NFL Draft Projections for 2019 – AFC South Division
Published on April 14, 2019
The AFC South went all the way down to the wire in 2018.
The Houston Texans reeled off nine straight wins in the middle of the season and captured the division with an 11-5 record. The final wild card slot in the AFC came down to a week 17 battle between Indianapolis and Tennessee, with the Colts eventually coming out on top and advancing.
Believe it or not, it was the Jaguars who were the bottom dwellers of this division — despite starting the season as the favorites to emerge.
Who plays the best football in 2019 out of the four AFC South teams remains to be seen, and what transpires at the NFL Draft will have a lot to do with it.
Can Jacksonville draft enough playmakers to help turn the tide back in their favor? Will the Colts continue stockpiling offensive talent to help surround Andrew Luck with a viable supporting cast?
Let’s find out as we break down each team individually.
First things first, I can’t imagine it will take new Texans general manager Brian Gaine very long to address the obvious needs in the secondary. Not only did Houston rank 28th in passing yards allowed, but their top cornerback Kareem Jackson signed a deal with the Denver Broncos on March 13th.
To make matters worse, the Texans lost their stud safety the very next day when Tyrann Mathieu decided to take his talents to Kansas City.
With all the gifted cornerbacks who will be looming when Houston is picking at 23 overall, I suspect it’ll be the perfect time for the Texans to pounce on a proven defensive back. Greedy Williams and Byron Murphy are most definitely names that will be considered, although one (if not both) could already be gone.
Matt Kalil comes over from Carolina and will likely slide in at left tackle, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Bill O’Brien and his staff look to beef up the offensive line at some point during the middle rounds. Keke Coutee came on late and played the majority of his snaps out of the slot, meaning if DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller V can both stay healthy, this trio of wideouts will be more than formidable.
Deshaun Watson has the skillset to take this team to the promised land, although leaning on Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman might not be the wisest move. Alfred Blue is now in Jacksonville, so drafting a running back looks to be in the plans as well.
If Houston doesn’t plan on rolling out Ryan Griffin as their everyday tight end, they better concentrate on snagging a TE before day 2 of the draft comes to an end. It looks like the Iowa guys (T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant) are going to be gone by the end of the first round, putting the Crimson Tide tight end (Irv Smith Jr.) squarely in play for one of their second-round selections.
Adding a defensive end to pair opposite of J.J. Watt is another thing to keep an eye on.
It’s clear that the team in Space City has a solid foundation, but it’s also pretty evident that they’re a couple pieces away from being a real contender. Perhaps that will change at the 2019 NFL Draft.
Fans in Indy have reason to be perked up as we embark on the 2019 NFL Draft. The Colts won a Playoff game in 2018, and equally — if not more — important, Andrew Luck’s shoulder proved to be no issue whatsoever. The former Stanford QB lit opposing defenses up to the tune of 39 TD passes and nearly 4,600 yards through the air.
Devin Funchess was acquired over the offseason to line up on the other side of the field of T.Y. Hilton, but don’t be surprised at all if Indy drafts a wideout with one of their first two picks. Justin Houston arrives from Houston to help the front seven provide a pass rush, and Darius Leonard wasn’t just the best defensive rookie as a linebacker a season ago.
Leonard was recognized as a member of the First-Team All-Pro squad.
Speaking of which, offensive lineman Quenton Nelson was selected to the First-Team All-Pro as a rookie as well, so it’s safe to say Chris Ballard has done a marvelous job since taking over as GM in 2017. If the Colts can succeed in the draft to even remotely the extent they were able to achieve last year, we could be looking at Indianapolis as a 12-13-win team and a serious contender in the AFC.
In terms of what areas they will be looking to improve at the end of the month through the draft, adding depth in the trenches (mainly at defensive tackle) is something Indy will take a hard look at. I mentioned they’ll look to complement Hilton and Funchess in the wide receiver room, and grabbing hold of a cornerback and safety will unequivocally be on the agenda.
This team isn’t in search of an entire makeover, but a few enhancements here and there could really make a difference.
After such a successful year in 2017, it looked like the Jaguars had all the necessary pieces in place to make a run at the Super Bowl in 2018. But then reality set in, and Jacksonville came up short game after game after game.
When it was all said and done, it resulted in a 5-11 season and sent Doug Marrone straight back to the drawing board.
The Blake Bortles experiment is finally over, and Nick Foles takes over as the new man under center. The first order of business for the Jaguars organization should be to get Foles some help on the offensive side of the ball.
I could see the Jags take an offensive lineman right off the bat, especially if Jawaan Taylor from Florida is still on the board at 7. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Jacksonville reach out and grab either Iowa tight end (Noah Fant or T.J. Hockenson), hoping to try and mimic the relationship that Foles shared with Zach Ertz.
But #7 overall might be a tad too early to grab a tight end in this draft class.
We saw the Jaguars draft D.J. Chark in the second round last year, and they signed Chris Conley in March. However, alongside Marqise Lee and Dede Westbrook, that’s about all Foles has to rely on as far as wide receivers go.
There should be plenty of capable pass catchers available in the middle rounds, and a guy like David Sills V out of West Virginia comes to mind as a good fit in the Jacksonville scheme. In terms of what the Jags plan on doing with their second- and third-round picks, it’s clear to me that adding a stout defensive tackle to plug in their 4-3 base defense will be on the list of things to do.
T.J. Yeldon was not retained, and Leonard Fournette seemingly always gets hurt, so it wouldn’t be a shocker if Jacksonville drafted an RB, despite signing Alfred Blue earlier in the month. They also need help in the secondary, primarily a safety.
Jalen Ramsey sure talks a good game, but he isn’t a shutdown corner in the purest of forms. Perhaps selecting a cornerback is something GM David Caldwell will look at doing as well.
No matter what, Jacksonville can’t get any worse than they were last year. On the same token, they’ll need to draft wisely to make sure they take a big step in the right direction.
Mike Vrabel did a commendable job during his first year in Tennessee. The Titans were on the brink of qualifying for the playoffs until they lost their final game against the Colts. Ryan Tannehill was acquired from Miami during the offseason, although all signs are pointing toward Marcus Mariota remaining as the starting quarterback when training camp breaks.
Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis should handle the backfield duties, and Adam Humphries comes over from Tampa Bay as a reliable WR. Humphries will likely be the top receiving target, although Corey Davis still has time to progress his game.
Delanie Walker should be well-rested after missing the final 15 games in 2018, giving Mariota another trustworthy option to throw to. With that being said, Walker turns 35 before the season begins, so drafting an heir-apparent at tight end should be well within the cards.
The most obvious and glaring needs in Tennessee lie with their front seven on defense, meaning selecting lineman and linebackers should certainly occur. The back end of the D could use a boost as well, but perhaps that won’t be addressed until the fourth or fifth round.
As far as where Titans GM Jon Robinson will be focusing his efforts early on, I suspect he’ll begin by targeting the best overall player they can find at #19. There’s a more than reasonable chance that either Noah Fant or T.J. Hockenson could be that guy.
Once they lock up a guy for Mariota to throw balls to in Tennessee, bulking up the defense will be the next plan of attack. Mack Wilson (LB, Alabama) and Vosean Joseph (LB, Florida) could be lurking on the Titans’ big board, although a guy like Terrill Hanks seems to have a motor that could be attractive to Coach Vrabel.
I can’t wait for April 25th to arrive. For those of you who want to place some wagers on the action, here is a guide that’ll help you get your feet wet when betting on the 2019 NFL Draft.
It’s not unrealistic to think that any of the four teams in the AFC South could end up winning the division, but it’s a tad bit early to make any definitive picks. Once the draft has been completed and we know what these season-opening rosters will look like, we should be able to gauge where each of these squads will wind up.
Until then, all we can do is get ready for the NFL Draft to get here.