After Peyton Manning left the AFC South, the division went through a scramble for supremacy and all seemed to flounder. The Colts and (a healthy) Andrew Luck got first crack and got as far as the AFC Championship, then the Texans made a few runs into the playoffs and didn’t get too far, the same went for the Titans, but last year and the Jacksonville Jaguars were different.
Sure, the Jags went into the AFC Championship game and lost, but barely. The Jaguars surprised many in 2017 and they controlled portions of that game, but they simply left too much time on the clock for Tom Brady to do Tom Brady things. The question now is, can they make it back?
But then there are the Colts who look to have Andrew Luck coming back. The Texans will have Deshaun Watson back. The Titans have retooled with a new head coach in Mike Vrabel, and they made the playoffs under the wild card banner. This division is no longer floundering. Something special is building in the AFC South. Lets take a look at how they added to it during the draft…
Houston Texans: B
3.) Justin Reid, S, Stanford
3.) Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi St.
3.) Jordan Akins, TE, UCF
4.) Keke Coutee, WR, Texas Tech
6.) Duke Ejiofor, OLB, Wake Forrest
6.) Jordan Thomas, TE, Mississippi St.
6.) Peter Kalambayl, OLB, Stanford
7.) Jermaine Kelly, DB, San Jose St.
The Texans didn’t draft until the third round, because of the trade up to get quarterback Deshaun Watson last year. Despite, that Houston still came away with a quality haul. Reid, could start as a rookie. He’s a classic free safety with great instincts, proven by his five interceptions and 13 pass breakups over the past two seasons. Rankin, is a bit raw, but he has starter upside. He could stay on the left side, could move to play on the right side. Maybe he gets kicked into guard. No matter what, he’s a starter. Akins and Coutee, gives Watson some needed auxiliary weapons. As a second tight end, Akins could create some great mismatches. He is a raw prospect though. Coutee, is a burner who should help in the slot and on special teams. Ejiofor, an end in college may be moved to linebacker in the Texans 3-4 system, maybe he stays on the line as a five-technique, regardless he’s a quality pass rusher with 33.5 tackles for loss and 17 sacks over the past two seasons.
Indianapolis Colts: B
1.) Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
2.) Darius Leonard, LB, South Carolina St.
2.) Braden Smith, OG, Auburn
2.) Kemoko Turay, DE, Rutgers
2.) Tyquan Lewis, DE, Ohio St.
4.) Nyheim Hines, RB, NC State
5.) Daurice Fountain, WR, Northern Iowa
5.) Jordan Wilkins, RB, Ole Miss
6.) Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
7.) Matthew Adams, LB, Houston
7.) Zaire Franklin, LB, Syracuse
It was a bit interesting to see the Colts wait so long to address their receiving corps, but the plan of GM Chris Ballard was pretty clear. The Colts, who are in the midst of a massive rebuild, were going to rebuild the trenches. They took arguably the best player in the draft in Nelson. He’s a plug-and-play player who will start for 10 years. He’s special. Smith offers versatility, as he can also play tackle. Clearly, Ballard wanted to better protect Andrew Luck and he did just that. On the defensive side of the ball, Turray and Leis offer quality edge rushers. The team is moving to a 4-3 system and need classic edge players. Lewis, was a steady producer at Ohio State and can set the edge. Turay, is raw, but has special talent. He’s still new to the game, but he could grow into a nightmare for quarterbacks. The run of offensive skill players is much needed depth. Two names that most stick out are Hines and Cain. Hines has proven production and a playmaker anytime he touches the ball. Cain, is new to the position after being converted from quarterback, but has good size and has impressed so far. He is raw, but could developmental into a quality weapon.
Jacksonville Jaguars: A
1.) Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
2.) DJ Chark, WR, LSU
3.) Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama
4.) Will Richardson, OT, NC State
6.) Tanner Lee, QB, Nebraska
7.) Leon Jacobs, LB, Wisconsin
7.) Logan Cooke, P, Mississippi St.
I don’t know who they do it, but every year the Jags bring in another exceptional draft class. Their first three picks could all significantly contribute as rookies. Bryan, is raw, but is a bull in a china shop. He fits in line with the toughness and aggressive nature that the Jaguars defense prides themselves on. The same could be said for Harrison. He’s a hammer over the middle and has some ball skills too. Chark, is an intriguing prospect. He has the size and athleticism to be special, but rarely got the chance to show his skills at quarterback starved LSU. Paired with Blake Bortles, Chark could really show off what he can do. Richardson, is a developmental prospect and a massive one at that. If he can continue to work on his technique, he could start in a few years. Lee, has everything you want in a quarterback he just has to put it together. A good developmental pick. Jacobs, will start as a special teamer, but could emerge as a starter.
Tennessee Titans: B+
1.) Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
2.) Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College
5.) Dane Cruikshank, S, Arizona
6.) Luke Falk, QB, Washington St.
The Titans, under the leadership of head coach Mike Vrabel and GM John Robinson, twice jumped ahead of the Patriots in the opening rounds of the draft. Both Vrabel and Robinson spent time in Foxboro, so maybe they knew something. Either way, the Titans gave up a lot to move up, but addressed their two biggest needs with two quality prospects. Evans, is a classic Alabama linebacker, who will man the middle and dominate. He has the athleticism to cover and blitz as well as any. Landry, dropped much to the surprise of everyone and the Titans were quick to put an end to it. Landry led the nation in sacks in 2016, but injuries and double teams crushed his ability to follow up the stellar campaign. Cruikshank, should hits hard and should be an important special teams ace. Falk, put up big time numbers at Washington State, but comes from a spread offense. He’ll have to adapt to taking snaps under center.