Robinson as a running back and that may be the one position they are all set at. And, who knows if Robinson can even play running back? New front office; same stupidity. I’m glad I could fit that in. You can’t write about Jacksonville and not criticize them in some way.
Projected Starters: OT Luke Joeckel, S Jonathan Cyprien, Benchwarmer Denard Robinson (Yeah right!)
Surprising Impact Player: WR Ace Sanders – Sanders will help Jacksonville in the slot and will use his speed and efficient route running to make an impact next season. His quarterback is pretty bad, though, so it may be hard for him to get the ball in his hands. Maybe the addition of a polished route runner doing damage in the middle of the field will be the inspiration Blaine Gabbert needs. On second thought, probably not.
By: Matt Levine