How did the rest of the AFC South fare in round 1?
With a lack of hometown excitement for the first round of the NFL draft, I figured I would look at how the rest of the division did. The Texans have a lot of starters returning from injury and should be better equipped to handle the lack of high draft picks; but if the competition is getting impact players, it may change the degree of difficulty Houston will have to overcome.
The Colts addressed a major need with a solid choice but didn’t get the impact player to change their fortunes. The Titans got an impact player that could boost their defense and make them a tougher opponent. The Jaguars took a luxury pick that will keep their defense at the top of the league standings.
Indianapolis Colts—Rd. 1 Pick 6: Quenton Nelson, Guard, Notre Dame
This is a solid pick by the Colts because offensive line was a huge need for them. But an interior lineman doesn’t scream drastic improvement. Nelson has what it takes to be an all pro at the next level, it’s just not the expected choice when the tackle position is generally the key for protecting the quarterback. Nelson will help in the trenches and improving the run game will go a long way to furthering the offensive improvement, but the Colts have a lot more needs they will have to address before the impact of this pick is felt.
The Texans lost both games to the Colts in 2017, both were without Deshaun Watson at quarterback. The Colts are a team that has a lot of needs and not nearly as many stars as the Texans. They got away with it last year but with games in week 4 and 14 it might not be the same result. Early in the season the Texans will be coming off gritty games ready to win on the road. The late season game will be during a stretch of games that should see Houston on a roll. Houston should be able to take both games unless the Colts can get more impact players than the top interior lineman.
Tennessee Titans—Rd. 1 Pick 22: Rashaan Evans, Linebacker, Alabama
This is a moment when a team moves up to where value and need meet. The Titans decided they needed to get their guy and they found a willing partner in the Baltimore Ravens, moving up from pick 25 to 22 to get a guy that should be able to start on day 1. He will have to improve on some of the more instinctual aspects of his game but that will come with experience. He has the speed and length that a lot of coaches are looking for in a linebacker and it will give him the ability to be moved all around. That flexibility will be huge for the Titans defense that was No. 4 against the run last year. He has the speed and quickness to make plays all over the field and he adds an additional strength in the pass rush.
This is a solid pick that makes their defense better. The season series was split last year with two very different games. When Houston was healthy, it was a blowout loss for the Titans. Late in the year the Titans had to win a close game they probably shouldn’t have. Getting a playmaker like Evans can be big when playing a mobile quarterback like Deshaun Watson and might force another season split.
Jacksonville Jaguars—Rd. 1 Pick 29: Taven Bryan, Defensive Tackle, Florida
When you play in the conference championship game you have a lot of wiggle room in your draft picks. You can take a guy with first round talent but still in need of a lot of coaching and development. Bryan is one of those players. Already one of the most feared defenses in the league, the Jaguars made sure they got a guy for the future who can still contribute now. He could possibly play inside or out and can be useful in containing a mobile quarterback. He will need to develop more overall but right now his role will be useful in keeping a top defensive line fresh during games.
The Texans lost both games against the Jaguars last year in embarrassing fashion. The only thing that changes that is a full dose of Deshaun Watson. Maybe those games are different if he is playing. But getting speed and depth on defense for a team that already has plenty of it doesn’t bode well for the Texans. The 2 games they play this year could easily be a split. The first game is in Jacksonville near mid-season when both teams will be fighting for every win they can get. They don’t play again until week 17 when playoff spots might be truly on the line.
It wasn’t long ago that the Texans were the most talented team in one of the worst divisions in the NFL. They are still very talented but the Jaguars have now surpassed them and the Titans are right on their level. This will make for one of the most competitive divisions in football. Houston’s new GM Brian Gaine will have to make some wise choices with his later round picks to get the depth needed to stay competitive and make another return to the playoffs.