One team from the AFC South made the playoffs last season while the other three placed in top twelve of the NFL Draft, including Houston who owned the first pick. The division has a lot of ground to make up before its truly competitive and they hope the draft is a stepping stone.
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts were left without a pick in round one after trading for running back Trent Richardson last season and needed offensive lineman and a safety entering the draft. They hope they found their right tackle of the future in second round pick Jack Mewhort. The Ohio State senior is a terrific combination of toughness, intellect and fundamentals. He’s not a great athlete but offers starting potential almost immediately. The team’s third round pick, receiver Donte Moncrief is rough around the edges but another who offers starting potential. On paper Moncrief has mouth watering size/speed numbers but his film is spotty. He was good value and comes with a large degree of upside. Fifth round choice Jon Newsome was a reach in my opinion. He’s a good athlete but rarely meets expectations and has rightly been branded an underachiever by scouts. Linebacker Andrew Jackson was worth a roll of the dice in round six and fits well on the inside of the Colts 3-4 alignment. Ulrick John was a surprise pick in the final frame, but has the size and skill to make the teams roster. The Colts signed a number of talented UDFA’s, including several who were stamped as legitimate mid-to-late round picks. Off the field issues and slow forty times pushed Loucheiz Purifoy out of the seven rounds yet he’s a legitimate dime back who should help out as a return specialist. Zach Kerr should find a spot on the roster as the back-up nose tackle while guard Marcus Hall and cornerback Keon Lyn are legitimate back-ups.
Grade: C We stamped second round pick Jack Mewhort as a third rounder and Donte Moncrief as second round talent, so they cancel each other out. The teams second day picks, specifically Newsome in round five, are questionable.
Houston Texas: The Texans held the first pick in the draft and there’s was much intrigue right up until the final minutes. Houston seriously considered Blake Bortles with the initial selection and I’m told they had two cards filled out at their table. One had Bortles name on it while the other listed the team’s eventual selection, Jadeveon Clowney. In the end Clowney was the smart pick and was made in large part based on fear; the team was afraid of passing up such a potentially dominant defender. Xavier Su’a-Filo was our top rated guard and Houston made him the first pick of round two. He’s a solid prospect who should quickly break into the starting line-up this September. C.J. Fiedorowicz is definitely a Bill O’Brien type of tight end and was worth a third round selection. Houston considered taking Louis Nix at the top of round two but later traded up in the third frame to grab the nose tackle as he continued to slide. If Nix plays to his level of ability he’ll be a steal. During the pro-day process I reported coach Bill O’Brien requested quarterback Tom Savage make specific throws at the end of the Pittsburgh Panthers workout. Hence it was no surprise the team drafted him at the end of round four. Despite reports of Savage rising into the draft’s top sixty picks, the late fourth round was his value. Jeff Pagan is a wait and see selection in round six. Injuries and pedestrian play in 2013 suppressed his draft grade but Pagan offers a nice degree of upside. The teams other selections in round six, running back Alfred Blue and fullback Jay Prosch are solid depth players. Seventh round selection Andre Hal was good value and could find a home on the roster as a dime back/special teams player. Final choice Lonnie Ballentine is a size/speed prospect destined for the practice squad. Linebacker Max Bullough and tackle/guard Matt Feiler were terrific post draft signings.
Grade A: Houston left the draft with four potential starters, a developmental quarterback and four late round picks who could make the roster. Add in a pair of top UDFA’s and there’s a lot to like about the start of the Bill O’Brien regime.
Jacksonville Jaguars: For the seventh consecutive draft the Jaguars made a selection in the top ten and keeping with recent history they surprised a lot of people when they chose quarterback Blake Bortles. Were better players available to Jacksonville with the third pick of the draft? Yes, but truth be told Bortles was widely considered the first pick of the draft just three months ago, so this really should not be a huge shock. In the end the franchise selected the top quarterback in the draft and a player with the potential to lead the team moving forward. Jacksonville picked up a pair of terrific receivers, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, in the second round. If he returns to full health and prior playing form, Lee could be the steal of the draft. Prior to the 2013 season many considered him a top five pick and a better prospect than Sammy Watkins. There are a wide range of opinions on Robinson but the bottom line is he’s a big bodied pass catcher with consistent hands. Brandon Linder was a slight reach in round three but he’s a blue-collar, intelligent blocker who fits what Jacksonville is trying to do. Can’t say I’m a fan of Aaron Colvin in round four. His film is spotty, he struggles making plays with his back to the ball and he’s coming off a serious knee injury sustained late in January at the Senior Bowl. Both selections in round five were good value. Telvin Smith is a ferocious but undersized linebacker who slipped after he foolishly failed his drug test at the combine. Chris Smith is also undersized but a natural pass rusher who can stand up over tackle or come out of a three point stance. We wrote glowingly of Luke Bowanko’s pro-day performance but were still surprised he was drafted. He’ll compete for the starting job for the center starved Jaguars. Storm Johnson was solid value in the final frame. He’s a downhill runner who punishes opponents but a back that must improve his ball security to stick at the next level. The franchise signed a number of high profile UDFA’s who should compete for roster spots including quarterback Stephen Morris, tight end Marcel Jensen, cornerback Rashaad Reynolds and defensive lineman Deandre Coleman.
Grade: B+ I’m not a fan of Colvin in round four and Bowanko in the sixth was a surprise but the players Jacksonville selected in rounds two and five were great value. This draft will ultimately be determined based on the success of Blake Bortles, which is a shame. I heaped praise on Bortles starting in January before it became fashionable and in the end the Jaguars made the right call.
Tennessee Titans: The Titans lost Alterraun Verner in free agency then cut Chris Johnson making cornerback and running back primary needs entering the draft. Add in the fact starting offensive tackle Michael Roos is on the other side of 30 and when Taylor Lewan fell into their laps he was too good to pass up. As far as sheer value, this was tops in the first half of round one as Lewan offers immediate starting potential at either left or right tackle from day one. He’s big, dominant, athletic and should have been a top ten pick. Tennessee came away with another bargain in the second half of round two with Bishop Sankey. The junior does not replace the speed lost when Chris Johnson was cut but brings the dimension of running the ball on the inside or around the perimeter as well as the ability to be a lethal pass catching threat out of the backfield. DaQuan Jones was solid value in the fourth round. The athletic defensive lineman has great physical skill but looks like Tarzan and plays like Jane. If the light goes on Jones can be a force in the NFL. Marqueston Huff, the other fourth round pick, has the versatility to line-up at corner or safety and should be a core special teamer at the next level. Avery Williamson was ridiculously underrated entering the draft. He was a consistent producer at Kentucky then turned in a terrific combine workout and should make the active roster. Zach Mettenberger fell into the sixth round for a variety of reasons including injury, off the field issues, a questionable drug test at the combine plus the fact he needs a lot of work on his game. Despite this the Titans may have found their quarterback of the future in the late rounds if Mettenberger improves his game and matures as a person. The team signed a handful of outstanding players after the draft. Center Gabe Ikard could win the back-up job, former defensive end James Gayle could make the two-deep as a designated pass rusher, Antonio Andrews should add depth at running back, Eric Ward could make the roster as a fifth receiver as could Josh Stewart considering his return skills.
Grade A-: In the end all six of the Titans picks have a real chance of making the roster this fall. Lewan is starting material. Ditto for Sankey as Shonn Greene will inevitably miss games with injuries. The middle three selections are role players that could develop into starters as could Mettenberger if he hones his game.