AFC South draft needs: Colts must protect their valuable asset
2013 record: 11-5
Key player departures: RB Donald Brown, FS Antoine Bethea, OT Jeff Linkenbach, LB Kavell Conner, G Mike McGlynn, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, CB Cassius Vaughn
Free-agent acquisitions: DE Arthur Jones, WR Hakeem Nicks
Positions of need: Offensive line, wide receiver, safety, linebacker
Analysis: Indianapolis is one of two teams that are not scheduled to select in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The Colts sent their pick to Cleveland in exchange for Trent Richardson, who averaged only 2.9 yards per rush and only 32.7 yards per game. Andrew Luck is the real deal, and you can make an argument that he has done more for his team with less support in his first two years than any QB in history. He has very little help, and that little help left the building on Oct. 20 when Reggie Wayne injured his knee against Denver.
The Colts must do a better job protecting Luck and that will be a focus for them in the draft. This is a very deep class of offensive linemen, especially in the interior, so don’t be surprised if you see David Yankey (Stanford) or Gabe Jackson (Mississippi State) join the Colts in the second round. They also need help on the outside, and this draft is rich with pass catchers in the 2-4 round range, with guys like Davante Adams (Fresno State) and Martavis Bryant (Clemson).
2013 record: 7-9
Key player departures: CB Alterraun Verner, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, K Rob Bironas, RB Chris Johnson, WR Kenny Britt
Free-agent acquisitions: WR Dexter McCluster, DE Al Woods, QB Charlie Whitehurst, LB Wesley Woodyard, OT Michael Oher, DE Shaun Phillips
Positions of need: Defensive end, free safety, quarterback
Analysis: Ken Whisenhunt takes over as the new head coach in Tennessee and with him comes plenty of changes. Chris Johnson is out, along with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Alterraun Verner. However, the Titans did get quality help with their pass rush in Shaun Phillips and interior front-seven play with Wesley Woodyard, both courtesy of Denver. Depth at QB is still a huge issue with Jake Locker’s health and Charlie Whitehurst’s inexperience, but don’t expect Tennessee to be in the running for a highly rated QB in the draft. The name that keeps ringing in my ears when I think of Tennessee is Connor Shaw (South Carolina) somewhere in the fifth or sixth round.
The Titans’ biggest need will absolutely be addressed with their first-round selection when they pick up a safety at No. 11. They should have their pick between Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama) and Calvin Pryor (Louisville). The NFL is all about which teams can cover the middle of the field, and because of this, safety is the way to go with that first pick rather than taking one of the top corners.
2013 record: 4-12
Key player departures: QB Blaine Gabbert, RB Maurice Jones-Drew
Free-agent acquisitions: RB Toby Gerhart, OG Zane Beadles, LB Dekoda Watson, DE Ziggy Hood, DE Chris Clemons, DE Red Bryant
Positions of need: Quarterback, offensive line, wide receiver
Analysis: Jacksonville had one of the best free-agency classes in the NFL this offseason, addressing some major needs like interior offensive line and defensive end. Gus Bradley has an infectious personality and there seems to be a very good energy and momentum to what the Jaguars are doing. Trust me, I know exactly how crazy that sounds, but I really like the direction of this franchise.
However, that all flies right out of the window if the Jaguars don’t solidify the QB position, and that is exactly what they will do with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. I believe they will have their pick of the litter, which means I see Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) being their guy. He is exactly what they need to ignite the fan base, and I have been told that he was sensational in their interview process.
The rest of the draft will be focused on finding more depth on the offensive line, with players like Cyril Richardson (Baylor) and Chris Watt (Notre Dame) being potential targets. They can also beef up their WR corps, which was dismantled by injuries and suspensions last year, with quality pass catchers in the form of Allen Robinson (Penn State) and Robert Herron (Wyoming).
2013 record: 2-14
Key player departures: DT Earl Mitchell, LB Joe Mays, LB Darryl Sharpton, DE Antonio Smith, RB Ben Tate, QB Matt Schaub, TE Owen Daniels, S Danieal Manning
Free-agent acquisitions: S Kendrick Lewis, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, S Chris Clemons, RB Andre Brown
Positions of need: Quarterback, safety, offensive tackle, tight end
Analysis: Bill O’Brien has a huge job in front of him with Houston. This is a team that had Super Bowl aspirations in the past couple of seasons, and now they are sitting at the bottom of the NFL with the top overall selection in the NFL Draft. Most teams draft for some combination of need and best player available, but the Texans don’t need a defensive end and the best player available in the draft is Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina). Houston needs a QB badly, but if it cannot reach a consensus in the organization on which guy that is, then it needs to take Clowney and allow him to mature and learn under JJ Watt.
Houston is not an ideal environment for a play-now QB, because the Texans have too many big personalities on offense with Arian Foster and Andre Johnson. Bringing in Ryan Fitzpatrick buys the organization at least half a season to get a young QB ready, and there are a few quality quarterbacks that will be waiting in the second round. They should have their pick of the second-tier signal callers like Derek Carr (Fresno State), which I know is unlikely, AJ McCarron (Alabama), Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois) and Zach Mettenberger (LSU). They also could be in the market for a tight end, and I love Crockett Gillmore (Colorado State) in the middle rounds.