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NFL Draft

Which AFC South Team Has The Best Non-QB Roster?

  • The Draft Network
  • June 15, 2020
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The AFC South got porous quickly once its quarterbacks were removed.

From the dual-threat of Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson—the best quarterback in the division—to the veteran Philip Rivers, who found a new home in Indianapolis, this division offered a range of talent under center. 

Ryan Tannehill brought life back into his career and the Tennessee Titans with his late-season heroics and Gardner Minshew is the new face in Jacksonville. But once each is removed from their respective rosters, the AFC South takes a much different shape.

Let’s take a closer look.

Indianapolis Colts

The Indianapolis Colts have made arguably the biggest splash this offseason. Rivers joined the team on a one-year, “fix-it” deal until Indianapolis can groom a true replacement for the retired Andrew Luck. The Colts, at least in this exercise, don’t need to consider a passer to be the top team in the division.

Indianapolis added top-end talent by acquiring defensive tackle DeForest Buckner from the San Francisco 49ers and wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. with its 34th overall draft pick—its first choice this year after trading for Buckner. The Colts also created a two-headed rushing attack by trading up to pair second-round pick Jonathan Taylor with veteran Marlon Mack. T.Y. Hilton is now the division’s most dynamic and dangerous downfield threat after Houston sent DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona.

All of this offensive action is happening behind the NFL’s high-paid left tackle, Anthony Castonzo, and one of the best offensive lines as a whole. 

The Colts’ improvements show they’re going all-in with the small window Rivers has left and before they have to shell out money for a slew of players in their contract year. The expectations are set at a playoff appearance; it would be Indianapolis’ second in six seasons if it can achieve it.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game with the help of Comeback Player of the Year Tannehill and hands down the best running back in the division.

The strong second half of Tennessee’s season was impressive, and after bringing back almost every starter on offense, it should be able to keep up the momentum when (or if) the 2020 season starts. Here, however, they weren’t able to edge out the Colts even with Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown, another top pass-catcher in the AFC South; I’m grading Indianapolis’ RB depth above Henry and Hilton ahead of Brown. 

Henry is the definition of power back, carrying the Titans as he charges through defenses. He finished with an NFL-leading 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns on 303 carries with his most explosive games coming in the second half of the season and playoffs. But how long can he carry this load alone? Behind Henry is 2020 third-round Darrynton Evans whose size, at 5-foot-10 and 203 pounds, is severely overshadowed by the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry. 

While the offense is the starting point, defensively Tennessee is still in a good position with Jeffery Simmons and DaQuan Jones set on the defensive line, but it lost a contributor in the secondary. Malcolm Butler and second-round pick Kristian Fulton can shore up the third level of defense while Harold Landry and Vic Beasley are the heart of the middle.

Houston Texans

No Hopkins, no problem? Watson seems to think so. He is “excited” about the new look of the receiving corps, which now features Brandin Cooks, who is coming off a down year but has produced at an overall high level, and the speedy Randall Cobb as well as Will Fuller and Kenny Stills. The Texans also lost a key part of their defense when defensive tackle D.J. Reader left in free agency, and we have to address the elephant in the room: coach Bill O’Brien, whose questionable play-calling was one of the reasons behind Houston’s blown 24-0 lead to the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round.

The Texans received running back David Johnson in Hopkins’ deal, which doesn’t give me much confidence in their backfield. Johnson, who turned 28 in December, was part of a committee approach in Arizona. The problem in Houston is that the Texans already have a back with a similar playstyle in incumbent Duke Johnson. 

Running behind, or doing anything behind, this offensive line is a problem. There is potential here, but the risk-reward that comes with this offensive line wasn’t high enough to push Houston up the rankings, and its defense was another reason for the early postseason exit and why it ranks so low in these standings. 

Anthony Weaver has moved from defensive line coach to defensive coordinator but that’s the only real important change Houston made this offseason. Its line will miss Reader, look to Zach Cunningham’s improvement in the middle, and hope the changes in the secondary, most notably among safeties, will pay off.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are in a transition. Their rebuild, sans Minshew, consists of a litany of first-year players. Jacksonville’s draft haul—cornerback C.J. Henderson, EDGE K'Lavon Chaisson, and wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr.—will help the team in the future, but it’s still another offseason away from climbing up the AFC South and ending its two-year playoff drought.

Leonard Fournette one of the sure things on offense, and even his future in Jacksonville is questionable. The Jaguars tried to shop him this offseason but did nothing to boost the backfield, via the draft, for new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. The Jaguars, instead, added  Chris Thompson in free agency. Thompson provides little reinforcement after an injury-ridden, insufficient seven seasons. Other veteran help includes outside linebackers Aaron Lynch and Cassius Marsh—both fast players—and defensive tackles Al Woods and Rodney Gunter to help stop the potent rushing attacks these other three AFC South teams bring. Yannick Ngakoue is still on the roster, for now, and Josh Allen is coming off a 10.5-sack rookie campaign. 

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. D.J. Chark had a Pro-Bowl caliber sophomore season with 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns on 73 catches; Allen also received his first Pro-Bowl nod last season. Jacksonville has the pieces, it’s just a matter of them fitting and the odds aren’t in its favor this year. The Jaguars’ win total is set at 4.5, according to MyBookie.ag, and unless it sees breakout seasons across the board, it’s safe to bet the under.

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