Image licensed from USA Today Sports
The AFC South was dominated by the Jaguars last season with the Titans following close behind. The Texans and Colts both dealt with a plethora of injuries in 2017 which put a damper on their entire season. All four teams made some key offseason moves which should result in a competitive division in 2018.
The Jacksonville Jaguars won the AFC South last season with a 10-6 record behind stifling defense and a strong running game. They did not need to tinker with their defense, however, on the offensive side, they were not able to completely counteract the losses of two key wide receivers. They also awarded a contract extension to QB Blake Bortles.
Andrew Norwell: The Jaguars made a big splash by signing left guard Andrew Norwell to a massive five-year, 66.5 million dollar deal. Norwell spent the last four seasons with the Panthers, and he has not missed a game over the previous two seasons. The 26-year-old guard will provide extra run protection on a Jaguars’ team that led the NFL in rushing in 2017.
Donte Moncrief: The Jaguars were in need of a wide receiver, and they picked up Donte Moncrief on a one-year deal. The 24-year-old wide receiver tallied 391 passing yards in 12 games with the Colts last season, and the Jags will need a breakout season from the four-year veteran after Hurns and Robinson departed in free agency.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins: The five-year veteran tight end signed a two-year, 10 million dollar deal after spending the 2017 season with the Jets. The 25-year-old made 50 catches for 357 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games last year. Seferian-Jenkins will likely be the starting tight end, but Niles Paul will also see action.
D.J. Hayden: The 28-year-old cornerback was signed to a hefty three-year, 19 million dollar deal after a subpar 2017 season with the Lions. Hayden did not make an interception, and he deflected nine passes in 16 games in Detroit. The five-year veteran is a nickel corner, which is a nice fit after the Jaguars lost Aaron Colvin to free-agency.
Allen Robinson: The talented wide receiver signed with the Bears as a free agent after spending the last four seasons in Jacksonville. He went down with a season-ending injury in week one last season. However, he did have 2283 yards in the previous two years. Robinson’s departure is a significant loss to the Jaguars receiving corps.
Allen Hurns: Jaguars’ management decided to release the 26-year-old wide receiver one week after Allen Robinson signed with the Bears. Hurns had trouble staying healthy the last two seasons, and he registered 484 receiving yards in 10 games last year. The four-year veteran did collect over 1000 receiving yards in the 2015 season.
Aaron Colvin: The 26-year-old cornerback stayed in the division by signing a deal with the Houston Texans. Colvin did not record an interception last season, however, he is rarely burned downfield, and he is a strong lockdown corner. The Jaguars signed D.J. Hayden to replace Colvin.
First Round, 29th Overall: Taven Bryan DT: The Jaguars selection of the defensive tackle out of Florida came as a bit of a surprise considering their depth in this position, but he will be learning from some of the best. The 22-year old made four sacks and a combined 40 tackles last season. He will not be a starter this season.
Round Two, 61st Overall: D.J. Chark WR: The Jaguars needed to draft a wide receiver in the early rounds due to the loss of Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson. The 6-foot-4 wide receiver had a strong season with LSU, bringing in 874 receiving yards and he averaged 21.9 yards per reception. Chark will be below Marquise Lee, Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole and Donte Moncrief on the depth chart.
Round Three, 93rd Overall: Ronnie Harrison S: This pick was a depth move for the foreseeable future as the Jags’ have Barry Church and Tashun Gipson at safety. The 21-year old safety out of Alabama made three interceptions and 2.5 sacks last season.
The Jaguars did lose some offensive talent with the departure of two talented wide receivers in Hurns and Robinson. The signing of wide receiver Donte Moncrief does little to fill the void, however, Marquise Lee and Keelan Cole are both expected to play a more prominent role going forward. Jacksonville is set on the ground with Leonard Fournette who led the Jaguars to the top spot in team rushing last year. The Jaguars stifling defense was spectacular last season and they did not need to make any significant changes to their defensive core.
The Indianapolis Colts went an abysmal 4-12 last season due to a stagnant offense. Andrew Luck missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, and Colts’ GM Chris Ballard performed several offseason upgrades to ensure his star quarterback will be protected. The Colts did have a few key offseason departures, especially on defense.
Denico Autry: The Colts first move in free agency was the signing of defensive end Denico Autry to a three-year deal for 17.8 million. The 27-year-old made 36 tackles and a career-high five sacks with the Raiders last season. Autry is expected to play in the defensive tackle position as well.
Eric Ebron: The Colts quickly signed tight end Eric Ebron to a two-year deal after he was cut by the Detroit Lions. The 6-foot-4 tight end was the Lions 10th overall pick in the 2014 draft. Unfortunately, he never quite lived up to his potential. He accumulated 574 receiving yards last season, but he has been known to make several big drops. Ebron does have talent, and he could prove to be a solid signing.
Ryan Grant: The 27-year old wide receiver originally signed a deal with the Ravens, but he failed the physical and the deal was voided due to concerns with his ankle. The Colts stepped in and inked Grant to a one-year deal worth five million. Grant insists he is healthy and ready to step in. He caught a career-high 573 receiving yards and four touchdowns with the Redskins last season.
Austin Howard: The Colts bolstered their offensive line with the signing of veteran right tackle Austin Howard to a one-year, 3.75 million dollar deal. The Colts offensive line was a huge issue last season, and Howard is a durable lineman that played in all 16 games with the Ravens in 2017.
Frank Gore: This was a tough move for the Colts management as Gore has been a model of consistency throughout his career. The 35-year-old running back rushed for at least 961 yards in all three seasons with Indianapolis. The Colts are going with a youth movement on the ground, and second-year pro-Marlon Mack should see a good portion of the carries in the backfield.
Vontae Davis: The Colts parted ways with veteran cornerback Vontae Davis by releasing the veteran in November after spending six years with the organization. The 30-year old complained after he was benched which led to the release. Davis made 21 tackles last year.
Johnathan Hankins: The Colts released the talented defensive tackle primarily due to a defensive scheme change. The Colts are switching over to a 4-3 defensive scheme this season. Hankins made 44 tackles and two sacks last season.
Donte Moncrief: The 24-year-old wide receiver signed with the Jaguars after spending the first four seasons of his career with the Colts. He was inconsistent at times and finished the 2017 season with just 391 receiving yards in 12 games.
Rashaan Melvin: The 28-year-old cornerback had the best season of his career last year, making three interceptions and 13 deflected passes. The Colts are confident in their young talented corners and felt Melvin was expendable.
The Colts completely revamped their coaching staff in the offseason. GM Chris Ballard fired Chuck Pagano and brought in Frank Reich who was the Eagles offensive coordinator last season. Reich’s Eagles were the third-highest scoring team in the NFL last season. Reich stated the Colts would be an up-tempo offense with a strong element of no-huddle offense.
Indianapolis also added Nick Sirianni as the new offensive coordinator and Matt Eberflus as the new defensive coordinator. Eberflus will be switching the Colts’ defensive scheme from 3-4 to 4-3. The Colts also went with a new special teams coordinator with the addition of Ray Ventrone.
First Round 6th Overall: Quenton Nelson OG: The offensive guard was drafted to add enhanced protection for Andrew Luck. The 6-foot-5 330ib guard out of Notre Dame is extremely strong, and also features excellent athleticism. Nelson’s presence should make an immediate impact.
Second Round: 36th Overall: Darius Leonard LB: The Colts passed on some intriguing defensive talent in the first round before landing 22-year-old linebacker Darius Leonard out of South Carolina State. Many analysts felt they could have plucked Leonard later in the draft, however, he does fit into the Colts’ defensive scheme.
Second Round: 37th Overall: Braden Smith G: The Colts made a curious pick in the second round by drafting offensive lineman Braden Smith out of Auburn. This pick came as a bit of a surprise after drafting an offensive lineman in the first round. The Colts seem determined to protect Andrew Luck based on two of their first three picks.
The key to the Colts success this season will be reliant on the health of Andrew Luck, and they were busy adding to their offensive line to ensure Luck is protected. While they did pass on some offensive talent in the draft, they are going with a youth movement on the ground with Marlon Mack. The Colts won’t do significant damage this season, however, it is prudent to show some progress after only winning four games last season. The Indianapolis offense ranked 30th in the NFL last season with 16.4 points per game, but that number will show a significant leap with Andrew Luck back in action.
The Tennessee Titans made some key additions in the offseason which have resulted in high expectations after going 9-7 last season which included a Wildcard win over the Chiefs in the playoffs. Titans’ GM Jon Robinson was busy upgrading a defense that struggled against the pass last season, and he also added another weapon on the ground.
Coaching Changes: The Titans parted ways with Mike Mularkey and brought in former Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel as the new boss. Vrabel won three Super Bowls as a player with the Patriots. There were some questions about the hire due to his limited coaching experience. However, he had an excellent reputation amongst players in Houston.
The Titans hired Matt LaFleur as the new offensive coordinator to replace Terry Robiskie. LaFleur spent the 2017 season as the OC for a potent offensive L.A. Rams team. He was the Falcons quarterback coach in 2016.
New head coach Mike Vrabel also added a new defensive coordinator by hiring Dean Pees in place of Dick LeBeau. Pees was the Ravens defensive coordinator from 2012 to 2017, which included a Super Bowl victory.
Malcolm Butler CB: The Titans made a big splash early in free agency with the signing of former Patriot Malcolm Butler to a five-year, 61 million dollar deal. The 28-year old cornerback made two interceptions along with 12 deflected passes with New England last season. He tallied a career-high four interceptions in the 2016 season. The Titans pass defense was awful last year, and Butler instantly improves their secondary.
Dion Lewis: Shortly after inking Malcolm Butler, the Titans added another former Patriot in Dion Lewis with a four-year contract worth just under $20 million. The 27-year-old running back had an outstanding year under Bill Belichek last season, collecting 896 rushing yards with an average of five yards per carry. The Titans also feature Derrick Henry, giving them a potent 1-2 punch in the backfield.
Bennie Logan: The Titans bolstered their defensive line with the addition of defensive lineman Bennie Logan to a 1-year deal worth four million. The 28-year old made a combined 52 tackles in 15 games with the Chiefs last season. He won’t register a ton of sacks, amassing only 2.5 sacks last year but he is very effective against the run.
Will Compton: The 28-year-old linebacker joins the Titans on a one-year deal after spending the last five seasons with the Redskins. Compton’s 2017 season was cut short after nine games due to injury. He made 19 total tackles last season, and he will add depth to a Titans’ team that lost Avery Williamson.
Avery Williamson: The Titans did offer the 26-year-old linebacker a contract, however, he was offered a better deal from the Jets who inked him to a four-year deal. Williamson is an above average defensive player, but the Titans filled that hole with the signing Will Compton and through the draft.
Eric Decker: The veteran wide-out leaves the Titans after only one season with the team. He did collect 563 receiving yards last year but had several big drops which have been an issue throughout his career.
First Round, 22nd Overall: Rashaan Evans LB: The 22-year old linebacker out of Alabama is expected to jump right in and make his presence felt. Evans developed under Nick Saban for four years, and he was a force last year with the Crimson Tide, accumulating 74 tackles and six sacks last season. He was the perfect fit considering the Titans lost Avery Williamson in free-agency.
Second Round, 41st Overall: Harold Landry DE: The 22-year old linebacker out of Boston College made five sacks and 38 combined tackles last season. He was known as one of the best pass rushers in the entire draft, and the Titans upgraded their defense nicely with these first two picks.
Sixth Round, 152nd Overall: Dane Cruikshank S: The Titans did not have another pick until the sixth round which they used on another defensive player, this time with safety Dane Cruikshank out of Arizona. He started his collegiate career as a cornerback then transitioned nicely into a safety role.
The Titans had a busy offseason and they improved the team on offense with the addition of Dion Lewis, and their defense received an upgrade with Malcolm Butler. The Titans pass defense should see an improvement as a result of their offseason moves, and they already feature an outstanding rush defense that ranked fourth in the NFL last season. The only lingering issue could be a lack of weapons for Marcus Mariota.
The Houston Texans defense struggled in a big way last year, and they finished last in the entire NFL in points allowed per game, plus they finished last in the AFC South with a 4-12 record. Also, the injury to J.J. Watt was an obstacle the defense failed to overcome. Texans’ G.M. Brian Gaine was active in the offseason upgrading the defense through free-agency and in the draft.
Tyrann Mathieu: The talented 26-year-old safety had a solid 2017 season, making 78 total tackles along with two interceptions. The Texans are hoping he can return to his 2015 form that saw him collect five interceptions and 89 tackles. Mathieu will make a difference and boost the Texans’ pass defense.
Aaron Colvin: The 26-year-old cornerback was inked to a four-year, 34 million dollar deal. While Colvin did not record an interception last season, he has outstanding coverage skills and rarely gets beat downfield. Colvin is best as the nickel corner, and he along with Tyrann Mathieu provide an instant upgrade in the Texans’ secondary
Zach Fulton: The veteran offensive lineman was signed to a hefty four-year, 28 million dollar deal. Fulton is very versatile, playing three different positions on the Chiefs offensive line last year, and the four-year veteran will definitely provide stability to a subpar Texans’ offensive line. Fulton also exemplifies strong leadership abilities.
Senio Kelemete: The Texans continued to bolster their offensive line with the signing of 28-year old center Senio Kelemete to a three-year, $12 million dollar deal after spending the last four seasons in New Orleans. Kelemete can play all over the offensive line, but his natural position is right guard. The 6-foot-3 guard will be a starter.
Seantrel Henderson: Texans’ G.M Brain Gaine was not done adding to his offensive line as he added 26-year-old offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson on a one-year deal. Henderson is talented however he has been suspended twice by the NFL due to off-field issues. Henderson only played in seven games with the Bills last season due to his suspension.
C.J. Fiedorowicz: The 26-year-old tight end retired after four NFL seasons due to concussion issues. Ryan Griffin will likely be the starting tight end, but Stephen Anderson will also see a fair amount of action. Griffin collected 158 receiving yards in seven games last season, and Anderson brought in 342 receiving yards.
Brian Cushing: The Texans released the nine-year veteran linebacker due to his steep $8.8 million cap hit. Cushing only played in five games last year due to a suspension for violating the NFL drug policy. Second-year linebacker Zach Cunningham will be his full-time replacement after a solid 2017 season.
Marcus Gilchrist: The 29-year old safety had a solid 2017 season, amassing 45 solo tackles with one interception. It is not a significant loss as the Texans feature three solid safeties in Andre Hal, Eddie Pleasant, and Corey Moore.
Derek Newton: Houston released the seven-year veteran left tackle. Newton has not played since the 2016 season due to injury. The Texans added multiple offensive linemen this offseason.
Third Round, 68th Overall: Justin Reid S: The Texans did not have a draft pick until the third round, and they used it to improve their secondary with talented safety Justin Reid out of Stanford. The 21-year old made a combined 94 tackles and five interceptions in the PAC-12 last season. The Texans are set at safety with Tyrann Mathieu and Andre Hal, and they now feature a promising young safety with this pick.
Third Round, 80th Overall: Martinas Rankin, OL: The Texans had a hole at left tackle heading into the draft which they filled with this pick. The 6-foot-5 lineman will compete for a starting job in training camp. Rankin can play all five positions in the offensive line, so his versatility will be an asset if injuries hit.
Third Round, 98th Overall: Jordan Akins, TE: The 6-foot-3 tight-end had a solid season with the UCF Knights in 2017, collecting 515 receiving yards with four touchdowns. Akins will compete with Ryan Griffin and Stephen Anderson at camp, however, it is not likely he wins the starting role.
Coaching Changes: The Texans hired Romeo Crennel as the new defensive coordinator to replace Mike Vrabel who was named the head coach of the Titans. The move will be a smooth transition as Crennel was the Texans defensive coordinator from 2012 to 2016, and he was assistant coach with Houston last season.
The Texans secondary was a glaring weakness last season, finishing 24th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game. Hopefully, the addition of Tyron Mathieu will instantly improve their fortunes. Most importantly, the Texans will have promising young quarterback Deshaun Watson and elite defensive end J.J. Watt back from injury. Overall G.M. Brian Gaine did a good job improving his club in the offseason.