Four Downs: AFC South

Four Downs: AFC South
Four Downs: AFC South
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Rivers McCown

Houston Texans

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Right tackle

In a move that raised eyebrows around the league, the Texans released the highly-regarded Eric Winston prior to free agency. Winston signed with the Chiefs, becoming one of the very few players to be released, then receive a "bigger" contract than he had owed to him. With cap money hard to come by, the Texans couldn't really find many proper solutions in free agency, so Houston instead had to look to the draft. They addressed wide receiver and outside linebacker in the early rounds, and brought in some fascinating interior linemen in the middle rounds, but they don't have an obvious challenger to Rashad Butler at right tackle at this point.

Butler, who was actually Winston's replacement at tackle at the University of Miami as well, does have a decent pedigree as a former third-round pick with the Panthers, but he doesn't have much in the way of NFL experience. He saw some snaps in 6-OL sets in 2010, and got four starts on the left side when Duane Brown was suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. While he wasn't a disaster replacing Brown, and may even offer a slight upgrade on Winston in pass protection, it would be a surprise if he brought quite as much to the table in the running game. The only other in-house options are 2011 seventh-rounder Derek Newton and 2012 sixth-round pick Nick Mondek, both of whom are considered projects. Since Houston is also handing over right guard to Antoine Caldwell, a new right side could lead to some awkwardness as the offensive line learns to work together in game conditions.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

Perhaps the most widely-known Texans UDFA is North Carolina wideout Dwight Jones, who is an intriguing size/speed prospect (6-foot-4, 4.55 40-yard-dash) and could break camp with the team if he can beat out LeStar Jean and Jeff Maehl for the fifth receiver slot. He thinks he's the next Andre Johnson, so he's certainly not lacking for confidence. Another interesting piece is BYU defensive tackle Hebron Fangupo, who weighs in at 323 pounds and could be the first real "nose" tackle the Texans have ever employed. The Texans have a pair of defensive tackles they like in Earl Mitchell and Shaun Cody, but if Fangupo can gain enough grasp on Wade Phillips' defense to see the field, he could be a big load in the middle of the line.

Indianapolis Colts

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Cornerback

The Colts completely revamped their offense in the draft, landing four quality offensive pieces in quarterback Andrew Luck, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. However, a 2-14 team can't be rebuilt in one draft, and while the Colts did manage to snag a decent nose tackle prospect in Alabama's Josh Chapman, they didn't add much at all on defense. Indianapolis left the draft with no new cornerbacks and now have a logjam of unproven mediocrity at the position.

Last season, Indianapolis finished 26th in DVOA against No. 1 wide receivers, 27th against No. 2 wide receivers, and 31st against other wide receivers. The only change in personnel from then to now is the exile of Jacob Lacey, who played bad enough last year to lose his starting job to the guys who are still in town. Jerraud Powers has always done well by our metrics and will be back on the field after being bothered by a hamstring injury and shutting it down following a dislocated elbow in Week 13. Third-rounder Kevin Thomas, who has a lengthy injury history at both USC and in the pros, is the nominal second cornerback. Behind him are 2011 sixth-rounder Chris Rucker and a pair of former undrafted free agents: Terrence Johnson and Brandon King. As the NFL continues to shift into a passing league, really good defenses are finding it necessary to have three credible cornerbacks. The Colts are still stuck on one at this point.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

One of Rob Rang's favorites, Morehouse State nose tackle Chigbo Anunoby could be a fit in the middle of Chuck Pagano's line down the road if Chapman doesn't claim the job. As a small-school project, he's definitely a practice squad candidate this year. Wide receiver is still a very unsettled group for the Colts, with Donnie Avery looking like a potential starter at flanker while Austin Collie is inside. In that sort of chaff field, someone with experience working with Luck could rise up to claim a roster spot, and Stanford receiver Griff Whalen has those credentials. And the name Griff.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Offensive line

The Jaguars came into the offseason with a couple of major holes that needed filling: wide receiver and defensive end. After spending their first two picks in the draft on Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon and Clemson defensive end Andre Branch, they have a lot more credibility at those positions. What they didn't address is the offensive line -- a strong run blocking unit that did Blaine Gabbert no favors over the course of his nightmare rookie season. Guy Whimper was one of the worst offensive tackles in the league last season -- FO's J.J. Cooper had a scathing column on his play last year -- and the only obstacle to keep him from starting at tackle again is Eben Britton, who the Jaguars wanted to turn into a guard last season.

Will Rackley, a third-round pick in 2011, won the starting nod at left guard. He showed some flash in the running game, but also allowed 6.5 sacks and looked every bit as lost as Gabbert did in a few games. Eugene Monroe is solid at left tackle, but lacks the edge speed to match the best rushers in the NFL. Brad Meester is 35, and not the type of 35 that gets you "wily old vet" mentions like Matt Birk or Jeff Saturday. This is a unit that could have used some more solidification rather than the blind hope that Britton's return from a back injury will heal all. For their beleaguered quarterback's sake, at least.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

Ohio State center Mike Brewster was regarded as a mid-round prospect by quite a few different services, and as mentioned above, Meester is not getting any younger. Assuming he plays as well as some internet draftniks have said he does, Brewster could be starting by the end of the season if he shows some improvement in the combo blocking game.

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Tennessee Titans

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Defensive End

The Titans came into the offseason, as we noted, with one of the weakest pass rush units in the NFL. While they tinkered with the idea of signing Peyton Manning, the one player who could instantly bring credibility to their rush, Mario Williams, joined the Bills. Tennessee instead was left to chase after second-tier rushers, and they came up with Kamerion Wimbley after the Raiders set him free to atone for their salary cap sins.

Wimbley isn't a bad player at all -- in fact, he's picked up 42.5 sacks in six years, which is pretty impressive. However, he's never played exclusively as a 4-3 defensive end, and as our own esteemed Tom Gower noted on his Total Titans blog, four of his seven sacks in 2011 came against woefully overmatched Chargers backup tackle Brandyn Dombrowski. Wimbley was a smart signing in light of the other options, but he's not exactly a sure thing. If the Titans can get some production from either Wimbley or third-year end Derrick Morgan, that would go a long way towards shoring up their 31st place ranking in Adjusted Sack Rate from 2011.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

The most intriguing player the Titans managed to pick up after hours was USC defensive tackle DaJohn Harris. Harris, who has ideal NFL size, was part of a tackle rotation for the Trojans and managed 1.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss. A heart condition discovered at the combine dropped him out of the draft, but it doesn't look like it'll be enough to actually keep him off the field.


42 comments, Last at 02 Mar 2013, 1:12pm

1 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Most people assume Austin Collie will be the slot WR for the Colts; however, considering his concussion history, I think he is a better fit on the outside. He's got enough experience on the outside to prove he can play there. If the idea is to get the 11 best guys on the field, then Wayne and Collie should be your starters, with the 3rd WR being a mix of TY Hilton and Avery.

2 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Collie isn't suited to the outside, since he has neither speed nor height. At this point of course, he's suited to be on a beach somewhere, given his concussion history. Also, there is no reason to believe he is a better receiver than Avery or Hilton; he's shown basically nothing outside of the ability to run routes for Peyton Manning. He's a Jacob Tamme who can't block. Even as well as Jacob Tamme.

13 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

This might not be a case for the white stereotye police but rather a case of someone who has watched Austin Collie play.

23 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Check this out:

Year Games Starts Targets Rec. Yds Y/R TD
2010 9 6 72 58 649 11.2 8
2011 16 5 96 54 514 9.5 1

That's Austin Collie.

2010 14 14 118 67 784 11.7 6
2011 16 16 134 70 947 13.5 6

That's Pierre Garcon.

Now, tell me which one you think was basically a product of being the third receiver in an offense run by Peyton Manning, and which one can actually get open. That isn't to say that Garcon is a great receiver. But he seemed to be able to produce with Curtis Painter, and Collie (like Tamme and Clark) couldn't.

Now, in Collie's case, it's arguable that the decline is not just quarterback play, but rather injury (concussion) related decline, which is sort of scary, to be honest, given the severity of the change. But that's not an argument for putting him on the outside.

[The fact that he's actually taller than Hilton, Avery, and Lavon Brazil, on the other hand, might be.]

28 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Yeah, I think the wide receiver stereotype sheet actually describes Collie and Garcon pretty accurately, to be honest. Collin really is a small slow guy with good hands, and Garcon really is a burner who's great at getting open but can't catch.

29 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

So Collie caught 54 balls from the Painter/Orlosky duo and that is supposed to tell me he sucks? I'd say that's damn good production from the 3rd WR in a historically bad offense. Has Donnie Avery EVER caught 54 balls? Sorry buddy, you're going to have to do better than that.

31 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

1. The initial comment was "Collie isn't suited to the outside, since he has neither speed nor height", not that Collie "sucks".

2. The later comments were about the difference in production between Collie and Garcon. Last year, in the same amount of games, Garcon caught more passes, and averaged more yards per catch. I don't think it's a stretch to say he has shown more talent than Collie.

3. Your response was an accusation of racism, or at the very least only using white-receiver stereotypes. The follow-up comments clearly show much more thought was put into the claim than simple ignorance.

33 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

I kind of automatically assume that accusations of racism in the form of white wide receiver stereotyping are always and automatically tongue in cheek. Is that unreasonably optimistic?

34 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

My attempt to be flippant and cute was taken more seriously than I expected. My bad. On to the point at hand, CommishLeaf is the one who compared Garcon to Collie. Why? They played 2 different positions last year, so what is the point of comparing their stats? My point is that Collie has often caught balls "outside the numbers" while playing for the Colts, not to mention tons of them while playing as an outside WR at BYU. In my mind, he has shown more than enough ability to be an outside WR threat.

35 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

I'm sure the stats indicate Collie has lined-up in the slot roughly 80% of the snaps for the Colts; however, that was because Garcon was on the team. Now he's not. While highlight reels are almost useless when it comes to evaluating a player, in this case it might shed some light on Collie. Watch the youtube below and notice how many of Collies catches came while lined-up outside. While far from the majority, there are enough for me to think he could succeed on the outside.

36 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

and finally, CommishLeaf compared Collie to Jacob Tamme. Really? That is so idiotic it makes me wonder why anybody would take his post seriously. Which is why I responded with an equally idiotic call for the racial police.

40 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Been avoiding this, but here goes:

Austin Collie is essentially valued highly only because he produced a decent number of touchdowns and a good catch percentage while catching passes from Peyton Manning as a slot receiver in an offense meant to feed the ball to the slot receiver (intended to be Dallas Clark). That isn't nothing. But Jacob Tamme performed well in the same role, and likewise fell off a cliff once Manning was out. So I think the comparison is valid. Austin Collie does not have elite speed, and may no longer have elite hands (if his catch % with Manning was more than catching from Manning). He is tall enough to be an outside receiver, but not tall enough to be an outside receiver - because - he is tall, which is the requirement if he doesn't have other skills.

My real point was this: If Avery and Hilton run 4.25-4.4's (I have no idea if Avery is still that fast), and Collie runs a 4.5-4.6, Collie being an inch or three taller isn't going to help him win a job outside, especially when Indy may be featuring Coby Fleener as the inside option. Being a better player might, but I don't think we know that he is a better player.

41 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Care to comment on this CommishLeaf?

3 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

They discovered a PFO, or patent foramen ovale, in the heart of DaJohn Harris. About 20 to 25% of all humans have this abnormality - it's a defect in the heart that should solve itself after birth. It doesn't have any other symptoms at all, other than a slightly higher risk to a stroke.
So you'd expect one in 4 or 5 players to be held from Combine participation from this condition alone.
So why is Harris an exception?

5 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

I understand that, but having a PFO shouldn't prevent anyone from becoming an NFL player (or successful college player).
Unless of course someone stops playing because of the detected PFO or after having a stroke.
But the condition itself shouldn't stop anyone from getting to the combine.
This is from Teddy Bruschi who had the same condition:

9 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

PFO's, if not pathologically significant at birth, are usually harmless unless there are significant stroke risks later in life. However, depending on the size, location, and nature of the defect, significant shunting of blood can occur. For most of us, this is not an issue, as we don't regularly push our cardiac function to the limit. But at the extreme ends of physiological activity, as would be expected in pro athletes, enough shunting can lead to significant exercise-induced symptoms (fatigue, syncope, etc.). By itself that should be a concern, but even more dangerous is if this process continues chronically, leading to cardiac hypertrophy and remodeling. That can lead to arrhythmia, heart failure, or even sudden cardiac arrest.

Bottom line is that any NFL prospect with a known PFO requires close monitoring by a cardiologist, and that should rightly be taken into consideration.

6 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Colts: Even with Luck, this is a terrible, terrible football team. Two tight ends and a one dimensional speed guy may improve the offense, but this is a defense has declined since it prevented Peyton Manning from getting another ring in 2007-2010. It could use upgrades at every position in the back seven not manned by the aging but still good Antoine Bethea. The defensive line has a lot of talent, but little tread left on the tires. It might have been worthwhile to pass on Hilton and the second TE to get a couple of developmental defensive backs.

Texans: Last year was their year, just like the other years ruined by Schaub injuries. Now the salary cap has weakened their talent base. I would expect them to win this awful division but only by default.

Titans: Probably better off starting Jake Locker now. Matt Hasselbeck has never been able to carry a team, and it is unlikely that he will start now, with Kenny Britt possibly still ailing to boot. Locker might at least be enough of a threat to take off with the ball that Chris Johnson has a better year. On defense, it seems like this team has been bleeding talent for a long time. But last I checked, they weren't terrible. So I won't comment.

Jags: If Blaine Gabbert makes great strides forward and approaches Alex Smith like mediocrity, or even Mark Sanchez levels of sub-mediocrity, then the Jaguars have a chance to beat out the Colts for the third slot in the division. The Jaguars have drafted poorly for years, in a poorly planned and poorly scouted attempt to prioritize the pass rush with Manning in the division. He isn't even in the division anymore.

7 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

I think the Colts showed a great deal of wisdom by pursuing an offense-first strategy in the draft. Assuming you're right, and they're a terrible team, it's important to have an offense that shows signs of getting better:

  • Luck shouldn't have his confidence shot by playing for a completely inept offense
  • Colts fans will expect signs that "trading" Manning for Luck wasn't a major mistake

If we were playoff contenders, yeah, it'd be foolish to completely neglect defense. Right now, though, we can afford to emphasize one side of the ball.

Besides, for ~12 years we Colts fans watched a fantastic QB do a decent job of compensating for a bad defense. Nothing new here.

25 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Besides, it's not like you need a solid defense to make the playoffs anyway, especially in this era, and as the Colts and other teams know, you don't even need one to win a Super Bowl; you just need your defense to play well for a few weeks.

26 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

The Colts defense was almost always solid during the Manning era.

The 2006 team had the weakest regular season defense for a few years before and after, but in the playoffs they were completely different. They only won the Ravens game because of their defense.

10 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

I think the Texans are probably better than you seem to think they are. Last year, they went 10-6 despite sitting starters in their last game, despite losing four of their six best/most important players for large chunks of the season. Of the players they've lost, only Williams is really a big deal, and he only played 4 games in 2011 anyway. It's unlikely that the offense will go the whole season with only four quarters of Schaub, Foster and Johnson on the field simultaneously, which means it's very likely the offense will be better.

On the other hand, the defense managed to stay remarkably healthy apart from the Williams injury, and will therefore probably get worse.

Overall, I'd expect the Texans to be one of the four best teams in the AFC (Patriots, Steelers, Broncos) and win the division handily at about 11-5.

37 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

I would have argued that losing Winston was the only really big deal, considering that they almost beat the Ravens in the playoffs without Schaub or Williams. I don't see that the Texans have been hurt very much at all by free agent losses.

38 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Winston's a pretty good player, but I think maybe a touch over-rated. Excellent run-blocker, but sometimes had some issues in pass protection, especially in 2011. If anything, I think Butler (assuming he holds off Newton for the starting gig) is probably a better pass blocker, though not as effective in the running game.

39 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Alex Smith has only had one season where he was decisively better than Mark Sanchez (2011) - and Sanchez had a season where his DYAR was much better and his DVOA was slightly better (2010). At 9 years into the league and only attaining the status of "passable" for one season, it's pretty silly to say he's mediocre - he's bad. His CAREER YEAR was total mediocrity. Sanchez already plays at the exact same level, much more quickly into his career. Blaine Gabbert had one of the worst seasons in a #1 QB on the depth chart has had in NFL history - he was roughly twice as bad as Mark Sanchez was in his rookie year. Betting anything on Gabbert making "great strides" is dubious. Give the Jaguars a call in 4 years after they draft a new QB and begin to develop him - then they might be on track to attain the lofty achievement of third best team in the division...

11 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

"The only other in-house options are 2011 seventh-rounder Derek Newton and 2012 sixth-round pick Nick Mondek, both of whom are considered projects."

I get the impression the staff are pretty keen on Newton, and he certainly didn't disgrace himself in his playing time against the Titans. He'll probably end up as the swing tackle, but I wouldn't be totally shocked if he beat Butler out in camp. Either way, when it comes to the offensive line, any solution Rick Dennison is happy with is a solution I'm happy with. Coaches like him are gold dust.

15 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

LeStar Jean and Hebron Fangupo headline this year's UDFA All-Name Team.

18 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Sadly, Jean was on last year's UDFAAN team, and so is ineligible, but he may well be selected for a second straight Practice Squad All-Name team.

16 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

It's not mentioned here, but could anyone shed some light on Jacksonville's pass defense? It went from one of the worst in 2010 to one the best last season.

17 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Upgrading from Courtney Greene and Don Carey to the Dwight Lowery/Dawan Landry safety tandem was a big part of it. 15.5 games of Posluszny also did wonders.

19 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Lets not forget their offense was so awful that teams probably barely tried to pass against them.

Also, the mud bowl against Carolina.

20 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

THis last point seems to be missed...its probably why not surprisingly the best defenses are usually paired with mediocre offenses and vice versa. Teams augment their playcalling and aggression based off opponent quality. That probably only explains a part of it for the jags as im sure the upgrades on defense were the most important, but it still played a part that never gets mentioned.

21 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

The Titans will be better this year than they were last year if simply for the added offseason/classroom time with this new coaching staff. The titans will get better returns out of thier pass rushing group this year with Gray able to install more of "his" scheme and our last year rookies will only get better with time/coaching.

Titans and Texans will battle it out for the division but whoever comes in 2nd will be in a wild card slot. "BOOK IT"

22 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

The Titans have a brutal early season schedule, and at 1-3 or 0-4 (or perhaps after the Steelers game at maybe 1-5) I have to think they're likely to try giving Locker a run in the team. I don't much like Locker as a prospect even in the long run, but I think he's got almost no chance of being even tolerably good as early as 2012. The Titans have the personnel to potentially have a winning season, but in reality I don't think it will happen.

24 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

I understand neither why the Titans generally are viewed with such confidence, nor why Locker is viewed with such disdain. The knock on Locker is accuracy (I guess), and that can be expected to improve once he is a full time starter. He has Rodgers-level physical tools, which doesn't mean anything (JaMarcus Russell had better-than-Rodgers physical tools), except that he could be good.

Tennessee has a pretty good coaching staff and Hasselbeck has supposedly been attentive to Locker's development.

27 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

I guess it depends on the extent to which you think inaccurate amateurs can become accurate pros. I think it's close to zero.

30 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

What is exciting to me is the fact that the Texans, in effect, had two additional draft picks this year in Brandon Harris and Roc Carmichael, who spent all last year in the system.(Note they didn't pick any DB's in the draft) KJ will be again improved with the experience. Team speed is excellent and adding two more rushers in the DL/LB rotation with high motors, I would imagine opposing QB's and OL's will cringe at the thought of facing the Texans' relentless (or should I say Mercilus?) onslaught, knowing they will be in for a long night against fresh bodies. Look for James Casey to break out this year as a go-to guy, he has amazing hands and is very smart.This team exemplifies the high quality demanded by the key player in their system, Mr. McNair. We will witness this year the commencement of a long duration of a perennial power in the NFL. A class act top to bottom.

32 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

The Texans certainly have a lot of young corners, and it's entirely possible that one or more will develop this year. That said, so far they have all sucked. I actually think Sherrick McManis might be the most likely candidate, if given a chance (which he probably won't be). I'm really not positive about Jackson - I think if he had anything at all he'd have shown it by now.

More generally, though, I agree that the future looks bright for the Texans - and I too like James Casey a lot.

42 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

After spending their first two picks in the draft on Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon and Clemson defensive end Andre Branch, they have a lot more credibility at those positions. cause and effect essay