NFL Draft: AFC South Team Needs
The AFC South is a division with all four teams flirting with greatness from time to time. Tennessee and Jacksonville both made the playoffs last year, and also both happened to lose to the New England Patriots to exit. Houston won the division and then lost to the Patriots in the playoffs in 2016. The Indianapolis Colts haven’t made it (or had a winning season) since 2014 where they, as per the pattern, lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship.
Every NFL team has areas where it can improve at this time of the season. Let’s take a look at the top five needs for each AFC South team.
The Colts ending last year as poorly as they did shouldn’t surprise anyone. Finishing with a 4-12 record, only the second time the team has had a losing season since 2001 (the other being the 2-14 year in 2011), there are naturally going to be some major areas to focus on. Here are the top five:
1. A Healthy Andrew Luck (or at least a capable backup)
Andrew Luck was out all year in 2017 with a right shoulder injury. Being without a quarterback caused them to follow the 2011 Colts’ example and tank. Early in the season, the Colts traded for Jacoby Brissett in hopes that he might bring them to 8-8 again.
Brissett would throw 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions, fumble eight times and put up a rating of 81.7 on the way to losing six of the last seven games.
2. Offensive Line
In a perfect world, Luck returns in 2018 and is back to his 2014 self. This won’t propel the Colts to the AFC Championship alone, however. Even if Luck stops being prone to injuries the Swiss cheese of an offensive line is going to give him no time to find an open receiver.
This isn’t new, either. The Colts have been all but ignoring their offensive line problems for years, causing many of Luck’s injuries in the first place. Barring any setbacks with Luck’s shoulder, upgrading the offensive line has to be top priority.
3. Running Back
The Colts were No. 27 in yards per carry last season with 3.7. A lot of this has to do with the offensive line as stated above, and they’ve also lost their top running back in Frank Gore. Marlon Mack was their other top rusher with 93 attempts for 358 yards, but he’s only 5-foot-11, 210 lbs. He can’t barrel through defenders like Colts running backs have had to of late.
Finally moving on to the defense which, if anything, may be worse. The Colts defense was tied for first in 2017 for passing yards per attempt with eight and placed third for yards allowed per game with 367.1.
To poke at the importance of a good offensive line again, opponents sacked Colts’ quarterbacks 56 times last season. To shift the focus onto how important it is to have good linebackers, the Colts' defense only managed to earn 25 sacks. Opponents were also 7-for-14 on fourth down conversions.
Deshaun Watson looked great through the first seven weeks of the season, despite alternating wins and losses. Tearing his ACL in week 8 doomed the Texans to a 4-12 season, not helped by losing J.J. Watt to a leg injury of his own.
1. Offensive Line
As you can tell, I believe that the offensive line holds the key to success for any team, I believe it’s up there with your quarterback.
Picking up a franchise left tackle, whether through free agency, a trade or the draft is the No. 1 priority for the Texans. A healthy and calm Watson will lead the team to great things.
2. Running Back Depth
Adding Lamar Miller heading into 2017 worked well for the Texans as he totaled almost 2,500 yards through the air and on the ground as well as 10 total TDs. D’Onta Foreman backed up Miller but only had 327 yards and two scores. It would be smart for the Texans to find some way to keep Miller from having to handle so many touches.
Adding Tyrann Mathieu virtually plugs up many of the problem areas the Houston defense had in 2017. One guy can’t solve it all though, and the Texans’ league-high 436 points allowed on 44 offensive touchdowns is going to take a lot of people to push back.
Having Watt and Whitney Mercilus back from injury, and hopefully a better game plan behind Romeo Crennel, should help chip away at that number. Even so, just having a few young backups would do the team some good.
4. Wide Receivers
DeAndre Hopkins led the team in 2017 with 96 receptions, 1,378 yards and 13 touchdowns. Not necessarily something that needs to be fixed. The problem comes in when you notice Lamar Miller, the running back, was the second highest receiver with 36 catches.
The Texans need to find more wide receivers they feel confident in spreading the ball to.
5. General Depth
2017 was a year full of injuries for teams all over the league, the Texans were not left out of the woes of losing some of their best players. In this day and age, a more well-rounded team could end up making it to the next level, even when injuries strike.
Playoffs! Yes, for the first time since 2008 the Titans didn’t have to go home after the regular season. It was also the second straight year that Tennessee posted a winning record. Despite making it to the second round, the Titans have some holes to fill both offensively and defensively.
1. Defensive Line
After failing to get Ndamukong Suh to sign earlier this offseason, the Titans are in dire need of pass rushers.
The Titans lost linebacker Avery Williamson this offseason, so finding an ILB will help to improve the No. 13 rank in total defense and No. 17 rank in scoring defense they picked up last year. Depth at safety could be a focal point for free agency and the Draft in Tennessee as well.
3. Wide Receiver
Despite spending the No. 5 pick in last year’s Draft on wide receiver Corey Davis, the Titans are in the hunt for a No. 1 wide out again. Davis only had 34 catches and zero touchdowns in the regular season of his rookie year.
A big playmaker could take a lot of pressure off of Mariota, even in a broken play situation.
4. Offensive Line
Especially with a scrambling quarterback like Mariota, it never hurts to spend a later-round pick on someone that can keep your signal caller on the field. Having the option to scramble is different than having to scramble.
5. General Improvements
The Titans were little more than mediocre on both sides of the ball. Adding former Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler will help significantly against the pass, but even minor improvements in other categories would do the team good.
It still feels weird to think that the Jags are the best team in the divison, but here we are. After a 10-6 season and a playoff road that nearly sent them to the Super Bowl, there are only a few things that really need attention.
1. Wide Receiver
Allen Robinson, who played very well for Jacksonville in 2016, tore his ACL in 2017 and has since left the team.
Though Blake Bortles did a good job of finding people down the field when it mattered, picking up a new franchise wide receiver would ease the minds of any fans.
2. Tight End
Similarly with the wide receiver problem, finding more capable targets for Bortles could be the difference between three close playoff games ending in a fourth-quarter loss to the Patriots and a Super Bowl appearance and even a championship.
Bortles actually started to play close to expectations in 2017 and you can see how far that got the team. With Cody Kessler to back up Bortles, a new franchise quarterback isn’t necessary. Don’t be surprised if the Jags pick up a smaller quarterback prospect anyway, it’s always smart to have a plan C to your plan B.
4. Offensive Line
Though the team plugged their weakest hole in free agency with guard Andrew Norwell, I’ll say it again. If defenses don’t win championships like our parents always told us, it never hurts to invest in your offensive line.
As I wrote earlier, there were so many injuries across the NFL in 2017. It’s always a good idea to have some healthy bodies on the bench with the talent to step in and step up if needed.
Tommy Butler is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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