The third in a series on division needs leading up to the April 26-27 NFL Draft:
The AFC South can stake a claim as the best division in the NFL. It's certainly the best in the AFC.
|With skills like these, Limas Sweed can help former Longhorns teammate Vince Young immeasurably. (US Presswire)|
The Jacksonville Jaguars might be closing in, but they lost both games to the Colts last season and were forced to take the wild-card road in the playoffs. The Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans are behind those two teams.
The three teams in chase mode do have their first-round picks in the 2008 draft. The Colts traded theirs away last year to draft left tackle Tony Ugoh, who starts. So it was a good deal.
The other division rivals can try to close the gap on the Colts with this draft, and those first-rounders will make those chances better.
Of course, you have to hit on them and that hasn't exactly been the case in Jacksonville.
The current regime has had five first-round picks. Of those players, none has come close to sniffing a Pro Bowl (one is off the roster, one is a backup and three others start, although two haven't lived up to the hype).
The only way to take the division from the Colts is to obviously have better players. It starts in April with the draft.
Here's a look at the draft needs for all the AFC South teams.
The skinny: Colts general manager Bill Polian is the best in the league at finding ways to keep his team moving forward through the draft. He gets it. The Colts don't have a lot of needs, which makes drafting easier for Polian. They also don't have a first-round pick, which they traded to San Francisco for the right to draft Ugoh last year. He started as a rookie.
Primary need: With Dwight Freeney coming off an injury, the Colts could use more depth at defensive end. You can never have enough of those kinds of players.
Secondary needs: Linebacker, wide receiver, guard.
Possible targets: Georgia defensive end-linebacker Marcus Howard, Auburn defensive end Quentin Groves or Florida receiver Andre Caldwell.
Summary: They are once again heading to the draft without any major needs. Without a first-round pick, that's a good position. Polian will get two or three good players out of this draft, even without a first.
The skinny: They won a playoff game last season before getting dumped by the Patriots in the divisional round. They are one of the better teams in the league. The drafting has been sound under the current regime, but they've struggled to find success in the first round. That has to change for the Jaguars to get over the top in the AFC.
Primary need: Defensive end. They have to get somebody who can win off the edge in the fourth quarter. The lack of a pass rush showed up big in the loss to the Patriots.
Secondary needs: Offensive tackle, defensive tackle and safety.
Possible targets: Clemson defensive end Phillip Merling, Miami defensive end Calais Campbell, Pittsburgh tackle Jeff Otah, Virginia tackle Branden Albert, North Carolina defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer or Vanderbilt tackle Chris Williams.
Summary: They have a lot of picks and could use them to move up to target a player like Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey. They should use at least two picks, maybe more, on defensive ends in this draft.
The skinny: The Titans made the playoffs last season and appear to be on an upswing. If they are to move even higher, they have to get help for Vince Young. He has few weapons. Adding tight end Alge Crumpler isn't the answer. The Titans have also lost some good players on defense through free agency.
Primary need: It has to be receiver. They can't keep thinking the Justin Gage's of the world will be their answer outside. At some point, they have to get Young a go-to receiver.
Secondary needs: Defensive end, linebacker and defensive tackle.
Possible targets: LSU wide receiver Early Doucet, Indiana wide receiver James Hardy, Texas wide receiver Limas Sweed or Clemson defensive end Philip Merling.
Summary: They've added Jevon Kearse to help offset the loss of Antwan Odom and Travis LaBoy. Is that enough? No. They need help there. But mostly they need a receiver who can help enhance Young's passing game.
The skinny: The Texans are an improving team that happens to play in one of the best divisions in football. That makes it tough to make strides, but they're getting there. Second-year general manager Rick Smith seems to have a good eye for talent. This team isn't far off.
Primary need: Running back. They need to get a guy who can be the featured runner. Enough with guys like Ahman Green and veteran backs. They need their own guy.
Secondary needs: Cornerback, offensive left tackle, defensive tackle.
Possible targets: Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall, Arkansas running back Felix Jones, South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins, Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib or Vanderbilt left tackle Chris Williams.
Summary: Picking up backs from other teams is only a short-term solution most of the time. But this year's crop of backs is deep. That might force the Texans to take another position in the first round and come back and get a back later on. They do need to get a back at some point.
|Apr. 1||NFC West||This could be the season the rest of the NFC West catches Seattle, but I wouldn't count on it.|
|Mar. 31||AFC West||The AFC West is the San Diego Chargers and then the rest -- and the gap is widening.|
|Mar. 30||NFC North||We're watching the Chicago Bears, with fans wondering when they reach for a quarterback.|
|Mar. 27||AFC North||This year's draft will be huge in whether this division can return to being a power player.|
|Mar. 26||NFC South||John Fox and the Panthers are fighting for their lives with a raft of needs.|
|Mar. 25||AFC South||The AFC South can stake a claim as the best division in the NFL.|
|Mar. 24||NFC East||The NFC wasn't the better conference last season, but it did have the best team.|
|Mar. 23||AFC East||The New England Patriots are the class of the AFC East -- and the conference.|