The AFC South was the weakest division in the AFC because of the horrendous seasons by the Jaguars and Titans, who both saw major setbacks last year. The Colts remained very consistent and dangerous, while the Texans moved from last place in 2013 to a very respectable 9-7 second-place finish.
Look below for players from each AFC South team who will be vital to their team’s success in 2015:
Arthur Jones, Defensive End, Indianapolis Colts (1st place, 11-5)
After signing a large contract, Jones was very disappointing in his first year with the team, after he played well with the Ravens. An ankle injury limited him to only nine games, starting in only three of those. He recorded just one sack, while he recorded more than four in each of the two years prior. The talent and upside are there for Jones, as he has proven it in the past. Remaining healthy will be key because the Colts really need his ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
Other players to watch: centers Khaled Holmes/Jonotthan Harrison
Jadeveon Clowney, Linebacker, Houston Texans (2nd place, 9-7)
While the defense, led by Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, more than did its part last season, Clowney needs to step up and perform just based on the hype he created. A torn meniscus and knee surgery shortened his rookie season to just four games. He never really had the chance to prove himself, but plenty of questions still remain about the 2014 No. 1 overall pick. Clowney seems to have been forgotten as last season progressed, much of that due to Watt's dominance, but the Texans still need him to play well and stay healthy in hopes he lives up to his lofty draft status.
Another player to watch: quarterback Brian Hoyer
Luke Joeckel, Left Tackle, Jacksonville Jaguars (3rd place, 3-13)
The Jaguars have been one of the league’s worst teams for several years now, as they haven't even finished .500 since 2010. Thus, most of their players will really need to step up if 2015 is going to bring any improvement in the win column. However, Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2013 draft, has really not played up to his draft status. He was a part of an offensive line that gave up the most sacks in the league last year, which contributed to quarterback Blake Bortles' struggles and growing pains as a rookie. Bortles needs the support of his line if he's going to continue to develop, which is where the onus falls on Joeckel as he enters his third season in the league.
Another player to watch: quarterback Blake Bortles
Marcus Mariota, Quarterback, Tennessee Titans (4
With all the speculation surrounding what the Titans would do with the second pick, they ultimately took Mariota because they want him to be their franchise quarterback. It may be unfair to name him as a player who needs to step up because he is a rookie, but Tennessee needs some hope. He doesn’t even have to be great right away, but he’ll need to show growth and consistency so hopeful fans don’t become quickly disappointed. It’s hard to expect so much from one player, but he is a huge investment with great upside.
Another player to watch: running back Bishop Sankey