AFC South Draft Needs

Story posted March 29, 2019 in Sports, CommRadio by Logan Dolby

With the NFL Draft about a month away, NFL teams and scouts will be keeping both eyes wide open for potential franchise changing talent as well as players that can fill holes their roster left by free agency. The AFC South has been the laughing stock of professional football divisions for a long time now, and typically the division has multiple teams picking in the top 10 of the draft. This year is a little different, with the Colts and Texans both making the playoffs in the 2018-19 season. Any one of these teams can compete for the division next year, and nailing the upcoming draft will go a long way for any of these franchises.

Jacksonville Jaguars: 5-11, Seventh overall pick

Needs: Edge, OT, TE

Just when you think the Jags are finally getting over that hump, they go out and play themselves into yet another top-10 selection in the draft. Poor quarterback play and the loss of starting running back Leonard Fournette set the Jaguars way back from their terrific 2017 campaign. If the Jaguars want to get into the playoffs once again then they will need to address a few needs at the end of April.

For starters, a new edge rusher would bring some much-needed juice to a pass rush that only generated 37 sacks last season, which was bad enough for a bottom-10 ranking in the league. A strong pass rush will only make the defensive backs and linebackers look better, and adding a fresh talent to a line that features Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell would be dangerous for any opposing quarterback. This draft is absolutely loaded with pass rushers, but the Jags could select a blue-chip prospect to add to a great rotation of pass rushers who will wreak havoc on quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Desean Watson and Marcus Mariota for years to come.

Speaking of sacks, the Jaguars allowed 53 of them last year. That total is good enough for a tie for third highest in the league. Sacks absolutely kill an offense’s momentum on any given drive and the Jaguars absolutely need to protect their shiny new toy, former Super Bowl MVP quarterback Nick Foles. If the Jaguars are going to have success then they have to keep Foles upright. Jacksonville was also in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards. What would be a quick fix to too many sacks and not enough rushing yards? A beefed-up offensive line of course! If they fall in love with Jonah Williams or Jawaan Taylor, then they should snag one of the two elite blockers in the top portion of the draft.

A sleeper pick for the Jaguars at the top end of the draft is a tight end. The Jaguars two top tight ends on the roster are Geoff Swaim and James O’Shaughnessy. Yuck. For a team that just signed Nick Foles, a quarterback that has typically been surrounded by and sometimes relies on his tight ends, those are just dreadful options. There are a few really talented tight end prospects in this draft including Noah Fant, Irv Smith Jr. and T.J. Hockenson. It would not be crazy for the Jaguars to snag one of those guys in the top end of either round one or two.

Tennessee Titans: 9-7, 19 overall pick

Needs: Edge, WR, IDL

The Titans were pretty close to making the playoffs last year under first time head coach Mike Vrabel. Disappointing quarterback play hamstrung the team for the majority of the season, but young running back Derrick Henry really came into his own during the season. The Titans have a lot of momentum heading into the 2019 season.

Tennessee, much like the Jaguars, would really appreciate some help off the edge. This is certainly the year to be looking for a pass rusher. Prospects like Monteaz Sweat, Clelin Ferrell or Zach Allen could be on the board when pick 19 rolls around and the Titans would be wise to add some talent to the defensive front that only sacked the quarterback 39 times last season.

Interior defensive help would also be a plus for the Titans. They were in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards allowed per game with 117. I doubt that Ed Oliver will fall as far as the Titans, but Dexter Lawrence or Christian Wilkins might be available. I specifically like Lawrence here because of his nose tackle ready size. The guy is 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds. He is an absolute mauler that the Titans might jump all over if he falls to them in the draft.

The Titans should also look at wide receivers in the draft. There are a few wideouts that could be game changers right away, but even if they do not draft one in the first round, they need to add talent to the receiving corps. Tennessee spent a the fifth overall pick a few years back on Corey Davis, who can still be a number one in the NFL. Behind him are newly acquired free agent Adam Humphries, and guys like Tajae Sharpe and Taywan Taylor. A true number two in Tennessee could go a long way for a team that ranked fourth to last in passing yards per game.

Houston Texans: 11-5, 23 overall pick

Needs: OL, S, TE

The Texans, champions of the AFC South last season, need some massive improvements in two fields. Offensive line and defensive back are the weakest links in the chain, without a doubt. Last year the inability to run the football cost them in the playoffs against division rival Indianapolis. This team is talented enough to string two double-digit win season together but needs some help in the trenches and on the back end of the defense.

Let’s start with the most glaring need/biggest atrocity in professional football, the Texans offensive line. Desean Watson was sacked 62 times this past season, which is good enough for a tie for fifth place on the all-time sacked list. That is just awful. You invest so much draft capital into a budding star quarterback, but he is getting murdered every game by opposing pass rushers. Watson is a much better play than David Carr ever was, but the Texans need to learn from their past. This is how you ruin a quarterback.

Sitting at pick 23 in the first round, the Texans should absolutely invest in a lineman. Players like Yodny Cajuste, Andre Dillard and Cody Ford should all be available at the back half of this draft. If Dalton Risner falls to the Texans, they absolutely need to snap him up.

Houston also lost two starters in their defensive backfield with Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson leaving via free agency. Eric Reid has looked decent at safety and the Texans brought in Tashaun Gipson from the Jaguars this offseason, but the team has an out in his contract in two years, which is certainly enough time to develop a young safety. In the meantime, a new safety could serve minutes playing special teams.
Regardless, the Texans surrendered 260.4 passing yards per game, which is ranked in the bottom four in the NFL. The Texans need help badly on the backside of the defense. Most likely two of Juan Thornhill, Nasir Adderly and Deionte Thompson will be available at 23, so if the Texans do not absolutely fall in love with a lineman here, they could snag a promising, young safety.

Another need for the Texans is tight end. Their starting tight end on the depth chart currently is Jordan Thomas, last years sixth round pick out of Mississippi State. He caught 20 passes for 215 and four touchdowns last season with Houston. Another offensive weapon like T.J. Hockenson out of Iowa or Irv Smith Jr. from Alabama would help Watson a ton in the passing game by opening up the middle of the field. Both prospects can also pick up blocks on the offensive line, so they would be killing two birds with one stone here.

Indianapolis Colts: 10-6, 26 overall pick

Needs: DL, SS, CB

The Colts have slowly been building a nice defense to put behind an offense that features one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Andrew Luck. In order to make a push in the AFC, the Colts are going to need to continue to beef up their defense. I feel as though Chris Ballard, the Colts general manager, realizes this. He built Andrew Luck a competent offensive line, and now it is time to put the final touches on the defense.
During their 31-13 blowout loss against the Chiefs, the Colts gave up four rushing touchdowns. The best way remedy that weakness would be to add to the defensive line. The Colts’ defensive line features players like Tyquanm Lewis and Margus Hunt. That is not optimal. Adding a young defensive end or defensive tackle to the defensive line rotation would go a long way for this up and coming defense.

The defensive backfield is also an issue for Indianapolis. Pierre Desir and Kenny Moore II are the starting corners, and combined for four interceptions last season. Adding a ballhawking cornerback like Byron Murphy, who had four interceptions, 13 passes defensed and a forced fumble, at the tail end of the first round would be a great move for the Colts.

The same goes for the strong safety position, where Clayton Geathers is slated to start at the moment. If the Colts could get some real talent to go along with Malik Hooker, then the safety position would be set in Indianapolis for years to come. Florida’s Chauncey Garnder-Johnson would fit in nicely alongside Hooker on the back end.

 

 

Logan Dolby is a Junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email ldd5135@psu.edu.