Four Downs
Offseason analysis of the NFL, division by division

Four Downs: AFC South

Four Downs: AFC South
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Tom Gower

Houston Texans

Biggest Post-Draft Hole: Free Safety

The Texans used their first two picks in the 2010 NFL Draft wisely. In the first round, they selected Kareem Jackson to fill the hole at cornerback created by Dunta Robinson's departure. In the second, they added Ben Tate to share the load at running back in case Steve Slaton isn't able to rebound to his rookie form.

The Texans did not, however, take a true free safety in the draft. Slotting Jackson in for Robinson should prevent the pass defense from slipping too much from the 18th in DVOA they ranked last year, but he will hardly improve the team. If Eugene Wilson can stay healthy for the entire season -- which hasn't happened since 2005 -- he is their best option. Either Glover Quin, who started 12 games at cornerback as a rookie in 2009, or fourth-round corner Sherrick McManis may be the long-term answer, but neither will be ready when Wilson gets hurt again.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

After adding four tight ends during the last two drafts (though they announced plans to move Dorin Dickerson to wideout), the Texans added another tight end in Temple’s Steve Maneri. Probably more important are fullbacks Jack Corcoran and Isaiah Greenhouse -- each could push Vonta Leach after a disappointing 2009. Adam Ulatoski was a four-year starter at offensive tackle at Texas. While he isn't likely to start, he could be a valuable depth player.

Indianapolis Colts

Biggest Post-Draft Hole: Left Tackle

With Tony Ugoh looking like a bust and Charlie Johnson better suited to right tackle, the Colts could have addressed their need for a left tackle by selecting Indiana lineman Rodger Saffold with their first-round pick. They didn't. The Colts could have addressed their need for a left tackle with their second-round pick by selecting USC tackle Charles Brown, who was projected as the Colts' first-round pick in some mock drafts. They didn't. The Colts finally addressed one of the NFL's worst run-blocking lines (ranked 25th in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Line Yards) by adding Tennessee guard Jacques McClendon in the fourth round. He was the first player drafted who wasn't invited to the Combine.

McClendon will help an interior offensive line that cut Ryan Lilja and saw neither second-round disappointment Mike Pollak nor undrafted free agent Kyle DeVan excel at guard, but the answer at left tackle remains either Ugoh or Johnson. Neither has ever been better than adequate at the position, so offensive line coach Pete Metzelaars has his work cut out for him this offseason.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

Jim Caldwell expressed disappointment with the return game in 2009. By our numbers, the kickoff returns were below average and punt returns were bad, an upgrade from the rank of terrible in both categories in 2008. The undersized Brandon James was a formidable return threat at Florida and could help the Colts in both categories. The Colts also brought in former Michigan State kicker Brett Swenson, who could be kept over Adam Vinatieri if the Colts want to kick long field goals in 2010. Western Michigan's Tim Hiller could also potentially unseat Curtis Painter for the job of Colts’ preseason quarterback.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Biggest Post-Draft Hole: Secondary Help

When a team has a bad pass defense, does it make more sense to improve the pass rush or improve the secondary? You might think "both," but Jaguars GM Gene Smith is betting heavily that improving the pass rush will provide almost all of the answers. The Jaguars added defensive end Aaron Kampman in free agency and then spent their first four draft picks on defensive linemen -- and didn't draft a single cornerback or safety.

Rashean Mathis is no longer an elite cornerback, but he remains a good player, and Derek Cox should be a better player in his second year. Nonetheless, depth at cornerback behind them is questionable at best. Safety Reggie Nelson was pressed into starting duties when Mathis was injured last season, and the same could easily happen again in 2010. At safety, the picture is, if anything, even worse. When Nelson recently expressed his desire to play safety and not corner, GM Smith noted backups play where they're asked if they want to make the team. If Nelson, who had major tackling problems last year, is not the starter at safety, that leaves the Jaguars to pick their two starters among Gerald Alexander, Sean Considine, Courtney Greene, and Anthony Smith. Alexander is an acceptable run defender, but none of the three is more than marginal in coverage. Darren Sharper would have filled the void at free safety nicely, and his decision to re-sign with the Saints means the Jaguars are again left rudderless in the secondary.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

The Jaguars continued their love affair with low-profile college football teams, bringing in Edinboro quarterback Trevor Harris. With Garrard and Luke McCown the only other quarterbacks on the roster, Harris has a chance to make the team as a developmental prospect. John Estes may also push 2009 undrafted free agent Cecil Newton for the role as backup and potential future successor to Brad Meester at center. Chris McGaha (Arizona State) was among the more polished receivers available this year, and he could figure in the crowded and murky picture at wide receiver.

Tennessee Titans

Biggest Post-Draft Hole: Cornerback's predraft coverage included this article on which rounds provided the most value per position. Among the lessons in the chart is that if you want a quality defensive back, you should draft one in the first two rounds. Don't tell the Titans brass this. Since taking Andre Woolfolk in the first round of the 2003 draft, the Titans have used just one of their 14 first- or second-round picks on a cornerback, selecting Adam Jones in the first round in 2005. Jones was a fine player on the field, but ultimately proved too disruptive in most every other environment.

The Titans were fortunate to have had great success with seventh-round pick Cortland Finnegan. Adding Nick Harper in free agency provided a band-aid for a couple seasons, but Harper's decline meant their lack of investment in cornerbacks cost them in 2009 and looks to do the same again in 2010. The Titans have more depth than they did this time last year with second-year players Ryan Mouton and Jason McCourty, veterans Rod Hood and Tye Hill, and fourth-round pick Alterraun Verner, but none is likely to be an average starter opposite Finnegan this year. That means more holes for Titans' opponents to exploit in the passing game this fall.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

The trade of LenDale White leaves Chris Johnson and Javon Ringer as the sole running backs on the roster. While the Titans may add a veteran back near the start of training camp or after cut-down day, either LeGarrette Blount or Stafon Johnson has an excellent chance to make the roster as the No. 3 tailback. The Titans have lately been among the most difficult teams for an undrafted free agent to make, so the other important UFAs are the biggest names: center Kevin Matthews, son of Hall-of-Famer Bruce Matthews and cousin of Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews, and guard Nick Howell, son of Jeff Fisher's college teammate (and former Falcon and Oiler) Pat Howell.

(Portions of this article originally appeared on


32 comments, Last at 19 May 2010, 10:21am

1 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

"When Nelson recently expressed his desire to play safety and not corner, GM Smith noted backups play where they're asked if they want to make the team."

Dear Wayne Weaver,

Please fire Jack Del Rio and Gene Smith after this season, unless you plan on moving to another city in the offseason.

5 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Granted, I'm sure that Reggie Nelson will not be on anyone's Top-10 list of NFL safties (especially considering that the Jags tried to pursue Darren Sharper). I am also aware that most back-ups could care less what position they play, just as long as they have a job. I'm sure Nelson was comfortable playing the safety position and wanted to get better at saftey, but that's just an assumption. My problem with Del Rio and Smith stems longer than that.

The problem with Smith is his crap shoot drafting; for every Maurice Jones-Drew and Mike Sims-Walker, they draft a Matt Jones or (insert pass-rusher here). The pass-rushers they have drafted haven't panned out very well, but there's still the fact that they drafted Matt Jones, Reggie Williams and Marcedes Lewis to give Leftwich/Garrard targets to throw to.

The issue with Del Rio is he plays very conservative, in a Herm Edwards kind of way. I remember watching the playoff game against the Patriots where the Jags could have blitzed at anytime the Patriot's offense came on to the field. In fact, I remember yelling "BLITZ!" at my TV (not that it helped), and they got killed in the passing game.

Then there's that whole David Garrard/Byron Leftwich debacle. When Garrard was starting when Leftwich got injured, I thought they guy had potential (or that he was at least better than Leftwich). They kept Leftwich long enough to cut him before the first game of the season, which made little sense at all. Plus, I'm biased when it comes to Garrard as he is the Brett Favre to my John Madden.

7 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

I think the Jacksonville response is that Shack Harris was GM when they made all the bad picks, and that the organizational reaction to those moves (and you can add in Garrard's extension to that) was to promote Gene Smith to GM and strip power away from JDR. GM Smith had a good first draft in 2009 (based on 2009 results) and seems to have an organizational plan, but more GMs have good-seeming first drafts and a plan than are successful.

10 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Still not your gripes about Smith and Del Rio have to do with the Reggie Nelson comment. When you are a backup player, you need to be versatile. And when you are a player, you need to remember that you are not in charge of the team. This isn't Gainesville, Reggie. You can't get away on pure athletic talent and you're not better than everybody else out there. Gene Smith just said what needed to be said. Reggie Nelson was AWFUL last year. He makes everybody around him worse. So to then come out and say, "well, I only want to play this one position because it's hard to learn more than one..." Well, I say tough ****. Lots of us do things we don't like or are hard at work, and we do it for a lot less money. If he's not interested in doing what the coaches think is best for the team then he can go blow coverages somewhere else. I'm sure Shack Harris would find a place for him in Detroit.

As far as the drafting... clearly Wayne Weaver doesn't hold Smith responsible for the drafting of guys like Matt Jones and Reggie Williams or even Derrick Harvey. If he thought Smith was behind those things, it would have been foolish to promote him, wouldn't it? There were hints of division about draft picks and personnel moves when Shack Harris was in Jacksonville. The obvious implication is that Smith was not in favor of the moves that were made which ended up not panning out.

12 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Why all the Reggie Nelson hate? The guy's playing out of position and it's making him look bad. I'd be unhappy, too. You're crapping on the guy for being awful and then crapping on him for wanting to play a position he might actually be good at.

When you are a backup player, you need to be versatile.

To quote you: huh, what? Versatility isn't a requirement to be a backup. Just ask Jim Sorgi.

13 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

To quote you: huh, what? Versatility isn't a requirement to be a backup. Just ask Jim Sorgi.

I take exception to this. Sorgi can hold for kicks. Sorgi can take a snap and kneel. Sorgi can hold a clipboard. Sorgi can throw to Dallas Clark during warmups. Sorgi can fetch Gatorade for Peyton.

If that's not the definition of versatile, I don't know what is.

23 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

If the problem with Nelson is that he has top-notch athletic talent but lacks football savvy and position-specific skills, it does seem to be a pretty odd approach to bounce him around from position to position. Surely a boom-or-bust player like that should be given every opportunity to fulfil his obvious potential by learning a single position in detail, and the "swingmen" should be the guys with marginal talent but enough smarts to learn more than one position.

11 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

The problem with Smith is his crap shoot drafting; for every Maurice Jones-Drew and Mike Sims-Walker, they draft a Matt Jones or (insert pass-rusher here).

Isn't that normal, though? I think a draft success rate over 25% would put a GM in the Top-10 as a talent evaluator.

2 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Jones was a fine player on the field, but ultimately proved too disruptive in most every other environment.

If by "fine" you mean not embarrassingly bad with some upside, then I agree with your assessment of Jones' performance. If you mean approaching league-average talent, then you are off base. Teams will overlook all sorts of off-field embarrassments for a guy who can play. Jones' inability to get another NFL look (aside from, recently, Mike Brown/Father Flanagan) says more about his film than his rap sheet. On the field with Tennessee, Jones was a somewhat dynamic return guy and a highly suspect CB. Tennessee knew it had misjudged him in more ways than one.

4 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

FO stats disagree - they rated Jones as one of the best corners in the league in his second season (he did pretty well in the second half of his rookie season as well). It was his mediocre 2008 season with Dallas (after his year-long suspension) plus his continued troublemaking that kept him out of the NFL last year.

6 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

"Teams will overlook all sorts of off-field embarrassments for a guy who can play."

Yet every year, Jason Whitlock lobbies the NFL to put Jeff George on an NFL roster. And every year, Jeff George does not land on an NFL roster.

8 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Jones was a bit of a gambler, but with the exception of a couple poor games (to wit, NYJ and BUF), I thought he played CB exceptionally well in 2006. The combination of time off (during which he supposedly wasn't too devoted to staying in shape and working on his game), the continuous off-field incidents, and a reportedly corrosive locker-room personality can turn a coulda-been All-Pro into a guy who can't get a job. As a Titans fan, I'm sad and disappointed at how it turned out, but such is life.

14 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

I watched him completely shut down Marvin Harrison when Marvin Harrison was still good. The dude could play. Maybe his performance was uneven, but he had abilities that most NFL DBs would kill for.

17 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Here I thought Jacksonville's biggest hole was their failure to address their Tim Tebow need...

18 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Probably totally objective Michigan State fan here, but I wouldn't be surprised to see WR Blair White develop into an NFL slot receiver for the Colts. He rose from walk-on begging to remain on the team in 2007 to playing in the Spartans' bowl game that year and then being the top receiver in 2008 and 2009.

I'm not sure about Swenson in the NFL. He's accurate and clutch on field goals, but he had problems kicking off as a senior in 2009. (he was a four-year starter, but only kicked off his senior year, after a guy with the opposite skill set named Todd Boleski graduated) Swenson had problems getting touchbacks, so I worry about that he doesn't have elite leg strength.

The Colts also signed MSU DE Trevor Anderson, who supposedly played hurt all of last year, so might have a little bit more potential than his 2009 play suggested.

20 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

A lot of Colts fans see White as a serious contender for the 5th WR spot. Obviously with Wayne, Clark, Gonzalez, Collie and Garçon all vying for snaps out wide he's not going to see time soon, but he seems like the type that they'd work on developing while he plays on STs.

21 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

The kickoffs won't be much of a concern for the Colts, as Pat McAfee did a wonderful job booting them deep last year. Now you may have meant that his kickoffs are indicative of an overall lack of leg strength in which case I'll have to hold my tongue til training camp.

19 Re: Four Downs: AFC South has a nice analysis of why the Colts didn't select a left tackle in the draft:

22 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Curtis Painter is the Colts' preseason AND Week 16/17 QB...

24 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

RE: Ugoh and Johnson:

"Neither has ever been better than adequate at the position, so offensive line coach Pete Metzelaars has his work cut out for him this offseason."

Ugoh was 4th in the FO rookie of the year thing in 2007

You guys though he was a whole lot better than adequate a couple years ago. Fallen off a cliff? Sure. Never been better than adequate? Revisionist drivel.

26 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Yes he did fall off a cliff, too. He showed a lot of promise his rookie year and still has the physical skills to contribute, but for whatever reason couldn't build on his solid rookie year.

29 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

I would say that Ugoh was definitely adequate his rookie year (he was actually a upgrade run blocking from Tarik Glenn), but he really regressed. Occasional rookie lapses in pass pro became very inconsistent play across the board.

31 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

I remember that vote and I also remember being pissed off at the time. Joe Staley had clearly outplayed him but more folks voted for Ugoh because he played for a more high profile team. Grrrrrrr

32 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

As a Colts fan I am very warmfuzzy seeing this:

biggest hole: (Secondary)

biggest hole: (Secondary)

biggest hole: (Secondary)