The AFC South, derided as the worst division in the NFL for years, has suddenly become perhaps the most intriguing in the league in only a few short years.
This year’s draft, alongside a rather incestuous free agency period which saw several players leave one team for a contract with a division rival, the South is no longer a one team division, as all four teams have a realistic shot at the playoffs. If not playoff bound this year, every team has set itself up for the possibility within two seasons.
Without further dallying, let’s get to the recaps.
- Rd. 1, Pick 12: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
- Rd. 2, Pick 57: Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
- Rd. 3, Pick 89: D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texas
- Rd. 4, Pick 130: Julien Davenport, OT, Bucknell
- Rd. 4, Pick 142: Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson
- Rd. 5, Pick 169: Treston Decoud, CB, Oregon State
- Rd. 7, Pick 243: Kyle Fuller, C, Baylor
Obviously, the biggest piece of the puzzle is Deshaun Watson. Watson was overlooked in the scouting process, with names like Mitchell Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes taking center stage over the defending NCAA Football champion QB. Watson was pegged as the first overall pick following his precise deconstruction of the near impregnable Alabama defense, but concerns over arm strength resulted in his being picked third. Houston traded up to take Watson, as they had to leave with a QB. The Brock Osweiler Experiment was a resounding failure, and the Texans essentially traded twice with the Browns to offload Osweiler and take Watson. Any level of mediocre play from Watson or Day 1 starter Tom Savage will be a marked improvement for the team with the scariest defense in the NFL.
Speaking of which, the addition of Zach Cunningham makes the defense even more horrifying. Cunningham was the leading tackler in the SEC last year, and demonstrated incredible athleticism in his chase ability when going after the runner and the fact that he jumped over both his own defensive line and an opposing offensive line to block a field goal. Plugging Watkins in at Vince Wilfork’s DT spot in the middle and shoring up the backfield with Decoud has only solidified the Minefield of Houston, which was in dire need following an offseason with no major signings from other teams. Davenport and Fuller have reinforced the offensive line to round out a pretty well balanced draft, with Foreman offering a new target for Watson/Savage out of the backfield.
- Rd. 1, Pick 5: Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
- Rd. 2, Pick 18: Adoree’ Jackson, CB/KR/RB/WR, USC
- Rd. 3, Pick 72: Taywan Taylor, WR, Western Kentucky
- Rd. 3, Pick 100: Jonnu Smith, TE, Florida International
- Rd. 5, Pick 155: Jayon Brown, LB, UCLA
- Rd. 6, Pick 217: Corey Levin, G, Chattanooga
- Rd. 7, Pick 227: Josh Carraway, LB, TCU
- Rd. 7, Pick 236: Brad Seaton, OT, Villanova
- Rd. 7, Pick 241: Khalfani Muhammad, RB, California
The pick of Corey Davis had many analysts crying that the Titans had reached, as most had the team selecting a WR at the 18 pick. However, GM Jon Robinson selected Davis at 5, seeing that there would be a run on receivers. Sure enough, the other top receivers in Mike Williams and John Ross were gone at the 18 pick. Davis does have some slight durability concerns, but his dynamic and well rounded abilities should provide Marcus Mariota with a great weapon. Jonnu Smith, the Delanie Walker-esque tight end, and Khalfani Muhammad, the smaller speed back should also provide for some offensive flexibility, and Western Kentucky WR Taywan Taylor replacing Kendall Wright as a constant slot receiver threat. Adoree’ Jackson is considered unpolished by some and a dominant athlete by others, but he will absolutely bolster the new look secondary, which needed plenty of help as the Titans gave up the most yards to opposing WR last year. Jayon Brown and Josh Carraway will provide for depth and run coverage ability in the Titans LB corps, and Brad Seaton and Corey Levin will bring their specialties to the offensive line and bolster the run game. The Titans have plugged the most glaring holes in their roster, and are on track for continued improvement in the coming season.
- Rd. 1, Pick 15: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
- Rd. 2, Pick 46: Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
- Rd. 3, Pick 80: Tarell Basham, DE, Ohio
- Rd. 4, Pick 137: Zach Banner, G, USC
- Rd. 4, Pick 143: Marlon Mack, RB, South Florida
- Rd. 4, Pick 144: Grover Stewart, DT, Albany State
- Rd. 5, Pick 158: Nate Hairston, CB, Temple
- Rd. 5, Pick 161: Anthony Walker Jr., LB, Northwestern
With Malik Hooker being the highlight pick, Indianapolis has greatly improved it’s defense, from the line to the middle to the secondary, as well as adding a running back in Marlon Mack that can learn under Frank Gore, an elder statesmen of NFL backs. Hooker provides a roving threat in the backfield who can attack from any point, and Quincy Wilson adds a cornerback who can go against the top receivers in the NFL and not back down. Nate Hairston provides depth, and Tarell Basham fills the hole on the end of the defensive line that Bjorn Werner left empty. However, even with all this defensive improvement, the Colts used only one pick, the Zach Banner selection, to address their most glaring problem: the horrendous coverage of Andrew Luck by the offensive line. Luck is not reaching his full potential, as he is spending quite a bit of time on his back, injured, or injured on his back. Luck has been sacked, hit, and pressured more than any other quarterbacks in the five years he’s been in the league, and he needs help. New GM Chris Ballard seems to be happy enough with the current crop of linemen to only use one pick on the line, so time will tell if this line is the one to protect Luck going forward.
- Rd. 1, Pick 4: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
- Rd. 2, Pick 34: Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
- Rd. 3, Pick 68: Dawuane Smoot, DE, Illinois
- Rd. 4, Pick 110: Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma
- Rd. 5, Pick 148: Blair Brown, LB, Ohio
- Rd. 7, Pick 222: Jaylen Myrick, CB, Minnesota
- Rd. 7, Pick 240: Marquez Williams, FB/RB, Miami
Last but certainly not least, we have the Jacksonville Jaguars. They have spent over half a billion US dollars on free agent contracts over the last two offseasons, but have had little return to show for it. The running game has received a huge boost with the addition of Leonard Fournette, one of the top running backs in recent college history. Alongside utility back Marquez Williams, the running game will be able to take a lot of pressure off of embattled QB Blake Bortles as he enters his contract year with an uncertain future. Cam Robinson will certainly keep Bortles upright as well. The offensive picks are rounded out by the highly controversial Dede Westbrook, who has been accused of domestic violence by his girlfriend on two separate occasions. Many teams did not hold Westbrook in high regard, according to multiple NFL insiders, but it’s a high risk/high reward scenario, as Westbrook is a dynamic threat at WR who could be a boon to Bortles. Myrick, Brown, and Smoot help bolster the Jags defense, which seems to have consumed most of their offeseason spending, with big names like Calais Campbell and AJ Bouye being established as the starters.
That does it for the first of four AFC Draft recaps. Stay tuned for the North, West, and East in the near future.