AFC South: The Top WR Targets For Texans - And The Rest

Inside the AFC South: Projecting The Top Pass-Catching Targets For The Houston Texans - And Their Divisional Competition
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Our outstanding SI.com’s colleagues covering the Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans team up with TexansDaily.com at SI to bring you ... The Top Pass-Catching Targets For The Houston Texans - And Their Divisional Competition ...

TENNESSEE TITANS

It is not just that A.J. Brown led the Titans in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in 2019 that make him the most likely to do so in 2020. It is how he got to the top of those lists that make a repeat seem inevitable.

From Week 7 on, when Ryan Tannehill took over as Tennessee’s starting quarterback, Brown was one of the NFL’s most productive receivers. He caught 38 passes for 778 yards and six touchdowns in those final 10 games. He ranked seventh in the NFL for yards, tied for seventh in touchdown catches and averaged better than 20 yards per reception over that span.

In short, Tannehill helped bring out the best in the rookie wide receiver. The quarterback got a big contract extension during the offseason and is unquestionably the man in charge for 2020, which is good news for the 2019 second-round pick out of Ole Miss.

Brown was targeted 61 times in the 10 games Tannehill started, which was 19 more than any of his teammates. He had more than twice as many receiving yards as anyone else on the offense as well as more receptions and more touchdown catches.

Now that Brown and Tannehill have a full offseason and training camp (such as they have been in the year of COVID-19) to work together there is no telling what they might accomplish over 16 games of a regular season. It is safe to say, however, that there is no one more likely to be the Titans’ top target in the passing game than Brown.

-- David Boclair, AllTitans

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

The answer for who will be Jacksonville's top passing-game target this season is clear for the first time in several years. From the jump, DJ Chark is "the man.''

As a Pro Bowler last year, Chark recorded 73 catches for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns, all career-highs for the 2018 second-round draft pick. Chark displayed the ability to win as a downfield threat against tight coverage, in the middle of the field and in the red zone. He was truly Jacksonville's best offensive player by a long-shot, and it'd be surprising if that type of production was not repeated in 2020.

While there are other talented players in the receivers room, Chark’s role shouldn't diminish. Chris Conley, Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, Laviska Shenault and Collin Johnson will likely take snaps from one another, but not from Chark, who is simply the most talented offensive player the Jaguars have, and new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has already remarked about the type of weapon he is.

Add the fact that Chark led all Jaguars' receivers in targets with 118 last year despite dealing with an ankle injury over the last quarter of the season, and it is hard to imagine he doesn't continue his tenure as Jacksonville's top wide receiver.

-- John Shipley, JaguarReport

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

A series of offseason moves have raised Colts expectations for this season, but if this is going to be a legitimate playoff team, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has to stay healthy and put up the numbers that have made him a four-time Pro Bowl star and one of the NFL’s speediest deep threats.

The Colts expect others to share the pass-catching workload — most notably rookie wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., a second-round pick, and free-agent tight end Trey Burton.

But Hilton is still the key. Since his third-round selection in 2012, the Colts are 1-9 when he has been sidelined by injuries. He missed six games due to a calf injury in 2019, and the Colts lost five of them. Hilton finished with a career-low 501 receiving yards and tied his previous low of 50 receptions, previously set in his rookie year when he started only once.

The 30-year-old is entering a contract year and says this next deal will be his last, and that he would like to be a “Colt for life.” General manager Chris Ballard is expected to ante up if Hilton is himself again, which is to say the player who before 2019 had season-long catches ranging between 63 and 87 yards. He’s caught 45 career touchdown passes, but just five last season. He has 552 career receptions for 8,598 yards in the regular season, and 45 receptions for 749 yards and three TDs in eight playoff games.

There’s no question Hilton needs to be the Colts’ No. 1 target. And Hilton needs to be to ensure he gets paid and stays put.

-- Phillip B. Wilson, AllColts

HOUSTON TEXANS

The Texans’ stunning offseason trade of All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a 2020 fourth-round pick to Arizona for running back David Johnson, a 2020 second-round selection, and 2021 fourth-round pick leaves an immense void in Houston’s pass-catching group.

The plan is to make up for Hopkins’ gaudy contributions — 632 receptions for 8,602 yards and 54 TDs in seven seasons — by a committee that includes journeyman Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller V, and Kenny Stills. But that sure seems easier said than done, when considering quarterback Deshaun Watson’s favorite target has been a First-Team All-Pro star the past three years and selected to four Pro Bowls.

Fuller would seem to be the most likely beneficiary of Hopkins’ subtraction, but he’s had trouble with drops as well as staying healthy — he’s already missed 22 games – and finished last season with just 49 catches for 670 yards and three TDs in 11 games.

But he'll have help.

READ MORE: Houston Icon Andre Johnson Leaving Texans Staff

The Texans traded to acquire Cooks and a 2022 fourth-round pick. In six seasons, Cooks has 402 receptions for 5,730 yards and 34 TDs. But he’s coming off a career-low 42 receptions for 583 yards and two TDs in 14 games with the L.A. Rams, which made him expendable.

While Stills should also play a more prominent role after catching 40 passes for 561 yards and four TDs in his first season with the Texans, his best year in seven seasons was 63 catches for 931 yards and three TDs with New Orleans in 2014.

Despite bouncing around so much, Cooks had a career-high 84 receptions with the Saints in 2015 and career-best 1,204 receiving yards with the Rams in 2018. Houston needs health and bounce-back years from a couple of guys ... with Fuller a leader in the competition to lead this challenging endeavor of replacing Hopkins by committee.