The AFC South could easily be one of the most contested divisions next year. Only one team seems to be likely written out and that's the Jaguars — unless Gardner Minshew shows up next year — and in a big way.
Tennessee to me feels like the best team, but I think the difference between it, and Houston is minimal. Last year the Titans dealt with a midseason quarterback change when Ryan Tannehill took over for Marcus Mariota. The change was exactly what the team needed as Tanehill went (7-3) in the games he started and led the team to the playoffs, where it would bow out in the AFC championship — a remarkable feat for the backup when the season began.
Houston was the winner of the division last season and DeShaun Watson and company will hope it can do the same this year. The trade of DeAndre Hopkins though is a concern, as the team lost its No. 1 receiver and got back a running back and some picks. The trade has been chastised throughout the offseason with the Cardinals definitely fleecing the Texans.
That leaves the Colts, who are behind the Titans and Texans for sure in the power ranking, but the question is by how much. It will be interesting to see what Philip Rivers can do in Indianapolis, and the veteran shouldn’t be written off just yet even if he's coming off of a down year.
No team strikes me as a lock to win the division out of the gates, and the early season matchups will be the tell for who may be best prepared to come out on top.
Draft analysis in order of the strongest draft class to the weakest:
Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10): If you take a look at the first three picks for the Jaguars in the draft it would appear to be a pretty strong class, but the back half drives down the value a bit. C.J. Henderson was the second best corner in the class and a huge need for a team that no longer has A.J. Bouye or Jalen Ramsey. He was great at Florida and his athleticism should assist him as he looks to translate his game to the next level.
K'Lavon Chaisson will also likely start next season at either linebacker or edge. He already has a great understanding at the positions and will learn alongside Yannick Ngakoue for at least a season unless Ngakoue receives the trade that he so desperately wants.
Laviska Shenault Jr. could become a great target for Garner Minshew if the duo impress in year one. His frequent injuries though has to be a concern. The risk may be worthwhile though with Laviska being a great talent when healthy. He is a strong receiver who is a threat anywhere on the field and he doesn’t shy away from going up for contested catches, accepting the punishment that comes with it.
Shaquille Quarterman is good, but not great, and could serve as a backup for the Jaguars at the linebacker position. At 6’6” Collin Johnson has the size to be a threat on contested passes but his below average speed may limit him.
The pick that interests me the most was the acquisition of Jake Luton. As a quarterback with size, he also already looks to be a pro-style quarterback. Last year he threw 28 touchdowns and only threw three interceptions. While he targeted Isaiah Hodgins constantly and relied on him to win 50/50 catches, Lutton rarely put the ball in harm's way. He doesn’t take sacks often, and if he can become a threat to scramble, his 6’6” frame could give him an edge in pushing through tackles. This was a quarterback that I felt was a great option for the Patriots to target as a stylistic replacement for Brady and has potential to be a good quarterback if he develops.
Tennessee Titans (9-7): The Titans started its draft off with a tackle, picking up Georgia’s Isaiah Wilson. At 6-feet and 6-inches and 350 pounds, he already possesses an NFL frame. Playing at Georgia, Wilson suited up for 24 out of a potential 25 games during his two years at the school and was a great run blocker as he assisted D’Andre Swift last season. He could challenge for a spot next season, but the Titans could also elect to work on his pass protection.
Tennessee followed up the pick by drafting a cornerback in Kristian Fulton out of LSU. He was good in college but showed inconsistencies, however if polished he has the potential to be a great cornerback for a team that was filling out one of its number one needs. His 14 pass breakups last season led the LSU defense.
Darrynton Evans has potential to be a running back two for a team with a solidified starter in Derrick Henry. Evans had no fumbles on 482 carries, and has the ability to be used as a receiving back. He also returns kicks. With a decent skill set he should challenge for that role soon but needs to work on his inside run game.
Cole McDonald answered the need of a backup but isn’t a quarterback that should fill the team with much confidence lacking a strong arm, and he was fairly inaccurate at Hawaii.
Indianapolis Colts (7-9): The Colts needed a big draft and I think it had a pretty decent one. Michael Pittman Jr. was taken with the 34th pick in the draft, and while it could be called a reach I love the pick. He is a complete package at receiver and last year was No. 1 at USC. While being targeted by multiple quarterbacks due to injury last season he shined, catching 101 passes for 1,275 yards and 11 touchdowns. He should start next year in some role and will get to play alongside an exceptional receiver in T.Y. Hilton and get thrown to by a veteran in Philip Rivers.
Jonathan Taylor was another pick that while the Colts might not have needed to make, I still like. I’m a little lost though with what the plan is for who’s starting next season. Marlon Mack had a 1,000-yard year last season, but if the team doesn't utilize Taylor to his full potential I feel like the pick may have been wasted. Talyor’s ball security needs some work and maybe he can be groomed next season, but it would be a shame to not see him get a large volume of carries next season.
Other than Julian Blackmon and Jacob Eason, the rest of the class was filled with what will most likely be depth acquisitions. Eason was a great pickup, especially in the fourth round. He has a cannon comparable to Justin Herbert and won’t be asked to start next season with Rivers likely to play every game as long as there's no injury. It will give Eason time to work on his fundamentals and better himself as a technical quarterback while learning from Rivers.
Houston Texans (10-6): There’s been an abundance of trades for the Texans in recent months, and hardly any of them involved stocking up on picks but rather trading away its supply. With only five picks, the Texans did address its needs.
Ross Blacklock and Jonathan Greenard are good players and decent picks. Blacklock will probably start next season, but does need to work on his game if he’s to make an impact out of the gates. Greenard also has a chance to start but needs to turn his athletic gifts into making himself an even better football player. An injury in 2018 has affected the way he has played recently, but if he can overcome the concern for re-aggravation he will be a much better player.
The Texans' other three picks filled needs, but the question is what impact the selectees will have. Isaiah Coulter has the best chances of playing sooner rather than later out of the three, but as the only receiver taken in the draft for the Texans it should leave the team greatly missing DeAndre Hopkins next season.