Early in its history, the AFC South was one of the best divisions in the league. That hasn’t held true recently, as Indianapolis, Tennessee, and Jacksonville all took collective steps backwards. But now, that could be about to change. It’s now a division with three young quarterbacks: Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert, Tennessee’s Jake Locker, and of course Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck.
It’s a division full of young talent and should be interesting to watch over the next several seasons. Indianapolis is just starting it’s rebuilding process, but Tennessee appears to be nearing the end of theirs. Jacksonville’s rebuilding effort is in full swing as well. Did each team perform well enough in the draft to make those efforts a success? Did Houston reload well enough that they’ll stay on top of the division for another season?
26. Whitney Mercilus, linebacker, Illinois
68. DeVier Posey, wide receiver, Ohio State
76. Brandon Brooks, offensive guard, Miami (OH)
99. Ben Jones, center, Georgia
121. Keyshawn Martin, wide receiver, Michigan State
126. Jared Crick, defensive tackle, Nebraska
162. Randy Bullock, kicker, Texas A&M
195. Nick Mondeck, offensive tackle, Purdue
Analysis: Houston’s draft is a hard one to get a feel for. On the one hand the Texans made good decisions taking value over need with several selections. On the other, when they did address needs, it felt like they took some huge reaches.
Whitney Mercilus, while he doesn’t fill a huge need, will fit nicely as a pass rusher in Houston’s defense. Don’t read much into the fact that Brandon Brooks wasn’t invited to the combine. He may have played at a small school, but he’s a big time player and a tremendous value in the third round. The biggest value for the Texans was drafting Jared Crick in the fourth round. He’s a player similar to J.J. Watt, and in spite of some health concerns he could even be a starter in 2012.
When the Texans looked to address their biggest need, wide receiver, is when problems began to arise. Neither DeVier Posey nor Keyshawn Martin were very good values, and they don’t appear to be players that will add anything to Houston’s offense that they don’t already have. Houston got great value elsewhere, but not addressing wide receiver in a better manner hurts their overall grade.
1. Andrew Luck, quarterback, Stanford
34. Coby Fleener, tight end, Stanford
64. Dwayne Allen, tight end, Clemson
92. T.Y. Hilton, wide receiver, Florida International
136. Josh Chapman, defensive tackle, Alabama
170. Vick Ballard, running back, Mississippi State
206. LaVon Brazill, wide receiver, Ohio
208. Justin Anderson, offensive tackle, Georgia
214. Tim Fugger, defensive end, Vanderbilt
253. Chandler Harnish, quarterback, Northern Illinois
Analysis: The Colts have a tremendous rebuilding process ahead that will last several years ahead of them. Fortunately, they started that process with one of the best classes in the draft.
Drafting Andrew Luck was, in reality, a no brainer; he’ll provide Indianapolis with great quarterback play for the foreseeable future. The rest of the AFC South groaned when the Colts drafted Luck’s favorite college target Coby Fleener, creating a duo that could rival the Peyton Manning – Dallas Clark connection that had plagued their division for years. Adding Dwayne Allen to that mix allows the Colts to employ the two tight end package that Luck is most comfortable in. T.Y. Hilton give Indianapolis a dangerous weapon both as a kick returner and as a slot receiver, something they haven’t had in recent memory.
If there are any complaints to be had with the Colts’ draft, it was the lack of attention given to the defense. They’re transitioning to a 3-4 defense, and they needed to add some players to help with that transition. And while they didn’t add many players on the defensive side of the ball, they did add the most important part of a 3-4 defense; Josh Chapman was one of the better nose tackles in the draft, and he’ll be the starter from day one.
5. Justin Blackmon, wide receiver, Oklahoma State
38. Andre Branch, defensive end, Clemson
70. Bryan Anger, punter, California
142. Brandon Marshall, linebacker, Nevada
176. Mike Harris, cornerback, Florida State
228. Jeris Pendleton, defensive tackle, Ashland
Analysis: If Indianapolis had one of the best performances in the draft, Jacksonville had one of the worst. Throughout the draft their war room showed little composure and made panicked moves on the first two days of the draft.
The first blunder was trading up in the draft to select Justin Blackmon. The Jaguars’ offense already has a plethora of complimentary receivers, and is in desperate need of a true #1 threat. Unfortunately, Blackmon doesn’t have the size, speed, or hands to be a primary threat and won’t do much to help Blaine Gabbert more than the receivers he already had.
The trade up also left Jacksonville without a fourth round pick, causing them to panic and draft a punter, Bryan Anger, a round earlier than they had planned to. And while the fourth round is probably too early to draft a punter as well, taking one in the third is laughable and a horrible value.
The only pick that stands out in a positive manner is Andre Branch. He’s one of the better pass rushers in the draft, and you’d expect him to beat out Aaron Kampman or Matt Roth sooner than later. Neither Mike Harris nor Jeris Pendleton should be expected to make any impact on the 2012 season or beyond.
20. Kendall Wright, wide receiver, Baylor
52. Zach Brown, linebacker, North Carolina
82. Mike Martin, defensive tackle, Michigan
115. Coty Sensabaugh, cornerback, Clemson
145. Taylor Thompson, tight end, Southern Methodist
190. Markelle Martin, safety, Oklahoma State
211. Scott Solomon, defensive end, Rice
Analysis: For years, the Titans have undervalued the wide receiver position. That’s not the case anymore, as the addition of Kendall Wright gives Jake Locker another first round receiver to go with Kenny Britt. Those three, along with Chris Johnson, Nate Washington, Jared Cook and Damian Williams leaves Tennessee with the potential to have one of the most explosive offenses in the league. That’s not even considering what Taylor Thompson, who is transitioning to tight end from defensive end, could bring to the offense in the red zone.
Zach Brown is widely bashed for his lack of physicality, and for good reason. He has never played with a particularly tough style, but in the Titans’ system the weak side linebacker doesn’t need to be overly physical. He's a very risky pick, but the scheme fit in Tennessee is as good as he could find anywhere in the league.
Markelle Martin was widely regarded as one of the three best safeties in the draft before a knee injury damaged his stock. He’s a developmental prospect at this point, but in the sixth round he’s a great value and could grow into a starter in a year or so.