As we put the draft in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to look ahead at the AFC South and begin to try to predict how the division will break down in the upcoming season. To do that, we’ll take each position group from each team and pit them against each other, ranking them from worst to best.
To clarify how I’ll be arriving at these rankings, I will be taking various factors into account for each position group. For example, simply having the best running back doesn’t make a group the strongest if they have to run behind a cardboard cutout offensive line. The totality of the situation will be considered before arriving at a ranking.
It may seem like I’m picking on the Jags, but they just have not done much to solidify their offense, and it shows. Nick Foles is going to have his work cut out for him this season, because he won’t have much to work with.
Dede Westbrook is the team’s top receiver in terms of talent, and his 717 yard, 5 touchdown campaign in 2018 isn’t terrible, but it would be good for second on every other AFC South team except Indy, where it would rank third. Their second most productive receiver in 2018? Donte Moncrief, who left in free agency. Marquise Lee’s return from a knee injury that wiped out his 2018 season can hopefully fill the void left by Moncrief.
D.J. Chark, Chris Conley, and Keelan Cole make up the rest of the room, and while they are a young group and someone could have a breakout season, there simply isn’t a lot of blue chip talent in the receiver room to hang your hat on. Nick Foles is a better quarterback than Blake Bortles, and that will likely mean better performances from the receivers, but how much can he be expected to raise their game? This offense seems set to be a tough watch.
This was a really tough one, because there really is a pretty solid group of talent in the AFC South receiver rooms excepting Jacksonville. The thing keeping the Titans out of second here is that they don’t yet have an elite player at the wide receiver position. Corey Davis could have that kind of year and be the next big thing, but he isn’t there yet, and I don’t know that Marcus Mariota can get him there.
Adam Humphries was a great addition to their roster and should give them a solid weapon out of the slot. He has been money over his past 3 seasons in that role and should easily be good for 600+ yards and a handful of touchdowns. Taywan Taylor and Tajae Sharp are both solid number depth players to fill out the room.
However, it is rookie A.J. Brown that intrigues me. Brown is a very talented player out of Ole Miss. He has good athleticism and size to pair with his polished route running and hands. His consistent play is the kind many receivers don’t have when teams get swept away by combine numbers in favor of players who can do their jobs. He can play any position, and could immediately put himself in contention for a starting role and make this offense better.
The Texans have the best receiver in the division in DeAndre Hopkins. There is an argument to be made that Hopkins is the best receiver in the NFL, and I’m not going to make it here, but I’d certainly listen if someone else wanted to. Hopkins’ ability to contort to the ball and make highlight reel catches is wild, and now paired with a real quarterback in Deshaun Watson, he looks better than ever. With the exception of Pierre Desir, Hopkins has been almost unstoppable, and I don’t expect that to change in 2019.
Behind Hopkins is Will Fuller. Fuller’s biggest knock is that he hasn’t yet been healthy for an entire season. There is little doubt he can play, and should he stay healthy, this team is completely different. His health does matter though, and he’ll be rehabbing a late season ACL tear, which could limit his availability and effectiveness.
Keke Coutee also missed a lot of his rookie year with injuries, but when he was on the field looked like a dynamic piece to the Texans offense. If he can stay healthy and take another step in his second season, Coutee should be primed to take on a significant role in the offense.
All in all, a lot depends on injury. DeAndre Hopkins has proven he can carry the team on his back, but there are limits to what one player can do, and it seems unfair to ask him to do more than his 1572 yard 11 touchdown season from last year. The guys behind their top three leave a lot to be desired, so if they can’t play, it changes the offense’s potential entirely.
Okay, so of the rankings thus far, this one made me squirm the most while deciding the order. There are very good arguments to be made that any of the Titans, Texans, and Colts could be on top here, but I chose the Colts for two reasons: T.Y. Hilton and Frank Reich.
First, let’s start with Hilton. T.Y. Hilton did something last season I didn’t think he could do. He raised his game. The guy has been fantastic for years, so I didn’t think I could be much more impressed with him, but his gutsy 2018 campaign changed that. He proved himself to be one of the toughest players on the team, and played through a high and low ankle sprain to lead his team to the playoffs and then a playoff win. He is a top ten wide receiver in the NFL, and a dangerous chess piece for Reich’s offense. Oh, and he’ll be back healthy.
The rest of the receivers are less established, but let’s start with Devin Funchess. Funchess was a player Frank Reich specifically wanted to target in free agency, and was brought in to be that number two receiver across from Hilton. He provides a size advantage that should make him a major asset in the red zone, and I expect we’ll see Frank Reich capitalize on that to make defenses choose to cover Funchess or Eric Ebron inside the 20. He has averaged 558 yards per season, and that level of production inside this offense would be huge, given the Colts’ tendency to spread the ball around.
Chester Rogers is a much maligned player by Colts fans, but considering that the UDFA has managed to stick on the roster, contribute to special teams, and was one of the more dependable options down the stretch when Luck needed production, I’m not entirely sure why. He isn’t a yards after the catch monster or a speedy deep threat, but he does offer a dependable option as a 3rd or 4th receiver on the roster.
These three alone aren’t worth first place. The next two players, however, might be. Parris Campbell, the Colts’ second round selection, seems like a perfect match for Frank Reich’s system, both in terms of skill set and personality. It doesn’t mean much, but he has already flashed his potential at the rookie mini camp, and if he is able to contribute in any meaningful way, he adds a much needed yards after the catch receiver who can also make plays downfield.
Second year player Deon Cain is another name to watch, as he looked incredible during camp before going down with an ACL tear in the first preseason game. There are certainly some players who light up the off-season and it never translates to actual games, but when you can outshine T.Y. Hilton, who is often the talk of camp, there just might be something to that. Because neither of these guys needs to start or produce right away, they just provide the potential for depth that could eventually challenge to be starters. That depth and potential is huge.
This one was the toughest ranking yet. The Titans have possibly the deepest group, with 4-5 guys who will be solid contributors but no sure-fire elite receivers. The Texans have one of the best receivers in the NFL, and two very good guys behind him who can’t stay on the field. Ultimately, the Colts have an elite top receiver, a stable full of very good potential receivers, and a coach and quarterback who are great at getting the most out of their talent.
All these situations are full of “ifs.” If Corey Davis has a breakout year, the Titans’ receiver room could be incredible. If The Texans receiver room stays healthy, they should be hard to stop. If the Colts get Parris Campbell really going and Deon Cain comes back to the form he had last off-season, this could be an unbeatable group.
2018 AFC South WR Stats
|Wide Receiver||Games||Receptions||Yards||Touchdowns||Catch %|
|Wide Receiver||Games||Receptions||Yards||Touchdowns||Catch %|
|Marquise Lee (2017)||14||56||702||3||58.3|
So what do you think?