The 10 most important players on every AFC South team

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Thursday June 8th, 2017

A quality quarterback can carry a team a long way in the NFL, but teams carry 53 players for a reason: QBs can’t do it alone. So, with the draft and the heart of free agency in the rearview mirror, we’re asking the question: Who are the 10 most important non-quarterbacks on each NFL roster?

We polled writers from SI and The MMQB to find some answers. Each writer was assigned to a conference and asked to rank players, for every roster, 1-10. Those players then were given points consistent with their positioning—a first-place vote worth 10, second-place worth nine and so on.

Next up is the AFC North, with the following pollsters: Ben Baskin, Chris Burke, Robert Klemko, Bette Marston, Eric Single.

The 10 most important players on the Houston Texans

1. DE J.J. Watt (49 points)
2. WR DeAndre Hopkins (35)

3. DE Jadeveon Clowney (31)
4. RB Lamar Miller (29)
5. OT Duane Brown (22)
6. LB Benardrick McKinney (17)
7. CB Johnathan Joseph (15)
8. LB Whitney Mercilus (14)
9. CB Andre Hal (11)
10. WR Braxton Miller (nine)

Another team within a whisker of a unanimous No. 1. The lone vote keeping J.J. Watt from that honor came from the Single ballot, which led with Jadeveon Clowney and had Watt at No. 2. Clowney and DeAndre Hopkins each received a pair of second-place votes.

Lamar Miller’s name appeared on all five ballots—he climbed as high as No. 3 (Burke), but a lone 10th-place vote (Marston) prevented him from moving ahead of Clowney overall. The next skill position player in line was Braxton Miller, courtesy of a top-five ranking (Klemko) plus the No. 8 ranking on Baskin’s ballot.

Bette Marston defends her 10th-place vote for Lamar Miller: Last season, Lamar Miller got the opportunities on the field that he had been denied in Miami, but he still wasn’t that great, racking up 1,073 rushing yards and six total touchdowns. It’s no secret that the defense has been the focal point in Houston for the last several seasons, so that combined with an uninspiring debut from Miller explains why I only ranked him No. 10 on my list. The Texans can get slightly above-average production from plenty of running backs.

Other Texans receiving votes: OT Chris Clark (eight points); CB Kareem Jackson (seven); LB Brian Cushing (six); CB Kevin Johnson, WR Will Fuller (four); TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, DT D.J. Reader, LB Sio Moore (three); C Nick Martin, G Xavier Su'a-Filo (two); S Eddie Pleasant (one).

The 10 most important players on the Indianapolis Colts

1. WR T.Y. Hilton (36 points)
2. T Anthony Castonzo (29)
3. CB Vontae Davis (27)
4. DT Johnathan Hankins (19)
5. DE Jabaal Sheard (18)
6. C Ryan Kelly (16)
7. S Malik Hooker (15)
8. T Le’Raven Clark (14)
9. WR Donte Moncrief (12)
10. RB Frank Gore (11)

Five ballots, five different No. 1 picks. T.Y. Hilton (Marston), Anthony Castonzo (Baskin), Jonathan Hankins (Burke), Donte Moncrief (Klemko) and Vontae Davis (Single) all claimed a single vote atop the Colts’ poll. It was Hilton’s consistent presence near the top—he also finished No. 2 or No. 3 on three other ballots—that pushed him into the lead.

Four members of Indianapolis’s offensive line received votes, led by Castonzo and Ryan Kelly—the latter picked up third- and fifth-place nods. Not among those linemen included on the ballots was starting guard Jack Mewhort, who ended last season on injured reserve.

Eric Single defends his fifth-place vote for TE Jack Doyle: I guess you could say that the Colts grow productive tight ends on trees, but Doyle’s rapport with Andrew Luck seems especially critical this year with Dwayne Allen off to New England, which bumped long-term project Erik Swoope into the No. 2 TE role. After finishing second on the team only to T.Y. Hilton in targets, catches and receiving yards, Doyle’s value to the Indianapolis offense is inching towards Coby Fleener territory.

Other Colts receiving votes: LB Erik Walden, WR Phillip Dorsett (nine); S Mike Adams, LB D'Qwell Jackson, TE Jack Doyle, OL Denzelle Good (eight); S Clayton Geathers, CB Quincy Wilson, LB John Simon (six); LB Sean Spence (four); K Adam Vinatieri (three); DE Kendall Langford (two); RB Robert Turbin (one).

The 10 most important players on the Jacksonville Jaguars

1. WR Allen Robinson (35 points)
2. RB Leonard Fournette (27)
T-3. CB A.J. Bouye (23)
T-3. CB Jalen Ramsey (23)
T-3. DE Dante Fowler (23)
T-6. DT Calais Campbell (20)
T-6. DE Yannick Ngakoue (20)
8. LT Branden Albert (19)
9. DT Malik Jackson (15)
T-10. LB Paul Posluszny (13)
T-10. LB Myles Jack (13)

Allen Robinson scored two first-place votes and a second-place vote. Leonard Fournette was in the top five on three separate ballots, maxing out at No. 2 (Burke). Without impressive seasons from both players, the Jaguars’ chances of being competitive would be slim, so the Robinson-Fournette 1-2 is by the book.

The voting was wide, wide open beyond that. Jalen Ramsey (Burke) and Dante Fowler (Klemko) each walked away with a No. 1 vote, while A.J. Bouye had a No. 2 (Baskin) and No. 3 finish (Single) to his credit. The fifth of five first-place votes fell to Calais Campbell (Single), who also added a separate top-three spot but missed out on two other ballots.

Myles Jack held off Telvin Smith for the final spot in the top 10. Was Smith overlooked? He only made it onto two ballots, topping out at No. 3.

Chris Burke defends his second-place vote for Leonard Fournette: Blake Bortles deserves a lot of blame for Jacksonville’s offensive issues in recent seasons, but let’s not pretend the run game scared opposing defenses. If Fournette is all the Jaguars believe he can be, it would take this offense to another level.

Other Jaguars receiving votes: LB Telvin Smith (12); S Jonathan Cyprien, T Jermey Parnell (seven); WR Allen Hurns (six); S Tashaun Gipson (five); WR Marqise Lee (three); T Cam Robinson (two); C Brandon Linder, S Barry Church (one).

The 10 most important players on the Tennessee Titans

1. LT Taylor Lewan (33 points)
2. WR Corey Davis (31)
3. RB DeMarco Murray (29)
4. TE Delanie Walker (26)
5. RT Jack Conklin (23)
6. DT Jurrell Casey (22)
7. LB Brian Orakpo (21)
8. CB Logan Ryan (20)
T-9. LB Derrick Morgan (16)
T-9. CB Adoree' Jackson (16)

As relatively even a split on the voting as any team has received so far—Taylor Lewan’s 33-point total is the lowest number for a No. 1 player. Lewan did land a first- (Burke), second- (Single) and third-place vote (Baskin), but he also slipped into the bottom half of the top 10 on the other ballots.

Corey Davis led the way for the Titans with two first-place votes (Baskin and Single), while Adoree' Jackson (Klemko) and DeMarco Murray (Marston) each had one. Jackson’s highest finish aside from his No. 1 vote was at No. 8, twice (Burke and Baskin), and he also was left off the top 10 twice.

Burke defends his ninth-place vote for Corey Davis: I’m all aboard the Davis bandwagon, but the Titans’ offense revolves around the run game. If Davis has a few down weeks, they can survive; if a defense stuffs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, it’s going to be a significant issue.

Other Titans receiving votes: WR Rishard Matthews (14 points); LB Avery Williamson (nine); S Kevin Byard (six); S Johnathan Cyprien (four); LB Wesley Woodyard (three); CB Brice McCain (one).

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