One player can change an NFL franchise in an instant.
Teams may find generational talents early in the first round of the NFL Draft. They also might hit on long-time starters late on Day Three. The hope with every selection is that the franchise changes for the better.
A week removed from the 2021 NFL Draft, let’s take a look at what prospects from each AFC South team might just torment the division this season, as well as for years to come.
Tennessee Titans: Elijah Molden, DB, Washington.
Tennessee utilized this year’s draft to continue the offseason overhaul of its defense, and the most notable pick came at No. 100 in Molden. Some would expect first-round selection Caleb Farley to be on this list, and though his talent deserves it, there are too many questions surrounding his health and the relatively recent switch to the defensive side of the ball.
Meanwhile, in Molden, the Titans found a supposed “Jedi in the slot” as described by ESPN’s Louis Riddick. And Pro Football Focus’ Anthony Treash believed that Molden’s talent should have made him a second-round pick, based on the fact that Molden received the highest slot coverage grade in the PFF era.
There is no way around it. At slot corner, Molden can have a lasting impact defensively in the AFC South. The experts touted this pick as a steal, and Titans fans should be excited with what he has to offer.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson.
This one is a no-brainer. The Jaguars knew for months leading up to the draft that they were taking Lawrence No. 1. And with that selection comes the expectation that he will change the look – and the fortunes – of that franchise.
There should be confidence in Lawrence’s ability to be a generational talent because his well-analyzed résumé speaks for itself. He led Clemson to a national championship as a true freshman in 2018. His 34-2 (.94) career record as a starter at Clemson is the third-highest winning percentage by a quarterback with 30 or more starts in the Division I era since 1978.
On Day One, he’s getting the keys to the car. It’s time to see if he can drive it at an NFL level. However, don’t be surprised if Lawrence is torching AFC South defenses for a decade to come. His talent boasts that ability - clearly.
Indianapolis Colts: Kwity Paye, Edge, Michigan.
At pick No. 21, the Colts addressed their drastic need for pass rush help in Paye. After the departure of Justin Houston to the Chiefs in free agency, it’s assumed that Paye will eventually – perhaps immediately – fill that role.
He may be a little raw when it comes to counter moves, but Paye sets the edge well. And that will give him ample time to play on early downs as he works to develop a complete pass-rush arsenal.
Already, the Colts are relying on the development of guys like Kemoko Turay and Ben Banogu, but with Paye in the mix that defensive unit now has a chance of truly providing consistent pressure from the edge.
Houston Texans: Nico Collins, WR, Michigan.
With the Texans’ second pick in the draft (third round, 89th overall), they selected Collins; a 6-foot-4 receiver with good speed coupled with the adept ability to get separation.
Will Fuller’s departure in free agency (he signed with Miami) opens an opportunity for Collins to get playing time instantly. In three years played at Michigan, he amassed 1,388 yards and 13 touchdowns. His best year was 2019, when he recorded 729 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 19.7 yards per catch.
Houston’s wide receiving core already has Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb, but needed someone to be a deep threat on the opposite side of Cooks. Collins has the potential to be that and so much more.