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AFC South Preview: The top players at every offensive position

Which Colts players are the top at their position?

Miami Dolphins v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Indianapolis Colts finished second in the AFC South in 2018, with a record of 10-6. As they head into the 2019 season, the once “young, rebuilding team” is now looking to win their first division title since 2014. Comparing the Colts to the rest of the division, how does their top talent stack up? In some position groups, the Colts have the obvious top choice, while at others, the top spot is more debated.

With that being said, here are my top players at each offensive position in the AFC South.

Quarterback: Andrew Luck

One of the easier positions to rank in this division, Andrew Luck is clearly the top dog in the division, among quarterbacks. After missing 2017 with a shoulder injury, Luck returned to form in 2018 with a marvelous 4,593 yard and 39 touchdown yearly performance. The former first overall pick is a dominant player when he is on the field, and its hard to envision him not being among the league’s best in 2019.

In terms of his competition, Deshaun Watson was the only player in contention. He has put together a very solid first two years in the NFL, and is an absolute playmaker on critical downs. If he can be more consistent and accurate, there is nothing stopping him from being a top 10 QB in the NFL. Macus Mariota has a lot to prove this season, and Nick Foles is a former Superbowl MVP who has to prove that he is more than just the Eagles’ system in 2019.

Running Back: Derrick Henry

This was one of the tougher position battles in the division but ultimately I decided to go with the powerful running back in Derrick Henry. Henry started off slow last season, but finished the year on an absolute tear, rushing for 585 yards in the final month of the season. When you combine his overall stat production with his elite tool set for a running back, Henry just narrowly edges Marlon Mack for the top running back spot.

Speaking of Mack, he was excellent in 2018 as well. For him to claim the top spot in 2019, he has to be less of a liability in the passing game and stay healthy for a full 16 games. Lamar Miller is a steady runner in Houston and the Jacksonville situation is a bit of a mess. I guess Leonard Fournette is still the lead rusher down there, but he has been fairly ineffective since entering the NFL.

X Receiver: DeAndre Hopkins

Perhaps the best wide receiver in the entire NFL last year, Hopkins runs away with this spot. He put together an insane 115 catches for 1,572 yards— both of those numbers being career bests— for 11 touchdowns in 2018. The most impressive part is that he was battling through injuries in the second half of the season, as well. Hopkins is one of the league’s best wide receivers and was practically unguardable in 2018 (when covered by anybody but Pierre Desir).

Devin Funchess should be solid for the Colts, and Corey Davis enjoyed a bit of a breakout last year, but neither are likely to surpass Hopkins anytime soon.

Z Receiver: TY Hilton

Hilton may have put together the most underrated season in the NFL last year. After missing time early in the year, and not practicing the whole final month of the season, Hilton still put up 76 catches for 1,270 yards, and 6 touchdowns. He has been one of the best deep threats in football since entering the league, and is Luck’s number one target in the passing game. It is safe to assume that Hilton will again put up an outstanding stat line in 2019.

Taywan Taylor and Keelan Cole are both young players with a ton of upside but they are unlikely to get near the level of Hilton in 2019.

Slot Receiver: Adam Humphries

This one was very tough, as the AFC South has an outstanding group of slot receivers. Humphries put together a very good season in 2018 despite having to share targets with Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, and OJ Howard. He had 76 catches for 816 yards and 5 touchdowns for the Bucs last season. I expect around the same numbers as he goes to the Titans in 2019.

Dede Westbrook and Keke Coutee both had very good seasons last year and did give Humpries a run for his money. They just need to show more consistency and durability going forward to surpass him. Parris Campbell could very well be the top slot in this division after next year as well, he is just a bit of an unknown at this point.

Tight End: Jack Doyle

This position group was a tough battle between the Colts’ duo of tight ends but ultimately I decided to go with Doyle. He may have had a forgetful season in 2018 but he has been the definition of consistency for most of his career with the Colts. He is an excellent blocker, one of the most reliable pass catchers in the league, and is the safety net for Andrew Luck. Overall, Doyle’s complete game just barely gave him the edge over Eric Ebron.

Ebron was outstanding in 2018 as he made his first career Pro Bowl with the Colts. He is an excellent pass catcher and wins those 50/50 balls more often than not. He just needs to improve his blocking and consistency to take that next step to being a top-tier tight end.

Left Tackle: Taylor Lewan

Lewan is one of the better left tackles in the NFL and has been a great addition to the Titans these past few seasons. He is powerful and nimble and controls blocks with great athleticism. He was recently rewarded with a big contract extension by the team and he has absolutely been worth it.

Anthony Castonzo has been a very consistent tackle for the Colts for many years and came in at number two on this list. He returned to his younger form in 2018 and could potentially put up a Pro Bowl season in 2019 if he stays healthy. Cam Robinson is also a solid tackle for the Jaguars who just needs to stay healthy so he can reach his potential.

Left Guard: Quenton Nelson

This one.. wasn’t particularly close. Nelson was an absolute beast for the Colts in 2018 and was easily worth his top 6 selection in his draft class. From his famous pancakes to his “Run the Damn Ball” hat, Nelson has been a culture shock for a Colts’ offensive line that needed it. He already has a Pro Bowl and an All-Pro selection under his belt through one career season and I expect many many more in his career.

Andrew Norwell and Rodger Saffold are respected veterans in this league but they are not near Nelson in this part of their careers. They should be solid starters in 2019 though for the Jaguars and Titans, respectively.

Center: Ryan Kelly

Another selection that wasn’t particularly close. Kelly was outstanding in 2018 despite missing a few games due to injury. He is an excellent run blocker who is a star when asked to get out in space and pull. He is a safe and consistent pass blocker as well, and rarely makes mistakes. If he can stay healthy in 2019, I think his first Pro Bowl— maybe even All-Pro— is in the realm of possibility. He is that talented.

The only other notable center in the division is Nick Martin for the Texans. He’s a skilled center who hasn’t had much help over the years in Houston.

Right Guard: Mark Glowinski

Sensing a trend with these offensive line selections? Glowinski was not thought to be a starter for the Colts in 2018 until an injury to Matt Slausen led to playing time. He put together an outstanding end of the season, where he dominated opponents with great athleticism and strength. He may never be a Pro Bowl talent like Nelson on the other side, but he should be a solid starter for years to come for the Colts.

The rest of the division is not great at right guard. AJ Cann had some decent moments last year against top competition but he did give up three sacks to Denico Autry as well.

Right Tackle: Braden Smith

The “weak link” on the Colts’ offensive line in 2018 still put together a very good rookie season. After playing guard throughout his entire college career, Smith was thrown into action against the Patriots and held on to the starting spot ever since. He has great size and athleticism, and that was on full display last season. The sky is certainly the limit with this talented tackle.

The only other player to consider here would be Jack Conklin for the Titans. The former first rounder has been fairly average since entering the league and could certainly use a big 2019 to get back on track.