The drought is upon us. We have reached the point in the year when the NFL news cycle grinds to a painfully dull trickle and we are left in the pitiable situation in which we wait excitedly for training camp. It will get so bad that we’ll long for a preseason game before it is all said and done.
So, in the interest of feeding my appetite for football, I decided to take a look at the skill positions around the AFC South heading into the 2021 NFL season. To get us started, we’re going to look at the quarterback rooms of each AFC South team and rank them.
1.) Jacksonville Jaguars
It is certainly a new AFC South, because the leader on this list wasn’t even particularly hard to arrive at. The Jacksonville Jaguars used the first overall pick to select Trevor Lawrence, who is widely believed to be the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck. Luck transformed a totally void 2-14 roster into a perennial winner overnight. If Lawrence can do the same, it will mean a whole new outlook on the league for a consistently bad Jaguars team.
The strength of the Jaguars QB room isn’t just in quality of starter, but of quality depth. Gardner Minshew became a bit of a legend in Jacksonville through his time as the starter, and while he is no Trevor Lawrence, he proved that he can lead the team and win games, and in particular he was able to give the Colts trouble. He’ll slot into the role of backup and immediately be one of the best QB2’s in the league.
There will be plenty of obstacles to overcome with this team, and head coach Urban Meyer and OC Darrell Bevell aren’t coaches that inspire a lot of confidence for many, but this room on the whole is a strong one.
2.) Tennessee Titans
The gap from first to second is significant in this case. With Trevor Lawrence (if he is what he’s believed to be) as the class of the division, the next best starting QB is in Nashville. Ryan Tannehill experienced a career renaissance upon arrival in Tennessee, and the real question will be whether he can continue that success without offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, who took a head coaching job in Atlanta this offseason.
Ryan Tannehill ranked 6th in DVOA for the 2020 season, and was aided immensely by the production the team gets from Derrick Henry. The history of running backs putting together multiple years like Henry has are nonexistent, so expecting that same production from him in 2021 would be foolish. This likely means more pressure on Tannehill, as well as on new OC Todd Downing.
Behind Tannehill vying for the backup job are former 7th rounder Logan Woodside and former 2nd round pick DeShone Kizer. Neither player would be encouraging to see suit up for any amount of time.
3.) Indianapolis Colts
The Carson Wentz experiment is upon us in 2021, and it has created a ton of varying opinions already. Those who believe in the gamble are banking on Frank Reich being able to regenerate the Carson Wentz of 2017 and reproduce an MVP caliber season out of him. Skeptics will point out that the 2017 season was a bit of an outlier for Wentz, and that his team won the Super Bowl without him, which says a lot about the quality of surrounding talent.
Regardless of where you sit in the discussion, much of the Colts season will depend on how Wentz adjusts and his level of play. Last year Philip Rivers finished the season 12th in DVOA, compared with Wentz’s 34th. It was a dreadful season for him. However, Wentz finished 13th and 20th in DVOA in 2018 and 2019 respectively, so perhaps with the dramatically better surrounding talent and the mind of Frank Reich at his disposal, it is safe to hope he’ll find his way to at least a good, if not great performance in 2021.
Behind Wentz are two total unknowns. Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger are two young and unproven players who’ll jockey for backup rights. Ehlinger is well thought of as a locker room leader from his time at Texas, and Eason has the physical traits teams look for at QB. Neither has taken an NFL snap, so they don’t offer a ton of reassurance as to how they might perform as a backup if called upon. That matters, since Carson Wentz has only played 16 games in 2 of his 5 seasons in the NFL.
4.) Houston Texans
What a mess are the Texans. Since their addition to the league as an expansion team, they’ve struggled to make any real headway as a franchise, spending their first years getting crushed under the foot of Peyton Manning’s Hall-of-Fame talent.
When they assembled a defense that could make plays and began to put things together, they couldn’t get the quarterback position right, wasting J.J. Watt’s stellar career. To add insult to injury, ownership became victim to a hostile takeover, ceding control of the company to T.Y. Hilton, who turned NRG Stadium into his vacation home.
Now, when they finally have a top 5 quarterback in Deshaun Watson, they find him embroiled in a nasty series of sexual assault allegations that could leave him gone from the league entirely. That situation has helped to distract from the fact that the team had fully alienated him before those allegations had even surfaced.
The result is a quarterback room where Tyrod Taylor is the starter, with Jeff Driskel and 3rd round pick Davis Mills as the other options. With limited offensive weapons to throw to and a defense that has struggled to stop anyone, this is a team primed to be picking early in 2022.