One question for every AFC South team before NFL Draft
[This is the third in an eight-part series profiling one draft question for every NFL team. Broken down by division, this time we look at the AFC South]
The NFL has been drafting college players since 1936. Over that time, nearly everything about how players are scouted, evaluated and, ultimately, even selected has changed. However, there is always one constant: general managers will face some tough draft decisions, with no sure answers.
Some questions, such as whether or not to draft a potential franchise quarterback, have ramifications that can last 10 years, if not more. For other teams, only a piece or two is needed to become serious contenders. But, you better get those choices right, or you are likely to slide backward.
Many teams face similar choices, but with a variety of unique ways, they affect their respective rosters and locker rooms. And, just like us, no GM truly knows what the answers will be until the picks start coming in.
As we continue our examination of the league, let’s take a look at some questions facing teams in the AFC South.
Houston Texans: Finding protection for Deshaun Watson is a must
Houston boasts a playoff-ready defense (though corner could use some help) and explosive weapons on the offensive side of the ball, led by receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller and running back Lamar Miller. The only problem: the Texans’ offensive line.
There is no way around the fact that Houston MUST fix its offensive line in this draft. Watson was sacked a league-high 62 times last season, a number so bad it starts to approach David Carr territory. Watson was also hit more than 100 times on dropbacks. How much more effective and explosive could this team be if Watson was not running for his life?
Oklahoma lineman Cody Ford is a popular mock for the team’s No. 23 overall selection, a versatile player that could help out at either tackle or guard spot. Houston has almost backed itself into a corner with this pick. No matter where else the team decides to allocate its draft capital, a lineman almost has to be selected in the first round.
Indianapolis Colts: After stellar 2018 draft, do you stick to your board or draft for need?
No team hits its 2018 draft class as far out of the park as Chris Ballard and Co. did a season ago. The Colts netted the Defensive Rookie of the Year (Darius Leonard), a first-team All-Pro guard (Quenton Nelson) and a starting tackle (Braden Smith). After such a stellar class, do the Colts stick to their board here in 2019, or try to fill more holes on their roster?
Perhaps for more than any other team in the league, this is the question. The Colts exceeded all expectations last season, and maybe even surprised themselves. But, now, little doubt is left that they are ready to contend if they can only upgrade a few spots. And, when you have a window to win now, you take it because the salary cap demands it.
This, at least in part, could lend Ballard to choose need in this draft, and that starts with receiver. Colts wideouts had an aversion to, well, receiving, last year, as the group was plagued by drops and a gross lack of talent and production opposite T.Y. Hilton. Ole Miss product A.J. Brown could be a choice with the No. 26 pick. As could a pass rusher or a corner if the value is there.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Do they opt to trade back for more offensive weapons?
The Jaguars may not be as bad off as a lot of people think. The defense is still A-List, there also are young weapons on offense such as Leonard Fournette, Dede Westbrook and D.J. Chark. The biggest problem for this team was quarterback play and, in theory, that is solved with the signing of Nick Foles.
Picking seventh overall, the Jaguars could trade down with a quarterback-needy team and still select a blue-chip offensive weapon to further help Foles be successful. Jacksonville could use that pick, then, to take either Iowa tight end, T.J. Hockenson or Noah Fant, or perhaps add another explosive receiver to their roster.
The signing of Geoff Swain was a good, under-the-radar move in free agency, but that in no way should prevent the Jaguars from looking at either Hockenson or Fant in round 1. Depending on how the Kyler Murray sweepstakes unfold, presumably, at the top of the draft, a team like Washington or Miami could be a perfect trade-down partner.
Tennessee Titans: What player gets this team over the hump?
The Titans are really not that far away from returning to the playoffs. They almost made the dance last season and, following a productive free agency, a solid draft could put this team over the top. What kind of player will do that, though? There aren’t many pressing needs. Tight end and the interior offensive line could be targets in the first round, as could another edge rusher. The most glaring of those, though, is probably the offensive line.
The No. 19 overall selection might be a little too rich for NC State center Garrett Bradbury (at least based on the big board), but it would make a lot of sense. The Titans signed guard Rodger Saffold, and have current starting center Ben Jones on the final year of his deal. Adding Bradbury not only would give them a long-term answer, but there’s a chance he could compete for the starting job as a rookie.
Of course, if Hockenson or a pass rusher falls into the back half of the first round, those plans could change. Either way, the Titans are in good position to select an impact player that will fill a need for both the long term, as well as the immediate future.