When you think about it, the AFC South is going to be one of the most interesting divisions to watch in 2021. Are the Tennessee Titans going to be able to continue to ride Derrick Henry to success? Can Carson Wentz reinvent himself with the Indianapolis Colts? Is Urban Meyer the right coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and what is going to happen with the Houston Texans? All four teams have made additions in free agency and also had to make tough decisions with players due to the falling cap number. The offseason isn't over just yet, however, as the 2021 NFL Draft is just one week away.
Most of free agency is done with, so which team in the AFC South is best-suited to win the division in 2021? Below, we will take a shot at ranking all four teams, examine their biggest signings, their notable losses in free agency, what they should be looking for in the draft and where they stand at large entering the 2021 NFL Draft.
1. Tennessee Titans
Tennessee attempted to solve the pass-rush issue by acquiring Jadeveon Clowney last offseason, but that gamble did not pay off. The Titans again tried to address the issue this offseason by signing Dupree to a lucrative, five-year deal. He is coming off of a torn ACL, but will start immediately on the edge come Week 1. Dupree recorded eight sacks in 11 games last season in Pittsburgh, and notched a career-high 11.5 sacks in 2019. Autry, the former Colt, knows this division well and should provide a veteran presence on the defensive line. The Titans also signed wide receiver Josh Reynolds, who surely saw an opportunity to fill Corey Davis' role as the No. 2 wideout in Tennessee's offense, but many expect the Titans to draft another wide receiver with one of their first picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. He will have to battle for that starting role, but he stepped up for Sean McVay whenever asked during his time with the Los Angeles Rams, and could end up being a bargain for Tennessee if he exceeds in his new situation.
The secondary was not a strength for Tennessee last season, and it has now turned into a major weakness with the Titans losing their top three cornerbacks and starting strong safety. The Titans did sign veteran cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Kevin Johnson, but they don't make up for Jackson, Butler and King, who signed with the Texans in free agency. The Titans also lost two big contributors on offense, as the versatile Smith signed a big deal with the New England Patriots, and Davis finally got the money he was after via the New York Jets.
Top draft priority: CB, WR
Tennessee could look to beef up the offensive line or take another pass-rusher with one of its top picks in the draft, but the real priority should be in the secondary and at wide receiver. There may be a couple of talented cornerbacks on the board at No. 22 overall in Caleb Farley out of Virginia Tech or Greg Newsome II out of Northwestern. The Titans could also take a wide receiver with that top pick such as Mississippi's Elijah Moore -- who is someone A.J. Brown is a little familiar with. Our four CBS NFL Draft writers are looking to bolster the offensive or defensive front in the first round, however, as Ryan Wilson has the Titans taking EDGE Carlos Basham Jr. out of Wake Forest. Chris Trapasso has Tennessee taking offensive tackle Teven Jenkins from Oklahoma State and Josh Edwards is high on linebacker Jamin Davis from Kentucky. Pete Prisco mocks one of the best pass-rushers in this class heading to the Titans, Kwity Paye out of Michigan.
Where Tennessee stands entering season
The Titans are probably the favorites to repeat as division champs, but it's no guarantee. Ryan Tannehill and Co. did orchestrate a magical playoff run a couple of seasons ago, but fell flat in Super Wild Card Weekend last year. Hitting on positions of need in the 2021 NFL Draft will make all fans feel better about their chances to repeat this upcoming season.
2. Indianapolis Colts
Biggest additions: QB Carson Wentz (trade), OT Sam Tevi
The Colts were not the most active team in free agency, which is OK. They jumped on their new quarterback in Wentz and hopefully he can return to his MVP-candidate ways now that he's reunited with Frank Reich. The Colts also took a flier on Tevi and former Miami Dolphins tackle Julie'n Davenport with left tackle Anthony Castonzo retiring. Those two likely don't fill the hole Castonzo leaves on the left side, but we will address that in a minute.
Notable losses: LB Anthony Walker Jr., DE Denico Autry
The Colts suffered a couple of big losses along the front-seven, as Walker left in free agency for the Cleveland Browns and Autry signed with the rival Titans. Walker was a 100-tackle linebacker in 2018 and 2019 before coming just eight short in 2020, but more importantly was a leader on this defense. Indy also lost a couple of depth players like safety Tavon Wilson and cornerback Tremon Smith, but defensive end or pass-rusher are the holes Indy is probably more concerned with.
Top draft priority: OT, EDGE
With the No. 21 overall pick, the Colts should take either an offensive lineman with future left tackle potential, or a pass-rusher. Our CBS NFL Draft writers mostly agree, as Ryan Wilson has the Colts selecting Oklahoma State offensive tackle Teven Jenkins, Josh Edwards took Virginia Tech tackle Christian Darrisaw and Pete Prisco is eyeing pass-rusher Azeez Ojulari from Georgia. Chris Trapasso, on the other hand, has the Colts taking slot receiver Elijah Moore. If I had to pick from these four, I'm rolling with Darrisaw.
Where Indianapolis stands entering season
It almost goes without saying that this team will only go as far as Wentz can take them. Is the former No. 2 overall pick someone who can take this talented roster to the Super Bowl, or will the Colts be looking for a new franchise quarterback this time next year? Indy's offensive line is very good, the wide receiving corps has some young talent along with the veteran T.Y. Hilton and the running back depth chart is deep. There's no excuse for Wentz not to find success with this team, and it wouldn't shock me if Indy ends up on top of the AFC South in 2021.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars had the second-worst defense in the league last year, and struggled to stop the run and the pass. Clearly, general manager Trent Baalke was upset with this, because he attempted to make some big splashes in free agency in the secondary and along the defensive line. Griffin and Jenkins received huge contracts, which has people wondering if they were really "good" signings. I at least like that the Jags are throwing their chips on the table and trying to get on top of this rebuild. As for the defensive line, I think Roy Robertson-Harris and trading for Malcom Brown are underrated moves and Jones is a veteran wideout who is still explosive when healthy. I bet presumed No. 1 overall pick quarterback Trevor Lawrence quickly falls in love with him.
There weren't too many notable losses for Jacksonville in free agency. This franchise is rebuilding, so it's about getting better than the team they were last year. Cole and Conley both brought something to this offense, but with the addition of Jones and then the possibility that the Jaguars take another wideout somewhere in the draft, there's no reason to worry about depth at wide receiver.
Top draft priority: OL, DB
Quarterback is the most serious issue, but Jacksonville is expected to fill that hole with Lawrence at No. 1 overall. However, the Jaguars have another first-round pick at No. 25 overall, and there are a couple of different ways they can go here. CBS NFL Draft writers Ryan Wilson and Josh Edwards have the Jags taking a defensive back with Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley and TCU safety Trevon Moehrig, while Chris Trapasso and Pete Prisco have Jacksonville taking wideouts with Purdue's Rondale Moore and Florida's Kadarius Toney. While picking up a quarterback and wide receiver in the first round sounds sexy, it wouldn't surprise me if the Jaguars took a prospective left tackle. Jacksonville placed the franchise tag on left tackle Cam Robinson this offseason, and it's worth questioning if he's with the team in 2022.
Where Jacksonville stands entering season
There's legitimate excitement in Jacksonville entering 2021, and no matter who you root for, that is pretty cool. It's going to be fun to see if Urban Meyer can find success at the next level and to watch Lawrence begin his NFL journey. This team likely won't compete for a playoff spot in 2021, but there's reason to be optimistic about this franchise moving forward.
4. Houston Texans
The Texans made plenty of additions this offseason, but not any that will take this team from pretender to contender. Houston traded for immediate starters in offensive tackle Marcus Cannon and pass-rusher Shaq Lawson, but also picked up Lindsay and Kirksey in free agency. Lindsay has shown the potential to be a dynamic playmaker, and joins an intriguing backfield with David Johnson and Mark Ingram. As for Kirksey, he is a legitimate starter who is productive when healthy. Houston also picked up a couple of quarterbacks in Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Finley, in case Deshaun Watson doesn't play due to ongoing off-field allegations.
Notable losses: DE J.J. Watt, WR Will Fuller
Houston parted ways with the best player in franchise history in Watt this offseason, which almost seemed to signal that they were starting a major rebuild. Then Fuller, who put together the best season of his career despite being suspended, found a new home with the Dolphins. Depending on what happens with Watson, he would be the biggest loss of all in 2021.
Top draft priority: Talent
We couldn't really choose just one or two positions the Texans need, so we will just say Houston needs to acquire talent in this draft. This is not said in jest, but sincerity. It will be tough to go without a first-round pick in the draft, but this is a deep class and there are gems in all seven rounds. Houston's scouting department needs to shine here so that this rebuild isn't miserable.
Where Houston stands entering season
All eyes right now are on Watson's off-field troubles -- and rightfully so. He's the best player on this team and his status for the 2021 season is in doubt at this point. Let's hypothetically say Watson is under center for Week 1. The Texans are still facing a rebuild, so fans would at least like to see some young talent on the field that proves this franchise is somewhat moving in the right direction.