As with many divisions in the NFL, the AFC South is entering a pivotal period this offseason. This division is up for grabs, and all four teams are eyeing big moves that could land them in the playoffs next year. The Indianapolis Colts found their new quarterback in Carson Wentz and the Jacksonville Jaguars have hired college football legend Urban Meyer as their new head coach to go along with having the most cap space in the NFL to work with and a couple of first-round picks -- including No. 1 overall. The Tennessee Titans haven't made any big moves yet, but they will need to if they want to retain their status as division champs.
Not many are tabbing the Houston Texans as the best team in the division, but they are the franchise that has garnered the majority of headlines this offseason. Houston's front office and star quarterback Deshaun Watson are in a standoff as Watson wants out, but the Texans have refused up to this point to listen to any offers. My gut tells me Watson will eventually be traded, and they should receive a record haul in return for the Pro Bowler, which could help them in their rebuild.
The Colts and Titans have one first-round pick apiece in the 2021 NFL Draft, while the Jaguars have two. The Texans currently don't have a first-round pick, but that could change if Watson is dealt soon. Below, we will break down what all four AFC South teams need to focus on in free agency and in the 2021 NFL Draft. We will look at position needs, their reported cap space and also give you the prospects who our NFL Draft writers have each team selecting with their first pick.
Needs: CB, EDGE, G, WR
The Texans will obviously have to worry about the quarterback position if they do part ways with Watson, but they haven't up to this point. Even disregarding the quarterback problem, the Texans have plenty of needs to address this offseason. I'm not going to try to break down every single position, but obviously this is going to be a rebuild. Lovie Smith should be an excellent defensive coordinator, but he has his work cut out for him. The Texans need to upgrade at cornerback, which will be more difficult with Gareon Conley, Vernon Hargreaves III and Phillip Gaines looking for new deals. Houston should take a look at William Jackson, Quinton Dunbar, Cam Sutton or maybe Shaquill Griffin, who are all set to hit the open market. The Texans also now have to find someone to replace J.J. Watt at pass-rusher -- and since players like Bud Dupree and Shaquil Barrett will be valued highly on the open market, it might be best for the Texans to find a pass-rusher in the draft. Houston has its franchise left tackle in Laremy Tunsil, but with Zach Fulton, Max Scharping and Senio Kelemete as the guards, there's no doubt that position group could be upgraded.
Playmakers are important in the NFL, and the Texans could potentially expedite their rebuild a bit if they find a gem in the draft. Will Fuller will test free agency and could be set on a change of scenery. Brandin Cooks is an underrated wideout, but the Texans may need to find a new No. 1. The Texans have eight draft picks, but half of those are in the last two rounds. Houston's scouting department will have to put some resources into identifying value picks.
Draft position: N/A (No first-round pick)
Projected cap space (via Over The Cap): $5,895,383 (No. 18 in the NFL)
Needs: LT, EDGE, CB, WR
The Colts have their new quarterback with Wentz, but they lost a big piece along the offensive line with the retirement of left tackle Anthony Castonzo. This doesn't have to be a major concern, however, as the Colts have a ton of available cash to chase someone like Trent Williams in free agency. Indy should also consider splurging on a pass-rusher like Jadeveon Clowney or Shaquil Barrett, who could work well off of DeForest Buckner. Both the cornerback and safety positions could receive an addition, as Malik Hooker and then reserve safeties Tavon Wilson and George Odum are looking for new deals. As for cornerback, it will be interesting to see what kind of attention Xavier Rhodes gets on the open market. T.J. Carrie is another player who will be looking for a new deal.
The wide receiver position is an interesting one. T.Y. Hilton is set to become a free agent and it is anyone's guess how set Indy is on keeping him. He didn't have a career year by any means in 2020, but a few good performances towards the end of the season proved Hilton is still a star. Also, Zach Pascal is a restricted free agent and it has been reported that the New York Jets are potentially interested in him. The Colts are expecting second-year wideout Michael Pittman Jr. to explode in 2021, but obviously that isn't a given. Indy could be in the market for a new No. 1 receiver if Hilton leaves for another franchise, and it would be smart to surround Wentz with as many talented weapons as they can -- especially considering the kind of cap space the Colts have.
Draft position: No. 21 overall. CBS NFL Draft writer Chris Trapasso has the Colts adding to the wide receiver room in the first round by mocking former Ole Miss wideout Elijah Moore to Indy. Ryan Wilson has the Colts taking Oklahoma State tackle Teven Jenkins, who could potentially take over for Castonzo. As for Josh Edwards, he has the Colts selecting Penn State edge rusher Jayson Oweh, who he says could take over for Justin Houston if he departs in free agency.
Projected cap space (via Over The Cap): $43,635,239 (No. 4 in the NFL)
Needs: LT, S, DL, WR
Let's ignore the quarterback position here since the Jaguars will likely be taking former Clemson signal-caller Trevor Lawrence with the top pick in the draft. Jacksonville has an interesting situation at left tackle, as Cam Robinson is set to become a free agent. He has been inconsistent, but the market for left tackles this offseason isn't very impressive. Are the Jags going to pay him what he wants, or are they immediately going to have to find a new left tackle that can protect Lawrence? The Jaguars had the second-worst defense in the league last year with an average of 417.7 yards of offense allowed per game, so they can really upgrade anywhere. But in my opinion, Jacksonville absolutely has to upgrade at safety this offseason. Anthony Harris, Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson and the recently-released Ricardo Allen should be on Jacksonville's radar in free agency. I like C.J. Henderson and Sidney Jones, but the Jaguars could also add a cornerback in free agency. Jacksonville's linebacking corps is solid as are the pass-rushers, but they could upgrade the unit that holds down the A-gap. The Jaguars allowed 153.3 rushing yards per game in 2020, which ranked third-worst in the league.
While shoring up the defense and making sure Lawrence is protected are important, surrounding him with offensive weapons is as well. This isn't a position where the Jaguars absolutely have to splurge in free agency, but with Keelan Cole hitting the open market, the Jaguars could explore other options in free agency or use one of their draft picks to bring on another talented weapon. You can't have enough these days.
Draft position: No. 25 overall. All of our NFL Draft writers have Jacksonville selecting Lawrence with the No. 1 overall pick, so let's just focus on the No. 25 overall pick. Ryan Wilson and Josh Edwards have the Jaguars selecting Alabama defensive lineman Christian Barmore to hold down the middle of the line, while Chris Trapasso has Jacksonville selecting Alabama offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood, who could potentially play tackle or guard.
Projected cap space (via Over The Cap): $77,552,150 (No. 1 in the NFL)
Needs: EDGE, CB, WR, DL
Pass-rushers, pass-rushers and then sprinkle in some more pass-rushers. The Titans need help getting to the quarterback, as they finished with just 19 total sacks in the regular season, which ranked third-worst in the league. The Titans tried to fix the pass-rush problem last offseason by winning the arms race for Clowney and taking a shot on Vic Beasley, but neither addition worked out. Tennessee has some options to look at in free agency, as Clowney again hits the market. The Titans have already been tied to Watt and then they could get crazy and chase someone like Barrett. Upgrading through the draft may be the best option, however. Another major need the Titans have on defense is in the secondary. The Titans ranked fifth-worst in the league when it came to total yards allowed per game this season, and fourth-worst in passing yards allowed per game -- which was a clear regression from last year. Tennessee also had the worst third-down defense in the league. The Titans should explore bringing Desmond King back, but also look for a few gems in free agency. Maybe take a shot on Mackensie Alexander, William Jackson, Quinton Dunbar or Cameron Sutton. Some attention should be given to the defensive line as well, as DaQuan Jones is set to hit the open market and the Titans could stand to upgrade at the defensive end position to help Jeffery Simmons inside.
On offense, the Titans should look at the wide receiver position. Corey Davis is now a free agent after a career year, and bringing him back would be a win. The Titans aren't exactly swimming in available cash, but there are also some intriguing free agents available. Allen Robinson, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Curtis Samuel could be looking for new homes, as could Marvin Jones or Kenny Golladay of the Detroit Lions.
Draft position: No. 22 overall. CBS NFL Draft writers Ryan Wilson and Chris Trapasso have the Titans upgrading at pass-rusher with the No. 22 overall pick, selecting Gregory Rousseau out of Miami. He opted out this past season, put recorded a whopping 15.5 sacks in 2019 for the Hurricanes. CBS NFL Draft writer Josh Edwards also has the Titans selecting an edge rusher with their first-round pick in Azeez Ojulari out of Georgia.