The AFC has experienced a period of significant transition during this off-season. The Patriots saw a mass exodus of talent from their roster, the Chiefs lost the best players on their defense and could lose their star wideout, and the Steelers saw Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell out the door.
With the NFL Draft just over a week away, let’s take a look at things a bit closer to home for our Indianapolis Colts. We’re going to attempt to rank the teams in the AFC South as they stand now, prior to the draft. Let’s get to it.
Some could call it slightly blue-colored glasses, but the Indianapolis Colts have all the reason in the world to be excited about the coming season. They had a historically great draft class in 2018, saw the return of one of the best quarterbacks in football to good health, fixed their offensive line problems, and hired a head coach and staff who could get this team ready to play at a high level consistently.
For many players, year two results in a huge jump in production. It is worth noting that in Luck’s time with the Colts, his two best seasons came in his second year running the same offense (shocking, I know).
With no major holes in the roster forcing their hand, this team will be able to draft the best talent available and work their rookies into the fold. The addition of Devin Funchess and the return of Deon Cain and Marcus Johnson means more competition in the wide receiver room as well. T.Y. Hilton being back to full health won’t hurt either. Oh, and lest we forget, some guy named Jack Doyle will be back in action in 2019.
This team is a lock for the top spot in the AFC South power rankings, and it would take some pretty incredible drafts by the other teams to catch up.
Of the teams in the AFC South, the Titans are my least favorite by far, so it pains me to give them credit. However, they have had a solid off-season so far. It can be dangerous getting too wrapped up in the off-season achievement awards, because they often don’t pan out. However, this team seems to have made some good moves.
Colts fans know how big a deal having a solid backup quarterback is, and adding Ryan Tannehill solidifies that role for the Titans, who have struggled with keeping Marcus Mariota healthy. They also signed Adam Humphries to bolster their wide receiver room and provide a reliable weapon in the passing game. They signed defensive end Cameron Wake and guard Roger Saffold as well, and did all this without leveraging their future or significantly overpaying.
In short, the Titans set themselves up to be able to draft the strong areas of this draft class to fill their needs. They could use a good tight end, and they’ll have their pick of several really good ones. They could also use defensive line help, and that is a strength of the class.
If they are able to add a quality player at those positions and find a solid receiver in the draft, this team will be greatly improved. The question will continue to be at the quarterback position, and whether or not they can fix the issues with their offensive line that keep getting Mariota hit. If Mariota can stay upright, this team could be pretty good in 2019.
The Texans were the beneficiaries of an absurd amount of luck in 2018. Situations simply broke their way all season long. That’s how it goes in the NFL, sometimes, and they took advantage of it to make their way to the playoffs. The one thing we know with luck though, is that the pendulum often swings back the other way with a vengeance.
That is my expectation for this Texans team. They certainly have some things going for them. Deshaun Watson is a good quarterback. He had a solid season and showed a connection with DeAndre Hopkins that was not unlike the one between Luck and Hilton. However, there are a lot of questions about the rest of the offense. Will Fuller and Keke Coutee are both assets in the receiving room, however, both have spent a great deal of time in the training room as well. DeAndre Hopkins can’t do it all on his own if this team wants to win a lot of games.
The most pressing area of need for the Texans is at offensive line. The Texans allowed 62 sacks in 2018 and 54 in 2017. You simply cannot be that bad in pass protection and expect to keep your quarterback on the field for very long. They have got to draft well on the offensive line, because if they don’t it will be very bad for this franchise long term.
On the defensive side, they let safety Tyrann Mathieu walk and replaced him with Tashaun Gipson. Personally I think that is a downgrade and a mistake by the Texans. Mathieu had a relatively solid season and now they get a guy who has to work out of a new system instead. Kareem Jackson and Christian Covington have also left the defense.
This should still be a solid defensive team, however, they struggled mightily in the secondary and haven’t done near enough to address that. This draft may force them to choose where to spend their capital, either on the offensive line, or in the secondary. I’m not sure they can fix both.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have all the pieces on defense to be a team no one wants to mess with. They had them last year too. The question is, which team shows up? Conflict abounded last season in the Jacksonville locker room, and Doug Marrone will need to prove he can unify the team if he wants to stick around.
The biggest issue with the Jaguars over the last several years has been at quarterback. They doubled down on Blake Bortles in 2018, and to no one’s surprise except them, he was awful. This off-season, they attempted to address that by signing Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles.
I like Nick Foles. He had a great run to win a Super Bowl, and he beat the Patriots. That will always leave a soft spot for him in my heart. However, Foles is in no way the answer to the Jaguars’ quarterback problems. He was able to flourish in Doug Pederson’s offense, surrounded by a talented cast of skill players and protected by a very good offensive line.
He won’t have any of those things in Jacksonville. If I asked you who the best offensive weapon for the Eagles was, you’d have to think about it, because there are several good options. If I asked the same about the Jaguars, you’d have to think about it, because you probably don’t know who most of them are.
I believe that Nick Foles is an excellent backup quarterback, and can do well in the right system and in optimal conditions. He is not any kind of savior for this team. The Jaguars need to address their quarterback situation in the draft, and they need to surround him with good skill players, of they will continue to squander their significant defensive talent.