What an offseason has it been for the AFC South, from the departure of perhaps the best player in DeAndre Hopkins, the dismantling of the Jaguars, the Titans betting on Ryan Tannehill, and the Colts getting a new starting quarterback this has been perhaps the most turnover the division has seen in recent memory.
As for what team came out on top after this unprecedented amount of moves, the Colts emerge as favorites. My opinion may be biased, being a Colts fan, but not only did the Colts get better, but also the rest of the AFC South got considerably worse.
As for the Colts...
The Colts finally started using the massive amount of cap space and draft capital they amassed under Chris Ballard. Trading the #13 pick for All-Pro IDL DeForest Buckner, signing future HOFer Philip Rivers at quarterback, and filling out the defensive depth chart with quality players like Xavier Rhodes, who has plenty of potential, and Sheldon Day, who started in the Super Bowl for the 49ers.
Not only did the Colts add a meaningful amount of talent, but they also lost very little. Pierre Desir was cut after an underwhelming 2019 season, Eric Ebron was not re-signed after a disappointing encore to his breakout 2018 year, and has since been feuding with Colts fans online, Margus Hunt was let go after not making much of an impact from the inside and perhaps the loss that hurts the most is that of Jabaal Sheard, who has been a solid edge defender since signing with the Colts, and was one of the best run defenders in the team.
Using PFR’s Approximate Value as reference, here is the overall Colts added/lost value.
|#13 pick (**)||5|
(*) For Philip Rivers’ AV I used the differential between him and Brisset, which was +2.
(**) Approximate value using historical data for 1st rounders.
The Colts are also keeping the coaching staff intact, as well as cap flexibility for the upcoming years. So to recap, the Colts managed to upgrade the most important position in the game, added a star on a key scheme position and managed to fill some holes in the defense. The cost for that was the 13th overall pick and a big (deserved) extension for DeForest Buckner.
As for the Texans...
Bill O’Brien just keeps on angering Texans’ fans. After blowing a 24-0 lead against the Chiefs, there where plenty of calls for his head to roll, instead he got even more control of the roster.
Buckle up for the rollercoaster that was the Texans off-season. First, O’Brien shocked everyone and traded away the NFL’s best receiver, and Watson’s favourite weapon for a declining running back with a massive contract and a second round pick. The reasoning for the move was that the Texans did not want to increase Hopkins’ salary and he was a locker room problem. I still cannot wrap my head around the trade, if you have a player the caliber of DeAndre Hopkins, you do everything in your power to keep him, and keep him happy, you do not trade him away for that return, especially considering the haul the Vikings got for Stefon Diggs, who is a solid receiver but nowhere near the level of Hopkins. O’Brien replaced Hopkins by signing Randall Cobb to a 3-year $27M contract and trading their own second round pick for Brandin Cooks. Considering the Texans already have Kenny Stills and Will Fuller on their roster, the trade-off seems just dumb. Houston also lost nose tackle D.J Reader, an underrated key hog to the Texans defense.
As for the Titans...
Tennessee shocked everyone, myself included, and made the AFC Championship game after eliminating both the Patriots and the Ravens. The Titans relied on a strong defense, the scorching hot running of Derrick Henry and Tannehill not being a complete liability at quarterback. After a strong season, Tennessee signed Tannehill to a hefty contract and franchise tagged Derrick Henry.
The problem is that after that, the Titans lost plenty of impact players across the entire depth chart, and also historic defensive coordinator Dean Pees retired. Tennessee managed to sign edge rusher Vic Beasley and are still reportedly in pursue of Jadeveon Clowney, but that is not nearly enough to compensate the amount of talent and leadership lost across the board.
The impact of veteran players like Jurrell Casey, Wesley Woodyard, and Logan Ryan on that defense, along with the loss of coordinator Pees leaves plenty of reasons to think that the Titans defense is poised for a big regression, and the Vrabel’s smashmouth gameplan is not as effective when they are trailing, so I’m not sold on the Titans as contenders just yet.
As for the Jaguars...
The Jaguars finally decided to blow it all to the ground and, once again, start rebuilding. The once feared Jaguars defense is now mostly gone, as the Jags traded away both Calais Campbell and A.J Bouye this off-season, and it is clear that pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue does not want to put on a Jaguars uniform again in his life. For once, I loved the Joe Schobert signing. I think he is one of the most underrated linebackers in the NFL and he will help the Jags defense stay afloat. Jacksonville’s immediate future will depend solely on if Gardner Minshew is indeed a starting caliber quarterback or if his magical rookie season was simply a mirage.
|Yannick Ngakoue (*)||7|
(*) Yannick Ngakoue is still technically a Jaguars player, but just take a look at his recent tweets and you’ll know he is gone for good.
In conclusion the Colts have had the best off-season in the AFC South, and now look primed for a rebound season after missing the playoffs last year. If Philip Rivers can provide solid quarterback play and the young players continue to develop, along with a solid rookie class, Indy should run away with the division and perhaps even make a deep playoff run. This seems as one big if, but with the amount of talent the division lost this off-season, the Colts look to have an easier path to finally recapturing the AFCS throne.