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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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