There is a new blindside protector in the AFC South.
After weeks of speculation about how exactly the Indianapolis Colts, who may be the favorites to be the winner of the Jacksonville Jaguars' division this year, would fill their vacancy at left tackle, the Jaguars' bitter rivals did just that on Monday by signing former No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher to be their starting left tackle.
Fisher is now the third former first-round pick who is slated to start at left tackle in the AFC South, joining Taylor Lewan and Laremy Tunsil. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have two top-45 picks in Cam Robinson and Walker Little waiting in the wings.
With the Colts now upgrading their own offensive line via a one-year deal with Fisher, we figured it would be worth taking a look at where the Jaguars' left tackle situation compares to the rest of the AFC South.
Is the duo of Little and Robinson enough to give Jaguars fans optimism for 2021, or is the adding of Fisher a guarantee the Jaguars will have the worst left tackle situation in the AFC South? We examine below.
Starter: Cam Robinson.
Backup: Walker Little.
The Jaguars don't have the largest investment at left tackle in the division since Tunsil and Lewan are two of the highest-paid left tackles in the entire NFL, but they aren't exactly skimping either. The Jaguars placed the franchise tag on fifth-year left tackle Cam Robinson in March, guaranteeing him $13,754,000 and another crack at the Jaguars' starting left tackle job.
Robinson, however, has found the least amount of success of any starting left tackle in the division. He has started 47 games, but according to Sports Info Solutions, he allowed 11 sacks (1.8 sack percentage) and 31 blown pass blocks. Fisher allowed more blown pass blocks but allowed six fewer sacks, while Tunsil allowed three sacks and 16 blown pass blocks. Lewan, meanwhile, is a three-time Pro Bowler and an established left tackle.
Robinson has talent but he so far has yet to put together a complete season at left tackle in terms of production. The Jaguars will once again be asking for him to step up and develop into a quality left tackle, but the past evidence has suggested the Jaguars likely won't see it.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars do have a young and talented tackle waiting to take over for Robinson in the future with 2021 second-round selection Walker Little. Little was a star high school recruit and excelled as a true freshman before being named All-Pac-12 first team as a sophomore in 2018. He has played only one game in the last two seasons due to a knee injury in 2019 and opting out due to the pandemic in 2020, so some patience and projection are required.
Starter: Eric Fisher.
Backup: Sam Tevi.
The Colts had a few different chances to land a left tackle throughout this offseason, but they instead opted to go the path of finding a post-draft free agent addition in Eric Fisher. It remains to be seen whether Fisher is actually healthy enough to start the 2021 season after suffering a torn Achilles in the AFC Championship game on Jan. 24. The fact the Chiefs felt comfortable with moving on from Fisher at the end of the 2020 season despite their dire need for offensive line help following a beatdown in the Super Bowl says a lot.
With this in mind, Fisher is a multiple-time Pro Bowler who has frankly been one of the most underrated left tackles in the NFL over the last several years. It took him a few seasons to settle in as Kansas City's blindside tackle, but the last several highs showed a steady and reliable starter. If he can get back to his healthy form, he is likely a better left tackle option in 2021 than Robinson, though it remains to be seen whether he can truly get to 100%.
Still, it should be noted the Colts are hanging their hat on a currently-rehabbing left tackle when they had other options, passing on Christian Darrisaw in the first round and Brady Christensen in the second round. Fisher is a good player when healthy, but it is still a gamble for a team that had the resources to find a safer option.
Behind Fisher, the Colts have fifth-year veteran Sam Tevi, who started 14 games at left tackle for the Los Angeles Chargers in 2020. Tevi may be the Colts' starter in the first few weeks of the season if Fisher isn't healthy, but he is a replacement-level tackle.
Starter: Taylor Lewan.
Backup: Paul Adams.
The Titans are in an interesting spot at left tackle. In terms of talent and production, Lewan is up there with Tunsil as the top left tackles in the AFC South and two of the best in the entire AFC. Lewan is a consistent performer who has thrived in both the running and passing aspects of the Titans' physical offense, and he truly sets the tone for their offensive line.
With that said, Lewan is another player who will be coming back from injury. He sustained a torn ACL in a Week 6 game against the Texans, leading to him missing the rest of the 2020 season as the Titans made a playoff run and fought all year with the Colts for first place in the AFC South.
Essentially, the Titans have a bit of both worlds at left tackle. Like the Colts, they have a left tackle who will be fresh off an injury. But, like the Texans, the Titans have one of the more talented left tackles in the NFL. Lewan has been a reliable contributor and blindside protector when on the field, so it may just be a matter of him adjust back to his prior form.
Starter: Laremy Tunsil.
Backup: Roderick Johnson.
Houston is an interesting case study in investing to protect a quarterback. They didn't want Deshaun Watson to get hammered behind one of the NFL's worst offensive lines, leading to them dumping several top-50 picks and a giant contract into former Miami Dolphins left tackle Laremy Tunsil. Has Tunsil been fantastic since? He has. Has the move crippled Houston's ability to build their roster in the ensuing years? It sure has. Overall, the offensive line hasn't improved much, but Tunsil has been a star left tackle during his time in Houston.
Tunsil is the best left tackle in the AFC South entering 2021 considering he started 14 games for Houston last season and isn't fresh off an injury like Fisher and Lewan. And unlike Robinson, Tunsil consistently played at a high level week-in and week-out. Tunsil is a sure thing at left tackle and has been a Pro Bowl selection in each of the last two seasons as a result.
The Texans have lots of problems on their roster, but the left tackle position is essentially the furthest thing from one. Houston overpaid to obtain Tunsil, but he is the best player who is currently set to be on the field for the Texans in Week 1.
It is tough to have a ton of confidence in the Jaguars' left tackle position, at least when compared to the rest of the AFC South. They are one of just two teams returning a healthy starter, but each of the three offensive tackles elsewhere in the division have all simply been more consistent and have played at a higher level.
With that said, the Jaguars have depth at left tackle that no other team in the AFC South has. Walker Little is the only true left tackle prospect among the four teams considering the back up left tackles for the rest of the AFC South are journeyman veterans. If Little can develop like the Jaguars hope, he could lift them out of the final spot in the years to come.