The AFC South rarely gets labeled as one of the NFL's most talented divisions, in large part because there is always a mess going on somewhere among the four teams. But despite this, the division still features a ton of talent, many of who get overlooked.
In this week's edition of Inside AFC South, the network's team of publishers breaks down the most overlooked players of each team through the first 12 weeks of the 2020 season.
It's easy to be overlooked when you’re 4-7, so finding a Houston Texan who fits this bill isn’t tough.
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Offensively, Deshaun Watson and Will Fuller draw all the plaudits, and rightly so particularly given their recent performances. However, one starter whose been consistent all season has been right tackle Tytus Howard.
The second-year former first-round pick was an All-Rookie last year despite only playing in eight games before injury hit. Returning to start this season, he’s played 99% of Houston’s offensive snaps, allowing just two sacks.
He still has a way to go if he’s to hit the heights of his opposite number Laremy Tunsil, but so far this season he has nullified the likes of Jadeveon Clowney and shown he can be relied upon in the long run.
Looking to the defense, and 2020 has been a breakout year for one veteran. Linebacker Tyrell Adams started the year backing up Benardrick McKinney, however, went on injured reserve after Week 4 ... Adams got his chance, and he’s run with it.
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At 28, he’s been in the league since 2015 after going undrafted out of West Georgia. Bouncing between the Seahawks, Chiefs, Raiders, Bills, Colts, 49ers, and Texans ever since, he’d only made 21 regular-season appearances prior to 2019.
Now a starter alongside Zach Cunningham, Adams has compiled 79 tackles, three defended passes, and a sack this year. Against the Detroit Lions, he had a standout game, recording two forced fumbles and a single-game franchise record-tying 17 combined tackles.
Houston will have a big decision to make after this season having invested so heavily in both Cunningham and McKinney, with Adams making a solid case to become a long-term starter.
One final player who deserves a shoutout is fellow linebacker Nate Hall. An undrafted free agent who spent time with the Cowboys and Bills in 2019, he’s bounced back and forth from the practice squad to the active roster this season before they permanently signed him during Week 11.
For the first time in his career he played defensive snaps tallying in the double-figures (11) against the Lions and it paid off enormously. He recorded two sacks and a forced fumble on his Thanksgiving debut, giving Houston another young option at linebacker moving forward.
-- Anthony Wood, Texans Daily
While Jacksonville's 2020 defense has been clearly less than stellar, there have still been some bright spots. Players who are having good seasons but are being overlooked due to their unit failing to meet expectations or even standards. Two players especially worth mentioning are the safety/cornerback tandem of Jarrod Wilson and Sidney Jones.
Wilson is in his second season as Jacksonville's starting free safety, but 2020 has been quite different than his first season. He played every single defensive snap in 2019 and showed promise, but 2020 has seen him miss four games. Despite the injuries, Wilson has shown in his six games this year that he has taken the next step needed for him to go from average defender to playmaking defender. This year, he has recorded just 30 tackles and one interception, but his play has far outshined his production. The tape shows he has been a versatile defender capable of making plays in the box or in space, something the Jaguars badly needed.
Jones, meanwhile, is in his first season with the Jaguars. He bottomed out after three years with the Eagles, but the former second-round pick has adapted to the Jaguars' defensive scheme like a glove and has been Jacksonville's best cornerback this season. He leads the team in interceptions and pass deflections and had one of the best performances of any cornerback in 2020 in Week 5 against Houston.
Jacksonville's defense is historically bad this season and as a result, it can be easy to miss the good things some of their players are doing. Wilson and Jones are playing the best ball of their career and they should be recognized as such.
-- John Shipley, JaguarReport
Nate Davis deserves a nod because he is the Titans’ only Week 1 starter on the offensive line who has not dealt with some sort of injury issue this season.
The second-year right guard has done much more than show up for each of the 10 games to date, however. He has played well and – at times – has been dominant in the run game. Even more notable is the fact that, according to Pro Football Focus, he has not allowed a sack thus far in 2020. In 2019, opposing defenders beat him a team-high eight to get to the quarterback.
Davis has uncommon quickness for a guy who is 6-foot-3, 318 pounds and has quickly settled in as a classic offensive lineman, a guy who nobody notices because the man he blocks does not often show up on the stat sheet.
Another who deserves mention is second-year safety Amani Hooker. He leads Tennessee with three interceptions despite the fact that he has played more than 25 snaps on defense just twice. He got his third last Sunday, when he made his first career start in place of injured Kenny Vaccaro.
Then there is Anthony Firkser, who has 29 receptions, fourth overall among the Titans and one fewer than fellow tight end Jonnu Smith, who has made his share of headlines this year. Among Tennessee players with at least 10 receptions, Firkser’s 74.4 catch percentage is tops, and his 19 first downs (65.5 percent of his catches) are third on the team.
-- David Boclair, AllTitans
Defensive tackle Grover Stewart sensed he needed to shape up before his fourth NFL season to improve his stamina and snap count. The 27-year-old Georgian shed 37 pounds to get down to 308. And the difference has been noticeable as he’s enjoyed his best season.
The 2017 fourth-round selection out of Albany State has 31 total tackles, including 20 solos, in 10 games. That’s already more than his previous best last season, when he amassed 27 tackles in 16 games.
“I felt that if I lost weight that I could move quicker and still have my strength,” Stewart said in a recent Zoom video call. “I always want to move like a little guy – always consider myself small, so losing weight was a big thing for me. I gained muscle and dropped a lot of fat, so I really helped myself out in the long run.”
His emergence should prove to be lucrative after the season. Stewart is in a contract year, and would like to stay put.
Before the season, the Colts had several contract-year players that would need to be addressed. Stewart wasn’t high on that list, at least not then. The Colts made Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly the highest-paid player at his position with a $50-million extension just before the regular season began. Since then, several Colts looking to get paid have fallen down the list, either due to season-ending injuries (running back Marlon Mack, safety Malik Hooker) or underwhelming production (wide receiver T.Y. Hilton).
Playing alongside All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in the NFL’s No. 2 defense, it might be easy to overlook the understated, hard-working Stewart. But he’s made people take notice.
-- Phillip B. Wilson, AllColts