AFC South – Excuse me?

Biggest Questions for every NFL Team. One division at a time.

AFC South

Houston Texans

Seriously.  Has Bill O’Brien lost his senses?

I won’t get into the fact that new OT Laremy Tunsil was one of the most penalized offensive linemen in all of football in 2019.  I’m ok with the Texans sending away a first rounder for him.  It was their most important need and the O-line was marginally better with Tunsil there. 

I’ll just focus on two things here.

First, letting Jadaveon Clowney, a former number one overall pick, skip town for a third rounder and Barkevious Mingo. That’s just not proper value management.  Clowney wanted out and O’Brien got fleeced in the process.  The same exact thing happened with DeAndre Hopkins, who was looking for a (reasonably deserved) new deal.  O’Brien hit the panic button after some player-coach tension and shipped him away for an unneeded and possibly over the hill David Johnson and a second-round pick. 

Hopkins is, by any metric, a top three receiver in the game and he’s only twenty-seven years old.  If any player warrants a first-round pick, it’s Hopkins.  Add that to the fact that Houston then gave up a second round pick for the oft-concussed Brandin Cooks, who’s been on three teams in four years, and you can see that O’Brien simply can’t properly process player value.  I’d stay stick to coaching and let someone else handle personnel, but this is a dude who blew a 24-0 lead in the playoffs.  With all that being said, he’s probably still the strongest branch of the Belichick NFL coaching tree thus far.   

Indianapolis Colts

Is Philip Rivers the dude in Indy, and if so, for how long?

After going a disappointing 7-9 last season, it appears that the Colts no longer believe in Jacoby Brissett as a long-term solution at quarterback.  Bringing in Philip Rivers virtually guarantees that Brissett’s time in Indy is up.  But it’s odd since there are some pretty hefty pluses and minuses for each guy. 

Rivers threw for more yardage and touchdowns, while Brissett threw far fewer interceptions than the veteran.  Both ended the year with nearly identical passer ratings (88.0 vs, 88.5), and losing records for the season.  Which brings me to the Colts fourth-round draft pick: QB Jacob Eason from Washington (formerly Georgia).  The young Eason has a cannon for an arm and some roughness around the edges, but he is clearly the plan for the Colts going forward. 

Colts fans might well be looking past Philip Rivers and wondering how long will it be until we see him under center?  I’d predict sooner rather than later.  Obviously, in a perfect world, Rivers will limit the turnovers and get the Colts in the playoff hunt in 2020, leaving Eason to learn the ropes behind a fringe Hall of Famer.  But what if he’s shakier than expected?  Or gets injured?  Would the Colts look to go back to Brissett? Or give the reins to the new kid? 

I suspect that Indy has seen enough to know that Brissett isn’t likely to bring them to the promised land. Eason has gigantic upside and the temptation to get him game experience sooner rather than later may be too much for the coaching staff.  Don’t be surprised if you start to hear fans and pundits alike calling for the Colts young signal caller if Rivers gets injured or struggles.  

Jacksonville Jaguars

Can Jacksonville resurrect that once terrifying defense and get back in the playoff hunt?

Points for the Jags going all in on a guy almost no one had heard of until he took over for the injured Nick Foles and never looked back.  Gardner Minshew put up over 3,000 yards and 21 TDs to only 6 interceptions in fourteen games last year, and lord knows he brought some fun to a football town that desperately needed it. 

That being said, the Jags just weren’t that good last year, going 6-10 for the season (6-8 with Minshew). 

The main reason was a porous rush defense that allowed over five yards per carry and over 2,200 yards on the ground in total.  All told, Jacksonville allowed almost one hundred more points than they scored, yuck. 

Jacksonville had what I’d call a tremendous draft, bringing in cornerback C.J. Henderson and edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson in the first round to tighten up that defense, before picking one of the most intriguing wide receiver prospects in the draft, Colorado’s Laviska Shenault, a field-stretching athletic freak who will need safety help to be contained.  Add in the third-round selection of DT DaVon Hamilton from OSU to help stuff the run, and I flat-out love what Jacksonville did here. 

Yes, there’s a lot of work to be done, but the Jags are on the right track here.  I’m not saying that they’ll recreate the defensive juggernaut that terrified the entire AFC a few seasons ago, but it’s a step in the right direction.  

Tennessee Titans

Can Derrick Henry reproduce his tremendous 2019 effort? 

Let’s put aside the fact that the Titans just signed Ryan Tannehill to a four-year, $118 million-dollar contract. Yes, the Titans fortunes changed when Tannehill took over for Marcus Mariota, but at no point, ever, did the former Miami QB drive the Tennessee offense. 

I have questions about Tannehill’s as-yet-unwarranted job security, but those will have to wait for another day because it was Derrick Henry, just absolutely trucking dudes left, right, and center that made the Titans into an AFC contender.  Playing in only fifteen games, Henry put up a season that ranks 70th all-time in rushing yardage, sandwiched between Hall-of-Famers Jim Brown and Terrell Davis, amassing over 1,500 yards and 18 TDs, averaging over 5 yards per carry.  As good as he was all season, Henry was transcendent in the playoffs, ripping the Patriots top-ranked defense for 182 yards and a TD before single handedly crushing the Ravens, putting up 195 yards. 

Big rushing seasons are often hard to duplicate, but Derrick Henry might be in a unique position to do exactly that.  Since his rookie year in 2016, Henry’s workload has gradually increased, and his efficiency has improved as his load has grown, improving his per carry average from 4.5 to 5.1 yards per rushing attempt.  Add in an offseason that had the Titans focusing on the running game by drafting along the offensive line (Isaiah Wilson, Georgia) and the running back room (Darrynton Evans, Appalachian State) and it becomes clear that Mike Vrabel and crew have a crystal clear vision. 

I think it’s obvious that Henry is the featured back in Tennessee’s offense, but using a wholly different running back like Evans, who is more of a patient juke and jump guy, will keep defenses guessing and keep Henry fresh.  I think Henry can continue his dominance, and if he does, the Titans will remain a threat to win the division and go deep in the playoffs.  

For more thoughts and opinions from Tom, check out his author page.

Image Source: AP Images

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