National Football League
Stefon Diggs deal shines spotlight on AFC South as one of NFL’s rising divisions
National Football League

Stefon Diggs deal shines spotlight on AFC South as one of NFL’s rising divisions

Updated Apr. 4, 2024 6:31 p.m. ET

The perception of the AFC South has changed drastically. 

Not too long ago, it was one of the NFL's most irrelevant divisions. It had the worst collective strength. In the past 10 seasons (2014-present), the AFC South has a combined 43.9% winning rate, worst among the league's eight divisions, according to Sportradar. Coupled with a dearth of headlining talent, the AFC South has typically attracted little attention from national audiences. 

That started to change in a big way last season, with C.J. Stroud putting together arguably the best rookie quarterback season in NFL history. He's the biggest star amid a crop of talented, young quarterbacks in the division who have drawn intrigue. 

We're at a point now where we're discussing an arms race in the AFC South. 


The Texans acquired star wide receiver Stefon Diggs from Buffalo in a stunning trade Wednesday, bolstering their case of having one of the best rosters in the AFC, if not the best. They've also traded for former Pro Bowl running back Joe Mixon, and added in free agency star pass-rusher Danielle Hunter, defensive lineman Denico Autry and linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair

Like the Texans, the Titans have been aggressively building their roster. They traded for and extended L'Jarius Sneed, one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL last season. They gave wide receiver Calvin Ridley and center Lloyd Cushenberry massive contracts in free agency. They've also made big investments in cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, running back Tony Pollard and linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr.

The Jaguars haven't been quite as active as the Texans and Titans, but they've responded to their 2023 collapse by pouring resources into the trenches. Most notably, they've added Arik Armstead to a defensive line that already features Josh Allen and Travon Walker, who led all NFL duos with 27.5 sacks last season. Gabe Davis has also arrived in Jacksonville via free agency, and the former Bills receiver figures to be another top target for quarterback Trevor Lawrence

The Colts' approach to improvement, meanwhile, couldn't be more different from the rest of the division. 

Indianapolis' most significant external signings have been a backup quarterback (Joe Flacco) and a backup defensive tackle (Raekwon Davis). The Colts instead re-upped with their own players, re-signing or extended the likes of Michael Pittman Jr., nickelback Kenny Moore II, linebacker Zaire Franklin, nose tackle Grover Stewart and safety Julian Blackmon. After falling a game short of the playoffs, Indianapolis is banking on continuity propelling the team forward. It's heavily banking on second-year QB Anthony Richardson's healthy return and continued development. 

Are the Texans a top contender with Stefon Diggs?

The latter point speaks to the theme in all this: The young quarterbacks are the focal point of decision-making in the AFC South.

"You look at the quarterbacks we have in our division," Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said at the NFL Combine, "these are some young, athletic guys. … The AFC South, I think, is in good hands when it comes to the quarterback position."

The Texans have loaded their roster, elevating it to Super Bowl-caliber (on paper), because they have a franchise quarterback in Stroud on a rookie contract. The Titans have similarly bolstered their team to figure out if Will Levis is what Stroud has already established himself to be.

The Jags have focused heavily on the interior offensive line (extended guard Ezra Cleveland, restructured guard Brandon Scherff's contract, signed veteran center Mitch Morse) to elevate their short-yardage execution and the run game, which would take pressure off Lawrence. And the Colts have largely stood pat because they feel they already have the core of an offense that can support Richardson, whom they hope can stay healthy in 2024. Keep in mind that Richardson and star running back Jonathan Taylor played just two snaps together last season. 

Colts RB Zack Moss talks Anthony Richardson, Shane Steichen

The AFC South teams have also operated in a way to slow down the division's young quarterbacks who are not their own. 

On paper, the Texans and Jaguars have two of the top pass-rushing defensive lines in the NFL. The Titans have one of the league's best cornerback rooms, all the more significant in the wake of Diggs' arrival in the AFC South. 

The division is filled with top receiving talent — Diggs, Ridley, Davis, Pittman, DeAndre Hopkins, Nico Collins, Tank Dell and Christian Kirk

The AFC South is expected to be one of the NFL's most competitive divisions in 2024. 

The spotlight has arrived. 

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.


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