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AFC South: Draft Recap

Draft week is unique in the football season. It’s the only evening in all NFL-related evenings where every organisation and 90% of its fans (Bears and Jets fans not usually included), can look ahead to the following season and beyond with genuine optimism and excitement. It’s hard not to be caught up in it and carried on a magical illusionary trip where some never-before-heard-of safety can change your team’s destiny for the next decade and more. Is your QB Joe Flacco/Andy Dalton/Nick Foles/Mitch Trubisky? Don’t cry, the draft is round the corner and with it arrives the misguided belief that your dysfunctional team, which has botched pick after pick, year after year, can finally reverse the tide and formulate a winning team. Speaking of which, let’s start off with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Draft Grade: B+

So, the only surprise in the choice of Trevor Lawrence at number one overall is that the Jaguars made the correct decision. I am as shocked as you are dear reader. With the buzz and general hype that Lawrence has received basically since day one as Clemson starter, it is genuinely hard to envisage a scenario where he doesn’t instantly change the fortunes of the Jaguars. I’m probably guilty of those misguided feelings I reference earlier- but does Lawrence come in and immediately make the Jaguars a division contender? Going by the college experts it is a home run of an addition and I can’t wait to see what he, Urban Meyer and Darrell Bevell can come up with.

As I said in my draft preview, the real success of this draft for the Jaguars would be in the other picks besides Lawrence. A team that has real glaring holes in important positions needed to get this draft right. Now, for the record, I am a footballing hipster- I listen to the Athletic football podcast and I enjoy drinking chai tea and watching my Saints annoy the established order of things by using Taysom Hill as a defensive end or something ridiculous. However, as a football hipster, running backs are a cause of some considerable debate. Yes, you are correct- while everyone else in my Fantasy Football draft is being idiotic and choosing Ezekiel Elliot or Dalvin Cook or some other running back, I’m going Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, or Aaron Rodgers. Travis Etienne going number 25 overall to put together a backfield Clemson 1-2 punch is a nice fit. No question. And it filled a need for a weapon that Lawrence can use day one but also a wider need for more explosive potential in the Jags offense. However, personally I follow the Belichick school of thought that running backs, while valuable, are too streaky and injury-risked to take in the first round. Also, pragmatically, without a solid offensive line, no matter how good your RB is, the overall run game will be impacted.

While Etienne represents an excellent potential, it reaches in terms of value. Running backs can be picked up at excellent value in rounds 2 and 3. I would have targeted CB and taken Greg Newsome (who went the next pick to the Browns) instead of using number 33 overall on Tyson Campbell, who was ranked 108th on PFF’s Big Board. The Jaguars wisely opted with their 4th pick to target the O-Line and in Walker Little they have an injury prone but roundly proficient tackle who ranked as a top-30 player pre-draft. Together with safety Andre Cisco, they represent high risk high reward picks for Jacksonville.

Day 3 started with an excellent value pick of DT Jay Tufele, a 2020 opt-out season meant he dropped in the draft order, but the USC two-time defensive player of the year represents a great selection in the 4th round and fills a gap in the Jaguars roster. The Jags continued with the value selections at pass rusher with Jordan Smith, who had excellent production at the University of Alabama-Birmingham and was highly rated by PFF.

Overall Jacksonville won the draft simply by fact of going 1-15 last season and getting a generational QB. Their late first and early second round picks were somewhat more questionable from a value standpoint if not a talent one. Finding good value in the O-line and pass rush in the later rounds puts this down as a successful draft from the Jags viewpoint in my book.

Indianapolis Colts

Draft Grade: C-

I think that I have a distinguished reader. He goes by the name of Ballard, Chris Ballard- Colts GM. And I’m also assuming that he read my and every other blog that mentioned his Colts and how they desperately needed a lineman to cover for the retirement of Anthony Costanzo and thought the best way to exact his revenge and prove his superior general-managementship would be to not draft a SINGLE O-Lineman in the entire draft. Not one. “That’ll show those know-nothing bloggers, vloggers and twitter-experts that I am on an entirely different realm of footballing IQ to them”, he seemed to say. In many ways it shows the utter futility in predicting what teams will do, because you get teams like the Colts and Bengals* (drafting a WR over tackle- eh what? Penei Sewell- ever heard of him? You know you’re meant to actually look after your QB? oh you did know? No, just checking.), that will always do something unexpected.

*The first but by no means the last shot taken at the Bungles.

As everyone, including me, was singing the praises of Ballard only last week, it’s right that he gets the benefit of the doubt. Not to sound like a football hipster again but it could be that he is following the Patriots and Saints of the world in not necessarily selecting the expert’s favourite but their favourite- they player that will be the best Colt. Kwity Paye will immediately improve the pass rush, which as stated pre-draft was a definite area for improvement, but the consensus seems to be that he will require excellent coaching to match his production to his talent. Hot off the selection of a pass rusher the Colts decided to switch tact and select…another pass rusher in the form of Dayo Odeyingbo. Odeyingbo seems to be similar to Paye in that he will add an extra dimension to the Colts but as yet it is unproven production-wise and he is coming off a torn Achilles tendon injury. It is unknown if he will play and if he does, whether he will have the explosive power that he was brought in to provide.

Carson Wentz got some weapons to play with in the form of TE Kylen Granson and WR Michael Strachen and even got a backup in the form of Sam Ehlinger out of Texas. The consensus on these selections seems to be boom or bust. Talent without much proof so far but with good coaching Indy can make use of these picks.

Overall, Chris Ballard and the Colts organisation obviously know something we don’t. I just cannot understand leaving the draft without addressing your primary need. They will almost certainly bring someone into the building in free agent market but passing up some excellent talent in the draft just seems counter-productive. Having said that, the Colts were already a very good team- they haven’t improved much on paper but nothing in sports was ever decided on paper.

Tennessee Titans

Draft Grade: A-

Ah, after that unsettling rollercoaster section with Indianapolis it’s nice to be able to relax, lay back and enjoy the middle of the road, predictable and pragmatic Titans. Ah Tennessee, never change. You’ll always do the right, if somewhat boring, thing. You had a seismic hole at CB? Then take a CB in round 1. My God it’s so simple when you think about it. I have a positional need and then…what… I fill that need…? Wow, slow down there egghead, that’s too much thinking for one day- you need to start living life on the edge and not think- like the Bengals.

Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech, at number 22 represents excellent value for a player many had as a top-10 talent. He helps a unit that desperately needed some game-changing potential which Farley represents. Unfortunately, injuries, including an ACL tear and 2 back surgeries, mean that he is high risk but undoubtedly high reward. Round 2 brought another O-line prospect in the form of Dillon Randunz. Last years’ first round pick Isaiah Wilson was an unmitigated disaster, so it was definitely a need in the Titan’s building. Randunz looks to be the polar opposite of Wilson in terms of his size and it’s his size that seems to be the only area of concern. However, this seems to be counteracted by his excellent movement.

Number 92 overall LB Monty Rice looks to be another excellent addition on the defensive side of the ball. Watching some of his clips he looks to be explosive when breaking up the run and pass however consensus seems to be his IQ on coverage will need coaching and improvement. In Elijah Molden, the Titans have been roundly praised from all corners in finding one of the steals of the entire draft. Most experts had the cornerback as a round 1 level talent with supreme football IQ and positional awareness. Together with Farley, they will change a position which needed big additions in Tennessee. The defence was further strengthened with edge rusher Rashad Weaver, who was ranked 63rd in the draft class. Being selected in the late fourth round represents excellent value in another area that required improvement.

Overall, the Titans took notice of the abyss of defensive talent and put their money where their mouth is. They’ve immediately improved the DB position day 1 and targeted both lines of scrimmage. There’s a bit of a boom/bust potential with the Titans draft class this year but fostering a stingier defence can genuinely transform Tennessee into a real contender.

Houston Texans

Draft Grade: D+

With no first or second round picks the Texans were never really in a position to alter their trajectory heading into 2021. However, they did pick up a QB in the form of Davis Mills from Standford who was a former number 1 QB prospect. Consensus says that Mills has an NFL-calibre passing ability but not quite the mobility to match, making him an interesting choice alongside Tyrod Taylor and Deshaun Watson. The question is however why you would waste a pick on a QB given that the Texans will almost certainly be in the top 5 picks of next years draft and the gaps on the rest of your team are so great.

Late round 3 saw the addition of Nico Collins, WR from Michigan. Collins is a physical receiver with great hands and will start from day 1 on the Texans. Another good value pick was that of TE Brevin Jordan who has more big-play potential on an offence that needs it. The one big question that hangs over everything though will be who is throwing the ball to the new draft prospects?

The Texans draft grade isn’t so much a judgement of the talent taken in this draft, although there are different bigger holes in the roster to fill than taking a QB with your first pick, but more a judgement on the wider needs and course that the Texans are on. There’s nothing they could do to change the fact they will be the punching bags of the AFC South next year.

The AFC South had a very interesting draft weekend in a number of ways. Personally, the Titans emerged as the most successful adding a raft of great defensive players. They have strengthened hugely in positions that were major weaknesses in the last 2 seasons. The Jaguars did well purely on the basis they got their franchise QB, even if I feel they upset my feelings by going RB in round 1. The Colts once again proved they think they are smarter than everyone else by not targeting a position they needed and the Texans…well…I mean at least you have the Astros.

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