The Jacksonville Jaguars won their first AFC South Division title last season since 2017 by closing the regular season with five straight victories. The race for last year’s division title was bizarre because it seemed like no one wanted to make the playoffs. Both Indianapolis and Tennessee closed the season with seven straight losses.
Houston wasn’t a viable option at all last year. There hasn’t been much else that has happened that will provide more clarity entering this upcoming season. The defending champions, the Jaguars, have a promising young quarterback but will have to prove the foundation they laid last season is sustainable this year. Houston and Indianapolis could both be starting rookie quarterbacks. Once again, whichever team wins the division will be the one that can produce the longest string of consistent play.
No Urban Led to More Jacksonville Success
The Urban Meyer era lasted less than one full season in Jacksonville, but the Jaguars demonstrated what having a competent coach can do for a franchise. Former No. 1 pick and Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence saw his passing yards increase and the number of touchdown passes double under coach Doug Pederson. After a slow start to the year, things started to click in midseason and the Jaguars were able to make a run at the playoffs.
Jacksonville didn’t want to waste the momentum from last season’s surge. The Jaguars brought in veteran wide receiver Calvin Ridley to give Lawrence another target in the passing game. Ridley had been out of the league for a season after being forced to serve a year-long suspension for gambling on sports.
Jacksonville did lose offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor and pass rusher Arden Key in free agency. The Jaguars’ biggest free agent addition was signing kicker Brandon McManus. Reception to Jacksonville’s draft was lukewarm. The Jaguars traded away two of their first-round picks and drafted Oklahoma offensive tackle Anton Harrison to try and fill the void of Taylor’s departure.
Tennessee is Hanging on to a Not-So-Successful Core
The Titans have found immense success riding running back Derrick Henry. But Henry is now 29 and has a lot of miles on his tires. Tennessee may not be able to count on the same level of production from Henry, who has produced four 1,000-yard seasons in the past five years.
What has been more confusing about the Titans is their dedication to keeping quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the fold. Tannehill, a former first-round pick by the Miami Dolphins, fell out of favor with fans two seasons ago following a disastrous performance in the playoffs. Last year, Tannehill was hampered by injuries and missed a significant portion of the season.
The Titans did dedicate the first portion of the draft to improving their offense. Tennessee grabbed quarterback Will Levis, originally thought to be a first-round prospect, in the second round. The Titans also added offensive tackle Peter Skoronski and running back Tyjae Spears to provide more punch in their pursuit of the AFC South crown.
Indianapolis is a Disaster
Two years after leading the league with 1,811 rushing yards, Colts running back Jonathan Taylor is looking for a road out of town. Indianapolis fell apart last season, and an attempt to bring in veteran quarterback Matt Ryan couldn’t right the ship. So now, the Colts are seeking a way to rebuild their offense under first-year coach Shane Steichen.
Indianapolis took a step toward that goal during the draft. The Colts went out on a limb and took Anthony Richardson, who played at Florida in college. Richardson was regarded as a raw prospect, as he didn’t get much playing time with the Gators. During his college career, Richardson only made 13 starts. Indianapolis has veteran Gardner Minshew as a backup plan.
Taylor’s future is in question, and this is a dark cloud over Indianapolis. This will likely end up being a transition year for the Colts unless they have some of their draft picks hit big. Indianapolis took a number of defensive players to try and shore up that side of the ball. Indianapolis may have its eyes on the future. The Colts will have $78 million of cap space available for next season.
Indianapolis does have some solid pieces and could be competitive in the AFC South this season if things bounce the right way. Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner leads a solid defense. The Colts are hoping that former three-time All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard can return to form. Leonard has struggled with injuries over the past three seasons.
Houston Looking Toward the Future
The Texans have named quarterback C.J. Stroud, the number No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft, as the starting quarterback. This is an important step for Houston, which had previously been thrown into chaos by the controversy surrounding quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Stroud should have time to grow into the position, as Houston will likely not have the rookie under much pressure to produce results. The Texans also had the luxury of having two top-five picks and hoped they drafted a cornerstone for their defense. Houston took Alabama pass rusher Will Anderson Jr., who many people believed was the best defensive player available in this year’s draft.
This will be an interesting challenge for first-year coach DeMeco Ryans. Ryans will be Houston’s third head coach in as many years. David Culley and Lovie Smith only lasted one year apiece. The Texans took the opportunity to add some depth in their secondary by bringing safety Jimmie Ward on board. Houston will have veteran quarterback Case Keenum to fall back on to help spell Stroud.
The Texans also brought in some veteran players to help out with Stroud’s development. Houston signed veteran tight end Dalton Schultz away from the Dallas Cowboys. Schultz has been in the NFL for five years and caught 20 touchdown passes.