Texans & AFC South: Who Are The Impact Newcomers?
Which new players across the AFC South landscape made the biggest impacts for their respective teams in NFL Week 1?
High draft pick? Big-name free agent? Trade acquisition? Under-the-radar guy? Our SI beat writers in the AFC South take a look at the newcomers who made themselves known in Week 1 - whether for positive or negative reasons.
After the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted a franchise-record 12 rookies but only signed a handful of free agents, it was clear the Jaguars' most important new addition would be a rookie. This became even clearer after a Week 1 performance in which cornerback CJ Henderson, the No. 9 overall pick in April's draft, became the difference between a Jaguars win or loss.
Henderson was unsurprisingly thrust into a starting role early on as a rookie, but more importantly he faced a stiff test in his NFL debut. It's hard for most cornerbacks to stick with T.Y. Hilton for four quarters, let alone a rookie in his first-ever NFL game. But that's just what Henderson did in Sunday's 27-20 upset win, recording three pass breaking a (including the game-clinching one against Hilton on fourth down) and an interception.
Aside from Henderson's smoothness in coverage and several pass breakups, he also came up big on two tackles in space on separate third downs. He made big plays when Jacksonville's defense needed them the most, and frankly nobody really knew which defender would be providing those plays this year. Through one week, it has been Henderson.
Henderson's rookie year is obviously far from complete, but he got off to a fast start in Week 1. Without him, the Jaguars probably end up losing against the Colts. To be the deciding factor in your first NFL game is one thing, but to do it in the manner Henderson did is even more special.
-- John Shipley, JaguarReport
Stephen Gostkowski’s debut with the Tennessee Titans certainly was a memorable one. Even if it was a night he would rather forget.
The four-time Pro Bowler’s 25-yard field goal with 17 seconds to play was the 10th game-winning kick of his career, his first in 23 months.
It was the difference in the Titans’ 16-14 victory at Denver. It also came after he missed four times – three field goals and an extra-point – earlier in the contest. According to Next Gen Stats, the odds that he would miss the kicks he did in a single game were 1 in 1,804.
Gostkowski, who signed with the Titans just before the start of the regular season, was wide right from 47 yards in the first quarter, and Denver took a 7-0 lead on the ensuing possession. His 44-yard try in the final minute of the first half was blocked. His 42-yard kick missed left early in the third quarter. When his PAT early in the fourth quarter missed left, the Broncos scored on their next drive and took a 14-13 lead.
While it was an unprecedented performance for Gostkowski, the issues were nothing new for the Titans. They had four kickers combine to make eight of 18 field goal tries last season.
What is notable is that coach Mike Vrabel gave him the opportunity to attempt the last one with the game on the line. It speaks to the trust he has in his one-time teammate with the New England Patriots and – prior to Monday, at least – one of the NFL’s five most accurate field goal kickers. At a point last year, Vrabel likely would have decided the only way to win that game was with a touchdown.
“We'll get this stuff fixed,” Vrabel said. “We've got a lot of faith in our players.”
-- David Boclair, AllTitans
Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor didn’t enter Sunday’s 27-20 opening loss at Jacksonville until the second quarter after Marlon Mack ruptured his right Achilles tendon, and because the Colts struggled to establish the run and relied on passing, the second-round selection’s rushing numbers of nine carries for 22 yards didn’t impress.
But Taylor caught six passes for 67 yards, including a 35-yard screen in which he showed his speed to run away from two tacklers, then his power by pushing tacklers about 7 yards after contact at the end. It was a glimpse of what the Colts hope to see more of and will need, now that Mack has been placed on injured reserve and Taylor is the Week 2 starter.
Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and quarterback Philip Rivers were the splash offseason additions, and both had mixed results. As expected, Buckner saw a lot of double teams. He had six total tackles, one for a loss, but by his own All-Pro standards, Buckner conceded he needs to have more of an impact. Rivers passed for 363 yards, relying mostly on 17 completions to running backs, but he threw two bad interceptions that were reminiscent of many of his 20 picks with the L.A. Chargers last season.
Expect Buckner to be the No. 1 key addition to this team by season’s end, but after one game, Taylor’s importance has risen dramatically because of the loss of Mack. The Colts were seventh in rushing last season, but managed just 88 yards on 22 carries in Week 1. Head coach Frank Reich admitted that one of his mistakes was not calling more run plays and getting into a rushing rhythm. That means Taylor should get more carries on Sunday at home against Minnesota.
-- Phillip B. Wilson, AllColts
Week one was a rough one for the Texans, facing the defending super bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night football. However, there were some bright spots for Houston, most notably in their latest Addition, David Johnson.
Johnson was a controversial addition to the roster, coming over from the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for fan-favorite wide receiver and future Hall of Famer, DeAndre Hopkins, along with a second-round and a fourth pick in 2021.
On paper, Johnson did fill a major hole for the Texans, who have struggled to run the ball for much of Bill O’Brien’s tenure, though his injury issues were also well documented.
Through camp, he was also one of the team's most consistent performers, proving to the coaching staff that he was worth parting ways with a receiver of Hopkins’s caliber.
Fast forward to the season opener, and Johnson was arguably the Texans best offensive performer, carrying the ball 11 times for 77 yards and one of the Texans two touchdowns in the loss. Johnson also had three catches for 32 yards in the game.
Was it the most explosive or eye-popping performance? Certainly not. But Johnson did provide one of the more consistent rushing attacks the Texans have seen in some time, which bodes well for the team heading into a brutal second week matchup against the Baltimore Ravens.
-- Matthew Galatzan, Texans Daily