Ted Sundquist's AFC South Draft Needs

[Editor’s note: Former Broncos G.M. Ted Sundquist will be looking at the primary needs of each NFL team, by division. The AFC South appears below.]
The AFC South could very well be one of the most competitive divisions in pro football. Jacksonville slipped to sub-.500 ball in ’08, but Tennessee and Indy both secured playoff berths and Houston came on strong the second half to finish at 8-8.
Stability within the division remains fairly constant, even with a change at head coach for the Colts.  It helped that Jim Caldwell was promoted from within, and very little should change at Lucas Oil Field.  The Texans and Jags are in the top half of the draft and within striking distance of some difference makers.   The Titans and Colts will have to wait on the back end and watch their board “peel off” over the course of the first round.   Just two years ago the South had three double-digit win teams and Houston finished 4th at 8-8.  A little early help for all four might just elevate these rivals even higher in ’09.
Houston Texans
Primary Need: Outside Linebacker
Defense plagued the Texans for most of 2008, so much so that coaching jobs were lost as a result.  It’s not as if Houston hasn’t addressed this problem over the past few seasons.   The additions of first-round choices Mario Williams and Amobi Okoye, along with top-of-the-second linebacker Demeco Ryans has established a firm foundation for a young squad.
But the Texans still were struck by opponents on the ground at a rate placing them 30th in the League, via Football Outsider stats.   There’s a strong need to firm up the inside seven and the addition of a playmaking outside linebacker could be just what new Defensive Coordinator Frank Bush gets as a “shower gift”.   This most certainly would help Bush improve on second and third down rushes, where opponents pounded out yardage at a clip ranking the Texans 31st on both downs.  Wake Forest’s Aaron Curry is seen as the cream of this year’s linebacker crop, but there still will be a few interesting prospects for G.M. Rick Smith to choose from.
Possible targets: Linebacker Brian Cushing (USC), linebacker Ashlee Palmer (Mississippi), linebacker Clay Matthews (USC).
Indianapolis Colts
Primary Need: Defensive Tackle
Instability probably best describes the interior of Indy’s defensive line. In Indy, “starting defensive tackle” hasn’t been a tag that’s ensured longevity.   G.M. Bill Polian will hope to find some additional bulk inside to help out new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer’s attack-style scheme.
Breaking down Indy with an emphasis on run defense showed that the Colts were suspect to inside runs and power situations (ranking 27th & 30th, respectively).  The Colts surrendered 100-yard games in three of their four regular season losses and the Chargers’ Darren Sproles tacked on 105 of his own in San Diego’s wildcard-round upset of Indianapolis.
Movement is the key to blending with Dwight Freeney and company, but girth will be a premium as well.  Mississippi’s Peria Jerry has all the athleticism you look for but was only 290 lbs at his Pro Day.  Still, that’s 25 pounds more than last year’s starter, Eric Foster.
Possible targets: defensive tackle Fili Moala (USC), defensive tackle Ziggy Hood (Missouri), defensive tackle Peria Jerry (Mississippi).
Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars fell hard from the ranks of the contenders in ’08.  The Jags went minus-6 in win differential and long-time personnel man Gene Smith was promoted to G.M. Smith has a number of holes to fill but none more glaring than at cornerback.  The Jags ranked 30th on all passing downs and 26th in total defense (F.O. rankings).   The D-Line was respectable in its sack rate on opponents, but the secondary struggled to all year and finished dead last in the League on 3rd down.  Look for Smith to focus on rebuilding the defensive backfield with a shutdown presence.   Picking at #8 could allow them to land Ohio State’s Malcolm Jenkins, but many have him converted to safety on their boards.
Don’t be surprised if the Jags were to reach on Wake Forest’s Alphonso Smith.  Though not the prototypical size for the position, Smith has the all-important return ability and tremendous ball skills (21 interceptions & 40 passes defended in his career).  The guy just makes plays.   This goes in the face of conventional wisdom, since Vontae Davis of Illinois is the superior athlete and measures as the safer pick.
Possible targets: defensive back Malcolm Jenkins (Ohio State); cornerback Alphonso Smith (Wake Forest); cornerback Vontae Davis (Illinois).
Tennessee Titans
Primary Need: Wide Receiver
Having worked with the Titans’ Mike Heimerdinger in the past, I can tell you where his vote will be.  Quarterback Kerry Collins stepped in and stabilized a passing game that was struggling under Vince Young.  Collins improved the third-down ranking to a respectable 14th and midway (16th) overall.
Justin Gage was the highest-rated Titans receiver at 31, but his 46% catch rate is hardly what you’d call consistent.   Justin McCareins hauled in 30 passes at a 42% clip.  The leading receiver was tight end Bo Scaife, and Heimerdinger and head coach Jeff Fisher will look to bolster the unit and give Collins some targets in return for his own efforts.  Though picking 30th in return for a solid ’08 season, this isn’t such a bad year to be needing a receiver.  There are plenty to choose from and the Titans should still be staring at a productive player at the bottom of the round.  Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland has the size and speed combo the Titans have coveted in the past.
Possible targets: receiver Percy Harvin (Florida); receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (Maryland); receiver Hakeem Nicks (North Carolina).
*Note – All team and individual rankings are per Football Outsiders’ DVOA statistical analysis, not final League ranks.

17 responses to “Ted Sundquist's AFC South Draft Needs

  1. Haha @ us needing a wide receiver more than the Jaguars. They’re bad at cornerback, but not that bad.

  2. Tennessee taking a receiver. . . that’s funny.
    Might as well rule out the offense in pick 1.

  3. Receiver is hard to predict and a good line and a good QB will make stars of average receivers and Jerry Rice teamed with Randy Moss wouldn’t matter if you can’t protect the QB.
    You don’t usually get to be a contender by drafting receivers in the first round.
    QB,D&O linemen,DB,LB,RB,TE,WR,P/K would be my value adjustments.
    QB is a special case but I would rather take the third best OL,DL,CB over the best receiver in almost every draft

  4. I think they will take a young WR, likely between Britt, Nicks, and Robiskie. I would also expect to see Torry Holt signing there as well.

  5. Reinfeldt and the Fish know what they’re doing
    Whoever the Titans pick, I’ll be happy
    GoTitans 09

  6. The Titans will not pick an offensive player first this year. Look at their last 6 drafts for yourself….

  7. Nice to see so many Titan/rest of AFC South comments. Maybe because it was the least likely of the picks….. they take CB

  8. As a Titans fan, I know Coach Fisher could go a few different routes here:
    WR: “The risky pick”- but they are starving at the position, if the kid from Maryland is there, take him, that’s a fast receiving corps with Nate Washington now in the mix, not to mention veteran Justin Gage
    ( and possibly Torry Holt?).
    CB: Fisher drafts and develops db’s well (with the exception of Andre Woolfolk) Griffin and Finnegan are recent examples. If somebody falls in their lap that they like enough, I could see them using the first pick on him.
    DT: I’m not a draft expert, I only know the big names in college. So I have no idea if a decent DT will be there at #30, but if there is a guy who they believe coach Washburn can develop, it wouldn’t shock me if they grab him, especially with their well publicized departure of Albert Haynesworth.
    DE: This would be the more likely scenario if they decide to bolster their defensive line with their first round pick. Jevon Kearse isn’t the same old freak, and KVB isn’t getting any younger either. It will be interesting to see how long these guys will be able to stay on the field without Big Al drawing double teams every snap. They have Dave Ball and Jacob Ford in the rotation, but one more play making guy who could also move inside could be a big addition here.
    LB: Keith Bulluck is the most underrated Linebacker in the league. He is a master outside backer in the 4-3 scheme flying sideline to sideline. Except the brash New Yorker is on the downside of his NFL career. His replacement may come in the 2009 draft.

  9. Im thinking the same fleamarkethustler…CB or DT/DE. Everyone thinks we always need a reciever every year and they tend to forget we RUN THE BALL!

  10. Wasn’t Matt Jones a 1st round pick in 2005? Anything is possible and the Jags need wide reciever help, which in return will help the running game (less stacking the box).

  11. The Titans probably wont take a WR with the first pick, but the people who say they don’t need a WR are out of their minds. Yeah the Titans run the ball and do it effectively, but if they get behind at all or face a team they cant run all over, the passing game goes to hell and they are screwed.

  12. Meanwhile, some folks continue to eagerly anticipate Ted’s take on the NFC South.
    Yep, annnnnnytime now, that puppy will drop……

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