MIKE VRABEL’s Titans are the new team to beat in this division. And after this Draft, the team that could make a big move up might be the COLTS, if only they can measure up at the QB position. So for today, let’s stick to the 2020 Draft efforts within this division.
HOUSTON TEXANS This team continues to operate under the delusion that in today’s NFL, one man can handle the Head Coach and General Manager duties. BILL O’BRIEN is far from the “fool” that many have come to view him as since he took over the GM role, post owner BOB McNAIR. However, it might be fair to say that he’s a bit overwhelmed handling everything himself. The trading spree at the start of the 2019 season that netted the team an AFC South play-off berth again was at a high cost, and even with trading away DEANDRE HOPKINS, the team only had 5 Picks to make last week. Their first Pick (in Round 2) was ROSS BLACKLOCK/DT/TCU, and if he’s the replacement for VFA D.J. READER, then I hope the team is heading to a 4-3 base scheme, because the 290 lb. BLACKLOCK is not going to plug the middle like the 345 lb. READER did. BLACKLOCK is a penetrating DT that needs a big body playing beside him to maximize his play. Their next Pick of JONATHAN GREENARD from Florida would also be best utilized as a 4-3 Base DE with some serious pass-rush skills. GREENARD led the SEC in TFL last season with 15.5, including 9.5 sacks. However, his 6’4/263 lb. frame is too light for a 5-technique spot and he’s not fast enough with a 4.87/40 to play OLB. They used their second 4th Round Pick on underrated CB JOHN REID from Penn State. The quick-footed REID has nimble feet and good change of direction, and is willing to take on RB’s in run-support. At the least, he should be a NICKEL-package slot defender. CHARLIE HECK/OT/UNC had a career rebirth under the MACK BROWN coaching staff and participated in both the Shrine and Senior Bowl venues. He will be given a shot to find playing time in their OL group. Young ISAIAH COULTER from Rhode Island had a nice season in 2019 with 72 catches, and showed decent speed with a 4.43/40 at the Combine. He may need a season or two, but should become part of their WR corps, with upside to develop. I like the talent, but I doubt it will give much of an overall boost to their success next season.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS Things got off to a bang with the acquisition of DeFOREST BUCKNER from the Niners, at the price of their 2020 First Round Pick. I doubt that anyone in the organization, nor their fans, is looking back at that move and questioning it. What a boost for their DL corps. In Round 2, with 2 Picks, the team brought in the player that Head Coach FRANK REICH was enamored with in MICHAEL PITTMAN/WR from Southern Cal. PITTMAN has NFL genes from his dad of the same name, and adds the size that their receiver group was missing last year. He has dependable hands and a nose for the end zone. He caught 101 balls last season, and is likely to have immediate impact for them. Picking again in Round 2, the team went for UW RB Jonathan Taylor, who adds some speed (4.39/40) and depth to their RB group. He and returning RB Marlon Mack should provide a pounding run game behind the Colts outstanding OL. Overall, the Colts do not seem to be strongly supporting JACOBY BRISSETT, as evidenced by bringing in VFA PHILIP RIVERS. In Round 4, they took big-armed QB JACOB EASON, who will have the luxury of learning from the vet RIVERS in 2020 at the very least. EASON tied for the livest fastball at the Combine with a registered speed of 59 mph. An athletic young man from nearby Ball State was selected to bolster the depth of their OL group in DANNY PINTER. The former TE is still learning his blocking craft, but you can’t argue with a 300+-pounder running a 4.88/40 with a 1.69 10-yard split at the Combine. Just for good measure, the team took another big wideout in Round 6 named DEZMON PATMON from Washington State. At 6’4/225, PATMON has some jumbo sized numbers on his Combine records with 10 1/4 hands and a quick 4.38 second short shuttle. PATMON showed legit NFL talent at the Shrine Bowl venue. Having 9 Picks in their DRAFT quiver, the team was also able to select 4 players for their Defense. First up was JULIAN BLACKMON from Utah, who was an All-Pac 12 performer at CB, and then moved to S as a senior. He doesn’t have ideal size for an NFL S at 6’0/187, but his 4.50/40 speed and ball skills helped him record 4 PBU’s and 4 INT’s last Fall. They grabbed another ball-hawk in UMASS DB ISAIAH RODGERS, who also recorded 4 INT’s last season, and is likely a pro NB. Penn State DL ROBERT WINDSOR was their Round 6 selection. WINDSOR is a better athlete than he’s given credit for. He ran a 4.90/40 at the Combine, and what he lacks in overall athleticism, he sure tries to make up for with all-out effort and a high FBI. I thought the most telling stat from last season’s stat sheet on WINDSOR was his 8 QBH’s. He got those based on his effort level. He chases anything that moves in the backfield. And last, but certainly not least, in Round 7, the team selected Michigan’s JORDAN GLASGOW, a hustling LB/in-the-box S and a dynamic Special Teams force. The guy works his butt off, and as a result makes a lot of plays. He showed his wares at the Shrine Bowl venue with hustle and production. Every team needs a few guys like this at the bottom end of their 53-man roster. He recorded 89 tackles for the Wolverines in 2019. I like this effort a lot, and if Old Man RIVERS has some juice left to lead this team, the Draft and Free Agency might push them past the Titans to win the division.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS The JAGS made good use of their 11 Picks in the DRAFT. Seven of the 11 Picks were used to rebuild their Defense, especially in need after trading away big dollar team leader CALAIS CAMPBELL to the Ravens. Their first pick was a replacement for JALEN RAMSEY, now with the Rams. They took C.J. HENDERSON, local Gators player, and from Miami originally. He has improved as a tackler since the MULLEN staff arrived in Gainesville, and even tho he failed to record an INT in 2019, he was credited with 11 PBU’s. He has also shown some zone blitz capabilities in his career. He’s not quite another RAMSEY, but he should at least replace the departed A.J. BOUYE on the other Corner. It still appears that their leading sacker YANNICK NGAKOUE will be moving on, so the addition of K’LAVON CHAISSON of LSU will give their Edge-Rushers another chess piece to chase QB’s. Though listed as a LB, CHAISSON is 6’3/254 and can play coming out of a 3-point stance. He’s still a work in progress, but the upside looks tremendous. Like JOSH ALLEN last year, the exact position listing for CHAISSON is not important. It’s his impact and productivity that will matter. After pushing some older, expensive DL out of town (CAMPBELL/DAREUS), the Pick of DaVON HAMILTON/DT in Round 3 was critical. The 320-lb. strong-boy anchored Ohio State’s DL last year, and his impact stopping the run will be critical to the JAGS. In Round 4, the team selected another CB named JOSIAH SCOTT, who got lost in all the organizational chaos at Michigan State last season. But SCOTT, a diminutive 5’9/185, plays bigger than his size. His run support help netted him 55 tackles last season. In coverage, he recorded 3 INT’s and 7 PBU’s. He has starting potential and will be given a chance to play right away. GARDNER MINSHEW needed some quality new blood in his receivers group and new Player Personnel Director TRENT BAALKE and his scouting staff found a couple of good ones to bring in. In Round 2, the team snagged a favorite of mine in Colorado’s LAVISKA SHENAULT. SHENAULT is an all-around athlete and a serious weapon with the ball in his hands. His numbers were down in 2019 as he played week-to-week with a core muscle injury, which was surgically repaired this off-season. He’s a RB in receiver’s clothing and even took snaps running the Buff’s Wildcat formation. In a more traditional role in Round 5, the team got a long, tall Texan in ex-Longhorns wideout COLLIN JOHNSON. He’s a sideline and red zone weapon with a 6’6 frame and leaping ability. He was a favorite target for QB’s at the Senior Bowl venue, and he seemed to catch everything thrown his way in Mobile. BEN BARTCH, OL from ST. JOHNS (MN), who showed that he can play with the “big boys” at the Senior Bowl, is likely not ready to play much as a Rookie, but has developmental qualities long term. Keep your eye on Hurricane’s LB SHAQUILLE QUARTERMAN, who comes out of college with a RAY LEWIS style of play on his resume’. He topped 100 tackles last year, and has never had less than 82 tackles in any of his 4 seasons leading the Miami Defense. He’ll be a devastating force in Special Teams coverage, and I would not bet against him earning serious playing time as a LB, even as a Rookie. The sleeper pick of their Rookie class may be 6th Round QB JAKE LUTON, who had his best college showing in 2019. He’s a big guy at 6’5/225, and he tied for the best fastball at the Combine throwing at 59 mph. He missed the 2017 season with a spinal fracture, which scares the heck out of me, but he cleared his medical at the Combine. GM DAVID CALDWELL and HC DOUG MARRONE are running the show up in Duval right now. Their first draft rodeo without TOM COUGHLIN looks pretty solid. The JAGS had 12 Picks overall, and I could see 10 of them making the 53-man roster.
TENNESSEE TITANS The identity of the Titans, under HC MIKE VRABEL has clearly been identified, and stamped all over his roster. They will be a run first, physical smash mouth football team. They also will stick to their philosophy of building thru the Draft and filling glaring holes in VFA, but always keeping one eye peeled to their Salary Cap numbers. Just look at this year’s Draft and you can see their philosophy and style quite clearly. They lost starting RT JACK CONKLIN to the Browns in VFA, so their first Pick was ISAIAH WILSON, an even bigger, stronger RT to replace CONKLIN. The only question would seen to be, is WILSON ready to start now. Veteran CB LOGAN RYAN to be moving on in Free Agency , but was a key VFA signing for them a few years ago. However, he is on thin ice as he dangles around that 30-year old mark, so they took LSU CB KRISTIAN FULTON in Round 2. With DERRICK HENRY having hit the jackpot and in his final year of a Rookie contract, the team let loose his primary backup DION LEWIS and drafted DARRYNTON EVANS/RB/APP STATE in Round 3. EVANS is a bigger Back and saves a ton of $. In early April, they traded expensive DT JURRELL CASEY to the Broncos. In Round 4, they drafted underrated DT LARRELL MURCHISON to at least help fill those empty shoes of CASEY. I don’t think MURCHISON is the next coming of CASEY, but he puts a young body into an empty space in their DL group. As RYAN TANNEHILL emerged last season, and earned a big contract, the team decided that the disappointing MARCUS MARIOTA had become dispensable, and drafted COLE McDONALD from Hawaii to fill a space as a backup for TANNEHILL. Basically, the team will look the same overall and try to develop these youngsters, along with Round 7 Pick DB CHRIS JACKSON and a group of URFA’s. It’s a conservative approach, and only works if their talent evaluations for the Draft process were accurate. This team will be tough out on game day and will be physically intimidating. But my gut tells me they will NOT be the AFC South Champ this year.
I believe the Titans reign at the top will be short lived. No one will enjoy playing them, but clearly the COLTS have improved the most, coming off a decent 2019 season. Old Man RIVERS is the key to this division in 2020. If he has more in the tank than he showed in L.A. last season, the COLTS should be the cream of the crop. The JAGS and COLTS had the best drafts of this group by a wide margin!