Quickly

  • The Texans and Colts are set to get their star QBs back in the lineup, while the Jagaurs and Titans strengthened their rosters in what's a suddenly formidable division
By Tim Rohan
June 12, 2018

HOUSTON TEXANS

2017 record: 4-12
Crucial veteran additions: S Tyrann Mathieu, CB Aaron Colvin, G Zach Fulton, G Senio Kelemete, OL Seantrel Henderson
Crucial veteran losses: TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, S Marcus Gilchrist, LB Brian Cushing, OT Derek Newton
2018 draft class and grades

What improved?

The defense. The Texans ranked dead last in points allowed per game last season (27.2). Now, not only do they get back a healthy J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, but the Texans add a potential difference maker to their secondary in Tyrann Mathieu. The Texans are banking on Mathieu returning to the elite level he played at in 2015. Last season, Mathieu played 16 games in a season for the first time in his career, which could be a sign he’s fully healthy again.

Mathieu is at his best when he’s used as a chess piece, which means it will be up to defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to unlock his potential. Playing on a one-year deal, Mathieu should be plenty motivated. Aaron Colvin, signed away from Jacksonville to be the team’s new slot cornerback, and safety Justin Reid, a third-round pick, give Crennel two more versatile pieces to play with.

What needs work?

The offensive line. Houston surrendered 54 sacks last season, second-most in all of football. Now that unit will be entrusted with protecting Deshaun Watson, the Texans’ burgeoning franchise quarterback who will be returning from an ACL injury. The stakes for the offensive line could not be higher—and the organization did little to address the position in the offseason.

The Texans brought in a trio of free-agent linemen—Zach Fulton, Senio Kelemete, and Seantrel Henderson—but none are difference makers. Houston didn’t have a first- or second-round pick due to the trade up for Watson and the salary dump of Brock Osweiler; in the third round they snagged Martinas Rankin, who played left tackle at Mississippi State but could play inside in the NFL. The Texans might need him this year, if he develops quickly enough.

What can we expect?

The two most important players on this team—Watson and Watt—are working their way back from serious injuries. Watson showed he could be a transcendent talent over a brief stretch, but it will be interesting to see if a serious knee injury affects the way he plays. The offensive line could have him running for his life. If everything goes right, Houston could compete for a wild-card spot.

Fact/tidbit/piece of news learned from OTAs/minicamp: NFL Network reported that the Texans expect both Watson and Watt to be healthy by training camp. Whether that will be the case remains to be seen, but obviously Houston needs both stars to return as soon as possible.

Best offseason tweet:

Letter grade: C-plus. Though it doesn’t matter. The improvement in Houston will come from the return of injured stars.


INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

2017 record: 4-12
Crucial veteran additions: TE Eric Ebron, WR Ryan Grant, DE Denico Autry, OT Austin Howard, G Matt Slauson
Crucial veteran losses: DT Johnathan Hankins, RB Frank Gore, CB Vontae Davis, CB Rashaan Melvin, WR Donte Moncrief, LB Barkevious Mingo
2018 draft class and grades

What improved?

The offensive line. Finally—finally—the Colts decided to truly invest in an offensive line that can keep Andrew Luck upright. General Manager Chris Ballard traded back three spots in the draft and still picked up Quenton Nelson, the guard from Notre Dame who everyone expects to be a perennial Pro Bowl player. Nelson is the type of mauling guard who could set the tone in Indianapolis for the next 10 years, in the same vein as Larry Allen, Steve Hutchison, or Will Shields.

Then in the second round the Colts drafted Auburn’s Braden Smith, another guard who is expected to start early on. Whenever Luck returns from his shoulder injury, the Colts know they’ll have to protect him at all costs. Nelson and Smith will help do that, while also creating running lanes for whomever emerges as the starting running back.

What needs work?

The offensive weapons around Luck. There’s T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle and … not much else. The Colts let Frank Gore walk this offseason, and that leaves them with Marlon Mack as their most experienced running back. Last year, in a backup role, he showed that he could be a weapon in the passing game and a good change-of-pace back. Maybe Mack will prove that he can carry the load. He and the other backs will get help from that bolstered O-line.

At receiver, the Colts picked up Ryan Grant, formerly of Washington, but only after he failed a physical after agreeing to a deal with the receiver-needy Ravens. The Colts were apparently O.K. with his ankle. Even so, he had only 573 receiving yards for injury-depleted Washington last year. He doesn’t seem to be the type who will draw double teams away from Hilton. Indy also added a dynamic pass-catching tight end in ex-Lion Eric Ebron, though neither he nor Doyle are capable blockers, taking a dimension away from the offense.

What can we expect?

The Colts’ season comes down to whether Luck is healthy. He missed all of 2017 and, after all that, it’s still unclear whether he will be ready to start the season. Even if he does play, how close will he be to his original form? Jacoby Brissett filled in admirably last year and kept the Colts from being completely noncompetitive. Their roster still has plenty of holes—their defense ranked 30th in scoring last year and didn’t add any impact players this offseason. Only Luck, playing at a high level, could help Indy overcome that. The Colts should view this as a rebuilding year, where they get Luck re-acclimated to playing again. Then, maybe, they can compete in 2019.

Fact/tidbit/piece of news learned from OTAs/minicamp: Luck has still not resumed throwing regulation footballs. He threw smaller footballs during rehab, but that’s the closest he’s gotten. After missing the entire 2017 season, he has still not shown that he’s healthy enough to start the ’18 season.

Best offseason tweet:

Letter grade: B. The Colts needed to prioritize keeping Luck healthy, and they did just that.


JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

2017 record: 10-6
Crucial veteran additions: G Andrew Norwell, WR Donte Moncrief, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, CB D.J. Hayden
Crucial veteran losses: WR Allen Robinson, CB Aaron Colvin, WR Allen Hurns
2018 draft class and grades

What improved?

The trenches. The Jaguars made a run to the AFC championship game last season by mauling their opponents en route to a league-leading 141.4 rushing yards per game. So what did they do when free agency opened? They made their strength even stronger, signing ex-Panther Andrew Norwell, considered to be the top guard on the market. Expect to see Leonard Fournette running behind Norwell a lot this season.

Then on draft night, when Florida D-lineman Taven Bryan fell, the Jaguars snapped him up even though they already had a defensive front good enough to earn the “Sacksonville” moniker. Bryan will have the luxury of rotating in as a situational pass rusher as he learns the nuances of the defense. This is a luxury that only good teams can enjoy: Instead of drafting for need, they got the best player available.

What needs work?

The passing offense. The Jaguars extended Blake Bortles’ contract this season, though it’s not a long-term commitment and it’s unclear whether he’s the answer at quarterback. But the Jags saw that there wasn’t a viable alternative out there, and the deal they gave Bortles doesn’t break the bank.

Unfortunately, Bortles might have fewer weapons to work with. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, two former 1,000-yard receivers, left in free agency. The Jags tried to fill in the gaps with Donte Montcrief and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, neither of whom has ever been much of an explosive threat. The Jags might be banking on second-round pick D.J. Chark, the 6' 4" speedster from LSU, developing quickly.

What can we expect?

The Jaguars should be the division favorites. They will follow the same blueprint they did last season, running Fournette down opponents’ throats, playing elite-level defense, and hoping Bortles can just manage the game. The defense and run game is good enough that they could make another run to the AFC title game. They’ll need Bortles to make a marked improvement, though, if they’re going to make a Super Bowl run.

Fact/tidbit /piece of news learned from OTAs/minicamp: Fournette and A.J. Bouye missed part of the OTAs for personal reasons, and Jalen Ramsey missed all of OTAs, opting instead to workout with his father. OTAs are optional, of course, but obviously the Jags would prefer to have three of their best players at offseason workouts.

Best offseason tweet:

Letter grade: B-minus. By strengthening an already good roster, the Jaguars might have enough to take the next step even without upgrading at quarterback.


TENNESSEE TITANS

2017 record: 9-7
Crucial veteran additions: CB Malcolm Butler, RB Dion Lewis, DT Bennie Logan, LB Will Compton
Crucial veteran losses: LB Avery Williamson, WR Eric Decker
2018 draft class and grades

What improved?

The culture. GM Jon Robinson, who built up his résumé in New England, decided to fire Mike Mularkey and bring in Mike Vrabel, the former Patriots linebacker, as head coach. Robinson seems to be trying to replicate The Patriot Way in Tennessee.

In free agency, Robinson then went out and nabbed two ex-Patriots, cornerback Malcolm Butler and running back Dion Lewis. Butler should bolster a pass defense that ranked 25th in the NFL last season, while Lewis should fit nicely in a backfield timeshare with Derrick Henry. He’ll also make life easier on Marcus Mariota as a receiving option out of the backfield. Robinson turned to an old Patriots pipeline in the first round of the draft too, taking Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans. The question will be whether Evans can replace the departing Avery Williamson, who signed with the Jets.

What needs work?

The receiving corps. Mariota regressed statistically last season due, in part, to a lack of help in the passing game. Corey Davis, the No. 5 pick of the 2017 draft, caught 34 passes for 375 yards as a rookie. Tight end Delanie Walker and veteran WR Rishard Matthews gave Mariota two reliable targets, but neither of them is a true No. 1 threat. As a result, the Titans averaged just 212.1 gross passing yards per game, 25th in the league. Robinson did little to address the position, other than letting Eric Decker walk in free agency. He must be hoping that Davis and Taywan Taylor, the Titans’ third-round pick in 2017, take significant steps forward in their second season.

What can we expect?

The Titans’ unlikely run to the 2017 divisional playoffs served as good experience for Mariota and Co., but it might have masked issues Tennessee has on offense. Out goes Mularkey, in comes Vrabel. Robinson did a good job of re-building the culture on the fly this offseason, but it seems as though the Titans are another year away from making a run at the Jaguars. Mariota a year to grow under young offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, and give Robinson another year to add talent to both sides of the ball, and the Titans might be contenders in 2019.

Fact/tidbit/piece of news learned from OTAs/minicamp: Left tackle Taylor Lewan told reporters in late May that there had not been any substantial talks between his camp and the Titans regarding a contract extension. Lewan is entering the final year of his rookie deal and is considered one of the best left tackles in football. If the Titans wait for Lewan to hit the open market, he will likely command a contract in the range of what Nate Solder received this offseason from the Giants.

Best offseason tweet:

Letter grade: B-minus. Vrabel has the pieces he needs on defense, but new coaching staff aside the Titans didn’t get the kind of help Mariota needs.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

You May Like

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)