M-FANS 2018 Season Preview: AFC South

The summer is beginning to draw to a close, and soon, temperatures and leaves will begin to fall. The NFL preseason is currently underway, and true NFL football is nearly here. Welcome to M-FANS 2018 Season Preview, where our staff of talented University of Michigan student writers will share their insight into the NFL’s 32 teams and top players as we get ready for the kickoff of the regular season. Today, we take a look at the AFC South, possibly the best division in the NFL entering 2018 as they have four potential over-.500 teams. Enjoy!

By Zane Harding, Matthew Jo, and AJ Janetzke

Jacksonville Jaguars

By Zane Harding

2017 Record: 10-6 (1st in AFC South)

Projected 2018 Roster

Coaching Staff
HC – Doug Marrone
OC – Nathaniel Hackett
DC – Todd Wash

Projected Offensive Starters
QB – Blake Bortles
RB – Leonard Fournette
WR1 – Keelan Cole
WR2 – Dede Westbrook
WR3 – Donte Moncrief/Marqise Lee
TE – Austin Seferian-Jenkins
LT – Cam Robinson
LG – Andrew Norwell
C – Brandon Linder
RG – A.J. Cann
RT – Jeremy Parnell

Projected Defensive Starters
DE – Calais Campbell
DE – Yannick Ngakoue
NT – Marcell Dareus
DT – Malik Jackson
WLB – Telvin Smith Sr.
MLB – Myles Jack
SLB – Leon Jacobs
CB1A – Jalen Ramsey
CB1B – AJ Bouye
CB3 – D.J. Hayden
FS – Tashaun Gipson Sr.
SS – Barry Church

Projected Special Teams Starters
P – Logan Cooke
K – Josh Lambo
PR – Jaydon Mickens
KR – Marqise Lee
LS – Carson Tinker

Other Notable Players
DE – Dante Fowler Jr.
DT – Taven Bryan (29th Overall Selection)

Season Preview

The Jaguars made a splash this offseason as they gave Andrew Norwell a five year, $66.5 million deal to make him the highest paid guard in the league. The Jaguars finished middle-of-the-pack as an offensive line last year (ranked 15th by Pro Football Focus), and adding an 88.8-grade guard like Norwell should help immensely. The team also snatched tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins away from the Jets and signed Donte Moncrief away from the Colts. Sure, the team lost Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns in their receiving corps, and they lost linebacker Paul Posluszny to retirement and cornerback Aaron Colvin to free agency, but the additions outweigh the departures.

Jacksonville was the talk of the NFL last year. After finishing 3-13 in yet another miserable season back in 2016, the Jaguars roared back in 2017 (pun not intended) for a 10-6 season and an AFC South title on the back of their vaunted secondary, led by cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. The Jaguars then won an ugly 10-3 wildcard game against the Buffalo Bills and a wild 45-42 victory over the Steelers in which Jacksonville nearly let Pittsburgh come back from a 28-7 deficit in the first half. From there, the Jaguars nearly defeated the New England Patriots for a trip to the Super Bowl but surrendered 14 fourth-quarter points to Tom Brady in a 24-20 loss.

While the Jaguars fell short of the promised land last year, they are primed for an even stronger season than last year. The team is stockpiled with offensive weapons. Leonard Fournette posted 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns in his rookie campaign, while Keelan Cole posted 99-yard, 186-yard, and 108-yard games from week 14 to 16 last year. The team already has one of the best centers in the NFL in Brandon Linder and, as mentioned, added Andrew Norwell in free agency. Cam Robinson had some rookie-year struggles, but Reddit user /u/JaguarsGator9 considered him the team’s second-best offensive lineman last year, so it’s hard to question Robinson too hard.

If the Jaguars offense is “good” on paper, then the Jaguars defense is “really really really good.” Their defensive line is extremely deep, as Calais Campbell posted 14.5 sacks in 2017 while Yannick Ngakoue was a Pro Bowler with 12 sacks and Dante Fowler Jr. posted eight sacks of his own. That’s 34.5 sacks between three defensive ends. The defensive tackle depth is awe-inspiring, as Malik Jackson, Marcell Dareus, Abry Jones, and Taven Bryan are all players capable of starting in the NFL. This team retained its entire defensive line. Sorry to the AFC and the NFC East in advance.

Finally, we must highlight the best one-two cornerback punch in the NFL: Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Sure, they have to play DJ Hayden, who did not prove himself enough as a Detroit Lion to warrant another deal with them, but that matters much less with Ramsey and Bouye holding down the fort. The linebacking and safety corps are quite not on par with the defensive line or the cornerbacks, but make no mistake: this defense is frightening. Don’t be surprised when the Jaguars are the best team in the AFC and sacking their way to the Super Bowl.

Predicted Record: 13-3 (ヽ༼ຈل͜ຈ༽ノ Raise Your Bortles ヽ༼ຈل͜ຈ༽ノ)

 

Tennessee Titans

By Matthew Jo

2017 Record: 9-7 (2nd in AFC South)

Projected 2018 Roster

Coaching Staff
HC – Mike Vrabel
OC – Matt LaFleur
DC – Dean Pees

Projected Offensive Starters
QB – Marcus Mariota
RB – Dion Lewis
RB – Derrick Henry
FB – Anthony Firkser
WR1 – Corey Davis
WR2 – Rishard Matthews
WR3 – Taywan Taylor
TE – Delanie Walker
LT – Taylor Lewan
LG – Quinton Spain
C – Ben Jones
RG – Josh Kline
RT – Dennis Kelly

Projected Defensive Starters
LE – DaQuan Jones
DT – Jurrell Casey
NT – Bennie Logan
LOLB – Derrick Morgan
LILB – Wesley Woodyard
RILB – Will Compton
ROLB – Brian Orakpo
CB1 – Malcolm Butler
CB2 – Adoree` Jackson
CB3 – Logan Ryan
FS – Kevin Byard
SS – Kenny Vaccaro

Projected Special Teams Starters
P – Brett Kern
K – Ryan Succop
PR/KR – Adoree` Jackson
LS – Beau Brinkley

Other Notable Players
RT – Jack Conklin (Active/PUP list for torn ACL)
ILB – Rashaan Evans (22nd overall selection in NFL Draft)
OLB – Harold Landry (41st overall selection in NFL Draft)

Season Preview

After Marcus Mariota helped orchestrate a second miracle for Music City, the Titans’ new playoff hopes came crashing down to an end against the Patriots empire.  Now, the 2017 AFC Wildcard team looks to strike back as they overhauled the entire coaching staff and brought in talented players to pair with them. Tennessee only lost bruiser DeMarco Murray to retirement, backup QB Matt Cassel (who so far has not impressed in the preseason), mid-tier safety Da’norris Searcy, and special teamer Eric Weems.  I don’t know what Jedi mind tricks they used, but the Titans found a way to entice defensive talents such as Malcolm Butler and explosive weapons like Dion Lewis away from the dark side.

The draft saw this team trade away picks in order to acquire Alabama linebacker Rashaad Evans in the 1st and Boston College edge rusher Harold Landry in the 2nd.  Both were thought to be instant impact players, but it does not look like either will start the season as a starter. This does, however, mean that the Titans look like they will have some defensive depth this year.

Matt LaFleur’s offensive history speaks for itself.  #1 ranked in scoring offense last season with the Rams, LaFleur will have a myriad of tools to work with in order to return this team to the playoffs.  Mariota is coming into his own as the leader of this team. The twin terrors in the backfield, Dion Lewis, and Derrick Henry, provide a powerful one-two punch for the rushing attack.  And they have a top 5 offensive line to hold up the trenches. On top of all this, Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews have shown flashes of elite abilities, and Delanie Walker is hyper-consistent; the receiving corps should be able to work wonders this year.

On the flip side, Tennessee also added top-tier talent defensively.  Malcolm Butler came to join his fellow former Patriot in the secondary, Logan Ryan.  Although starting safety Jonathan Cyprien has been ruled out for the entire 2018 campaign, the additions of Butler and Kenny Vaccaro in the secondary should help improve the passing defense as the team ranked in the bottom five in pass yards allowed last season.  Meanwhile, the run defense last year was tremendous and will be a force to be reckoned with as Jurrell Casey leads the charge. If this Dean Pees defense resembles the continued successes of his Baltimore defenses, the rest of the AFC South better watch out.

Predicted Record: 10-6

Players to Watch

Marcus Mariota

This is Mariota’s team.  The coaching staff has completely turned over and is set on scheming for the centerpiece of their offense.  The days of stubborn Mularkey are behind us; now, the fourth-year quarterback will have much more freedom to let loose and show the world why he was drafted as the future of this franchise.  He still has to work on his TD-INT ratio, but his athleticism and arm have the propensity to propel this team forward.

Corey Davis/Derrick Henry

Last season, Davis was plagued by injuries and did not have a real chance to prove his worth.  However, the divisional round game against the Patriots showed us what he is truly capable of as he reeled in both of the Titans’ touchdowns, one of which was a spectacular one-handed grab.  His physicality and route running abilities will lend to a breakout year for the sophomore receiver. Alongside Davis, I have Derrick Henry pegged as another breakout star. Running in the shadow of DeMarco Murray for two years, Henry will finally have the chance to silence the chatter.  This offense is ready to explode with such young studs.

Kenny Vaccaro

Right as the preseason was kicking off, Tennessee lost its starting safety Jonathan Cyprien.  This hole was quickly filled by the signing of ex-Saint Kenny Vaccaro who has had an up-and-down career in New Orleans.  The former first-round pick has never had a stellar defensive cast around him, so a fair evaluation cannot be made solely based on statistics.  However, Vaccaro will need to improve his coverage skills in order to keep up with opposing receivers. Hopefully, the Titans take advantage of his ability to make tackles and fly to the ball carrier.

 

Indianapolis Colts

By AJ Janetzke

2017 Record: 4-12 (3rd in AFC South)

Projected 2018 Roster

Coaching Staff
HC – Frank Reich
OC – Nick Sirianni
DC – Matt Eberflus

Projected Offensive Starters
QB – Andrew Luck
RB – Marlon Mack
WR1 – T.Y. Hilton
WR2 – Ryan Grant
WR3 – Chester Rogers
TE – Jack Doyle
LT – Anthony Castonzo
LG – Quenton Nelson (sixth overall selection)
C – Ryan Kelly
RG – Matt Slauson
RT – Austin Howard

Projected Defensive Starters
DE – Jabaal Sheard
DE – Tarell Basham
DT – Margus Hunt
DT – Al Woods
MLB – Anthony Walker Jr.
WLB – Darius Leonard
SLB – Najee Goode
CB1 – Quincy Wilson
CB2 – Kenny Moore II
SS – Clayton Geathers
FS – Malik Hooker

Projected Special Teams Starters
P – Rigoberto Sanchez
K – Adam Vinatieri
KR – Chester Rogers
PR – Nyheim Hines
LS – Luke Rhodes

Other Notable Players
TE – Eric Ebron
DE – Kemoko Turay
CB – Pierre Desir

Season Preview

The Indianapolis Colts are coming out of a disappointing 4-12 season, primarily due to quarterback Andrew Luck missing the entire year. In fact, Luck has not played a game since New Year’s Day 2017. For those of you who are still wondering why Andrew Luck disappeared for two years, let’s take a peek back. First, he hurt his shoulder back in 2015 but kept playing. Then, it wasn’t until the second game of the 2016 season that he re-injured his shoulder and had to get surgery. Originally, he was expected to return for the 2017 season, but to play it safe, Luck sat out the remainder of the season, and Jacoby Brissett was called on to lead the charge. That’s right: one year, Brissett was the third-string QB behind Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo on the Patriots, and the next, he is the starting QB for the Colts. He threw for 3000 yards with 14 touchdowns, which is nothing to write home about, but under the circumstances, he did not play horribly. Going into the 2018 season, Luck is expected to be ready to go, but on the off chance that he is not, Brissett is a very solid backup quarterback, especially with the experience he got out of last year.

This offseason, the Colts have also moved on from former head coach Chuck Pagano and have brought in Frank Reich, former Offensive Coordinator for the Super Bowl-winning Philadelphia Eagles. (Sure, they were supposed to get Josh McDaniels, but hey, classic Bill Belichick.) The Colts also brought in new offensive (Nick Sirianni), defensive (Matt Eberflus), and special teams (Bubba Ventrone) coordinators. While the team gained three new coaches, they did unfortunately and unexpectedly lose a key player from their 2016 defense who was slated to return this season. On February 4th, 2018, linebacker Edwin Jackson was riding in an Uber which was hit by a drunk driver, killing Jackson. At age 26, he was on the rise to make an impact on the defense, but the Colts will have to overcome this tragedy.

The main place the Colts stocked up this offseason was in the draft. They had a modern-day record 11 picks in the draft (and will have nine or ten picks in next year’s draft already). With the 6th overall pick, they went with the incredible Quenton Nelson, a generational talent of a left guard out of Notre Dame. Nelson and Luck could be reminiscent of the Tom Brady and Logan Mankins duo if they stick together in the coming years. Next, the Colts had four second-round picks. They made the most of them. First, they filled a major need at linebacker with Darius Leonard. Next, they further bolstered the offensive line with guard Braden Smith (yes, they took two guards with their first three picks). Then, they took former two former Big Ten defensive lineman: Rutgers defensive end Kemoko Turay and Ohio State defensive tackle/end Tyquan Lewis. They picked a running back (Nyheim Hines) and wide receiver (Reece Fountain) next in the 4th and 5th rounds, respectively. (Hines may make an impact with his elite speed, but Fountain likely won’t start week one despite a need at wide receiver.) The Colts rounded out their draft with wide receiver Deon Cain in the sixth round and linebackers Matthew Adams and Zaire Franklin in the seventh round.

The Colts still have one glaring issue: their receiving corps. Sure, T.Y. Hilton is a capable top wide receiver, but then things fall off a cliff. Their #2 WR is Ryan Grant, who has not started eight or more games in his entire six-year career. Their third wide receiver is Chester Rogers, who is the only other receiver on the team with any experience playing with Luck. They decided to not re-sign Donte Moncrief, who is now on the Jaguars, which could come back to bite them if T.Y. has to take on practically the full responsibility for the Colts passing game.

Despite the potential receiving woes, however, this is a vastly improved team in Indianapolis. Andrew Luck is a massive upgrade over Jacoby Brissett, the offensive line has skyrocketed from Pro Football Focus’s 25th-best line at the end of 2017 to its 17th-best with their draft picks, and the team addressed *most* positions of need in the offseason. The Colts will be good this season. Will they be good enough to win this extremely competitive division, however? Probably not.

Predicted Record: 7-9

Players to Watch

T.Y. Hilton

In 2016, T.Y. raked in 1448 yards, the 58th-highest of all time on the list of most receiving yards in a single season. He fell off slightly in 2017, but that was without Andrew Luck. With Luck back, T.Y. will most likely get back to a 1000 yard-plus season and be a bigger threat to opposing defenses.

Marlon Mack

Mack received limited action last season, but the 2017 fourth-round pick did get his name out there. He did not start any of the team’s 14 games, but managed to post three touchdowns on 93 rushing attempts, and posted an approximate value (AV) of 4. This is nothing to write home about, but hey, Eagles running back Jay Ajayi only posted an AV of 2 in his 2015 rookie season and broke out the next year. Watch out for Mack this season.

Nyheim Hines

Hines sees himself at 4th on the RB depth chart. Injuries have plagued the Colts and Hines could potentially get some playing time this year. He is a rookie drafted in the 4th round out of NC State. He has flashed elite speed throughout training camp, per Reddit’s Offseason Review of the Colts, and once he gets used to the flow of the NFL, I think he will become a valuable asset to the Colts franchise.

 

Houston Texans

By Matthew Jo

2017 Record: 4-12 (4th in AFC South)

Projected 2018 Roster

Coaching Staff
HC/OC – Bill O’Brien
DC – Romeo Crennel

Projected Offensive Starters
QB – Deshaun Watson
RB – Lamar Miller
FB – Jay Prosch
WR1 – DeAndre Hopkins
WR2 – Will Fuller
WR3 – Braxton Miller
TE – Ryan Griffin
LT – Julie’n Davenport
LG – Senio Kelemete
C – Nick Martin
RG – Zach Fulton
RT – Seantrel Henderson

Projected Defensive Starters
LE – J.J. Watt
RE – Christian Covington
NT – D.J. Reader
SLB – Whitney Mercilus
MLB – Benardrick McKinney
WLB – Zach Cunningham
JACK – Jadeveon Clowney
CB1 – Aaron Colvin
CB2 – Johnathan Joseph
CB3 – Kevin Johnson
FS – Kareem Jackson
SS – Tyrann Mathieu

Projected Special Teams Starters
P – Shane Lechler
K – Ka’imi Fairbairn
PR – Will Fuller
KR – Tyler Ervin
LS – Jonathan Weeks

Other Notable Players
OT Martinas Rankin (80th overall selection in NFL Draft)
WR Keke Coutee (103rd overall selection in NFL Draft)
RB D’Onta Foreman (Active/PUP List)

Season Preview

After a disappointing season chock-full of injuries and losses, Houston is fired up and ready to bounce back.  With the only departures of note being Brian Cushing and C.J. Fiedorowicz, the Texans made waves in free agency with a multitude of moves.  With signings and re-signings such as Tyrann Mathieu and Johnathan Joseph, this already-stacked team somehow found a way to keep their stars and improve on top of that.

The front office did not have much to work with come draft time, having no picks in the first two rounds.  However, this draft class still saw many players who could have an impact sooner rather than later. All three third-round picks (S Justin Reid, OT Martinas Rankin, and TE Jordan Akins) are entrenched as backups for now and add depth to the roster, and the fourth-round WR Keke Coutee has a chance to earn lots of reps in the slot.  Overall, this draft offers more flexibility across the team to rotate the rest of the roster in.

The offense is gearing up to explode as Deshaun Watson returns from injury.  Last year, the rookie quarterback showed electric flashes – even going toe-to-toe against the GOAT Tom Brady and Belichick’s Patriots.  The main concern is the offensive line as none of them have played a full season for the Texans organization. The backfield looks promising with the trio of Miller, Blue, and Foreman – last season saw them put Houston in the top half of the league in rushing.  If everyone on this offense can stay healthy, especially Watson, this could be a dangerous team.

Romeo Crenell’s defense has been consistently ranked at the top of the league when taking away last season’s NFL-worst scoring defense.  Superstar pass rushers J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney hope to finally have a full healthy season together leading the front seven and the secondary seems to be improved – the additions of Honey Badger and Aaron Colvin will help to boost the 23rd-ranked passing defense from last year.  Again, IF the defense can stay healthy, this will be a top 5 unit in not only the AFC but the entire NFL; this is a Super Bowl-caliber team.

Predicted Record: 11-5

Players to Watch

Jadeveon Clowney

This former first overall pick had his breakout season last year after constant battle with injury.  Now, this physical freak is poised to prosper as the team’s premier pass rusher. The return of J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and the rest of this monstrous defensive front will help open up opportunities for this talented young stud.  Watch for Jadeveon to be clowning the rest of the AFC South.

Tyrann Mathieu

A former all-pro, Houston found the steal of free agency in Mathieu.  The Honey Badger has a knack for finding the football and will bring some sorely-needed coverage skills to this piss-poor pass defense.  What stands out is his ability to play at almost any defensive position on the field – put him at free safety, strong safety, slot corner, or nickelback – he can do it all.  Mathieu in conjunction with this Houston defense looks to have a career year.

 

D’Onta Foreman

Foreman is on his way back from injury, and he will have a crowded backfield to fight for touches.  But the flashes he showed last season prove to me that this sophomore is ready to dominate on the ground.  His ability to make defenders miss and still utilize his big body is the ideal build for a modern-day running back.  If Lamar Miller goes down, Foreman could be in for a huge workload.



Categories: 2018 Season Preview

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: