With training camps and the 2021 season rapidly approaching the NFL, all 32 teams are coming just weeks away from taking the first significant steps toward quests for a Super Bowl ring.
The only way to even have a chance to sniff a Super Bowl appearance, of course, is by advancing through the playoffs. And the most surefire way to earn a trip to the postseason is by strengthening advantages over interdivisional rivals.
As a way to break down those possible advantages, or disadvantages, the Jacksonville Jaguars will face in their quest for an AFC South title in 2021, we will continue the 'State of the AFC South' series to answer important questions about all four teams in the south.
First, we take a look at one of the most important factors facing every team each season: Who are the most important rookies?
These won't be based on the draft slots, even if most are the first player drafted by the team. Instead, it is on how important that rookie is to their respective team's 2021 success. With this in mind, here are our picks for the most important rookies inside the AFC South this season.
QB Trevor Lawrence (Round 1, No. 1 overall)
Was there ever any doubt? The Jaguars trotted out three different quarterbacks last season, leading to a stagnant offense and a debacle of a season. The Jaguars finished 1-15 in large part due to the worst quarterback situation in the NFL. As a result of the Jaguars' three-headed monster at quarterback last season, the Jaguars made Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence the No. 1 overall pick in April, with the hope that the long-haired gunslinger would be able to quickly lift the Jaguars out of irrelevancy.
Lawrence has yet to be named by the Jaguars as the team's official starting quarterback, but there is zero doubt that he will take the team's first snap under center in Week 1 -- along with every other snap in 2021 as long as he is healthy. The Jaguars picked five players in the top-65 (and nine overall), but the others pale in comparison to Lawrence's importance. He will hold the success of the Jaguars' offense, and the season in general, in his hands from the first snap of the first game.
EDGE Kwity Paye (Round 1, No. 21 overall)
There is no question the Colts entered this offseason with a dire need to improve their pass-rush. Their top edge rusher from a year ago, Justin Houston (9.5 sacks) became a free agent in March and the Colts needed to add an infusion of young edge talent to build toward the future while helping to replace Houston at the same time. The Colts did just that in Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye, making him the second edge rusher draft this April.
While Paye wasn't overly productive at Michigan (11.5 career sacks, only one season with more than 2.0), his athletic traits are off the charts. Paye has the tools to be a dynamic pass-rushing threat off the edge and he isn't as far off as many would think, in large part because the Colts will actually let Paye pin his ears back and fly upfield on a consistent basis, something he didn't do at Michigan.
"It was really easy because his energy – you always look for guys who pop. Do they pop on tape when you're watching – all 22 of them – who pops off the tape? And Kwity pops off the tape," Colts general manager Chris Ballard said this offseason via Colts.com.
"One, with his athleticism and his speed but also with his effort. This kid, he already plays the way we want to play. He is going to fit in pretty quickly. I know our defensive players were pretty excited. I heard from a few of them."
OT Dillon Radunz (Round 2, No. 53 overall)
When the Titans selected Georgia right tackle Isaiah Wilson at No. 29 overall in the 2020 draft, they had visions of him holding down the tackle spot opposite of Taylor Lewan for years to come. Instead, Wilson played just three snaps all season as he battled countless off-field issues, including being suspended for violating team rules and being arrested for drunken driving. As a result, Wilson's time with the Titans last just one season and the club needed to find a new long-term answer at right tackle to replace him both in 2021 and beyond.
The Titans hope to have done just that by drafting North Dakota State offensive tackle Dillon Radunz at No. 53 overall. Radunz was selected at the end of a run on offensive tackles in round two, being picked after Teven Jenkins, Liam Eichenberg, Walker Little, and Samuel Cosmi. Radunz will be expected to step into the Titans' starting lineup from the jump as the offense hopes to not miss a beat following the subtractions of Arthur Smith, Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith.
Titans' first-round pick Caleb Farley was considered, but the Titans have other cornerbacks who can step into 2021 roles in Janoris Jenkins and Kristian Fulton, while fellow 2021 draft pick Elijah Molden only adds to the group. The Titans don't have that same kind of depth at right tackle, leading to Radunz being their most important rookie in 2021.
QB Davis Mills (Round 3, No. 67 overall)
It remains to be seen who will actually take snaps under center for the Houston Texans this season. Deshaun Watson requested a trade months ago and has made no sign that he wants to go back on that decision, while over 20 civil cases were filed against Watson this offseason due to allegations stemming from Watson's conduct during massage sessions. Whether Watson faces discipline from the league remains to be seen.
The Texans could start veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor in Week 1, but chances are that Taylor -- just as in years past -- will simply hold onto the job for just a few weeks before losing it to a younger draft pick. In this case, it would be Stanford quarterback Davis Mills. The former five-star recruit completed 129 of 195 passes for 1,508 yards and seven touchdowns with three interceptions last season and is the Texans' best hope at developing a quarterback until next season. The Texans had a small draft class due to a lack of picks, but Mills likely would have gotten the nod here either way due to his status as a quarterback on a team that currently doesn't really have one.