An eagle is now a jaguar. In any context besides sports, this would be an utterly confusing statement with no actual significance besides the meaningless absurdity. However, in the terms of the AFC South, it couldn’t hold more significance than it does. Super Bowl MVP quarterback Nick Foles was signed to a four year, $88 million contract by the Jaguars this off-season, filling a major need and catapulting Jacksonville into AFC South contention. However, there are still many needs in the AFC South that still require attention in the off-season, Jacksonville included. In the seventh part of our eight part series, we’ll be investigating just what holes still linger in the AFC South.
Tennessee Titans: Outside Linebacker, Wide Receiver
It’s fairly safe to say that the Titan’s defense outperformed expectations by a country mile this past season. Tennessee ranked third in the whole league last season in points per game allowed on the defensive side of the ball with stellar defensive play all around. The titans were top ten in the league this season as well in yards per attempt when facing the pass on defense as well top ten in passer rating while holding opponents to a sturdy 4.3 yards per carry this season. However, Tennessee was tied for 16th this season in sacks with a solid but less than exciting 39 sacks. For a comparison, that’s tied with the Jets and less than the Lions (neither teams cause offensive coordinators to get nervous when the quarterback drops back). Harold Landry provides Tennessee with a promising young pass rusher to groom and toy around with, but Tennessee could stand to upgrade the pass rush further in a division that (besides the Colts) doesn’t really have strong pass blocking either.
Furthermore, Tennessee could benefit tremendously by finding Mariota (or Tannehill) a number one receiver to lean on in the immediate future. Corey Davis was expected to be Tennessee’s game-changing wideout when drafted number five overall a couple years back, but he never really blossomed. Davis has instead battled with mediocrity and quite average production over the last couple seasons. Yes, he also had to endure unstable quarterback play due to injuries to Mariota and also injuries to himself were a setback, but nonetheless, Davis never really took off. Jon Robinson went out and got Tampa Bay slot receiver Adam Humphries in free agency to bolster the receiving corps a bit, but overall, it still remains a huge question going into the 2019 season. Honestly, Tennessee is a team with no major holes, but simply no blatant positives and widespread averageness. Nonetheless, Tennessee would be ill advised to ignore the wide receiver and outside linebacker positions come April.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Wide Receiver, Right Offensive Line
What’s the smart thing to do when you get the Batman for your offense? Give him a Robin, of course. That’s exactly the top priority of the Jacksonville Jaguars this off-season… at least it should be. Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole were underwhelming (aside from an incredible one handed snag versus New England) to say the least this past season. Nick Foles will be a huge boost to the Jacksonville offense while giving them their quarterback of the future that they haven’t seem to be able to hit on. However, if Jacksonville wants to give the previous Super Bowl MVP quarterback an opportunity to prosper, they have to give him targets in the passing game to work with. With their running back and quarterback of the future in place, it would be wise for the Jaguars to find a dynamic playmaker out wide in this year’s NFL draft. Cue up the DK Metcalf or N’Keal Harry card…
Hitting on receiver in April’s draft would do leaps and bounds for Jacksonville as a team. However, there would still be work to do. The Jacksonville offensive line was an absolute mess this season and their star running back Leonard Fournette had a hard time with productivity and durability this season because of it. Granted, the offensive line instability was brought on by injuries to left tackle Cam Robinson as well as All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell. Due to the two guys previously stated along with Linder being a solid piece in the middle, the left side of the line is solid when healthy. However, the right side is less than stable with a couple of guys that nobody except for football nerds (like myself) and Jacksonville fans can name. Keeping a clean pocket for Foles and open running lanes for Fournette will be paramount to keeping a cohesive and effective offense on the field. There are many intriguing options come April for Jacksonville in this area as prospects like Andre Dillard, JaWaan Tayor, and Dalton Risner. I have no doubt that Jacksonville’s defense is still a top three defense when not asked to do everything. If Jacksonville’s offense isn’t constantly turning the ball over and hanging the defense out to dry, this team can flourish. Right offensive line can be the pick to bring the offense together around Foles.
Indianapolis Colts: Defensive Tackle, Cornerback
Over the course of the 2018-2019 NFL season, Indy started off with a scary trend of Andrew Luck having to win in shootouts constantly with minimal defense. Indy averaged 25.3 points per game on offense over the first six games while giving up an average of 30 points per game on defense. This worrying trend contributed to a 1-5 start on the season for the Colts. However, the defense then heated up giving up just 16.4 points per game over the remainder of the season as DROY Darius Leonard took over and the Colts defense was suddenly a force to be reckoned with. Later, Indy would sign Justin Houston in free agency. The Colts now have Houston, Leonard, and Sheard as dynamic edge rushers on defense. However, the interior defensive line is underwhelming to say the least. Denico Autry and Tyquan Lewis are not necessarily anchors in the trenches who warrant extra attention. Shoring up the middle of the trenches on the defensive side could go a long way for Indy this off-season.
Perhaps an even bigger need than defensive tackle, quality cornerback play is scarce in Indianapolis. Pierre Desir played solid down the stretch last season for the Colts defense, however, Indy doesn’t necessarily have a true number one corner on the roster right now. Getting a possible lockdown corner in round one of the NFL draft would provide astronomical benefits to the Colts defense if that’s the route they decide to go in April. If Indy truly wants to polish off a young and promising defense centered around youngsters Hooker and Leonard, Byron Murphy or Greedy Williams would plug right in as impactful starters out the gate.
Houston Texans: Offensive Line, Cornerback
When your franchise quarterback is sacked a league high 62 sacks, it’s less than idealistic to say the least. Houston possesses without debate, the worst offensive line in the league. If Houston’s offensive line was fast food, it’d be the stepped on fry under the Burger King table. The offensive line of Houston is so much of a need that it can’t even be pinpointed to just the guards, tackles, or center. It wouldn’t at all be a bad idea if Houston actually decided to go offensive line all first three rounds of the draft. Maybe then Watson could get some breathing room and reach his full potential while Lamar Miller speeds through the rare Houston running lane.
Furthermore, Houston direly needs to address the cornerback position sooner or later. Signing Bradley Roby in free agency was a quality move for Houston and added some stability to the position, but Roby alone won’t be enough to shore up the Houston secondary. Safety also is a large need for Houston but ultimately, box safety figures to be less impactful for a defense (I’m banking on Reid being a solid free safety for Houston in the future) than a top two corner on the roster.