Written by: David Parks – Staff Writing Intern (@_Parskie)
For the second consecutive season the AFC South was the laughing stock of the NFL.
Once again, the team that emerged victorious was the Houston Texans. They did so despite losing their best player for the season and once again having abysmal quarterback play. There is perhaps no better example of just how valuable a quarterback is than the Texans. With even a somewhat decent option, this is a Super Bowl-caliber roster.
No doubt the trendy pick to surprise next year will be the Titans. Tennessee has zigged where the rest of the NFL has zagged. Instead of throwing the ball 40+ times every week, the Titans relied on a ground and pound game led by DeMarco Murray to play keepaway and keep their subpar secondary off the field.
The Colts biggest win all year didn’t come until after the season. That happened when Jim Irsay finally decided to pull the plug on Ryan Grigson. Labelling Grigson inept might be a compliment. He has sabotaged at least two seasons of Andrew Luck’s career with terrible draft decisions. I was hoping they might look at replacing Pagano and poaching Kyle Shanahan/Scott Pioli from Atlanta. Regardless, this is good news for Colts fans.
And finally, there’s the 2016 preseason darling, the Jags. Before the season everyone lauded Blake Bortles because of the numbers he finished 2015 with. But when looking at how many of those numbers came in garbage time losses, it was no surprise to see him and the Jags fall short of expectations. For what it’s worth, I do like the Doug Marrone hire.
Jacksonville Jaguars: 2016 record: 4-12 (Last in AFC South)
First round selection: 4th
Offseason needs: LB, OT, RB
Feels like Marrone will give Bortles one more season to right the ship. It’s the Jags – so don’t ever rule anything out, but it seems unlikely they’d be a candidate for a quarterback at pick number four.
The one area of their defense that could still stand a healthy upgrade is at inside linebacker. The team took Myles Jack to give them a dynamic duo at outside linebacker with Telvin Smith. An upgrade for 32-year-old Paul Posluszny would continue to strengthen an emerging defense.
Mentioned earlier that nothing can be counted out with the Jags. Last year the Cowboys took Zeke Elliott at four and it paid massive dividends for them. I don’t think Jacksonville taking either Dalvin Cook or Leonard Fournette here is out of the question at all. Of course, in typical Jags fashion, they don’t exactly have the offensive line the Cowboys do.
One factor to keep an eye on is what the team decides to do with both Johnathan Cyprien and Prince Amukamara. If they let Cyprien walk, Malik Hooker and Jamal Adams would become the favorites to be the selection.
- Reuben Foster, LB – Alabama
- Dalvin Cook, RB – Florida State
- Leonard Fournette, RB – LSU
Indianapolis Colts: 2016 record: 7-9 (3rd in AFC South)
First round selection: 15th
Offseason needs: Edge, OT, LB
Biggest win for the Colts’ organization was getting rid of Grigson. From taking Bjoern Werner in the first, to trading a first for Trent Richardson, to taking Phillip Dorsett as opposed to any number of offensive or defensive linemen, the guy screwed up pretty much every first round pick he was given.
Grigson’s final first round pick as a Colt was the top center in last year’s class but it still wasn’t enough as Indy surrendered 44 sacks, fifth-worst in the league. 15 is a prime spot for the tackle of their choice.
Indy also features one of the worst defenses in terms of playmakers. Outside of Vonte Davis, is there any player that would be considered a “difference-maker?” The secondary only mustered eight interceptions last season so while an upgrade opposite Davis would be nice, oftentimes a strong pass rush can help the back four. In addition to the offensive line, 15 is also an ideal spot for the defensive line.
- Ryan Ramczyk, OT – Wisconsin
- Garrett Boiles, OT – Utah
- DeMarcus Walker, DE – Florida State
Tennessee Titans: 2016 record: 8-8 (2nd in AFC South)
First round selection: 5th, 17th
Offseason needs: CB, WR, S
Perhaps no team is in a better position to make a jump next year than the Titans. Thanks to the ineptitude of Les Snead and the Rams front office, the Titans own not only the 17th overall pick, they own the Rams’ fifth overall pick as well as their third round, pick 69 overall in the draft. That means Tennessee owns five of the top 85 picks in the coming draft. If they play their cards right, they can both fill their needs and continue to stockpile future picks.
The two biggest needs for this team are wide receiver and defensive secondary. The team cut Perrish Cox mid season and struggled with inconsistent play at both corner and safety. Rashad Johnson is a free agent – depending on what he’s seeking the Titans may be inclined to let him walk given they’ll have a chance to nab one of Malik Hooker or Jamal Adams at five. Given the depth at corner this year (and their extra picks), corner can wait until later.
Of course, the other option at five would be taking the draft’s best wide receiver, Mike Williams. Williams asserted his dominance against an Alabama defense that was being lauded as one of the best of all-time leading up to the game. Still though – GM Jon Robinson comes from the Patriots who never take receivers first round – much less in the top five.
Ideal Picks (at 5):
- Malik Hooker, S – Ohio State
- Jamal Adams, S – LSU
- Desmond King, CB – Iowa
Ideal Picks (at 17):
- Corey Davis, WR – Western Michigan
- Marcus Lattimore, CB – Ohio State
- O.J. Howard, TE – Alabama
Houston Texans: 2016 record: 9-7 (1st in AFC South)
First round selection: 25th
Offseason needs: QB, OT, DT
Quite possibly the most interesting team heading into the offseason. Their roster is one of the best in the league. They have a solid offensive line, good running backs, playmakers at receiver, capable bodies at tight end and one of the best defenses in the league. What they’re missing, is consistent quarterback play.
Would Houston pull the plug on Brock Osweiler after just one season? It seems unlikely, but if DeShaun Watson or DeShone Kizer starts to fall, how could Houston not at least entertain the thought of taking one of them?
Assuming the above scenario doesn’t actually happen, the next logical position would be the offensive line. Derek Newton suffered a brutal injury to end 2016 and may not be ready by the start of next season. Meanwhile Duane Brown will be 32 by the time week one rolls around. Houston may not be able to nab one of Ramczyk or Boiles, but should still be in a position to nab Cam Robinson or Forrest Lamp.
The one spot on defense that could be in play here would be on the defensive interior. Vince Wilfork may or may not be back leaving a (literal) large gap to fill. Malik McDowell isn’t a nose – the Texans might be better served waiting until later to nab Washington’s Vita Vea.
One last factor to keep an eye on – A.J. Bouye’s contract situation. He played lights out this season and was one of the biggest surprises in the league. Jonathan Joseph will be 33 come week one next season so if Houston opts to let Bouye walk, a corner becomes both a need, and a factor at 25.
- Cam Robinson, OT – Alabama
- Forrest Lamp, OT/G – Western Kentucky
- DeShaun Watson, QB – Clemson