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Titans WR DeAndre Hopkins caps AFC South's 10 most impactful additions
National Football League

Titans WR DeAndre Hopkins caps AFC South's 10 most impactful additions

Published Jul. 21, 2023 10:23 a.m. ET

The Titans were the team to beat in the AFC South to start this decade, winning the division in both 2021 and 2022. Then last season, Tennessee collapsed to the finish and Jacksonville emerged as the top dog, looking like an ascendant force in the AFC for 2023 and beyond. 

But who are the newbies coming into the division — players, head coaches, assistants — that will play a major role in the results for each team and in the pecking order for the division by the end of 2023? 

Here are the 10 biggest additions to the AFC South this offseason: 

1. Texans HC DeMeco Ryans


Ryans being the Texans’ new head coach brings hope for a franchise that has had little reason to celebrate for years, between the fallout with Deshaun Watson, reports of dysfunction and culture issues in the front-office ranks and constant losing. NRG Stadium has been largely empty on game days the past few seasons. 

Ryans' hiring for Houston is particularly noteworthy because he's a former Texans player, having starred for the franchise from 2006-11. The city knows him and feels like he's its own. 

The Texans had the worst run defense in franchise history last season, allowing 170.2 rushing yards per game. And Ryans, a former linebacker, appears to be the guy to help change that. He led strong run defenses as the 49ers' defensive coordinator the past two seasons. San Francisco allowed just 77.7 rushing yards per game in 2022, second-best in the league. 

2. Colts HC Shane Steichen

Steichen could be the stabilizing force the Colts need after a chaotic 2022. Last year, the Indianapolis offense was dysfunctional, Frank Reich was fired midseason, team legend Jeff Saturday was tabbed as the interim HC with no coaching experience beyond high school, and the team was on the losing end of the largest comeback in NFL history. 

Lauded as a sharp offensive mind, the 38-year-old Steichen will be responsible for the development of Richardson. There's reason to believe Steichen will succeed. He previously helped to develop Jalen Hurts — like Richardson, a dual-threat signal-caller — into an MVP candidate, and Steichen also worked with Philip Rivers and Justin Herbert in the past. 

3. Texans QB C.J. Stroud

No. 2 overall pick C.J. Stroud has the chance to give the Texans long-term quarterback stability, which would go a long way toward Houston making its way out of a years-long rebuild. 

Take the over or under on Cardinals, Colts, Texans win totals?

Watson, traded to the Browns in March 2022, was Houston's last franchise quarterback. Davis Mills, a 2021 third-round pick, has been the Texans' starter the past couple seasons. 

[Related: Texans QB C.J. Stroud showed football IQ from the start: 'He likes the chess match']

4. Colts QB Anthony Richardson

Best case scenario, the No. 4 overall pick ends the Colts' years-long quarterback carousel. Richardson is the first signal-caller Indianapolis has taken in the first round since Andrew Luck in 2012. 

There's obvious pressure on the former Florida standout to be the Colts' next franchise quarterback, following Luck and Peyton Manning. But it will be a process that could take multiple seasons. Richardson started just 13 games in college. 

Should Colts be in a rush to start rookie Anthony Richardson?

[Related: Anthony Richardson is more than his athleticism: 'He was going to absorb everything']

5. Titans GM Ran Carthon

First-time general manager Carthon has started to put his imprint on the Titans, capped this offseason with the signing of veteran receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The GM wrapped up his first draft this past spring, an all-offensive class. He has brought on assistant general managers Chad Brinker (Strategy) and Anthony Robinson (Personnel), as well as football research and development director Sarah Bailey. Without completely turning over Tennessee's personnel department, Carthon has committed to learning the systems already in place and seeing how he can add value to those processes. 

He has also signed players who have ties to his time with the 49ers, including linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, outside linebacker Arden Key and offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill.

6. Titans WR DeAndre Hopkins

On paper, Hopkins' presence significantly shrinks the Titans' gap with the Jaguars in the AFC South. He gives Tennessee an offense respectable enough to be competitive in a loaded AFC. 

A Titans wide receiver room that was unproven and uninspiring gets an infusion of experience and production with the 31-year-old Hopkins, a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro selection. He'll be a focal point for opposing defenses, taking pressure off second-year pro Treylon Burks and the other pass-catchers. Hopkins' presence should also reap rewards for star running back Derrick Henry, forcing defenses to choose between dedicating extra help to the back-end or stacking the box. 

Hopkins and Burks have the potential to be a strong 1-2 punch at receiver, the best the Titans have had since A.J. Brown and Corey Davis (2019-20).

Why DeAndre Hopkins chose Titans over Patriots

7. Texans QB coach Jerrod Johnson

Johnson, who previously worked as an offensive assistant with the Vikings and Colts, is tasked with developing Stroud into the franchise quarterback that Houston needs. 

He'll play an integral role in helping Stroud adjust to playing under center in playcaller Bobby Slowik's West Coast offense. Stroud played primarily out of the shotgun at Ohio State

8. Colts OL coach Tony Sporano Jr. 

The Colts' disaster of a 2022 season started with their offensive line. Indianapolis led the NFL in cash and cap dollars dedicated to its O-line, but gave up 60 sacks on the year, second-most in the league. The issues upfront made running the offense difficult for quarterbacks Matt Ryan, Sam Ehlinger and Nick Foles

That brings us to Tony Sporano Jr., the Colts' new offensive line coach hired by Steichen. He's tasked with fixing the pass-protection issues of a unit that is expected to have the same starting five as last year (Bernhard Raimann, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Will Fries, Braden Smith). If Sporano can help the group make significant improvements, it would go a long way to nurturing the development of Richardson. 

Soprano previously served as the assistant offensive line coach for the Jaguars (2017-20), Panthers (2021) and Giants (2022) before joining the Colts. 

9. Texans G Shaq Mason

It wouldn't be a stretch to say that veteran guard Mason is one of the most important players on the Texans' roster this season. 

A historically strong run blocker, Mason should improve Houston's run game, which struggled last season. The Texans didn't get enough production out of tailbacks not named Dameon Pierce, but it didn't help that the team also ranked second-worst in the NFL in adjusted line yards (3.9), which quantifies offensive-line responsibility on running back carries, according to Football Outsiders. In addition, Texans running backs last season were tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage 19% of the time, which ranked 26th in the league, per Football Outsiders. 

The better the run blocking is, the better Pierce will perform. And the better he plays, the less pressure there will be on Stroud. 

10. Jaguars K Brandon McManus 

The Jaguars took a risk in signing veteran placekicker McManus, who made just 77.8% of his field-goal attempts last season. They traded Riley Patterson, who's eight years younger and had an 85.7% field-goal rate last season, in hopes that McManus' experience and leg strength will help their kicking game reach another level. 

Even though Patterson hit a higher percentage of his field goals, McManus was better from 40 yards and beyond. He also attempted longer field goals more often. McManus was 18 of 23 (78.2%) from 40-plus yards, while Patterson was 12 of 16 (75%) from the same distance. 

In four playoff games, McManus, who spent nine years with the Broncos, is also perfect on his kicks (10 of 10 on field goals, 3 of 3 on extra points). 

Honorable mention impact additions: tight end Dalton Schultz (Texans), edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. (Texans), offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik (Texans), offensive lineman Peter Skoronski (Titans), offensive lineman Andre Dillard (Titans), quarterback Gardner Minshew (Colts), linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair (Titans), cornerback JuJu Brents (Colts), offensive tackle Anton Harrison (Jaguars)

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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