Now that most key free agents have been signed and the draft is complete, we have a few months to overreact to offseason developments before training camp begins and ACLs start to tear.
In keeping with that spirit, let’s take a look at the AFC South teams, each of which has legitimate reason to hope for an improvement of 3+ wins in 2016:
Already boasting an impressive young passing-game nucleus, the Jags addressed their horrid defense in a major way this offseason, signing CB Prince Amukamara, S Tashuan Gipson and DL Malik Jackson to long-term contracts….and then drafting CB/S Jalen Ramsey (Round 1) and LB Myles Jack (Round 2) — arguably two of the draft’s five most talented players.
On top of all that, the Jaguars will have 2015 No. 3 overall selection Dante Fowler, who tore an ACL during rookie minicamp last year. There’s a very real chance the Jacksonville defense goes from bottom-five to top-10, as I can’t think of another team that’s gotten this kind of talent infusion on one side of the ball in a single offseason.
That being said, I’m still lukewarm on the Jags’ 2016 prospects, with my main concern being that Blake Bortles’ so-called breakout season was far more impressive in fantasy leagues than it was in the NFL.
He completed just 58.6 percent of his passes for a decent 7.31 yards per attempt, making his fantasy living due to a combination of high volume (606 attempts) and the Jags’ unsustainable pass TD:run TD ratio (35:5). Even if we acknowledge that this is a pass-first team with some awesome receiving weapons, Bortles’ 35 touchdowns might be the flukiest major statistic from the 2015 season.
If you remove some of those touchdowns, many of which occurred while trailing by double digits, you’re left with uninspiring per-play numbers, not to mention 18 interceptions and 51 sacks. And for all their offseason additions, the Jags still have a pretty shaky offensive line.
Though I can’t deny the upside if things break right, this feels like a seven or eight-win team more so than a real contender. Granted, eight wins could go a long way in the AFC South. Or maybe not….
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Houston returns most of the key pieces from last season’s impressive defense, along with a solid offensive line, DeAndre Hopkins, DeAndre Hopkins and did I mention DeAndre Hopkins?
This team somehow won nine games last season, despite having Brian Hoyer and Alfred Blue in the backfield for most of the year, with no viable receiving threat to complement the aforementioned Hopkins.
Apparently privy to their limitations, the Texans signed QB Brock Osweiler and RB Lamar Miller, then drafted WRs Will Fuller (Round 1) and Braxton Miller (Round 3).
I don’t particularly like any of those moves when considering the resources that were expended, but I do think the Texans significantly raised their 2016 ceiling.
If the team’s huge gamble ($37 million guaranteed) on Osweiler pays off, the rest of the roster has enough talent to reasonably compete for a championship.
Of course, Osweiler was mediocre at best in his seven starts for Denver last season, and he’s probably nothing more than a low-end starter in the NFL. That should still allow Houston to compete for an AFC South crown, but the team isn’t quite stacked enough to make a deep playoff run unless Osweiler emerges as a top-15 QB.
Boring roster and a boring offseason, but if Andrew Luck plays 16 games at his usual level….the Colts could get back to their 11-5 ways before getting smacked by one of the conference heavyweights in the playoffs. How fun!
Of the four AFC South teams, Tennessee is the only one that needs to wait another year before viewing the playoffs as a real possibility – yet there’s still plenty of room for improvement from last season’s 3-13 disaster.
In addition to young bookend tackles and a 22-year-old franchise quarterback, the Titans have an intriguing group of offensive skill players led by RBs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, TE Delanie Walker and WRs Dorial Green-Beckham and Rishard Matthews.
Also boasting a bunch of extra picks in the 2017 draft, Tennessee is finally in decent position for the long run, albeit with a very young roster that’s sorely lacking in defensive talent.
Having recently traded for the rather-expensive Murray, the Titans probably should have passed on Henry at No. 45 overall in favor of some defensive help. Like everyone else, I still have major reservations about the team’s front office and coaching staff.