Four Downs: AFC South

Four Downs: AFC South

by Tom Gower

Houston Texans

Biggest Need: Offensive Tackle

The Texans came into the draft without any sure answers at either offensive tackle spot and departed it in the same state. Third-round pick Martinas Rankin was a left tackle at Mississippi State, but Scouts Inc. projects him as an inside player in the NFL. General manager Brian Gaine has been non-committal on whether Rankin will be a tackle or guard. Houston quarterbacks were sacked at the third-highest rate by adjusted sack rate last year. A similar fate seems likely in 2018.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: Among the Texans' 13 undrafted free agents were a pair of former Pitt Panthers. Jester Weah is a wide receiver with good long speed. Jaryd Jones-Smith might be limited to right tackle for NFL teams after blowing out his knee and nearly losing his leg in 2015, but could figure into the mix as a potential starter with Rankin (currently listed as a tackle on the roster), ex-Bill Seantrel Henderson, and others. The most famous name might have been K.J. Malone, an LSU guard who is the son of former Houston (Rockets) nemesis Karl Malone, who wound up deciding not to continue playing football after rookie minicamp. Running back is another thin position, with Lamar Miller not living up to his free-agent contract and D'Onta Foreman coming off an Achilles injury, so Kareem Hunt's successor at Toledo, Terry Swanson, might have a shot.

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Indianapolis Colts

Biggest Need: Cornerback

After fielding the worst pass defense in the league by DVOA in 2017, the Colts let top corner Rashaan Melvin walk, and did not add a starter in free agency. With extra second-round picks, general manager Chris Ballard had a golden opportunity to complete a secondary rebuild that started last year. Instead, he did not choose a corner with any of his 11 draft picks. Indianapolis is betting heavily on new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and his new scheme, plus a pass rush that ranked second-worst by adjusted sack rate last year, and the confidence imbued to the entire team by spending two high picks on offensive guards to improve their pass coverage.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: The Colts' streak of keeping at least one undrafted free agent seems likely to reach two decades as Chris Ballard continues overturning the roster he inherited. Syracuse wide receiver Steve Ishmael could fit as a big slot receiver. Skai Moore was an All-SEC performer and multi-year tackling machine at South Carolina, adding competition to a linebacker corps in the transition from 3-4 to 4-3. George Odum was an FCS All-American in 2017 at Central Arkansas. He likely would fit in as a backup strong safety and potential dime back.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Biggest Need:Tight End

In their search for help for Blake Bortles, the Jaguars added a wide receiver in D.J. Chark in the second round, but did not address tight end. Free agent addition Austin Seferian-Jenkins is no more than a stop-gap solution and was the least valuable receiving tight end in the league last year. He is probably also a downgrade as a blocker from Marcedes Lewis. As long as Bortles plays well, the weakness at tight end should not affect Jacksonville too much.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: The Jaguars have some depth at receiver, but Iowa State's Allen Lazard still stands out among their undrafted free agents. He was a highly productive big receiver who excelled at contested catches in the Big 12, but may not be able to win any other way in the NFL. Stanford defensive back Quenton Meeks is the son of longtime NFL coach Ron, who was the Colts' defensive coordinator when they won the Super Bowl. He is currently listed as a corner, but might be better suited as a safety.

Tennessee Titans

Biggest Need:Wide Receiver

Trading up three times left the Titans short on picks, and questions still abound at wide receiver for Tennessee. They start at the top of the depth chart with Corey Davis after an injury-plagued rookie year made him one of the least efficient receivers in the league. The Titans are likely to play more three-receiver sets, and third receiver is a complete question mark, with the contenders unimpressive young players Tajae Sharpe and Taywan Taylor and serviceable slot option Michael Campanaro. The Titans came into the draft needing depth and quality at receiver, and come out of it still needing both.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: Tennessee has been one of the most difficult teams for an undrafted free agent to make an impact on, with Quinton Spain the only player in the past decade to make the transition from college free agent to starter. Iowa's Akrum Wadley might have the best shot at the roster after the Titans did not select a back in the draft, fitting into a role as backup to Dion Lewis better than any other back on the squad. Temple edge rusher Sharif Finch got the largest bonus of any of the Titans' 22 undrafted free agents and fits into a complicated bottom of the depth chart at outside linebacker. Wide receiver is another position where a job might be open. The top name there is USC's Deontay Burnett, a slot option compared by to former Titan Harry Douglas.

Portions of this article originally appeared on ESPN Insider.


14 comments, Last at 03 Jun 2018, 7:11pm

1 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

"As long as Bortles plays well, the weakness at tight end should not affect Jacksonville too much." -Thanks, needed the laugh.

11 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

I'm a little more optimistic post-Pagano. He was a "good defensive coach" (cough, splutter) when he had future HOFers like Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, and Terrell Suggs playing for him. I could probably manage to be a competent DC with those guys and their brethren in black and purple. His Indy press conferences focusing on running the ball and stopping the run really sounded out of touch, and he more or less proved that to be true (alas, I had hoped it was just a coach-speak smokescreen; sadly, the dude actually meant it!).
His D's in Indy never amounted to much despite a few individual flashes. Not that Grigson helped much at the GM spot. ("Chuck, I thought this Trent Richardson kid was an LB, not an RB. My bad. That's okay, we'll have another first round pick in a couple years.") I think the S position is quite solid and the front 7 should be improved. As for CBs.... I guess I have to pin my hopes on the pass rush, right?

7 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Bortles should go with a dink and dunk passing game, and be ready to run if needed.
Once in a while, a deep throw. Mold his offensive stategy to Sam Bradford and yes ...
Tom Brady.

9 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

doing that will get you an offense like the one Bryan Schottenheimer ran in St. Louis - endless passes short of the sticks on third down.

Bortles is a bad qb masquerading as a below average one. There are no passing schemes that can hide all or even most of his flaws. The way to do it would be to play great defense, get lots of turnovers, and ask Bortles to hand off 30 times a game.

10 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

i agree, with all the flaws he has, any passing scheme will give at most an average offense.
But then, with Bortles more involved in the running game and Fournette in the passing game,
maybe they can grind their way if they avoid turnovers.