AFC South Superlatives: Best, Underrated & Breakout Players

Photo: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, the possibility of a 2020 NFL season seems to be uncertain at this point, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t project forward, look ahead to the future, and most importantly, have a bit of football-related fun.

First up in a division-by-division series, I analyzed the AFC South and all of its inner-workings, handing out certain “Superlatives” to players and coaches across the division.

Here are the results.

Most pressure to succeed: Bill O’Brien HC Houston Texans

This one seems pretty obvious. After trading away superstar wideout DeAndre Hopkins in a shocking deal earlier this offseason, O’Brien is putting all the cards on the table for this upcoming season. Furthermore, by giving up a fortune of picks for Laremy Tunsil, dealing Jadeveon Clowney for very little, and helping orchestrate a 24-0 blown lead in the AFC Divisional Round, O’Brien is firmly on the hot seat even if the Hopkins transaction doesn’t blow up in his face.

As long as Deshaun Watson is at the helm it’s highly likely this team will be in playoff contention, but barring a miraculous season, O’Brien’s head will be wanted by many, including both fans and media.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely to trade for an overpriced RB
  • Most likely to alienate his star player

Biggest Wildcard: Gardner Minshew, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Ranked last in Super Bowl odds by Vegas heading into the season, it seems everyone is counting out Minshew and the Jaguars in 2020. Although that may seem warranted given a razor-thin roster and a severe lack of star power, Minshew did do enough as a rookie to give this team a decent amount of hope, especially in a sub-par AFC South. With limited arm strength and spotty accuracy, he may not necessarily be “the franchise guy”, but Minshew offers the type of X-factor and clutch gene at the position that can’t be understated.  

Trevor Lawrence and several other QB prospects will be commonly mocked to Jacksonville unless Minshew completely wows, but he severely outperformed expectations as a sixth-round rookie. Theoretically speaking, there’s no reason he can’t do the same as a sophomore.

Could also win:  

  • Best mustache
  • Most likely to play a full game in jorts

Most likely to disappoint: Philip Rivers, QB, Indianapolis Colts

I’ll preface this by stating that I do think Rivers, despite his meager 2019 campaign, is an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett for Indianapolis. However, with his growing age and arm strength in severe decline, I just can’t see him being anything more than an average signal-caller for the Colts. Even with a vastly improved O-line, his poor interception habits are highly likely to come to the forefront, while Indianapolis also doesn’t have many proven pass-catching options outside of T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle to help mask his questionable decision-making.

Yes, the playoffs are certainly attainable for Rivers and Co., but that’s mainly due to the strong roster around him, not because of him. As long as he’s slightly below average to average, Indianapolis will have a chance at reaching 10 wins, but the expectations of a prime (or even close to prime) Rivers seem way off base heading into 2020.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely to have 17 children
  • Most likely to wear a bolo tie in a post-game press conference.
  • Ugliest throwing motion

Best Offensive Player: Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans

As a legitimate MVP candidate who is seemingly on the verge of a mega-contract, it doesn’t seem like there’s a ton of explaining to do on this one. Let’s just hope Watson can still achieve greatness without Hopkins by his side in 2020.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely to be let down by the team around him
  • Most likely to demand a trade

Best Defensive Player: Kenny Moore, CB, Indianapolis Colts

What? Have you lost your mind? Look, I know it’s unorthodox, but hear me out.

Currently the premier nickel defender in the NFL, Moore is the heart and soul of the Colts’ unproven and inconsistent secondary, providing the unit with some desperately needed superstar power on the back-end. Recording five interceptions (first among slot CBs), four sacks (first among all CBs), and 33 run stops (first among all CBs) throughout the last 2 seasons, Moore is the quintessential do-it-all defender. Despite his limited size he truly plays as big as they come, giving Indianapolis an electric playmaker with the capability to completely change games.

Choosing him for this honor over names like Darius Leonard, Kevin Byard, and J.J. Watt may seem nuts, but Moore is legit and it’s time not only the AFC South, but the entire world knows it.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely to remind you that slot corner is an important position
  • Best former undrafted free agent

Underrated Star: Rashaan Evans, LB, Tennessee Titans

Like Moore, Evans is an excellent defender that isn’t often recognized on a national stage. Also like Moore, he’s more than worthy of a prestigious superlative that honors his underrated nature.

Drafted 22nd overall back in 2018, Evans was in a stacked LB class with the likes of Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds, Leighton Vander Esch, and Fred Warner, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had enough success to be considered right up there with all of them. Racking up more than 100 total tackles a season ago, Evans has proven his worth both as a run defender and as an exceptional pass-rusher from his traditional inside spot. 

One of the main reasons that Lamar Jackson was kept bottled up in Tennessee's divisional-round game against the Baltimore Ravens, Evans (along with Byard) is the leader of the Titans defense and his importance as a communicator and tone-setter can’t be understated. He needs to continue to improve a bit in man-to-man pass coverage, but through two years, Evans has been phenomenal in nearly every area.

Barring anything unforeseen, that should continue in 2020. 

Could also win:  

  • “I forgot that dude played at Alabama”

Most likely to Breakout: Jeffery Simmons, DL, Tennessee Titans

Tearing his ACL before the 2019 NFL Draft, Simmons was considered a top-five talent who fell into Tennessee's lap with the 19th pick due to both injury and off-field concerns.  

Suiting up in nine total games (and starting seven) as a rookie, Simmons got off to an extremely impressive beginning to his Titans career, especially with other interior defensive linemen from that class like Quinnen Williams struggling early on. Racking up two total sacks, he put his exceptional burst and quickness from the 3-tech spot on full display in a consistent manner, demonstrating the type of elite talent that had scouts so excited when he was at Mississippi State.

With Jurrell Casey being shipped to Denver, Simmons looks poised to take an even bigger role as a sophomore, especially with him now being even further removed from his knee surgery. It may seem bold, but the makings of a 10-plus sack season are fully there.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely to make you forget about Jurrell Casey

Rookie of the Year: Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts

Setting nearly every rushing record during his miraculous three-year career at Wisconsin, Taylor is an exceptional runner who combines exceptional power with a surprising amount of long speed for the position. Able to burst through small seams and take it the distance on any snap, he’s a workhorse capable of wearing your defense thin throughout four quarters.

Despite 1,000-yard rusher Marlon Mack returning to the Colts in 2020, that aforementioned workhorse ability that Taylor possesses can’t be understated, especially after the Colts traded up to get him in the second round of the draft. He may not start from Day 1, but Taylor will get his carries, even if it means Mack may end up unhappy in the process. Assuming the Colts’ offensive line remains as dominant as they were a season ago, he’ll not just be in contention for AFC South Rookie of the Year, but NFL Rookie of the Year.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely to remind you that Quenton Nelson is a monster