AFC South offseason grades: Titans get an A, Colts get lowest grade in the division
It's been a pretty wild offseason for the four teams in the AFC South
If the NFL is looking for a billion dollar idea, they should skip "Hard Knocks" this year and just have a camera crew follow around every team in the AFC South.
If there's one division this offseason that has given us non-stop craziness, it's definitely the AFC South.
For one, it's the only division in the NFL where a coach got fired after leading his team to the playoffs. Mike Mularkey is probably still trying to figure out what happened there. Usually, a situation like that would be hard to top in a single offseason, but not in the AFC South. The fact that Mularkey was fired was almost completely forgotten a few weeks later thanks to with Josh McDaniels in Indianapolis. Of course, we won't rehash that right now, because we don't want to lose all of our readers in Indy.
The AFC South is one of the few divisions in the NFL that genuinely feels like any of the four teams could win it. Over the past four years alone, there have been three different winners, and the one team that hasn't won the division in that span (Tennessee) just went to the playoffs last season. As a matter of fact, the AFC South is the only division in the AFC that has sent all four of its teams to the playoffs at least once in each of the past four seasons (the NFC East is the only other division in the NFL that has pulled that off in the same span).
With all four teams so close from a competitive standpoint, a simple offseason signing could be the thing that puts one team over the top and eventually helps them win the division. For instance, by adding Malcolm Butler, the Titans are arguably in better shape to slow down some of the AFC South's top receivers, like DeAndre Hopkins and T.Y. Hilton.
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So which AFC South team has had the best offseason? Let's answer that question now.
Below, you'll find an offseason review for each team in the division -- including key additions, key losses, key rookies, and a general overview of what happened between January and May. After that, we'll give each team a grade for their offseason.
You can find grades, and grades .
- Key additions: FS Tyrann Mathieu, CB Aaron Colvin, G Zach Fulton, G Senio Kelemete, OT Seantrel Henderson, WR Sammie Coates, QB Brandon Weeden
- Key losses: RT Derek Newton, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, S Marcus Gilchrist, LB Brian Cushing
- Key rookies: S Justin Reid, C Martinas Rankin, TE Jordan Akins
After fielding the NFL's top-ranked pass defense in 2016, the Texans imploded last season with a pass defense that ranked 24th overall in the NFL. General manager Brian Gaine definitely got the memo that his team needed some help in the secondary, because he went out and made a big splash by signing Tyrann Mathieu. That wasn't the only move that Gaine made in the defensive backfield, either.
Although it didn't generate as many headlines, the Texans also added former Jaguars corner Aaron Colvin, who quietly had a big season in Jacksonville last year, despite being overshadowed by guys like A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey. As , Colvin allowed just 0.76 yards per cover snap, according to Pro Football Focus. That number ranked as the the fifth-best mark among 34 cornerbacks that played at least 200 passing down snaps in the slot.
The Texans also re-signed Johnathan Joseph, which means there's no reason the team's secondary shouldn't see a massive improvement in 2018.
Of course, although the Texans' secondary was a problem last season, it wasn't the team's biggest issue. That honor belongs to a Texans offensive line that surrendered 54 sacks in 2017, which was the second highest total in the league. Yes, the Texans will be getting Deshaun Watson back this year, but that might not help much if they can't protect him.
Although the team did attempt to beef up the line through free agency by adding Zach Fulton, Senio Kelemete and Seantrel Henderson, there's no guarantee that any of those moves are going to pay off. Henderson has only played in eight games combined over the past two seasons, which is a statistic that would slightly frighten me if I were Watson. The scary thing is that the Texans must have been happy with the linemen they added in free agency because they didn't even bother taking a guard or a tackle in the draft.
Basically, the Texans fixed one hole on their metaphorical boat (the secondary), patched up another with gum (offensive line) and will now be crossing their fingers and hoping that their ship can sail. The thing about Houston is that this is one team in the NFL that wasn't going to live or die through the draft or free agency. The most important thing for the Texans is that their star players who suffered serious injuries last season -- Watson, J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus -- all come back healthy. If that happens, then there's no reason this team can't compete for an AFC South title.
Offseason grade: C+
- Key additions: Coach Frank Reich, TE Eric Ebron, WR Ryan Grant, G Matt Slauson, OT Austin Howard, DE Denico Autry
- Key losses: RB Frank Gore, WR Donte Moncrief, LB Barkevious Mingo, LB Jon Bostic, DT Johnathan Hankins, CB Rashaan Melvin
- Key rookies: G Quenton Nelson, G Braden Smith, OLB Darius Leonard, DE Kemoko Turay, DE Tyquan Lewis
The award for weirdest offseason of 2018 definitely goes to the Colts. It all started back in February when Josh McDaniels verbally , before deciding that he didn't , which left no one with the job. Fortunately for the Colts, the McDaniels situation ended up working out in their favor because they . If we were grading the Colts' offseason on their coaching hire alone, we would give it an 'A,' because let's be honest, if you're going to hire one of the offensive coordinators from Super Bowl LII, you definitely want the guy from the winning team.
After Reich was hired, it appears that the team came up with an offseason plan called, "Operation: Save Andrew Luck," which is a plan the prior regime probably should have put in place a few years ago. Before general manager Chris Ballard was hired in January 2017, the Colts put almost no effort into protecting Luck, but that changed this offseason. Sure, no one actually knows if Luck is going to play this year, but if he does, he's going to get to play behind a seriously revamped offensive line.
Not only did the Colts go out and grab two free agents in Matt Slauson and Austin Howard, but they also used two of their first three picks in the draft on offensive linemen. These weren't just any picks, either, these were two of the top 40 picks in the entire draft. With their first-round pick (sixth overall), the Colts grabbed Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. With one of their second-round picks (37th overall), the Colts landed Auburn guard Braden Smith. Those are two big moves for a team that gave up the most sacks in the league last year (56) and ranked 28th in yards per carry (3.7).
Although the Colts seemingly made some smart choices by hiring Reich and taking two offensive linemen so high in the draft, those are arguably the only smart moves this team has made this offseason. With Ryan Grant, they added a wide receiver who failed his physical in Baltimore. With Eric Ebron, they signed a former 10th overall pick who hasn't lived up to expectations during his four-year career. The one upside with both players is that they come with little risk. Of course, that doesn't mean these were smart signings. If neither player pans out, the Colts offense could struggle next season because they also won't have their leading rusher from 2017 (Gore) or third-leading receiver (Moncrief).
The Colts' most questionable offseason moves came on the defensive side of the ball. The team decided to let Rashaan Melvin walk in free agency, which would have made sense if they attempted to replace him in the draft, but they didn't. As a matter of fact, it's almost as if the Colts left the scouting report for every college defensive back at home during the draft because they didn't select a single player in the secondary. Despite the fact that corner was a heavy need, the Colts managed to make 11 picks without selecting a single one.
The Colts also lost Barkevious Mingo, Johnathan Hankins and Jon Bostic, who were all key defensive players last season but may not be great fits for the team's move to a 4-3 defense. Bostic and Hankins each started in at least 14 games, while Mingo saw action in all 16 games, with eight starts.
Looking at the Colts' offseason, the offensive line definitely got better, but it's hard to definitively say that for any other position group. Not to mention, no one in Indy seems to know if Luck will ever throw a football again. If someone takes a video of Luck throwing an actual NFL football before training camp, we'll improve this grade, because nothing would mean more to the Colts' offseason than a healthy Luck.
Offseason grade: C-
- Key additions: G Andrew Norwell, WR Donte Moncrief, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE Niles Paul, QB Cody Kessler, CB D.J. Hayden, DB Don Carey
- Key losses: WR Allen Hurns, WR Allen Robinson, CB Aaron Colvin
- Key rookies: DT Taven Bryan, WR D.J. Chark, S Ronnie Harrison
If you watched the Jaguars at all last season, you may have noticed that they love to run the ball. Although the Jaguars ended up leading the NFL in rushing yards, they weren't perfect. Their top two running backs -- Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory -- both averaged under 4.0 yards per carry in 2017.
So how do you get that number up? You bring in the best offensive linemen on the market, and that's what the Jags did in free agency by signing Andrew Norwell. Basically, the Jags were already good at running the ball and now, they're likely going to start steamrolling their opponents, thanks to addition of Norwell, who was voted a first-team All-Pro in 2017 after starting 16 games for the Panthers.
Although the Jags helped their running game, you probably can't say the same for their passing game. Not only did they lose their two Allens (Hurns and Robinson), but they replaced those two guys with a receiver (Donte Moncrief) who didn't catch more than 30 passes in either 2016 or 2017 with the Colts. If Moncrief magically reverts to his 2015 form, then this is a move that could pay off, but right now, it's looking like the Jags' passing game took a step backward this offseason. Of course, it's completely possible that Tom Coughlin's eventual plan is to run the ball on every down, so maybe adding Moncrief wasn't a bad thing. The Jags also added another receiver (D.J. Chark) through the draft and if they're lucky, he'll replace Robinson as the team's downfield threat.
One glaring hole the Jags had going into this offseason was at tight end, and they filled that by adding both Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Niles Paul. ASJ had a career year in 2017 with the Jets (50 catches, 357 yards, three touchdowns) and if he were to put up anything close to those numbers, that would be a huge boost for a Jaguars offense that only got 43 total catches from all their tight ends combined last season.
Defensively, the Jags already had one of the top units in the NFL and they strengthened that up even more by using two of their first three draft picks on defensive players.
Offseason grade: B+
- Key additions: Coach Mike Vrabel, RB Dion Lewis, G Xavier Su'a-Filo, OL Kevin Pamphile, QB Blaine Gabbert, DB Malcolm Butler, DT Bennie Logan, LB Will Compton, offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur
- Key losses: RB DeMarco Murray, WR Eric Decker, QB Matt Cassel, LB Avery Williamson
- Key rookies: LB Rashaan Evans, DE Harold Landry
If Jon Robinson's goal was to turn the Titans into the Patriots of the AFC South, he might have finally succeeded. Not only did Robinson hire a coach with ties to the Patriots this offseason (Mike Vrabel), but he also signed two key players away from New England who both helped the Patriots make a run to Super Bowl LII, and one of those players was Malcolm Butler.
Although we might not ever know why he was benched in the Super Bowl, we do know that the Titans definitely won't be benching him, because he'll be getting some serious playing time in Tennessee after Logan Ryan. Ryan and Butler were teammates for three seasons in New England. Robinson is halfway to having a secondary entirely made up of former Patriots.in March. After ranking 25th overall against the pass last season, the Titans definitely needed some help in the secondary and that's what Butler is going to provide. The biggest upside for the Titans is that Butler should be able to learn their defense pretty quickly and that's mainly because, if he needs any help, he can just turn to Titans corner
The other Patriots castaway making his way to Tennessee this year is running back Dion Lewis. Lewis is a versatile weapon who should thrive in the Titans offense, especially since he's better suited for the role that Tennessee tried to give DeMarco Murray in 2017. Lewis and Derrick Henry have two completely different skill sets, which should work in the Titans favor next season. The team's new offensive coordinator, Matt LaFleur, sounds like someone who is really going to enjoy having two skilled running backs next season.
"There's always going to be a foundation, and the foundation really starts with our running game and how we tie the pass game to our running game," LaFleur said, when describing his offense earlier this year (via Titansonline.com). "We want to keep the defense off-balance, you have to keep them guessing. If you have plays that start out looking the same that are different, it keeps the defense guessing."
LaFleur is coming over from the Rams, who did a great job of keeping teams guessing last season. The Rams led the NFL with 29.9 points per game last season.
One other big thing the Titans did this offseason was add some depth at inside linebacker. After losing 16-game starter Avery Williamson to the Jets, the Titans filled that hole by adding Will Compton from Washington and using their first pick in the draft on Alabama's Rashaan Evans. The Titans also added an outside linebacker in Harold Landry with their second-round pick.
The only thing the Titans didn't do this offseason was unveil a new uniform.
Wait, they? OK, we're giving them an 'A.'
Offseason grade: A
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