Now that the NFL Draft is over, NFL teams and their cities are excited to have an injection of new players to their organizations. It’s universally a feeling of hope that permeates around.
However, some teams, on paper, did better than others. This year, I felt like their was one division that elevated it’s overall talent level within the 4 teams that play each other twice a year: The AFC South.
Nationally, the AFC South was maligned the past couple of years in terms of the overall quality of play. Not to say that some of the criticism was not warranted, but the piling on got to be a bit much. Besides, things are cyclical in sports, and with the overall drafts that the AFC South teams had, I think the narrative nationally will change soon.
So a quick overview of the teams:
Houston Texans: The Texans were very bold in trading up in the 1st round for QB Deshaun Watson, but they clearly needed a quarterback. Fortune favors the bold, right? Watson brings a college championship resume with him, along with mobility and intelligence. Interceptions plagued him last year at Clemson, but he was also great in the two biggest games of his college career. Even better for Watson is that he probably won’t start right away and if he does, he has a really good defense behind him.
Besides Watson, Zac Cunningham from Vanderbilt is a versatile linebacker that could potentially be a replacement for Brian Cushing. D’Onta Foreman, running back from Texas, is a load who can move despite his big frame and could be a closer in the 4th quarter. He can get the tough yards. They also added depth to the offensive line with Julie’n Davenport and Kyle Fuller. Davenport has been seen as a project but given injuries to the o-line the past couple of years, the team should hope he develops soon.
Indianapolis Colts: Their needs were defense and o-line. They addressed those needs starting with Malik Hooker in the 1st round and Quincy Wilson in the 2nd round. Both of those guys address the secondary. Wilson was widely seen by draft analysts as a 1st round pick, so for the Colts to get him in the 2nd round is a good value.
Zach Banner from USC is a huge offensive tackle who loves to run block, and Marlon Mack is a running back from South Florida who can make a big play. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield and can be a good compliment to Frank Gore.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Obviously Leonard Fournette will get all of the Jag pick headlines, and deservedly so. The game changing running back from LSU has size, speed, and power. Jacksonville already has a stable of backs but Fournette is special. OT Cam Robinson out of Alabama brings help to an offensive line that needs it and is skilled at both run blocking and pass protection.
Dede Westbrook was taken in the 4th round. In terms of on the field, he is comparable to former Jag Justin Blackmon. The hope is that with the past issues that Westbrook has had off the field, that his time as a Jaguar is not cut prematurely similar to Blackmon. Westbrook has the talent to have gone earlier in the draft. Of course, there’s the question at quarterback that Jacksonville needs to figure out but that’s for another day.
Tennessee Titans: There was talk pre-draft that the Titans could move down & stockpile more more picks. Instead they used the picks and upgraded positions that needed upgrading. Corey Davis is an explosive WR who will help immediately, and Taywan Taylor is a speedster on the outside. Jonnu Smith is a TE who can compliment Pro Bowler Delanie Walker.
On defense, Adoree Jackson could potentially start sooner rather than later, and along with 7th round pick Khalfani Muhammad can help as a returner in special teams. Jayon Brown, LB from UCLA can be used as a cover linebacker who can also help in special teams.
It’s easy to pick a team or two that did well, but I think the overall talent level in the AFC South was improved the most. One could argue that the level of talent needed to improve to the other divisions, but again, things are cyclical. 2017 should be a fun time!