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» 2017 Offensive Personnel Analysis

It's a three-receiver league, but for the first time since 2010, the frequency of 11 personnel actually went down last year. Was it a blip, or sign of things to come?

11 May 2017

Four Downs: AFC South

by Tom Gower

Houston Texans

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Right Tackle

The Texans addressed their most prominent need by trading up in the first round to select Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. They also addressed what we identified pre-draft as their quiet need, a complement to Lamar Miller at running back, by drafting D'Onta Foreman in the third round. Adding speed to the linebacker corps with Zach Cunningham in the second round also filled a need.

What the Texans did not do until Day 3, though, was address their need for an offensive tackle. While they did select Julien Davenport in the fourth round, the Bucknell product will very likely need some time to adjust to a much higher level of competition, and seems unlikely to fill the void created by Derek Newton's career-threatening knee injuries.

Notable undrafted free agents: As of press time, the Texans have yet to announce their official class of undrafted free agents, so this write-up is based on media reports. Missouri State linebacker Dylan Cole finished third in voting for the Buck Buchanan Award as the top defensive player in FCS and showed NFL athleticism at his pro day workout, which might be able to help one of the league's perennial worst special teams units. Former Wisconsin back Dare Ogunbowale could contribute as a space player behind Lamar Miller, while NFL.com's Chad Reuter liked offensive linemen Jake Simonich (Utah State), Joe Scelfo (North Carolina State), and Dimitric Camiel (Indiana). If he has recovered from a mid-season foot injury that knocked him out of the pre-draft process, Washington pass-rusher Joe Mathis may be a contributor.

Indianapolis Colts

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Defensive Continuity

Ryan Grigson's strategy as Colts general manager was to complement Andrew Luck with a lot of veterans on defense. This worked predictably, giving Indianapolis an average defense until the inevitable collapse came in 2016 and the Colts finished 29th in defensive DVOA. Chris Ballard has remade the defense this offseason between the draft and free agency, with an almost all-new group of linebackers, Johnathan Hankins on the defensive line, and high picks Malik Hooker and Quincy Wilson playing big roles in the secondary as soon as they are ready to play.

It is now incumbent on Chuck Pagano and Ted Monachino to quickly assemble these players into their scheme, make whatever adjustments are needed to fit the new players, and get them playing well together. On paper, the defense looks like it could improve greatly. Throughout NFL history, however, more defenses have looked better on paper in May than have actually played much better come the fall.

Notable undrafted free agents: The Colts won the battle to sign Mo Alie-Cox, the former George Mason hoopster looking to follow in the footsteps of Erik Swoope and other power forward-to-tight end converts even before the draft. The 2017 undrafted players included some sons of famous fathers. Arizona receiver Trey Griffey is the son of baseball player Ken Griffey Jr., while Akron receiver Jerome Lane's father, also named Jerome, was immortalized by Bill Raftery. The best chance for a roster spot probably belongs to long snapper Thomas Hennessy, formerly of Duke, after Matt Overton was released. Hawaii punter Rigoberto Sanchez will compete with veteran Jeff Locke to be Pat McAfee's replacement. Outside linebacker Garrett Sickels gave Ohio State's offensive linemen fits in Penn State's victory last year. General manager Chris Ballard named tight end Darrell Daniels (Washington), running back Dalton Crossan (New Hampshire), and corner Reggie Porter (Utah) as three players to watch.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Quarterback

Blake Bortles' improvement from his dismal first season to an encouraging second gave the Jaguars hope heading into 2016. His passing DVOA was exactly the same in 2016 as it was in 2015, though, and at -9.9%, he ranked outside the league's top 20 each season. Tom Coughlin's arrival to the front office in the offseason and the team's public statements led us to believe they might look for an alternative to Bortles. Yet the draft, like free agency before it, came and went without the addition of a passer who might serve as a credible alternative. (Chad Henne, last seen being outplayed by rookie Bortles, does not count.) Jacksonville is set to sink or swim with the former third overall pick this year.

Notable undrafted free agents: Linebacker Justin Horton is looking to follow in the footsteps of Micah Ross and go from Jacksonville University Dolphin to Jacksonville Jaguar. The most prominent UDFA may be Hunter Dimick, who earned All-American honors with 14.5 sacks at Utah last season and will compete for a defensive end spot with Carroll Phillips (who had more sacks in 2016 than third-round pick and Illinois teammate Dawaune Smoot). Wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo has a tough row to a roster spot with three young players and a draft pick ahead of him, but was first-team All-ACC at Syracuse in 2016. Avery Gennesy broke the string of Texas A&M left tackles going in the first round, but could find a spot on an offensive line still looking for the right answers. That's also true for Middle Tennessee State's Jeremy Cutrer -- he is thin at only 168 pounds, but has long arms at 32¾ inches and could find a spot as a developmental corner.

Tennessee Titans

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Cornerback

It seems odd to list a position the Titans drafted in the first round as a biggest hole, but defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has historically been loath to play even first-round rookies. The Titans seem likely to trot out Logan Ryan, paid like a No. 2, and 2016 fifth-rounder LeShaun Sims, with first-rounder Adoree' Jackson competing with Brice McCain for duties in nickel. This grouping inspires more trust in Nashville than outside it, and could prove Tennessee's undoing in its quest to return to the playoffs after an eight-year drought.

Notable undrafted free agents: Like the Texans, the Titans have yet to announce their official class of undrafted free agents as of press time, so this write-up is based on media reports. Quarterback Tyler Ferguson may get to continue his connection with third-round receiver Taywan Taylor from Western Kentucky, at least until Marcus Mariota returns to practice from his leg injury. The best roster shots may belong to one of a pair of big defensive linemen, Alabama State's Rod Henderson or Louisville's DeAngelo Brown. Tennessee worked Henderson, a two-time All-SWAC player who started at Southern Miss, before the draft, while Brown was third-team All-ACC as a 3-4 defensive end for the Cardinals.

(Portions of this article originally appeared on ESPN Insider.)

Posted by: Tom Gower on 11 May 2017

29 comments, Last at 03 Jun 2017, 4:11pm by umuddafadda


by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 05/11/2017 - 12:59pm

Unless O'Brien can coach the crap out of Watson I'd say the Texans still need a qb. He's good presnap but dreadful at moving through his reads post snap.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Thu, 05/11/2017 - 1:08pm

I just think about how if you flipped Andrew Luck to either the Jags or Texans how good those teams would be, but Bortles and all. I mean, Watson could be good, but he's a rookie, but Jags? Bortles and all.

by Wade8813 :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 5:40am

Are you talking about for the upcoming year? Over the course of his career, I think the Jags would have given Luck a much worse surrounding cast than the Colts have, and that could be ugly.

As a Seahawks fan, I'm just thankful the Jags' former GM decided to take a Punter over Russell Wilson...

by umuddafadda :: Sat, 06/03/2017 - 4:11pm

so few can do that...pre-read, pick out the hot reciever when blitz happens, look off safety...just "go thru" progressions and not see only 1/3rd-to-1/2 of the field...I foresee this with Watson

by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 05/11/2017 - 1:02pm

rnaking iof how muich I kluije the unfirosm in this divuision=-
1. jaguars
2. clots
3. taints
4. Texans

as for ranking of quartrebacks-
1. m. mariota
2. a. luck
3. d. Watson
3. b. brotles

by MilkmanDanimal :: Thu, 05/11/2017 - 1:07pm

I really think the Taints have a real crack at it this year, and really have the ability to come from behind in a crappy division that's really stunk for a while.

I'll see myself out.

by Lebo :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 8:18am

Is poster drunk? The Jags'uniform is horrendous. Clearly, the uniform ranking is:
1. Colts
2. Titans
3. No result
4= Texans and Jags

by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 10:47am

Not drunk yet. jaguars unuiforms- tremendous number fonts, good color gold . loog nice. pants stripe action is great. just overall very nice look. unlike cardinals and falcons that have weird stuff going on in underarms and side of unfiorms.

by Theo :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 12:00pm

I like the uniforms, teal and black ones at least. The mustard/yellow/puke unis are quite ugly.
That helmet though...

by Lebo :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 12:09pm

I think we'll have to agree to disagree. I can't stand the number fonts, and I don't think that the colour combinations work that well. The white jerseys with black arms are okay, but they are only the road jerseys.

But those helmets should automatically place the Jags at the bottom of any list ranking aesthetics.

by dryheat :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 5:20pm

Actually the clear answer is:

1. Texans
2. Colts
6. Jags
437. Titans

by theslothook :: Thu, 05/11/2017 - 2:44pm

The Texas should serve as a warning for the browns. They took Clowney in 2012 and have never been bad enough to draft a top flight signal caller. Instead, slow building caused pressure from the top to "solve" the qb problem. Enter and exit Brock Osweiler and then two firsts four Deshawn Watson.

I would be genuinely surprised if Bill Obrien was the coach in two years. Expectations as a playoff team starting a rookie first round qb rarely go well for the head coach.

by Lebo :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 8:49am

True. But the Seahawks are the counter-story. They built up a strong team, thereby setting up Wilson for success.

by herewegobrownie... :: Sat, 05/13/2017 - 1:17pm

That and the Broncos. We all saw how drafting Von Miller instead of reaching on Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker or the Ponderous One prevented them from being bad enough to get their top flight signal caller. (Althought it wasn't even that QB who won it all for them, really, either.)

by Steve in WI :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 1:58pm

Well...even if the Texans could do it all over with the 2014 #1 pick again, what would you suggest they do with it? I don't see a surefire elite QB in that draft even with the benefit of hindsight. Carr is definitely promising and an upgrade over anything the Texans have had in the last 3 years, Bridgewater was at least decent before the possibly career-ending injury, and Garoppolo hasn't proven (or had the chance to prove) anything yet. So I'm not saying they couldn't have taken one of those QBs, but it's not like there was an Andrew Luck or a Cam Newton in that class.

Clowney has been a disappointment for a #1 pick, of course, and they'd have been better off drafting, say, Khalil Mack or Odell Beckham. I'm just not sure they'd have been better off taking a QB using the #1 pick; maybe if they'd traded down and gotten a ransom for the pick, but who knows if that was really an option?

by Theo :: Thu, 05/11/2017 - 4:14pm

Just had an interesting discussion with a friend.
Jacksonville vs Browns. Who will win the Super Bowl earlier?
My pick was on the Browns because they have an idea in place and are clearly building for the future.
My friend said the Jaguars because they have the better team and thinks the Browns is making the wrong decisions still.

by jtr :: Thu, 05/11/2017 - 7:03pm

My big issue with the Browns is that so far Haslam has shown no willingness to actually stick it out with a coach/front office long enough for them to build a team. Haslam bought the team in 2012, and he's already fired three coaches! I don't see any reason to think that he's suddenly patient enough to give the current brain trust another season if they only win a couple of games this year.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville stuck it out for four tough seasons with Gus Bradley. Bradley's copy-the-Seahawks strategy turned out to not be enough to turn around the team, but at least the team was willing to stick with a plan for long enough for there to be a chance of success.

by herewegobrownie... :: Sun, 05/14/2017 - 11:40am

I think people accept that you "have to walk before you can run" with this year's Browns team and that Haslam is on the same page if the team ends up around 5-6 wins.

If they win 2 and show minimal progress (which feels unlikely given the upgrades across the OL significantly, at S, edge rushing, and arguably at least a bit at QB) that's a different story.

by GeraldKleeptis :: Thu, 05/11/2017 - 7:42pm

Cue some version of Jim Mora here: "Super Bowl? Super Bowl?! Don't talk about the Super Bowl. These teams are just trying to win a damn game!"

I would agree the Browns are trending more in the positive direction currently, riding the momentum of the draft and bolstering the offensive line in free agency

It seems like both will be hard pressed to make a playoff run in the next 2-3 years. If that's true, the Browns' current regime is out the door and who knows from there

by Theo :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 10:41am

Haha true.
The real question should be "who will have a winning season first?".
Fun fact: The Browns (10-6) and Jaguars (11-5) both had their last winning season in 2007.

by Steve in WI :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 1:48pm

Yeah, making that question about who wins a Super Bowl first is probably a toss-up because it's so hard to win a Super Bowl. 20 or 30 years from now, it's quite possible that neither will have. I mean, it's been over 30 years since the Bears won the Super Bowl but nobody thinks they're a laughingstock...okay, bad example.

Having a winning record or making it to the playoffs is something that should be possible for either team in the next few years. I would probably give the edge to the Browns but it kind of depends on how Bortles plays this year. If he's really awful and they get a top 3 pick and use it to get their QB of the next decade, then I'd give the Jags the edge because having a very good QB can get you to at least be competitive even if the rest of your team sucks.

by mehllageman56 :: Sat, 05/13/2017 - 11:54am

The Jags may not win a Super Bowl before the Browns, but they're already a much more competitive team; they went 2-8 in one score games last year. Their defense improved, but their offense regressed last year. I wouldn't assume the Jaguars have a very good quarterback right now; Bortles wasn't good last year. If he turns it around they could make the playoffs this year.

by Theo :: Thu, 05/11/2017 - 4:21pm

1st: QB Watson - good pick to for a need
2nd: Zach Cunningham - you like the pick to add speed to the linebackers
3rd: D'Onta Foreman - good pick because he's a nice complement at halfback.
4th: Julien Davenport - not good, because they did not get an OT in the first 3 picks.

You can't have it all you know.

by Lebo :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 8:19am


by Tom Gower :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 2:49pm

Compare the Titans-also drafted for need, but prioritized biggest needs with highest picks. Texans didn't take non-needs, just didn't match needs to high picks as closely as they could have.

by Theo :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 8:53pm

We'll talk again in 6 years!

by Nashmeister :: Sun, 05/14/2017 - 5:17pm

Which tackle would you have had them take? This was a pretty terrible class for it; any of the immediate starters (and that's being generous to Ramczyk and Robinson) would have meant foregoing any legitimate shot at landing a starting quarterback. I mean, just look at how teams drafted: there was only one tackle taken between Cam Robinson at #34 and David Sharpe at #129 (one pick before the Texans took Davenport). You don't force it if the talent isn't there; certainly not at a low impact position like RT.

by Theo :: Sun, 05/14/2017 - 7:06pm

Depends on how you grade the players that are available. If a team grades cornerback A as a better player than Tackle B and you think you need both - you're going to go with A.
"But they really needed one" doesn't make the guy you pick any better. The Browns really needed a QB, but if there's none they trust a 1st overall pick with, they are going to get a DE.

by umuddafadda :: Sat, 06/03/2017 - 4:08pm

Houston's biggest post draft weakness IS NOT QB?