NFL Offseason Preview: AFC South
By: Roger SinClair
The AFC South was very uncompetitive this past season, with the Indianapolis Colts having a firm hold on the division throughout most of the season. The Texans and rookie head coach Bill O’Brien had a nice first season but fell short of the postseason. Not much has to be discussed about the Titans and Jaguars, who had abysmal seasons once again.
All of these teams could get some serious help in free agency. All of these teams are considerably over the cap and if they chose to, could bring in plenty of talent.
The 2-14 Titans didn’t get anything going this season, and new head coach Ken Whinsenhunt had a very difficult time getting this team to perform. Quarterback Jake Locker performed admirably while he was on the field, which was a rare occurrence. These team needs to make splashes in free agency, especially in both the offensive and defensive line. While the Titans need a franchise quarterback, the free agency market is so poor that they might stick with Zach Mettenberger and draft a quarterback high in the draft.
Outside Linebackers – The Titans made a decent transition to a 3-4 defensive scheme, but struggled to generate any pass rush. The Titans have over $40 million in cap room, so a big buy here would not be surprising.
Possible Acquisitions – OLB Justin Houston (KC), OLB Sean Weatherspoon (ATL), OLB Geno Hayes (JAC)
Offensive Line – while Jake Locker has always had health problems in the NFL, the Titans poor offensive line didn’t keep him off of his back. Michael Oher was a failed experiment and the team has already released him. The Tackle position is fairly weak in free agency, so the Titans most likely use the draft to address these need.
Possible Acquisitions – OG Willie Colon (NYJ), OG John Jerry (NYG), C Dominic Raiola (DET)
Cornerback – The Titans really missed Alterraun Verner, who left the team last offseason to play for Tampa Bay. The secondary let up too many big plays and obviously the position needs a lot of work.
Possible Acquisitions – CB Brandon Flowers (SD), CB Tramon Williams (GB), CB Byron Maxwell (SEA)
The Jaguars are essentially in a rebuilding phase and having over $60 million in cap space will be incredibly helpful. The Jags have the benefit of a quarterback with great potential and a young team that seems to play competitively in most games. The team has to look to build around Blake Bortles and continue to sure up the secondary.
Running back – While Denard Robinson had a productive season, the former Michigan product is not the future premier back for the Jags. Running backs in the league today seem to be expendable and built into a more of a running-back-by-committee; the team has the money to maybe overpay for some talent.
Possible Acquisitions – RB Stevan Ridley (NE), RB Ryan Mathews (SD), RB Frank Gore (SF)
Cornerback – I like John Cyprien and I think he will be a very solid player in Jacksonville for the foreseeable future. The other safety needs to be addressed and a general lack of depth has plagued the Jags. The young cornerbacks they have drafted recently, Demetrius McCray and Aaron Colvin, have not panned out. Like previously mentioned, the Jaguars have an incredible amount of money to spend, so they have the possibility of landing young talent.
Possible Acquisitions – CB Chris Culliver (SF), CB Kareem Jackson (HOU), S Major Wright (TB)
Linebacker – Paul Posluszny has been a stud since he joined the team from Buffalo a few seasons ago. This team needs more impact players on the defensive side of the ball, especially players who are game changers. While the team could draft some linebackers, this free agent class looks very impressive and Jacksonville could look to pick up some major talent.
Possible Acquisitions – LB David Harris (NYJ), LB Rey Maualuga (CIN), OLB Malcolm Smith (SEA)
Bill O’Brien exceeded expectations this season, taking over a team that was 2-14 the season before and turning them into a 9-7 team. That being said, the quarterback position is the major concern here. While Pitt fans would like to see Tom Savage succeed in the NFL, the Texans started four quarterbacks the entire year and were still able to be successful. The Texans need some depth, but manly need to focus on finding a consistent quarterback. I believe they chance this poor free agent quarterback class.
Quarterback – The Texans need a quarterback, plain and simple. I think the team will resign Ryan Mallett to compete for the starting job with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick was benched throughout the course of the season and Ryan Mallett couldn’t stay healthy, so a third option for the competition could be vital. The quarterbacks coming out of the draft this year are very weak, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Texans bring in a player with credentials to manage the offense.
Possible Acquisitions – QB Brian Hoyer (CLE), QB Mark Sanchez (PHI), QB Christian Ponder (MIN)
Cornerback – This isn’t a huge weakness on the defense, but depth should be a concern. CB Jonathan Joseph is getting older and some younger rotation players should be of concern.
Possible Acquisitions – CB E.J. Biggers (WAS), CB Bradley Fletcher (PHI), CB Mike Jenkins (TB)
Tight End – Having Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins as your starting Wide Receivers definitely helped the Texans QBs succeed, but they have been lacking a security blanket since Owen Daniels left for Baltimore. Garrett Graham isn’t the future at the position, so this could definitely be a position to pick up in free agency
Possible Acquisitions – TE Jordan Cameron (CLE), TE Julius Thomas (DEN), TE Jermaine Gresham (CIN)
The surprise AFC Championship contenders for many people, the Colts continued to improve with the growth of Andrew Luck. He covers up a lot of the disparities on the team, especially the offense. There isn’t much competition in this division outside of the Texans and Colts, so as long as they pick up some veterans in free agency they should retain the division title.
Wide Receiver – The Hakeem Nicks experiment last season did not work out whatsoever and Reggie Wayne is hitting free agency. The Colts have money to spend, however I see them drafting future talent instead of signing free agents. However I do think they pick up a taller wide out to complement TY Hilton’s pace.
Possible Acquisitions – WR Kenny Britt (STL), WR Brandon Lloyd (SF), WR Torrey Smith (BAL)
Defensive Tackle – The Colts simply don’t have a big man to impose some will on the interior line of the opposition. We all saw that in their 45-7 loss in the championship game. They simply could not stop anyone for most of the season and that needs to change if they hope to be contenders in the AFC. I think the Colts make a bid for Ndamukong Suh, however I think he goes elsewhere.
Possible Acquisitions – DT Karl Klug (TEN), DT Terrance Knighton (DEN), DT Nick Fairley (DET)
Running Back – It’s time to let Trent Richardson go. He has been a failure for the Colts and there is no reason he should be playing for the team. Bradshaw is getting too old to be the Number 1 option. I wouldn’t be surprised if Indy takes someone like Melvin Gordon in the draft, but they need immediate help to avoid being a one-dimensional offense for a second consecutive season.
Possible Acquisitions – RB Mark Ingram (NO), RB Knowshon Moreno (MIA), RB Darren McFadden (OAK)