The 2023 NFL season is rapidly approaching, which means it is once again time for us to unveil our preseason All-Division teams. We've done this exercise for the past several years, and the point is to preview which players at each position, in each division, we expect to put forth the best performance this coming season.
We began on Tuesday with theand continued Wednesday with the . Today we unveil the AFC South and tomorrow we'll finish up the conference with the AFC West. Next week, it's on to the NFC. Without further ado ...
Offensive skill positions
Lawrence is an ascending star who is getting a new No. 1 receiver dropped into his offense after completing 69.7% of his passes at an average of 7.4 yards per attempt, with 15 touchdowns against just two interceptions over the final nine games of last season. He's going to smash this year. Etienne is facing some competition in the form of Tank Bigsby, but his explosiveness as a runner (21 carries of 12 or more yards last season, ninth-most in the NFL) should keep him heavily involved throughout the year. Then, it came down to a choice between Henry and Dameon Pierce, and even though Tennessee's offensive line looks like it might be a disaster, I'm tired of betting against Henry only for him to run for somewhere around 100 yards a game every year.
The passing games in this division outside of Jacksonville are pretty uninspiring. It should come as no surprise, then, that the top two options for the Jaguars each made this team. The last time we saw Ridley, he was arguably one of the 10 best receivers in football. Kirk, meanwhile, broke out with an 84-1,108-8 receiving line under Doug Pederson, who figured out a much better way to use him than did Kliff Kingsbury. Hopkins is likely to soak up a ton of volume from Ryan Tannehill, and with Treylon Burks still recovering from an injury, he's the better bet for a better season. Okonkwo led all tight ends in yards per route run last season, and from week 9 on he went for 27-398-2 even while playing more than 50% of the snaps in just two games. Given more opportunities, he should put up pretty big receiving numbers.
Tunsil has checked in third, sixth, 21st, and first in Pro Football Focus' pass-blocking grades over the past four seasons. He is a top-tier left tackle in the prime of his career. Smith has shown the ability to both pass- and run-block at an above-average level throughout his career, and the rest of the tackles in this division are just not very good.
Nelson is coming off a down season by his standards, but this is still a guy who has been a perennial All-Pro. A spot on this squad is his until it's clear that it shouldn't be. The other guard spot came down to Mason and Brandon Scherff, and Mason is just a better bet to stay healthy and productive throughout a 17-game season. Kelly still carries some residual injury risk from earlier in his career, but he's missed just four games over the past four seasons combined. He's also made the Pro Bowl in three of them and was named a second-team All-Pro in one. With Ben Jones cut by the Titans, Houston starting a rookie, and Jaguars center Luke Fortner looking just OK last year, this spot would probably be Kelly's even if he was still a high-level injury risk.
Landry missed all of last season with a torn ACL, but the last time we saw him he was breaking out with 12 sacks and his first Pro Bowl appearance. In this division, that's more than enough to garner an edge spot. Allen has yet to replicate his rookie-year productivity, but he has chipped in 14.5 sacks over the past two years and looks like a reliable second-tier rushman. Given the paucity of edge-rush depth in the AFC South, he's the next best of the bunch. Meanwhile, we're more confident in Anderson being good right away than in Travon Walker putting it all together in Year 2.
Simmons has blossomed into an outright monster, and is coming off back-to-back seasons during which he made both the Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro. He's 26 years old, just got paid, and he ranked eighth among interior defensive linemen in pressures last season. Shane Bowen will continue putting him in position to succeed. One of the players ahead of Simmons on that list was Buckner, who just keeps stacking excellent seasons. Were it not for the existence of Aaron Donald, we'd talk about Buckner and Chris Jones (more on him tomorrow) like they were aliens on the interior.
Leonard only played three games last year due to various injuries, but he has a higher ceiling as a second-level playmaker than any linebacker this side of Fred Warner. Oluokun, meanwhile, has led the NFL in tackles in back-to-back seasons and should continue to play an important role in Jacksonville's defense -- which needs to show some improvement this season.
Campbell checked in seventh among 135 qualifying cornerbacks in PFF's coverage grades last season, allowing only 48 of 82 passes thrown his way (58.5%) to be completed at an average of just 9.9 yards per reception. He allowed a reception only every 13.7 coverage snaps, just about the same rate as Marlon Humphrey. Heading into Year 3, he should be able to solidify himself as a No. 1 corner. Stingley was banged up and inconsistent last season as a rookie, but with DeMeco Ryans coaching him up and some better luck in the health department, he should fulfill his potential. And Moore is just a rock-solid slot corner who doesn't get enough credit for being good in his role.
Byard remains one of the league's premier ball hawks on the back end, and considering the longevity of stars at the safety position, he should be able to play at a high level even now that he's in his 30s. Blackmon has been a solid, if relatively unspectacular contributor at safety for the Colts, which is enough to get yourself a spot on this roster due to the weaknesses of the division.
Fairbairn has connected on 85.5% of his career field goal tries, and has been at 80% or better in five of six seasons. He's also got plenty of leg, making at least three kicks from 50-plus yards every year. Kicking is inconsistent year to year but Fairbairn seems solid. Stonehouse led the NFL in yards per punt (53.1) as a rookie, getting named to the All-Pro second team. Pretty good debut! Agnew has been a plus in the return game throughout his career, and with Jacksonville bringing in Ridley, he should have less on his plate and can concentrate more on his return responsibilities.