In a new installment on State of the Texans, each week, a new topic of discussion will be covered regarding the AFC South. With the help of SI.com's Phillip B. Wilson of All Colts, John Shipley of Jaguar Report, and David Boclair of All Titans, the group will cover the AFC South and help with a complete view of the division.
In the inaugural edition of Inside the AFC South, the critical factor of the quarterback is discussed.
For the Houston Texans, Deshaun Watson is the longest-tenured quarterback of the division and, in our estimation, the most talented. With the Tennessee Titans believing in Ryan Tannehill and the Jacksonville Jaguars seeing what Gardner Minshew can be their starter, the Indianapolis Colts made a veteran splash bringing in Philip Rivers.
Here is a complete look at the AFC South's quarterback situations entering the 2020 season.
Inside the AFC South: The Quarterback Situations
The Texans are the one team in the AFC South with the longest-tenured quarterback in Deshaun Watson, and now they are trying to tie him up for the long term. The unquestioned starter since 2017, the Texans are 24-13 in his regular-season appearances and 1-2 in three playoff appearances with Watson.
Watson has shown big-play ability, and now with speed arriving with new receivers and well-rounded running backs, the offense is being built around his strengths. Watson was top-5 in deep ball rate and tied-for second with 11 touchdown passes of 20-plus yards.
Head coach Bill O'Brien called this the "Deshaun Watson era," and now they are building the team around him and his soon to be contract extension.
A.J. McCarron is going in as the favorite to back up Watson for the second season in a row. While Alex McGough will get his first real look when camp arrives to show what he has learned with the Texans. Also, the Texans signed rookie free agent Nick Tiano from UT-Chatanooga.
The Texans are in the best spot in franchise history with Watson at the top of the depth chart.
After continually reiterating their belief in quarterback Jacoby Brissett, the Colts still went out and signed 38-year-old Philip Rivers to reunite him with head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni. Both coaches know Rivers from their days as Chargers assistants in 2013-15.
Mindful of the knock-on Rivers, that he's aging and appears to be lacking arm strength, both Reich and Sirianni have made it a point in conference calls to stress they watched the passer's game film and don't have any doubts about Rivers' ability to make all the necessary throws.
The Colts want to win in 2020 and are paying $25 million to a 16-year pro to play smart in an offense built to simplify what he must do. The offensive line is one of the league's best, and quite an upgrade from what Rivers had in L.A., where he was under constant pressure and reverted to his gunslinger ways with forced throws, hence 20 interceptions in 2019.
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Wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and running back Jonathan Taylor were drafted in the second round to ensure Rivers will have enough weapons. Perhaps most importantly, the Colts will look to establish the run with a rushing offense that ranked seventh last year.
All that said, Rivers might be "one and done" with the Colts. He says he would like to play more than one year, but Rivers isn't going to get paid like this again unless he has an impressive season. - Phillip B. Wilson, All Colts
After Gardner Minshew II outdid all possible expectations for a sixth-round rookie in 2019, the Jaguars are rolling the dice on him as the starter in 2020 in hopes he can take the next step and give the team a cost-controlled long-term option. Whether Minshew's play will justify that decision won't be known until the Jaguars actually take the field, but the Jaguars have made it clear they see Minshew as the best possible option to be their signal-caller.
Nick Foles was given the largest guaranteed contract in March 2019 but that deal predictably backfired. The Jaguars paid a career journeyman like a franchise quarterback and it went even worse than most expected, with Foles only appearing in four games with the Jaguars. The decision to trade him and his bloated contract in favor of starting the young and ascending Minshew was the right decision since Minshew outplayed Foles at every stop in 2020, but if it is a decision that leads to wins is a whole other question.
The Jaguars opted to not pursue Cam Newton or Jameis Winston in free agency, instead signing the non-threatening Mike Glennon as a backup. Minshew is the guy for the Jaguars in 2020. Beyond that? It is anyone's guess. - John Shipley, Jaguar Report
There is no question the Tennessee Titans are better at quarterback than they have been in years. The final 10 games of the 2019 season and the postseason run that ended with a loss to Kansas City in the AFC Championship proved that.
At issue is whether Ryan Tannehill – now one of the NFL's 10 highest-paid quarterbacks – can be as good in 2020 as he was after he unseated Marcus Mariota.
The age of analytics has added the phrase "regression to the norm" to the sports lexicon and Tannehill's numbers last season far exceeded what he had done in the previous seven seasons (all with Miami). It seems impossible for him to replicate them, particularly his 70.3 completion percentage and 9.6 yards-per-attempt average.
What Tannehill, who will turn 32 about the start of training camp, can maintain is his ability to read defenses prior to the snap and get to an appropriate audible, and to provide leadership that challenges and motivates his teammates. He was undeniably better at both than his predecessor.
What he absolutely cannot do is get hurt. Neither of the other two quarterbacks on the roster has played in an NFL regular-season game. - David Boclair, All Titans
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