NFL DRAFT

How did the rest of the AFC South fare in round 1?

The Titans, led by Marcus Mariota, picked up an impact player. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

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.

 

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Yordan Alvarez came up big in Game 5. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Astros can win the pennant Friday night. Can't dangle the carrot any closer in front of the face than that. Taking the last two games at Fenway Park has the Astros in excellent position, but any notion that a third American League championship in five years is now inevitable, is silly. The Astros are probably 80 percent or better to advance, but of course the Red Sox could win games six and seven at Minute Maid Park à la the Nationals in the World Series two years ago. The Astros had all the momentum after winning three straight in D.C., came home for the coronation, and pfffft. You have momentum...until you don't. It's nothing to bank on. The Red Sox had all the "mo" after clobbering the Astros in games two and three of this AL championship series. Then Jose Altuve crushed the eighth inning tying home run in game four, ahead of the seven run volcanic eruption of a ninth inning. Nine more Astro runs later in game five, and here we are.

One key distinction that makes the Astros hand look stronger up 3-2 now than vs. the Nats, the Red Sox don't have Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer ready to pitch. Like Framber Valdez vs. Chris Sale in game five, game six is another starting pitching rematch. Alvin native Nathan Eovaldi grossly outpitched Luis Garcia in game two. We'll see if Sox manager Alex Cora winds up regretting even more using Eovaldi to start the fateful game four ninth inning. Eovaldi only threw 24 pitches, but three nights later we'll see what and how much he has in the tank.

After pitching horribly against the White Sox and then the Red Sox, and then citing a sore knee, Luis Garcia is his own huge question mark. So was Valdez before Wednesday spinning one of the great postseason pitching performances in Astros' history. Framber was awful in each of his first two postseason starts, absolutely magnificent in cruising through eight innings in game five. Should the Sox force Game Seven, Valdez certainly is a relief option on two days rest. Jose Urquidy would start, opposite Eduardo Rodriguez in a game three rematch.

Valdez and the Astros hope his next outing is Tuesday night in game one of the World Series. Ideally, at Minute Maid Park against the Atlanta Braves. Alas, the defending champion Dodgers remain alive and kicking, having won their fourth do or die game already in this postseason to send the National League Championship Series back to Atlanta. Now, if somehow we knew as fact that the Astros are going to win the World Series, I'd estimate approximately 99 percent of Astros' fans would prefer to beat L.A. Since we don't know that the Astros are going to win it all, getting the Braves would be more favorable for the Astros, if for no other reason than the Astros would get home-field advantage. Should the Braves make it, among other factoids Charlie Morton would be in his third World Series with three different teams in the last five seasons (Astros in 2017, Rays last year, Braves this). If the Braves can close out the Dodgers Saturday, Morton is Atlanta's likely game one starter at MMP. Provided the Astros are the AL Champs of course.

Watt a matchup for the Texans

The Texans play at Arizona Sunday. Yeah, and? You imagine that J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins find the two team's current situations amusing? The Texans are a 1-5 stink bomb that will keep on stinking. The Cardinals are 6-0 and an emerging Super Bowl contender. While Deshaun Watson continues collecting about 600 thousand dollars per week to do nothing (and waiting to become a Miami Dolphin?), Kyler Murray has made the leap to upper echelon NFL quarterback.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Decisions, decisions. Astros-Red Sox game 6 or Rockets home opener vs. Thunder. Tough call?

2. The Rockets will regularly be overmatched and probably lose 55 games or more again this season. At least they have young talent to offer some hope. The Texans presently have near nothing.

3. Best 2021 Astros' postseason journey signature food: Bronze-Atlanta/Los Angeles, anything? Silver-Chicago, deep dish pizza Gold-Boston, lobster roll

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